Conn. cancer patient battles bureaucracy over medical marijuana

(CBS News) Eighteen states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Connecticut joined that group last year.

While it's legal to use medical marijuana there, it's not legal to grow it, and there's no place open that legally sells it.

That's left some patients risking arrest to get the relief they say they need.

At first glance, 42-year-old Tracey Gamer Fanning appears to be a typical mom in suburban Connecticut.

She is not.

"I use medicinal marijuana," she said. "I am breaking the law right now because we don't have growers and distributors here in Connecticut."

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In 2006, Fanning, then the mother of a 4-year-old and 18-month-old, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Racked by seizures, debilitating headaches, and oppressive pain medication she spent much of her time in bed -- until she tried marijuana.

"The first time I ever did it," Fanning said. "It gave me my life back."

Connecticut did not allow the medical use of marijuana at the time. The suggestion came from her doctor, Andrew Salner.

"It's always somewhat difficult for me because when I make a recommendation about trying marijuana," Salner said. "It is telling someone to potentially put themselves in harm's way to go purchase an illegal drug."

Both Salner and Fanning are speaking out now because, while Connecticut legalized medicinal marijuana last May, there is still nowhere to legally buy it. She showed us the safe in her closet where she keeps her supply.

Dr. Andrew Salner
Dr. Andrew Salner
CBS News

"This is the drawer of medications that I am very proud to say I don't take anymore," Fanning said. "This is my vaporizer which is a very safe way to use medicinal marijuana. It allows you not to get the carcinogens from smoking. It's not the traditional way people think of smoking pot, it turns it into a vapor."

If it weren't for marijuana, Fanning said, she would not be herself.

"I would not be this," she said. "And this is what everybody hopes to have six and a half years later after being diagnosed."

Fanning said she realizes she is putting herself in legal jeopardy for going on camera about her marijuana use, but she felt it was necessary to get her story out.

"This is a very difficult decision to make," she said. "Coming out on camera and talking to your audience because you have a big audience and saying I use medicinal marijuana."

Seven years ago, she had no idea she would ever be an advocate for medical marijuana.

"Nobody thinks they are gonna do this. And nobody wants to be doing this. I hope nobody ever has to do this again," she said.

Fanning knows she has limited time left. She's using it on her family, and her cause.

"I know I'm gonna die," she said. "But I know I still can do this. I can make a difference."

Fanning married her high school sweetheart last night but postponed their honeymoon so that she could testify Monday at a public hearing to initiate the creation of a legal path to distribute marijuana to eligible patients

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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