Elvy Musikka: Blinded by Ignorance

Cannabis Culture Issue #6, Fall 96


Elvy Musikka "I realize now that I was never blinded by glaucoma,
I was blinded by ignorance"

Elvy Musikka

Blinded by Ignorance

Interviewed by Dana Larsen


E lvy is one of only eight
people in the United States who receives legal medical marijuana from the
government. Every three months she receives about 600 grams of admittedly
poor quality marijuana in the form of hundreds of pre-rolled joints.

Since receiving her first legal prescription in 1988, the fifty-something
Elvy has tirelessly devoted herself to travelling across the US, spreading
the good news about the beneficial healing effects of marijuana.

Elvy is also an accomplished singer, and often combines speech and song
during her presentations. She has released a CD of her songs and music
entitled “Truth and Love are One.”

I interviewed Elvy in November of 1995, at the Drug Policy Foundation
conference in Santa Monica, with follow-up interviews conducted over the
telephone with Elvy at her various pit-stops across the USA.

To contact Elvy or to get more information on her CD, write LV’s Artist
Den, PO Box 6076, Hollywood, Florida 33081. Telephone (954) 981-1225.

Let’s begin with your medical condition. Why do you smoke marijuana?

As a child I had congenital cataracts which required a lot of surgery.
The surgery produced a great deal of scar tissue, which eventually resulted
in infected tear ducts. My ducts hold too many tears against the optic
nerve at the back of my eye. This can and does cause permanent blindness
if allowed to continue.

In 1975 I found out that I had glaucoma because of this, and by 1976
a number of medications were being prescribed to me. They weren’t of any
use to me because I couldn’t deal with the side-effects. Many of them gave
me tremendous headaches, others closed my pupils so I was blinded without
waiting for the glaucoma to do it. Some medications made me stare at the
ceiling and want to do absolutely nothing. I had a job and children to
raise, so that was unacceptable.

Finally a doctor who was very compassionate took matters into his own
hands, and told me as a friend that if I didn’t start smoking marijuana
I would go blind.

Tell me about the first time you smoked marijuana. How old were
you, and what did it feel like?

Well, let’s see…I was thirty. It felt funny. The first time I smoked
I didn’t know how to inhale. I kept trying to take it all in without any
air, and it went right to my throat. I thought “My goodness, I’ll have
cancer of the throat in no time flat!” I was paranoid because I had heard
so many horrible things about marijuana.

When I did find an underground doctor, through a senior citizen who
knew of him because he was treating many others in our area, he recommended
that I eat brownies because I was so opposed to smoking. That worked well
for four months, and I even got a raise at work.

My doctor felt that, with the kind of documentation we had, we could
go to the research centre for the University of Miami and persuade them
to find me legal marijuana. But they didn’t want to hear about it, and
instead offered a surgery that at best offered only a 30% chance of any
success.

I realize now that I was never blinded by glaucoma, I was blinded by
ignorance. No one in their right mind would have made the decision I made
if they had known that cannabis, marijuana, is one of the safest, most
therapeutically-active substances on this planet. One of the reasons that
the AMA (American Medical Association) originally objected to marijuana
prohibition was that they knew that it was a safe medicine for many people.
It was particularly recommended for children and for older people because
of its non-addictive qualities.

But I didn’t know any of this, so I went on for twelve years of hell,
in which I lost so much sight that depression set in. I suffered from lack
of sleep, lack of appetite, and was drinking too much. It was a nightmare,
a horror.

I lost my job, and then the depression was totally terrible, except
for when people brought me marijuana. When they did, well, my pressures
were under control. I slept at night, I found myself eating, and in fact
that’s when I discovered Elvy the song-writer.

Whenever I would smoke marijuana I would not see this impending day
of doom as I would any other time. Usually I couldn’t foresee anything
but permanent blindness, because now I couldn’t even afford the marijuana,
which was the only thing that worked.

So, you had to buy your first supplies of marijuana yourself?

Oh, mostly people brought them and gave it to me, but I did have to
buy it sometimes. At that time it was considerably less expensive than
it is today. You could buy an ounce of, say, Colombian Gold in South Florida,
which is where I lived, for thirty dollars. I could get other varieties
for twenty or fifteen dollars, but even that was a strain on the budget
of a single working mother trying to raise two children. After I had to
stop working there just wasn’t enough money for marijuana.

