Bill Would Legalize Marijuana As Therapeutic Option

They’re lighting up joints in Bryn Mawr and Squirrel Hill after putting the kids to bed.

At Abay, an ultra-hip eatery in East Liberty, pro-medical marijuana activists are recruiting and organizing new members over martinis.

And in Harrisburg, some legislators are pushing for passage of a bill that would make Pennsylvania the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana — if New York and Maryland don’t beat them to it.

Pot is hot.

Long known as America’s most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is no longer just a habit for aging baby boomers reliving the ’60s.  Fragile multiple sclerosis sufferers and chemo patients swear by it.  In the movies, positive images abound: In “It’s Complicated,” Santa Barbara matron Meryl Streep gets stoned to hilarious effect, while on television’s “Nurse Jackie,” Edie Falco helps a chemo patient fashion a bong for his joint.

While U.S.  marijuana use has shown a consistent decline since the mid-1990s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that trend has stalled, with prevalence rates the same in 2009 as they were five years ago.

And back in the real world, affluent forty-somethings are lighting up after work, giving new meaning to “Happy Hour.”

Just ask Lisa ( not her real name ).

“Let me shut the door,” she said during a telephone interview from her Downtown office where she works for a financial institution.  A self-described “urban professional and mom” and wife of a successful lawyer, she likes to sit in her sleek, granite-and-maple kitchen in Squirrel Hill on Friday nights and de-stress with a joint.

“I do it once a week,” Lisa said.  “It’s a nice release from the week’s tensions, and I can feel my body calming down — and it’s less calories than wine,” she added with a laugh.

Even as the drug war continues to rage along our nation’s borders and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website declares marijuana to be “dangerous,” even as Congress refuses to repeal its declaration that smoked marijuana is without “current medical benefit,” recreational use of marijuana has continued unabated in this country.

Now, California — the first state to allow medical marijuana use — will vote in November on a ballot initiative legalizing all pot use.

A new RAND Corp.  study released last week found, however, that while legalizing marijuana could increase consumption, it would also cut the drug’s price by as much as 80 percent — making it unlikely that the cash-strapped state will realize projections for $1 billion in revenue.

If legalization regulating and taxing the sale of pot passes — and a recent California poll found support for the measure at more than 50 percent — other states will surely follow.

Just not Pennsylvania.

A recent Franklin & Marshall poll found that 81 percent of Pennsylvanians supported making medical marijuana legal — up from 76 percent in 2006.  But a medical marijuana bill was introduced only a year ago in the state House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor oppose it.

The measure has not come up for a vote in either chamber.  Still, medical marijuana’s passage in Pennsylvania is only a matter of time, said Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, sponsor of the House bill.

“There’s real momentum” for the bill, said Mr.  Cohen, whose father suffers from Crohn’s disease.  The time has come, he believes, to expand medical options to alleviate patient suffering, citing research that has found marijuana can be therapeutic in treating Crohn’s, cancer, glaucoma and other debilitating conditions.

Karen would agree.  A restaurant manager in Westmoreland County who asked that her real name not be used, she has suffered from bulimia for the past 10 years.  In addition to therapy, she’s found that marijuana is more effective than antidepressants at soothing her stomach and increasing her desire to eat.

“I was on Xanax, but it irritated my stomach, and it’s easy to get hooked on, whereas with marijuana, if I miss a day, it’s not the end of the world,” she said.  “I’m not going to go out and rob a bank so I can get some.”

All of this may be true, but what really seems to be driving the bill is the need for new revenue.  The RAND report notwithstanding, a tax on medical marijuana could add millions to state coffers that weren’t there before.  Plus, the fact that so many other states have passed similar laws — most recently New Jersey, on whom Pennsylvania’s law is based, plus pending approval by New York, Maryland, Minnesota and New Hampshire — may improve the bill’s chances, he said.

“Combined with New Jersey, that will mean we’re all but surrounded,” said Mr.  Cohen.

Still, he hastened to add, Pennsylvania will not follow California’s example in administering the law.

In Los Angeles, dubbed “The Wild West of Weed” by Newsweek last fall, medical marijuana dispensaries have popped up on every corner.  There have been robberies and shootings at the cash-only shops, and otherwise healthy young people with “back pain” are wangling permission from unscrupulous doctors to obtain the drug.

Under proposed legislation, Pennsylvania’s program would be far more restrictive, Mr.  Cohen said, with jurisdiction over it assigned to the state’s Departments of Revenue and Health.  It would permit personal cultivation of up to six plants and would establish a distribution system regulated by the health department.

“Pennsylvania has a very active medical board of licensure,” he said, “and I’m sure nothing will happen like California, where you’ve got doctors located a few steps from the beach.”

Still, it would face a likely veto from whoever occupies the governor’s office.  Both Democrat Dan Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett oppose medical marijuana legislation, and many law enforcement officials remain adamantly adverse to it — even if police in the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia don’t pursue cases involving first-time offenses and small amounts of the drug as aggressively as other drug cases.

