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It's a few hours after his 5 a.m. wake-and-bake on a mid-August weekday when Jones props open the back door to his porch and wheels himself out. In his lap, he cradles a chewed-up purple Frisbee that contains a scattering of low-grade marijuana.
Jones, 56, lives alone in his Spring Branch house. His only roommates are two skinny, yappy Italian greyhounds named John and Chubs.
"They both love pot. They always eat it," he says with a touch of his native New England in his accent. "The worst that can ever happen to 'em is they'll get a little paranoid and they fall asleep."
He's slumped slightly in his chair, wearing a black T-shirt underneath red, white and blue suspenders clipped onto jean shorts that cloak the stumps that remain of his legs. His tattoos have not weathered well. The once-crisp lines of a Marine Corps insignia have bled and blended into a muddy pool of green and blue. His jaw sags a bit, and his spectacles ride low on the brim of his nose as he inhales gently from a small, clean bong.
This is how Jones medicates.
The photographs tell his story in ghastly detail: They show a black 1984 Nissan 300ZX, the roof crumpled into the front seat like a ball of wadded-up paper, the driver's-side door twisted and wrung out like corkscrew pasta. Clay Jones doesn't know exactly how he got thrown from his car on August 10, 1985, but it broke his neck in three places and his back in seven, and he had 31 other broken bones to show for it.
When he emerged from 13 straight months in the hospital and rehab, Jones choked back a steady diet of assorted pills: Demerol, Vistaril, Valium, Halcion and Lioresal, among others. He describes the feeling in his back "like somebody's got an ice pick and they just keep jabbing it in and out of that same damn spot, constantly." The pills, he found, didn't work well enough.
"I was at the point that I was taking 280 milligrams of baclofen," or generic Lioresal. "And the maximum dosage on that is 80 milligrams a day," he says. "Just to try to control spasticity. I'd be sitting in my wheelchair. I would get a spasm out of nowhere. Next thing I knew, I was trying to block my head from hitting the ground. It just threw me right out of my chair. Threw me over backwards." A sticky but comfortable breeze pushes across Jones's lush backyard and massages the wind chimes on his porch.
He says that in the early '90s his doctor recommended, unofficially, trying marijuana for the pain. Nowadays, Jones needs only a strong aspirin, a Benadryl for his sinuses and most critically -- he points to the table -- cannabis.
Some believe this is the front line of the battle to legalize marijuana. If so, the movement's poster boy isn't some stoned teenager vegging out in front of Half Baked. No, try an amputee-turned-activist fighting against a politics so full of paradox you might need to spark a joint just to get your mind around it.
When asked if he could've gotten by without weed since the accident, Clay Jones responds sternly: "I would've blown my brains out years ago."
To federal drug warriors, Clay Jones is both a front for hidden agendas and a criminal. Some scientists and doctors would disagree. Like the abortion debate, the marijuana issue is highly politicized and emotionally charged, which can quickly muddy the waters of policy.
Even a single report can be claimed as a victory by both sides. Case in point: In 1997, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy requested that the Institute of Medicine analyze medical marijuana's risks and benefits. A key conclusion of the two-year study was seized upon by both camps: "scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation" -- however, "smoked marijuana is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances."
NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, often points to the report's first conclusion. The DEA, which credited the report as "the most comprehensive, scientifically rigorous review of studies," used the second half of the statement in its own report, Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization.
Pot advocates say the drug (or plant, depending on your orientation) can be used for patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, migraine headaches, glaucoma, spinal cord injuries and other illnesses. In their corner, they line up heavyweight groups like the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association, in addition to prestigious medical publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine and Britain's Lancet, both of which have said toke up. The Texas Medical Association recently called for more research on the issue and supports a doctor's right to discuss medical marijuana treatment with a patient, though it didn't outright endorse its use.