Article Originally Published 29 October 2010 07:33 AM
“Tim Timmons once was a stalwart in the Church of Christ, a conservative Republican, a buttoned-down insurance executive with a busy life, a wife and three children. Slowly but surely, multiple sclerosis robbed him of that life.
Today, at age 54, Timmons is mostly bedridden and rarely sees the outside of his Garland home. What he lacks in physical ability, however, he more than makes up for with his ardent support for legalizing marijuana for seriously ill people.
In fact, he has become the poster boy for the medical marijuana movement in Texas. One organization has named a model law to set up a medical marijuana industry in Texas the Tim Timmons Compassionate Care Act. An Internet search quickly yields videos of Timmons smoking pot and daring politicians and cops to come arrest him.
“I would love [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry to be the guy who arrests me,” he said. “It would cost the state of Texas $500,000 a year to take care of me in prison.”
Timmons and a small coterie of medical marijuana advocates are under no illusion that the Texas Legislature, which convenes in January, will join more than a dozen other states and pass a law legalizing pot use for chronically ill people.
But the issue is hot across the nation, appearing on at least three statewide ballots on Tuesday. In California, where medical marijuana already is legal, voters will consider a proposition to legalize recreational use. Ballots in South Dakota and Arizona feature propositions on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
“You know Texas and Oklahoma will be the last two states to do anything,” Timmons said.
He openly smokes pot for anyone who wants to watch. One toke from a handheld glass water pipe at bedtime, he insists, keeps painful muscle spasms at bay and leads to a good night’s sleep.
“Sometimes I start talking and forget what I’m saying, but who cares?” he said, joking about what he describes as the mild side effects of smoking pot. Degenerative disease
Tim Timmons’ world has steadily shrunk since his diagnosis in 1987. Now, it consists mostly of his bedroom. He still has the manual dexterity to use a laptop and a telephone. So he is not completely disconnected from the outside world.
He lies on a hospital-type bed with an air mattress that automatically inflates and deflates. The varied pressure on his skin helps prevent bedsores, which have ravaged his legs and hips. A motorized wheelchair sits on one side of the bed; a TV tray on the other side holds a cordless phone, a remote control for his flat-screen TV and a drink container.
Lou-Ann, his wife and caretaker, sleeps on a single bed next to him.
“He is the center of my life,” she said. “I just try and think of ways to make his life easier and more pleasant.”
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. There is no cure. Doctors can only hope to slow the disease’s progression with various medicines and therapies. Painful spasticity of the leg muscles can be one of the worst aspects of living with MS.
The rectangular outline of a computerized device implanted in Timmons’ abdomen is visible just under the skin. The device is hooked to a catheter that delivers a muscle relaxant directly into his spinal fluid.
But the prescription medicines, which include an anti-depressant, are not enough to keep him comfortable. The peace and relaxation that comes with inhaling marijuana smoke is especially welcome at bedtime, he said.
“If I had nothing but marijuana, I would use much more of it,” he said. “But I take it in conjunction with my pharmaceuticals.”
Timmons keeps his marijuana in a glass jar – usually an ounce or less. He pays $350 an ounce, and he is purposely vague about where he gets it. Texas law classifies possession of 2 ounces or less as a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of not more than $2,000.
“I am totally against breaking the law,” Timmons said, “but who is it that’s forcing me to support organized crime?” Far from hippies
Tim and Lou-Ann Timmons are not exactly pot-smoking hippies. Their children are grown-up and on their own. The lawn surrounding their middle-class brick home in a quiet Garland neighborhood is neatly manicured. Timmons’ parents live nearby.
“I talk to my mom every night,” he said.
Lou-Ann, a 64-year-old petite blonde with a round cherubic face, is not someone given to random lawbreaking. About her husband’s pot smoking, she said, “I saw what it did to help him with his spasticity and being able to sleep. And that’s it.”
Friends and family stream in and out of the house during the day, keeping the Timmonses company, helping with small chores and making sure they don’t want for anything.
Larry James, a former Church of Christ pastor and a longtime anti-poverty advocate, has known Timmons more than 20 years. James describes him with an unending string of superlatives: intelligent, witty, courageous, deep, grounded, hilarious.
