Uncovering Cannabis

By on January 14, 2015

Local activist and musician shares her story behind the movement

Medical cannabis is gaining momentum in Pennsylvania, and Lititz resident Deborah Guy is on the front line of the discussion.

Medical cannabis is gaining momentum in Pennsylvania, and Lititz resident Deborah Guy is on the front line of the discussion.

Deborah Guy’s first memory of cannabis is as a child watching her grandfather on his death bed. As he was dying of cancer, he used it to ease his pain. This was the only time he could communicate during his suffering, and it was her introduction to drug’s healing power.

Today she is an activist for marijuana law reform in Lancaster County. After attending Warwick High School, she studied at Millersville and HACC, receiving a degree in interior design from the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. As a local activist and musician, her voice is heard from city council meetings to the open mic nights at local bars, and this week at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show.

Cannabis and music have always been a part of her life. Her mother and former Mountville mayor, Connie Guy, joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws when the group first started in the 1970s. Her father was also a musician.

“Music was in my blood,” she said.

So, too, was the need to enlighten her conservative neighbors about the medicinal value of a drug often defined by its recreational stigma.

Deborah and her mother are both members of the NORML chapter that Deborah started in Lancaster last year. After a bipolar diagnosis as a teenager and a fibromyalgia diagnosis in her 20s, by her early 30s Deborah was prescribed over 20 pills a day between anti-depressants and pain medication. With a massive intolerance to the medication, she was still in pain despite ingesting what amounted to a small pharmacy every day. She described herself as highly unhealthy, miserable and having gained a lot of weight. She also had a miscarriage, which she strongly believes wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been prescribed so much medication. This motivated her to stop all of her medication, cold turkey.

Deborah Guy at the state farm show.

Deborah Guy at the state farm show.

“I decided to no longer be a slave to the pharmaceutical companies,” she said.

As she went through withdrawal, she used cannabis to help her through it.

“I would wake up every morning, use cannabis and be a criminal,” she said.

A year later when she returned to her doctor, she was 65 pounds lighter, had less pain and was more functional.

“That’s when I decided I wanted to fight,” she said. “There’s no way anyone could tell me it has no medical purpose. It saved my life.”

This past weekend, Deborah and Connie attended the Pennsylvania State Farm Show to educate people on the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, handing out brochures along with the group Campaign for Compassion. The group is dedicated to educating the public in Pennsylvania on the benefits of medical marijuana. A stand was donated to the group by alpaca farm owner Monica Kline and her husband Dennis. Normally using their stand space for their farm, this year they gave up the spot for the education of the upcoming Senate bill regarding medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

The stand will be there all week. Deborah and Connie have dedicated certain days to be there too.

Marijuana was a common topic of conversation at the farm show, and not just for medical use. Senators Mike Folmer and Judy Schwank announced Senate Bill 50 on Saturday to the farmers, promoting the Industrial Hemp Act and reminding people of the agricultural, economic and environmental growth the crop could bring to Pennsylvania.

“I had a really amazing day talking to people and educating them on Senate Bill 3 and the medical use of cannabis,” said Deborah, who was pleasantly surprised when they ran out of their 2,000 brochures by noon on Sunday, the second day of the farm show.

This is just one of the ways Deborah’s activism is heard.

In February of 2012 she started going to Smoke Down Prohibition events in Philadelphia, an organized protest against current marijuana laws. Once a month, speakers such as Deborah and Connie, as well as lawyers and former police officers, would share their stories.

“It is activism at its finest,” said Connie, sitting beside her daughter.

When Connie and Deborah arrived at the fourth Smoke Down, there were what they call “freedom cages” barricading the area so they could not get out. When it hit 4:20 p.m., true to tradition, some protesters engaged in the “moment of cannabis reflection” where they smoked marijuana as a civil disobedience action. Police came in full gear.

“It was violent. It wasn’t violent until the police showed up,” said Deborah. “We still did it. Every month we went back.”

