Man Says Pot Was Medicine

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But He Faces Trial for Growing It

Carter Singleton Chemotherapy for cancer racked Carter Singleton's
6-foot, 230-pound frame. The 65-year-old Mount Healthy man couldn't
eat; food tasted like sawdust. He lost 80 pounds in five months. He
was so weak he could barely move.

Then a friend suggested he try pot.

The marijuana, he says, stimulated his appetite, allowing him to gain
weight. It gave him the strength he needed to beat the non-Hodgkin's
malignant lymphoma he was diagnosed with in the fall of 2001.

It also cost him his first criminal charge - cultivating marijuana.
And it thrust him into a national debate over the right to use the
illegal drug for medical purposes.

"I was starving to death," he says. "I did what I had to
do."

A Hamilton County grand jury indicted Singleton earlier this month.
Trial is set for Nov. 17.

Singleton doesn't deny that he grew marijuana in his basement and then
used it to stimulate his appetite and ease his pain.

"I'm not encouraging people to smoke it. I'm not telling them it's the
only answer," he says. "I just want people to know it's an option."

The law says growing and using marijuana is a criminal act in Ohio,
Kentucky and Indiana. It's legal for medical reasons in nine states -
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon
and Washington.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court said doctors in all 50
states could recommend marijuana to their patients, but most
possession and distribution of the drug remains illegal.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen says his office had no choice
but to prosecute Singleton.

"What he did is a violation of the law," Allen says. "However, if he
pleads guilty or goes to trial his reason for growing marijuana is
something the judge can take into consideration."

Local prosecutors can't recall another case here in which a defendant
argued he grew marijuana for medical reasons.

But others say the drug's benefits are well known, especially for
easing the pain of debilitating illnesses - including AIDS and cancer.

"It's pretty sad that someone like Carter is arrested," says Cher
Neufer, president of the North Ohio chapter of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "People can get
morphine ... if that's legal, marijuana should be, too."

Hunger Pangs

Singleton grew up in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, the son of
divorced parents. He dropped out of school in the fourth grade.

"Back then I never heard of marijuana," Singleton says. "We drank
moonshine. There were no drugs, at least not any we'd heard of."

In fall 2001, Singleton slipped into a low-sugar coma. He was rushed
to Fort Hamilton Hospital, where he was revived and sent home - only
to slip into another coma that night.

This time he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with cancer.
He underwent chemotherapy once a month after that.

"I kept losing weight," he says. "I went from a 38 pant to a 30 pant,
I went from an extra-large shirt to a large. My butt and arms were all
skin. I couldn't eat."

His doctor, who he declined to identify, could give him nothing to
make him want to eat. Then a friend at the Eagles lodge suggested marijuana.

"At that point, I would have tried anything," he says.

He says he smoked it alone for the first time on Easter Day 2002. Then
he ate ham and turkey and dressing. Cherry pie. Pumpkin pie.
Strawberry shortcake.

"I ate till my belly about busted," Singleton says.

Mike Singleton said he was shocked by his father's change in
appetite.

"He looked like a skeleton. He usually ate like a bird," Mike
Singleton said. "But that Easter, he got a big plate heaping full of
food. It was the most we'd seen him eat in months."

After that, Singleton says, he smoked marijuana twice a day. He
declined to say where he got it.

His weight crept back up, but it came at a cost, Singleton
says.

The drug was expensive.

Seeds, Dirt and Lights

Last fall the same friend who first mentioned marijuana told him how
to grow it.

So Singleton dug out oversized fluorescent lights he took when the
steel processing plant where he worked closed in 1999. A pile of dirt
and a few seeds - and his basement garden was started.

He never told his doctor.

"He wouldn't understand, and I didn't want him not to treat me,"
Singleton says.

As the marijuana began to grow, Singleton was not always home. He'd
stay with his son or daughter, helping to care for his grandkids.

The night of Sept. 16, a neighbor saw the fluorescent light flicker in
Singleton's Werner Avenue basement. Fearing a fire, the person called
the fire department. Firefighters, police at their side, discovered 16
plants and four others hung to dry. The plants weighed a little more
than three pounds, although not all of it could have been smoked.

Mount Healthy police seized the plants, and left a note for Singleton.
He found it a few days later when he returned home.

"I got back in my truck and went to the police station," he
says.

It's the first contact, other than one or two speeding tickets,
Singleton had ever had with the law.

"I'm a law-fearing man," he says. "It bothers me every day to be in
trouble."

He didn't call a lawyer, and when police asked about the marijuana, he
told them his story.

He was released on his word that he'd show up for his day in court. He
faces up to five years in prison if convicted on the charge of
cultivating marijuana.

Other Options

One local cancer doctor says Singleton had other options besides using
an illegal drug to jump start his appetite. Marinol, a legal
prescription pill fueled by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana,
could have helped, says Dr. Rebecca Bechhold of Oncology, Hematology
Care Inc. in Montgomery.

"It's used mostly for AIDS patients, but its intent is to increase the
appetite," she says.

Taking a drug by smoking it harms tissues and hinders oxygenation, she
says.

Attempts were made to legalize marijuana in Ohio between 1996 and
2000, but there is no organized movement today, says Allen St. Pierre,
executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws.

Singleton won't say whether he still smokes marijuana. His cancer is
in remission, although his appetite has not fully returned, he says.
At 170 pounds, he has a paunch but looks healthy.

He now wears size 36 pants.


Pubdate: Thu, 30 Oct 2003
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer (OH)
Webpage: Man says pot was medicine
Copyright: 2003 The Cincinnati Enquirer
Contact: letters@enquirer.com
Website: The Cincinnati Enquirer