Joseph Blundell: The Way Back From Pharma

Written by Mark Pedersen

Written by Mark Pedersen

February 28, 2024

My 2009 Interview with the Mayor of Cliff Village, Missouri

I first interviewed Joe at the Norml Drug Reform Conference on the University of Missouri Campus in Columbia, Missouri. That was 2009. 
Joe drew National attention when he helped pass a medical Cannabis ordinance for his city.

Joe was born in Gravette, Arkansas, though most of his early years were spent on a Blackberry farm in rural Missouri. Throughout his schooling, he lived in Pittsburgh, Kansas. 

Joe:  I attended the Pittsburgh High School back in the 1990’s. It was known as ‘Pharmacy High’.  There was a very good reason for it being given that name.”

Joe attended a number of universities. At the time of this interview, he was only one class away from six degrees – two Bachelors and four associates.  Through it all, he maintained a 3.75 GPA. Impressive for even an able-bodied student.
At the time of my interview with him, he was the presiding Mayor of Cliff Village, a small town on the southern outskirts of Joplin, Missouri. 

Joe attributes an intervention one night in 2000 to changing the direction of his life.  Through what he calls “a religious experience”, he was forced to confront his personal demons. His eyes were opened to a world so much greater than himself.
Joe gave away just about everything he owned and headed overseas, backpacking around Europe. He often pitched a tent along side the road, exploring places like the Black Forest in Germany and old Moorish cannon towers along the Italian Riviera. He eventually found himself in London where he found work. 

On the morning of October 15th, he was boarding a train in London. Unfortunately, he neglected the multitude of signs that warned him to “Mind the Gap”, the narrow space between the train doors and the tracks. In a split second, Joe slipped and was crushed under the weight of a 30,000-pound commuter train. It dragged him for about 75 yards before coming to a stop, with one of the massive wheels, resting on his spine.

Joe laid there in utter horror at all that had transpired, gazing out at his fingers scattered before him like confetti, when one of the rescue crew finally reached him and stuttered the words,

“You’re…you’re still alive??”

Joe paused our interview, looking over at me knowingly.  Then calmly: “I was completely conscious the whole time. I jokingly asked the emergency workers, ‘You guys gonna get me out from under here?’  Of course, they answered, ‘We’re gonna try.’”

As Joe continued, he described the flurry of activity as they assembled hydraulic jacks and a crane to lift the massive electric train engine off of him.   But they could only get it so far.  Since one of the wheels was lodged on the center of Joe’s spine between his T11 and T12 vertebrae, they would have to attempt a more invasive procedure. Expediency – no doubt – was of the essence. 
To remove him from under the wheel, emergency workers were forced to deflate his lungs, a scary and painful process involving the insertion of knives into each lung.  He was instructed to let all the air out of his lungs just prior to them plunging in the knifes. Blood outflowed from his mouth and his sides as they quickly pulled him out from under the enormous wheel.

Joe:  “Strangely though, I really didn’t think I was gonna die. Even as grim as the situation may have looked, I thought I was gonna be alright.”

Joe was kept alive for three days on life-support. Since he had a rare blood type, the hospital had to rely on donors from all over London. He required two transfusions before it was all done.

Joe: (after regaining consciousness) “First words out of the doctor’s mouth were, ‘Son, I don’t know why you’re alive. You should be in a lot of little bits somewhere…in the morgue or bio-waste or the landfill right now. I know one thing for sure. You’re being kept alive for some purpose.  You need to go do something with your life; make something of yourself.”
Joe: “I said, ‘Yes sir. Let’s go!’” 

In the days and weeks following his accident, Joe learned first hand the stark differences in healthcare between the U.S. and the U.K. 
Joe: “Socialized medicine is hands down better than ours.”

Anyone who has suffered serious illness or injury here in the United States knows just how lacking healthcare is here.  A nation that boasts on being the best at everything often leaves their most vulnerable to an uncertain and often miserable end. But of course, the wealthy don’t have to worry about such things.

Joe: “If I were to of stayed over there, I would have received about a year’s worth of rehabilitation – just mandatory.  They would have given me all of the equipment I needed.” 
Instead, Joe came back to America. After two weeks in the hospital, since he didn’t have insurance, was told to “Get out!” 

Joe: “And literally…that was the sum total of rehabilitation that I received for my spinal cord injury.”

Unfortunately, after Joe was discharged, his real troubles began.  The doctors had prescribed for him Morphine, Codeine and Demerol. Because of these drugs, much of his first year and a half after his accident was “a nightmare of surreal proportions.”
The Morphine would leave him drugged out of his head like a heroin addict, hallucinating to the textures in the sealing above his bed.  The Codeine and Demerol would slow his digestive system to the point where being impacted became a weekly occurrence.

