Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000
Source: Penthouse (US)
Section: Cover story
Copyright: 2000 General Media Communications, Inc.
Contact:  11 Penn Plaza, Twelfth Floor, New York, NY 10001
Fax: (212) 702-6262
Website: http://www.penthouse.com
Author: Michael Simmons

REEFER MINDLESS

[On the cover: Special Report: Reefer Mindless - It's time to end the 
vicious, stupid, losing war on pot]

REEFER MINDLESS

As we enter a new century, the decades-long war against marijuana 
continues, with pot busts doubling in the past decade, and tens of 
thousands of Americans behind bars for possessing, growing, or selling the 
nation's third favorite recreational drug. When will this official Reefer 
Madness end? Possibly sooner than anyone thinks.

"We are locking up this country!" the boyish-looking man in a suit 
thundered from the podium. "Should drug use in the privacy of your own home 
 end you up in jail?"

The packed crowd in a conference room at the Pyramid Crowne Plaza Hotel in 
Albuquerque, New Mexico, answered the question with an emphatic "NO!"

"Does anybody want to press a button and retroactively punish the 80 
million Americans who have done illegal drugs?" the man asked. "NO!" the 
crowd roared back again. "And did I mention that I'm one of those people? 
I'm one of the 80 million!"

This impassioned speech, delivered last November before a group of drug-law 
reformers attending a panel discussion on "The Drug War: Who Is Winning?," 
could have been made by any one of 70 million Americans who have smoked 
pot, or the millions more who've tried harder stuff. But here was Gary E. 
Johnson, second-term Republican governor of New Mexico, denouncing the war 
on drugs as "a miserable failure." The 47-year-old triathlete, who now 
abstains from all mind-altering substances, including sugar, admitted prior 
to winning his first term in 1994 to using both marijuana and cocaine 
during his college days. After declining to run for higher office following 
his second and last term (which expires January 2002), Johnson began to air 
his maverick views. He has received enthusiastic praise from those who see 
the drug war as an attack by the government on its own citizens. He's also 
become the whipping boy for everybody from White House drug czar Barry 
McCaffrey, who claimed that schoolkids were referring to the governor as 
"Puff Daddy" Johnson ("This is goofy thinking that's harmful to New 
Mexico," remarked the czar -- "He ought to be ashamed of himself"), to 
fellow New Mexican politicos and law-enforcement officials, to a 
middle-school cheerleading team that refused to meet with Johnson because 
of his views.

In a conversation after the conference, Johnson discoursed upon the "reefer 
madness" scare tactics prevalent in his own youth, today's ludicrous 
brain-on-drugs-equals-fried-eggs analogy, and the inability of rule makers 
to differentiate between substances as disparate as pot and heroin. "We 
lived the lie," he said. "Kids continue to live it, see it played out on 
them. Take the [Partnership for a Drug-Free America] advertisement, 'Here's 
your brain, here's your brain on drugs.' Well, okay, so that means 
marijuana. We experienced the same thing. We did marijuana. And it's not 
what it's been portrayed. You don't lose your mind. You don't have a 
propensity to do crime. It's okay. It's not a bad experience. So does that 
mean what the rest of the government is telling us is also a lie?"

Unlike other boomer politicos, Johnson doesn't mince words or plead 
"youthful experimentation" to explain his inhalations. "I didn't 
experiment. I smoked pot," he said. "At the time, it was something that a 
lot of us did. We knew it was against the law. Did any of us belong in jail 
as a result of what you can argue was a bad choice? I don't think so. And 
that's really what this is about. We're in charge today. So now that we're 
in charge today, are we supposed to enact laws that would have made our 
lives different? It seems like today we're trying to get tougher with 
things that we got away with! And there's a hypocrisy to that, in my opinion."

Johnson is a mind-blowing anomaly -- a politician who tells the truth, 
consequences be damned. And the core truth he speaks is that at the heart 
of the multibillion-dollar drug war and its thousands of related jobs in 
law enforcement and the prisons system is the nonsensical demonization of 
marijuana. For 63 years, since the passage of the Marihuana (sic) Tax Act 
of 1937, Americans have been told that pot is an addictive narcotic that 
causes everything from amotivational syndrome to sociopathic behavior to 
premature death. (The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified 
marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and L.S.D., thus 
categorizing it as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no 
medicinal applications.) Yet as we enter the twenty-first century, pot is 
the third favorite recreational drug of choice in the United States after 
alcohol and tobacco. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, however, marijuana cannot 
be bought legally for pleasure or relaxation by Americans who run to the 
corner store. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, marijuana found in the possession 
of adults can result in criminal sanctions ranging from the equivalent of a 
parking ticket to, in the case of a federal statute governing the import or 
growing of more than 50,000 plants or pounds, the death penalty.

But the truth is that, slowly and inexorably, the Berlin Wall of 
Prohibition is crumbling. The millions of Americans who have either tried 
or continue to smoke marijuana know that its negative side effects are 
either overstated or outright lies, and public outrage at the 
constitutional violations perpetrated in the name of the drug war is 
increasing exponentially. Medical marijuana has enjoyed majority support 
wherever it's been on a ballot. And farmers looking for a profitable crop, 
entrepreneurs looking for an environmentally and financially green product, 
and young people looking for a cause have transformed hemp -- the 
nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana, with hundreds of beneficial uses -- 
into a $200-million-a-year industry.

Still, there is a dangerous disconnect at work in America regarding 
marijuana. Viewers guffaw when the gang in That '70s Show paints a 
marijuana leaf on the town's water tower -- cultural code that marijuana is 
a relatively harmless drug as well as a rite of passage for youth. Reefer 
jokes are cracked on The Simpsons and by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, and 
weed is smoked to hilarious effect in such major studio movies as Dazed and 
Confused and The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans 
are arrested annually, imprisoned, and made to face forfeiture of their 
homes and belongings because of its use, cultivation, or sale. Furthermore, 
draconian mandatory minimum sentencing (the least amount of prison time to 
be served by law) passed by Congress and many states is grossly 
disproportionate to the alleged crime, as well as leaving judges no leeway 
to take into consideration the particulars of each case.

Indeed, the continuing integration of marijuana into the mainstream 
American experience -- with presidential candidates, actors, musicians, 
scientists, even Olympic medalists tabbed as tokers -- has led to a common 
perception that reefer laws are relatively lax. While this is true for 
small quantities of marijuana in certain regions, the horror stories belie 
any notions that pot has been de facto legalized. "People have this 
misinformed belief that people don't go to prison for marijuana," says 
Monica Pratt of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, one of the foremost 
drug-prisoner-rights organizations, headquartered in Washington, D.C. "It's 
a willful blindness to what's going on in America right now."

Last November, Time magazine ran a tongue-in-cheek but factually accurate 
breakdown of the particular social groups that prefer certain drugs. For 
pot smokers, the social group was described as "everyone."

According to recent studies, more than 70 million Americans have smoked 
marijuana at least once in their lifetime, 11 million use it monthly, and 
about half of those inhale almost daily; this means that about five percent 
of people over the age of 12 can be loosely defined as pot smokers, and 
between five and six million of them are dedicated stoners.

Of course these figures must be gauged against the reality that many 
potheads will not 'fess up to illegal behavior, even when guaranteed 
anonymity. With "zero tolerance" the watch-phrase of the antidrug forces 
and corporate policy makers, such paranoia is completely justified. If you 
factor in expanded police power to search and seize, payments to 
informants, snitching for plea bargains, aggressive conspiracy charges, and 
mandatory urine testing, the pot smokers' dilemma becomes abundantly clear. 
Their jobs and their families, not to mention their very freedom from 
imprisonment, are constantly at stake. As R. Keith Stroup, the 56- year-old 
founder and director of the Washington-based National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws, observes, "People are in the closet; they're 
intimidated after 20 years of the war on drugs. They can't be honest; they 
might lose their jobs, or they might get drug-tested. There are all kinds 
of reasons why people are not necessarily honest about how they feel about 
marijuana smoking -- including those of us who smoke."

Supplying these millions of American tokers with their recreational drug of 
choice is an underground industry that survives -- and thrives -- through 
secrecy. Last year, Jon Gettman, former director of NORML, published 
"Marijuana by the Numbers," an as-definitive-as-possible statistical 
breakdown of the American marijuana trade in the "industry" magazine High 
Times. Gettman cites a 1998 NORML report that estimated 1997 U.S. domestic 
pot production at nearly 5.5 million pounds. (According to 1997 Drug 
Enforcement Administration figures, California is the domestic leader in 
marijuana production, followed by Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, and 
Hawaii.) Using High Times's highly regarded market-quotations page as an 
index, the report guesstimated the weed's total retail value to be $15 
billion at $2,765 a pound. (An ounce of pot currently retails for anywhere 
from $120 to $700, depending on the regional market and the quality of the 
drug, with the average price somewhere in the middle.) NORML compared these 
numbers to federal Agriculture Department figures and concluded that 
marijuana is now America's fourth-largest cash crop, behind corn, soybeans, 
and hay, and worth as much as wheat and cotton combined.

Although domestic pot production has been rising steadily over the years, 
with increasing amounts being grown indoors under scrupulous conditions 
aimed at producing high-potency, high-priced weed, it is imported 
marijuana, primarily from Mexico, that remains the toker's mainstay, 
especially in locales where there is no pot-growing culture and 
high-quality strains are hard to find or afford.

Debate rages over whether marijuana is stronger than it was 20 years ago. 
The antidrug warriors say yes, maintaining it's so much more potent that 
it's a different drug, thereby justifying their zero-tolerance tactics. To 
bolster their contention, they point to research done at the University of 
Mississippi, the home of the federal government's pot farm. The Potency 
Monitoring Project at Ole Miss has found that pot is stronger now than in 
the early seventies, though its average strength has been consistent since 
the early eighties. On the other hand, independent analyses have detected 
higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, pot's psychoactive cannabinoid) content 
in such seventies strains as Maui Wowie and Thai Stick than in most 
currently avail- able strains, bolstering the contention of pot advocates 
that today's weed presents no unique danger.

Not content to attack marijuana alone, zero-tolerance zealots also target 
its "delivery systems." Most states have some form of antiparaphernalia 
laws on the books, and while there are no available statistics on how many 
candy-store owners get raided for carrying Bambu rolling papers, the 
paraphernalia laws come in handy when prosecutors want to "pile on" years 
to a drug offender's prison sentence. Furthermore, the paraphernalia laws 
are often used by the local police as a pretext for an assault in what is 
at its core a cultural war. Says NORML's deputy director Allen St. Pierre, 
"It's literally town by town by town. If a shop owner has things such as 
NORML information, or High Times or other countercultural magazines at 
hand, or if there are T-shirts or other cultural affectations in the store 
that would lead a reasonable person to believe that marijuana was part of 
the culture within, then that's the standard that one would probably use to 
arrest somebody for selling paraphernalia. That's why most prudent 
paraphernalia stores strew their displays with tobacco and insist on 18' 
and over, as they should, and have zero discussions beyond the obvious."

 From sea to shining sea, and contrary to popular perception, the war 
against marijuana is increasing in intensity. According to available data, 
pot busts have accelerated in the 1990s, most notably during the 
phony-liberal Clinton administration. F.B.I. statistics for 1998 record 
682,885 marijuana arrests, 88 percent for mere possession, belying law 
enforcement's conventional spin that the enforcers are mainly concerned 
with large-scale growth and distribution rackets. These figures are 
slightly lower than those of the year before, when NORML noted that the 
Clinton administration had already outbusted the kinder, gentler George 
Bush by 30 percent on an average yearly basis. In fact, pot busts have more 
than doubled since 1990, while those for heroin and cocaine fell by more 
than 50 percent. In 1998, 44 percent of all drug arrests were for 
marijuana; one out of every 25 criminal arrests was for marijuana 
possession; and one in seven persons in prison for drugs had been convicted 
on marijuana charges. (Interestingly, the number of pot arrests has risen 
steadily while the estimated number of smokers has fallen off from a 
reported high in 1979.) Approximately 43,000 Americans are presently behind 
state or federal bars for marijuana, at an estimated social cost of $7.5 
billion annually. More Americans get popped annually for marijuana (and 
many receive harsher sentences) than for murder, rape, robbery, and 
aggravated assault combined. According to current federal mandatory 
minimum-sentencing law, you can be imprisoned for 15 to 21 months and fined 
$1 million for delivery or sale of a single joint, and slapped with five to 
40 years and a $2 million fine for possessing more than 100 plants. 
Cultivating or selling more than 1,000 plants or 1,000 kilograms can earn 
you a life sentence in a federal penitentiary.

What's more, nowadays there are fewer safe havens in hitherto lenient 
cities or states. In New York City, for example, cops used to issue a 
noncriminal summons for small-time pot possession (less than 25 grams). But 
under the rubric of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's "quality of life" program, the 
N.Y.P.D. now employs everything from undercover cops posing as dealers to 
surveillance cameras in Washington Square Park to entrap smokers. More than 
40,000 pot arrests were made in New York City in 1998, seven times the 
figure for 1993, the year before Giuliani took office. Offenders are 
detained until arraignment, which means if you're caught smoking a joint on 
a Friday, you may spend your weekend in stir.

Matters are far from laid-back for pot enthusiasts in California. Last 
October, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, an interagency 
eradication effort, announced that it had already seized 241,164 plants for 
the year 1999. The confiscated plants had an estimated value of $965 
million, up 80 percent over the '98 tallies, and 40 percent higher than the 
previous record year of 1985. And while law-enforcement figures warned that 
the passage in 1996 of Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized 
medical marijuana in California, would tie their hands and create a de 
facto legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state, there were 
nearly 2,000 state pot prisoners in California is July of '99, an increase 
of ten percent since the proposition passed with the support of 56 percent 
of voters. In fact, while possession of less than an ounce is punishable by 
a relatively light $100 fine, the state's cops and prosecutors see red when 
it comes to anything greater than an ounce, especially where cultivation 
and/or distribution are concerned, with the possible exemption (thanks to 
Proposition 215, as we shall see) of some medical marijuana operations.

New York State tops the United States for the greatest number of pot busts 
per 100,000 smokers (at 6,294 as of 1997), but regionally most take place 
in Mid-western states (for sales/manufacture) and the Midwest and South 
(for possession). Justice in some of these states is often wildly 
disproportionate to the alleged crime, even when compared with the national 
standard. Oklahoma, for example, has what are overall probably the harshest 
pot penalties in the United States. Possession of any amount (such as the 
residue of a joint) can bring up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. A 
second offense (a second bust for the residue of a joint) warrants two 
years to life and a $20,000 fine. Possession of paraphernalia (say, a 
single rolling paper) is punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. 
Four years to life imprisonment is mandated for sale or delivery of under 
25 pounds, and the minimum penalty increases with larger quantities. 
Punishments are doubled for sale to a minor or within 1,000 feet of a 
school. And, as in several other states, you can have your driver's license 
suspended as penalty even if you're not driving while nabbed.

Will Foster is the most well-known victim of Oklahoma's zero-tolerance 
legislation. The 42-year-old Tulsa father of three was given a 93-year 
sentence in 1997 for 60 plants (said the prosecutor; 10 plants and 50 
seedlings and clones, Foster maintained). Foster has advanced rheumatoid 
arthritis, precisely the kind of ailment for which pot has been shown to be 
an effective medicine in numerous studies, including six presented to the 
Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., in 1997. In the summer of 
1998, Foster's sentence was reduced to 20 years, but Governor Frank Keating 
has ignored repeated pleas and declined to pardon him. In fact, Keating is 
pushing the Oklahoma legislature to toughen its marijuana laws.

Latter-day frontier injustice is not limited to state law, however. Current 
federal mandatory-minimum (or "man-min") sentencing, codified by the 
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, prevents judges from using their discretion 
and orders lopsided sentences disproportionate to the alleged crimes. A 
man-min sentence can be reduced only if the defendant cooperates with the 
prosecution and snitches others out in the pursuit of questionable 
conspiracy convictions. It's a quid pro qua deal: You give us the names of 
fellow travelers in order to notch our belts with more guilty verdicts, and 
you'll do less time or none at all. Often, far more culpable informants 
receive lighter sentences than the people they inform on. Throw in 
forfeiture laws, according to which, until recently, a drug offender -- or 
even anyone suspected prior to trial -- forfeits his or her assets to be 
divvied up among the law-enforcement agencies involved in the case, and the 
result is incentive for cops and prosecutors to use the Constitution as 
toilet paper.

Consequently, the number of conspiracy prosecutions against Americans 
arrested for the sale or manufacture of weed has soared, wreaking havoc on 
thousands of lives. Take, for example, the horror visited upon the Tucker 
family of Georgia.

Gary Tucker and his wife Joanne ran Southern Lights and Hydroponics, an 
indoor-outdoor gardening store in Norcross, near Atlanta. Gary's brother 
Steve worked part-time at the store while he held down another job. An 
indoor, soil-free method of growing plants, hydroponics is a favorite -- 
but hardly the sole domain -- among marijuana planters seeking a year-round 
growing season as well as high yield and privacy. During a 1993 sting 
dubbed Operation Green Merchant, the D.E.A. approached Gary Tucker. The 
feds had been investigating Tucker customers who the feds suspected to be 
pot growers, and leaned on Gary for permission to install surveillance 
cameras in his store. Citing privacy violations, and stead-fastly insisting 
they turned away any customer who mentioned marijuana, Gary refused.

When some of the Tuckers' customers were later busted and faced man-min, 
they informed the feds that the Tuckers had given them advice on how to 
grow pot. These allegations made the Tuckers liable for conspiracy to 
manufacture. On June 27, 1993, the three Tuckers were arrested by the 
D.E.A. Subsequently, all three were indicted and convicted, even though 
they possessed no marijuana, and no buys or sales -- not even recorded 
evidence of "advice" -- were ever introduced. Despite inducements of 
leniency, none of the three would snitch or turn evidence, all maintaining 
their innocence throughout. On January 11, 1994, under man-min provisions, 
Gary Tucker was sentenced to 16 and a half years' imprisonment, and Steve 
and Joanne Tucker to ten years each. The Tuckers began serving their 
sentences in 1995, and all three are currently in federal correctional 
facilities. Under forfeiture laws, the Tuckers lost their homes, their 
cars, their bank ac- counts, a truck, and a boat. Gary and Joanne are 
childless, but Steve has a 14-year-old daughter and a 13- year-old son.

In some cases, alleged marijuana transgressors face a far more deadly 
penalty than prison. Donald Scott, a 61-year-old wealthy Malibu rancher, 
was murdered in 1992 by a joint task force (comprised of members of the Los 
Angeles County Sheriff's Department, L.A.P.D., Park Service, D.E.A., Forest 
Service, California National Guard, and California Bureau of Narcotics) 
conducting an early-morning raid on the pretense that Scott was growing pot 
on his property. Responding to his wife's screams, a clueless Scott grabbed 
a gun and confronted the intruders. Two bullets were pumped into him. No 
pot was found. Ventura County District Attorney Michael D. Bradbury 
released a report criticizing the task force for using false information to 
secure a search warrant. Bradbury characterized the effort as an attempt to 
use forfeiture laws to slice up Scott's considerable assets between the 
participating agencies. "Clearly one of the primary purposes was a land 
grab by the Sheriff's Department," Bradbury wrote. While no law-enforcement 
agency or officer was ever charged with a crime, Los Angeles County and the 
feds tentatively agreed to pay $5 million to Scott's survivors earlier this 
year.

More recently, Mario Paz, a 65-year-old father of six and grandfather of 
14, was shot dead in his Compton, California, home last August by officers 
from the nearby El Monte Police Department who were engaged in an ongoing 
investigation. Again, it was an early-morning putsch on an uncomprehending 
victim. It turns out a suspected pot dealer had used Paz's address as a 
mail drop. And once again no marijuana was found, nor was any police 
officer charged with murder. In January, Q. J. Simpson attorney Johnnie 
Cochran filed a suit on behalf of Paz's survivors, accusing the cities of 
El Monte and Compton of wrongful death and conspiracy to violate Paz's 
civil rights.

Pot smokers find themselves increasingly confronted with the indignity of 
mandatory drug testing, which, while certainly not as frightening as 
gun-wielding raiders, is insulting, and arguably unconstitutional as 
unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. One hopes that 
our airline pilots aren't flying whacked out on sinsemilla, but the piss 
testing of video-store clerks is absurd. What's more, testing can have 
terrible consequences.

When 24-year-old Angela Jenkins of Houston, Texas, was in labor with her 
second child, Sylvan, last September she was given a drug test which came 
up positive for pot. (Her doctor, she says, explained that blood tests for 
drug use were standard procedure for expectant mothers lacking insurance or 
prenatal care.) Jenkins had admitted to using marijuana once during her 
pregnancy to relieve stomach cramps, two days before going into labor. Both 
Sylvan and his 15-month-old brother Bishop were taken from Jenkins and her 
common-law husband, Aaron Asher, 23, by Children's Protective Services. 
This was on the grounds of child abuse, based on the blood test.

As of late February of this year, the children were still in the custody of 
Jenkins's mother. While Angela is permitted to see the kids, she's 
forbidden to be alone with them. Both parents are employed and, by the 
C.P.S. caseworker's own admission, kept a clean home, and there was no 
other mistreatment of the children. Jenkins has been forced by the court to 
take drug-education classes and continues to be drug-tested; she has 
consistently been found clean.

"I feel that the severity of [C.P.S.'s] actions does not fit the case," she 
says. The couple's lawyer, Phil Swisher, says he is planning to file a 
civil-rights complaint against the hospital that he claims seized the 
children without authorization from a court.

While the millions of Americans who smoke, grow, or sell pot, or are 
suspected of doing so, continue to be subjected to the brutal whim of 
politics, the past half decade has seen one noteworthy suspension of reefer 
madness. Though the federal government steadfastly refuses to classify 
cannabis as medicine, American voters in state after state have expressed 
their support for medical marijuana. Indeed, no single drug- reform-related 
issue has resonated with the public like medical marijuana. "Med-mar," as 
advocates refer to it in shorthand, has consequently become a powerful 
weapon in exposing the intolerance of zero tolerance. "Most people who have 
a family member who is catastrophically ill or disabled know that they 
would do anything in their power to ease their loved one's suffering," says 
Scott Imler, coauthor of California's Proposition 215 and director of the 
Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. "Given that people's underlying view 
of marijuana is relatively benign, it's not a big leap to say, 'I'll break 
this rather archaic law in order to help ease my loved one's suffering.' "

As medicine, cannabis has a 3,000-year recorded history, and it was popular 
in many nineteenth-century over-the-counter cures. However, the Marihuana 
Tax Act of 1937, which kicked off the national prohibition that exists 
today, effectively ended weed's beneficent role in America. This, despite 
the protests of the American Medical Association, which acknowledged that 
the future could hold "substantial medical uses for cannabis." By the 
sixties, it was common knowledge that cancer patients were smoking pot to 
quell the nausea of chemotherapy and stimulate the appetite, and in 1976 a 
glaucoma patient named Robert C. Randall became the first American in 
decades to gain access to licit marijuana by suing the federal government 
under the doctrine of medical necessity (marijuana helps relieve the 
internal eye pressure that causes glaucoma).

It was the gay community, however, that propelled marijuana-as-medicine 
into the front pages when it discovered that pot was literally the 
difference between life and death in the treatment of AIDS. Those who have 
either the full-blown disease or are H.I.V.-positive are dependent on 
multiple medications to support their immune system and ward off both a 
variety of predatory illnesses and death. These medications often cause 
nausea and neuropathy and suppress appetite; cannabis, as it does with 
cancer, relieves these problems and allows patients to proceed with their 
all-important medical regimen. A kind of general medical palliative for 
those afflicted with AIDS, pot was also found to assist in abating the 
disastrous mix of physical pain from various opportunistic illnesses, along 
with the wasting syndrome of AIDS that causes the patient to lose muscle 
tissue.

Americans understand that medical marijuana is an issue that transcends the 
cant and paranoia of the zero- tolerance militants. When the financial arm 
of the Proposition 215 movement (funded primarily by currency speculator 
George Soros) took a poll in California prior to the November 1996 
election, it found an astounding one third of those surveyed in the state 
knew someone who had used pot medicinally. That November, voters in 
California and Arizona passed initiatives legalizing marijuana for sick 
people who had a doctor's recommendation. Since then, seven other med-mar 
initiatives have passed -- in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, 
Maine, and the District of Columbia. Interestingly, the District initiative 
provoked a notable episode of contemporary reefer madness when Congress, 
which administers the funding for the nation's capitol, refused to pay the 
dollar-and-change required to tally the vote. Led by Georgia Republican 
Congressman Bob Barr, the antidrug warriors were not going to let democracy 
de-fang doobie demonization. The House finally allowed the vote to be 
tallied, and the initiative was shown to have passed by 69 percent. 
Undeterred, Barr tacked onto a spending bill an amendment nullifying the 
vote, a tactic that even pot-antagonist President Clinton threatened to 
veto for being "antidemocratic."

The implementation of med-mar statutes in states where it's now law has 
been uneven. Oregon has instituted a statewide registry for med-mar 
patients so they can present a card to law enforcement if pinched with 
weed. In California, a task force led by Democratic State Attorney General 
Bill Lockyer and comprised of both cops and pot advocates spent more than 
six months last year devising a similar program. But freshly elected 
Democratic Governor Gray Davis basically told his own A.G. to go fuck 
himself, and let it be known that he would veto the task force's 
recommendations, leaving California in the county-by-county chaos that has 
existed since the passage of Proposition 215. With some perturbing 
exceptions, law enforcement in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland 
tends to honor Prop 215, while rural counties often don't even acknowledge 
there's a state law that protects med-mar patients, citing the fact that 
under federal statutes marijuana is not considered a medicine.

