The power of patients

March 29, 2006

Jessie McQuillan, Missoula Independent

The first meeting of Peace for Patients, the state’s first medical marijuana support and advocacy group, brought together a handful of patients and would-be patients in Missoula on March 27 in hopes that they might help each other navigate the murky waters of Montana’s medical marijuana program, which voters approved in 2004, and now has 189 enrolled patients.

Daniel Skaggs, the Montana organizer for Americans for Safe Access and creator of the group, says he wants to build a network to provide patients with information and encouragement. Creating a public front of local support on the part of non-patients, particularly in the face of continued federal raids on patients, is also a goal, he says.

“I want to try to pull together as many patients and their supporters as possible to let people know that these patients are living in your town—they might be your best friend, your mother, your grandmother,” Skaggs told the seven people who showed up for the meeting.

One woman, Jan Durbin, who says she has an incurable nerve disease but can’t find a doctor who will discuss medical marijuana with her, drove over from Anaconda to learn more about the law’s provisions and other patients’ experiences.

“I’m on so many pills right now it’s pathetic, and I’m so tired of being in pain,” Durbin says.

Bob Meharg, a registered patient from the Bitterroot who was recently arrested and charged with cultivating marijuana despite the supposed protections of Montana’s medical marijuana law, talked about his case and brought up some of the ambiguities and contradictions in the law. For instance, he says, the law’s provision that allows patients to possess up to six plants or 1 ounce doesn’t parse, since one plant could easily produce more than 1 ounce.

John Masterson, of Montana NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), showed up in hopes of gathering just such feedback to support future tweakings of the law.

“The formation of a patient support group is a wonderful development for patients in Montana,” he commented.

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