A few people get Uncle Sam's weed
October 19, 2007
Bryan Denson, The Oregonian
EUGENE -- The U.S. government's official policy on marijuana is that it's dangerous and illegal, even in states such as Oregon and California that have approved its medical use.
Yet Uncle Sam prescribes pot for 68-year-old Elvy Musikka of Eugene, one of seven test subjects in a little-known federal medical marijuana program.
"And yes," Musikka says, "I find it extremely hypocritical."
A cheerful anti-prohibition activist given to big hats and hemp skirts, Musikka has gratefully accepted the federal government's cannabis for 19 years. But she no longer smokes it -- it's too weak.
Musikka moved to Oregon three years ago, in part to smoke the state's renowned cannabis.
She was diagnosed with glaucoma in 1975 while living in Florida. A doctor suggested she try marijuana brownies, she says, and the drug weaned her from painful eye drops.
But in March 1988, after surgery left her right eye sightless, police arrested Musikka for possession and cultivation of marijuana. At trial, facing five years in prison, Dr. Paul Palmberg testified that Musikka would probably go blind without pot. The judge found her not guilty by reason of medical necessity.
Later that year, Musikka became the third patient to receive marijuana under an experimental study, the Investigational New Drug program run by the Food and Drug Administration.
Under the program, the government contracts to have pot grown in Mississippi and rolled into unfiltered cigarettes in North Carolina. The study reportedly grew to 14 patients but was cut off in 1992, after a surge of applications from AIDS patients. Musikka and others already enrolled were allowed to stay on.
Musikka flies to Florida as often as she can to fetch government-issue marijuana mailed to her through a Miami pharmacy. She gets between eight and 16 cans a year, each holding about 300 cigarettes.
The prescription for a batch she picked up in March reads: "Use 10 cigarettes over the day, smoked or eaten."
Musikka, a patient in the Oregon medical marijuana program, gets her smoke from patient advocate John Sajo, her designated grower, who cultivates some of southern Oregon's potent pot.
The two are co-sponsors of a proposed ballot measure to create a dispensary system for patients like them.
Musikka wonders why the government hasn't released a report on its Investigational New Drug findings.
"My doctor has to write them a report every year stating that I still have my sight, that it's still under control because of cannabis," she says.
She complains that the federal government insists on listing marijuana in the same category as drugs such as heroin, LSD and peyote.
"Ignorance," Musikka says, "blinds us."