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OC senior citizens form medical-pot collective

December 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
It's the last place you might expect to find hundreds of people smoking pot: But seniors living at the Laguna Woods Village retirement community -- also known as "Leisure World" -- have formed a non-profit, patient-run medical marijuana collective.Golf is a way of life at Laguna Woods Village, also known as "Leisure World."

But now many seniors there are trying out a different type of "green."

"I'm a very law-abiding citizen, believe it or not," said Margo Bouer, a resident. Bouer, 74, is a retired psychiatric nurse with advanced multiple sclerosis.

"This last year I realized I was choking on food more often," said Bouer. "I was prepared to make a serious decision about ending my own life."

Bouer had severe nausea and was unable to sleep. She considered suicide, until a friend suggested medical marijuana.

"I inhaled ... blew it out, and I thought, 'OK, am I high?' I had no idea," said Bouer.

Bouer now grows her own marijuana. A friend helps her roll her marijuana cigarettes.

"And then I read a book and processed it myself and dried it and crunched it up and smelled it, and it smelled very good," said Bouer. For Bouer, it only takes about two puffs a night to ease the nausea and keep her feeling well enough to continue synchronized swimming with "The Aquadettes."

"I am grateful for the opportunity to tell the world there are good people out there who need marijuana," said Bouer.

Bouer is not part of the new medical marijuana collective at Leisure World.

But some of the seniors are. The city of Laguna Woods was the first in Orange County to pass an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

But so far no one has opened up a shop. So these seniors, many with debilitating illnesses, decided to create their own non-profit medical marijuana collective.

"A group of patients got together and decided we'd try to grow our own and make it available for our neighbors who also have doctor recommendations, but are too ill to grow," said Lonnie Painter, a resident and member of the Laguna Woods for Medical Cannabis Collective.

There is no storefront dispensary like you see all over Los Angeles. Instead, it's informal: "Patients helping patients."

"Marijuana is the only thing that will keep me from constant pain," said Maria D'Anelle, another member of the collective.

Leisure World residents Karin and Luis Alvarez are growing their own medical marijuana right on their balcony.

"I mean, they don't call them 'weeds' for nothing," said Luis Alvarez. "As long as you give them water and food and sun. They need to have sun."

Karin has endured a series of surgeries after a devastating injury.

"It's hard for me to stand any length of time," said Karin.

Karin had a near-fatal reaction to traditional painkillers, but she takes comfort now in knowing exactly where her medicine is coming from.

"We prefer that to going and buying it some place where we're not exactly sure what we're going to get," said Karin.

But some seniors in the collective don't want to say where the collective is growing its marijuana.

"We have had some plants stolen," said Lonnie Painter. Several thousand dollars' worth.

"It could be a vigilante, someone who's heard about it, thinks they might make a little money," said Painter.

It's a setback for the collective, but won't stop these seniors from "going green."

"It only takes a couple 'tokes' for me. Some people use more," said Painter.

Members are quick to point out that this is not about getting "stoned."

"I frankly could care less about getting high," said Jonathan Adler, another member of the collective. Adler is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer.

"Within seconds, literally five to 10 seconds, the thought of nausea disappears and it's replaced by what's commonly called 'the munchies,'" said Adler.

There is some risk. Despite California's medical marijuana laws, its use is still illegal under federal law.

"People laugh, they say, 'Can you imagine all these people in wheelchairs and walkers being made to do the "perp walk?"' You know?" said Painter.

Seniors like Margo Bouer say they're up for a fight.

"You know what, I thought, 'Come and get me -- Just come and get me,'" remarked Bouer.

To these seniors, marijuana means freedom from a life of pain.

"Well, do I look happy?" asked Bouer.


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