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Kirsten Friberg: A patient’s story helped spread medical marijuana from California to Maine

Sometimes Google tells you things you don’t want to hear. While searching for information on medical marijuana for this week’s issue, I came across the website for a cannabis collective in Maine named for someone I was once good friends with, in college way back in 1992 and 1993, but lost touch with her around 1998. Kirsten Friberg was an artist, gallery manager and fashion designer. According to the website for Kirsten’s Compassion (http://www.kirstenscompassion.com/kirstens_story2.htm), she was living in California when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. It metastasized and paralyzed her before killing her in 2006, at the age of 32.

She used medical marijuana for pain and nausea, especially after she dropped down to 98 lbs. – a shocking weight for someone who was 5’9”. But it took her months to get a valid ID, a time when she relied on opiate pain medication that made her hallucinate, according to the group’s website.

While it might be too much to say that Kirsten was the public face of the 2009 citizens’ initiative campaign that strengthened Maine’s medical marijuana protections, Kirsten’s death turned her older brother Eric Friberg, 40, into one of that state’s leading medical marijuana advocates. He and his fiancée, Elizabeth Thorman, told her story to the media numerous times, and run the collective named in her honor.

Eric Friberg is also widely credited with helping reassure law enforcement in the state that the medical marijuana law wouldn’t spark a rise in crime. The campaign in Maine looked a lot like that for Proposition 215 in California in 1996. In fact, Maine first passed a medical marijuana initiative in 1999, though that effort allowed its use without doing much to create a legal distribution system.  

The 2009 effort strengthened the law and allowed the opening of non-profit dispensaries. The overall vote two years ago was 59 percent in favor and 41 percent against. It passed by margins of two or three to one in urban areas, and only failed in three rural counties.

The law itself also seems to follow the California model, which an ID card program, as well as a requirement that patients bring in their original doctor’s recommendation the first time they visit a particular dispensary. Zoning is a major issue, with concerns frequently raised about both the total number of pot clubs and the concentration of them in certain areas.

And there’s the confusing mish-mash of law enforcement policies. Police raided a medical marijuana grower there last month who appears likely to be charged with having too many plants – but police allowed a patient living at the address to pick and keep a half-dozen of the plants.

A medical marijuana patient himself—he’s a Gulf War veteran who suffers from neurological damage – Eric Friberg made news last year when he was charged with drug possession for having marijuana in his car when he was pulled over. Last year, working with another collective called Green Relief, he helped defeat a voter initiative in the town of Eliot that would have put a moratorium on dispensaries.

In 2009, before the new initiative was passed, police raided his home, also the headquarters of the collective he and Thorman run.

“They trashed the place and threw everything on the floor,” he told National Public Radio at the time. “They just pretty much destroyed everything.”

My efforts to reach Eric Friberg before press time were unsuccessful – largely because I only discovered all this on Wednesday morning.

RIP, Kirsten.


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