Two months ago, Brooklyn judge Gustin Reichbach wrote an op-ed for the NY Times, expressing his support for medical marijuana and detailing his three-and-a-half year struggle with stage 3 pancreatic cancer, "My survival has demanded an enormous price, including months of chemotherapy, radiation hell and brutal surgery... Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep." Yesterday, Reichbach passed away in his Brooklyn home.
The Daily News calls Reichbach "a colorful, courageous and controversial presence on the bench for 21 years." Barry Sheck, head of the Innocence Project (and O.J. Simpson defense team lawyer), was at his deathbed and said, "I’ll remember the creativity and insight that he had. He was a remarkable guy."
Reichbach attended SUNY Buffalo and then Columbia Law School (George Pataki was in his class; Bruce Ratner was his roommate). The News reports, "Reichbach became an antiwar advocate and member of the radical Students for a Democratic Society — a move that led the state bar’s Committee on Character and Fitness to delay his admission, Scheck recalled. Among Reichbach’s many clients during two decades as an attorney was infamous radical Abbie Hoffman... Reichbach made headlines early in his career [as a judge] by handing out condoms to hookers in an effort to stop transmission of the AIDS virus."
In his Times op-ed, Reichbach calls medical marijuana "not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue."
Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy...
Given my position as a sitting judge still hearing cases, well-meaning friends question the wisdom of my coming out on this issue. But I recognize that fellow cancer sufferers may be unable, for a host of reasons, to give voice to our plight. It is another heartbreaking aporia in the world of cancer that the one drug that gives relief without deleterious side effects remains classified as a narcotic with no medicinal value.
Because criminalizing an effective medical technique affects the fair administration of justice, I feel obliged to speak out as both a judge and a cancer patient suffering with a fatal disease. I implore the governor and the Legislature of New York, always considered a leader among states, to join the forward and humane thinking of 16 other states and pass the medical marijuana bill this year. Medical science has not yet found a cure, but it is barbaric to deny us access to one substance that has proved to ameliorate our suffering.
Reichbach, whose daughter died last year, had hoped Albany would pass a medical marijuana bill but politicians couldn't get it together. Reichbach was never disciplined by the judicial conduct commission for admitting he was using marijuana.