Dr. Paul Ezell, 65, of Pennsylvania spent six months in jail in 2014 for growing weed in his home. He pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge and lost his ability to practice medicine.
Now that many states have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana, Ezell is finally clearing his name. Gov. Tom Wolf has just pardoned Ezell, which opens the door for him to practice medicine once again.
Caught for Growing Weed
Ezell, a board-certified ophthalmologist, says he started growing pot at home to help with his wife’s chronic pain. She was terminally ill at the time and using powerful prescription opioids to cope with the effects.
As a provider, Ezell was well aware of the risks associated with opioids, including addiction and overdose. Pennsylvania remains one of the worst-hit states in the country in terms of the opioid epidemic.
He declined to comment on her condition, but said she had been prescribed opioids for several medical conditions and that he was using weed to help her transition off these medications.
He decided to dismantle his growing operation shortly after his wife’s death in 2013. That’s when one of his neighbors spotted weed clippings in his trash and called the police. The authorities raided his home where they found 28 marijuana plants in various stages of development.
The neighbor claimed he was selling and prescribing pot to his patients, but Ezell denies this.
Ezell went to jail just two years before Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana.
A Special Pardon
Ezell applied for a pardon in 2020. The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons voted 3-1 in favor of the motion in March, with one member abstaining.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, said, “Here’s a doctor of 30 years who had not so much as a speeding ticket, and then his whole life is ruined for giving his wife medicine that’s now legal in Pennsylvania.” Fetterman is also a staunch supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.
However, Ezell isn’t the only one in need of a pardon. Next month, the board will consider pardoning Ezell’s daughter, Victoria, who also pleaded guilty, served probation, and lost her medical license due to marijuana charges.
Ezell says Victoria wasn’t involved with the growing of the plants, but pleaded guilty to avoid the risk of spending two years in jail.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ezell says he plans to get his medical license reinstated, now that he no longer has a criminal record, but he’s more focused on helping his daughter clear her name.
“The only thing that matters to me is that I paved the way for my daughter to get her pardon,” Ezell said. “She just happened to be in the house that day,” referring to the day the police raided his home.
From Opioids to Marijuana
Many states and cities have issued pardons to thousands of former marijuana drug offenders over the last few years. It’s a growing sign that the drug is becoming increasingly acceptable.
According to Practical Pain Management, medical marijuana usage dates back some 5,000 years for its ability to relieve pain.
Unlike opioids, “there is no known lethal dose of cannabis,” according to Dr. Wallace, professor of clinical anesthesiology and chair of the Pain Medicine Department at the University of California San Diego. “Cannabis ‘abuse’ is only considered ‘abuse’ because it’s currently illegal,” noted Dr. Wallace, referring to current federal law.
Recreational marijuana is now legal in 17 states. This hasn’t led to any reported changes in marijuana dependence or abuse discharges in hospitals. However, it has resulted in a 23% reduction in opioid dependence/abuse discharges, according to a 2017 study.
A 2016 study in the Journal of Pain shows that medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% reduction in opioid use, as well as decreased side effects and improved quality of life. Medical marijuana may soon be the new face of chronic pain management.