My Journey






    I am hesitant to create this page.  I am only worried that it could somehow negatively effect my family.  With that said, I am hopeful that they will support my decision to be open about this. 

The Beginning

This journey began in South Barre, Vermont on September 10, 1995.  My girlfriend Wanda, our newborn son Cody and myself sat in traffic on Route 14 near the M&M Bottle Redemption Center in South Barre.  Our car, a 1986 Chevy Cavalier that we had recently bought.  Got a great deal on that car, too.  60,000 miles.....no rust......$650.  Life was good that Sunday, just after noon.  We were headed to my parents place in Northfield to do our laundry and to give them another chance to play with the newest addition to the family.  As we waited for the car a couple vehicles ahead of us to turn into an apartment complex on the left, a 1988 Ford LTD crested the hill behind us at full speed.  Its driver, who I will only refer to as MB, was completely unaware of anything beyond the hood of his own car as he studied a map. 

I only became aware that there was an issue when I saw a gray station wagon pull up between our car and a telephone pole at the right side of the road and stop.  Since there was no place for him to go, it definitely caught my attention.  I looked into the most frightened eyes that I have ever seen, right outside my window.  I instinctively grabbed Cody's car seat (fastened to the back seat behind Wanda as she drove) and held on as the LTD hit us.  Wanda slammed on the brakes as the back of our car was lifted and we were driven forward under the back bumper of a dump truck.  I hit the windshield (well, the Pepsi can that was up to my mouth hit the windshield leaving a "ring" from the bottom of my can in the glass....the open end of the can in my teeth) while still holding the car seat, doing some pretty serious damage to the ligaments, etc in my left shoulder.  We shoved a dump truck for over 24' and the driver of that truck ended up with whiplash from the violence of the wreck.  My back was the most serious injury sustained, as both Wanda and Cody were basically unharmed.  At 12:03 pm that day, my life changed forever.


 
Life Since That Day

While being "laid up" from the accident, Lumbar Facet Arthropathy set in.  Hard to describe the pain associated with this disease.  There are LOTS of people with LOTS of worse things and I will never believe or try to convince someone else that my issues are as bad as others'.....but they exist nonetheless.  In the years since, the Facet Arthropathy has progressed and Bursitis has set in to both knees and my left shoulder.  I don't have many nights of "good sleep" as I still hear the squealing of our tires and Wanda's screams often when I close my eyes.  In a strange twist, although the accident occurred while we were sitting still, years would pass before I was able to travel on the interstate again.  Anxiety has become a very real issue in my life as I spend more and more time alone.



The Initial Message

This year, twenty years since our accident, has been brutal for me physically.  A vicious cycle has emerged where pain prevents me from being more active, inactivity leads to more weight gain and more pain, etc.  One of my loves is taking photographs.  I have "shot" two local race tracks for the past six years, but 2015 was very tough.  Simply standing in one spot brings excruciating pain.  The time had come to try to do something beyond the pain pills that I have taken for over a decade.  With that in mind, I sent a message to my Primary Care Physician to inquire about Medical Marijuana.



Vermont's History

In 2004, the Vermont General Assembly passed S. 76, An Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons with Severe Illness.  This piece of legislation creates an exemption in state law from criminal penalties for the use of marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a debilitating medical condition as long as it is done in compliance with 18 V.S.A. Chapter 86. The law also creates a registry of individuals who are eligible to receive this exemption.  In layman's terms, Vermont lawmakers were forward thinking enough to understand that Marijuana offers many medical benefits and now allows residents, with recommendation of their doctor, to use it. 





There are four dispensaries in Vermont, the first opening in June of 2013.  Two are far South of me, one almost an hour North and one within ten miles of my home.  (Southern Vermont Wellness is in Brattleboro, Rutland County Organics is in Brandon, and Champlain Valley Dispensary is in Burlington).  It is fitting that Vermont Patients Alliance is located in the Capital City of Montpelier, as that is where Medical Marijuana came into being.  I searched for "Vermont Marijuana Registry" and found a collection of information and all of the forms that would be needed to apply.  One of those documents is called "Dispensary Selection Information" and is part of why I started this page.  You see, on the "Registered Patient Application Form" you are asked to select ONE dispensary.  An applicant is not able to visit them and patients are not able to take photos or video when they visit.  That makes it incredibly tough to become informed.  The "Dispensary Selection Information" pdf includes some information about the options that each dispensary offers.  In reading the info about the VPA in Montpelier, I noticed that it states "as of December 2013...."  The listing there didn't include some of the options that the Champlain Valley Dispensary (in Burlington...the only other real choice for me) did.  I did some additional searching on the internet and found VPA's website  which included much more up to date and inclusive information.  After reading that, my choice was easy.

