Jeff Oakes, MMJ patient

2/12/20 By DAN ULLOA

Jeff Oakes, a long time-activist with Sativa Cross, is one of the leading figures in New Jersey’s legalization movement. A new effort to pass home cultivation or “homegrow” by Jim Miller and others has been dubbed “Jeff’s Law” in his honor.

He only has a short time to live. Oakes is a cancer patient who has been deemed terminal with three to nine months more. His daughter is graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May and his goal is to be alive to see it.

Oakes initially received his medical marijuana (or clinical cannabis) card to treat arthritis in July 2014. He then needed it for cancer which he was diagnosed with in January 2016. It has helped him immensely.

“Cannabis is the only reason I eat at all and am able to keep weight on. It’s the only way I could get past all these surgeries and radiation,” Oakes said.

Oakes said he got cancer from his career in welding stainless steel that contained Hexavalent Chromium. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in welding. He only received a letter regarding the hazard and a protective hood two years before being diagnosed. Oakes has had a legal case regarding this which has dragged out since he was diagnosed. Jeff Oakes has since become a proponent of clean energy in stark contrast to the fossil fuel facilities he used to work in.

Jeff Oakes and Health

Initially, Oakes was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage two. Then it was found it had spread to his liver. He has had multiple procedures over the years to be rid of cancer and each time it has come back. It has not been an easy road.

“I threw up for days on end. I lost almost 10 lbs. in five days,” Oakes said regarding chemotherapy. All his chemotherapy treatments have been quite painful.

One of the biggest issues he has faced is the ability to use medical cannabis he has been prescribed while in the hospital. Some hospitals have been more understanding than others.

“They ratted me out to security and explained it to the administration. The staff doesn’t know what to do. They want to be compassionate but can’t because the policy is so screwed up,” Oakes said regarding the St. Barnabas hospital in Monmouth County.

“When dealing with the machine, you start to feel like meat,” Oakes said.

However, the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick was more understanding. 

“I had 40 percent of liver resected. Even doctors whispered in (my wife) Mary’s ear to break policy rules so her husband could have his cannabis tonight,” Oakes said. “And I commend those doctors till the cows come home. Because they went with their morals. That touched me profoundly.”

“Doctors there were supportive.  It saved my life at that point,” Oakes said. “It’s very difficult to navigate. A lot of patients get in trouble with the law due to minor things that hit them,” Oakes said regarding medical marijuana use in a hospital. Some hospitals fear losing federal funding and have taken a prohibitionist attitude. 

What is most notable about him is that he has not sunk into despair due to his cancer. On the contrary, he said that “I saw my cancer was an opportunity.”

Oakes noted that the patients who do not openly discuss their condition and get exceedingly depressed are the ones who don’t live especially long after their diagnosis.

“Jeff always says he feels like he got this for a reason,” his wife Mary said. 

Activist Leader

Even while he is sick, he, along with Sativa Cross, plans to push for the legalization of cannabis in the November ballot referendum with a new organization called #Vote Cannabis 2020 that will focus on grassroots efforts to get the vote out in its favor, especially among patients.

When first prescribed with cannabis as a treatment, Oakes said people he knew were not receptive to his use. And when he went to the town council meeting in his hometown of Oceanport to speak in favor of expanding the medical marijuana program, they told him to take his concerns to Trenton. 

Oakes later went to a Berkeley Township council meeting to speak in favor of medical marijuana and met Edward “Lefty” Grimes. They became close quickly. Oakes has since been quite active with Lefty’s activist group and podcast Sativa Cross by going to town council meetings and urging them to support having a medical dispensary in town. Being an activist has given him zest.

“I’m happy to have them in my life,” Oakes said. He lamented that due to his illness he hasn’t been able to participate in their weekly podcast. Lefty spoke well of him at the homegrow rally in November

One win Oakes is happy about is that the Monmouth County racetrack became handicap accessible at their request and allows patients to medicate on their premises.

“They just said to use the designated smoking area,” Oakes said.

Oakes cited the Jake Honig Act as a particularly good victory since it enabled the NJ MMJ program to grow to its current size of nearly 68,000 patients and about 1,100 doctors.

“Jake’s law was wonderful,” Oakes said. “To see that law signed into effect was a nice lift for everybody.

Unfortunately, they have lost more often than they have won.

“We’re poo-pooed as stoners yet we’re advocating for cops to get their cards and for kids with brain tumors,” Oakes said.

Cannabis reform faces stiff opposition in Monmouth County. Oakes is unhappy that Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden and Freeholder Tom Arnone are especially against cannabis reform. In the past, Arnone has pushed for a resolution suggesting towns ban the sale of adult-use cannabis.

Oakes’ activism has been praised by Scott Rudder, the President of the New Jersey Cannabis Business Association who said in an association email that “The road to ending cannabis prohibition has been long and painful for many. There are countless heroes who’ve dedicated their life, their freedom and their health, to changing the hearts and minds of lawmakers and community leaders. Jeff Oakes is one of them…He and many others like him, those who have suffered through health or an injustice, remind us all of what legalization is all about.”

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