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Patient Choices Exist, with Limits

Daily Dose 2011-04-27 0 comments

By Jesse B. Gill |  Published in Redlands Daily Facts

Arlo Hartin, 24, smokes medical marijuana to treat bipolar disorder and psychotic tendencies. Jeremy Weissmiller, 33, at left, uses it to treat pain from a shattered back he suffered while serving in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Jesse B. Gill)

Bledsoe, 39, helps run a medical marijuana buying club out of his Crestline home. The members – there are about 10 – pay dues, buy medical marijuana in bulk and meet once a week to share what their money has bought.

Members must have medical marijuana recommendations from their doctors to enter Bledsoe’s home during meetings. The group does not provide – or offer – marijuana to people without the recommendation.

Bledsoe, a Florida transplant, said he uses marijuana to treat depression and anxiety. He is also an activist who wants to see marijuana legalized in San Bernardino County for medicinal uses.

But in recent weeks, the county has made it tougher, though not impossible, for patients to get their hands on medical marijuana through land use restrictions already seen elsewhere in the state.

Such restrictions ban dispensaries and collectives in places where cities haven’t already.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a land-use ordinance March 22 that bans medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives in unincorporated areas.

Those areas include communities such as Mentone and Bloomington.

Supervisors also restricted the cultivation of the drug by legitimate patients to indoors only.

“Effectively, it shuts down access to collectives, it shuts down outdoor growing, and we suffer,” Bledsoe said, adding that the county has ignored the needs and concerns of medical marijuana patients in crafting the land-use code.

“We want sensible regulations, not outright bans or regulations so restrictive that we can’t obtain medical marijuana,” he said.

That argument does not appease county officials.

Land-use codes are not established to provide patients access to any drug, county spokesman David Wert said.

“It’s not the county’s job to make sure that people have access to medical marijuana,” he said. “Our job is to adopt a responsible land-use code, which is appropriate in regards to the needs and concerns of the neighbors.”

Wert noted that the county’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives doesn’t make it impossible for patients to obtain medical marijuana. Patients can obtain it at “certain medical facilities” and are able to grow marijuana plants inside their homes, he said.

Bledsoe and two members of his buying club were forthcoming about the health benefits they say marijuana offers them.

Jeremy Weissmiller, 33, of Crestline said he was medically retired from the Marine Corps after a 500-pound pallet of ammunition fell on him and shattered his back when he was serving in Afghanistan in 2001.

“I was diagnosed as an incomplete paraplegic,” he said. “I had lost almost all use of my legs.”

He said he has two 6-inch metal rods holding his spine together.

Weissmiller, 33, wears his military background like a badge of honor. His appearance – a large build with a cleanly shaven head – has gotten him turned away from medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives.

“They say I look too much like a cop,” he said.

Two years ago, Weissmiller said, he looked like an out-of- shape man who couldn’t get out of his wheelchair. That’s because that’s exactly what he was.

Given a litany of heavy medication – including Fentanyl, Percocet and Valium – Weissmiller said his liver swelled so much that doctors told him he needed to stop drinking.

“But I don’t drink,” he said. “It was because of the medication.”

Weissmiller turned to alternative forms of treatment.

“I learned that these medications were keeping me from rehabilitating,” he said. “I was dizzy all the time and it was messing up my liver and it was also messing up my legs some.”

He said he tried acupuncture and massage therapy to ease the pain caused by his accident.

And then he tried the thing he had only tried one other time – marijuana.

The effects were dramatic. He said the swelling in his liver subsided as he weaned himself off his medications. The marijuana eased his pain enough to where he began spending more and more time out of his wheelchair, he said.

Now, Weissmiller said, he doesn’t spend any time in his wheelchair. And he’s lost 80 pounds.

“I’m active and doing things again now,” he said. “And I’m out of the (wheelchair).”

There have been no medical case studies that prove that marijuana works better than other traditional, readily available medications, said former Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth, a physician who is president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

“That’s not to say that one individual might have an experience where marijuana has treated their physical maladies,” he said. “Marijuana can give the user a sense of well- being and a sense of novelty and a sense of wonder. But that doesn’t mean it’s curing anything.”

Arlo Hartin, 24, of Crestline said he suffers from bipolar disorder and has “psychotic tendencies.” He said he spent 47 days in a Texas mental hospital a few years ago.

“I hear voices and see stuff that’s not there and I have massive mood swings,” he said.

Doctors treated his symptoms with drugs such as Lithium, trazodone and Xanax but the drugs did not ease all of his symptoms, Hartin said.

“I always had problems,” he said.

He still takes some medications, but Hartin said he has cut back on much of the heavy medication he’s been prescribed and has switched to marijuana to help control his moods.

When he speaks about what medical marijuana has done for him, he smiles through bleary, red eyes.

“I’ve not gotten in a fight, I’ve not had any trouble, not had any violent issues,” he said, “and I (attribute) it all to smoking.”

Weissmiller says marijuana isn’t the perfect cure-all. It has its drawbacks, as do other forms of medications, he said. But it has worked for him, and he’s no longer on any heavy medication except for the marijuana.

“I don’t advocate cannabis for everybody,” Weissmiller said. “But I think it’s a safe medication. And under the right circumstances, it could take over for many pharmaceuticals.

“It did for me.”