Let me tell you about my friend Jack Splitt.
I first met Jack in January 2015 when he and his nurse came to Cannabis Patients Day at the Capitol. His mom Stacey Linn was unable to be there, but he insisted on going anyway. When he smiled that engaging smile, we knew he was something special, but little did we know then what an impact he would have on our lives and our community.
The following week, Jack had the incident with the school nurse that forced him to choose between an education and the medicine that allowed him to attend school. He was told that he could come to school, but without his cannabis medicine.
In an interview with Channel 7, Jack’s mom Stacey said, “He loves to learn, and that’s his whole life. He doesn’t get to go play soccer, he gets to learn. And without these medications, he can’t do that either. It’s heartbreaking.”
We were horrified! As soon as we heard, we sprang into action. After talking with Channel 7 News, we went straight to the Capitol and started pulling senators and representatives out of hearings to tell them what was going on. We worked all session, trying to find an elegant solution to a complex issue.
After pouring through pages of regulations around drugs and schools, with drug-free school zones and school resource officers and DARE programs, it seemed that teasing all of that out would be nearly impossible. Instead, we decided that the first step was to tell schools that they were allowed to make policy around the use of medical marijuana on campus. Whether or not they would do that was the question. So we added “Jack’s Amendment” to an existing bill, SB15-014 “The Caregiver Bill.” The bill passed and was signed by the governor in May 2015.
When Jack showed up at the Capitol, the place came alive. He was greeted with smiles and hugs by senators, representatives, staffers and supporters alike. He was eager to testify along side his mom about how much he wanted to go to school and how important this was to him and other kids in the community. Jack put a face and a very compelling story to the issue. Jack made it real.
Jack loved being at the Capitol. He would take in all the sights and sounds going on around him, studying the artwork and stained glass, listening to the chatter. Remembering that Jack was a typical teenager inside, my husband Greg would tease him about watching all the cute girls walk by, which always produced a big smile.
Long days at the Capitol were particularly hard on Jack. All those people, the stress of testifying, was exhausting and painful. Jack’s smile and bright eyes, his willingness to show up no matter how difficult, brought a laser-sharp focus to the issue. How could one not feel compassion for a bright intelligent teen trapped in a body that doesn’t work, a teen who just wanted to go to school?
I always hated to hear that Jack was in the hospital, but I really enjoyed visiting him there. It was a chance to spend some one-on-one time with him without all the distraction of the Capitol and hearings and crowds. It was a time to talk and smile and laugh.
I remember how thrilled I was the first time I heard Jack laugh. He was tickled by some cartoon we were watching together when this giggle started to emerge. Then a big laugh came from deep inside and took me by surprise. I couldn’t help but join him as we laughed and laughed and laughed.
I also remember the time when Jack’s mom Stacey was stuck in traffic on her way to the hospital to give Jack his cannabis medicine (the nurses weren’t allowed to do it). We could tell that Jack was in distress, so when she called and asked if I could do it in her place, I was honored. With the direction of one of the friendly nurses, I fumbled through it and managed to get his medicine in his feeding tube. Watching him start to relax as the medicine took hold made me feel like a hero.
Like most kids in similar predicaments, Jack had a way of looking deep into your eyes and seeing your soul. And when you looked back, you could see a very special light shining so brightly that you just wanted to be in its presence.
I’m really going to miss that look.
I’m so grateful for those special moments with Jack, and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be a part of his life. I really enjoyed getting to know him.
The use of medical marijuana in schools wasn’t some new issue. In 2011, another teen, Chaz Moore (aka Bill Smith), and his family were fighting to get access on campus. Unfortunately, the schools and policy-makers weren’t open to the discussion, so all their efforts were thwarted. Timing is everything. I’m grateful for the work they did back then, trying to bring this issue to light.
Over the years, we worked hard to put a face to what it means to be a medical marijuana patient. Bringing patients in to speak at hearings and public meetings. Hosting Patients Day at the Capitol. Participating in stakeholders groups and policy discussions. Building relationships and trust. Looking for opportunities to engage policy-makers in the conversation about medical marijuana and patients’ needs.
Not surprising, after the passage of Jack’s Amendment most schools took a don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach to medical marijuana on campus while some openly balked at the whole idea, citing concerns about federal funding as an excuse. So it was back to the legislature in 2016 for the next step: Jack’s Law.
All of this work to change the conversation, to insert compassion into the discussion, finally got us to a position where we could pass legislation favorable to patients. All that work paid off when Jack’s Law, directing schools to make policy around the use of medical marijuana on campus, was passed and signed by the governor in June 2016.
Jack Splitt was more than a face, more than a symbol. He was a bright, intelligent, engaging young man who put his life out there to change things for others as well as himself. He showed up. He spoke up.
Could we have changed state law now without the inspiration of Jack Splitt? Probably not. One person truly can make a difference.
But one person can’t do it alone. We couldn’t have done it without the efforts of everyone who laid the groundwork, dedicated to keeping patients in the conversation, leading us to a place where policies that benefit patients are even considered. We owe all of them an enormous debt of gratitude.
I will always remember Jack as my friend. He added enormous value to my life. He reminded me to take the time to connect with people and hear their stories. He encouraged me to continue to fight for patients. He inspired me to be a better person, to show compassion and love where it’s most desperately needed. He made me stronger, wiser, and more loving.
As we mourn his passing, I know that Jack’s light and legacy will live on in the hearts of each and every one of us, inspiring us to go on. We are strengthened by our suffering and united in our grief.
Thank you, Jack, for being my friend.
— Rx MaryJane (Teri Robnett)
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