The California cannabis clubs are fascinating sociological oases. They are 
autonomous zones of compassion, some of which are run as tightly as 
licensed pharmacies. Others are less stringent, and have been called to 
task for it by both the federal and state government as well as 
intramovement activists. The Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center in West 
Hollywood, which has been in operation since 1995, is the strictest club in 
California, and in many ways the most controversial. Director Imler, who 
smokes marijuana to control chronic seizures sustained after a skiing 
accident, advocates transparency in a movement that is often shrouded in 
secrecy and prideful of its outlaw status. He is openly critical of those 
pot advocates who use the medical issue as a smoke screen for broader 
agendas. In a 1997 sting, the D.E.A. sent narcs posing as patients into 
cannabis clubs, resulting in federal civil suits against six California 
clubs whose protocol was so lax that they disbursed pot to the agents. The 
L.A.C.R.C. was spared because it was the only club that wouldn't let the 
undercover narcs in. Admissions director (and AIDS patient) Jay Fritz had a 
policy of double verification of a doctor's letter and medical-license 
number, which revealed that the narc had fraudulent paperwork. The agent 
was politely shown the door.

While the L.A.C.R.C. has the blessing of both the West Hollywood City 
Council and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, matters have not always been 
copacetic between the club and law enforcement. Shortly before the passage 
of Proposition 215 in 1996, sheriffs acting on a "complaint" busted the 
center and arrested four employees. All charges were eventually dropped, 
however, and a post-election peace conference was convened between Imler 
and the sheriff's department, then headed by the late Sherman Block. For 
his part, Block's successor Baca recently described his department's 
arrangement with the L.A.C.R.C, as one based on "open communication" and 
respect for "the right of people to privately respond to their medical needs."

Currently, both the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the L.A.P.D. honor 
the club's membership card and a doctor's letter as proof of med-mar 
legitimacy under state law. While this shows how far we've come, and 
hopefully where we're headed, the sick and dying elsewhere in California 
still face harassment and intimidation. Consider the case of Tim Weltz, a 
38-year-old terminal-lymphoma patient I interviewed in June 1999.

The previous week, local cops had shown up at his home in Alta Loma, 
California, in response to a domestic-dispute call. Weltz was hooked up to 
an intravenous morphine drip, and a home-health-care worker was present, 
when the police arrived and observed marijuana plants growing in and around 
the house. Despite Weltz's possession of a letter from his oncologist 
approving his use of med-mar, agents of the Marijuana Eradication Task 
Force of San Bernardino County were summoned and they uprooted 23 ready- 
to-harvest plants. Weltz was not charged with any crime, but his precious 
palliative was destroyed. When questioned about the cops' actions, 
Detective Michael Wirz of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department 
explained, "We're not able to interpret ... a law based on him giving us a 
note saying that it's okay." In fact, California law clearly states that 
med-mar patients "upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to 
criminal prosecution or sanction." Weltz died of cancer November 1,1999.

Such pigheaded intransigence is best personified by White House drug czar 
Barry R. McCaffrey. Following passage of the California and Arizona med-mar 
initiatives in '96, the retired four-star general announced, "There is not 
a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful 
or needed." Confronted by years of scientific and anecdotal evidence of 
marijuana's medical applications, McCaffrey then threw $896,000 at the 
nonprofit Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences to 
review all the shreds of scientific evidence and answer once and for all 
the burning question, if you will: Is marijuana medicine?

The results, published last year, were somewhat startling in candor but at 
the same time not surprising. The I.O.M. reported that certain cannabinoids 
- -- the chemical compounds that make up cannabis -- have therapeutic value; 
that marijuana was effective in treating nausea, AIDS wasting, and pain 
management; and that Marinol, the legal prescribable pill that contains THC 
- -- as previously noted, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient -- is not 
the most efficacious or desirable choice for certain conditions. In fact 
the study found that pot's antianxiety properties -- i.e., getting stoned 
- -- can be beneficial. Furthermore, the I.O,M. debunked pot's rep as an 
"addictive" and pharmacologic "gateway" drug, meaning that if you smoke 
pot, you're going to end up on crack. The only valid objection, said the 
I.O.M., was that smoking pot is a "crude THC delivery system that also 
delivers harmful substances" (e.g., smoke), but even so there was no 
conclusive evidence that reefer is carcinogenic or immunosuppressive.

"Until a non-smoked, rapid-onset cannabinoid-drug delivery system becomes 
available," read the conclusion, "we acknowledge that there is no clear 
alternative for people suffering from chronic [the I.O.M.'s distinction] 
conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana, such as pain or 
AIDS wasting."

