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Marijuana Compassion Clubs
by Tim Whitmire
Associated Press, August 10, 1995

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- As Todd McCormick sits in an Ohio jail, charged with possessing 31 pounds of marijuana, he eagerly awaits the day when he can resume giving away the drug.

McCormick and his girlfriend were arrested while driving from San Diego to Providence to start a "compassion club" for seriously ill people who use marijuana to dull their pain.

"When I get home this time, I'm going nuts," McCormick, 25, said in a telephone interview from the Correction Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker. "I'll have fields in my front yard. ... I'm going ballistic, no holds barred. If they want to come get me, put me in jail, so be it."

McCormick estimates there are between 30 and 50 compassion clubs across the country. The 3,200-member San Francisco Cannabis Buyer's Club is believed to be the largest such group.

The clubs are organized by people who grow marijuana and then visit support groups for patients with AIDS and other diseases. They offer the drug for free or very cheaply.

McCormick, who runs the 20-member San Diego Compassionate Use Club, said members must provide photo identification and a doctor's letter describing their condition. They also must sign a statement indicating they know they are breaking the law.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says it is aware of compassion clubs but has not targeted them for enforcement.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted marijuana prescriptions to 15 people suffering from cancer, AIDS, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. Seven have since died.

The Bush administration put a stop to medical testing and medical use of marijuana in 1992, saying it could harm patients who had safer alternatives. The Clinton administration upheld the ban last year.

"Sound scientific studies supporting these claims are lacking despite anecdotal claims that smoked marijuana is beneficial," Assistant Health Secretary Philip Lee said in announcing the decision to members of Congress who support medical marijuana use.

But McCormick says there are studies which claim marijuana can ease the pain of cancer and AIDS treatments, alleviate muscle spasms for people with spinal cord injuries and relieve the eye pressure that blinds glaucoma sufferers.

He has used marijuana to ease the pain of Histiocytosis X, a cancerous overgrowth of the cells that normally protect people from infection. The disease attacks bone marrow, the blood, liver and spleen. McCormick had the first five vertebrae of his spine fused when he was 2 and underwent eight more operations over the next seven years.

McCormick, who was in constant pain, first discovered marijuana while riding in a car with his mother as she smoked it. "I went from not wanting to do anything to `Can I go out and play?'" he said.

He said marijuana reduced the nausea and loss of appetite caused by radiation treatments and chemotherapy. He continued to use it after his cancer went into remission because it eased the pain from his fused vertebrae and the side effects of radiation treatments, which stunted the growth of his left hip, leaving his left leg two inches shorter than the right.

"(Marijuana) sets your mind at ease which sets your body at ease which allows your body to heal," McCormick said. "If I don't have cannabis it's too uncomfortable to stretch. It dulls the pain enough that I can sit and concentrate on movement."

McCormick and Natalie Byrd were pulled over July 18 by an Ohio state trooper because the curtains on their van were drawn, blocking the rear view. Three days later, Drug Enforcement Agents raided McCormick's San Diego club, seizing marijuana, growing tools and signatures supporting a California ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.

McCormick and Byrd, who were both still jailed today, could get up to 30 years in prison if convicted of drug possession. Whether McCormick planned to use the marijuana for medicinal purposes makes no difference in the case, prosecutor William Bish said.

A group called the Todd McCormick Alliance is campaigning on the Internet computer network and through marijuana legalization groups to raise money for McCormick's $150,000 bail and legal expenses. They hope the case will draw attention to their fight for legalized marijuana.

McCormick said the risk of arrest is worth giving other sick people the opportunity for relief. "I'm trying to remove the criminal element," he said. "You shouldn't have to go on the street."

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