Joe: “A lot of people who are able-bodied that take opiates, don’t notice it (constipation), because the natural movement of their bodies (being physically active) helps stimulate their bowel movements.”

Being bound to a wheelchair without feeling in his lower extremities, Joe faced much the same challenges as one who is bedfast. With His forced sedentary lifestyle, Joe would often go five to six days without a  bowel movement.

Peristalsis is the involuntary contraction and relaxation of the muscles that encompass
the digestive tract, from the throat to the anus. Opiates impair the normal motility of
the GI tract, decreasing the contractions, causing the expulsion of waste to be quite
laborious, even impossible.

Joe:  “Now, I can tell you, getting run over by a train – hurts.
         Having someone stab knives into your sides – hurts.
         Having three inch titanium screws drilled into your spinal column – hurts.
         Not having a bowel movement for five or six days is the most excruciatingly pain you
could possibly imagine. The pain – words cheapen how bad that hurts.

And what was the doctors response? “Uh well… that’s jus the natural side effects of the drugs.”

Joe:  “So, they gave me this stuff called, Magnesium Citrate. Essentially ‘Drano’ for the human body.”       

They would let Joe’s body fill with fecal matter for five or six days and then give him Magnesium Citrate. After drinking a bottle of this “human Drano”, he would be forced to sit on a portable toilet for five to six hours as pounds of excrement flushed from his system. The doctors just didn’t seem concerned with the trauma this was causing Joe.

I’m sorry if this all sounds rather graphic, but this is the daily experience for many of our disabled.

As Joe started looking into the drugs that he had been prescribed, one stood out. A blood thinner called “Warfarin”. He later found out that Warfarin is chemically identical to “rat poison”. Yeah. It’s disturbing when we find out what pharma considers “medicine”.

Joe:  “I went to the doctor and I asked him, ‘Hey, why are you giving me rat poison.’ He replied, ‘It’s not rat poison.’ So, I said, ‘Its no chemically different than rat poison.’ He answered, ‘It’s a very small amount.’ To which I responded, ‘It may be a small amount of rat poison, but, IT’S STILL RAT POISON!’”

Then Joe started researching some of the other drugs that he had been given, those causing him to be so “completely strung out”. He had always thought that Codeine was a Opiate derivative, but as he later learned, it hadn’t been based off Opium since 1973. The pharmaceutical industry has been synthesizing it from “coal tar and petroleum” ever since.

Joe:  “Now wait a minute.  Hippocrates. The father of modern medicine. The doctors take the Hippocratic oath.  Hippocrates was quoted as saying,

‘Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’

Joe went on… “I don’t eat coal. I don’t drink petroleum.  Why are people that have taken this oath shoving coal, petroleum and rat poison down my throat. Then chasing it with a big bottle of Drano and saying this is ok. This is nonsense. This is anything BUT medicine.  I mean, if you saw witchdoctors doing this, you would say this is some kind of sick cabal of evil magic. They’re poisoning people on a daily basis with ‘petroleum based medicine’.
And then they have the gall to tell me that if I put a (Cannabis) seed in the ground and put water on it and let a little plant grow that I can use to relieve this crippling, debilitating pain that I feel every day…that I could spend seven years in a cage for that?”

Joe has had friends that have lost whole families in car crashes where the drunk driver who hit them only received five years. It’s not difficult to see Joe’s frustration over being threatened with seven years for growing Cannabis. With there being so many incredible stories of healing flooding the Internet and seeded throughout our nation’s news casts, it’s no doubt difficult to imagine law enforcement and the courts still treating Cannabis like a toxic dangerous drug, but the truth is, particularly in our country’s more rural areas, they still do. 

Joe:  “The first year after the accident, I cost the taxpayers of Missouri over ten thousand dollars in prescription drugs. But, why do they have to front the bill at all? I could get my pain requirements met by growing Cannabis. You know, when it becomes legal, I’m gonna eat it. I’m gonna eat my flowers. I’m going to put it into my baked goods. I’m going to put it in my pasta sauce. I’m going to bake it into brownies. I’ll do a lot of stuff with it. But it will be mine.  It will be MY pain medication that I have produced for myself, for my benefit.”

I’ve spoken to so many battling serious, even terminal illness who have found relief with Cannabis. Their reactions over the disparity of the law is always the same, so similar to Joe’s.  Utter disbelief that a nation that prides itself on “freedom”, has persecuted so many just because they want a life reasonably free of debilitating pain. 

The Beginning of His Healing
Joe: “This is what got me off the pharmaceutical drugs. The neighbors had this Basset Hound that used to scream like crazy when it was left alone. I got tired of listening to its suffering in its four by eight foot cage, so I took it out one day for a walk. On the way back, I ran into a neighbor that said, ‘Why don’t I ever see you out in the village?’ And I said, ‘I’m strung out on Morphine, Codeine and Demerol.’ He said to me, ‘Hold on just a minute. Let me get something for you.’ He goes in his house and came out with a joint. He told me, ‘Go… take this… try this. See if it helps you.’ 
So, I took it back, I sat in my garden and I smoked it.  Not only did the pain go away, but I wasn’t drugged out of my gourd.”

