Pubdate: Wed, 27 Aug 2003
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Column: Cannabinotes
Copyright: 2005 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Author: Fred Gardner
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Dr. Phil Leveque)


1. Implications of the Vioxx Verdict

It took a Texas jury only a day and a half to decide to sock it to Merck on 
behalf of Carol Ernst, a widow whose 59-year-old Vioxx-taking husband died 
of a heart attack in 2001. Texas has a protect-the-corporations cap, so the 
$253 million total award will be reduced to $26 million, which will then be 
appealed.  Merck shares have fallen 10% on news of the verdict.

Merck had chosen the venue, deep in the heart of Tom Delay country, and the 
case, in which the autopsy listed the cause of death as irregular 
heartbeat. (Clinical trials had linked Vioxx to heart attacks, strokes and 
blood clots; irregular heartbeat can have other origins.) The jury saw 
right through Merck's lies. They set punitive damages at $229 million -the 
exact amount Merck execs calculated they'd save by delaying for a few 
months a warning on the Vioxx label about cardiovascular risks.

Merck killed 19 times as many Americans with their Vioxx than the 9/11 
hijackers did with their planes. (David Graham, MD, of the FDA, projected 
55,000 deaths and 85,000 disabling injuries.) And the harm was inflicted 
intentionally! Early clinical trials had alerted Merck executives to the 
fact that Vioxx caused coronary damage.

Their response was to exclude from future trials anyone with a history of 
heart trouble.

Once Vioxx was on the market, Merck suppressed indications that it was 
causing strokes and heart attacks at twice the normal rate in people who 
used it for 18 months or more.

The jurors who found for Carol Ernst against Merck were speaking for the 
American people, who have become totally hip to the pharmaceutical 
companies in recent years. "Respect us, that's the message," a juror 
Derrick Chizer, told the media. "Respect us."   Forewoman Marsha Robbins 
said, "We expect accountability, we expect them to be open with us, we 
expect them to be honest with us." Merck's response, according to the Wall 
St. Journal: "The board is mulling whether to put Vioxx back on the market 
partly to blunt plaintiff attorneys' ammunition."

Marijuana is literally and figuratively an alternative to Vioxx. The 
medical marijuana movement has contributed -and could contribute much 
more-to exposing and discrediting the pharmaceutical industry.

Doctors in the Society of Cannabis Clinicians report that a large 
percentage of their patients define their progress in terms of which 
pharmaceutical drugs they can do without (avoiding adverse side effects 
and, often, great expense). "How's your back pain?" the doctor will ask. 
"I'm getting away with half as many Vicodin," the patient will respond.

Dennis Peron's  famous line -"In a country where they give Prozac to shy 
teenagers, all marijuana use is medical"- was not some sophistry trick to 
achieve legalization, it was a putdown of the pharmaceutical industry and a 
challenge to the medical establishment and to a rightwing culture that 
"medicalizes" problems that are basically economic.  Dennis had interviewed 
thousands of people seeking to use marijuana for medical reasons, and 
determined that they all had rationales at least as compelling as the 
rationale for being treated with a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. For his 
brilliant and forward-moving generalization, Dennis took an endless ration 
of shit. To this day, in the high-level chatrooms, reform honchos bemoan 
Dennis's line (truncating it, although they know better, to "all use is 

If the reform leaders had not taken offense at Dennis's line in '96, if 
they had drawn him out instead of trying to silence him, if they had acted 
on the implications of his Prozac riff and publicized marijuana as a safe 
alternative to pharmaceuticals with their damaging (unto death) 
side-effects, maybe the public in 2005 would be giving the medical 
marijuana movement some credit for exposing Merck et al as greed-driven 
pushers of deadly products.

And maybe the public would not be surprised by footage of seemingly 
able-bodied young men emerging from cannabis dispensaries... But the 
less-radical leaders acted as if Dennis was a loose cannon, a "character" 
who had outworn his usefulness. The crucial thing to remember about Ethan 
Nadelmann and Bill Zimmerman, the "campaign professional" installed to 
replace Dennis, is that they would have preferred an initiative resembling 
the Vasconcellos bill of '94 and '95 which limited to four the conditions 
for which doctors could authorize marijuana use. They assumed it would have 
been an easier sell.  The pros from Dover glommed on to Prop 215 too late 
to veto "...any other condition for which marijuana provides relief;"  but 
they kept such wording out of the initiatives they wrote and promoted in 
other states.

Dennis's instinct was to break out of the single-issue trap.  He had said 
all along he wanted Prop 215 to be a step towards something bigger -MUCH 
bigger than the "legalization" goal that the Drug Warriors accuse the 
medical-marijuana advocates of pursuing.  "This isn't about marijuana, this 
is about America, it's about how we treat each other as people," he kept 
saying during the Prop 215 campaign.

