"Layla, you've got me on my knees, Layla," Dustin Malley sings along with the Eric Clapton favorite that plays softly in one of the growing rooms as he patiently waters maturing marijuana plants. He tends to the marijuana plants like a farmer anticipating the entry of the grand pumpkin in the county fair. He lovingly takes care of them, talking to them like they are green, leafy children. The plants are not merely watered under bright lights. Malley has a systemized process, making sure that each plant has the right amount of PH-balanced water and organic fertilizer. The growing rooms are set up to be as clean and efficient as possible. An air system keeps the lights from overheating and the light, humidity and carbon dioxide are all controlled. Despite all the planning, the marijuana plants will never make it to a county fair. Instead, they will be distributed to patients that registered prescribing doctors and the state have determined have a medical need for the product. Patients Malley himself is a patient. In 2006 began growing his six plants allowed in the state's Medical Marijuana Act of 2004 that legalized medical marijuana. After cutting off his middle and index fingers and his thumb in a lumberyard accident, he underwent three surgeries in a short span of time to limit the damage. He has undergone three more since. He remembers the time and day, but not the details of the accident, past other than that a free-spinning saw was the cause. "All I remember is that I was short three fingers," he said. Now, he has most of his middle finger and a makeshift thumb, but is still missing his index finger. He can still move all the muscles and tendons, and use the nerves that would attach to the finger, but there's no finger at the end to move. He has excruciating muscle spasms, he said. The doctors put him on a long list of medications, including oxycotin, oxycodone and hydrocodone, the effects of which were negative enough that Malley decided to stop taking them one night. His withdrawal was extreme to the point that his wife had to call emergency personnel, he said. When he told the doctors that he was not taking anymore oxycotin, they told him the option was methadone, a drug that Malley said he had only heard negative things about. So he opted to wean himself off prescription Narcotics entirely and started using cannabis instead. "(Narcotics are) unnecessary chemicals that my body doesn't need," he said. Without the medicinal marijuana, he said he felt that he would still be on some form of pain pill or prescription medication for anxiety or depression, he said. "I do definitely have some days where the pain is so severe that cannabis definitely doesn't kill the pain, but it takes the edge off," he said. But the lack of side effects, like nausea and sleepiness, from the narcotics makes using cannabis instead worth it. "On cannabis I'm still able to get on the floor and play with the kids," he said, referring to his young children. "You can still go outside and sidewalk chalk with your kids." At first he used a supplier, called caregivers by state law, out of town, and eventually got sick of overpaying for a sporadic supply. The patients are trying to get away from using chemicals, so Malley said that he uses as many natural growing products as possible to keep them from intaking more chemicals. He sees the product help patients break away from narcotics and have a better quality of life, he said. Cannabis has helped one of his patients who has gone through two bouts with cancer and has other health issues decrease her intake of pain pills as well as other pills like anti-depressants. Aside from seeing the benefits for himself and others, he said he believes in what he does because he watched his grandfather die from cancer and witnessed how much he suffered from nausea, lack of appetite and chronic pain. The future of his business Medical marijuana, is still illegal at a federal level, although President Barack Obama's administration has told law enforcement to back off prosecution of cases involving its use in states. It has been legal in Montana since 62 percent of voters said they wanted it in the Montana Medical Marijuana Act of 2004. According to www.dphhs. mt.gov, 8,604 people are registered as patients, and 109 of those reside in Hill County. Out of the 2,231 caregivers in the state, 15 are in Hill County. To obtain a caregiver's license, a person must complete a background check and have no prior felony drug offenses. A caregiver can grow up to six plants per patient. Patients must obtain recommendations from a licensed physician stating that marijuana is a good course of treatment. Valid medical conditions include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms. The recommendations are then sent to the state and the Department of Public Health and Human Services for final approval. Once a patient has a user card, he can have up to one ounce on his person at any time. He must apply for the card and renew on a yearly basis. The list of names of both providers and patients is confidential. It took several years for Malley to build his client base and set up his operation, he said, adding that he purposefully chose his grow location to make sure that he fell within zoning regulations in a commercial intermediate zone. He has followed all of the state's rules to the best of his ability, he said. "In this business, it's best to err on the side of safety," he said. Despite his caution, his profession has come under scrutiny for regulation by the city after Mayor Tim Solomon said he received a request for more information about what guidelines had to be followed to locate an operation in Havre. Providers, patients and residents attended a meeting of the city's Planning and Development Committee earlier this month to discuss the topic, with most of the residents asking for the Council to consider regulating the business to keep it away from schools and residential areas. Committee members agreed that, according to state law, medical marijuana can not be forbidden, but that zoning laws could regulate it. In other areas in the state where the same question has arisen, many medical marijuana operations already in business have been grandfathered in, Malley said. "I would hope for something like that," he said. "I'm all for the zoning law," he said. "They're here for a reason." Even so, it's not his fault that the city's codes are outdated, he said. He doesn't want a dispensary on Main Street, but he would like a neutral location at which to meet patients, he said. Unless a caregiver is vocal about his operation, people living nearby would never know that it exists, he contended. His 17 other patients aren't taking the marijuana to get high; like him, they're taking it to manage health issues like chronic pain and cancer. They don't smoke and then lay around on a couch all day, he said. They're still able to function at a mainly normal level. They don't smoke in highly visible or public places either, he added. And he agrees that his product should be kept away from people who don't need it. People who use cannabis need to be responsible and teach their children not to use it, he said. Parents don't need to smoke in front of their children, but children should know what medications their parents take. He uses an inhaler, he said, and his children know, that like his marijuana, they are not to use it. "I don't want my products falling into the hands of a student at Havre High School or at the middle school," he said. "I adamantly don't want that."
Havre man is medical marijuana grower, recipient
Published: Thursday, March 11th, 2010
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