Tim Madison 2/16/09
During his treatment five years ago, cancer survivor Leonard Burdek sought relief from the side effects of chemotherapy through the use of marijuana.
During Burdeks six months of chemotherapy he had to face the possibility of being arrested for possessing the marijuana which eased the pain of his symptoms. Yet, on April 4, fear of imprisonment, fines and legal bills will change, thanks to the approval of medical marijuana by voters in the recent elections.
Under the new law, patients in Michigan who have medical need and a doctors recommendation will be able to apply to the health department for an ID card that will entitle them to use marijuana. Theyll also be able to grow up to 12 plants, and carry up to 2.5 ounces of pot. Qualifying individuals may also select a caregiver to grow marijuana or obtain it for them. Each caregiver may have five patients and may grow 12 plants for each of them. If the caregiver is also a patient, then he or she will be able to grow up to 72 marijuana plants under the new law.
Burdek, along with Melody Carr and Bob Heflin are the organizers of the Traverse City Compassion Club, one of many so-named clubs that have been formed across the state by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. The clubs were formed to help individuals seeking to grow and use medical marijuana.
The main goal of the compassion club is to to offer support to these people, so that they can have the best experience they can with the use of medical marijuana, Burdek says. We want to be able to support those folks. We want to be able to listen to what their needs are and do our best to fulfill those needs.
Those who wish to apply for an ID card to use medical marijuana will have to navigate the bureaucracy of the Michigan State government and deal with a (sometimes) skeptical medical establishment. Yet, through the compassion club system, Burdek and other volunteers will be working to make the process as easy as possible.
Burdek is a strong believer in marijuana as a medical therapy.
The nice thing about it is that in the course of about three months, this isnt going to be a black market thing anymore, he says. Its going to be in the open, and people are going to be able to educate themselves on the proper ways of growing marijuana. Most importantly, I think whats going to come out of this is that the patient isnt going to have to go to the underground in order to get their medicine. Theyre going to be able to stay away from the criminal element.
PART OF A NETWORK
The Traverse City Compassion Club is part of a network that will include at least two clinics run by The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, which exists solely for the purpose of recommending patients for medical marijuana use. One clinic in Southfield is already open. Another is planned for Ann Arbor, and there is a possibility that the clinic will travel to Traverse City.
The clinic has considered coming up here to Traverse City so that people dont have to go to Southfield, if we can find 30 qualifying patients to go in for an interview with them, Burdek says.
He adds that not everyone will qualify. Just because they have an appointment, doesnt mean they are going to get medical marijuana. Its going to depend on their condition, and their last three (medical) charts.
Burdek originally came into contact with marijuana through what he calls the counterculture. He says he had an unhealthy relationship with marijuana and was also a drinker and a smoker. For the way that I abused tobacco and the way that I abused marijuana, I was a prime candidate to get cancer, he says.
He intends to address health issues concerning the abuse of marijuana through his work at the compassion club. I want to impress upon people that rolling up marijuana and smoking it is probably the least healthy way you can use it, he says. I also recognize that there are people who may have addiction issues -- addictive personality issues -- as opposed to an addiction to the marijuana, that are going to need some guidance so that they dont fall into a trap with marijuana that they may have fallen into with other drugs.
One outspoken medical marijuana advocate who goes by the name Triple Old School, was one of the first patients that Burdek assisted when he had difficulty getting the necessary paperwork from his doctor.
Triple Old School suffers from hepatitis C and side effects stemming from injections he received during his military service in the early 1980s. He says the injections were meant to prepare troops for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, but had severe side effects, including liver damage. Id been on Oxycontin for quite some time and ended up addicted to it, he says. It took me a year and a half of methadone treatment to get rid of the addiction.
He cited the lack of addictive properties as the main reason he has for choosing medical marijuana, and plans to obtain an ID card in April. As far as the efficacy, its working -- its been really good. Its been a wonderful substitute thats non-addictive for me.
During his cancer treatment, Burdek used marijuana to combat nausea, and also for pain relief from neutropenia, which causes an aching of the bones. Both are side effects of chemotherapy and Burdek felt that marijuana was a better pain-fighting alternative than addictive opiates. I was able to really keep my use of opiates to a minimum during that time, when it was bolstered with my use of marijuana, he says. In that respect, I was reducing the potential harm to myself, knowing that when I was done with my treatment it would be much easier to put the marijuana down than it would be if I was using opiates and had become addicted to them.
As a blogger on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Associations website (michiganmedicalmarijuana.org) and as
an organizer of the TC Compassion
Club, Burdek is keenly aware of the
stigma that surrounds marijuana. The image of the dullard kid on his
skateboard with his hoody on plays
into a lot of peoples perceptions about what a marijuana user is. We have to
break those stereotypes, because there are going to be members of the community
that are in good standing that may conceivably become patients, and thats who we want to represent, he says.
To people like Triple Old School, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is long overdue. Its a wonderful substitute for narcotics, and its a non addictive substance, he says. I think it should be legalized all across America, and we shouldnt be hunting down people who are using it for medicinal purposes.
The Traverse City Compassion Clubs next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Traverse City Area District Library on Monday, March 23.
For info regarding medical marijuana or the Traverse City Compassion Club,
contact Leonard Burdek at email@example.com.