FRISCO - A local entrepreneur who's on his third liver and has no colon is optimistic for the future.
Jerry Olson, 37, started a business in August amid a national recession. It made about $30,000 in its first month and enters 2010 with upgraded computer equipment and a wider variety of stock on its shelves.
"Smoke pot every day," Olson said as he sat in a rocking chair at Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, which he co-owns.
One year ago Thursday, he received a new liver.
While recent statewide media coverage has focused on the proliferation of medical marijuana users who appear to be taking advantage of Colorado law, Olson says his 20 years of personal use have improved wellness as he copes with the effects of ulcerative colitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and diabetes.
"I received a lot of discrimination from people who were ignorant toward the benefits," he said of his marijuana use.
PSC is believed to be passed along genetically, though its causes are not known. It creates inflammation of a person's bile ducts in the liver, according to the National Institutes of Health at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov.
Olson grew up in Rockford, Ill. His medical problems began when he was 17 years old. Ulcerative colitis made him sick and he used marijuana to help deal with the symptoms.
In 1996, he graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor's of science in biology with a minor in chemistry. As he entered his first semester of graduate school, his health began to deteriorate and he had to drop out part-way through the year, according to a previous report in the Summit Daily.
His abdominal problems became worse, and he underwent a liver transplant. His aunt had similar symptoms and a liver transplant five years prior.
Olson moved to Summit County in 1997 and that fall began working retail for Vail Resorts. He was employed with the company for seven years, working as a mechanic, loss-prevention officer and more.
Also in 1997, he started Mt. Zion Services, a snowplowing business that later included mobile automobile service. This work ended in 2002. Olson worked several jobs in the resort industry before leaving an assistant manager job in Vail last July to start his business.
He represented the United States in the 2008 Winter World Transplant Games in Finland, where he placed 14th in the Super Giant Slalom skiing competition, according to www.kidney.org.
On Jan. 7, 2009, Olson received his second liver transplant. It was his third major surgery; he'd had his colon removed in 1990 because of ulcerative colitis.
He said he is grateful to both liver donors.
"The way transplants work is it's based on how sick you are," he said. "I got pretty sick. That's how people get to the top of the list."
He's had his license for medical marijuana about three years, and he continues to regularly use the drug - mostly through water pipes and edibles. He said doctors recommended the drug as treatment to help relieve symptoms before he received his card.
Olson said the medical marijuana legislation Colorado voters approved in 2000 doesn't go far enough.
"The whole amendment 20 is discriminatory toward patients in that it puts handicaps in front of people to receive something that should be a birthright," he said.
The liver symptoms affecting Olson have included sickness, gas, nausea, pain, itching, orange eyes, yellow skin and chills.
"The dependency one's body has on the liver is completely amazing," he said.
He said he's been committed to the healing effects of marijuana since his late teens, when he read "The Emperor Wears No Clothes: The Authoritative Historical Record of Cannabis and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana" by Jack Herer.
Asked what his relatives in Denver think of his marijuana use, Olson said "some understand and some are still learning."
His business, the first such business in Summit County, sells marijuana to people with the state-issued cards. Direct doctor service is to be available at his business Jan. 19, and Olson said the "conservative" doctor will first screen patients on the phone and that she doesn't write prescriptions - or medical marijuana referrals - to "support lifestyles."
Olson said he's never tried Marinol, a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol and an active ingredient in marijuana.
"I believe that the sum of the parts doesn't equal the whole ... There are other things in cannabis than THC," he said, adding that the body uses other cannabinoids found in the plant matter.
Olson said that there can be a certain point with an illness "where cannabis isn't enough."
But he also said that certain people taking opiates for pain could reduce their use of the drugs by using cannabis.
"Cannabis increases the healing response. Folks feel good when they smoke pot because they're healing, not because they're intoxicated," he said.
Olson's goals for the dispensary include continuing to help his patients grow.
"I want to focus on ways for making this dispensary help folks who are dying more," he said.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.