US gives marijuana to a select few patients
Only four left in federal program
EUGENE, Ore. - Sometime after midnight on a moonlit rural Oregon highway, a state trooper checking a car he had just pulled over found marijuana on a passenger.
The discovery was not surprising in a marijuana-friendly state like Oregon, but the 72-year-old woman’s defense was: She insisted the weed was legal and given to her by none other than the federal government.
A series of phone calls from a dubious trooper and his supervisor to federal authorities determined that the glaucoma patient was not joking - the US government does grow and provide pot to a select few people across the United States.
For the past three decades, Uncle Sam has been providing patients with some of the highest-grade marijuana around as part of a little-known program that grew out of a 1976 court settlement and created the country’s first legal marijuana smoker. The program once provided 14 people government pot. Now, there are four left.
Advocates for legalizing marijuana or treating it as a medicine say the program is a glaring contradiction in the nation’s 40-year war on drugs - maintaining the federal ban on marijuana while at the same time supplying it.
Government officials say there is no contradiction. The program is no longer accepting new patients, and public health authorities have concluded that there was no scientific value to it, said Steven Gust of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The government has only continued to supply the marijuana “for compassionate reasons,’’ Gust said.
One of the recipients is Elvy Musikka, the chatty Oregon woman. A vocal marijuana advocate, Musikka relies on it to keep her glaucoma under control. She entered the program in 1988 and said her experience with marijuana is proof that it works as a medicine.
They “won’t acknowledge the fact that I do not have even one aspirin in this house,’’ she said, leaning back on her couch, glass bong cradled in her hand. “I have no pain.’’
Marijuana is getting a look from states around the country considering calls to repeal decades-old marijuana prohibition laws. There are 16 states that have medical marijuana programs. In the three West Coast states, advocates are readying tax-and-sell or other legalization programs.
Marijuana was legal for much of US history and was recognized as a medicine in 1850. Opposition to it began to gather and by 1936, 48 states had passed laws regulating it, fearing it could lead to addiction.
Antimarijuana literature and films, such as the infamous “Reefer Madness,’’ helped fan those fears. Eventually, marijuana was classified among the most harmful of drugs, meaning it had no usefulness and a high potential for addiction.
In 1976, a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration must provide Robert Randall of Washington, D.C., with marijuana because of his glaucoma - that no other drug could effectively combat his condition. Randall became the nation’s first legal marijuana smoker since the drug’s prohibition.
Eventually, the government created its program as part of a compromise over Randall’s care in 1978, long before a single state passed a medical marijuana law. What followed were a series of petitions from people such as Musikka to join the program.
President George H.W. Bush’s administration, getting tough on crime and drugs, stopped accepting new patients in 1992.
The four patients remaining in the program estimate they have received a total of 584 pounds from the federal government over the years. On the street, that would be worth more than $500,000.
All of the marijuana comes from the University of Mississippi, where it is grown and stored.