In Portland, Oregon last week, multiple sclerosis patient Craig Helm was sentenced to two years probation and two $100 fines after a jury found him guilty of marijuana manufacture and possession. He was arrested at his home in Hilsboro, Oregon in 1996, after a police raid that netted eight marijuana plants.
Mr. Helm, 48, is a former truck driver whose MS has confined him to a wheelchair in recent years. He began using marijuana, he says, when his prescription for the painkiller Baclofen failed to calm the wrenching muscle spasms in his legs, and his doctors told him they wanted to surgically implant a pump that would feed the drug directly into his spinal canal.
Helm's attorney, Leland Berger, told The Week Online that Helm had rejected a pre-trial offer of bench probation in part because he hoped that the case might be dismissed on the basis of a "choice of evils" medical necessity (between marijuana and the surgically-implanted pump) defense. To that end, and with the help of the Medical Marijuana Defense Fund, Berger was able to fly Virginia neurologist Dr. Denis J. Petro to Portland to provide expert testimony on the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of Helm's symptoms.
Deputy District Attorney Greg Olson called the studies Dr. Petro cited "junk science" and sought to have his testimony stricken from court records, but Circuit Judge Gregory Milnes decided to allow it.
Also encouraging was the testimony of Helm's own neurologist, Dr. Michelle Mass. "She told the court that she would have prescribed Marinol for Craig had he asked for it in the past, and that she would do so in the future," Berger said. "She also said that she would prescribe marijuana if it were legal."
Though the defense tactic was ultimately unsuccessful in Helm's case, Berger said the trial elicited strong local support for the medical rights issue. "The very experience of having twelve people (the jury) sit there watching Craig and listening to testimony over three days will have positive ripple effects throughout the community," he said.
To read more about Craig Helm's case, including Leland Berger's posted updates and the response he received from a jury member after the trial, visit the Portland NORML web site at http://www.pdxnorml.org/news98_index_0430.html.