Back In the Closet 

California medical cannabis patients are increasingly being forced to hide behind closed doors as bans on dispensaries and home cultivation sweep through the East Bay.

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On January 3, 2014, San Francisco attorney Joe Elford appealed to the California Supreme Court to review the Live Oak decision, but the California Supreme Court declined to take up the case in a split 4-3 decision.

According to a 2013 analysis by California NORML, at least 29 jurisdictions have outdoor growing bans, and total cultivation bans are spreading in their wake. The cities of Selma, Tracy, Avenal, Beaumont, and California City have banned all growing — as have the city and county of Fresno. Earlier this month, Sacramento County banned outdoor pot growing, while and the City of Colusa banned all marijuana cultivation.

Similar bans are pending in Elk Grove, Porterville, Lodi, and the East Bay cities of Fremont and San Pablo.

"It's all because of the cops," said Swerdlow, the Riverside nurse. "They are winning. And we are losing."

The pain started for Gary Harris way before he saw dead bodies and survived rocket attacks in Vietnam. "My dad used to —." The 61-year-old Fresno resident paused as the memories overwhelmed him. "He was an alcoholic."

Born at Edwards Air Force Base in 1952, Harris grew up in the hot, unforgiving desert town of Lancaster trying to dodge his dad's rage and violence. "He created quite a bit of trauma," Harris said. "I'd say that's where most of my trauma comes from."

At the age of seventeen, Harris got out of the desert and joined the Army. He drove trucks and forklifts, and then got shipped off to Vietnam for a year.

"At the time the stuff is going on, you just kind of blew it off — you see dead people lying around; you have rockets raining down from the sky; you just kind of deal with it," he said of being in the war. "You don't think in terms of being traumatized — but I have nightmares."

Harris is single: never married and no kids. "My longest relationship was like three months — nothing serious, ever," he said. "I've always been kind of a rambling man."

After Vietnam, Harris lived in San Jose, then moved back to Lancaster before going to Sacramento and then Miami. He then relocated to Phoenix, then back to California, then to Arkansas, and Florida.

He suffered his first grand mal seizure in 1985 while visiting a friend in Virginia. He was driving at the time and rolled his van, breaking three bones in his back. The injury later developed into rheumatoid arthritis and spread to other parts of his body, ultimately disabling him.

Harris had first tried pot in 1965 and has self-medicated for what he now realizes is post-traumatic stress disorder since 1970. Occasionally he would stop, and in 1991 he went as long as a year and half without smoking weed. During those times, his nightmares would become increasingly vivid. "I had this nightmare that blew my mind. People, uh — ssssss," he hissed through a grimace. He couldn't find the words. "It was like my subconscious mind didn't realize it was just a dream. Somebody was being murdered and I am going 'Ah. Ah. Ah.' I started smoking pot again and it pretty much alleviated the nightmares.

"It made me normal — like the way I was supposed to feel," he continued. "I don't know how to say it like someone else could understand."

Being able to sleep helped him focus. He worked as a cable TV installer, and then worked in industrial electronics in Florida for seventeen years before becoming disabled by the rheumatoid arthritis.

Harris moved back to California for good in 2005, partly because Florida was so humid, and because "there is no safety net [there] whatsoever," he said. "California was my home and I had been wanting to come back for many years. When I was disabled there was nothing [in Florida] for me anymore, plus the marijuana laws [in California] were a big influence. I knew if I got caught it was a felony in Florida. And I knew I would have no problem getting a recommendation for medical marijuana [in California] because of my condition."

He picked Fresno because he didn't want to move back to Lancaster, and it was in the center of the state. He got a recommendation almost as soon as he moved in.

In 2005, there were two doctors in Fresno who would recommend cannabis, and Harris has been a patient with one of them ever since. He also goes to a VA hospital for his primary care, and said staffers there don't give him a hard time about being a cannabis patient. "They accept it as part of my medication."

Harris takes pills for epilepsy, stomach, prostate, and arthritis problems. His bones are brittle and he's broken three in his back since 2005. He has a prescription for morphine and the narcotic painkiller Percocet — the opiate oxycodone mixed with acetaminophen.

"That stuff wipes me out," he said of Percocet. "I take that stuff and I'm like a vegetable. I'm literally a vegetable. I only take that stuff if [the pain is] really out of control. For the most part I use marijuana and that seems to keep me happy. I'm not using marijuana to get high. If I wanted to get high I'd just load up on my morphine and my Percocet. Those are some of the most popular drugs out there."

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