Crash Barry, Cannabis Patient
Finally, he can smoke marijuana legally
By Crash Barry
My hands and wrists and ankles and feet ache almost constantly, especially after extended periods of book-writing and land-clearing. The combination of typing, chain-sawing, limbing and bucking — plus tending the goats and pigs and tackling all the other farmstead tasks that fill my days — accentuates the joint pain that has lingered ever since I demolished a two-story bank vault in a crumbling Eastport art museum five years ago.
The gig was terrible for many reasons, but mostly because the dilettante who ran the place decided the bank vault, with its 18-inch thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls and ceilings, needed to disappear. So my posse and I worked like monkeys with 70-pound jackhammers, using the tools sideways, vertically and practically upside down. Bashing. Pounding. Pulverizing. Plus days and days of shoveling the golf ball–sized rubble into buckets and hauling the debris to the dumpster. When the job imploded, I was unemployed and hurting something wicked.
The muscular pain ultimately disappeared thanks to a regimen of seaweed baths and self-administered trigger point therapy, coupled with bodywork from Passamaquoddy artist and healer Gal Fray. Unfortunately, the foot and hand pain remain, and will probably stay with me forever. The extreme jack-hammering and excessive vibration resulted in permanent nerve damage. Never thought that would have happened from laboring as an art museum janitor. Should have filed for worker’s comp.
Relief, however, comes from smoking copious amounts of marijuana. When I’m high, the hurt subsides. Or at least I don’t think about it as much. The cannabinoids work their magic and interrupt the traffic flow of pain signals pulsing from my extremities. The cannabis distracts my brain from the pain, allowing me to ponder topics other than my aching hands and sore feet. Plus I get high. Real high. And I like that. A lot.
Luckily, my demolition-era injuries were documented by a chiropractor, which makes me eligible under Maine’s medical marijuana law to get a doctor’s permission to use cannabis to treat the chronic pain. So thanks to the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, I’m now allowed to smoke marijuana legally. Almost makes my five years living all the way Down East worth the suffering.
For the last six months, I’ve been researching the topic of medical marijuana for a new book that details the true story of a secret, but legal marijuana farm. (Somewhere, Maine will be out in time for Christmas.) In my travels, I’ve encountered many examples of how medical marijuana is bringing relief to Mainers in need. I’ve also witnessed how medical marijuana caregivers (a.k.a. growers) are having an economic and cultural impact across the state. And I’ve seen that despite the state sanction and success of the medicine, much of mainstream society still doesn’t understand.
I met Bobby (not his real name) in passing, just minutes after he received a doctor’s slip that granted him the legal protection to use ganja. Tall and lanky, in his early 40s, he struggled and staggered, supported by a cane. My guess was that he suffered from multiple sclerosis. I thought he’d be happy and relieved that he can now legally get some relief from the severe muscle spasms.
“It’s not that simple,” he sighed. “I’m divorced and we have shared custody of the kids. If my ex- finds out that I’m using marijuana, she’d tell the judge and try to get the kids full-time.” Bobby sighed again, exhausted. It was the end of the day and he still had a two-hour drive home, because there aren’t any doctors in his neck of the backwoods that write prescriptions for reefer. “And I don’t think the judge would understand,” he said, then paused, shook his head and grimaced. “So I’ll keep it secret. Hopefully.”
A documented, qualifying, pre-existing, debilitating condition is required under the Maine Medical Marijuana Act for a doctor to prescribe cannabis. Patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Hepatitis C, chronic pain or glaucoma are eligible, as are those whose treatment for other diseases causes nausea and wasting.
Under the revision of the law signed by Governor Paul LePage last month, patients and physicians will soon be able to petition the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to add conditions to the list. That’s an improvement to the original statute, but still doesn’t go far enough.
The state needs to step out of the way entirely and allow doctors to make informed decisions based upon their own prescribing philosophy, not based on legislative committee decisions or via a Byzantine petition process that involves public hearings and a final decision by the DHHS commissioner.
The debate about whether ganja is an effective medicine should be over. In other parts of the world, cannabis is being successfully used to treat a plethora of ailments that aren’t on the list in Maine, including autism, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, and radiation poisoning. And all this healing is happening without the involvement of big drug companies or research by the National Institutes of Health. Some federal studies are currently underway, but in the real world, positive results are spreading hope among the afflicted.
