Pubdate: Sun, 15 Mar 2009
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2009 Missoulian
Note: Only prints letters from within its print circulation area
Author: Keila Szpaller, Of The Missoulian


The Montana Department of Transportation won't help grow pot plants after all.

Last week, the DOT took down light bulbs from the Orange Street 
Bridge. Then Rick Baker, a Billings veteran starting the Missoula 
Cannabis Co-op, asked department officials to donate the pricey bulbs 
to help grow marijuana for medical patients.

It's likely that no one told Baker to put the request in his pipe and 
smoke it. Still, it doesn't look like he's getting the lights. * 
Department director Jim Lynch heard the request by phone and said 
this after a pause: "Are you sure you don't have me on candid phone?"

An agency spokeswoman said Friday the agency doesn't have plans to 
donate the bulbs: "We'll put those bulbs to use. We're not sure 
where," said Charity Watt Levis. "We don't have any immediate plans, 
but they're definitely not something we're tossing away."

A crew removed the high-pressure sodium lights because they kept 
blowing out inside the bridge fixtures. At roughly $150 a pop, the 
lights were expensive to replace, so workers installed $5 fluorescents instead.

Baker, a medical marijuana caretaker and patient, was hoping the 
lights could help grow cannabis for patients. The Montana Medical 
Marijuana Act allows a patient and caregiver to keep up to six 
plants. Baker estimated the start-up costs to care for that many 
plants at between $600 and $1,100, and said the lights are a costly 
part of the package.

"The high-pressure sodium ones are the real killers," said Baker, 25.

This fall, Baker plans to move to Missoula to attend the University 
of Montana. He's looking for commercial space to open up the 
nonprofit co-op, which he'll model after the Yellowstone Medical 
Cannabis Foundation in Billings. In Montana, The Hemp and Cannabis 
Foundation Medical Clinics also operate in Missoula and Billings, 
according to its Web site.

Baker said the Missoula Cannabis Co-op's mission will be to help 
patients and caregivers. He'll help patients get their medical cards, 
medicine and pipes. He'll fill them in on the law, and he'll assist 
caretakers with some of the same.

He said he's considered 60 percent disabled and took up the cause 
after he tore his shoulder wrestling. Doctors mended it with seven 
screws, but they also prescribed drugs that hurt him.

"So I was taking a bunch of pills and it ended up, like, hurting my 
stomach," Baker said.

The drugs also landed him in a substance abuse program, and he wasn't 
alone. The infantryman had surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center 
in Washington, D.C., where he saw "all those soldiers coming back and 
getting addicted to those narcotics."

He said cannabis is a good alternative. While the Transportation 
Department isn't helping him out, Baker said Best Buy in Billings 
did. When the store redid its lights, the foundation scored around 
50, he said. Growers see expenses add up, so the donations help. Even 
the electricity bills go up, and not just because of the high-powered bulbs.

"I play music for mine. I'm playing Marley right now," Baker said.
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