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The Talk

The day arrived for my appointment with my Doctor.  I had printed both the Application Form for me to fill out, and the Health Care Professional Verification Form for him to sign.  I have to admit that I was nervous.  I was very hesitant to ask about this possibility.  I wasn't sure how my Doctor viewed it.  What if he saw my query as some attempt to simply "get stoned" legally?  I asked Wanda to join me, as this course of treatment will undoubtedly affect her as well.  Fortunately, he was very open to the idea.  He has other patients who have had very successful treatment with Medical Marijuana.    After our discussion, my Doctor filled out his paper and wished me luck.  I left his office relieved....but also knowing that my application still required approval by a Review Board.  The only thing left for me to do was to get my part of the application Notarized.

Click here to find the Registered Patient Application
Click here to find the Health Care Professional Verification Form



Next Steps


I struggled for a few days about the Notary.  The anxiety set in and I became fearful that "they" would put me on a list of "known drug users" or something.  I contacted an old friend who has Notarized things for me in the past but didn't hear back from her in a couple days so decided that I had to just go get it done.  There is one place where there are guaranteed Notaries - City Hall.  I won't elaborate much, but will say that the woman who helped me made it fairly clearly that she had better things to do.  Regardless of how uncomfortable that was, I left with my application complete and ready to go out in the next mornings' mail.  I included the $50 application fee and put a stamp on it.  That allowed me to take a deep breath finally.

As a side-note, this experience led me to fill out the paperwork to become a Notary of the Public in hopes that perhaps future readers of this site who are going through the process will feel less anxiety about at least one part of it.  Contact me if you need your application Notarized. 



And Then....

I received my ID card about a month after submitting my application.  I had heard that it would take 6 weeks before I would hear any response so was pleasantly surprised.  In the mean time, I started researching marijuana as much as I could.  I realize how silly that sounds, but trust me.  There is much more of a difference between Sativa and Indica than how they look.  They have VERY different effects on a user and while both can be used medically, Indica is the better choice for pain relief.  Even within each "Strain" there are numerous "kinds" (I'm not sure the correct word to use here).  While any of them would be beneficial, some would likely be better than others - and they would certainly have much different effects on me than each other.  I haven't smoked so much as a joint in a number of years...and never anything as strong as what is considered normal these days.  Technology has been a really integral part of bringing marijuana into the forefront of the discussion about pain relief.


Here is some information about the different types of Cannabis.  Click here for link.




There Is A Link...

On the Vermont Patients Alliance website there is a link for "Online Dispensary."  I had my Membership Number on my ID card but wasn't able to access anything without emailing the dispensary and asking for a password.  Once that was figured out, I could see what options VPA has available.  Pricing, quantities, dosing, chemical makeups, and availability are all clearly visible.  I was very happy to find a couple of products similar to what I had run across in my studies; "Cream Of The Crop" lotion and "Kelly's Comfort Salve."  I am not against smoking dried flower but if I can gain relief from a topical applied directly to the sorest parts of my back I am all for it!

There are over 20 different varieties of dried flower (this is the marijuana that you smoke), a dozen different edibles (everything from peanut butter to lozenges), 8 different Tinctures (these are liquid and are dosed with an eye dropper); you either put them under your tongue or you can dilute them to make ingestion easier.  Some people add them to recipes - just be careful that YOU are the only person consuming whatever it is that you make. They also have a handful of concentrates (from capsules to suppositories) and one more topical beyond the two I already mentioned: lip balm.  I get the impression that the inventory changes fairly regularly (at least as far as the dried flowers go).



FINALLY!


Vermont had one of the worst storms that we have had this Winter just after I got my card.  Mind you, it wasn't a bad storm at all - but with El Nina or whatever it is affecting our weather patterns (and turning this Winter into better weather than most of our Falls) I didn't want to ask my Dad for a ride to the dispensary.  Finally the weather broke, it stopped raining and warmed up.  I called on February 18th to schedule my first appointment.  I was pleasantly surprised that they put me on the schedule for the next morning.  My Dad picked me up and we headed to Montpelier.  I arrived a few minutes early, as instructed, and pushed the buzzer on the front door.  Vermont Patients Alliance is not like the dispensaries that I have seen on TV.  Those are basically like retail stores with customers everywhere and showcases lined up to sell products.  This could not be further from that.  There is no sign outside - directions were supplied to me over the phone when scheduling my appointment. 

