Post-polio sufferer wants medical marijuana legalized

Elizabeth Coe, The Capital (MD)

Barry Considine has lived with nearly constant pain for almost 10 years, and his condition is getting worse.

The 53-year-old Pasadena man suffers from post-polio syndrome, characterized by progressive muscle weakness, fatigue and pain from joint degeneration.

He's scheduled to testify tomorrow in Annapolis in favor a bill that would legalize marijuana to help him overcome the pain that is a constant companion in his life.

"I want this drug in my arsenal," he said. "The four drugs I take allow me to move around, but if I had that one more little thing I could be more active."

He hopes he'll have an unexpected ally on the House Judiciary Committee, conservative Del. Don Dwyer.

The Glen Burnie Republican, a member of the committee, met with Mr. Considine late last month to discuss the issue.

"I have not made up my mind, but I am much more open-minded than I have been in the past," he said. "There have been some compelling arguments made about why we should support it."

Mr. Dwyer said he still has some concerns, including where marijuana for medical patients would come from and how it would be controlled and regulated.

Mr. Considine was forced to retire from work in 1998, and since 2003, he has been using an electric wheelchair to get around.

He has been prescribed several pain-killers to help cope with post-polio including his current mix - Vicodin, Neurontin, Flexeril and Arthrotec.

House Bill 1040, the Maryland Compassionate Use Act, seeks to change the existing medical marijuana law in Maryland. It would legalize the medical use of marijuana under certain circumstances and would repeal provisions that allow a fine for the use or possession of marijuana by people with those medical conditions.

"This would allow for patients to register with the Department of Health, allowing marijuana use for medical purposes," he said.

Currently, using marijuana to treat a medical condition is a crime, Mr. Considine said. That is what he and others who suffer from painful conditions say should be changed.

"I would use it if it were legal," Mr. Considine said.

Mr. Considine plans to tell the committee he should have the ability to experiment with ways of ingesting marijuana for pain relief, including grinding it up into foods like butter, baking it into brownies, boiling it to drink as tea and mixing with oils in a tincture.

Without marijuana as a medical treatment, Mr. Considine fears his pain will just get worse as his condition progresses. He contracted polio as a 20-month-old in 1955, just six weeks after the United States government released the country's first polio vaccine.

It took him over a year to recover from the disease, and besides a brief period during grade school where he was forced to wear a leg brace and had to complete physical therapy, Mr. Considine thought he was rid of it for good.

That was until 1998 when he began to feel muscle weakness, fatigue and pain.

After visiting a psychiatrist a few years later, he was finally diagnosed with post-polio.

"I was devastated," he said. "They were saying 'You need to move to a new house, you can't be doing steps and you need to stop working if possible.'"