Medical marijuana fees: AIDS sufferer can't afford license despite new indigent patient rule

Yesterday, the board of health considered lowering medical marijuana license fees for indigent patients -- and wound up eliminating them for those who qualify.

Problem is, the criteria used to determine indigency leaves out many people in need -- including AIDS-patient Damien LaGoy, who says he can't afford to renew his license, which expires in two days. "This may be my last interview," he says.

LaGoy, 51, attended yesterday's public hearing in order to speak about license fees, which had been set at $90 for all patients, to the chagrin of advocates like the Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho. But his turn didn't come around until mid-afternoon, following a discussion about changing the procedure to add conditions okayed for medical marijuana treatment -- an issue he says was tabled until January.

When LaGoy finally got his chance, "I couldn't talk very long," he notes. "I've been very sick, so I was out of breath, I was exhausted; I just wanted to be in bed. So I got up there and the adrenaline started rushing -- and I said the wrong amount of money I get each month."

He told the board he collects $917 each month -- $14 more than the amount that would have qualified him as indigent by an estimate he shared with the Denver Post. He subsequently realized that he'd transposed the numbers and actually gets $719 a month. But he still doesn't qualify, he says, due to the way the board decided to determine indigency.

"They're going to grant a fee waiver for people who are on SSI -- Supplemental Security Income -- or food assistance," he maintains. "And I'm on SSDI -- Social Security Disability Insurance -- and I make too much to get food stamps. So I can't get a waiver."

According to LaGoy, an alternative proposal in a minority report would have granted a fee waiver for those with income at 185 percent of the poverty level or individuals receiving federal or state benefits, with both SSI and SSDI authorized. But it was shot down by the majority of board members, not all of whom struck him as especially compassionate.

"Most of them aren't listening to you," he says. "One or two actually pay attention, but most of them just go through their minutes."

The impact of this decision will have a particularly brutal impact on any medical marijuana user who's HIV positive, he predicts: "The majority of AIDS patients are on SSDI," he allows. "So they pretty much told most AIDS patients to go ahead and die."

As for LaGoy, he says, "my license expires the day after tomorrow, and after that, I'll be illegal again. I'm completely missed by the entire program, which means my meds will start making me sick again, so I just won't take them anymore.

"It's almost a good thing I have AIDS and don't have an appetite," he adds. "Otherwise, I'd be in trouble. I weigh a hundred pounds and I'm five-eight. It's just too much."

More from our News archive: "Ned Calonge on leaving as CO's chief medical officer & the "distraction" of medical marijuana."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts