EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — In 2007 more than 775,000 people were arrested in the United States for possession of marijuana. That year Elvy Musikka was among only four people to get their supply from the federal government.
Each year the 66-year-old Eugene resident receives several tins, each containing 300 marijuana cigarettes grown by the federal government at the University of Mississippi.
She qualified following her arrest for growing marijuana. Her doctors testified that without it she would go blind.
"I wanted to go to court because I really don't believe there is any government that has the right to demand blindness and suffering from their patients," Musikka said. "That's who they're supposed to protect."
Since moving to Oregon in 2005, Musikka has been in the debate over Oregon's medical marijuana law. In this year's Legislature, 14 related bills are up for consideration.
Her first contact with marijuana came in 1975, when she was diagnosed with glaucoma. A doctor advised Musikka, born with congenital cataracts, to try marijuana after other remedies worked poorly.
Marijuana eases her pain
She had never used it because she considered it dangerous but found it helped ease her pain more than any other treatment. She continued to smoke it but couldn't afford a reliable supply.
So she started growing her own.
With regular use of the drug, Musikka saw the amount of fluid that nourishes an eye's cornea, iris and lens fall to a level low enough for a corneal transplant.
She continued using marijuana to ease glaucoma pain.
"There was only one kid I ever got accosted by. He lived right next door to me, jumped the fence and stole my plants every time I was growing something," she said, referring to her years in Florida. "He knew if I called the cops I'd be the one going to jail."
After 12 years of illegal use, more eye surgery went wrong.
Arrested for growing marijuana
She lost vision in her left eye. The next year she was arrested for growing marijuana near the time when she applied to the Compassionate Investigative New Drug Program, run by the Food and Drug Administration.
Then only two patients had taken advantage of the program. Robert Randall beat growing charges after his lawyers argued that marijuana was a medical necessity to help with his glaucoma. He won, and in 1976 sued the federal government in a case that ultimately led to the creation of the Compassionate IND Program.
Musikka entered the program in 1988.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse ran the Mississippi-based operation to grow uncontaminated marijuana "with consistent and predictable potency for use in biomedical research," spokeswoman Stephanie Older told the Register Guard newspaper in Eugene in an e-mail.
"NIDA has remained its only legal source."
Four years after Musikka joined the program, the Bush administration suspended it - though existing patients continued to be supplied.
Musikka said the low quality of the federal marijuana and Oregon's liberal medical marijuana law brought her West.
She first visited in 1998 when Measure 67, which allows patients with certain medical needs to grow and consume marijuana, was placed on the ballot. It passed with 56 percent of the vote, and today provides 21,500 Oregonians with legal access.
Medical marijuana law could see major changes
Pending bills in the Legislature run the gamut from stricter to more relaxed laws.
Don Bishoff, an aide to Springfield Sen. Bill Morrisette, said the law could see major changes this year.
"Things are in a giant state of flux," he said.
Morrisette is chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee and sponsor of Senate Bill 388, which would tighten rules on caregivers of medical marijuana patients and redefine the quantities of marijuana plants and hashish that patients can possess.
Musikka, who has toured the United States and Europe as a speaker for medical marijuana laws, worries about two bills that designate who in the state could grow marijuana for patients. She opposes a proposed state-operated growing operation because of the poor quality of marijuana she said she received from the federal government.
She said the product she receives from the government is years out of date: She prefers a proposal for series of dispensaries that would be cultivated by licensed growers.
"My whole fight is to make sure that patients have dignity, and most of all have their medicine, none of this having to grovel to everybody to get some pot because there's nowhere to go," she said.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com