by Kayla Johnson
Adversity in life, no matter the form, forces every person to choose. How they push through those difficult, trying, or heartbreaking times, either lays the foundation to build themselves back up, or has the potential to lead them to further distress and dismay later when consequences make themselves known down the road. Which path you take is fully up to you and, while it may be more common to hear cautionary tales of bad decisions during tough times, the stories where people choose to use that heartache and struggle as the building blocks to something better are what need to be shared, especially during such a historic time in our state.
For many Oklahomans, adversity is no stranger. Between the dangerous springtime storms, wildfires, earthquakes, and being caught in the opioid crisis, some of those people have struggled through more than their fair share. While some give credit to their faith, their family support, or even just their own ability to keep going every morning, one woman who’s been dealt blow after blow by life’s chaos turned to cannabis to help with getting her through the trying times without spiraling into even more destructive behaviors.
Pamela Street is a native of Oklahoma – born in the southeast part of the state and raised in Choctaw. “It was a very different time, but I fully believe that without cannabis, I wouldn’t have survived my raising,” she said,” I suffered a lot of tragedies in life.” Street has seen the horrors of addiction wreak havoc on members of her family firsthand, and was exposed to the world of drug use from a young age. “Many members of my family were severe drug addicts.” She bluntly stated that she felt very privileged to not struggle with addiction, considering her upbringing, and she directly credited cannabis use with safely carrying her through. “I’ve been using cannabis since the 1970s, and it’s taken me through my education, losing my husband, single motherhood, and every other trial I’ve had to face.”
Street, a nurse who has worked in home health and seen firsthand how medications affect patients, was dedicated to her education, having earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She notes that the lack of knowledge among medical staff plays a big role in how false information lingers. She questioned a great deal of what she was being taught the entire way. “During the entirety of my time in school to become a nurse, there was absolutely no education on the endocannabinoid system.” Despite the frustrations she felt over this lack of information, she continued on with her nursing career and cannabis use, until the stress of the constant battles was too much for her. “Constantly advocating to doctors who refused to listen on behalf of patients was frustrating.”
Like hundreds of other Okies, she was also greatly impacted by the string of violent storms that produced several destructive tornadoes in May 2013. “I lost a ton, and I don’t know how I managed in all honesty, but I do know that marijuana helped me keep going,” she said. To have legal access to marijuana seemed like a far-off fantasy for Street, as Oklahoma has had a nationwide reputation as being especially opposed to cannabis, medical or recreational. So when the efforts towards medical legalization began to take shape, she felt moved to get involved. “After all of the loss, I wanted to go out and help people, to do something to make a difference for people who need cannabis.”
The fight for legalization was quite personal for Street, who is now in her 60’s. ”I have been a cannabis user since I was a teenager. I’ve been illegal and misunderstood for all of that time, and I told myself that if I have one breath left in me, I will see it changed.” That kind of dedication and determination to see positive change in the state is what helped fuel Street and dozens of others to collect the needed signatures to ensure State Question 788 made it on the ballot. For her, it felt especially appropriate to help in those efforts. “I’m a humble person, but for a 60-year-old woman to stand out on the street corners and gather signatures, it felt like this was a big meant-to-be thing.” The 788 movement inspired her to not only fight and work for other Oklahomans, but for herself. “I felt like I was protecting myself, and 788 gave me the fight I needed.” In addition to volunteering her time and energy to helping gather signatures and give out information, Street spoke at a nursing home before the vote at the request of the residents who wanted more information. “They wanted to make sure they knew what they were voting for and it gave me a chance to dispel some of what they thought they knew about cannabis.” Misinformation is one of the main reasons that “reefer madness” gripped the nation so tightly for so long, and for many people in the older generations, it can be especially hard to break those old habits and thought patterns. “I’ve always been honest. Sharing what I’ve put together and learned is important.”
With the passage of the bill in June of 2018, Street was encouraged by what she saw along with the countless other Oklahoma cannabis patients. “I really felt empowered when we passed 788, and it felt like we can finally change the thinking process for doctors and nurses in the state.” As medical stigmas and incorrect information is replaced with the truth and hard evidence, Street, who suffers from severe stress disorders, hopes she and other cannabis patients can help shed light on how cannabis really helps everyday Oklahomans. “I want to disprove what people think is wrong with cannabis by showing them that you can truly excel while using cannabis as medicine.”
For most patients, not having to constantly worry about whether or not they’ll be pulled over or arrested with their medicine on their person or in their vehicle has been a massive weight off of their shoulders, and Street is no different. “I drive legally with cannabis now, and the feeling of this freedom is nothing short of amazing.” That freedom has been a long time coming for many people in the state, and that freedom helps patients shake off the decades of stigma and stereotyping, simply because they don’t have to feel like a criminal for choosing a natural alternative.
