Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

July 6, 2010
Once doomed to die, AIDS patient finds renewal in pot shop job

RDB0238.JPGNearly three decades ago, Thomas Coy, a teenager diagnosed with AIDS, figured he was looking at a death sentence.

Over the ensuing years, he braved homelessness, despair and at least four occasions when severe illness had him thinking he was soon to gasp his last breath.

But for the past five years, Coy, 45, has been working as a paid employee and an AIDS/HIV counselor for the Capitol Wellness Center, a marijuana dispensary with two locations in Sacramento.

Five years ago, Coy also told the state of California to stop sending him $800 in monthly disability checks. He suddenly had a paid job, a life to live, and people to serve.

"It's a miracle I'm up and running. I should be, by all medical accounts, right in an AIDS hospice," Coy said.

He works for a dispensary that has long had a core of AIDS or HIV patients who use medical marijuana to ease nausea or boost their appetites.

Coy, who takes 22 medications for conditions due to AIDS, also treats himself by smoking marijuana and consuming pot tinctures or brownies.

He says marijuana eases shooting pains he gets every morning in his legs and his shoulders due to chronic neuropathy, a degenerative nerve condition. He says pot also stopped him from "throwing up every day" due to the side effects of his medications.

Each Thursday, at the Capitol Wellness dispensary on 29th street, Coy finds fellowship as a group counselor for 15 to 20 AIDS/HIV patients. The sessions cover everything from uses of marijuana to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one to AIDS.

Coy knows the latter well. He recently lost his life partner to the disease.

But he says working with fellow patients enriches his life.

"I found that helping other people helps me keep my health better," he says.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for AOC_MedMJ_119b.JPGCoy, who lives independently in West Sacramento, is a regular at regional meetings or demonstrations on behalf of AIDS/HIV patients or medical marijuana users. His activism has also ballooned to include an array of international economic and human rights issues.

He has protested the World Bank in demonstrations in Seattle and railed against the World Trade Organization in Washington D.C.

But the man who thought his death was imminent long ago said he found a sense of home working in a marijuana dispensary.

"I love my job," he says. "It gave me life again."

Pictured: Top - Coy reflects at Capitol Wellness. Jacqueline Baylon/jbaylon@sacbee.com.
Below - Coy at December, 2005, Sacramento federal court protest over federal raids on California dispensaries. Autumn Cruz/acruz@sacbee.com.

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