Marijuana-Using Patients Uneasy About Unknowns

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Mar 27, 2005
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Marijuana-Using Patients Uneasy About Unknowns

Montana -- Allen would give anything for a handbook on how and when to tell his young son that he uses medical marijuana. "I'd be a much more open advocate if I didn't worry about my family," said Allen, a Yellowstone County resident in his late 30s who didn't want his real name used.
He smokes marijuana for medical reasons, and he's had a hard enough time breaking the news to his conservative parents. He was surprised by their acceptance. "But what am I going to do when it comes time to talk to my son?" he asked.

He knows his elementary school-age son will be taught about drug abuse at school, and he supports that. But he's concerned his son will be told that only "druggies" use marijuana, and that worries him.

Right now, Allen smokes a very small amount of marijuana in the evenings to "get his meal down" - he has suffered from loss of appetite and extreme weight loss - and to help with anxiety and symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder. Using marijuana, he says, has allowed him to say goodbye to a laundry list of medications and their undesirable side effects. For him, the marijuana has had virtually none.

Allen doesn't want to say how he gets his marijuana. He keeps it locked away and never smokes it in front of his son. He doesn't use it during the day, nor does he carry it around. And he would never consider driving after smoking, even though he believes his impairment is minimal.

"You notice it (effects), almost like any other prescription medicine you're on," he said.

Allen has discussed medical marijuana with his primary physician and two other specialists and they basically said go ahead if it works, he said. But, they don't want to sign the form that acknowledges that he is qualified under the new statute to use marijuana until the law is clarified further.

And Allen doesn't want to register with the state as a medical marijuana user because he wants to remain anonymous.

"There is so much fear," he said, "not so much on a day-to-day basis, but there's still fear. If I were using insulin, that would be fine."

The risk level jumps significantly when it comes to obtaining marijuana. The statute allows a qualified patient or registered caregiver to have up to six plants and one ounce of marijuana, but there is no provision that addresses where the patient can get that supply.

"That's one of the most frightening parts about this," he said.

Not Just for Hippies

Walter Simon, a 69-year-old resident of Lake County, is a registered card holder.

But Simon, who describes himself as "middle class, law-abiding and not a part of the '60s culture," hasn't used marijuana for several months now because he doesn't have a legal source and it would take a season to grow a crop.

"I can't afford to purchase it, nor will I run the risk," he said.

He figures one plant a year would more than cover his needs, but he doesn't know where he would grow one if he had the seeds.

"I'm not a gardener nor do I want to grow it in my apartment," he said. "And I can't get a successful answer if I can grow off location."

Simon qualified for his card due to what he refers to as his "six-year affair with cancer." He's used marijuana casually over the years to address some of the symptoms associated with his cancer. It gives him a feeling of well-being, stimulates his appetite and has helped him sleep through some "terrible nights of doubt and fear."

Simon went public in support of Initiative 148, a move that cost him his privacy.

Before the act passed, Simon had tried Marinol, a prescription drug made from the active ingredient found in marijuana. But, the drug led to compulsive overeating, uncomfortable illusions in his peripheral vision and a feeling of dullness.

"There is no comparison between marijuana and Marinol, based on personal experience," he said.

Financially broke from three major operations, Simon was unable to pay the $200 fee to register with the state. The Medical Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization that supports the medical use of marijuana, picked up the tab. Bruce Mirken, director of communications for that organization, said Montana's fee is on the high end compared to the nine other states that have similar laws. When Montana's law passed, the MMPP chipped in $2,000 to help Montanans who could not come up with the fee. There is still $1,000 left in the fund, he said.

Simon was stunned when I-148 passed.

"The voters of Montana have spoken, but change will be a slow and evolving process," he said.

He knows it'll take time for the many unanswered issues to be resolved, but he envisions a day when a community caregiver/grower can grow and provide access to medical marijuana for card holders at a reasonable cost.

"I hope it will happen in my remaining time," he said.

Robin Prosser, 48, of Missoula, is another card holder. She has suffered from systemic lupus for 20 years and she has spent 10 years fighting to legalize marijuana for medical use. With her long medical history, she had no trouble getting her physician to sign.

"I'm finding that the sickest among us, if there's no other resort, the doctors are more than willing - if they have a long documented history, which is ultimately what it should be," she said. "I'd just like to see other people get relief if there's nothing else that'll help."

Six months before the initiative passed, she had a run-in with the law and was charged with possession of marijuana. The charges were later dropped under the condition she abide by the law. Now she considers herself doubly covered in Missoula County.

"But law enforcement goes county by county," she said. "It's a well-known fact that some counties will be tougher."

When it comes to medical marijuana, Prosser advocates openness.

"(We need) to be above board with it to avoid black market issues," she said. "That'd be bad for everybody."

She's also talked about putting together a pamphlet to clarify the law for physicians.

"There are a lot of misconceptions," she said. "There are going to be a host of things to be addressed."

Allen sees the process ahead as baby steps - steps that have left him with trepidation and one major concern.

"I know I have to have that conversation with him (son)," he said. "That's probably my most legitimate fear."

Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Author: Linda Halstead-Acharya Of The Gazette Staff
Published: March 27, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Billings Gazette
Contact: [email protected]

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