NILES — On a scale of 1 to 10, says Steve Allain, his pain is somewhere between 4 and 5.
On a good day.
"When my Crohn's flares up, it's like a saber-toothed badger trying to eat its way out,'' he said.
The 54-year-old Niles man, a victim not only of Crohn's disease but hepatitis C and acute depression, has run the gamut of medications. Just a few months ago, he hit upon a viable alternative: marijuana.
"I was approached by an MS patient. She finds relief by using marijuana medicinally," he said. "She thought it would help me, too. And it has."
Sure, he said, he could take other drugs that would provide the same benefit. But it wouldn't make good sense, or cents.
"With conventional medication, it's $10,000 for one month's supply. So it's $300 a month versus $10,000 a month," he said. "You do the math."
Until now, Allain has obtained his marijuana from, as he puts it, street vendors. But soon he'll legally be growing his own, thanks to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
For Allain, voter approval of the controversial legislation was a blessing and, potentially, a curse. The latter stems from his residence in one of Niles' scattered public housing sites, which fall under the guidelines of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
So while Allain's cultivation and use of marijuana would not violate state law, it's likely to cost him his home if HUD takes the stance its housing is no place for what in most places would be an illegal drug.
The Rev. Bryant Bacon, interim executive director for the Niles Housing Commission, said he contacted a HUD official about a month ago regarding Allain's situation and has yet to receive an answer. Allain, a resident of public housing in Niles for eight years — he lived in the Hi Rise on Cass Street before he and his teenage son moved into their current home three years ago — is hoping for the best but said he'd understand if he's ousted.
"I can't fault what they're doing," he said.
He didn't fault either the Niles City Council after he approached the panel Monday night regarding the city's ordinance regulating aspects of the state Medical Marijuana Act. The ordinance requires that marijuana be grown inside and prohibits caregivers — those who provide marijuana to patients — from growing it within 1,000 feet of drug-free school zones.
Allain said he went to the meeting with bad information about the law's specifics.
"I was the south end of a horse facing north," he said.
As far as his illnesses, the former truck driver and Waste Management employee said he can only guess how he developed hepatitis C. All he knows for certain is that it and Crohn's disease cost him 18 inches of small intestine and resulted in a 30-pound weight loss.
"I've been dealing with those issues ever since," said Allain, who gets by on disability benefits.
With marijuana, he doesn't have side effects like the night sweats and night terrors — essentially, panic attacks while sleeping — he experienced with other anti-depressants, he said. So he'll continue to smoke pot and, once he receives the OK from the state, grow it as well.
He just hopes he's not uprooted in the process.
By LOU MUMFORD
May 17, 2009
South Bend Tribune