Pubdate: Sun, 30 Mar 2014
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2014 The Kansas City Star
Author: Donald Bradley


ADRIAN, Mo. - As usual, Gene Halbin rolled a fat one after

He'd taken a couple of hits when two strangers appeared at the front
door. Halbin's place sits way out of town, off the blacktop, down a
dirt road, round a bend, over a bridge and deep into some woods in
northwestern Bates County.

Good bet they weren't solicitors working the neighborhood.

But they did come with purpose and the first words out of one of their
mouths stated it clearly:

"I can smell marijuana right now."

For the rest of the day, Halbin, 60, a retired air conditioning
serviceman with a rare and severe form of glaucoma, sat quietly as
officers carted out 41 pot plants, growing lights, a dozen or so guns
and his grandfather's pipe collection.

Sometime during all this, Halbin's wife, Dolores, a registered nurse,
came home and saw all the cars. She figured what was happening, got
scared and drove on past. She drove around until she ran out of gas.

Now these two are waiting to see whether Gene or both of them will be
charged, and Dolores, formerly the school nurse at University Academy
in Kansas City, has lost her job at a hospital - all for something
that likely would be legal in the 20 states that allow medical marijuana.

Several proposed bills are being considered in the Missouri General
Assembly, but none might come soon enough to help the Halbins with
what was known in the family as "Grampa's medicine."

The case, which comes as some health organizations pull back from
earlier opposition to medical marijuana, shows how weed has evolved on
the American landscape.

The Halbins belong to a shooting club. They display Old Glory in their
house. A 79-year-old farmer up the road says they're fine neighbors.

"She (Dolores) brought me a hot meal several days there when I was
down sick last winter," Dave Riaman, who has lived alone since his
wife died, said one day last week while airing up a truck tire.

He put his boot up on the fence and said he didn't know much about

"But he wasn't selling it and he wasn't bothering anybody, so I think
they overdone it," Riaman said. "If it made him feel better, what's
the problem?"

The couple's pharmacist in the nearby town of Drexel, Mo., thinks the
whole thing is ridiculous.

"They are good people and he found a treatment that works for him,"
said Mark Finke at Drexel Pharmacy. "I fully support them. He has
tried things I have here, but nothing works for glaucoma like
marijuana and you would be hard-pressed to find a doctor to say otherwise.

"He wasn't hurting anyone. I have drugs in here like OxyContin that
are legal and they kill someone every day."

After Dolores got over her initial despair, she decided she's too
Irish to take all this quietly, especially with her belief that
Missouri soon will join the ranks of medical marijuana states. She
blames President Barack Obama for not backing off the country's
long-held classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug - the same
as heroin and LSD.

Gene's crop included mostly small plants and took up a corner of their

"I've lost my job and I could lose my nursing license," Dolores said
last week at the dining table. "My husband has lost his medication,
and it's the only thing that lets him have anything close to a normal

"The only thing I have left is to fight. I want it all back - my job,
our guns, the lights, Gene's dad's pipe collection. Even the

Gene turned and looked at his wife.

"I doubt seriously they're going to give back the marijuana."

Evidence shows that marijuana can lower the painful high intraocular
pressure caused by glaucoma and help with other medical issues as
well, but that doesn't mean everybody favors legalization.

On Dec. 3 in The Star, Ravikumar Chockalingam and Dragan Svrakic,
doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis,
wrote: "The dangers of medical marijuana far exceed any therapeutic
usefulness, particularly in the context of safer and more
evidence-based alternate treatment. Legal cannabis is a bad drug trip
the public should avoid."

More notably, the American Glaucoma Society's official position is
against medical marijuana.

"Although marijuana can lower the intraocular pressure, its side
effects and short duration of action, coupled with a lack of evidence
that its use alters the course of glaucoma, preclude recommending this
drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time."

But other medical groups have pulled back blanket opposition.

The American College of Physicians now supports research into the
therapeutic powers of marijuana. The American Medical Association
"calls for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana."

