Pubdate: Wed, 22 Oct 2003
Source: Fort Worth Weekly (TX)
Copyright: 2003 New Times, Inc.
Author: Jeff Prince
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Pot for Pain Cuts No Ice at Dfw Airport.

A federal marijuana patient's planned trip to Tarrant County went up in 
smoke this week for fear he would be jailed if he came to town and fired up 
his medicinal weed. George McMahon was scheduled to speak as a panelist at 
a drug forum on Thursday at Tarrant County College's northeast campus, but 
he backed down after being told by another legal pot smoker that the 
Tarrant County District Attorney's Office would prosecute those arrested, 
even federal patients who are legal smokers. "We can't get it cleared, and 
we haven't heard back from the assistant district attorney," McMahon said. 
"Until we do that, I'm not setting foot in Tarrant County."

The problem apparently is the result of miscommunication between a 
duty-bound police officer and some gun-shy pot smokers.

The forum will go on, but McMahon will participate only by speakerphone. 
His friend and co-author of the book Prescription Pot, Denton resident 
Christopher Largen, will attend the forum. He plans to place McMahon's 
photo on an empty chair, along with one of the round metal cans that the 
government packs with 300 pre-rolled and federally grown marijuana 
cigarettes and mails to McMahon's doctor several times a year.

The empty chair and photo -- perhaps with a piece of duct tape covering 
McMahon's mouth -- might be more effective than having him there in person, 
Largen said. "It certainly sends a message as to how convoluted our laws 
are on this issue."

A Food and Drug Administration program allows a tiny handful of Americans 
to receive the weed that they need to control serious and painful symptoms 
of several diseases. This "medical marijuana" is grown legally in 
Mississippi and distributed by Uncle Sam. But the government despises its 
role as drug dealer. Marijuana as medicine disputes almost everything 
federal officials have claimed for seven decades, ever since the 1930s when 
they claimed smoking pot could turn people into axe-murderers. The feds 
established the Investigational New Drug Program only after being sued by 
Florida resident Robert Randall, a medical marijuana figurehead in the 1970s.

Randall developed glaucoma during his teens and was told he would go blind 
in a few years. Dissatisfied with pharmaceutical drugs, he grew and smoked 
his own marijuana to relieve ocular pressure. After he was arrested, he 
underwent extensive tests to show that no other glaucoma drug was as 
effective for his condition. Randall proved in federal district court that 
marijuana was a medical necessity, and in 1976 he became the first person 
in modern U.S. history to gain legal, medically based access to government pot.

The feds cut off his supply two years later, but he sued again. His court 
victory led to creation of the federally funded program, which provided 
marijuana to a small number of patients willing to file reams of paperwork, 
fight endless bureaucratic battles, and find doctors willing to risk their 
careers to prescribe marijuana in obvious defiance of federal law. In the 
first dozen years, only four people were approved. McMahon became the fifth 
in 1990. The number grew to 13, but the government stopped accepting 
applications after thousands of AIDS patients heard of the program and 
applied for acceptance. The feds grandfathered those who were already on 
the program, and only seven remain alive. When those patients die, the 
program is expected to die along with them.

For 13 years, McMahon has been willing to travel to spread the word about 
the benefits of medicinal marijuana despite his painful complications from 
nail patella syndrome. An arrest could cause his drugs to be taken away, 
and his body would quickly become wracked with pain, he said.

"Anytime I'm away from marijuana, my health suffers," he said. "I wouldn't 
want to stop, even for eight hours, and I can't imagine both of my arms 
being handcuffed behind my back."

Tarrant County College's forum, "Head, Fed, and Med: Views on Marijuana 
Legalization," is being sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa, the campus honors 
society. "We thought this was an opportunity to educate everybody on the 
issue as well as hearing different viewpoints," chapter President Lori 
Dickinson said.

Phi Theta Kappa had little trouble finding proponents of medical marijuana, 
including Dallas resident and former police officer Howard Wooldridge, who 
recently rode his horse, Misty, across the country to publicize his 
endorsement of outright legalization. He plans to write a book about his 
trek. "I was like Paul Revere, spreading the word that we need to legalize, 
regulate, and tax marijuana," he said. "The thing that stood out the most 
is that people in America are hungry for a fresh idea about the drug war. 
Polls show that about 75 percent of Americans think it doesn't work. My 
approach is based on personal responsibility."

Local law enforcement officials are less willing to debate the issue. For 
two months, Dickinson called Metroplex police agencies in vain until, just 
a few days before the forum, a Hurst Police Department officer agreed to 
attend, she said. "What I found is that most of them just didn't have the 
background knowledge to come into a forum for discussion," she said.

McMahon's decision to participate by speakerphone was prompted by a recent 
conversation with Florida resident Irvin Rosenfeld, another federal 
marijuana patient. In late September Rosenfeld was planning a cross-country 
trip that included a three-hour layover at DFW International Airport. He 
called ahead to let airport officials know he would need to smoke his 
medicine while there and requested an isolated area so that he would not 
bother others. He said Captain Rick Smith of the airport's police force 
threatened him with arrest and prosecution, despite his federal status as a 
legal smoker. "He said .. I would have to bail out, get an attorney, and go 
to court, and I would win, but I would still have to go through all this, 
so please do not smoke marijuana while I was at DFW," he said.

Rosenfeld, who suffers from bone tumors and has been on the federal pot 
program for 21 years, was traveling with relatives and didn't want to 
create a burden for them, so he refrained from smoking. "I had a lot more 
pain, more difficulty in moving," he said.

He typically smokes a joint every two hours, or 12 a day.

Rosenfeld said he explained that the federal government had granted him 
legal permission to smoke, but Smith was unmoved. "Since when did Texas 
secede from the union?" Rosenfeld said. "I haven't been too happy with DFW, 
needless to say."

Smith said he is only doing his job. "You've got a state versus federal 
rights issue," he said. "We can't give him permission to violate state law. 
We have to do what we are sworn to uphold and do. That's the situation in 
Texas. He asked me if I could provide a room (to smoke marijuana) and I 
said, 'No, I'd be breaking the law if I do that.' When I raise my hand and 
swear an oath, you pretty much have to follow it."

Ironically, in the eight states where smoking medical marijuana is legal 
under state law, federal agents have arrested patients.

Had Rosenfeld been at DFW for a longer amount of time, he would have smoked 
and risked arrest, he said. "I'm a stockbroker. I can't be arrested; I'd 
lose my job," he said. "But I've got huge law firms at my disposal, and I 
would file a lawsuit against Tarrant County or Dallas County. I'm not going 
to let people who don't understand the situation push me around. If they 
were to hassle and arrest George, he would proceed against that county. We 
fought for our medicine and we're allowed to take it."

Rosenfeld called McMahon to describe his problems at DFW and lament the 
D.A.'s stance. McMahon cancelled his forum appearance. "It's in the 
newspaper I'm going to be there," he said. "I don't want a fight with those 
guys. I'm right and they're wrong, so why should I fight them under their 

Most law enforcement officials are open-minded when federal pot patients 
call ahead to let them know they are coming, Largen said. "George is a 
Texas resident, and he's never run into any problems with Texas authorities 
before," he said. "He's brought his medicine to the state capitol in Austin 
on several occasions."

If Tarrant County wants a fight, they'll get one, he said. "We want a 
formal retraction from Tarrant County," Largen said. "We'll go to court to 
give him the right to travel and speak freely in Tarrant County. If we 
allow them to shut us down here, they can do it anywhere. We're hoping to 
send a message to other county officials that federal law needs to be 

There's only one problem -- the Tarrant County D.A.'s office claims it has 
never said it would prosecute federal patients. Smith, the airport police 
captain, told Rosenfeld and Fort Worth Weekly that the D.A.'s offices in 
Tarrant and Dallas counties will prosecute anyone smoking marijuana at the 

However, Tarrant County Assistant D.A. Mike Parrish disputed that claim. A 
couple of years ago, Rosenfeld had a stopover at DFW, called ahead to ask 
permission to smoke, and was told by airport police that he would be 
arrested. Rosenfeld's attorney called Parrish. "I looked at some 
documentation and paperwork. ... I made a call or two ... and this guy was 
legit," Parrish said. "I can't stop them from arresting somebody. I just 
put them on notice that this guy lawfully will have marijuana in his 

The D.A.'s office doesn't typically give legal advice about hypothetical 
arrests, but Parrish said the same hands-off principle that applies to 
Rosenfeld would apply to any federal pot patient. "He has that product 
legally and he's using it for medical purposes, so anybody that knows that 
in advance [and arrests such a person] is acting at their own peril about 
the ramifications of possible false arrest," Parrish said. "They could 
arrest him, but as soon as we found out it was all righteous it would be 
dismissed. Legally he has a right to be doing what he's doing."
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