The Department of Revenue's 25-member medical marijuana working group stirred controversy due to a plan to hold its first meeting behind closed doors -- a situation rectified when MMJ advocates complained. But after the group's initial sitdown last week, the Cannabis Therapy Institute vowed to fight proposed regs, as well as the MMJ law, which it deems unconstitutional. Group member Ed Bruder understands CTI's frustration, but he wants to work with the state to help patients. Here's why.
"I was never a recreational marijuana user," says Bruder, a former dispensary owner and current caregiver living in Lyons, where he serves as a town trustee. "I came to medical marijuana in 2002, after a couple of years of very aggressive pain management with a pretty well-known guy in the Boulder area, who spent $105,000 of my insurance company's money on sometimes barbaric methods of trying to get me some relief."
The roots of Bruder's pain go back to August 1999, when "a sixteen-year-old kid in Boulder who'd had his license for two days took a left hand turn from a right-hand bike lane. I was in a sports car, and the impact drove my elbow into my ribs and ripped out my shoulder on the top," resulting in a torn rotator cuff and severe nerve damage along his ribs.
What followed, Bruder says, was "a failed surgery on my shoulder, and there was nothing they could do for my ribs." Over the next several years, he received hundreds of pain-med injections and took "every opiate under the sun, none of which helped the pain. They only made me sicker."
Eventually, Bruder's insurance money ran out. At that point, "the doctor pulled me aside and said that the kind of pain I had, nerve pain, isn't generally treated by opiates -- and I should try marijuana as a last resort."
Instead of responding to this recommendation by tracking down a dealer and buying some brick weed, Bruder began doing research, and eventually moved to California, where he met and began working with Dr. Claudia Jensen, a doctor well-known across the country by members of the medical marijuana community. With guidance from Jensen, he found a dispensary whose staffers had a strong understanding about the medical uses of cannabis, and the strains that would best treat his condition.
A full five months after his arrival in the Golden State, he finally took his first puff -- something he didn't do lightly, given that he suffers from asthma. What happened?
"It saved my life," he says simply. "It eliminated a lot of the pain and suffering I'd endured for years. By the beginning of 2003, I'd stopped taking all other medicine other than marijuana that I used twice a day in a vaporizer, and I started experimenting with other delivery methods, like edibles and tinctures."
Bruder subsequently returned to Colorado, and his enthusiasm for the curative effects of marijuana naturally led him to become part of the MMJ industry. He started a dispensary in Lyons called Colorado Care and Wellness and began working with "very sick people," he says. "I worked with an AIDS doctor who'd send patients to me, and we had real success in getting people off opiates and sleeping pills. We even have a diabetic who hardly uses insulin anymore. She takes two doses of a very specific strain, and it lowers her blood-sugar count at least fifty points."
Unfortunately, Bruder is able to assist fewer people with such issues these days, because he shut down the dispensary on August 1 -- the state's licensing deadline. "I saw the writing on the wall -- that with these new regulations, it was going to make medicine very cost-prohibitive for many of my patients, who are either on disability or social security. I had a very small dispensary, tucked in a shopping center in Lyons, and unless I was able to do it on a much bigger scale and incorporate research and those types of things, it wasn't going to be viable."
So Bruder transitioned into serving as a caregiver -- but he remains dedicated to the cause of medical marijuana, with an emphasis on the "medical" part of the phrase. This interest led to his current position on the Department of Revenue's medical marijuana working group, even though he's torn about HB 1284, the regulatory measure Governor Bill Ritter signed a few months back.
"I'm someone who believes there should be regulation," Bruder notes, recalling that "at my little store in Lyons, I would see anywhere from five to twenty-five people a week coming in with duffel bags filled with pot, trying to sell me medicine. I never bought anything off the street, because I regard this as medicine, but I got good at figuring out what kind of pet the person had who was bringing it in, because I could tell when I'd examine it under a microscope or on a loop. There were even times I'd see larvae on it. When I saw the conditions and products people used on a regular basis, I realized that most of the people are in it for the money, not for the patients' well-being."
At the same time, though, he has nearly as many doubts about the current MMJ law as does the Cannabis Therapy Institute.
"I've read 1284 probably twenty times, and I would also question the constitutionality of it," he says. "But it's the reality that everyone is going to have to deal with. And so, as bad as I felt 1284 was, I feel that it has the potential to get much worse. And so I take the responsibility of representing the patients very seriously. And that's why I want to reach out to others, to get comments from the patients who are affected, and whose voices are now essentially silent in this discussion."
Hence, Bruder has set up an e-mail address, email@example.com, specifically for patients who want to share their thoughts and concerns with someone on the working group. In addition, he's created a new Twitter account, MMJconcerns, that he hopes patients will use to immediately convey their concerns and issues.
"I understand that the patient really doesn't have very much say in the regulatory process," he maintains. "That's more of a health department thing than a Department of Revenue thing. But I really believe that, in my dealings with Matt Cook," who oversees the working group for the DOR, "he is genuinely concerned with patient access. And having a little experience under my belt about how government works, I see that it's a machine -- and that HB 1284 is a big machine in motion, too. And it's going to head in the direction it was written whether I or anyone else feels comfortable with it or not. So I thought the best thing I can do is to try to be part of it, and bring as much of the discussion back to patients where it's appropriate.
"I really believe the patient's voice has been lost," he continues. "And without patients, there is no industry."