"Three and a half years ago, on my 62nd birthday, doctors discovered a mass on my pancreas. It turned out to be Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. I was told I would be dead in four to six months. Today I am in that rare coterie of people who have survived this long with the disease. But I did not foresee that after having dedicated myself for 40 years to a life of the law, including more than two decades as a New York State judge, my quest for ameliorative and palliative care would lead me to marijuana."
Thus began the story of the late New York State Supreme Court Judge Gustin Reichbach in an editorial that he wrote for the New York Times in September 2012. Sadly, he would pass away not long after penning these words in what would come to be a personalized judicial voice of reason and compassion regarding the medical marijuana debate in America.
A longtime friend and confidante of Michael Kennedy — Legal Counsel to HIGH TIMES Magazine for more than 40 years — Judge Reichbach sought advice from him and HIGH TIMES about exploring marijuana as a form of relief from the devastating treatment of his terminal condition. Kennedy, a long-time advocate of the palliative effects of marijuana, discussed the medical and legal implications of marijuana as the Judge contemplated this form of alternative relief to his continued suffering. After review with Kennedy of the implications of such a course of action, Reichbach later wrote that,"Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep."
According to Michael Kennedy in a recent interview with the New York Law Journal, it was only through marijuana that Reichbach started to feel alive again and able to endure the rigors of his profession as a dedicated sitting jurist who was deeply devoted to the practice of law and the pursuit of justice.
Known as a positive force in his community, Reichbach's early days saw him leading student protests at Columbia University before launching his career as a lawyer and judge who was described as "fierce" and "independent." Some of the pivotal issues Reichbach decided to pursue as a member of the law community ranged from cases dealing withMedicaid fraud, to legalizing loft-living in lower Manhattan, and even traveling to serve on a war crimes tribunal for Kosovo.
Born and bred in Brooklyn, Reichbach was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1999 at the age of 53. Almost 10 years later, he found himself with the deadly diagnosis -- Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. "My survival...demanded an enormous price, including months of chemotherapy, radiation hell and brutal surgery. For about a year, my cancer disappeared, only to return," he described in the 2012 op-ed for the New York Times. It was then that he sought both legal and scientific consultation from High Times about turning to marijuana to ease his pain and restore aspects of his overall physical health.
Judge Reichbach was always grateful to Michael Kennedy and HIGH TIMES not only for educating him about this natural form of non-pharmaceutical relief, but also for persevering in the decades long battle to gain recognition for marijuana as a valid and viable form of alternative relief to sufferers such as he. With 27 states now adopting or proposing medical marijuana legislation it is clear that this battle of 40 years has not been in vain. Judge Reichbach would be proud to know that his op-ed piece helped draw attention to a national debate that has caused a majority of states and public opinion polls to favor the legalization of marijuana for medical and other purposes.
In his recent interview with the New York Law Journal, Michael Kennedy recalled that "During the last several months of his life, he said he would really like to write something because marijuana had become so significant in allowing him to be able to sleep, to regain an appetite and gave him a better quality of life," he said.
Kennedy said Reichbach asked about the immediate repercussions of admitting that he, a sitting judge, was openly violating the law, and also about potential impact on his pension if he went public. But the judge ultimately concluded that the value of going public would transcend any consequence from his civil disobedience, Kennedy said.
"He tried marijuana because of the devastating impact of the therapy," Kennedy said. "It was quite an awareness, a eureka moment, when after one session of chemotherapy he actually lit up and enjoyed a joint and within minutes began to calm down, the nausea was leaving him and within an hour an appetite that was nearly gone had returned to the point where he could eat lightly. But most importantly, at night he could have a puff and actually go to sleep. These were blessings beyond belief for him."
Such was the bravery of Judge Reichbach and his eternal pursuit of justice for both society and sufferers alike. Today, as Governor Cuomo initiates New York's medical marijuana program, Gustin's widow Ellen Meyers knows that he would have strongly approved. "I think he would be absolutely ecstatic that the governor is behind it. This was something really important to him."
His legacy will live on with those who knew him as well as in the exceptional piece of writing. Check it out below: