First marijuana clinic in Riverside to open Thursday

January 14, 2008

Gregor McGavin, Press-Enterprise (CA)

An 80-year-old great-grandmother from Temecula could be the first person to get a legal recommendation in the city of Riverside to use marijuana for medicinal reasons.

Iris Berger said she plans to use the drug to ease the pain of arthritis in her hands and back. She is scheduled to be the first patient at a medical marijuana clinic opening Thursday at 647 N. Main St., in northern Riverside.

"It seems to help," said Berger, whose son and daughter-in-law are longtime medical marijuana users and advocates. The couple won a three-year legal battle in late 2003 after being arrested for growing marijuana to treat their chronic illnesses.

The clinic will mean that Inland patients seeking a marijuana recommendation will no longer have to travel to the Coachella Valley, Los Angeles or Orange County to get one. A Rancho Mirage doctor has been the only person in Riverside or San Bernardino counties who could provide a recommendation for the drug, said Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse and longtime advocate for medical marijuana.

No marijuana will be dispensed at the clinic, said Swerdlow, who will operate the clinic under the auspices of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation. The nonprofit group operates medical marijuana clinics in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state.

Ingrid Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County district attorney's office, has said that the clinic would not be against the law as long as no marijuana was provided there.

California voters approved decriminalizing the medicinal use of marijuana in 1996. State law allows people suffering from AIDS-related complications, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other ailments to use cannabis to relieve pain. They must first get a doctor's recommendation.

Marijuana use is a federal crime. Authorities have raided or shut down dispensaries in Palm Desert, Corona, Perris, Riverside and Norco last year.

One doctor -- Paul Ironside, retired cardiothoracic surgeon from Bermuda Dunes -- will write recommendations at the clinic. Ironside said he will recommend marijuana only for people with serious illnesses, and he is not concerned about any law enforcement scrutiny.

"It's not to be used as a recreational" drug, he said. "As far as I'm concerned, law enforcement is invited in."

Berger's son, Martin Victor, said he is proud that his mother will be the clinic's first patient.

Victor, 55, uses marijuana to soothe cluster headaches he suffers as a result of a progressive eye disease and fibromyalgia. His wife, La Vonne, 52, uses the drug because of her multiple sclerosis, emphysema, panic attacks and compressed vertebrae in her back.

The couple was originally charged with felony counts of cultivation and distribution. Their case ended after Martin Victor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of providing less than an ounce of pot to a roommate, who Victor said took it without his knowledge or consent.

Berger said it is understandable that some people remain opposed to medical marijuana.

"We just can't change people's minds that don't want to be changed," she said.



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