July 7, 2004
Ian C Storey
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Matthew Barber says the only thing that alleviates the painful symptoms of his multiple sclerosis is marijuana.
Now, he is in trouble with the law over it.
But as a handful of protesters gathered with signs outside the Grand Traverse Courthouse in support of medical marijuana Tuesday morning, inside Barber remained steadfast in his decision to fight recent a possession charge.
"This is what America is all about," said Barber, who after a pre-trial hearing said he would not accept a plea bargain. "Lawyers have told me there is no way I am going to beat the charge, but that doesn't matter. I have to try, not just for myself, but for everyone who suffers."
Barber, 31, was arrested in early June during a traffic stop after officers found two ounces of marijuana - equivalent to a month's supply for his symptoms, he said - in the vehicle his wife, Laura, was driving.
Diagnosed with MS in 2001, Barber said he has exhausted all of the acceptable, and expensive, forms of treatment for a disease that affects the central nervous system and has left lesions on Barber's brain.
Barber said without the marijuana, he has pain and spasms, imbalance, dizziness, the loss of leg function and sometimes even blindness.
Barber, who served in the Army during the first Gulf War, said a neurologist through Veterans Affairs told him that because all other treatments have failed, that marijuana may alleviate some symptoms.
"I will fight this and we will go the distance, whatever it takes," he said.
Prosecutor Dennis LaBelle said Barber could face as much as a year in jail for the misdemeanor possession charge.
"(Medical marijuana) is really not something to be tried in the courts," LaBelle said. "Let him pick it up with the Legislature, not us."
According to the National MS Society's Web site, its medical advisory board states that "there are insufficient data at this time to recommend cannabinoids in any form as a treatment for MS" and warns users to be aware that the drug is still illegal, even medicinally, in most states.
But Laura Barber said she will do whatever it takes to make sure her husband is comfortable and able to fight for others who suffer from diseases that could be alleviated by marijuana use.
"He has tried every conventional treatment," she said. "(Marijuana)
was the last resort. It doesn't take the disease away, but it is slowing
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