Just What the Doctor Ordered

Just What the Doctor Ordered

She began with hydrocodone for the pain, Cymbalta and Trazodone for the depression, and Flexeril to ease the muscle spasms. The drugs helped sooth the nagging discomfort in her back. On good days, they dulled the pain in her legs.

But while Barb Trego got by, she wasn’t happy. The physical toll of her condition, which includes two missing discs in her back, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, left her life in disarray, and for that, the drugs were of little use.


They were just giving me the pain pills and muscle relaxers 60 at a time. It just makes you not care about anything. My house fell into disarray. I let all my houseplants die. I was on so many narcotics, my life was going on, but I wasn’t participating in it. – Barb Trego – Medical Marijuana Patient

Trego, a former reserve sheriff’s deputy and employee with the Department of Corrections, hadn’t worked since 1995. Although she was not yet 55 years old, it seemed her life was coming to an end before it really got going.

But two months after getting a medical marijuana card, Trego now manages the semblance of a smile. The drug was recommended by a friend and has, Trego says, made a big difference in her life.


I’m working a part-time job. I’m able to help my friends instead of them all coming to help me. I sleep better at night. I’m getting my house clean. I’m enjoying things again I thought were lost forever. – Barb Trego – Medical Marijuana Patient


Trego is one of nearly 15,000 Montana citizens with a medical marijuana card. Some 62 percent of Montana voters approved the use of marijuana for medical use back in 2004, giving the likes of Trego an option in their choice of drug.

But some lawmakers are taking a hard look at the state’s medical marijuana law, saying the current system of controlling prescription pot is broken and needs fixing. Not all 15,000 Montana cardholders are legitimate patients, they say, and it’s those who abuse the system that they’re looking to weed out with tougher regulations.

Among those with an eye on fixing what they see as a broken law are Republican state Sens. Dave Lewis of Helena and Jim Shockley of Victor.

Two weeks ago, Lewis announced a plan to license a single statewide marijuana grower and dispense the drug through licensed pharmacies. The result would create a system not unlike Montana’s liquor distribution laws, Lewis said, with the state controlling the supply.

“I don’t want to take it away from those who really need it,” Lewis said. “I want to make sure it’s still available to people with a true medical need. But it’s become widely available, and I absolutely believe that not everyone with a card has a legitimate need.”

After Lewis’ proposal hit the papers, his phone began ringing and his inbox filled with e-mails. In three short days, he said, he received more than 300 messages from both sides of the issue and more calls than he could answer.

“I heard immediately from the industry, the growers and the retailers,” he said. “Then I started hearing from the general public. A lot of people aren’t happy. They supported it before, but now they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of.”

Shockley has requested a bill to be drafted for the 2011 Legislature to repeal the marijuana law.

Shockley said he believes marijuana has medical benefits and should remain legal, although in a much more controlled way. But creating an appropriately controlled medical-marijuana system was too complicated for the initiative process, he said.

Even those who led the drive to legalize medical marijuana, including Tom Daubert of Helena, said the current law has flaws that need to be addressed. Daubert, who doesn’t necessarily agree with the remedies presented by Lewis, said last week that growers and dispensaries must be monitored, and the state must look at ways of regulating the industry.

Others, including a 54-year-old Helena woman named Holly, who suffers from a rare allergy to paraben (a chemical used in preservatives), blame a few high-profile pot users for exploiting the law and making it hard on those who have a legitimate claim to medical marijuana.

Holly, who’s a legal card holder, asked that her last name not be used due to a medical agreement she signed with her doctor. She got her card from Dr. Chris Christensen in Victor, who has certified at least 3,000 patients for medical marijuana.

While Holly, a cardholder, and Lewis, a politician, have little in common politically, they both mention the likes of Jason Crist by name, blaming the founder of the Montana Caregivers Network in Missoula for exploiting the law.

Crist, who has smoked publicly in front of the state Capitol, not to mention the Missoula Police Department, says his network’s clinics have heightened the profile of medical marijuana. Crist didn’t return calls this week, but he did tell Lee Newspapers of Montana that his sessions are not pot free-for-alls.

Others, however, see Crist’s move as an in-your-face publicity stunt that’s doing little for the cause.

“It’s embarrassing to the rest of us,” Holly said. “He’s going to influence just enough legislators who are of the conservative variety, and there it goes. He’s being a big ass about it, and that’s the kind of people we’ll be looking to weed out.”

Holly holds out her arms and shows her legs, which are covered with scars and open wounds. Pot, she says, has always helped her cope with the pain, and she admits to smoking it long before she was legally licensed to do so.

But now that she’s older and has grown ill, Holly says the drug makes her feel better. She says the law is still young and, because of it, she feels legitimate card holders must be allowed to police their own ranks and eliminate those who give marijuana a bad medical name.

“This is a young business,” she said. “Give us some time. Everything needs time to reach operating speed. I think it will self-police.”

As for Trego, she believes the growing flap surrounding medical pot is born from misinformation. She also worries about the current wave of bans and moratoriums that have cropped up in some Montana communities over the past two weeks.

Too few people understand the entire picture, she says, including the medical advantages of using the drug. That could leave a small number of those who use pot legally fighting to overturn the stigma that surrounds it.

“There’s always people who use it constantly, or smoke it constantly all day, but they’re not using medical marijuana, they’re smoking pot,” Trego said. “If the rest of us hide in the closets, it doesn’t show us as having a legitimate medical need.

“It’s a legitimate medical thing, and it has helped me so much, I want to get out there and tell other people it might help them, too.”


By Marton J. Kidston | Published in Helenair.com

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