“The word is out in the MS community,” said my friend Sigmund (not his real name), a Maine doctor with a huge number of MS patients, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “People are finding relief with marijuana. It’s obvious to me that for many, it works wonders.”
But despite hundreds of requests from MS patients, Sigmund has prescribed reefer less than 10 times. “I’m hesitant because I don’t want a reputation of being a Doctor Feelgood. When MS patients ask me for a prescription, first and foremost I encourage them to make changes in their lifestyle and diet. And if they make those changes and keep asking, maybe then I’d prescribe.”
Last month, I attended a pal’s cocktail-infused birthday party at a fancy house in an affluent subdivision. The vivacious hostess whispered in my ear that there was a very rich and respected doctor in attendance, and she wanted to get him high. She knew I had a jar of the kindest kind bud in my pocket.
So we headed out to the deck. Turns out the doctor was a urologist, a smug asshole with a greasy smile. He didn’t have an opinion on medical marijuana because he specializes in urinary tract issues which, he said, aren’t treatable with cannabis.
“So what’s your stance on painkillers?” I asked, opening my special jar. “Do you prescribe ’em.”
“Sure,” he said with a high-pitched giggle. “I’m a softie.” He took turns ogling my wife, then the hostess. “All the patient has to do is cry and complain and I’ll take care of them.” He giggled again. “I don’t want to hear their whining.”
“This is very exceptional cannabis. A fairly new strain,” I announced to the circle, showing them a choice nugget. “Grown by some pals of mine.”
“What’s the strain?” the hostess asked. “Smells delicious.”
“The kids call it M.O.B., but its full name is the Mother of all Berries. Super tasty,” I said to her, “and super potent. Loaded with THC and CBDs.” Then I turned to the doctor to explain. “CBDs are the pain-killing compounds in cannabis. Care for a puff?”
“Sure,” he said, eager to impress the ladies. “Been a long time.” He paused. “Decades. Hah-hah.”
The bowl went around and around and we got higher and higher. Quickly. Our hostess was talking and the doctor couldn’t stop staring at her breasts.
“Dude!” I said. He looked at me with glazed eyes. “Another hit?” I offered him the bowl again. He seemed unsteady on his feet and uneasy with his smile. He tried to shake his head no, but I ignored him.
“One more,” I said. “One more hit.” I held the bowl inches from his face. And the sucker took it. Yeah, I dosed him. After he exhaled, I watched him weave back toward the house and fumble with the screen door while making a derogatory comment about his own wife.
My wife and I escaped via the side yard. The guy had soured the bash for both of us. When we got home, I Googled the doctor. Took less than a minute of searching to find an official agreement between the urologist and the state of New Jersey. Turns out he surrendered his license to practice in Jersey and had to pay 10 grand to settle allegations that he sold prescription drugs he’d been given for free. I didn’t need to dig any more. This confirmed what I already knew: many doctors are just glorified, and legally protected, drug dealers. Not healers. Not diagnosticians. Just middle men for Big Pharma’s pills and ills.
There are, obviously, many good doctors.
Dustin Sulak is a great doctor. An osteopath with a practice in Hallowell and Falmouth, he’s young, smart and forward-thinking. He’s become cannabis’ most vocal advocate in Maine’s medical community. In fact, he’s one of the few doctors in Maine willing to openly advocate for, and prescribe, the medicine.
Dr. Sulak is a gentle healer, with a warm therapeutic touch you can feel when he hugs you. Though his focus is on osteopathy, he’s also a Reiki practitioner, a homeopath, and a firm believer in the medical benefits of herbs, mushrooms, vitamins and an organic diet. When you speak to him, he listens and appears genuinely interested in your life history. He doesn’t rush or judge.
The doctor’s exam was thorough and calming. He listened to my lungs with his stethoscope and heard the congestive rattle that comes from smoking herb daily for 25 years. That, and occasional coughing fits while medicating, appear to be the only side effects of my chronic cannabis use.