He said that whatever we achieved would be the legacy of all his friends 
who had died in the epidemic.

After 215 passed he was in a double bind. He had built the prototype 
"buy-low, sell-high" cannabis club model, but he didn't see how that model 
could lead to social change.

2.  Dispensaries Get P.R. Conscious

The following email was sent on behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance by Dale 
Gieringer of California NORML:


The SF Board of Supervisors is being deluged with complaints against MMJ 
dispensaries through an organized campaign led by neighborhood 
activists.  Their aim is to pressure the Board to push a tough 
anti-dispensary ordinance.  In order to resist this effort, we need allies 
from outside the MJ community who are willing to speak up in favor of the 
clubs.   It would be particularly helpful to enlist supportive businesses, 
neighborhood groups and health care professionals.

Please let us know if you are aware of any 'outside' supporters of 
dispensaries from S.F. who would be willing to voice their support. We are 
aiming to organize a campaign in favor of the dispensaries. Please 
circulate among friends in the SF area.

This effort would not be necessary now if the clubs had been relating 
differently to their customers (aka "the patients") all along.  I don't 
mean that they should have been "providing social services" (the phrase 
makes my skin crawl) which some are now trying to do. I mean treating 
people as comrades in a political/educational struggle for the 
consciousness of America. At Dennis's club the primary transaction was 
political/educational. In the early-to-mid-1990s seven thousand people got 
cards there at a time when getting one was a subversive act in and of 
itself. Then the place became Prop 215 headquarters. Even DP's misbegotten 
run for governor in '97 meant that 1444 Market was a political beehive.

You couldn't get upstairs without passing the literature/petition counter 
on the mezzanine.

What I'm really talking about, though, is unquantifiable -a vibe, a mood in 
the air. At 1444 Market the nature of the dialogue between staff and 
patrons and between patrons and patrons usually touched on our new 
collective discovery: marijuana has beneficial medical effects for an 
amazing range of conditions! And I bet a proper clinical trial would reveal 
that political action has antidepressant and other beneficial health effects.)

At very few of the clubs today is politics in the air. The transactions at 
the counter are overwhelmingly commercial. You might say Well, the times 
are different, the freshness of our discovery is gone. It isn't. Tashkin's 
cancer study, the role of CBD, the marketing of Sativex, the rescheduling 
fight, the busts, all the news that interests you and me would interest a 
significant fraction of cannabis dispensary patrons if it was laid on them 
in the right way.  That's the role that I thought a paper could play. I 
told Ethan Nadelmann in December '96 as he started tritzing off to the 
other states (anointed by the NYT as our leader) that we needed a paper to 
sustain the movement in California.

Organizing the dispensary patrons might have lessened the need to fight a 
NIMBY backlash in another way: the more responsibility people feel towards 
the movement, the less they'll tolerate loitering by knuckleheads, and some 
of the knuckleheads would have been transformed, just from having been 
treated with intellectual respect, into better citizens.

The medical marijuana movement woulda coulda shoulda (maybe still can, 
although the forces of reaction have the momentum now) sought to educate 
and organize the thousands of dispensary patrons into a political force 
working towards healthcare reform in the community at large.

Some of the NIMBYs might even have turned into allies if the nearby club 
had, for example, been involved in a serious campaign to prevent the 
pollution of San Francisco's once pristine water supply with chloramine. 
Why shouldn't that be "our issue," too?

Oregon Honors Leveque

Phil Leveque, the Oregon doctor who unstintingly authorized cannabis use by 
patients in the early days following legalization, when almost all his 
colleagues were afraid to do so, has received a bill from the State Board 
of Medical Examiners to pay for his own prosecution. The bill is for 
$21,127.10. Leveque's license was suspended for three months in 2002 
because he hadn't been conducting physicals (which were not explicitly 
required) or keeping records (for security reasons). The Board created "the 
Leveque Rule," insisting on physical exams, and Leveque hired a physician's 
assistant to conduct them when he resumed practice.  But his license was 
suspended again in December 2004, and revoked earlier this year.

Leveque has appealed the revocation of his license by the Board. You'd 
think this would stay the hounds. "If you fail to send payment in full or 
make other arrangements, we may issue a lien on all of your property, both 
real and personal.

We may then record the lien with your county and/or execute on the warrant.

This means we can garnish your wages, your bank accounts, or seize your 
property to pay the debt in full." Leveque is 82, recently widowed, a World 
War II combat infantryman with a heroic record. Oregon thanks you, Dr. Leveque!
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom