Tim DaGiau will be the first to admit he smokes pot – but it’s not a casual joint to help him better enjoy Pink Floyd.
It’s medical marijuana to help him live a normal life.
Prior to his first toke as a high school senior, this 22-year-old New Jersey native and current Colorado State University student was constantly struck with seizures and other side effects from epilepsy.
Arizona’s November ballot will include a vote on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which would allow marijuana use for people with terminal or serious illnesses and other qualifying conditions.
DaGiau was fine until age 10. Then his first seizure hit in a playground. His second seizure was kind enough to come a mere two weeks later, in the middle of the school cafeteria.
“It would be the beginning of a journey through thousands of convulsions, 13 anti-epileptic drugs, multiple alternative treatments and five brain surgeries, the last of which would leave me paralyzed on my left side,” DaGiau wrote in an e-mail.
“For eight years I would endure the often devastating side effects of Western medicine until finally, when hope had begun to wear thin, I discovered the answers to my prayers and my first effective treatment: cannabis.”
DeGiau has certainly had one heck of a ride until he had his first hit of a joint at age 18.
“As it entered my body, my constant plaguing thoughts of seizures dissipated,” he said. “It was as if my prison had dissolved.”
That was the last hit he had for two whole years, until, as a last resort, he applied for the medical marijuana program as a sophomore at Colorado State University.
Before his application went through, he decided to go for one more surgery, even though past surgeries were not met with success.
“I was too anxious to attain a cure, too impatient to see if I would ever be able to employ marijuana as a treatment.”
So he went under the knife – with disastrous results.
“Not only would I continue seizing,” he said, “but rather, this time, I would be paralyzed on my left side, due to an unforeseen level of swelling in my brain.”
Medical marijuana to the rescue.
Road still bumpy
While DaGiau’s friends, family and “even the most conservative” folks don’t scoff at his medicinal pot smoking after hearing his story and seeing what he’s accomplished, using marijuana as medicine can still present some hurdles.
Like being isolated from his family. While at Colorado State University, DaGiau’s medical marijuana use was fine and dandy. But it was not until New Jersey enacted its own medicinal marijuana legislation just this year that he could visit his home state while continuing his treatment.
“Acknowledging that an abrupt abandonment of the drug, similar to any pharmaceutical, would provoke cycles of convulsions, and aware of the fact that marijuana was illegal in New Jersey, I was barred from visitation,” he said.
The same holds true for any vacation spot where pot – medicinal or not – remains illegal.
And then there’s the landlord who tried to get DaGiau evicted. Even though DaGiau’s apartment complex had a package room, the landlord decided to leave a package inside DaGiau’s apartment while he was out.
“I returned home to find a note on my door which stated that the police would be coming if it was ever sensed again that I was in possession of cannabis (there was never a smell in the hallway, just this intrusive entry, which made me question how he’d know if I was). Realizing that he could evict me, I abruptly halted use.”
DaGiau had already gone 93 days with no seizures, and his parents were coming to Colorado to celebrate 100 seizure-free days the following week, which was also July 4 weekend.
But DaGiau stopped use for fear of eviction. He had a seizure, sure enough, on day 96. “While biking, I fell and began seizing so violently that my face was badly scraped and tooth chipped. My parents never saw day 100 and I’ve never lasted that long since,” he wrote.
His fear propelled him to move out of his apartment, despite having lived there for two years with no problems, and sign a new lease elsewhere.
“Thankfully, I have not had to face a drug test (for employment or any other reason),” he said. “However, there are no civil protections in any state’s medical marijuana law, which permits evictions and terminations to be fully legal.”
A slate of new tax laws on Colorado’s dispensaries – which DaGiau says will surely put most of them out of business – is another fine hurdle, one that prompted DaGiau to join an activist group.
“The sole purpose is to educate the public in an appropriate, peaceful manner,” he said of the Colorado-based Medical Marijuana Activists.
He sent the group his resume, which outlines his successes, especially those achieved after turning to medical marijuana.
“It was an immediate difference. I adopted a new identity, one that incurred fewer convulsions and less paramedic encounters. I transitioned from being reclusive to, instead, exerting an outgoing and assertive personality, as a pre-law junior.
“In two years as a medical marijuana user, I have attained the role of president and vice president of department advisory boards, acted as an intern for district court judges, PR firms and several other corporations.
“Additionally, I volunteer at several organizations, including the Alzheimer’s Association, a local hospital, a juvenile probation program, a domestic violence prevention program, along with several others.
“In essence, due to a reduced fear of enduring the humiliation from seizing in public, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to rebuild my life anew.”
Not only is DaGaui now a member, but he was appointed director of public relations, his second major in addition to journalism.
“I strongly believe that my determination, story, and strong speaking skills will bring this now relatively local group… to a national level,” he said.
“In all reality, a 22-year-old kid is exactly what many of these movements have been lacking – the driven, assertive, and goal-oriented youth that is able to exemplify that not all young patients are ‘users’ or stoners.”
How a medical marijuana program works
Folks hoping for some medical marijuana don’t simply show up at their doctor’s office and put out their hand for a joint.
Doctors, like DaGiau’s physician who is now his neurologist, provide signed paperwork stating the patient would benefit from medical marijuana.
Patients then shell out the fee to apply for a medical marijuana card, or license, if the state issues them. DeGaiu paid $90 to apply for his Colorado card, which he has had since 2008.
If a person is granted the license, he or she uses it to purchase their pot at “healing centers,” which are dispensaries that grow and sell marijuana. The healing centers register with the state to legally grow marijuana. While getting a bag full of catnip or paprika is not an issue, DaGiau says some users do fret about the possible use of pesticides or other chemicals on the marijuana.
Another concern is medical marijuana fraud, or folks receiving it who do not necessarily need it to ameliorate a medical condition, DaGiau says. In the past two years, people have been applying for medical marijuana cards in droves.
“The Medical Marijuana registry, when I applied, was required to respond within 35 days,” he said. “It is now over three months, just to provide an idea of how many applications they now receive. I have met those who were able to receive a license, despite a phony condition.”
One of DeGiau’s theories as to why medical marijuana fraud may be so rampant is because “no physician has ever been tried by the state in the program’s 10-years-to-life, so I think many feel ‘What’s the difference if I sign off on the patient?’”
In addition to Colorado in 2000 and New Jersey in 2010, a total of 12 other states have enacted laws that make medical marijuana legal. They are Alaska in 1998, California in 1996, Hawaii in 2000, Maine in 1999, Michigan in 2008, Montana in 2004, Nevada in 2000, New Mexico in 2007, Oregon in 1998, Rhode Island in 2006, Vermont in 2004, and Washington in 1998. Click here for more details on each state’s medical marijuana laws.