The Pot Prescription

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The pot prescription

Postby palmspringsbum » Thu Aug 17, 2006 8:30 pm

The Bennington Banner wrote:
The pot prescription

The Bennington Banner
Thursday, August 17

<table class=posttable align=right width=300><tr><td class=postcell><img src=bin/tucci-mark.jpg></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>Mark Tucci smokes marijuana legally in his home to ease debilitating pain associated with multiple sclerosis. He is the author of a book on growing marijuana for medical purposes.</td></tr></table>
For more than a decade, Mark Tucci has been perfecting the art of suffering. And before his journey is over, he is bound to become a master.

But despite his body being wracked with uncontrollable spasms, a feeling like his legs are being electrocuted and arms that don't react to his thoughts no matter how hard he concentrates, Tucci, of Manchester, does not cry for his own suffering.

Tucci, 49, does, however, weep when he thinks about the suffering of others, like when he thinks about dear friends who struggled through their last hours on a hospital bed, contorted, and their "medication" - only a breath away - blocked from ever reaching them by the government.

It is for his fellow suffering human beings that Tucci has written "The Patient's Simple Guide to Growing Marijuana," a simple 31-page booklet for people like him, who are in the throes of a debilitating illness such as multiple sclerosis (which Tucci has), advanced HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Tucci, at regular intervals throughout an interview with the Banner in late July, puffed on a hand-blown glass pipe and a marijuana cigarette. The smoked substance was marijuana: a drug that the state of Vermont not only allows him to smoke, but also permits it to be grown for him at a secure, undisclosed location.

When smoked, marijuana eases Tucci's pain, he said, and also restores his hunger after his appetite is killed from a number of medications he takes.

Tucci is not alone. There are 29 people licensed to possess and grow small amounts or marijuana in Vermont, and there are also five licensed caregivers, who go through a criminal background check and grow solely for sick friends, clients or family.

To get a license in Vermont, sick individuals must apply online, fill out a registry form, have a physician's confirmation and send in two self-portraits, Tucci said. If denied, the applicant can go before a three person panel for review and reconsideration.

With the passage of bill S.76 in 2004, Vermonters with AIDS, or the health equivalent of AIDS, cancer and MS are permitted to grow one mature marijuana plant, two immature plants and to possess two ounces of the cured product. Possessing more than this amount can put the individual at risk of being arrested.

Tucci has been taking all kinds of prescribed drugs since he first became ill with MS in 1994. After years of taking medications, he has found that marijuana eases his symptoms more than most.

MS is a disease that attacks the sheath on nerve endings, and when those sheaths are destroyed, it sends mixed signals to the brain, causing blindness, paralysis, muscle weakness, tremors and spasms.

"Basically, it's your nervous system attacking itself," said Tucci.

Tucci said the result is pain, and lots of it.

"I've got pain. Like five different kinds of pain," Tucci said. "When you have the flu, and the body ache pains and stuff like that, I get that all the time. My legs feel like someone beat on them, I'm on an electric fence, and my feet are burning at the same time. And I have spasms, a lot of spasticity in different parts of the day, but mostly in the morning. Obviously, I don't walk and run like I used to."

As a result of the MS and restricted movement, Tucci's muscles have atrophied, and he walks with the deftness of a drunkard. His spasticity, as he calls it, is so bad that his torso and legs can contract in the middle of the night to the point when they'll almost touch.

His mind, though, is fine. That wasn't always the case.

"I'm much more aware than when I was on narcotics and things like that," he said.

Narcotic pills, of which Tucci was given a laundry list by doctors to take daily, suppressed his immune system. It was a counterproductive treatment, Tucci said, that did more harm than good.

Marijuana, on the other hand, helped Tucci more than most of the pharmaceutical drugs combined, he said. Further, he didn't build a tolerance to the drug, unlike other narcotic medications. It's the phenomenon of "reverse tolerance," Tucci said.

"You take any drug - alcohol, cigarettes, synthetic drugs of any kind, and you start doing it, and you will have to at some point do more to maintain the same high, to get the same happiness out of it. You talk to any old hippie, any old pothead, any sick person puffing weed for 20 years, they still just have to take a few hits. Isn't that amazing? No matter how bad things are in my pain spasm world, I don't have to juice up with four joints in the morning. It's been the only drug - this and the Neurotin - that have maintained their usefulness that I haven't built up a tolerance to. What a blessing that is? Holy crap, let me tell you."

Tucci was no stranger to marijuana before his MS took hold. He grew up in Danby in the 1960s and '70s, he explained. Back then, he used pot recreationally.

