HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Elvy Musikka begins most days as she ends them--smoking a legal joint and hoping others like her can some day do the same.
Either rolled like a cigarette or baked into brownies, marijuana has been in Musikka's life for more than 12 years as she tried to lessen the effects of glaucoma, which has left her with only 10% of her sight.
But she clearly sees herself as a crusader for the thousands of glaucoma victims throughout the United States denied legal use of the drug that reduces the high eye pressure caused by the disease.
"I think people have every right to sue the government for keeping them from what could be their one hope left of keeping their sight," said Musikka, 44, one of three people given government-grown marijuana for medical reasons.
"I am constantly haunted by the idea there are others who will never see the stars again or look upon their children because they were denied a simple plant."
Musikka's application for legal marijuana was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October, two months after a Broward Circuit Court judge was persuaded to clear her of marijuana-growing charges.
Each month, Musikka receives 300 marijuana cigarettes shipped to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
If she smokes, it's a joint every three hours. "But actually I prefer to eat it," Musikka said. "You feel less stoned and it lasts longer. I can eat some pot brownies and go about 12 hours. Also, your throat doesn't get so raspy. But that's OK if you want to sing some blues."
Musikka has turned to music since her limited sight keeps her from working. She now travels throughout Florida discussing marijuana treatment for glaucoma and promoting her newly released four-song record album partially funded by a $6,000 grant from the state Division of Blind Services.
The songs--two in English and two in Spanish--are among lyrics and melodies she began after her glaucoma worsened in 1976. "I was scared to death of going totally blind. The music was a way to keep my mind off my problems."
Musikka has a scrapbook with the cover photograph showing her beside a bushy marijuana plant in 1984. The pages are covered with clippings about her legal fight and her clandestine days growing her own marijuana.
Began Bringing Her Marijuana
In 1976, she conducted an interview under a pseudonym for a newspaper in her hometown of Hollywood, about 15 miles north of Miami. When friends realized Musikka was the subject of the story, they began bringing her marijuana.
"It was great because I was raising two kids and couldn't afford to keep a supply on my own. But I decided to grow my own to save some money and at least have some always on hand. . . . The problem was keeping out animals--birds, cats and dogs. They seem to love it. One time my puppy ate a whole plant. He slept for a couple hours but otherwise he was all right."
For nearly 10 years, Musikka grew several marijuana plants on the deck of her screen-enclosed pool. A roommate in February, 1988, tipped police and Musikka spent a night in jail before being bailed out. Her case drew wide publicity and support from two others allowed legal marijuana: glaucoma sufferer Bob Randall and south Florida stockbroker Irvin Rosenfeld, who has a rare disease that causes tumors in his bones.
One of Three With Permission
Randall, president of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics in Washington, said Musikka is only the third person to be guaranteed a supply of marijuana.
"I can't explain why the government is withholding marijuana while people are going blind," Musikka said.
FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said no figures are available on the number of people given marijuana under medical experiments, including cancer patients who use it to counteract the nausea from chemotherapy.