Ezra Parzybok: Confessions of a cannabis consultant in Northampton

Last modified: Thursday, November 05, 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Tuesday, the author of this commentary received 90 days of probation from Northampton District Court in connection with a marijuana growing and distribution operation that police raided in September. The following are excerpts of a statement he released Tuesday.

NORTHAMPTON — My name is Ezra Parzybok. I am 41 years old and live in Northampton with my wife and two children. I have an undergraduate degree from Rhode Island School of Design and a master’s degree from Bard College.

For my entire adult life, I have aspired to reside and thrive on the cutting edge, and make a positive difference to others.

For 10 years, I pursued that goal in the city, hoping to change lives with art. As I observed student after student fall to poverty, pregnancy and police, I feared that anxiety, insomnia and absorbed trauma from my students would suck me under as well. I needed relief (as did my wife and children) and I needed a more effective outlet through which to bring my values to the world.

I started paying attention to California’s experiment with medical marijuana and read all the scientific literature I could get my hands on. After Massachusetts voters changed the law in 2012, I acquired my medical marijuana card and began growing my own supply, staying scrupulously within state regulations.

As my knowledge of this subject grew, I saw an education and culture gap and undertook to fill it. I offered my services as a medical marijuana consultant, promising science-based, objective information to patients and healthcare workers about medical efficacy, administration methods, and how to utilize cannabis without unwanted side effects.

The patients started pouring in. Each one seemed to be more desperate, more ailing than the last. First it was the terminal cancer patient given six months to live who wanted guidance on pain relief and quality of life. Then it was the women hit by a car at age 19, who was 38 years sober and didn’t want to get high.

After refusing a 15th surgery, cannabis was her last resort. I regularly saw patients with debilitating nerve pain from botched surgeries. As a registered caregiver, I could not legally provide cannabis to more than one patient, although there was no legitimate or regulated access for patients to attain proper medicine.

I was appalled by stories of product of dubious origin and content being purchased surreptitiously in parking lots. It did not seem right. A 74-year-old widow of my former patient declared that my work extended the life of her husband before he died of leukemia. “My husband’s pain couldn’t wait for the DPH [Department of Public Health] to open a dispensary,” she pointed out.

I spoke on panels, read more scholarly articles, and began formulating my own remedies. When patients would come to me and say they were at their wit’s end with ailments, I began giving the medicine out. I would explain that in the state of Massachusetts, possessing an ounce or less of cannabis is not a criminal act for someone over 21 — even if they didn’t have a registration card.

If caught they would receive a $100 fine. Not a single patient turned me down. Eventually I took donations as my remedies began to work for patients.

Cancer slowed down, PTSD symptoms subsided and patients could finally sleep. Harmful medications, like opioids, were reduced. Family members were in tears thanking me for their loved one’s health crisis reversal. My goal for patients was simple: increase the quality of their lives by reducing pain and dependence on medications with harmful side effects.

Not once did I use butane or toxic chemicals in formulating remedies. I am familiar with the processes of cannabis extraction, but most treatments are addressed with the whole plant. Studies have shown it to be more effective.

It was easy to distinguish bonafide patients from patients who only wanted to get high. The latter didn’t want to explore various approaches or remedies, or otherwise take a “personal responsibility” approach to their health.

My way of dealing with them was to become strict about my work and extremely professional; patients filled out intake forms, I took good notes and carefully recorded the results of various approaches, and provided scientific literature for specific ailments. Bonafide patients didn’t mind and the others stopped calling.

As black-market distributors of non-medical marijuana raked in cash for their wholesale, parking lot sales, I struggled to pay helpers, or worked with volunteers so that I could focus on patient care, guidance and consultation. I visited patients in hospitals, consulted with family members and doctors and made house calls.

I would always encourage a slow, deliberative course of treatment. For example, I would ask patients to apply a salve to one limb for a week (when both limbs had pain) to determine if it worked. They appreciated my objectivity and in addition to the positive results, the patients welcomed the opportunity to consult in a non-corporate, non-pharmaceutical context.

I fully conformed to Northampton zoning laws. My neighborhood allows a home business to have 25 visits per week, a count I was careful not to exceed. I also filed a doing-business-as certificate with the city clerk and established a separate account for tax withholding.

This past summer, I grew flowers, vegetables, and cannabis outside. Unfortunately, the cannabis plants were visible from a National Guard helicopter. I was raided and my life, as I knew it, was over. I was accused publicly by the state of distributing a dangerous substance and neglecting my children.

The majority of the plants taken were maintained for their unique genetics, now lost forever. Many of my wide range of products were designed to mitigate the psychoactive or “high” effect of cannabis. Some products seized had no THC at all, a quality that the police did not apprehend.

I am a family man, an educator and am serious about science. I am an herbal practitioner who saw a humanitarian need.

Fortunately, my patients now have access to a DPH-approved dispensary that opened for business shortly after I was shut down.

This episode has caused me to suffer embarrassment in the community and has been traumatic for my family, my career,and my finances. I confronted and rejected long-held prejudices against cannabis and paid a high price for doing so. I feel strong regret and remorse, but I am not ashamed.

My pain is alleviated by the knowledge that my actions relieved the suffering of many while causing harm to no one, and that hopefully I have helped hasten the inexorable embrace of this remarkable medicine.

Ezra Parzybok lives in Northampton.