Burn Victim Fights to Get Medical Marijuana in San Diego

Rudy Reyes with burnsRudy Reyes with burnsRudy Reyes is, as he puts it, both a “hero and a villain.” Hero because during the 2003 Cedar fire, the then-26-year-old made sure his family got out of their Wildcat Canyon home before he tried to leave. Unable to start his car, Reyes sprinted through a wall of flames and came out burned over more than 65 percent of his body. He lost most of his left ear and part of a finger. His remaining digits are permanently disfigured. He was considered legally blind until corrective eye surgery two years ago fixed that. Despite it all, Reyes is charismatic and thoroughly likeable guy driven to make the most of his life.
Problem is, he needs marijuana to do that. The drug has proved a better option than the morphine and OxyContin he was prescribed to cope with the pain he battled during his long recovery. Even Marinol, a doctor-prescribed, concentrated form of THC, marijuana?s active ingredient, is a poor substitute for the real thing.

“It’s super-euphoric, super-addictive and toxic to the human body,” Reyes says of the Marinol, pointing to the prescription bottle that costs his insurance company $682 a month. He relies almost solely on cannabis to relieve the discomfort associated with nerve damage from the burns. And a mixture of cannabis and cocoa butter has proven a better salve than anything else he?s tried. “It stops nerve damage and hydrates the skin,” he says.

Reyes is not afraid to talk about marijuana’s medical efficacy in public, and that, in the eyes of too many, makes him a villain, especially with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, which has been trying for more than a year to overturn Prop. 215, the law that allows people with a valid doctor?s recommendation to use marijuana for medicinal reasons.

“I’m fighting a county that has a personal vendetta against marijuana,” Reyes said.

The county, too, has refused to implement SB 420, the law that requires each county in California to issue identification cards to legitimate medical-marijuana users so that law-enforcement officers have a uniform way to determine who has a right to possess marijuana. Reyes wants that card and so he’s suing to get it, arguing through a class-action lawsuit that medical-marijuana users like him are protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and its “right to treatment.”

Leaving the hospital in 2004Leaving the hospital in 2004Reyes’ attorney, Mark Bluemel, filed the lawsuit last month in state court. Then, two weeks ago, Bluemel and Reyes learned the county had asked that the matter be moved to federal court.

This could present a challenge to the case because federal law doesn’t recognize marijuana’s medical value. Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no “accepted medical use.”

County Counsel John Sansone didn’t respond to CityBeat’s request for comment by press time, but Bluemel said the county asked for the court change because the ADA is a federal statute. He thinks the move was more likely a tactical one. “Ultimately, this is an adversarial process, and the county feels its best chances of winning is… in federal court.”

Bluemel argues, however, that the ADA supercedes the Controlled Substances Act and its classification of marijuana. “The right of disabled people to be equal is a constitutional right, and cannabis gives some disabled people the extra help that puts them on an equal plane,” he said.

“Rudy’s not promoting or in any way supporting legalization. He just wants the law to be obeyed,” Bluemel said. Reyes says he wants the ID-card program in place and then the county could implement strict regulations to discern legitimate patients and doctors from those who aren’t keeping with Prop. 215’s original intent. “Make the regulations precise,” he said.

While the county is fighting Reyes’ case, it’s also appealing a judge’s November ruling against its attempt to have Prop. 215 invalidated.

And if Reyes ends up winning? Because the case is in federal court, it “could have far-reaching affects,” Bluemel said. “You’d have a federal decision and all the other states that are not abiding by their particular medical cannabis law?that would be a decision that would help all those patients in all states, potentially.”

– Article from San Diego City Beat news

– Photos from SignOnSanDiego 2004 article

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