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Toronto Star
The personal dope on medical marijuana

May 02, 2007 04:30 AM
Joe Fiorito

The pot smokers came to a downtown hotel on a recent afternoon to hear the speeches, to meet others and to talk. Who, me? I attended the Cannabis Awareness Forum, not because I am unaware, nor because I inhale, but because I tend to favour legalization.

I sat up front, next to Erin Maloughney. By way of making conversation, I asked if she was a medical user of marijuana. Erin smiled amiably, dug into her wallet, showed me her licence and said, "I can grow 25 plants. I can transport 1,125 grams, and I can possess 150 grams. I have to renew my licence annually. Which is funny, because the pain never goes away."

The pain?

"I broke my back twice. The first time, I was 13 years old. I was asleep in the car with my lap belt in place. My friend's father didn't turn on the highway where it bends. The car jumped a creek bed and it crumpled. A doctor found us and pulled us out. We were taken to Sick Kids Hospital. My friend didn't walk again. I did.

"The second time I broke my back, I was riding my bike to work. I was hit by a car. The car didn't have its turn signal on." Erin had been a career receptionist. She can no longer work. She smiled enigmatically and said, "In my last job, I was on the joint health and safety committee."

It took me a moment to catch on.

Joint health.

What is not funny is that she is in constant pain; several of her vertebrae are fused, and she has other annoying chronic problems. How bad is the pain?

"I'm always at four out of ten. I can turn my head and ... oh, I just jumped to a seven. It's never-ending. It gets worse with the rain, with humidity, with menses. I can't walk with my groceries. That's life."

The dope keeps the pain at a manageable level.

"I started smoking after the first accident. It was a teenage thing; someone's brother was a dealer. One day we lit up. The other girls got giggly. I didn't.

"Normally, if I'm sitting on the ground, I get stiff and it's hard to get up. I can't walk uphill. I can't run. But after smoking the joint I got up easily. The other girls asked me why wasn't I shaking my stiff leg."

She said, "I felt good."

Let's be clear: good is relative. Let's be clear about something else. Regular painkillers do not work for her, and they are hard on her body, nor are they meant to be taken in the dosage she needs. And even though the grass helps her get around, she is not now and will never be as mobile as she'd like to be.

She got an insurance settlement a few years after she broke her back the second time. She said, "I've been living in a condo downtown. I've made adaptations. I have grab bars, a raised toilet seat, cork floors. I wear better shoes. I get cortisone shots."

She also gets her nerves zapped with microwaves. "They place a needle in my spine, and they test to find the nerve that's hurting and they zap it; the nerve cooks inside me. Eventually it re-grows and the pain comes back."

So, um, how does she use grass? Is she a smoker? Is she a baker? Does she make tea with her tea? "I take bong hits and I make marijuana butter."

I am familiar, in an academic way, with the uses of the bong; the butter was new to me.

Erin said, "I take a crock pot, add a pound of butter, add my marijuana and some water. I leave it overnight. I stir it once in a while. The butter turns green. I don't clarify it." And with her magic butter she bakes cookies and makes chocolates, and dresses her pasta.

She has recently turned part of her apartment into a modest garden for some two dozen marijuana plants. And she is being pursued by the other residents of her condo, who think she's running some sort of grow-op.

Oh, kids.

If you think two dozen plants are a problem, you have never seen a real grow-op. In any case, she's legal.

Erin twisted in her chair and stretched her back and winced, and then she smiled. I said she seemed pretty chipper, all things considered, and I asked if her mood was a function of the herb. She said, "No, it's a quirk of character. Live long. Sing out loud. Dance even if no one is watching." Words to live by.

How often does she use?

"I smoke every hour on the hour. I'll just nip out into the alley now. If anyone gives me lip, I'm feisty. I don't see asthma sufferers going into the alley to inhale. What I'm doing is legal."

And, frankly, it is necessary for her health. She is not a product of reefer madness. She is the girl next door. She is also one of some 1,800 medical users of marijuana in Canada. I'll talk to others in a future column.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Joe Fiorito usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email:

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