The AMA's official position goes on to say that "effective patient
care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on
treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives
between physicians and patients should not subject either party to
criminal sanctions."

Last month, the Epilepsy Foundation announced it "supports the rights
of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access
physician directed care, including medical marijuana."

A study released last week by the American Academy of Neurology said
medical marijuana might be the most effective complementary or
alternative medicine for relief of symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.

A high-profile change of mind came last summer from one of the
country's best-known doctors. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and the
chief medical correspondent for CNN, had long opposed medical
marijuana because of studies that showed it had potential for great
abuse and no medical benefit.

But Gupta did his own research and concluded neither of those to be

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years
in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that," Gupta
wrote Aug. 8.

According to, a group that monitors controversial issues,
the national momentum is clearly with medical marijuana.

A Maryland Senate panel last week approved changes to a bill that
would remove a cap on the number of growers in the state and include a
study on how to best provide medical marijuana to veterans.

In Illinois, legislation advanced that would expand the use of medical
marijuana for severely epileptic children. The proposal, pushed by
parents, would allow children with seizure disorders, including
epilepsy, to take a derivative of medical cannabis.

Not too many years ago, the prospects for medical marijuana in
Missouri were far-fetched.

But things have changed, said Missouri Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas
City Democrat who introduced legislation that is scheduled for a
hearing this week. He said polling includes approval from 70 percent
of AARP members and shows the state is ready.

Support also comes from Republican ranks. Rep. Rob Schaaf, a family
physician from St. Joseph, sponsored a previous medical marijuana proposal.

Final approval, though, probably will come through a voter initiative
that Holsman's bill provides.

"In the end, the people of this state will decide," he

Then Holsman told why he was doing this. When he was campaigning,
Holsman asked a member of his church if he could put a sign in his
yard. The man declined because he was a Republican. A year later, the
man had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. He
asked Holsman to try to get medical marijuana for Missouri.

The man said he got some pot from his sister but didn't want to be a
criminal. Holsman said he would try.

"He died a month later," Holsman said. "He was a fine gentleman of
conservative values and (was) made out to be a criminal because he
used marijuana to improve his appetite."

Now Holsman and others in the General Assembly are getting emails,
some from parents of children who have seizures. These families say
they will move to Colorado or another state with medical marijuana.

That's what Ryan and Kathy Reed of Baldwin City, Kan., are doing. With
little chance of legislation anytime soon in that state, Ryan, a
teacher, plans to move in May to Colorado with the couple's toddler
son, Otis, who has as many as 300 seizures a day.

Kathy will stay and work at her job at the University of Kansas
because the family needs insurance.

No medication available to Otis has worked. So his parents are hoping
something called Charlotte's Web, a marijuana extract that has proved
to be successful in the treatment of child seizures, will help their
son. It's applied as drops under the tongue and has almost no THC.

Ryan wrote on a blog about Otis: "It (Charlotte's Web) is saving 
lives right now and should be available to children and adults who, 
like Otis, are out of options ... regardless of their ZIP code."

Around the country, families like the Reeds headed to Colorado are
known as "medical marijuana refugees."

Gene and Dolores Halbin aren't likely to move to Colorado.

They're dug in. The woods around here are home, for themselves and
their four dogs.

Life's not perfect. They think a relative turned them in. But they
hadn't been in trouble and neighbors speak highly of them.

"When I saw a picture on a website of all the plants and lights, it
was like they were really trying to make them out to be criminals,"
said Dana Robertson, a nurse who lives nearby. "I know what they did
is illegal, but it wasn't anything malicious and they are great
neighbors. She brings me strawberry jam."

The Halbins don't hold anything against the officers who came to their

"They were just doing their job," Dolores said.

"They were nice guys," Gene added.

Dolores makes clear, too, that she wasn't fired from her job at Bates
County Memorial Hospital. She was allowed to resign.

"They were very nice about it," she said.

For now, Gene is back to treating his glaucoma with prescription
eyedrops that he described as expensive and fairly

"Oh, they help a little, I guess," he said. "But nothing like smoking
a joint."  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D