I became an experimental guinea pig for everything that was conventional
and being tested. One of the drugs, called Timolal, actually did work for
me for two years. The most amazing thing I discovered for myself at the
time was that I didn’t go through withdrawal from marijuana. I was so delighted
to find a legal answer that I never went looking for marijuana, until I
developed a resistance to Timolal.

Timolal’s still somewhat effective, but I’m not taking it anymore. I’m
trying a new one, but it irritates my eye and I don’t know if I want to
stay on it.

This went on until 1987, until I was left totally blind in the right
eye. In the early 80s I had tried to take growing very seriously. I only
grew a minimal amount however, because not only did I have to worry about
the law, but there was a wild little boy next door to me who thought it
was great to jump the fence and steal my plants. He could sell them and
I couldn’t turn him in because I’d be the one going to jail. He still brags
to his friends that he was supplier for the neighbourhood.

The problem was that every time he stole my plants I went in for another
unsuccessful surgery. It was really horrible, and finally it resulted in
total blindness.

I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Close your eyes, can you tell
if it’s light in a room or not? I couldn’t. It was like looking out of
your nose or ear. I was running into every piece of furniture and every
wall in that house. The readjustment period was amazing, as even the little
sight I used to have had helped with equilibrium.

Was it becoming blind that led you to become more politically
active?

I knew then that it was time for me to find out where there were other
people in my situation, and that it was time for me to come out. My children
were finally off to college, so I didn’t have to dread the possibility
of losing custody of them. I was ready to start doing these things, but
instead I was arrested for growing, in March of 1988.

It was kind of funny, because they didn’t have a search warrant. I did
not make it easy for them to get one, as I had just harvested and the marijuana
was in the house. But the thing was, the plant was so pretty that I just
couldn’t pull it out.

So I had a maybe three quarters of an ounce that I thought might grow
a little more if I didn’t pull the plant out of the pot. Plus another plant
that was starting to bud, and 2 6-inch seedlings. That was it. I was facing
5 years in prison, or $5000 fines, or both.

How did you respond to being arrested?

I had an overnight stay in jail which was most degrading. I immediately
went public when I got out of there. The first thing I did was contact
every media outlet that I could thing of, and I said “Do you think this
is right? I am going to be facing trial because I don’t want to go blind.”

By now I was aware enough to know that marijuana had not done me any
harm, although I didn’t know what it did to anyone else. I knew that I
could certainly handle it, and that on top of having the glaucoma under
control, I was a better person because I smoked marijuana.

I thought that under our constitution, this country does not have the
right to demand blindness out of their citizens. We do not have the right
to demand that kind of cruelty. That’s barbaric!

I went to trial with the complete support of my community. The judge
said that I would have had to have been insane not to do whatever I needed
to do to save my sight. Coming out of that courtroom I really felt that
something wonderful had happened.

There was no defense for medical marijuana in Florida, no laws to protect
me. When Marinol was approved we changed our laws so that our citizens
could spend all their money for pharmaceuticals, for this synthetic THC.
Although it’s the one ingredient in the plant that makes us high, it doesn’t
have the cannabinoids that work in conjunction.

I was acquitted using a defense of medical necessity. I was represented
by Norman Elliott Kent from Florida, Fort Lauderdale. He also had some
help with Kevin Zeese who is with the Drug Policy Foundation. Robert Randall,
who was the first person who ever received medical marijuana, was also
a tremendous aid in my defense.

How did you go from a verdict of not guilty to having the government
send you prescription joints?

That’s an interesting story, because as soon as I was arrested, Robert
Randall and my doctors and attorneys had applied to the federal government
for me to have it on an emergency basis.

Now this was my doctor asking this, with twelve years of documentation
behind him. Yet the government totally ignored it, and in fact my doctor
was even afraid that they would come after him, that it would be a serious
problem for him. I’m not even going to go into that.

After I was acquitted, they still wouldn’t give it to me, so I kept
going. I took completely to the airwaves, and my attorney threatened to
sue the federal government.

Finally, seven years ago today, on October 21st 1988, I received my
first marijuana cigarettes, grown through the government at the University
of Mississippi. It’s a strain of Mexican origin.

