Ryan Landers suffers severe pain caused by advanced stage AIDS and shingles of the brain. His prognosis is grim. "I'm looking at life through terminal eyes," he says. Landers was the public face of the campaign for Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996. He says with certainty that he would be dead today if it were not for smoking cannabis, which quells his nausea so that he can eat. He remains active for the cause. "I can't stop fighting until patients are safe," he says.
Landers pulls himself out of bed to attend a Crusaders For Patients Rights meeting, stopping to say goodbye to his ailing cat, Rascal, 16, who is his best friend.
He became an activist after his terminal diagnosis. "I know I had to lose everything. I accepted death and at that point I knew I was either going to go to jail and die sooner, or I'd make a hell of a lot of difference."
Sitting in the meeting Landers wears sunglasses to protect him from getting headaches and cellphone earbuds ready to take a call from any patient who might need his advice. He has a keen eye for language in laws and chimes in frequently during the meeting to offer helpful suggestions or historical background. He does this despite sharp pain in his neck and stomach.
"I think this is why I've had so many illnesses - so I can speak first hand about so many different illnesses," he says. "I'm a completely different person for having that knowledge."
Since starting this journey of advocacy Landers has done things he never dreamed he would do. He's changed language in laws, made friends with politicians and law enforcement and turned them into supporters, adopted two sons, helped patients get their seized medical cannabis back and more. He's quoted heavily in the media any time the issue is brought up. But really it comes down to a simple purpose. "I just understand people's pain and want them to feel better," Landers says.
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