Eagle County patients defend medical marijuana
June 22, 2010
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Kim Barbieri has multiple sclerosis and said the debilitating disease wore her down for about a year until she used marijuana as medicine to help ease the pain.
She used to have prescriptions for all kinds of pharmaceuticals that brought on side effects and made her feel like she had a hangover after using them. She felt like the pills were debilitating her mentally and physically, more so than the multiple sclerosis itself.
“I was getting sicker and sicker,” Barbieri said. “I didn’t know what to do or what to try.”
Barbieri, who owns the New Hope Wellness Center in Edwards, a medical marijuana dispensary, said medical marijuana changed her life. She’s trying to help others who are sick, and she wants the skeptics out there to understand how the drug can and does help people, she said.
“It’s crazy what these pharmaceutical drugs are doing to people,” she said. “(Medical marijuana) is so much less debilitating to people than anything. You can’t get addicted to it, and you don’t go off into some other world.”
Medicinal or recreational?
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There are local skeptics like Edwards resident Buddy Sims who disagree with Barbieri, citing the drug as nothing more than an illegal recreational drug with no medicinal value.
Sims calls marijuana “a poisoned product that will destroy our community.”
“Recreational marijuana is the same product as medical marijuana,” Sims said. “Both are poison and need to be taken off the streets.”
Dr. Larry Brooks, a Vail Valley Medical Center Emergency Room doctor, said marijuana should be treated like alcohol.
“If they’re going to have it, they need to regulate it, tax it and control it,” Brooks said. “What you have now are people giving out an unregulated drug that has lots of consequences.”
Brooks isn’t convinced that marijuana has medicinal values, but he said he’s open-minded enough to try new things in medicine. He’s skeptical of a medicine that people have to smoke – doctors warn their patients that cigarettes cause cancer, so why encourage a so-called medicine that can also cause cancer.
Barbieri and many medicinal marijuana users choose to eat the drug, though. Many of the local marijuana dispensaries sell baked goods like cookies and candies that have the marijuana baked inside.
Brooks said if medical professionals want to give medical marijuana a test run, then regulation over how it’s grown, sold and used is the only way to deal with it.
“I don’t think any of us should close our eyes to the potential of things,” Brooks said. “But if you just open the doors and let anything happen, then you’re going to have problems.”
Dr. Jack Eck, president of the Vail Valley Medical Center Foundation, said he thinks there are some legitimate uses for medical marijuana with cancer patients, but he’s skeptical about the number of prescriptions being written for the drug.
“I’m concerned about the validity of some folks who set up shop and write prescriptions in five minutes,” Eck said. “It ought to be prescribed through pharmacies just like any other controlled substance.”
The state of Colorado is trying to get more control over the dispensaries that have been opening for business all over the state in the last year. Gov. Bill Ritter recently signed House Bill 1284, which creates a dual licensing system at the state and local level.
An owner of a dispensary now has to be licensed by both the state and local jurisdiction. If a local jurisdiction decides to ban the businesses from operating all together, the new law gives them that authority.
The town of Vail has already indicated they will place a ban on dispensaries, while the town of Avon and Eagle County have not yet discussed the matter since Ritter signed the new law earlier this month. Both governments are expected to bring it up soon.
Trying to stay in business
Scott Ziegler, the Holistic Health Care Dispensary in Edwards, has Parkinson’s Disease and also eats marijuana. It helps him sleep and deal with the pain caused by his disease, he said.
He’s hoping the county will choose to allow dispensaries to remain open because he said the businesses are helping people.
He said one woman with terrible migraines just got a bonus at work for her performance – the bonus came after she began using medical marijuana, he said.
Another patient with arm and shoulder pain from a snowboarding accident was sick from prescription pills he was taking. He switched to medical marijuana and Ziegler said he is doing so much better now.
Ziegler said marijuana has done wonders for his battle against Parkinson’s Disease. He used to take three pharmaceutical medications for it, and is now down to one.
“When you can use something that came from mother earth compared to a product made by chemists in a laboratory with 30 disclaimers about the product, why wouldn’t you use what’s natural?” Ziegler said.
Marijuana’s effects allow Barbieri to get some sleep at night because it’s the only drug that controls her muscle spasms, she said.
“It’s like a Godsend to me,” Barbieri said. “To me, this is what has made my life worth living again.”
Barbieri said she’s a business-owner, so she’s obviously trying to make a living at selling medical marijuana, but her motivation to go into the business was to help people.
“I know what these pills do to people,” Barbieri said. “This is something that can actually help people – this isn’t just a get-high drug.”
Barbieri said she’s seen evidence of marijuana helping people with everything from anxiety to migraines to after-surgery pain to acid reflux. She wants the skeptics in the medical field to give it a shot.
“We’re trying to do something different,” Barbieri said.
Brooks said the regulations out there are just not enough to be able to take the drug’s alleged medicinal use seriously. He thinks doctors who have been freely writing prescriptions for marijuana should have their medical licenses pulled.
“I don’t mind trying some things, but let’s not make a joke out of medicine,” Brooks said. “I’ve worked hard to have a good career and to try to keep drugs out of our county, and I think that’s where we ought to be with this,” Brooks said.
Eck agrees that there seem to be a few doctors writing the majority of prescriptions for marijuana, and there needs to be some control over that.
“I think there can be a medical use for (marijuana), but I think it’s being abused,” Eck said.
The new state law only addresses how dispensary owners are licensed and regulated, though – regulations don’t address doctors or prescriptions.