Thursday, January 21, 2010

Marijuana issue goes mainstream with clinic

On Friday, the Montana Caregivers Network offers a daylong clinic at the
Red Lion Hotel Kalispell for people seeking physician evaluations needed
to apply for state registry cards to use medical marijuana.

People also can meet marijuana growers (known as caregivers) at
informational booths.

Network founder Jason Christ said the organization has helped more than
3,500 patients obtain registry cards from the Department of Public
Health and Human Services to use marijuana. He said he started the
network after a frustrating search for a doctor willing to provide the
required certification.

Montana law requires that a doctor certify that a patient has a
debilitating medical condition and that the benefits of using medical
marijuana outweigh the health risks.

The physician also certifies that a full assessment was made of the
patient's medical history and medical condition in the course of a
"bona fide physician-patient relationship."

"I had a real hard time getting a doctor in December of 2008,"
Christ said. "I'm a medical patient with a medical condition
that causes severe and chronic pain every day."

He finally found one in Victor. He waited a month and a half for an
appointment, then waited six and a half hours to get in to see the
doctor.

Christ received a signed physician's statement and applied for the
registry card. He then faced the dilemma of finding a supplier or
growing his own medical marijuana without violating any laws.

Christ said he wound his way through a seeming mine field of problems
before finally finding pain relief through medical marijuana.

He said he used his frustration to develop an easier way for people in
pain to receive legal marijuana — what Montana voters approved with
a 62 percent "yes" vote in 2004.

Christ started Montana Caregivers Network to share his knowledge and
pave a smoother path for others who could benefit from marijuana use.

"I was in pain in 2008," he said. "We saw the first patient
in Missoula on July 24, 2009."

At a Montana Caregivers Network clinic in December in Kalispell, two
doctors saw 320 patients. Christ predicts a turnout of about 550 people
Friday.

In a press release, the Montana Caregivers Network invited people
"tired of prescriptions and narcotics" to find "more
holistic ways" of dealing with illnesses through the medicinal
properties of marijuana.

"Cannabis can be ingested in foods, made into teas, tinctures,
muscle rubs and even vaporized to avoid carcinogenic qualities."

According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services Web
site, a debilitating medical condition qualifying a patient for medical
marijuana is defined as:

- (a) cancer, glaucoma, or positive status for HIV, AIDS or the
treatment of these conditions.

- (b) a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its
treatment that produces one or more of wasting syndrome; severe or
chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe or persistent muscle
spasms, including but not limited to those caused by Crohn's
disease.

- Any other medical condition or treatment for a medical condition
adopted by the department (although the state health department has not
added to the list).

Christ said people who want to attend Friday's clinic should make
appointments by calling (406) 207-7078. Walk-ins are accepted but may
wait longer. Wait times varied from a half an hour to two hours at
earlier clinics.

According to the organization's Web site, the cost is $150 or $100
for low-income people. The fee covers doctors' time and clinic
expenses.

At noon and 6 p.m., the Montana Caregiver Network offers classes taught
by attorneys and growers about Montana's medical marijuana program
and its laws. Christ invites patients to meet marijuana producers from
this area and find out about the different strains grown for various
conditions.

"Not every strain works for the same kind of pain," he said.

Christ said the network works with 20 doctors, all licensed in Montana.
He expected to bring about five to the clinic.

"I'd like to work with all the doctors, if possible," he
said.

At the clinic, patients (who need to bring their medical records) go
through an intake process where they fill out paperwork, then see a
nurse or assistant. By the time they see the doctor, the physician has
reviewed their medical history, which cuts down the time for the
evaluation.

Those deemed qualified receive signed physician's statements. They
next need to apply for registration cards from the state.

For those not able to attend a clinic in person, the network has
initiated teleclinics where a doctor consults with a patient using
Internet technology.

For information, consult the Web site www.montanacaregivers.net.

Another organization, Montana Medical Grower's Association, has a
Web site, www.montanamedicalgrowers.org, with more information about
medical marijuana in Montana.

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