Pubdate: Mon, 29 Mar 2010
Source: Weekly Volcano (Lakewood, WA)
Contact:  2010 Swarner Communications, Inc.
Author: John Herbert
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


The Medical Marijuana Debate Has Nothing to Do With Recreation

Eligh used to take more prescription pain medication than you can 
imagine. Like hundreds per month - Percocet, Oxycodone, Morphine - you name it.

Eligh looks old and young at the same time. He walks gingerly and 
staggers a bit into the room. We're at North End Club 420, where 
Eligh and people with various ailments come to get their medicine. 
That's medicine with a capital "M" - Mary Jane - medical marijuana.

A lot of people still struggle with the "medical" part.  But they're 
in the minority in Washington state, according to a family of polls 
and one statewide vote, which decriminalized the possession of 
marijuana for a short list of medical conditions - sort of. The 
Medical Use of Marijuana Act was passed by Washington voters in 1998 
and provides a so-called affirmative defense in court for possession 
of up to a pound and a half of cannabis and 15 flowering plants. 
"Affirmative defense" only applies after a patient has been arrested 
and charged. So it's not as cool as it sounds. The protection, which 
works more often than it doesn't, won't protect patients from federal 
law, which still deems marijuana possession verboten.

But that hasn't stopped patients from doing their thing. The law is 
considered by patients to be an important step toward legalizing 
marijuana for medical use for real. What we have now is sort of a 
pseudo-committal legal grey area that gives a lot of people hope for 
something better. Meanwhile, Medical Marijuana is an official 
movement in Tacoma, with clubs such as 420 sprouting up like, well, 
yeah, you know.  Eligh is one of about a dozen people who cycle 
through Club 420 on a Monday afternoon. He is one of a softly 
estimated 35,000 medical marijuana patients in Washington.

As he shambles into Club 420, Eligh favors his right leg. His wife, 
Elizabeth, a nurse, walks with him, clearly ready to help should he 
stumble. Eligh says he began taking pain medication after an accident 
at work crushed his spine in several places. His back had to be 
patched back together with metal screws, bone grafts from his femur, 
and a few other bits of borrowed tissue from various body parts. 
Later, the screws started to extrude from the bones - literally 
unscrewing themselves - and tried to push their way through his skin 
from the inside. He lived with constant pain that most people simply 
can't imagine.

All of the drugs he took to manage his pain were prescribed. None of 
them helped the way they should.  The side effects were often worse 
than the pain that the drugs were supposed to relieve. Opiates such 
as Percocet - which are standard fare in the pain management game - 
kill your appetite. They make you weak; they make you constipated; 
they keep you up at night; and they make you feel sick, he says. Over 
time, says Eligh, he developed a tolerance for the family of opioid 
drugs that he had been prescribed. He had to take more and more to 
alleviate his pain. Sometimes, despite the overwhelming number of 
pills he had been prescribed, he ran out. Then he had to deal with 
withdrawal. At a certain point, he says, he began to experience 
withdrawal symptoms on a daily basis, regardless of how much pain 
medication he had taken.  There were times that the pain was so bad, 
the agony so inescapable, that he considered suicide as an out.

"I'm 35. I've got a wife and two kids," he says. "If it weren't for 
them, I would've put one in my head and been done with it."

Eligh, who asked not to have his full name revealed for obvious 
reasons, also credits marijuana for supplying the will to go on. 
Thanks to marijuana, these days Eligh takes only two pain pills a 
day. He sleeps better at night. He can eat. And his pain is managed. 
Marijuana is the reason - the good stuff, which he eats or smokes in 
a vaporizer, which is a contraption that heats the herb just enough 
to generate a harmless, potent vapor.

As a general rule, medical users are encouraged to vaporize or eat 
cannabis rather than smoke it. Inhaling marijuana smoke is harmful to 
the lungs according to some studies. That's about the only 
significant health risk associated with marijuana cited across major 
research reports. Of course, other, more recent research suggests 
that even very heavy, long-term marijuana users who had smoked more 
than 22,000 joints over a lifetime showed no greater risk of 
developing lung cancer than infrequent marijuana users or nonusers. 
That's according to a Fox News article that cited researchers at 
UCLA's School of Medicine.  Researchers were surprised. By all 
accounts, overwhelmingly, marijuana meets FDA criteria over "whether 
a new product's benefits to users will outweigh the risks."

"Everything has gotten better (since he started using marijuana to 
treat his pain)," says Eligh. "I am 150 percent for medical marijuana."

So is Dave, another Monday afternoon visitor to Club 420. Dave has 
bulging disks in his spine, degenerative disk disease, and arthritis. 
He's youngish, works in sales, and runs sales seminars for some 
respectable companies. Dave started using medical marijuana when the 
side effects of pain pills such as Percocet, Oxycodone and Phenternol 
became intolerable.

"I can conduct business all day when I'm stoned," says Dave. "Could I 
do that on Oxycodone? Hell no."

Michael, one of three Club 420 founders, says he meets people like 
Eligh and Dave every day - people who leave crying tears of relief, 
joy, and appreciation.

"We help a lot of people," says Michael, "because we're patients too, 
and we realize that we only have each other to turn to."

Michael has AIDS and says medical marijuana has changed his life. 
AIDS patients such as Michael use medical marijuana to soothe nerve 
pain, to stimulate suffering appetites, and to mitigate nausea caused 
by other AIDS-related drug treatments, for example. Michael is 
really, really smart. Like an encyclopedia with long hair. And he's 
angry. He's angry that old myths about marijuana persist. He's angry 
about what he describes as corporate and government machinations 
aimed at depriving him and other patients of the only thing that 
relieves their agony. He's angry about the general ignorance that 
persists even in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the 
usefulness of medical marijuana - ignorance that keeps thousands of 
patients living in fear and unnecessary pain.

"We're more angry than afraid," he says. "That's what made us start 
this club. We got scalpers on one end trying to sell medicine at 
prices people can't afford.  We've got cops on the other end trying 
to bust us. And we've got criminals staking us out, following us 
home, robbing us, and trying to take our stuff. All we want to do is not hurt."

Michael says he makes a difference in someone's life every day. It's 
a mission that comes with significant risk. Places such as Club 420 
are targets for robbery on one end and police action on the other. 
For now, he says he and other patients feel like they have to create 
their own change regardless of the risks. And contrary to what some 
may assume, there's really no profit motive. It's not a stoner 
wonderland by any stretch.

"We're not making money. We're losing it. I can't afford a sofa," he 
says. "I'm probably going to end up in jail. Hell, I'm ready to die 
for this. I've been dealing with AIDS for 17 years. Nothing really 
scares me that much. I'm making a stand."

Meanwhile, Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign a bill that 
will give more health care professionals the authority to recommend 
medical marijuana. Senate Bill 5798 allows naturopathic doctors, 
advanced physician assistants and nurse practitioners the power to 
authorize marijuana for medical use. The state Senate approved the 
measure 37-13 last week. State advocates, meanwhile, have begun a 
ballot initiative that would give Washington voters the chance to 
authorize marijuana possession statewide. Washington voters have 
consistently polled positively on marijuana legalization.

But that's another issue, another article.

This is about medical marijuana users, not recreational users - a 
division that most people don't know enough about or care enough to make.

"A lot of the patients here have been loaded with 100 different 
medications and told to go home and die," says Mike, another Club 420 
founder. "We help them however we can. It pisses me off that it's 
2010 and people still don't get it. It's taking a bunch of stoners to 
figure it out." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake