Retired Exec Obeys the Law Except when Smoking Pot to Ease Pain

By Fred Dickey

Upon first meeting Michael Dunstan, you might think: This guy voted for every Bush on the ballot. He’s as straight an arrow as ever flew from a corporate bow. He could wear a three-piece suit as comfortably as a shark wears its skin.

To reinforce that image, he’s a 58-year-old retired PR executive living in Valley Center, where he scans hazy vistas and watches underfoot for rattlers. It’s bucolic intense. He’s a squire, of sorts.

But then the picture grows cloudy when you learn he is a devoted smoker of marijuana. It doesn’t fit the image, so there must be a back story.

There is, and it dates back to an intersection near Sacramento on Christmas Day 2006. Dunstan was driving in his BMW convertible when he made a turn that suddenly stuck him in traffic. He glanced left and in the distance, he saw what remains a freeze-frame in his mind to this day.

He saw a woman driving toward him at high speed. Then he saw her — and this is the image that sticks — reach around to the back-seat floor with her head fully turned. Then, nothing.

Her car T-boned his vehicle, smashing it across several lanes. Dunstan was thrown into the steel frame of the convertible top. He suffered a concussion, several broken ribs, amnesia that lasted two months and a mouthful of knocked-out teeth.

It wasn’t his first bad accident. He had suffered a serious neck injury and a broken shoulder that resulted in an implant. Pain on top of pain.

As a result of these bone-crushers, he became married to powerful painkillers. It was a union with drawbacks: the mental haze, the constipation, the energy drain and the unsettling knowledge that he was a prisoner. He wanted out.

Acting on a doctor’s advice, he decided to try marijuana in place of prescribed drugs. It wasn’t a new acquaintance. He was a student at UC Berkeley back in the day when it was Berserkley and marijuana haze on campus could cause a smog alert. Nuff said.

He went cold-turkey on the pills and turned to weed. For a month he fought painkiller withdrawal, with its joint aches, its gut tension and the bands squeezing his skull, but he never turned back.

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