Despite setback after setback and heartache after heartache, Street believes the only way to go is forward,, and being able to access a safe medicine legally gives her, and every other patient, something most of them need desperately: hope. “They have a true hope of healing, something that people with chronic pain or chronic illnesses often don’t have enough of,” she said, “I can see and feel how happy people are when they get their card and have it in their hand, and that makes such a difference. Cannabis is great for helping to reduce your stress, aiding in sleep. And when you’re less overwhelmed and sleeping better, the vicious stress cycle is broken. Your body can rest, and has a chance to help heal some of the things that are going wrong.”
Oklahoma, and, indeed, the country, has come a long way in the last decade regarding cannabis law, but Street can see the work isn’t quite done yet. “There’s still a lot that needs to be said, and a lot of ideas and old ways of thinking need to be adjusted.” Part of the solution, in Street’s mind, is to simply take back cannabis from those who don’t agree with it. “We have to stop letting others define things. By our actions and what we say, we can make it better by simply being better.”
Though extremely passionate about cannabis and the medical marijuana movement in the state, Street’s compassion for her fellow man is even more apparent. “In hindsight, cannabis has taken me through trauma upon trauma, and I fully believe I wouldn’t have met the challenges before me without cannabis. It has the potential to heal so much more than what many realize, and it’s important for people to stand up for themselves. Don’t let society try to tell you how to heal.” For those going through a difficult time in life or struggling with any number of medical problems, Street encouraged them to stay focused on the positive. “Within the broken body, there’s potential and there’s hope, especially when you have legal access to a natural medicine to help heal.” Now retired from nursing, Street focuses her time on educating people on cannabis, and hopes to give back more in the future as the cannabis industry continues to expand. “Something really magical is happening here in the state, and there are so many possibilities now.”
One of those possibilities includes being able to give back in a unique way to those who’ve worked hard to see cannabis legalized or who have struggled with severe health problems and are now legal cannabis patients after battling cannabis prohibition. Shortly before that May 2013 outbreak of severe storms, Street purchased a small cabin near the lake in Shawnee, living there while she renovated her main residence. The cabin, dubbed “The Moon Pie Cabin,” has had a profound impact on her despite the setbacks caused by the storms. “Anyone involved in getting this passed and getting this industry going has been under a lot of stress and pressure, on top of the painful situations and major stresses of their daily life, and I realized how important it is to find a way to take a step back.” Street realized she had the opportunity to let others be healed by the quiet, beautiful surroundings just as she had been. “There’s something truly magical about that place and being out by the water, and I saw how much that could benefit people who are struggling, and knew right then that the cabin should be reused somehow.”
Street’s ultimate vision is to eventually have a nonprofit established for The Moon Pie Cabin and to offer the location as a retreat for veterans, patients, or anyone in need of solitude and healing that is involved in the cannabis industry in the state. The cost of the retreat would be a donation to help others be able to travel to the cabin. Organizations would be welcome to donate towards covering the costs of guests in dire need of a break or retreat who perhaps can’t afford to donate themselves. While nothing is set in stone, Street points out the potential opportunity for Oklahomans to really pay it forward and give someone who’s struggling a chance to relax and find peace in nature.
Despite the cabin’s secluded, peaceful setting, it’s close enough that guests could drive to the city for an evening of entertainment and return to the peaceful solitude of the lake. “I felt like finding a way to use this place to give back to the cannabis community was really important, and the location just couldn’t be any more perfect for something like this.” With the relatively close proximity to the city and outlying communities, The Moon Pie Cabin is also within a day’s drive for most Oklahomans who would be interested in staying there. “It’s a place to heal, and being within reasonable driving distance means it’s actually accessible to the people who need it, rather than being some far off place they could only dream of visiting.”
Above all, the cabin has served as a reminder to Street of the importance of being a community and caring for your fellow human. She hopes to eventually share in these thoughts with those who visit there. “After the storms, people I’d never met before, even a group from a Mennonite community, came to help clear storm debris. It was an opportunity to really help others while pulling yourself back up at the same time, and that kind of feeling is what The Moon Pie Cabin is all about.” Street couldn’t help but see the correlation of the events of the last few years. “Just like our community came together after the storms to repair and rebuild, the cannabis community here in Oklahoma really has the opportunity to help repair and rebuild our communities in more ways than one.” So, nestled in the quiet landscape next to a lake in central Oklahoma, there lies a beautiful cabin that will be there waiting to help repair and rebuild those who’ve poured everything they have into their struggles in life.
After decades of being persecuted, ignored and judged for using and being pro-cannabis, Street and other advocates and patients have done what people around the country thought couldn’t be done: they’ve started one of the most conservative states in the nation down a bright green path, and Street gives credit to the perseverance of those supporting the movement. “We’ve been acknowledged. We’ve been heard and seen, and even after all of our experiences, we do what those that judge us don’t: we keep going. We take that last seed of hope, we feed it, and we go forward.”