For sick 'Marijuana Mama,' drug is medicine

March 13, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Pamela Snowhite Davis sits on the floor of her modest Park Avenue walk-up and takes a long, slow hit from her bong, inhaling the smoke she insists is the only medicine that keeps her comfortable these days.

"Once they find out what this stuff does for people, they'll pass a law and everyone will have to smoke it," the 50-year-old marijuana rights activist and multiple sclerosis patient said.

"This is a medicine that is free from God, but still seems to carry such a high price for humans."

Ms. Davis has paid the price for her use of marijuana, but she doesn't care who knows about the daily doses she takes to deal with her illness.

Dubbed the "Marijuana Mama" two years ago, when her six-year prison sentence for a crime involving less than an ounce of marijuana catapulted her briefly into the national spotlight, the slight, graying woman is returning tonight to Carroll County, where she underwent a transformation from entrepreneur to felon to drug activist.

"I was sitting in my bedroom, opened the window and let in the air, when I realized that it was my job to defend one of God's green babies," the 50-year-old mother of two said last week.

Although she knows Carroll County has a low tolerance for drugs, she intends to defend the marijuana plant in a lecture tonight at Western Maryland College.

"It's time we realize what a failed policy we're following when it comes to the treatment of drugs and drug users," she said.

For about five years, Ms. Davis was a private businesswoman who ran an imported clothing concern from Terrapin Station, her 54-acre Silver Run farm. That changed in May 1992, when the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force raided the place and found marijuana in Ms. Davis' night stand.

Carrying a search warrant and wearing United Parcel Service uniforms, task force officers delivered a package addressed to the farm. When a woman there signed for the package -- which contained 1.5 ounces of marijuana -- the officers marched inside.

The raid led to Ms. Davis' conviction on three of four charges, including maintaining a common nuisance, a felony. Citing Ms. Davis' lack of remorse, Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. sentenced her to prison and ordered her to serve two years of the six-year term behind bars.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed two of the three most serious convictions. Her appeal is still pending on a misdemeanor possession charge.

A year ago, Ms. Davis sold Terrapin Station and moved to Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, where she set up Marijuana Mama's Baltimore Hemporium, a head shop on West Read Street. She has since sold the business.

She now spends most of her days coping with her MS and delivering her message to the state's politicians -- in person and in writing -- and on talk radio.

In an interview in her cluttered studio apartment, the gravel-voiced woman looks out into the distance as she pictures a Baltimore with Marijuana Mama at the helm.

She envisions a "Free Drug Zone" where addicts and people suffering from the ravages of AIDS, MS, cancer and other chronic diseases can get prescriptions for marijuana. It is a city where fTC compassion, rather than persecution, controls the handling of drugs and drug addiction.

The centerpiece of that compassion is a clinic where prison laborers harvest a crop of marijuana on the rooftop of a downtown building.

"You don't put the gold-chained gangstas there," she said. "You put a few physicians, some nurses, and you put the dealers out of business. Would it work? Sure it would."

Ms. Davis said her multiple sclerosis was not officially diagnosed until shortly after her release from state prison.

The disease -- an affliction of the central nervous system that can cause symptoms ranging in severity from blurred vision to complete paralysis -- became more acute after her stay in prison. Since her release, she said, she has used marijuana to cope with the nausea, pain, spasms and lack of concentration that trouble her.

"If you're suffering, and God has provided a way to ease the suffering, who is the government to stand in the way?" she asked.

The debate over the medical use of marijuana has been raging for years in Annapolis and in Washington, and some politicians -- including Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- have expressed a desire to explore the issue.

"In our zeal to prosecute drug offenders, we sometimes lose the forest for the trees," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat who's on the House Judiciary Committee. "Lots of people who are not dangerous, we are apprehending and incarcerating."

He acknowledges that his views are not shared by many of his State House colleagues.

Eric E. Sterling, a Washington lawyer who advocates marijuana legalization, said Friday that politics, not science, dictates whether people will be allowed to use the drug to help them cope with debilitating illnesses.

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