UPDATE EXTRA: Local woman gains steam on medical marijuana front

By STEPHANY GARZA [email protected]

LAKE JACKSON — Medicinal cannabis advocate Cherie Rineker believes she is gaining momentum in the second-biggest battle of her life — convincing legislators to legalize the plant-based treatment for cancer patients like herself.

Rineker is awaiting responses from state senators Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, hoping her testimony as a cancer patient will open doors after meeting last month with state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Current law allows only those with intractable epilepsy to legally use cannaboid oil. The program is monitored, enforced and regulated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a press release from Menendez’s office.

Rineker was diagnosed with a bone-eating cancer known as multiple myeloma in 2012 and has tried many prescription drugs to counteract side effects form treatment, including nausea and loss of appetite. Both side effects could be easily remedied with medicinal-grade marijuana, she says.

Last month, Bonnen went to Rineker’s home to speak about the topic, she said.

“She expresses herself with raw honesty, grace, kindness and an open mind to the contentious nature of this issue, which has garnered my utmost respect,” Bonnen said in a statement about their meeting.

Menendez authored Senate Bill 269, which would expand who can qualify to use medicinal marijuana under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The legislation would allow cancer patients, veterans with PTSD and people with other serious illnesses to access the drug under a doctor’s consultation.

“I have no prediction as to whether any particular bill will pass this session, but I can say with confidence that if a bill such as this one were to go into effect, it would be because of individuals like Cherie who bravely share their stories with the rest of us,” Bonnen said. “The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to take a serious look at this issue and examine the benefits it may bring to suffering Texans.”

Rineker said Bonnen told her an impediment to the bill passing is the opinion of doctors matters significantly more than that of patients. Behind closed doors, doctors and therapists support Rineker’s push to expanded use of medical marijuana, but none are eager to go public because it could risk their career, she said.

While Rineker supports medical cannabis, she doesn’t particularly favor it for herself. After a short-term stay in Colorado — a state that allows medicinal marijuana and recreational use — the side effects subsided.

“When I did cannabis in Colorado, I hated it. I don’t even know to what extent I would personally use it because I became paranoid,” she said.

Her opinion could be different if Rineker could use it in the comfort of her own home, she said.

Most recently, Rineker was prescribed a low dose of a synthetic opioid patch to help ease the pain of her bones and nerves being eaten away, she said.

“He put me on the absolute lowest dose of Fentanyl and I put it on at 4 in the afternoon. The next morning, I woke up and I had so much pain behind my eyes,” Rineker said.

Nausea set in and vomiting ensued, she said.

“I couldn’t open my eyes because my whole head hurt too much, and this is all from the legal Fentanyl patch that they do allow,” Rineker said.

Rineker created a petition seeking support for Menendez’s legislation. As of Monday afternoon, had 172 signatures. If the petition can reach 1,000 signatures, she hopes legislators will see it as strong backing for changing the law.

To sign the petition, visit https://goo.gl/8mtCyG.

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