PORTLAND, Maine — From the front of his Chevy, Robert “Renny” Cushing sang to Linda Horan in the backseat on this history-making day.
“On the road again, on the road again, just can’t wait to be on the road again.”
The song marked the beginning of a nearly two-hour-long journey from Concord, New Hampshire, to Portland, Maine, where Horan, a late-stage lung cancer victim with only months to live, traveled Friday morning to pick up her first dose of medical marijuana.
Horan, 64, of Alstead is the first New Hampshire resident to be issued a medical marijuana card, her reward for filing a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and prevailing in the courts.
New Hampshire legislators legalized medical marijuana about two years ago, but Granite State dispensaries won’t open until next year.
Horan planned to use the marijuana in Maine or Vermont, where state law allows visiting patients to show their New Hampshire cards to pick up doses. But the state department denied her initially.
Patients are given the card if they have one of the qualified medical conditions, such as chemotherapy treatment, or those who have been diagnosed with lupus, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.
Rather than accept this fate, Horan, a long-term labor activist, said she fought on behalf of others so she and other eligible patients could access the medicine not on the state’s slow-to-develop timetable, but as soon as possible.
“Our plan was never to have it be about me,” Horan said.
In November, a judge ruled in Horan’s favor, which cleared the path for her trip Friday to the Wellness Connection medical marijuana dispensary in Maine. There, in the early afternoon amid some media and other patients, Horan, ID card in hand, picked up her first dosage.
Through it all, including her diagnosis in July, Horan’s demeanor has stayed upbeat, and her smile consistent.
“It’s been like a living Irish wake from the time I got sick,” she said. “I’m actually having a ball.”
Conversation during the car ride to Portland was generally lighthearted. Horan and Cushing, a Democratic state representative from Hampton, have been friends for decades.
Along with stories recounting her fight to get to this point, they discussed future plans, such as a celebration next month. Cushing said it’s been deemed “Linda-Palooza.”
Cushing fought alongside Horan during her case against the state. He credits her for the victory.
“There’s a whole world of people who love and respect you because of the doors you opened,” Cushing said, peering at his friend in his rearview mirror.
Horan smiled humbly, but deflected praise to Cushing and her attorney, Paul Toomey, for their part in this effort.
During lapses in conversation, Horan sat in comfortable silence. Curled up in her seat, she occasionally looked out the window. In her hands she held a bright green tumbler of seltzer water, which she sipped from occasionally, particularly when her coughs were rougher.
“Don’t worry, it’s not contagious,” she joked as she gained control of one of the fits.
This was one of only a few symptoms she deals with — that, and shortness of breath. Both tend to bother her only when she’s been talking for a while.
“I call it the curse of the blabbermouth,” she said.
At the Portland facility, in a yellow-green conference room, Horan sat and spoke with reporters. Before her was a modest bounty of packaged marijuana — two bags of edible cookies; a vile of tincture, which is a liquid form of marijuana that can be sprinkled on food; and four bags of smokable buds — that was now hers. She wore her familiar smile and made quips, comparing her experience to that of a kid in a candy store.
“My God, I’m over the moon — completely over the moon,” she said.
She hopes the medicine will help with her “wasting syndrome,” or her sudden, rapid weight loss.
Horan is 5-foot-4, and she has always been thin. The most she’s ever weighed is 112 pounds, which was after she turned 60.
Since July, she has dropped to 90 pounds. The weight loss, she said, has been the hardest part of her illness. Horan has “never been much of an eater,” but the rapid deterioration, she said, is concerning.
She’s wheelchair-bound and slowly losing independence. Her hope is the medical marijuana will increase her appetite, prevent nausea and the effects of wasting syndrome, and help her to regain strength.
Horan sought the alternative medicine to keep her awareness during the last few months of her life.
“I don’t want to spend my last days in a narcotic stupor if I don’t have to,” she said.
Late last week, the New Hampshire attorney general advised the state Department of Health and Human Services to issue cards to all eligible patients, such as Horan, sooner rather than later.
Though Horan’s victory has opened doors for other patients in the state, both she and Cushing wish that the story had taken a different course.
“There should have never been a lawsuit to begin with,” Cushing said.
The money spent on Horan’s case by the state could have been used instead to kick-start the process of opening the dispensaries, he said.
Cushing said the Department of Health and Human Services shouldn’t be blamed for the delay in opening the dispensaries, noting that workers are bound by state guidelines.
Cushing hopes legislators will push to speed the process.
Horan hopes her sacrifice helps other patients.
“They don’t have to [fight] now,” she said. “It’s done.”
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.