My button press brought a young lady to the door who let me in and checked my ID card and my DMV card (apparently this is only necessary on the first visit....subsequent visits will only require my ID card).  I was immediately hit by the strong odor of marijuana.  It wasn't overwhelming, but I dare say that smell will never come out of the woodwork there!  She led me to a couple chairs along the wall in the lobby and invited me to sit while she made copies of my cards for my file. 

A guy brought me a clipboard and went over the paperwork that they needed me to complete.  Most of it was voluntary (information about my medical history and medications) while the rest was pretty easy (Emergency Contact, etc).  As I looked around the lobby I saw just a few doors.  There was one that seemed to be the main office with glass windows that allowed me to see a few folks working.  To the right of that was a door further into the building (I assume this is where stock is kept) and to the left was a door which a patient came out of carrying a large lock box, with a woman closing the door behind him.  The only other things in the lobby were a couple showcases with a few accessories (glass storage jar, a vaporizer system, hats and shirts). 




Time To Buy Some Medicine


When I returned the clipboard, a woman invited me to follow her into the room that the other patient had exited from.  She asked if I minded someone sitting in as she is "in training."  I had no issues and remarked that "I am in training too."  When I walked through the door I was really surprised to see a desk and a few chairs.  I took my seat and looked around a little.  It was a pretty small room, not much bigger than my office here at home.  On the desk were three groupings of glass jars.  I think that there was a total of 15 jars, but I am not positive about that.  One group were Sativas, with a note that they are "uplifting", etc.  Another group were Indicas, with a note about "Couch Melt" or something else as descriptive.  In the middle were Hybrids; plants that are created by cross-polinating flowers of each type.  These have health benefits from each. 

The process started with me explaining what brought me to medical marijuana.  We talked about my experience and knowledge (or lack of, really).  I explained that I quit smoking tobacco 15 years ago (my anniversary was on Valentine's Day) and hadn't tried cannabis because I was afraid of it leading me to want a cigarette.  I no longer feel that anxiety or fear.  It is time to deal with this pain so that I can get back to enjoying life more.

I explained that I had checked out the online dispensary and was excited to check out the topicals (and other things besides flower).  I decided on the Salve, as the lotion was pretty liquidy and I wasn't sure how well I would be able to put it on the part of my back that needs it without making a mess.  The salve seemed like a better option, if for no better reason than my desire not to cause issues at home.  We talked a little about edibles and I decided to buy both Orange CBD lozenges and Raspberry lozenges.  I will definitely be trying a lot of other options but these seemed like good places to start.  I added a bottle of Pain Relief Tincture (thinking that I will be putting it in water and gulping it down as the idea of putting it under my tongue is not at all appealing to me) and then decided to buy a couple small bags of flower.  Following suggestions, I chose one Sativa (Afghan Skunk) and one Indica (Mango) and purchased a 1/16th bag of each.  This is a tiny amount, probably only a few bowls worth; just enough to judge how they effect me and what I may want more of. 

I also had to buy a locking bank bag, as state law requires that EVERYTHING containing any amount of marijuana purchased at the dispensary has to be in a locked container when you walk out the door.  I paid for my purchases (only cash or check is accepted as marijuana is still illegal federally so no bank will deal with dispensaries because it would be considered money laundering under federal law) and received my "Trip Ticket" (aka my receipt).  In the event that I am stopped by police on the way home, I was advised that I should present them with my ID card and my "trip ticket."  No questions were asked about income or military service although the website says that there is a sliding scale of costs based on both of those things.




 What Surprised Me

 A number of things have surprised me along this journey.  While I am thankful that my state has decided that there is a real and true benefit from using Marijuana as medicine, it seems apparent that they could do a lot more to make the process more accessible to patients. 

I was surprised that patients are required to choose one designated dispensary without really being given much information about what differentiates them from each other.  The "Dispensary Selection Information" file that I mentioned above does not include information about VPA from any more recent than 2013.  As much as everything in the industry has changed in those 2+ years, this seems really unacceptable to me. 

