My name is Tom and I live in Deerfield which is a small town in Western Massachusetts. I spent my adolescent years growing up in impoverished Hispanic communities like the South Bronx in New York City, and then in Holyoke and Springfield, MA up until my late 20s. Today, I am an insurance industry consultant by trade, but more importantly I am a husband, a Dad to my one and only teenaged son, and until last year, I was a brother to one of my late mom’s five sons.
My older brother Carlos fell into the marijuana culture in his early teenaged years, and it stayed with him his entire life. It stifled his upward mobility in school, at work, and in his social and family life as it often does in our underserved inner city Hispanic communities where marijuana use rates among us often outpace those of any other race or ethnicity. His venture into marijuana also emboldened him to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Fast forward into my brother’s early 50’s and his body began to show early signs of breaking down. He was managing his conditions well enough to still be mobile and active in caring for others in their home as a Personal Care Attendant while under the care of his own local doctors. Then, in 2018 a marijuana shop opened in his home city of Northampton, MA. Influenced again by his friends and local budtenders, he suddenly stopped taking his prescribed medications in favor of “medical marijuana”. The first recreational shops on the east coast opened around Thanksgiving of 2018. My brother would be dead just a year and half later, at just 54.
When my younger brother and I cleaned out his apartment, we discovered that Carlos was storing away all of his prescribed medications, one of which prevented strokes. We found unopened prescription bottles and unopened CVS prescription bags still stapled shut, some from the very week he died. When I checked his phone to notify his friends, he had voicemails and text messages from CVS reminding him to pick up his prescriptions. None of which he intended to take because he believed marijuana would treat all of his ailments. Under his bed lay his CPAP machine, covered in dust from being ignored. Displacing his prescribed medications on his mantle and in his medicine cabinet were small bags and small plastic containers of loose marijuana as well as open cigarette boxes filled with marijuana joints.
The coroner’s report says he died of cardiac dysrhythmia. Cardiac dysrhythmia is what can occur when strong strains of marijuana are smoked or ingested as edibles. Something I‘ve seen first-hand throughout my own social circles. According to emergency room doctors in our region, marijuana in known to cause adverse cardiac events like dysrhythmias. My state of Massachusetts is legislatively pro-marijuana but what happened to my brother was a combination of unsuspecting self-harm and negligence by state legislators and regulators failing to protect my brother from this predatory industry that thrives on uncapped marijuana potencies and marketing disinformation directly aimed at vulnerable populations, like mine. Like my brother.
Don’t let what happened to my brother, happen to your brother, sister, daughter, or son. My Massachusetts legislators are too afraid to address the issue publicly. We need to vote them out. We need to demand that existing legislators tighten restrictions on cannabis sales, marketing, advertising, and use. Better yet, demand they take the stand of preventing the industry from entering our communities all together.