Mark:  “Tell me about the pain.”

Joe: “Any time there is a weather change, any time I move around too much in my wheelchair…and just about any time I wake up in the morning, it’s excruciating.

Mark:  “What kind of mobility do you have right now?”

Joe:  (He motions a line across his abdomen with the edge of his palm) “T-11 and T-12…there’s nothing below that. Though, in the last year and a half, I’ve been getting feeling back in my left leg and unfortunately, my left buttocks… I actually have a decubitus ulcer (bed sore) from all the time that I spent strung out on Morphine in my bed. It’s interesting from an anatomical and physiological standpoint. I can take my finger right now and touch bone. I can literally touch one of my bones through a hole in my body that big. It doesn’t feel like kittens purring. Sometimes I don’t feel it at all. Sometimes I feel it so bad, I throw up.”

Mark:  “How is Cannabis going to help that level of pain?”

Joe: “It just does. It completely helps it.  It relaxes me to the point it… it’s not really a numbing either, but it’s kind of a better feeling… that replaces the excruciating pain with the feeling of almost comfort…soothing.”

Mark:  “I’ve often said for myself, as well as other patients, that its almost like you’re

distancing yourself from the pain,

rather than numbing your body to the point that you don’t feel anything at all.”

Joe:  “I would definitely agree with that statement. It doesn’t feel like a numbing affect. It feels like I’m consciously changing what the pain is and what it means.  It’s no longer such a negative. I just, feel better. I can cope. I can live. When I was on pharma, I spent my time strung out in bed, staring at the ceiling…crying. A real productive lifestyle.”

Taking action
Joe: “After I found the medicinal benefit of Cannabis, I started living. I started getting out in my community. And I got involved. I actually started asking people… ‘Hey, what’s going on?’
I found out that there had been five people who died in the last ten years of a rare form of bladder cancer. We’re talking about in a community of about 33 people. Not only that, almost every person’s dog was dying of some sort of weird condition.  I asked, ‘Has anyone checked the water?’ But, nobody had checked the water!

Mark:  “What kind of industry is around there?” I was already quite aware through personal experience of the connection between industrial chemicals and bladder cancer.

Joe:  “There is a bearing plant about two miles upstream from us. About a decade early, they had buried drums of Trichloroethylene in the foundation of their plant.”

Commonly used as an industrial degreasing solvent, Trichloroethylene is clear, colorless and non-flammable with a chloroform-like smell and sweet taste. It is thought to cause cardiac arrhythmias and is classified as a carcinogen.

Joe:  When the foundation cracked, all the TCE flowed down the river and contaminated village wells.  Not all of them, but some. Some had large concentrations of lead and several had dangerously high levels of Trichloroethylene. It took me a long time just to get the Department of Natural Resources or EPA to test these wells. During my efforts, the people of the town decided to make me Mayor. They thought I might have a little more pull with political leadership.  So they gave me the title of the ‘Honorable Joseph T. Blundell’ (Joe smiles). I got to pull people up with the EPA and use that title.
One would have thought that having dangerously high levels of Trichloroethylene next to a daycare would have been enough to prompt immediate action, but curiously, it didn’t. What it did was prove to me just how deeply flawed the system has become. “

“ The Trichloroethylene was 4.8ppb.
For the EPA to legally do anything, it had to be 5ppb.”

Joe: “I say to this guy, ‘Is this a safe amount for these kids to be drinking?’ He said, ‘According to the government it is.’  So I said to him, ‘Can I bottle some of this stuff up to send home for your kids to drink?’ He said, ‘That’s not even funny.’ And I said,

‘No, its not.’

It took me two years before I could even get all these contaminated wells on a ‘boil water’ program.  I had assurances from Missouri American Water Company that they were going to run water lines out in 2005 – 2006.  Here it’s 2009 and I haven’t seen a waterline in sight! It’s sad. We’ve got children in our village bathing in water contaminated with lead and Trichloroethylene. At least, they’re not drinking it anymore.
All of this has inspired me to be even more active in the village.”

Joe’s City Ordinance
Joe: “Just last august, we had a Village meeting. After covering regular business, I presented a proposal that I had been working on. The original was called Ordinance 421. I presented a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the Village. Then I went into my story. I told them about how I lived under the doctor’s medications and how Cannabis therapy had profoundly improved, not only my life but also the lives of those around me.
Though a couple who were present were apprehensive, I received overwhelming support.” 

