Katie Donahue, a 35-year-old wife and mother of one, isn’t interested in Gov. Butch Otter’s permission to use an oil extract from cannbis plants to treat her excruciating pain.
“I feel like I’m not asking permission anymore,” Donahue told IdahoReporter.com. “That’s how I feel.”
Donahue is a North Dakota native, a resident of Emmett and a rebel dedicated to fighting for medical freedom here in her adopted state.
“I’ve learned that freedom is never negotiated,” Donahue said, defiant tone included. “I’ve never found that in history.”
Donahue is a rebel with a cause. Though she enjoys thumbing her nose at big government’s anti-cannabis edicts, she ignores the law out of pure self-preservation.
She’s suffers from a rare disease known as Parry-Romberg. The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke says the condition “is a rare disorder characterized by slowly progressive deterioration (atrophy) of the skin and soft tissues of half of the face (hemifacial atrophy), usually the left side.” The disease, more common in females, occasionally affects the right side of the face and skull.
Donahue first noticed symptoms at age 8, but wasn’t properly diagnosed until 18 at a Shriner’s Hospital in Chicago. Since that diagnosis, she’s undergone nine reconstructive surgeries and been on at least 20 different medications to deal with symptoms and side effects.
When the medications failed, she turned to yoga, hot rags, telling jokes and prayer to cope with her pain. Her prayers, though, were often filled with darkness.
“I have prayed for death,” she admitted. “I have said, ‘Please God, let the disease take me now.’”
Still, she moved forward, enduring excruciating pain and seeking something -- anything -- to ease her suffering.
Along the way, her pain specialist helped her recognize cannabis as a possible solution to her pain. Donahue freely admits to using marijuana in her younger years, though for recreational purposes. She didn’t connect the lessened effect of her disease with the marijuana use.
Because she uses cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive extract from the marijuana plant, she’s sideways with Idaho law, which forbids all marijuana use. That includes treating medical ailments like hers. And though she suffers tremendously, she’s hardly ready to play the victim. Instead, she’s fighting for Idaho to legalize or decriminalize marijuana in some form.
That’s a hot topic as of late. At the November ballot boxes, voters in a number of states, including neighboring Nevada, legalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use.
Idaho sits alone on a prohibition island. When Nevadans are free to buy and use marijuana sometime next year, every state touching Idaho will allow the use of the plant for recreational or medicinal use. Even uber-conservative Utah allows residents to use CBD oil to treat chronic pain and other conditions.
Though Donahue says it’s time for Idaho to recognize marijuana’s medicinal value, she’s not waiting for the Legislature and Otter to act. Instead, she’s openly flouting the law and proud of it.
She’s fighting her condition, she said, in the same manner it attacks her.
“I have to take the liberty to fight my disease with the same liberty it has to fight me,” she said. “And my disease doesn’t have to ask for permission before it takes my vision. It doesn’t have to ask my permission before it throws me into severe epilepsy.”
Idaho came close to decriminalizing CBD oil during the state’s 2015 legislative session. Such a bill cleared both Statehouse chambers, but died under Otter’s veto stamp. In his veto statement, Otter said CBD’s benefits are not entirely clear or backed up by science.
In just a few weeks, Idaho lawmakers will open the 2017 legislative session in Boise. Though big-ticket items like tax cuts and education spending will receive top play in legislators’ minds and the Idaho media, Donahue hopes there’s room enough next year for another run at decriminalization to ease her pain and suffering and that of many others.