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November 29, 2009 -- Roanoke Times (VA)

One Man's Crusade For Legal Relief

By Dan Casey

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced in March that the federal government would stop prosecuting medical-marijuana cases, Elliston resident Michael Krawitz cheered.

Krawitz did it again when Holder renewed that pledge in a written directive in October.

He cheered again this month, when the American Medical Association reversed its longstanding opposition to expanded research into marijuana as a treatment for pain, glaucoma, HIV wasting syndrome and certain other maladies.

Krawitz, 47, is a disabled American veteran. He's disabled as a result of a bad motorcycle crash he had in Guam while stationed there with the U.S. Air Force.

He also is a Virginia medical marijuana activist.

For the past 18 or so years, he's waged a comparatively lonely crusade in Richmond to legalize medicinal use of the drug he says best relieves the pain he lives with daily.

Krawitz's crash put him in the hospital for months and left him with two metal hips, an alloy plate in one arm and lots of shoulder pain.

His small and large intestines are shorter than yours or mine, and he has chronic pain and vision problems in one of his eyes. He may lose the sight in it one day, he says.

Of all the pain-relieving medicine he's tried, marijuana works the best, he says. Especially in combination with a low dose of a prescribed pain medication.

"I use it [pot] when I can," the New Jersey native told me in a recent interview. "I basically suffer when I don't have access to it. In Virginia I don't have legal access to it. I have to depend on the black market, which is inconsistent."

The strange thing is, Virginia law has recognized marijuana as a medicine for 30 years.

In 1979, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law that allows marijuana use by prescription.

But that applies only to patients with cancer or people who suffer from glaucoma, a sight-threatening condition caused by high pressure in the eye. (Marijuana is one of many substances that will reduce eye pressure).

Of course, few if any Virginia physicians write prescriptions for pot. And exactly zero pharmacies fill them.

Even if they did, Krawitz would still be out of luck -- because he suffers from neither cancer nor glaucoma.

While the Virginia General Assembly has rebuffed attempts by Krawitz and a handful of other activists to widen those narrow exceptions, 13 other states have pretty much opened the door to medical marijuana.

California's laws and its quasi-legal marijuana growing operations are the best known. Most of those states are in the West, where a Gallup poll last month found a thin majority of the populace favors legalization -- and not only as a medicine.

The medical marijuana movement also is gaining ground in states in the East. Maine approved medical marijuana in 1999, and voters there this month approved state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

In recent years, Vermont and Rhode Island have enacted expansive medical marijuana laws.

A 2003 Maryland law limits the penalty for marijuana possession to a small fine when the drug is a medical necessity.

And modern medical marijuana legislation is up for consideration now in Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee and some other states.

Virginia is not on that list.

Krawitz says he doesn't expect it will be in 2010. But he predicts that such a law will be drafted next year and will make its way through the Virginia legislature in 2011.

By then, however, the question could be moot. Because the federal government could act before the commonwealth does.

I confess that I'm among those who for years viewed the medical marijuana movement as a back-door attempt to legalize yet another intoxicant in our society.

But with pot, the genie's been out of the bottle for a very long time and we'll never get it back in.

The people who smoke it to get high know how to get it. The only thing the current prohibition accomplishes is that it acts as a price support for black marketers.

Meanwhile, the anecdotal evidence that marijuana helps certain suffering people has grown into a mountain.

One of the questions I asked Krawitz was: Why doesn't he merely move to one of the many states where he can easily get all the pot he needs?

The woman he calls "my significant other" and their 16-year-old daughter would not stand for that, he replied.

Besides, he added, "I love Virginia.

"I'm not going to give up on Virginia because the laws are wrong. I'll try to change the laws."

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