Heath Robinson, 36, a medical marijuana patient with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, is a burly young man, his build belying the physical afflictions he suffers. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a medical marijuana T-shirt with text barely visible reading “Code of the West,” he holds a container of balm in one hand and a bottle of tincture in the other.
He looked the part of perhaps an off-duty medical corpsman or nurse. In those containers, active cannabis ingredients help him to relieve muscle spasms, pain and the constant neurological damage caused by MS.
“These bottles get me off seven prescription drugs for MS that have terrible side effects,” he said, citing nausea, restless leg syndrome, chronic muscle pain, tremor and severe nightmares.
He said he dissolves a few drops of the tincture into tea or juice. The drink relieves his pain, discomfort from muscle spasms and other neurological pain that the body’s immune system causes while attacking itself.
In MS, the body’s immune system receives erroneous messages from a gene. Those erroneous messages cause the body to attack healthy muscle and nerve tissue. The attacks result in pain, numbness and neurological tissue damage, according to the National Institute of Health website.
As of press time, Senate Bill 423 remained blocked by a temporary restraining order issued last Friday by Judge James P. Reynolds. Judge Reynolds held that immediate and irreparable harm could fall upon an unreasonable number of the most vulnerable Montanans in the medical marijuana registry.
In support of returning to Initiative 148, the original 2004 voter-approved plan for medical marijuana, Lori Burnam, featured in the film “Code of the West,” wrote a letter to The Billings Gazette, expressing her difficulties in dealing with lung cancer. In her letter to the editor, she said she is too sick to manage her own cannabis crop, one of the requirements that SB423 would likely impose upon her and possibly about 5,500 other medical cannabis patients.
The ability of most medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana is limited. Elderly patients and those with terminal illnesses – such as cancer – may lack the physical strength as well as the mental acuity to be vigilant of molds, spores, aphids, mites and other curses that can decimate a marijuana crop. The complicated schedules of lighting demanded by young plants in order to flower properly require an advanced knowledge of specialized horticultural practices.
“It is not easy to grow your own,” said Mr. Robinson.
After SB423 canceled his and Ms. Burman’s ability to buy medical cannabis from an approved provider, they both were despondent. The medical cannabis roller coaster-like track of legislation continues at least until Nov. 6, when voters can choose SB423, a plan that allows providers no more than three patients and doesn’t allow patients to give anything of value to their providers in exchange for medicinal cannabis, including balms, salves, tinctures and baked goods containing the cannabis. Or they can strike the bill down and return to provisions of the original initiative.
Mr. Robinson said he is off drugs because of the availability of those cannabis products. He is waiting for the results of the Nov. 6 election, before deciding what to do.
He and Ms. Burman said cannabis is the only medical alternative that relieves their pain and does not make them overly fatigued or otherwise impaired by the side effects of pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors.
Team of doctors
Mr. Robinson said he has a team of about eight doctors at Billings Clinic, none of whom can serve as his prescribing or co-physician for him to receive legal medical marijuana. He said he thinks the law should be changed to allow for more research into MS and the healing effects of cannabis on that disease.
Currently, numbers of medical marijuana patients are now down from a high of 30,000 in Montana in 2009 to today’s number of about 8,500.