Police rescind drug charge against terminally ill Kansas cancer patient

Police came to hospital room after staff called them about patient’s marijuana vape pen use to alleviate disease symptoms

After news of the case sparked public backlash, police in Kansas moved to rescind a drug possession ticket which officers gave to a terminally ill cancer patient after they found him with cannabis paste he was using to ease his pain during the last few weeks he is expected to live.

Greg Bretz, a 69-year-old cancer patient in Hays, Kansas, had been using a vape pen as well as eating THC paste on bread to cope with his symptoms since being hospitalized about three weeks ago.

Earlier this month, officers from the Hays police department went into Bretz’s room at a local hospital after a staff member saw him using THC products and called the police.

The police department said hospital staff were concerned the vaping device was a potential fire hazard, and that officers gave Bretz a citation charging him with drug possession.

The fire hazard can be a valid concern, according to Kansas City Star columnist Dion Lefler.

“Vape devices have a small electronic element that heats liquid to steam for inhalation and there have been cases where they malfunctioned and patients got burned using them while taking oxygen through a nasal tube,” he wrote.

But Bretz told Lefler in an interview that he was not on oxygen, so in his case that was not relevant.

Bretz further added that he was too sick to stand up without help and had been lying “flat on my back”. His doctor told him to do whatever is possible that might reduce his pain.

“It is traumatic enough to be dying of cancer – it is absolutely unconscionable to add on, for no reason beyond fealty to a losing drug war, the added trauma of being arrested,” Dr Peter Grinspoon, a cannabis specialist, said.

Dr Grinspoon, who as a child lost his brother to leukemia, said he saw first-hand how using cannabis, which was then illegal, was “transformative” for his brother through his last few days.

“While cannabis hasn’t yet been shown to ‘cure’ cancer in humans,” he added, “it is spectacularly effective for the ravages of chemotherapy – the nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite – as well as the pain, anxiety and insomnia that almost always accompany the experience of a terminal cancer.”

News of Bretz’s plight went viral online, with many criticizing the police for pursuing a dying man who posed no danger to others. The local television station KWCH reported that news of Bretz’s citation purportedly led to threats against the police and hospital in Hays.

Police ultimately went to the local prosecutor and successfully asked for the ticket to be dismissed.

Officers said they made that request upon learning more about Bretz’s situation. They had not announced any arrests in connection with the alleged threats.


Samira Asma-Sadeque

The GuardianTramp

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