Mark:  “To put this in the right framework for everyone else, what you did was to present a “City Ordinance” that effected exclusively the city where you live. For the state of Missouri, this was the second city ordinance regarding Cannabis. The first was in Columbia, correct?

Joe:  That’s correct. Actually, prior to me finalizing my ordinance, I found out about HB277. After reading it, I realized it was more reasonable. The bill I was proposing originally was a bit far-fetched, but, in all reality, I created it to make a statement. I had no illusion that it would be any more than a public statement. I really wanted to spark a rational discussion about it at a state level.
I had called state representatives who had sponsored similar bills. I asked them why those bills didn’t get in.  Apparently they had all been ‘pocket vetoed’.”

In the statehouse, if a Bill doesn’t get assigned to a committee, it doesn’t get discussed…which means it dies without consideration. That, unfortunately, is the way it is. As you might have guessed, this issue has forever been partisan.

Joe:  “You look at the reason Cannabis was made illegal in the first place and there’s a whole discussion on THAT end. But then you look at the 2005 Gallup Poll. 78% of Americans are in favor of supporting the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s like, excuse me, when I went to school, I learned that a Democracy was about majority rules, something about voting? How is it that a

78% majority in our country is not getting heard?

What’s going on? This doesn’t sound right at all. This sounds to me like a few key people in power are upholding the drug pushing industries that like to feed me rat poison, coal tar and petroleum.  I don’t eat rat poison, coal tar and petroleum. I will not eat it anymore!
And our state (Missouri) has the audacity to tell me that growing a flower is illegal while they are pouring gasoline down my throat? Bullshit! I call bullshit. That’s shenanigans. What the heck is going on here? I’m not a car. I do not run on petrochemicals.”

Mark: “So, it sounds to me like Cannabis hasn’t destroyed your life the way that our government has painted the picture, huh?

Joe: “Cannabis has done nothing but enrich my life to a degree that I could not have known under petro-pharmaceuticals. Enriched beyond measure.”

Of course, being a very vocal Cannabis activist in a rural Midwest community (not to mention in an illegal state) can attract the attention of local law enforcement.
 
Joe: (Joe smiled) “We didn’t use to see a police car – ever – in our Village. But, since passing my ordinance, even amid immense budget cuts, our little thirty-three resident community is the most patrolled in the state of Missouri. Seriously, we’re under constant “threat mentality” now. I have family members who have been harassed recently. There have been some very shady things going on. Apparently, me speaking out for truth and trying to stand up for my rights is the kind of thing that would get me put in my place.”

With all that Joe has been through, the thought that a nontoxic substance would be such a serious issue was difficult for him to fathom. Joe thought that, as an American citizen, he had the right to speak out against injustices without the fear of retribution. Unfortunately, as so many of us have experienced, we’re only given a small measure of freedom. The will of the people and their suffering is often of little importance to the powers-that-be.

What’s really amazing is that, even with all Joe has endured, all that he’s done and all he continues to do for his family, his career and his community, he has done so while still enduring a level of pain like few of us have ever experienced. I mentioned earlier how paraplegics deal with chronic issues common to their condition. Just two years ago, he had a stone larger than a baseball removed from his bladder. His doctor told him that he probably could have submitted it to Guinness. He also had a stone the size of his fist removed from his kidney. For that one, they had to insert a one inch tube and blast the stone with a laser continually over the course of a week of surgeries. And yet, he keeps pushing. He keeps striving for a better future.

Joe:  “I cannot say enough about how my life has been profoundly enriched by this sacred, sacred plant. I look forward to the day when we get to ‘keep and bear farms’. I want to be able to grow my own medicine and know that I’m not supporting some drug organization. I mean, the price of Cannabis…you know, about a year ago, ounce for ounce, Cannabis was worth the same as gold.  Who is mandating the price of a flower that I could grow with virtually no effort whatsoever?
Of course, when you look at it, the drug dealers are on one side of the coin and the police are on the other side. I mean, the abysmal affects of prohibition, all over again. We’re doing nothing but empowering thugs with drugs. The bread and butter for the most depraved social institutions that you can imagine. It’s not going to be a pretty future if we don’t stand up and do something. If we don’t stand up and say, ‘hey, we’re a 78% majority.  Where are MY rights? Where are my constitutional rights?
Speaking of the Constitution, written on Cannabis paper. You look at that and say wait a minute.  The police take an oath of office. To uphold and protect the constitution of the United States of America. How can they be protecting one word of that document if they can’t even protect the paper its printed on? There’s something seriously amiss here in our great country. They don’t know what their roots are.”       

*     *     *

Joe’s life story is one of incredible survival amid terrible tragedy. Despite injury and disability, Joe has persevered, building a business, Sustainable Living Systems and a family, while serving the community that he calls home there in Cliff Village, Missouri.

“Cannabis is nontoxic. Cannabis is food. Cannabis is the single most important medicine of the 21st century.”

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