“I don’t think he takes delight in upsetting people,” James said. “But he is very honest in what he believes.”
James said he has no opinion about whether Texas ought to legalize marijuana use for people such as Timmons.
“I trust Tim’s integrity,” he said. “He found in marijuana some medicine that gives him relief. Who am I to challenge that?”
Pat Carlson, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, said she doesn’t advocate prosecuting chronically sick people trying to find relief. Even so, she and her organization strongly oppose changing Texas law to set up a system of pot production and distribution for chronically ill patients.
Some states such as California and Colorado license and tax “dispensaries,” storefront operations where sick people, who have obtained a recommendation from their doctor, go to buy the drug.
“If it is truly the wonder drug that everyone says, then it needs to go through the same government drug trials that every other drug has to go through to prove it is safe and effective,” Carlson said.
“But once you open the door, you see what some states like California will do – this proposition on the ballot Tuesday to legalize marijuana for recreational use.”
Obviously, Texas is not California.
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, a liberal Democrat from Austin, said a full-fledged law setting up pot production and distribution “wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance” of passing the Legislature.
Naishtat favors a bill that doesn’t legalize anything. Instead, he wants a new law to provide an affirmative defense against prosecuting a chronically ill person.
Let’s say Timmons got arrested for pot possession. Under Naishtat’s proposal, he would prove to the court that he has multiple sclerosis and that a doctor has told him that marijuana might be an effective option to alleviate symptoms.
“I sincerely believe I’m right on this issue and I will continue to introduce it,” Naishtat said.
Carlson said the Texas Eagle Forum will have to analyze the bill’s specific language before passing judgment on it.
“You can’t send the message that it’s OK to use drugs,” she said. Straight-A student
Timmons’ journey from evangelical Christian conservative to medical marijuana advocate began at Dallas Christian School in Mesquite, which is operated by members of churches of Christ, a conservative protestant denomination.
In high school, Timmons was a straight-A student and president of the student council. He was active in speech and drama.
After high school graduation in 1974, he attended Abilene Christian University in West Texas. But he dropped out, got married and started his career. Soon after, he realized the need for a college degree. He enrolled in North Texas State University in Denton (now the University of North Texas) and received a degree in business.
Then, he began a career with Marsh & McLennan, an international company that provides insurance-related services to corporations and governmental entities.
In 1987, he was living in Garland and had two kids, with a third on the way. One night, he was playing softball and attempted to catch a fly ball. He missed, and the ball hit him in the head.
Then, he began losing his footing at work, stumbling and falling against walls.
“They thought I was coming to work drunk,” Timmons said.
But the real culprit behind the misjudged fly ball and the stumbling turned out to be multiple sclerosis. At 31, he got the diagnosis.
“I was in shock to the point where there can be nothing said. This is a dream and I’m gonna wake up,” he said.
Timmons worked for another 10 years and then retired early because of his disabilities. The multiple sclerosis got progressively worse.
By 2001, he was spending more time in his wheelchair, but he was still active and ready to take on a new project. So he organized a high school reunion. Back then, he could pull himself out of his wheelchair to stand and sing with his barbershop quartet. A former classmate showed up at the reunion with a half-ounce of marijuana in a gift bag. He gave it to Timmons, hoping it might help him better cope with his disease.
“I thought, ‘Wow!’ What a nice thing to do for me. The first thing I noticed was that it made me a little more introspective. And, for the first time, I didn’t have to fight my muscle spasms and I was able to fall asleep more easily.”
Today, Timmons is no longer attending the Church of Christ.
“My passion is for God and for every approach to God in the history of the world,” he said. “I follow the teachings of Jesus.”
And he’s ready to go to Austin next year and tell his story to lawmakers, the story of a political conservative who once was judgmental about other people and who now believes in the right of an individual to find comfort through smoking pot.
“For me,” he said, “my ultimate goal is to make anything I do the biggest show on earth.” TIM TIMMONS BIOGRAPHY
Born: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Current Home: Garland
Status: married; children
Education: business degree from University of North Texas
Profession: insurance services executive, retired
Disability: multiple sclerosis
Passion: legalization of medical marijuana
He says: “I want to be a part of the procession of life.” “