What did McCaffrey do in light of this clear repudiation of his policy? He 
blathered about endorsing such delivery systems as suppositories and 
transdermal patches, adamantly maintaining that smoked marijuana will never 
be available as medicine. Meanwhile, the sick and dying, like Tim Weltz, 
continue to suffer and face arrest and imprisonment.

So what does the coming decade hold for marijuana and marijuana smokers?

Despite General McCaffrey and his ilk's steadfast opposition to reform, the 
nine initiatives that have passed supporting medical marijuana (and a 
defeated one in Oregon that would have recriminalized pot) show support 
for, at the very least, compassion and common sense. And while no polls 
have yet indicated majority support for legalization as such, the numbers 
appear to be rising. Last August, the Campaign for New Drug Policies, an 
organization headquartered in Santa Monica, California, that is sponsoring 
several incremental state-by-state drug-reform measures, undertook a 
broad-issue poll of likely voters in California. The results were 
illuminating. Forty-two percent of the respondents favored regulating and 
taxing marijuana and allowing for people to grow small amounts, with 51 
percent opposing and seven percent undecided. "To build a majority, you can 
rely on legalizers, but you need people who support moderate reforms," says 
Dave Fratello, the C.N.D.P.'s communications director, who notes that last 
year's poll numbers were "probably five or six points higher than I 
remember seeing in '96." What's more, adds Fratello, "Nevada had the same 
number, which is high for what is otherwise a very conservative state. We 
just drew the inference that people there have a lot of experience taxing 
and regulating vices. They wouldn't think twice about doing the same for 
marijuana."

In yet another indication of how widespread the consensus is for at least a 
modicum of normalization, fire- breathing conservative Congressman Henry 
Hyde (R-Illinois) sponsored forfeiture-reform legislation last year that 
passed the House and Senate. Pro-pot advocates read these developments as 
signs that zero tolerance will no longer be tolerated. "The first decade of 
the twenty-first century is likely to see a renunciation of this policy -- 
finally," predicts Dale Gieringer, NORML's California coordinator. "What 
happened with alcohol prohibition in the 1930s is going to happen with 
respect to marijuana prohibition in the 2000s." Gieringer sees a domino 
theory at work, a step-by-step process of moderation and acceptance that's 
already in motion with medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

Many reformers suggest the tide will turn when the herb's use loses its 
furtive taint. Author/activist Mikki Norris wrote (along with Chris Conrad 
and Virginia Resner) Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War 
(Creative Xpressions), the most compelling book to date on the effect the 
drug war has had on families who have been subject to arrest, forfeiture, 
mandatory minimums, etc. Norris believes the way to end pot prohibition is 
for takers to "emulate the Gay Pride model.... The fact is, everyone knows 
a pot smoker whether they realize it or not," she says. "When enough people 
get used to the fact that so many people they know -- friends, relatives, 
coworkers, employers, professional and business people they trust -- have 
been using pot responsibly and are still good, productive people, society 
will not tolerate the discrimination against pot smokers and come to accept 
that they should be treated like everyone else. But that's not going to 
happen until people start coming out of the closet."

Still, diehard antidrug warriors are not prepared to surrender, and they 
continue their assaults on reason and rights. In Florida there are 
tentative plans to unleash a mutant fungus called Fusarium oxysporum that 
would kill marijuana. Some environmentalists have warned that this 
Frankenstein fungus may be mutagenic and kill tomatoes  and other crops as 
well. In the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein 
(D-California), two of the least civil libertarians from either side of the 
aisle, have sponsored and passed S.486, an anti- methamphetamine bill that 
makes it a felony to "teach, demonstrate, or distribute any information 
pertaining to the manufacture of a controlled substance." This would mean 
that everything from a diagram on how to roll a joint to, say, a gardening 
guide could be construed as felonious. But the bill has yet to pass the 
House and if it does, it will inevitably be tied up in the courts.

We look back at certain periods of history and ask, "What could our fellow 
human beings have possibly been thinking?" Legal apartheid 35 years ago in 
the American South is one glaring example. One day we will look back on the 
mighty War on Drugs and find it inconceivable that there was a time when we 
had to piss in jars as part of our employment, that sick people were denied 
efficacious medication, that law enforcement paid for itself with the 
seized assets of pot farmers, that someone could simply be arrested for 
smoking a weed. Until that time, powerful men and women will exercise 
control over the populace by enacting and enforcing laws against this weed. 
Someday they will have to answer for their actions.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D