Story Updated: Nov 2, 2009 at 6:41 AM EST
Carroll Fisher does not regularly use marijuana. But he’d like to.
The retired 67-year-old Niles factory worker has never smoked a joint — except for trying one in his 20s — until July.
That was three months after he was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer.
He took a trip to Canada to visit friends and had the occasion, as he describes it, to smoke marijuana.
Twice a day.
“I slept better. It gave me an appetite where as the chemotherapy takes it away,” he said about the drug, which is illegal in Canada.
“It helped me with the pain,” he added.
When he returned to Michigan, where voters a year ago approved medicinal marijuana, he asked his cancer physician in Niles, Dr. Chil Kang, to sign the state form authorizing Fisher to use medicinal marijuana.
“He won’t do it,” Fisher said.
Nor will his eye doctor or his family practitioner, Dr. Douglas Tacket.
“I can’t get anyone to sign it,” Fisher said.
Michigan’s law requires a licensed state physician to sign a certification form, authorizing the patient to grow up to 12 plants to use for medical purposes.
The form is necessary for Fisher to obtain a registry card allowing him to use the drug.
Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, is not surprised by Fisher’s problem.
“Access to doctors (who will certify the form) is limited in Southwestern Michigan,” Francisco said.
“They’ve closed ranks and agreed behind closed doors not to write them,” he said.
That’s what Fisher has discovered.
Kang declined to be interviewed for this story. Tacket could not be reached for comment.
Francisco, of Paw Paw, Mich., said there are a few doctors in southwestern Michigan who will write the recommendation for their longtime patients who they have treated for years.
“But they are doing it quietly, and they aren’t taking new patients,” Francisco said.
Dr. Frank Lucido, a California physician with a practice in Berkeley, said it will take time before Michigan doctors will begin to embrace the new law. California approved marijuana for medicinal purposes more than a decade ago.
“They won’t feel comfortable with it because they don’t know the law. And they don’t know the value of cannabis,” he said.
Lucido, who graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, recently opened an office in East Lansing and he has a Web site — called drlucido.com — to help patients and doctors navigate medicinal marijuana uses and laws.
Fisher said he’s heard from other cancer patients that many doctors in Detroit will certify the state form, but Fisher said he would need to spend about $300 for a doctor’s visit and travel costs to drive to Detroit.
“I shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.
There may be a remedy, said Francisco, but Fisher will have to wait.
Since Michigan’s law was passed by a referendum on Nov. 4, 2008, a handful of traveling doctors have cropped up to help sign up patients.
“They do an assessment. It’s not guaranteed,” said Francisco.
The cannabis clinics have stopped in St. Joseph.
The last time Dr. Robert Kenewell of the Clinic for Compassionate Care was in St. Joseph was about two weeks ago, Francisco said.The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, with Dr. Eric Eisenbud based in Southfield, Mich., also makes regional visits.
“I’ve been after them (the clinics) to do one in Niles,” Francisco added, because demand is high.
Francisco suggested Fisher go to the Web site MediJuana.com to find out where the doctors will be stopping next.
Fisher said he is not trying to get on the marijuana bandwagon as an excuse to use the illicit drug.
For him, marijuana improved his health, he said.
He went to Canada again for two weeks around Labor Day and smoked marijuana daily.
Fisher said his health improved radically.
Each time Fisher has returned home he has gained back a few of the 26 pounds he has lost during 34 rounds of radiation and weeks of chemotherapy.
“I got my strength back. and my weight back. I was almost feeling normal,” said Fisher, who is 6 feet tall, when he returned home in September.
He has since dropped down to about 166 pounds.
Every day Fisher takes about seven different drugs.
One helps his appetite, one minimizes pain, another helps him sleep, another helps him swallow, another reduces nausea.
He said when he smoked marijuana, he didn’t need many of the medications he has been prescribed.
“I wouldn’t have to take half of that,” he said, pointing to an assembly of pill containers lined up on his kitchen table.
Fisher’s wife died two years ago and he has two grown daughters.
“I am not a druggie,” he said about his desire to use marijuana as part of his treatment plan.
“My daughter was worried about that,” he said.
She also has, he said, been worried that if he does obtain a registry card to grow marijuana, his home may be a target for desperate drug users.
But Fisher said he’s not worried about that.
He sleeps with a shotgun near his bed.
His biggest concern is getting through the next four weeks, when he visits Dr. Kang for weekly chemotherapy sessions.
The drug leaves him feeling weak and sick.
But now he has even another concern.
He’s worried that since he has spoken to The Tribune, his doctors may treat him differently.
He looks down to hide his tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as he reaches for a tissue.
Staff writer C. Draeger Thomas: