A dying US cancer patient used cannabis to ease pain. His hospital called the police

‘You’d think they would have shown compassion’: patient’s son decries Kansas police who issued citation as father suffered

Hospital staff in Kansas called the police on a man dying of cancer who was using cannabis products to cope with his symptoms, in an incident that has since sparked outrage and renewed calls to rethink the state’s strict cannabis laws.

The encounter took place in mid-December, when police in the city of Hays say two officers showed up at the cancer patient’s hospital room to issue him a citation for a drug violation. Police also took away a vaping device and cannabis product that hospital staff had already confiscated.

While the police department later dropped the citation, which would have required the cancer patient to appear in court, reports of the incident fueled debate over the continued criminalization of cannabis in Kansas, one of the three US states that has not legalized the product in any context.

While he was glad the charge against his father was dropped, Lee Bretz, the patient’s son, said the incident was “humiliating” for his father and left him “pretty upset”.

His father, who has terminal, inoperable cancer, was issued a “must appear” citation for drug possession, Bretz said. “He can’t make it to court. He’s bedridden. He can’t move his legs.”

“You’d think they would have shown a lot of compassion and not done anything,” his son said of the officers who responded to the incident.

A spokesperson for the Hays medical center in Hays, Kansas, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Greg Bretz, the 69-year-old cancer patient, initially told an opinion columnist for the Wichita Eagle that he was “flat on my back” in his hospital bed, and that he had been using a vaping device and eating some THC paste on bread to cope with the symptoms of his disease.

A doctor had told him that it was fine “to do whatever he wants if it makes him feel better”, since there were no medical treatments left for him other than hospice care, he said.

On 19 December, hospital staff contacted the Hays police department about a patient vaping in a hospital room, which “they were concerned about as a potential fire hazard”, and also possessing THC, “which is illegal in the state of Kansas”, Hays police chief Don Scheibler said.

An initial report of the police interaction with the cancer patient as a “Christmastime hospital-room raid was inaccurate, Scheibler said. “It’s not a raid.”

Scheibler said he had reviewed an audio recording of the two officers’ interaction with the patient in the hospital room, which he said lasted “less than eight minutes” and in which officers were “polite, courteous, respectful” to the frustrated patient, while issuing him a citation for a drug violation with a court date of 26 January.

The police officer who issued the drug citation to the cancer patient had second thoughts, the police chief said, and, that same day, after a discussion with a supervisor, emailed the city prosecutor, recommending that he dismiss the charge.

“At the end of the day, they showed compassion and empathy, and that’s what they want from law enforcement,” Scheibler said. “They made the decision to write the ticket and made the recommendation to dismiss it on their own. It wasn’t anything that happened in the news.”

Because of the Christmas holiday, the city prosecutor had not seen the email about dismissing the charge until after the police interaction with the cancer patient had already become a viral news story, the police chief said. He said he personally let the patient know on 27 December that the police department was not pursuing the citation and that he would not have to appear in court.

More than a hundred people have called or emailed the Hays police department, upset about news reports of officers’ interactions with the cancer patient, the chief said. Local news outlets reported that the hospital had also received threats in the wake of the reported incident.

“As a police officer, we don’t determine what the law is,” Scheibler said. “I think the discussion about medical marijuana needs to happen.”

Lee Bretz, the patient’s son, said he hoped Kansas would legalize medical marijuana soon. “Nobody wants to see their loved ones hurting, and you’d do anything to see them not hurt,” he said.


Lois Beckett

The GuardianTramp

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