I asked what I could do about the cough. Turns out my usual methods of smoking — joints, a glass chillum, and a stainless steel pipe — are not the ideal means of delivery. Neither are bongs, the doctor explained, because the bong water filters out much of the THC and CBD. He recommends bong smokers use ice cubes rather than water as a way to cool the smoke.
Because that’s the problem. Our lungs weren’t designed to inhale hot smoke. Dr. Sulak suggested vaporizing. I have a Vapor Brothers vaporizer and I used it for a while. The high was OK, but always left me unsatisfied and jonesing to smoke a joint immediately afterwards — which, of course, defeated the purpose of vaporizing.
Eating cannabis treats baked with canna-butter is another smokeless technique, but it can be difficult to determine the proper dosage. It’s easy to eat too much, because good ganj-food is often very tasty. Tinctures, made from either alcohol or vegetable glycerin, are another option. They’re discrete, fairly fast-acting, and great for patients with lung problems and children who would benefit from marijuana’s medicinal properties.
However, none of those techniques involve the ritualistic act of smoking, which, for me, is the quickest and most satisfying way to get high. So Dr. Sulak recommended that I acquire the longest glass pipe I could find. The farther the bowl is from my lips, the theory goes, the cooler the smoke will be by the time it reaches my lungs. Now that’s a doctor’s order I can live with.
Seriously, though, my time with Dr. Sulak was a fulfilling and informative experience. We had an intelligent discussion about my health and the choices I can make to be healthier in this world of pollution, radiation and poison.
I left the doctor’s office flying high as a kite. And I hadn’t smoked for hours.
Under the revised Maine Medical Marijuana Act, patients will no longer have to register with state authorities. But though my doctor’s note will supposedly be enough to keep me legal, I still registered with the state. I figure an official card will provide more legal protection if an overzealous cop decides to mess with me.
I also view my card as a political statement in support of ganja. Marijuana users have been forced to lurk and smoke in the shadows and alleys for far too long. Meanwhile, America’s inane drug policy has filled prisons, clogged courts, and wasted billions of tax dollars busting stoners. Legal medical marijuana is a promising first step toward ending the madness of reefer prohibition.
That said, I’m no longer a proponent of efforts to legalize weed on the state level. That would be a waste of time, money, and legislative energy. It’s the federal drug laws that need to be changed. Otherwise, Maine will be invaded by jack-booted DEA agents looking to prove a point.
The end of national pot prohibition isn’t a political pipe dream these days. Recent polls show that half of Americans favor legal weed. Last month, Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Barney Frank introduced legislation to legalize marijuana in the House. Finally, something the left and right can agree on: Everybody must get stoned.
Editor’s note: The governor would probably deny the following actually happened.
“Dude,” I said to Governor LePage as I handed the bowl back to him. We were sitting on a couch in his office, barefoot, under a portrait of Ronald Reagan. The radio was tuned to classic rock. We were drinking ice water with just a splash of bourbon because we hadn’t yet eaten lunch. “You wanna talk job creation, you gotta be thinking about the ganja.”
The big guy took another long puff, then coughed and wheezed. “That’s some good shit,” he chortled. “I am so high.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “This is Maine-grown organic blueberry.”
“Much better than the schwaggy brick weed I’ve been stealing from that kid who rounds up carts at the Waterville Marden’s.” He chortled again and took another puff. “A zillion times better.”
We both laughed.
“Come to think of it, this is even better than that shit I smoked down in Jamaica on the bus trip to Bob Marley’s house.”
“Cool,” I said, taking the bowl back and inhaling deeply. “Listen, in the last year, we’ve seen how medical marijuana has relieved the suffering of countless patients and added hundreds and hundreds of jobs to Maine’s workforce.”
“Yeah. Think about it. There’s probably at least 300 state-registered caregivers growing medicine and selling it to patients. Carpenters, electricians and plumbers are finding work turning basements into grow rooms. And a couple dozen grow stores have opened in the last year alone.”
“Wow,” the governor said. “I had no idea.”
“And if you take into account all the illegal pot grown in Maine and sold in Massachusetts, we’re talking a cash crop worth hundreds of millions.”
“Wow,” LePage said again, staring at the bowl. “That’s a lot of dough.”
“I know you believe in trickle-down economics,” I said, pointing to the portrait of our 40th president. “Just like Ronnie.”
