Why is the Canadian government persecuting him, why does the media ignore him, and where is the American Cancer Society when you need them?
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 Z00 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 19, 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, THC 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.
Fast-forward to December 1997: Simpson had been working at the hospital for 25 years and was covering asbestos on the boiler pipes with duct tape. He was using an aerosol spray that allowed the tape to stick to the asbestos. He didn’t realize, however, that this spray was capable of causing a temporary nervous-sys-tem shutdown if the fumes were inhaled too deeply. And that’s exactly what happened.
“Luckily for me, the boilers were shut off, or I would have been burnt to nothing,” he says. “I fell backwards off the ladder and struck my head on a steel loading ring. Of course, I don’t remember any of that. When I came to, I was hung up in the pipes by the side of the boiler”
Simpson slowly made his way back to his office and fumbled around for over an hour trying to call for help, but he couldn’t even make the phone work Finally, another engineer showed up for his shift and took Simpson to the emergency room. When asked his name, Simpson had no response. He was taken to the trauma center and put on oxygen.
It felt like my head was going to explode,” he says. “I remember it looked like people were moving funny—they were kind of jerky. I told the doctor, and he just kind of shook his head.”
After three hours in the trauma center, the sensation went away and Simpson was told to go home. He doesn’t remember much about the next few days, including the drive home, but somehow he made it. When his next scheduled shift came up on Christmas Eve, Simpson re-