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Janna Johnson
Janna Johnson talks about her lifelong battle with chronic pain and diabetes. The Billings resident uses medical marijuana. (Courtesy photo)

Traveling clinics that serve hundreds of people in a day make medical marijuana available to sick people who cannot access it through their regular doctors.

So says Janna Johnson, a Billings medical marijuana user whose longtime physician refused even to talk to her about marijuana as a possible medical treatment.

“We go en masse to where we can get help,” Johnson said. “Now they are going to persecute the people helping us.”

Johnson, 49, has multiple ailments related to Type 1 diabetes, including glaucoma, nerve pain and gastroparesis, a condition in which the muscles of the digestive system become partially paralyzed.

Smoking marijuana reduces the pressure in her eyes, eases the pain in her legs and helps her cope with the nausea and cramping that plague her every time she eats and often when she doesn’t.

“I’m very straight-laced,” Johnson said. “The only thing I do that people consider out of line is smoke medical marijuana.”

After Montana voters approved marijuana as a medicine in 2004, Johnson asked her internal-medicine physician about getting a medical marijuana card.

He balked, stating emphatically that he would never authorize a patient to use marijuana, Johnson said.

“I’d been there 10 years,” she said of the Billings medical office. “They know what kind of person I am. But the minute I mention medical marijuana, I’m not right in the head.”

A doctor she read about in the newspaper eventually signed her first marijuana recommendation form, but when it came time to renew a year later, the doctor was no longer available.

In the meantime, Johnson had found a new primary-care physician who knew about her marijuana use. But that doctor also would not sign an authorization form, although she continues to treat Johnson and includes Johnson’s marijuana use in her medical records.

Johnson said she had no choice but to stand in line with hundreds of other people at a traveling clinic set up inside a local hotel.

It took the doctor there only a few minutes to review her medical records and confirm that she was sick enough to warrant another year of medical marijuana use.

Johnson believes that the majority of the 15,000 Montanans with medical marijuana cards have real health conditions that are helped by the drug.

“There are a lot of people out there in pain,” she said. “All kinds of people self-medicate. A lot of people do it with alcohol.”

Many others use prescription narcotics, which Johnson sees as intricately linked to the reluctance to accept marijuana as medicine.

Mainstream medicine is beholden to the pharmaceutical industry, she said.

“I think there are 15,000 Montanans on pain pills, and what they’re mad about is people getting off pain pills and going to marijuana,” she said. “Yeah, there’s abuse out there, but look at the abuse with pills and alcohol and cigarettes.”

If the Montana Board of Medical Examiners continues to discipline doctors who staff traveling marijuana clinics — a Whitefish doctor was recently fined $2,000 after seeing 150 patients in 14 hours — medical marijuana will be even harder to get, Johnson said.

“Yeah, maybe they need to be cleaned up a bit,” she said of the traveling clinics. “But they’re doing a job that other doctors will not do.”

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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