My suggestion here would be that when a patient receives the signed paperwork from their Doctor, (and BEFORE they submit their completed application) they should be allowed to visit the dispensaries (without being allowed to purchase anything) so that they can meet the staff and see the selections available.  Then they would have enough knowledge to make an informed choice.

 

I was surprised about how little information new patients are given.  I think that each dispensary should create a brochure that is included when the ID card is sent to the patient depending on their designated dispendary.  A simple "Welcome to the Vermont Patients Alliance" with contact information to help the patient make their first appointment.  That initial call can feel very overwhelming, especially when the process doesn't feel very welcoming.  The info that I am suggesting exists on the VPA website, but certainly not everyone who could benefit from this medicine is online.  This seems like an oversight in my eyes. 

I was somewhat surprised that the dispensary doesn't have so much as a sign.  I've debated this a little with Wanda and think that she is probably right (as usual) in thinking that it is for security purposes.  While this may be the reason, I disagree with the logic.  Liquor stores are heavily advertised.  Medical facilities have signs and arrows.  VPA is in a very non-descript building only described (during the telephone call to schedule appointment) by the color of the building and the color of the roof with general directions how to get to it.  There is a simple "Guest Parking" sign.  

I was surprised that "supplies" are not sold at VPA.  I would guess that a lot of people starting medical marijuana are not regular marijuana users already.  I know from things that I have seen and read online that there are a lot of elderly people using it and finding a lot of relief from symptoms.  They likely would be even less comfortable than I to have to visit a "headshop" to buy smoking supplies.  Shouldn't they be available in the privacy of your caregivers office?  A simple selection of glass pipes, rolling papers, electric rollers, grinders etc would not take up make space in the lobby and would likely generate a fair amount of extra income. I did ask during my initial visit if they sold pipes and was only told no.  There was a brief discussion about whether or not they could be bought in Montpelier (apparently there is no place there that sells them) and the fact that there is a smoke shop in Barre that sells them.  Since the store in Barre is on the second floor of an old building, it is clearly not handicap accessible (nor is the climb up the stairs easy for most of the patients who use medical marijuana).  I didn't ask why they don't sell them, but I will during my next visit. 

On a personal note, I was a little surprised how supportive the important people in my life have been.  Before even contacting my Doctor I had a discussion with Wanda.  Early in our relationship (20ish years ago) I smoked marijuana on a somewhat regular basis.  She has never smoked even tobacco, but has been exposed to things like that (to a large extent by me) and was very enthusiastic when I quit smoking.  I explained my desire to try cannabis and am forever grateful that she supported me in this.  More than anyone, she understands the pain that I have been dealing with for years and has watched it progress.

I was hesitant at first to even mention it to my parents.  In fact, if I had been able to find more information about the VPA dispensary and the options available there, I likely wouldn't have let them know.  However, I knew that I would need to choose a dispensary before I could submit my application and it looked like it may be necessary to choose one 45 minutes away.  I don't drive.  With Wanda's schedule it would be likely that I would need to ask my Dad for a ride, at least occasionally.  I would never ask him to transport marijuana in his vehicle without being aware of it.  I have much more respect for him than that.  I can only say that my Dad is not the same person that he was when I was younger.  The "rigid, set in the beliefs that he was raised with" guy from my teen years has been replaced with an understanding and compassionate person.  His battles with Cancer have softened up his outlook on life.

I started the conversation with him by simply asking "What do you think about Medicinal Marijuana?"  His response was very positive which made my "I'm seriously considering asking my Doctor to fill out the paperwork for me" a really comfortable response.  He said that he fully supported it as he understands how long I have been dealing with my back pain.  I could immediately breathe easier.  I do admit still feeling a little weird asking my Dad for a ride to go buy marijuana but I expect that will get easier.

I sat down my daughter Christi and her husband Skylar after submitting my application.  Their reaction was great, and I am thankful for that.  I had a much more in depth conversation with Cody as he still lives at home and will be more exposed to it.  He was supportive as well.  For kids these days, marijuana is really not a big deal.

I do want to offer a special thank you to a new friend.  I posted a query on my Facebook page before I ever started this journey asking if any of my friends had experience with Medicinal Marijuana and was contacted by an old friend directing me to contact her friend.  I reached out and have to say that her willingness to offer answers and support has been amazing.  She has been on the registry for a number of years and kept me feeling positive about the outcome throughout.  I am not mentioning her name as I have not asked for her permission.  If she ever reads this, she will know that I am referring to her.  I look forward to actually meeting her someday.





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