As of Oct. 20, Philadelphia decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city limits to only result in fines. This change was possible due to the “home rule municipality,” which Philadelphia meets the standard for and can change laws through the local government that are not specifically limited by state law. Lancaster is not a home rule municipality.

In its first year, NORML in Lancaster focused on getting support from city council, pushing for the medical marijuana bill in Pennsylvania. Deborah keeps a picture of the signed resolution from the city council acknowledging on Sept. 9, 2014 that they support Senate Bill 1182 which would allow for the medical use of cannabis in Pennsylvania. According to LNP, Lancaster is the first municipality in the region to support medical marijuana use.

“I thought we’d have a bigger fight,” said Connie of the signed resolution, as she knows some council members from her prior years as Mountville mayor, which she served as from 2006 to 2010.

City council member Tim Roschel attended a NORML meeting last fall.

“They had an issue and I wanted to see if we could make it work at a city council level,” said Roschel, whose experiences already had him on board with medical marijuana and decriminalization. “It was personal, but I also thought from an intellectual standpoint it didn’t make sense not to get doctors the remedies they need to help their patients.”

Deborah also went and spoke to city council.

“When Deborah spoke she made a really compelling case. I was already on board prior to them coming, but I think other members of council were really open to it,” said Roschel.

Of Lancaster NORML, he said, “They got the ball rolling, let’s face it.”

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, which was already passed by the state Senate, will come back up for discussion this month. Roschel is hopeful. Whether it passes now or not, he said, “The trend is obvious though. You can postpone the inevitability of it, but it’s certainly going to be legal, hopefully in my lifetime; maybe even by spring.”

State Senator Ryan Aument, when questioned during the general election about his stance on the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania, said, “I do not support the full legalization of marijuana; however, I am sensitive to those families which are seeking to use cannabis as a form of medical treatment to treat seizures and related disorders for their children. At this time, I would not support legalization in any form; however, I believe we need further medical studies on the appropriateness of cannabis as medicine.”

Pennsylvania House Representative Steven Mentzer said, “I am opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana, period.”

When asked what they thought about medical marijuana passing in Pennsylvania, Connie said, “It could easily be spring.” Deborah cut into the conversation with doubt, mentioning the opposition from the House. “There’s still a fight,” she said.

When she’s not fighting for marijuana law reform, she’s writing and performing music, sometimes blurring her two passions.

“I’ve written one song inspired by the day that I saw my friends get slammed to the ground by the federal government in Philly,” said Deborah. The song is called “Raining in Philly.”

She has been singing for a long time, but only recently started writing her own music. Her goal is to record a CD in six months or so. She shared how shy and scared of performing she used to be. Her mom would take her to karaoke, and after blowing away her audience, she would cry and break out in hives. This happened for years, but eventually she got over it.

“I realized I had a voice, and I wanted to expand on that,” said Deborah. Performing at open mic nights at the Sandwich Factory Sports Lounge, her loud, soulful voice leaves the audience with chills as she dominates the stage. Although she has dabbled with other instruments, her father gave her a guitar when she was 15, and now that’s the only instrument she uses.

Most of the songs she’s written have been within the past two months, focusing on blues.

“They’ve just come out of me like I never expected,” she said. She’s been going to open mics in the area, which has helped her learn to sing and play with live bands. “I started meeting some of the most amazing musicians in Lancaster,” she said.

And she isn’t shy about discussing the subject of marijuana law changes when she’s out and about.

“Education is what I stress the most,” said Deborah.

She is always telling people, educate yourself and educate everyone. If someone doesn’t want to learn, keep moving to the next person.

“Marijuana is a stress reducer. Stress is the biggest killer of people,” she said. “I need this help, and I don’t want to take a drug I can OD on.”

Of course, she deals with judgments and stereotypes associated with marijuana ingestion. And she takes it personally.

“It’s not the dirty hippie, it’s every person,” she said.

Lenay Ruhl is a freelance feature writer, born and raised in Lititz. She welcomes reader feedback at lenay.ruhl@gmail.com.

About editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *