Meeting a Medical Marijuana User
by Ari Armstrong, June 16, 2004
See Medical Marijuana in Colorado for links to more articles about this issue.
Micah Moffett is 31. A year younger than me. His Denver apartment is typical, if slightly counter-culture. A poster of the film Reefer Madness, now a cult classic, hangs near the entry, a testament to the foolishness of drug propaganda. Other posters feature Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and other rock icons. A framed card is signed to Micah by Tommy Chong, the aging movie star who still sits in federal prison for selling glass. Yes, I spelled that correctly.
Micah is friendly, a considerate host, and talkative. I immediately like him, and I suspect he has that effect on most people he meets. The story here is as he told it to me. Micah is a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair. He retains the partial use of his right arm, though he can't move his hand or fingers. Instead, he wears a glove with a small metal arm that helps him to control his environment and interact with the world through his computer.
In 1991, Micah moved to Boulder after growing up in Martha's Vineyard. In November of that year, a car ran a stop sign and struck him while he was riding his motorcycle. His friends thought he would die. He laid in a coma for a month, his neck broken, his brain injured, and his lungs controlled by a ventilator. After he awoke, he couldn't remember his friends.
During rehabilitation, his left shoulder was injured, and it continues to cause him constant pain. He also suffers spasms, arthritis, and difficulty eating. He can get strong, legal, addictive pain killers from the doctor. He calls this "vile stuff." He adds, "I don't like the side-effects." If restricted to those legal drugs, Micah says he faces two alternatives: "Your shoulder hurts like hell, or you can blow your colon out -- the choice is yours."
Micah has chosen a third way. He smokes marijuana. Earlier this year, a doctor signed his paperwork so he could become a medical marijuana user recognized by the state of Colorado, in accordance with the 2000 law added to the Constitution through initiative. His card is valid for a year, starting March 25. He said many doctors are too scared to participate in the program. Micah wasn't happy with his first designated care giver, so he soon got a new one. I met the fellow, who preferred I not use his name (which nevertheless appears on Micah's official paperwork). Colorado law establishes the status of care giver, but it is somewhat vague on that score. As Brian D. Crecente reviews in a June 12 Rocky Mountain News article, "The state's medical marijuana program is revoking the caregiver certificates it issued after realizing that the law never allowed for them."
Currently, Micah is growing three marijuana plants. "My plants are nowhere near harvest," he said. He says of the drug, "It helps me eat, gain weight; it helps with spasms, with my shoulder pain, arthritis pain." At least one doctor agrees with him, and I believe it.
Does Micah's use of marijuana ever go beyond what is "medically necessary?" I don't know, and I don't care. Micah describes marijuana also as a "mood elevator" that helps in "dealing with your average person who doesn't know anything about handicapped people." Maybe this is a medical use, and maybe it isn't. But who is some goddamned bureaucrat to tell Micah when, how much, and whether he can consume this herb? Doctors all the time "prescribe" the use of politically-correct drugs for all kinds of questionable maladies. The drugs Micah can buy legally are obviously dangerous. And nobody would care if Micah instead drank alcohol. America's drug policies seem especially hypocritical and absurd in Micah's apartment.
At least the Colorado provision for medical marijuana offers some legal protection against persecution. At the time, I wasn't a big fan of the proposal because I feared the state registry and didn't think the law would accomplish much. Now, seeing somebody with the card who appreciates the relative security it provides, it's not just words in the statute book anymore. It's something that improves people's lives.
Earlier this year, Micah says, before he got his card, the Denver police came calling, apparently based on the confessional of another arrestee. Though the police took some of Micah's things, thankfully "the judge just laughed at it," Micah says. He had a previous record for "smoking in the park," though, he says, that's the extent of his criminal record. Criminal. Micah Moffett. We're all waiting for the punch line. The only real crime is that he was so labeled. Micah says that, with his card, he wants to make sure he stays within Colorado law.
Me taking a picture of Micah smoking a marijuana cigarette is Micah's idea. One of Micah's friends asks me if such a picture might be used against him by the police or prosecutors. I tell her I don't honestly know. According to the Colorado law, holding a medical-marijuana card is merely an "affirmative defense" against a charge. Regardless of state law, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. I tell her that, while I'm not a lawyer, I think the drug agents would look like idiots if they targeted Micah -- though somehow I'm not convinced that alone will stop them. The consensus is that the risk is slight. Micah seems hopeful that telling his story will help.
As a hobby, Micah makes what he calls "chair wear" -- clothing that's easy for people in wheel chairs to use. He's taken a few college classes. He discusses with me his support for industrial hemp. He speaks reverently of Christopher Reeve, a celebrity who, in raising public awareness of spinal cord injuries, is "good for the rest of us."
It's no secret that I support the complete legalization of the consumption, possession, production, distribution, and sale of marijuana, in all its forms. Of course, I favor laws against impaired driving and distribution to minors. Obviously, such a policy would allow people like Micah to easily get a drug that helps medically. Such a policy would also let people use marijuana for non-medicinal purposes, the way people today use alcohol legally for such purposes, and recognize it is the individual's responsibility to evaluate the morality and prudence of using drugs. But legalizing the medical use of marijuana is a worthy end in itself. Thank goodness Colorado law, though imperfectly, has accomplished that. Now it's time for other states, as well as the federal government, to follow suit.