Whereas Tucci smoked only occasionally 30 years ago, now it's daily. He smokes about four joints a day, sometimes even in the middle of the night to ease the wild contractions of his body.

"It keeps it at bay and knocks the spasms out," he said. "It helps you eat, and it helps your attitude and helps you through the periods when you feel like crap."

In writing his book, Tucci hoped to take the glamour and the mystery out of growing marijuana.

Tucci believes there are many more who could reap its medicinal benefits.

Tucci said that other people who are suffering - such as those with Krohn's disease, fibromyalgia and other auto-immune illness - should be allowed by the state to use medical marijuana. He said his book is for these people, and for people who just don't understand what marijuana is about.

"It tells you how to grow in the simplest terms in accordance with Vermont law," Tucci said.

His target audience is sick people in the 11 states where medical marijuana has been legalized to an extent, such as Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Kerry Sleeper is the state's commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, the branch of government responsible for the oversight of both Vermont's legal and illegal pot users.

He said the law was drafted in such a way to prevent abuse by people seeking the ability to grow and sell marijuana for profit by focusing narrowly on the very ill people who make use of it.

"In the sense of law that was passed, I don't believe that there's any significant abuse of it," Sleeper said in an interview Wednesday.

However, Sleeper said the drug grown for people like Tucci is not "medical marijuana," but rather a drug permitted for "compassionate use" by the state. He said there is no concrete evidence that marijuana has medicinal benefits, but that it does seem to provide some kind of solace for people dealing with end-of-life issues and long-term, debilitating illness.

The intent of the law then, according to Sleeper, was to permit the use of marijuana for only this group of people.

Sleeper said he would advocate against any kind of expansion of S.76, as it would be counter-productive to the efforts the state and his department are making in a long-standing battle against substance abuse, especially with Vermont's youth.

"We can't be hypocrites and recognize that we have a substance abuse problem and then advocate marijuana use," said Sleeper, a former state trooper and former head of the Vermont Drug Task Force with nearly 30 years of law enforcement under his belt.

Further, Sleeper believes the same groups of people who advocate for expansion of medical marijuana laws are often working for the same organizations that promote total marijuana legalization.

S.76 passed in 2004, with the help of people like state Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington/Wilmington, a legislator who has always been a strong proponent of law enforcement.

Sears said Wednesday that the next legislative session would be a good time to review how S.76 has worked so far, and to expand and overhaul the scope of the law.

Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes the law should be expanded to include people who suffer from diseases like Krohn's and fibromyalgia, despite Sleeper's recommendation to do otherwise.

Sears would also like to see the law shift the oversight from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.

"It clearly to me is a health issue," Sears said.

But Sears said he is far from approving the uncontrolled growing of marijuana throughout the state. For him, the marijuana grown and used by people dealing with impending death or severe pain and discomfort still needs to be regulated.

"Like any prescription drug, if you abuse it, you ought to be held accountable for that," Sears said. "It's the obligation of the user to use it responsibly."

The rules regarding how much a sick person or caregiver could grow would also change if Sears has his way. He acknowledges, just as Tucci does, that one mature plant and two ounces of cured marijuana does not give people what they need to manage their illnesses successfully. He said the original Senate version of the bill provided more leeway than the current law, and that's a direction he'd like the state to move.

However, Sears said he wasn't always a believer in marijuana use. That changed after he heard from the family members of those dying from cancer and from people like Tucci.

"The most dramatic thing for me was the testimony," Sears said, who led the committee that oversaw the birth of the bill in the Senate. "When you hear the testimony, you really get a feel for what these folks are going through. If people could hear more of Mark's story, and more people like him, they'd be convinced."

Before recently retiring, Sears ran 204 Depot Street, a half-way house for delinquent youth aged 14 to 18.

He knows all too well the dangers of drugs and alcohol, he said.

"I'm certainly not one to want to legalize drugs," Sears said.

"It's just that I think we have a substance (in marijuana) that many people find relief from."

With some expected resistance to the expansion of the law, Tucci still advocates for the sick and those who cannot advocate for themselves. His book, he said, is for them.

"Someone in every state knows someone who is sick, someone who can be helped by this," Tucci said.

"So if you live in a state like Illinois or Connecticut, that's had legislation introduced for three or four years now, even though it's not legal, buy my book and become an activist and write a little letter to your (legislator). Call someone and say, 'Hey, this does help this person.' It's meant for that."

Tucci's book is available online at and sells for $10.50.

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