Pot program pokes along

A new initiative to amend the Nevada Constitution would help medical marijuana users find the weed they need

Medical marijuana users say they prefer the plant matter to more addictive pharmaceutical solutions.

Medical marijuana users say they prefer the plant matter to more addictive pharmaceutical solutions.

Photo By David Robert

Medical marijuana users may be able to buy seeds online at such sites as www.marijuana.com. To find out more about Nevada’s program, call the Nevada Department of Agriculture at 684-5333.

Last November Micah Smith, 20, went to the Nevada Department of Agriculture, not because he wanted a permit to graze cattle or to irrigate 50 acres of land, but because he wanted a permit to grow marijuana—and he got it. Now, seven months later, he has a hydroponic system with four cannabis plants growing successfully in the closet of his bedroom.

Can you get this permit too? Probably not.

In July 2000, Smith was dirtboarding in the foothills near the Mount Rose Highway. At the end of a dusty slope was a street, and on the street was the truck that hit Micah after he came tearing across the dirt. His collision resulted in the ripping of the brachial plexus nerves in his arm from the spine. For almost two years, he has been experiencing “phantom pain.” Though his arm is mostly paralyzed, the nerves register pain in the brain even though there is no visible injury. The aching is constant and severe. That’s what warrants the weed.

A month after medical marijuana became legal in Nevada, Smith was already growing pot. His light-brown hair was bleached blond on top, one arm was significantly more muscular than the other, and he had recently read and was endorsing Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He showed off his hydroponic arrangement, though there was not a trace of green in the large buckets. It takes some time to grow productive plants.

Smith had paid close attention to the medical marijuana issue last year because he knew that the day the new program kicked in he would start taking advantage of it. He got approval from the second doctor he visited, as well as support from his family.

“I was on pain pills the first three months of my injury, but it’s too addictive to stay on those,” he says. “[Doctors] suggested I try another kind of nerve drug, but there were some pretty bad side effects, like your teeth might fall out or something. I didn’t like the idea of taking chemicals. Pot seemed better.”

Other people think pot is better too. Cecile Crofoot, who administers the medical marijuana program at the NDOA, says that 167 individuals have signed up for permits to use medical marijuana. The program has been in effect since October. There are 18 registered caregivers who can help grow and administer the marijuana. To qualify, a person must have AIDS, cancer, glaucoma or a medical condition or treatment that causes cachexia, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea or severe pain.

Pot is also once again budding up into politics. If you have been around Reno in the past months you may have been solicited to sign a petition to put a new medical marijuana initiative on this year’s ballot. If passed by voters, the Nevada Legislature would have to amend the state Constitution to decriminalize possession of up to three ounces for people over the age of 21. A retail distribution program would be established for marijuana, providing greater access to the chronically ill. With 107,000 names, the petition recently got more than enough signatures to be on the ballot in the next two elections. It only needed 61,336.

“This initiative petition drive was the fastest in history for a Nevada Constitutional Amendment,” said Brendan Trainor, Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives District 2. “It demonstrates once again that the citizens of Nevada do not agree with the war on drugs, and especially do not agree that government should wage this war at the expense of the sick and dying.”

The amendment would provide all pot users with more help than they get now. As the law stands, growing marijuana is the only way registrees are legally allowed to obtain it. And they can carry no more than one usable ounce at a time. The NDOA cannot offer participants advice on how or where to get started.

“I get a lot of calls from people asking how they can get it, and we can’t say anything,” Crofoot says. After all, people have to do something illegal to get started—buy cannabis seeds—and government officials cannot supply unlawful advice. This can be frustrating both for those in pain and those wanting to help, especially for elderly individuals who may not be in touch with drug culture.

Registering for the pot program is the easiest step. There are 13 papers a potential participant receives explaining the program and the laws. For example, there is no law that requires insurance companies to pay for treatment or for drug-testing employers to give extra exceptions to those signed up for pot treatment. Some of the paperwork warrants signatures, and an ID and fingerprints are required. The Department of Motor Vehicles makes a registration card and, from there, patients are on their own.

A patient could be denied registration if he or she had a prior conviction for selling a controlled substance.

It may not be easy for a lot of people to get started, but Smith said he didn’t have problems. “I was able to acquire seeds easily, and it’s a weed, so it grows easily.”

He has gotten one harvest from his plants so far, but he says it takes three generations to get some good pot. It has to adapt to its environment before it becomes really fruitful.

What Nevadans have now is more than 42 other states have—a program that gives the sick and dying the opportunity to grow pot and smoke it.

“On the whole, it’s a good program," Crofoot says. "It has helped a lot of people, and it discourages those who are not sick. The legislation did a good job."