“Ronnie, Ronnie,” he chanted, getting louder and louder. “RONNIE! RONNIE!”
“C’mon, dude,” I said. “Calm down. We don’t want them to hear us,” I gestured to the door that led to the reception area. “I don’t want to have to get the whole Legislature high.”
“Right,” he whispered. “Tell me more about the jobs.”
“Well, marijuana growers always buy local and pay in cash ’cuz they don’t want to leave a paper trail, so garden supply stores like Paris Farmers Union have definitely paid a lot of bills over the years with marijuana money. And don’t forget all the trimmers needed, especially in the fall when the outdoor weed is harvested.”
“How much do marijuana trimmers earn?” he asked. “I’m just curious.”
“Twenty bucks an hour,” I said with a grin, “plus all you can smoke.”
“Man,” he said, taking another deep puff. “That’s more than I was making at Marden’s.”
We both laughed.
“Too bad that’s only seasonal work,” he said, then took a sip of watery bourbon. “And too bad we can’t collect tax revenues on even some of that money.”
“Well,” I said slyly, repacking the bowl. “There is one way.”
“How, Crash? Tell me how?” He pointed at me. “And can I have the first hit? Please? That green bud, mmm.” He smacked his lips. “So damn good!”
“Listen, Guv, you don’t have to legalize it, just decriminalize possession.” I handed him the bowl. “Push it through the Legislature, then tell the state police and the MDEA and local cops and all the sheriffs and DAs to stop wasting time and money prosecuting weed cases.” I smiled. “They don’t want to harass stoners anyway. I mean, everyone knows cops always have the best weed.”
We both laughed until we coughed.
“Then I’d start encouraging those in the weed industry to file taxes as farmers,” I said as he passed me the bowl, the kind bud aglow. I paused and took a puff, then exhaled. “Because if you sell more than five grand in agricultural products, you’re considered a farmer.”
“You think they would?” he looked at me suspiciously. “I mean, asking pot growers to pay taxes? Is that realistic?”
“If you guaranteed them protection from prosecution, I’m sure many would pay.” I laughed. “And some revenue is better than zero revenue.”
“Anything left in that bowl?”
“Here you go,” I said, handing him the pipe. “There’s one more hit.”
“Thanks, dude!” He grinned from ear to ear. “I seem to have lost the lighter.” He laughed. “I think it’s between the cushions.”
We both stood and he started digging around in the couch with one hand while holding the pipe in the other. “And when the feds get around to legalizing it,” I said, “we’ll have a system in place instantly and start reaping the benefits…”
“Of the harvest,” he interjected.
“Yeah,” I said. “Think about it. With our system of caregivers already in place, we’d have an organized industry ready as soon as the federal law changed. We’d have a head start, and that way we’ll be able prevent Big Pharma or Big Booze from coming in and setting up mega-operations. This way, we keep it small scale and Maine-owned. We’d earn tax revenues from Mainers, just like booze, plus all the extra tax dollars from marijuana tourism. And don’t forget, Baldacci signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp. So there’s a gazillion more opportunities for textiles, paper, biomass, building supplies and more. The list is practically endless.”
“Found it!” he yelped. “Yes!” Still standing, he flicked the Bic and took a super-long, monster hit.
“Crash,” he yelled and slapped me on the back, exhaling a huge cloud of blue smoke. “You are the man!”
“Dude,” I said, “I’m not saying anything different than marijuana activists have been saying for years.”
“I’m talking about this weed, man.” He giggled. “Can I get more of this?”
“Sure, dude,” I said. “No problemo.”
Crash Barry’s new book, Tough Island: True Stories from Matinicus, Maine, will be released August 1.
Crash, please grow me some pot!
Crash Barry has decided to become a marijuana caregiver for one Bollard reader who is a qualified patient and who, because of financial and/or housing issues, is unable to grow their own ganja. Ideally, this person would be a low-income, new patient who currently doesn’t have a source of organic marijuana. Interested persons should send a letter (no e-mails!) with pertinent information and a paragraph or two about their situation. By the end of July, Crash will inform the patient and hook ’em up when the time comes.
Send your letters to:
Crash, please grow me some pot!
c/o The Bollard
P.O. Box 17765