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For two former lawmakers, obeying the law proved more painful than ignoring the pain in their lives


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The lawmaker’s troubled mind and aching body pushed him to break the law.

Everything, it seemed, hurt former Rep. Joseph Lachance of Manchester. His back, feet, legs, stomach, shoulder, soul, all damaged from military service, all soothed from smoking pot.

What choice did he have? Lachance believed he had to take a chance. He had to commit a crime.

“It’s the only thing that works,” Lachance said during taped interviews with members of the attorney general’s office last summer. “I can’t sleep, I’m in pain, constant pain, and I was drinking so much.”

The interview was part of the state’s investigation into Kyle Tasker, the former state rep busted for, among other things, selling pot to colleagues like Lachance.

I went through hours of the audio transcripts released by the attorney general’s office, obtained by the Monitor through a right-to-know request.

The pressure applied at various times by investigators Allison Vachon, Jane Young and Lisa Wolford on Lachance and former state rep. Ted Wright, after they’d bought pot for humane purposes, was cringe worthy. It shows the state’s antiquated attitude toward medicinal marijuana, an attitude that continues today, despite a new law.

All New England states, except this one, permit the use of pot for unyielding pain, no matter the cause. Here, though, severe pain must be associated with a qualifying condition, leaving people who suffer from conditions such as diabetic nerve damage open to arrest.

As Lachance stated during his portion of the interview, “We have one of the strictest medical cannabis laws in the country. You have to have a relationship with your doctor, and you have to have one of the symptoms and the illness.”

Lachance and Wright, whose wife smoked pot to stimulate her appetite during treatment for cancer, met resistance in their attempts to get marijuana approved for medicinal purposes. From the highest levels of state government, no less.

Wright, who’s also heard on the tape, said he ran for office with the sole purpose of changing our law. “I said this has got to change,” Wright told Vachon and Young on Aug. 3. “We’ve got to tell people this is crazy, so I started coming down to the State House and testifying at hearings. I tried to get a hold of Governor (John) Lynch and he wouldn’t respond to me at all.”

Lachance, who admitted that he bought pot from Tasker at least six times, served active duty in the Army for three years, then in the reserves for a few years after that.

He jumped from helicopters during training, broke his feet and right leg, and later needed back surgery. He acquired a parasite in Thailand during the first Gulf War era and spent months in the hospital, leading to irritable bowel syndrome. Nerve damage now runs the length of his leg, which forced him to quit the Bedford Police Department because his gun belt, fastened tightly, caused his leg to fall asleep.

He said he’s got post traumatic stress disorder, and that’s not covered under our medical marijuana law. He became addicted to booze, drinking half a bottle of Jack Daniels a night, and oxycodone, both of which numbed his pain. He was in trouble and he knew it, hopelessly controlled by drugs and alcohol, totally at their mercy.

So he got his medical marijuana card a year ago and began buying illegally from Tasker, since the state’s dispensaries had not yet opened.

“I needed cannabis and I was given no option and I could go to Maine and illegally cross (the border) and break federal law,” Lachance explained on the recording. “I had never (smoked pot), but I’d been reading what it could do.”

He continued: “Cannabis helps with pain, and I detoxed myself and saved my life. I needed to get off the opioids. It saved my life. I have no other way to explain it to you.”

The attacks from the Department of Justice, toward a man who had served his country, state and community, crystallized when an investigator wondered why Lachance had labeled his behavior as “partying” while smoking with Tasker.

The implication was clear: While relieving his chronic pain, investigators wanted to make sure Lachance wasn’t having too much fun. As though that mattered.

“Just guys talking,” Lachance answered. “There were some times when stuff was very potent and I would tell (Tasker) that, and my pain was gone and I was sharing that.”

The day before Lachance was grilled at the AG’s office, Wright, who lives in Sanbornville, was questioned about supplying his wife with pot to ease her pain from the drugs used during a clinical trial.

She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and beat it before it returned and spread 17 years later. Drugs used in the clinical trial cured her.

They also made her sick to her stomach. Smoking pot allowed her to remain in the program, stimulating her appetite, saving her life.

“She tried everything we had, from motion sickness stuff to antidepressants, and none of it worked,” Wright said on the recording. “So she tried (pot) and within minutes she was eating the biggest meal I’d seen her eat in a year, and in three months she put all the weight back on.”

Wright said nobody else included in the trial could tolerate the medication.

“She was the only woman out of 50 left on the trial because Dana Farber wouldn’t tell the other women how to deal with these side effects,” Wright said. ‘They eventually either passed away or progressed or just couldn’t deal with the side effects. I felt horrible that these women were not allowed to know that this was very successful.”

Wright was cagey in his interview, never specifically saying he bought pot from Tasker. In fact, he never admitted buying it at all and remained vague throughout.

One thing was clear, though: “If you’re sick,” Wright said, “especially somebody like my wife, you’re faced with a choice of going along with what I consider to be a very outdated law, (or) saving your own wife.

Wright saved his wife, Lachance his mind and body. Both waited years for a breakthrough, conducting their business in the shadows. Both know our current law doesn’t go far enough.

And while neither was charged, both were punished last summer at the AG’s office, in room 206.

“We shouldn’t be going after this kind of thing,” Wright said angrily during his interview. “We’ve got a tremendous heroin problem, and this is a waste of your time and my time.”