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MS patient redefines political dreams through cannabis advocacy

Fourteen years ago, Julie Kunze was in law school and dreaming of working for the Democratic National Committee when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disabling, life-long disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website most of the nerves that are affected reside within the Central Nervous System such as the brain and spinal cord. As a result, multiple parts of the body are affected, leaving a person with difficulty controlling their muscles as well as issues with fatigue, chronic pain, vision, mental awareness and many other symptoms.


Before her diagnosis Julie already had a caregiver and was using medicinal marijuana however after struggling with MS for two years, her doctor prescribed her Copaxone, a daily, injectable synthetic protein that simulates myelin basic proteins, a component of the myelin that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, to her daily regimen.


She added that the Copaxone has helped her over the years however she is able to speak more clearly, is uplifted and has more self-awareness when she ingests marijuana. All the same, Julie still has difficulties with everyday tasks such as, keeping balance, seeing at night and controlling the muscles in her hands.


“The entire part that has to do with coordination or rhythm or anything that was good has gone bad now. It’s like someone took a pizza cutter and went straight down the middle of me. My right side went to hell but my left side is still ok but it’s like the right side of my body is just gone,” she said.


Like many people with a life-long chronic illness, once diagnosed, Julie’s MS symptoms slowly started to interfere with her personal and professional life over time. Unfortunately, her symptoms got so bad that she was forced to put her dreams on hold.


“I was in my second year, second semester of law school and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore so I had to withdraw,” she said. “I tried to go back but it did not work.”


After leaving Law School, Julie was hit hard by depression. So much so that she very rarely her room during the first five years of her diagnosis because she could no longer live the life she once could.


“Your brain’s off, you don’t feel the same and all of your symptoms are at the forefront,” she said. “You get used to living a certain way and then that way of living no longer brings you any pleasure. You aren’t able to do anything anymore.”


“I had worked for congresswoman [Lynn] Rivers in Ann Arbor, I wanted to go to law school, I wanted to work for the DNC, I had a whole life ahead of me and I had to give it up,” Julie added.


Luckily with the help of friends, family and her councilor, she was able to manage her depression.


“One day I woke up and said I’ve had enough of this. I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t want people suffer like this anymore, including me.”


Now 43, Julie speaks at MI Legalize events across the state of Michigan, sharing her story about her struggles with multiple sclerosis. She believes that the best way to persuade states to legalize marijuana is through education and research.


“It’s just amazing what it does. I don’t understand why it isn’t legal. Why aren’t we testing? Why aren’t we doing research? I guarantee if we did a tad bit of research we could find something for MS,” she said.


Additionally, Julie and her best friend, a breast cancer survivor and medicinal marijuana patient, are working together to open their own dispensary. Julie is also an activist for a legalization campaign in Michigan. Although, if you were to ask her in 2003 what her life would look like now, it would be much different.


“This isn’t how I thought my life would look like but this is what it is now and rather than hiding you have to get out there and do something and that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to help legalize marijuana because it is the only thing that has ever helped me,” she said.



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