This week I interviewed Rochelle, a medical marijuana user from Loveland. At 53, she leads an active lifestyle, is fit, and works out frequently. She suffers from back pain due to scoliosis and pinched nerves and has been using marijuana for almost five months to ease her pain. Rochelle and I sat down on a beautiful late afternoon to talk pot.

AUSTIN: So, Rochelle, why choose medical marijuana over pharmaceutical pain relief?
ROCHELLE: Prescription pain medicine and muscle relaxers make me groggy. It’s like taking a sleeping pill: I’m groggy all day and through the next morning. It stays in your system. And I know that, like pills, pot won’t fix my problem, but it relaxes me. I can’t smoke it all the time, but in the evening, the few hours of relaxation I get–it helps.

A: How has it improved your daily life?
R: Well, I don’t smoke during work hours, but after the business day is over and on non-business days, I’ll take a hit or two or three and just totally relax. I work a stressful job with long hours, and marijuana helps me find calm after a long day of hard work.

A: Do you think marijuana is addictive?
R: Not at all. At least, no more than anything else. I think it can be physically addictive, but not as much as prescription drugs or alcohol.

A: What’s your opinion on the “gateway drug” theory?
R: There is no gateway. When I was younger, I experimented like everyone did. I didn’t like the harder drugs, so I didn’t keep going with them. The theory is just an excuse to lay more blame on pot. I don’t think it’s a gateway to anything besides relaxation.

I think the “gateway” is that if pot is illegal, you have to go through illegal people to get it. And those people often have access to other, harder drugs. If you could buy it in a grocery store, I think there wouldn’t be the risk of finding harder drugs. No one would move on to coke or crack from just smoking pot.

A: So you feel marijuana should be nationally legalized?
R: Definitely. I think the government is stupid not to, to make the tax money from it and get us out of this debt. Marijuana is no worse than alcohol, both in how high you get and its effects on you. People I know who smoke, they don’t get violent or angry like many people who drink. Pot smokers are relaxed and laid back. I wish they’d make it available for people who need it, too, like my brother. He used marijuana to deal with the side effects of Interferon like nausea. He said pot was the only way he could keep taking the pharmaceutical medicine.

A: As a patient, what has been your experience within the state-legal medical marijuana system?
R: I thought it was very real. You kind of expect, going in, that it’s just easy to get a referral and it’s a bunch of stoners. But my examination was very professional: My doctor considered my age and my problem. Because my back was the problem, I had to tell him how frequently I went to the chiropractor. I had been in urgent care twice due to bad back spasms.

I was really impressed with the doctor; he was very open and honest. He said because I was fit and making an effort to stay in shape, and because I go to work every day, I was a good candidate.

A: How about dispensaries?
R: I’ve been to three different ones so far. The first, I was blown away by how stoned everyone seemed to be in there. They were like people I knew back when I was a kid; you could just tell they smoked pot all the time. They had that thousand-yard kind of fuzzy stare. The second place I was just nervous and uncomfortable. The third place, though, was very professional. They’re very follow-the-rules, sign in, check out your papers. They’re very helpful, too. They had a lot of information to share.

A: How do you feel about the Department of Revenue’s proposal, threatening patient privacy rights?
R: I didn’t know about it. It doesn’t bother me, though. I don’t care what people know. At one time, I held a job that would have been at stake if I’d smoked. Since then, in an effort to reduce my overall stress, I’ve changed jobs (and made other steps to lower my stress level.) If I change jobs again, an issue might come up, but I don’t plan on it. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

But I don’t care who knows about it. I do what I do in private. I don’t drive. I don’t smoke when I work. It’s the people who abuse it, who do illegal things, who should be worried.

A: Any thoughts on the DEA raiding dispensaries?
R: Now that’s a bummer. It’s really not fair. They should be going after the bad people, the people who sell crack. Here these innocent people are giving medicine to patients. I’m sure there are people abusing it, but I’m not. I don’t understand how I’m breaking the law by just sitting in my house taking my medicine. And people in the dispensaries, they’re not hurting anyone either.

A: Before I wrap things up, do you have any final thoughts on the subject in general?
R: Marijuana is a great thing. It helps me. I think people who take prescription pills for stress or anxiety should try pot. All it really does is relax you. And you can get up the next day with no problem. The biggest side effect is I laugh too much, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m thankful I can take part in this program and I hope it continues. I hope it’s a first step to legalization.

A: Great thoughts, Rochelle. I thank you for your time.

If you’re a patient in Colorado and would like to be interviewed, please get in contact with me via e-mail.