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New Documentary Features Virginia Family’s Need for Medicinal Cannabis


An upcoming documentary, titled, “Buying Time,” focuses on more than access to affordable medicine, but about a family’s struggle to survive—and do so pain-free.

Madison Davis is a 9-year-old girl from Virginia—where cannabis was just recently decriminalized—who relies on medicinal cannabis to treat symptoms of severe pain and seizures brought on by brain cancer. To obtain the drugs for Madison, her mother, Melanie, pays $1,500 on a monthly basis to a stranger in California with the hope that the medicine will arrive by mail. Health insurance doesn’t cover the cannabis, so the cost is paid out of pocket. 

Sara Barger, the director of “Buying Time,” worked for the Discovery Channel and currently teaches undergraduate courses at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Her focus as a filmmaker has been on sharing the stories of those who may be underrepresented. She recently completed a short documentary, The Southern Ladies, about the struggles of being gay in Pittsburgh.

In the film, Melanie, a nurse, details the types of medicine that Madison has been prescribed: Methadone, Oxycodone, Valium, and Ativan. “It got to the point where I would sleep with her at night with my finger under her nose to make sure she’s still breathing because that’s what opioids do,” Melanie said. “They suppress your respiratory drive, but I can’t give her cannabis, which has none of those side effects.”

“Before I started taking [medicinal cannabis], I hurt, and I cried most of the time,” said Madison. “Now, I don’t have any of it. My pain is much better now that I’m on it.”

Only recently did Virginia lawmakers decriminalize cannabis, setting a $25 civil penalty for a first offense. Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill, having already shown support for cannabis decriminalization. 

Until Northam’s signature, the current punishment in the state is a maximum fine of $500 and a 30-day or less jail sentence for a first offense. Subsequent offenses result in a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

This past week, Virginia lawmakers in the Senate and House of Delegates also approved Sen. David Marsden’s legislation that would ensure that no person is arrested, persecuted, or denied any right or privilege in participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. Currently, patients who participate in Virginia’s medical cannabis program are only afforded an affirmative defense.

Barger said that she sees the Davis family as a good representation of this particular issue because people who smoke or partake in cannabis in other methods typically are held with a stereotype of being “stoners” or “hippies,” but the Davis family don’t ascribe to those labels.

“When you get close to a family like this, when you get close to a girl like Madison, you’re no longer a fly on the wall bystander. I’m friends with them now,” said Barger. She said that the making of the film emotionally affected her, but she’s glad that she stuck with the story because “we’re all in this together.” 

“Everyone should have the right to try as hard as they can to live,” said Barger.

To support the Davis family, donate to their GoFundMe.

Photo via Sara Barger

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