It’s certainly not of the quality that I grew, and consequently I have
to smoke a tremendous amount of it, up to ten joints a day. But I have
to say it has improved a little, it’s not as bad as it used to be when
I started out.

The quality used to be very poor. But today, if I take it apart and
put it in a bag and throw a little water on it, then let it sit for about
fifteen minutes before I roll, then I can get it past my throat. Otherwise
it’s too harsh and dry.

The results seem to be very effective. I have my glaucoma totally under
control these days, and that’s a very happy thought.

Let me be sure I understand. You take the pre-rolled government
joints that you get in your prescription container, and you break them
open, take out the pot and to let it mositen and become more palatable…

Yup!

…and then you re-roll it again afterwards. That seems pretty
labour intensive.

That’s right. I have to do that to make the marijuana more effective.
There is the matter of efficiency as well, because if I try to smoke them
as they come, what I’m going to end up with is a lot of coughing, and the
thing is going to burn before I take most of it in.

They recommend that I humidify the joints, and they have all these procedures
that sounded too complicated for me. I found that water in the bag works
just fine.

Do you have any idea as to why they are not able to supply you
with higher quality marijuana? I would imagine that within two or three
blocks from where we are right now we could pick up some pot that would
be a lot better than what the government gives you.

Absolutely! I don’t know if the purpose is to make it ineffective, so
any studies won’t give results that they don’t want to publish.

One of the excuses I’ve heard is that they’ve got to put all this leaf
in there because the machines that they use to roll were the ones made
for cigarettes and they have to have it so they can roll easily. But I
don’t understand why I get seeds and stems.

I have a tremendous amount of faith in the healing powers of hemp seed
oil, and I’m not the only one, but it is not meant to be smoked into your
lungs. Seed oils in your lungs is just not a good way to go!

Has anyone received medical marijuana after you? I know there’s
8 people in America who receive it, but I’m not sure where you were on
that list.

When I became a legal smoker, there were only two individuals in the
United States who were receiving medical marijuana through the federal
government. One of them was Robert Randall, my hero of all times, because
he was the first one to go through a trial and prove that he would be blind
without it.

My case was widely publicized, and one of the the places it was printed
was a woman’s magazine that is nationwide, and that got two people on the
list with me.

One was a woman in Nebraska who had glaucoma and was going blind. She
had no idea she would find relief for her glaucoma with marijuana, and
we helped her get it. The other was a man in Iowa, George McMahon, who
has a rare terminal illness, his bones literally deteriorate, and his pain
is tremendous.

So by 1990 we’d grown to five. We all went to the 20th anniversary of
the NORML organization in Washington, DC.

The list continued to grow, and I believe at one time there was 18 people
on it, and they had approved 36 more. Those people had gone through all
the hoops that we did, (FDA, DEA, and NIDA), and had been approved when
the program was cancelled.

Why was the program cancelled?

They had a deluge of AIDS patients who found relief from their problems
through cannabis, so they stopped the program in 1992. They made the statement
that the AIDS patients would get high, and could then get careless and
infect the rest of society. That was their official stance!

It was Judge Bonner, the ex-head of the DEA, who stopped the program.
I had the opportunity to debate him on LA Today, on President’s Day of
1994. The public was asked to participate. It was a one-on-one debate about
medical marijuana, and I took our side to a win of 90 to 10.

How do you receive your marijuana from the government, especially
while travelling?

I have to go have a checkup. I then pick up a prescription, and go to
a pharmacy where they have already sent it. I have to go home every 3 months
at least.

Then you receive a 3 month supply at a time?

Yeah.

At 10 joints a day, that’s about 900 joints, the size of a big
cigarette each.

That’s a lot of leaves there!

Is there any restriction on where you’re allowed to take your
medication? Can you smoke a joint in public?

When I received my medical marijuana from the government, the judge
who had acquitted me was asked, “Where can Elvy smoke?” My attorney suggested
wherever nicotine is permissible, and the judge agreed with him.

Do you have problems with people who don’t believe you when you
tell them that you’re allowed to smoke marijuana and that you want to smoke
it in their restaurant?

Well, I’m pretty sensitive to their problems, too, because I know what
the laws are and the craziness that goes on. Usually if I want to smoke
at a restaurant, as I will in a little while, I’ll go in there, explain
to the manager and show her my prescription. If she doesn’t have a problem
with that I will sit here, and if she does have a problem with it, then
I’ll just step right outside there and smoke it in the middle of the street.
It’s pretty ridiculous, that I sometimes have to do that.

