ROCKINGHAM — Army veteran Perry Parks is tired of being considered a criminal because of his choice of medical treatment.
Parks, who served nearly 30 years including as a helicopter pilot during the war in Vietnam and a stint with the N.C. National Guard, uses cannabis as medicine.
He used to take pills for pain and to help him sleep — “but now I don’t take any of those.” However, Parks did say he takes some prescription medications.
At the age of 80, Parks still prefers cannabis to pharmaceuticals.
Parks picked up the fight, using a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as his mantra: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The veteran said if you see an injustice, you have an obligation to do something about it.
“Most people just blow that obligation off,” Parks said.
Parks spent about a decade lobbying in Raleigh, and speaking across the country. He was also involved with the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network.
During the 2016 presidential election, Parks met with several candidates — including Donald Trump — to plead his case.
The veteran has stepped back on activism in recent years, but still supports the cause.
When he started, Parks said he thought it would only take about five years for legislators to see the light.
But now, in 2023, possession of the plant can still land one in lockup in North Carolina and other states.
Parks said there’s still a negative stigma attached to cannabis, especially among the older generations.
“People don’t understand,” he said. “When you talk to someone that’s my age, there’s a filter. And when you say marijuana … or any of these keywords, their brain automatically shuts down.”
Parks said cannabis should never have been outlawed.
Sen. Bill Rabon introduced the Compassionate Care Act in April of 2021 that would allow prescriptions of medical cannabis for treatment of cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and several other “debilitating medical conditions.”
Parks said in June that the bill doesn’t “go nearly far enough,” though he would be “tickled” if it would pass, because it would open the door to add more ailments — including stress — to be treated.
But it looks like Parks will have to wait even longer.
After clearing the state Senate 36-7 — with support from Sens. Tom McInnis, R-Moore, and Dave Craven, R-Randolph — on June 6, Rabon’s bill passed its first reading in the House but was referred to the Rules Committee.
It’s a long-standing joke in politics that the Rules Committee is where bills go to die.
Several other cannabis related bills in the 2021-2022 session met the same fate.
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, who has introduced multiple medical cannabis bills in the past sponsored HB 929, the N.C. Medical Cannabis Act and HB 290, which would have reclassified misdemeanor possession of marijuana, hashish and paraphernalia as an infraction.
Reps. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, and John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, introduced HB 576 and HB 617, respectively, which would have allowed and regulated the sale, possession and use of cannabis. Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, who resigned in mid-2022, sponsored HB 858 to permit medical cannabis research studies.
Each one was sent to the House Rules Committee.
According to MJBiz Daily, 39 states allow cannabis for medical use and 21 states and the nation’s capital now permit recreational use for adults.
Despite those statistics marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug in the federal Controlled Substances Act — along with heroin.
According to the DEA, those listed as Schedule I have “a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
Many advocates, like Parks, view the U.S. government as hypocritical as it also holds a patent on medical cannabis.
“It’s so wrong-sided,” Parks said. “It’s so wrong to hold a patent on something as a medicine … and then turn right around and say, ‘This is the most dangerous substance on earth.’ I don’t even like to think about it because the disconnect is very disturbing.”
In North Carolina, marijuana is a Schedule VI controlled substance.
In addition to the Tar Heel state, the other 10 states where marijuana remains illegal are: Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Parks said he has had a few interactions with law enforcement over the years, but has been treated fairly.
In December, Gov. Roy Cooper said in an interview with WXII-TV that he thinks a medical marijuana bill “has an opportunity to pass” in the upcoming legislative session.
According to WRAL, an April 2022 poll found that 78% of North Carolinians are in favor of medical cannabis legalization and 57% supported full marijuana legalization.
“We’re supposed to be in a country where the majority decides what we’re going to do,” Parks said. “Minority rule … that’s what we have: A small group of people with lopsided thinking that’s controlling all the rest of us. And we know we’re being screwed, but we continue to put up with it.”
(Editor’s Note: The interview with Perry Parks was conducted in June 2022.)