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Minn. legalization advocate: Marijuana 'saved my life'

Kevin “KK” Forss talks to students at a photography class he taught in Cloquet, Minn., in January 2014. Forss says he never imagined himself as an advocate for legalized marijuana. The events that changed all that began May 19, 2004. DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE/Steve Kuchera1 / 2
In this 2009 photo, Kevin "KK" Forss sits behind three years' worth of medicine bottles accumulated as he was being treated for a ruptured disc in his neck. Forss says he was able to stop using many of the medicines after he started to smoke marijuana. Photo courtesy Kevin "KK" Forss2 / 2

John Lundy | Forum News Service

CLOQUET, Minn. – Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes has nothing to do with a liberal agenda, says Kevin “KK” Forss.

“I’m a born-again Christian. I’m a veteran. I’m a Republican,” said the Cloquet man. “It isn’t liberal; it’s about people who are suffering.”

Forss, now 47, never imagined himself as an advocate for legalized marijuana.

The events that changed all that began May 19, 2004.

Forss, a freelance photographer then living in Virginia, had driven to the Twin Cities to meet with his first book’s publisher.

He stayed in his publisher’s house overnight, and when he woke up “it felt like someone had torn my clavicle completely out of my body,” Forss recounted.

At Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, an MRI revealed a ruptured disc. Surgery followed immediately.

The operation didn’t improve Forss’ condition. Neither did a second procedure eight months later. Forss underwent multiple hospital visits without finding any answers. He was placed on a regimen of pain pills and other medications.

“They just basically kept me drugged so I could tolerate life a little bit,” Forss said. “People will never understand how many meds they put you on when they basically give up.”

Forss didn’t know why at the time, but he kept his empty medicine bottles. He never counted them, but he estimated the drugs cost about $18,000 a year – at taxpayer expense, he is careful to note.

His wife left him, Forss said, the summer after doctors at the Mayo Clinic told him his injuries were permanent and nothing could be done.

After a doctor said Forss couldn’t live alone, he spent the next 4½ years at an assisted-living facility in Ely. He was told he’d never be able to leave.

Around that time, Forss made what he calls a two-year suicide plan. He wanted ample time to get his affairs in order, and to write letters to friends and loved ones assuring them it wasn’t their fault. He carefully selected a date – March 11, 2010 – that wouldn’t be meaningful to anyone close to him.

Doctor’s advice

Before Forss could carry out his plans, a doctor suggested he try marijuana.

Forss declined to identify the doctor except to say that his practice is in Duluth. But the doctor assured him that marijuana would help, Forss said. It might not ease the pain, but it would certainly reduce the nausea he was experiencing from other drugs, reduce his muscle spasms and help him sleep better at night.

Forss said he was nervous about the idea, but he was also desperate. A cousin, returning to Ely for a visit, knew where he could get marijuana and set up the exchange.

It helped.

“I remember lying in bed, and five minutes after I smoked the first time I was: ‘Oh, my gosh, my shoulder’s relaxed a little bit,’ ” Forss recounted.

“I wasn’t eating much then because I hated throwing up. And like an hour or two later, I realized I was really hungry. So I ate, and then I took a nap. And I was like: ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the greatest thing that has ever happened.’

“It literally saved my life. It really did.”

The positive effects continued, Forss said. He no longer had to take nausea medicine, muscle relaxants or sleeping pills. The pain didn’t go away, but it diminished.

‘Mom’s gonna see this’

Although he was breaking the law every time he smoked, Forss was open about what he was doing. During the previous campaign to legalize marijuana for medical uses in Minnesota, he contacted the advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care and offered to tell his story.

They asked if he’d be willing to star in a commercial.

“And then I’m thinking: ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m a Christian. All my Christian friends are going to see this. My mom’s gonna see this. Everybody in church is gonna see this,’ ” Forss recalled.

“I said: ‘Absolutely, whatever you need.’ ”

Forss credits marijuana for an improved quality of life, but it’s not the reason he’s now out of assisted living and on the road to recovery.

That stems from the same Duluth doctor, who first suggested a surgeon open up his shoulder and then suggested a newly available procedure in the Twin Cities.

The first procedure, in January 2010, helped. The second, in late July or early August 2012, produced the real breakthrough.

“A couple of weeks later was when I first started to notice that the pain in my arm was getting better,” Forss said. “I noticed that I didn’t feel like someone was trying to split the bone apart in my arm anymore.”

No more marijuana

Although not all of the pain went away, Forss stopped smoking marijuana four or five weeks after that final surgery, he said.

“And that was no problem. No problem at all.”

He had smoked marijuana, typically four times a day, for 4½ years. He was featured in newspaper articles, starred in the TV commercial and testified in St. Paul. He was never arrested.

Still dealing with pain and building up his endurance, Forss is allowed to work only four hours at a stretch. His move to Cloquet is recent, and he knows it will take time to build his clientele. But he’s volunteering his services in health care and at his church, where he teaches a photography class.

He continues to speak out for legalizing medical marijuana, he said, on behalf of others.

“I don’t do this for me,” Forss said. “I’m fine now. Well, I’m not fine, but I don’t need it anymore. I’m as fine as any photographer can be. … It’s about the other people who are suffering.”

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