Have you ever visited Canada?

Yes, yes. I have toured America several times, and I was lucky enough
to have entered Canada to visit Vancouver in the fall of 1993.

We had a very nice vehicle, and it appeared that we had money to spend.
I never thought of hiding my marijuana, but I didn’t declare it. I had
a full month’s supply because I was on tour and I couldn’t very well leave
it at a hotel somewhere else, it could get stolen or cause other problems.
Everything went well for us and I spoke at a local university.

The next year we had financial problems, and we had a van that showed
that its owners are not rich, like we’re not going to have the money they
want tourists to spend.

I had left most of my marijuana at an attorney’s office in Seattle with
documentation so he wouldn’t end up in trouble, and I took strictly a two
day supply, because our engagements in British Columbia were to last two
days.

I was treated very poorly by the Canadian authorities, as if I were
a criminal. They saw the paperwork and they saw my prescription, yet they
called the cigarettes I had in my prescription bottle “drugs” and they
called my bottles “paraphernalia.”

It was a very terrible scene. They confiscated the van because it was
carrying me and my drugs and my paraphernalia, and we were barred entry
into Canada. I sincerely feel that I am owed an apology from the authorities
in Canada.

I also heard that you weren’t treated very well by the authorities
in Gainseville at a rally last December.

I was in Gainesville because there was a motion to have marijuana laws
overturned in Florida. The person who was filing the suit was trying to
show the different aspects of cannabis, so he had called in Lynn Osbourne
to testify about religious use, Jack Herer for historical information,
and John Morgan and myself for the medical aspects.

There was a rally organized for the same time, but the city had denied
the organizers a permit. So they had taken their request to the court of
appeals, and had been told that it was their constitutional right to hold
a rally, and that the police could only be there to protect people.

I brought my marijuana with me, both as proof of who I was, and for
medicinal use. Every two hours or so I had to go outside and smoke, and
as I mentioned I am allowed to smoke wherever you can smoke tobacco.

Nobody at the rally was smoking since they had been told that the police
would arrest anyone who tried. People had eaten brownies beforehand, and
were sitting in circles talking. The police officers who were there just
walked through the people as if they weren’t there. I felt that this was
very rude.

When it was my turn to speak I decided to begin my speech with a song,
“The War on Us.” Normally I speak first and then sing later on, but I just
felt like I should begin with the the song. During the instrumental break
I lit one of my marijuana cigarettes, and the police stormed the stage
to stop me. I didn’t even see them coming since I have no vision in my
right eye.

After the initial jolt came and I realized what was happening I actually
smiled, because I knew that they were in the wrong. I asked them “what
are you doing?”

They knew I was a legal smoker, and I had my prescription label, but
they argued with me. One of the attorneys who was onstage with me had to
get my paperwork from my bag. I happened to have letters from my marijuana
supplier, plus a letter from my attorney. They tried to accuse me of having
created these documents, but I told them “you know I’m legal, so what are
you going to charge me with?”

I only had 4.5 grams on me, and I asked them if they knew that I am
allowed to carry a month’s supply, over 200 grams at a time? But they arrested
me and took me away from the rally. They held me until 11pm, about eight
hours.

I’ll have to sue them now, but since the state of Florida needs a real
education, it could be a good opportunity to give them one.

What do you see for the future – are you an optimist?

I am a total optimist. I feel that the only enemy we really have is
ignorance, and I think that with your wonderful magazine, and with the
other interviews that are being done around the country, with people speaking
openly, we are fighting and defeating that ignorance.

When you have arrested 10 million of your citizens, there has got to
be 10 million stories there that are screaming to be heard! As we bury
the darkness of ignorance with the light of truth, there’s going to be
no opposition. People have a brain, they have to think for themselves.

You can’t call yourself a Christian when you have no compassion for
sending innocent people to jail. You can’t do that and say you’re following
the teachings of a master, and that we should love one another.

And especially, to destroy the beautiful planet you’ve been given. For
what? To help some greedy people who couldn’t care less what happens to
you?

Personally, I think marijuana is legal in the United States. It’s too
bad the officials haven’t gotten the word yet. finis

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