From the time he was 12 years old, Rick Simpson just wanted a job so he could make some money. He was smart enough to get by in school without having to open a book, so education wasn’t something he took very seriously. After getting in trouble for supplying his ninth-grade teacher with a case of beer as a Christmas present, he dropped out rather than face the consequences from school administrators. At age 16, he went to work in the steel mills in Ontario, Canada. Two years later, he moved back to his hometown in Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, and got married. Before long, he had a job maintaining boilers for All Saints’ Hospital. Then his cousin was diagnosed with cancer.
“They found a little bump on his rib cage and cut him open,” Simpson says. “He went from 200 pounds down to about 130. In 1972, we were having a drink and he collapsed right in front of me. I knew damn well it had to be the cancer coming back. They gave him six months to live, and he made it through three. I was 22 years old and didn’t know anyone who had died from cancer. He was down to about 50 pounds when he died on November 18, 1972. I used to shave him, and it was like trying to shave a skeleton.”
Two years after his cousin died, Simpson was listening to his car radio when he heard the results of a medical study at the University of Virginia claiming that THC reduced brain tumors in mice. “I stopped my car and just stared at the radio,” Simpson recalls. “At the time, I didn’t smoke pot or anything, although most of my friends did. The guy on the radio was laughing like a fool. Like this was all a big joke. I never heard anything more about it, so I thought it must be a joke.”
It was no joke. The Medical College of Virginia had been funded by the National Institutes of Health to find evidence that marijuana damaged the human immune system. Imagine their surprise when the results came back indicating the opposite: Instead of hastening the death of mice implanted with brain cancer, marijuana dramatically slowed the growth of their tumors and extended their lives. The DEA quickly shut down this promising research. According to Jack Herer, two years later, President Gerald Ford would put an end to all public cannabis research and grant exclusive rights to major pharmaceutical companies to develop synthetic THC. Continue reading