Monday, November 1, 2010

Man with MS leads fight for legalizing medical marijuana in Texas

The intro to the story in The Dallas Morning News:

Tim Timmons (pictured) once was a stalwart in the Church of Christ, a conservative Republican, a buttoned-down insurance executive with a busy life, a wife and three children. Slowly but surely, multiple sclerosis robbed him of that life.

Today, at age 54, Timmons is mostly bedridden and rarely sees the outside of his Garland home. What he lacks in physical ability, however, he more than makes up for with his ardent support for legalizing marijuana for seriously ill people.

In fact, he has become the poster boy for the medical marijuana movement in Texas. One organization has named a model law to set up a medical marijuana industry in Texas the Tim Timmons Compassionate Care Act. An Internet search quickly yields videos of Timmons smoking pot and daring politicians and cops to come arrest him.

"I would love [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry to be the guy who arrests me," he said. "It would cost the state of Texas $500,000 a year to take care of me in prison."

Timmons and a small coterie of medical marijuana advocates are under no illusion that the Texas Legislature, which convenes in January, will join more than a dozen other states and pass a law legalizing pot use for chronically ill people.

But the issue is hot across the nation, appearing on at least three statewide ballots on Tuesday. In California, where medical marijuana already is legal, voters will consider a proposition to legalize recreational use. Ballots in South Dakota and Arizona feature propositions on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

"You know Texas and Oklahoma will be the last two states to do anything," Timmons said.

He openly smokes pot for anyone who wants to watch. One toke from a handheld glass water pipe at bedtime, he insists, keeps painful muscle spasms at bay and leads to a good night's sleep.

"Sometimes I start talking and forget what I'm saying, but who cares?" he said, joking about what he describes as the mild side effects of smoking pot.

Tim Timmons' world has steadily shrunk since his diagnosis in 1987. Now, it consists mostly of his bedroom. He still has the manual dexterity to use a laptop and a telephone. So he is not completely disconnected from the outside world.

He lies on a hospital-type bed with an air mattress that automatically inflates and deflates. The varied pressure on his skin helps prevent bedsores, which have ravaged his legs and hips. A motorized wheelchair sits on one side of the bed; a TV tray on the other side holds a cordless phone, a remote control for his flat-screen TV and a drink container.

Lou-Ann, his wife and caretaker, sleeps on a single bed next to him.

"He is the center of my life," she said. "I just try and think of ways to make his life easier and more pleasant."

Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. There is no cure. Doctors can only hope to slow the disease's progression with various medicines and therapies. Painful spasticity of the leg muscles can be one of the worst aspects of living with MS.

The rectangular outline of a computerized device implanted in Timmons' abdomen is visible just under the skin. The device is hooked to a catheter that delivers a muscle relaxant directly into his spinal fluid.

But the prescription medicines, which include an anti-depressant, are not enough to keep him comfortable. The peace and relaxation that comes with inhaling marijuana smoke is especially welcome at bedtime, he said.

"If I had nothing but marijuana, I would use much more of it," he said. "But I take it in conjunction with my pharmaceuticals."

Timmons keeps his marijuana in a glass jar – usually an ounce or less. He pays $350 an ounce, and he is purposely vague about where he gets it. Texas law classifies possession of 2 ounces or less as a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of not more than $2,000.

"I am totally against breaking the law," Timmons said, "but who is it that's forcing me to support organized crime?"