The tendency is to work them out as summary offenses, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A.  Zappala Jr., adding, however, that “any time a drug case comes in, even at preliminary hearing level, they’ll always check with our narcotics unit to make sure this isn’t someone known to them.”

In Philadelphia’s jammed courts, marijuana arrests are usually the last cases to be heard during the day, and because an arresting officer can’t wait for hours, the judge usually just throws out the case, said Lynn Abraham, that city’s former district attorney and a vocal opponent of efforts to loosen marijuana laws, including medical marijuana.

“Why is it that in California most people using it are 20 to 35 years old? Give me a break.  Is this what we want to become in Pennsylvania?” she asked.  “A pleasure palace? Yikes.  We’re just going to turn into a bunch of spoiled, self-indulgent dope heads.”

Others in the field of drug addiction oppose the bill for different reasons.  Medical marijuana’s efficacy should be determined by scientific research and the FDA approval process, not by politicians, said Dr.  Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center.

“I do believe marijuana has medicinal properties, so let’s evaluate it like other medicines,” he said.

That’s just the problem, pro-pot activists said — federal drug policies don’t allow research into smoked marijuana.

Because marijuana is classified by federal statute as a Schedule I drug — along with heroin — researchers are prohibited from providing it to study participants , although compounds extracted from cannabis can be used in clinical trials.  Marinol, a synthetic version of pot’s active ingredient, THC, is available by prescription for relieving nausea, and Sativex, which contains THC and other cannabinoids, is undergoing FDA scrutiny.  If made available, it may be so effective for MS and cancer sufferers it may make the medical marijuana debate moot.

Scientific research into marijuana’s risks has found that smoking marijuana does damage the lungs, and it can impair brain function for longer periods of time than alcohol while driving.  And while pot is not considered physically addictive for most adults, pot smoking can be risky for young people.

A current study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry has recruited 20 people — half of them heavy pot smokers — to explore whether smoking marijuana under age 14 increases the risk of schizophrenia, as has been indicated in some studies.

The Obama administration has declared it will not use federal money to prosecute low-level medical marijuana cases as long as the defendants are complying with state law.  But federal drug policy remains unchanged and marijuana’s legalization remains so politically fraught that it makes “any rational approach unlikely,” said Peter Cohen, a physician and an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University who has written extensively on the issue.

“It will be interesting to see what the Department of Justice does should recreational marijuana be legalized,” he said.  If California makes all pot use legal, “at that point there will be a direct conflict between state and federal law, and the Obama administration will probably have no choice but to take action against California’s legalization.

Patrick Nightingale, a local attorney and head of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said his group isn’t using medical marijuana as a stalking horse for future legalization of all marijuana use.

At a recent meeting with medical marijuana supporters, he vigorously urged recruits to get involved with efforts to lobby legislators for passage of a medical-use bill.

It was, in fact, the proverbial smoke-filled back room — in this case, the cave-like Abay bar in East Liberty — where incense curled languorously from ashtrays and mostly young, healthy-looking people lounged on banquettes.  Carefully balancing a martini, Mr.  Nightingale walked through the state’s legislation and asked for volunteers.

A lot of people raised their hands, and, in fact, public reaction across the state in favor of the bill has been overwhelming.

“I’ve been here 25 years, and I’ve never seen more public reaction to any bill,” said Leon Czikowsky, an aide to Mr.  Cohen.

No surprise there: Pro-pot activists are a highly vocal, well-organized, well-funded constituency, as the Obama administration found to its chagrin during the transition after the 2008 election when it created an online site for people to submit ideas to the president under a “crowdsourcing” model in which the “best-rated” ideas would rise to the top.

The highest ranking idea? Legalization of marijuana — along with revoking the Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)

State Medical Marijuana Centers Get Green Light

RI — The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last month to allow the creation of up to three state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, becoming the third state in the country to legalize so-called “compassion centers” after both the House and Senate voted to override the veto of Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65.

The use of medical marijuana for gravely ill patients was legalized by the General Assembly in 2006. But without a legal means to obtain marijuana, patients have to grow it themselves or buy it illegally.

“It’s an opportunity for people to live out their lives in a more peaceful way,” said State Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Dist. 10, who sponsored the bill in the House. “The only people who seem to be prevented from getting marijuana are the people who need it for their diseases.”

Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, also praised the bill. “Rhode Island now has the best law throughout the country for medical marijuana,” Hogan said. Unlike in California, he said, “these are state-regulated, non-profit organizations. All you need in California is a license.”

According to Hogan, there should be three dispensaries statewide by 2011.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Carcieri, said the governor continues to oppose the bill.

“First and foremost, it tends to weaken the laws governing and the perceptions of illicit drugs,” Kempe said, adding that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of drug use among teenagers.

She added that California has seen an increase in crime in the areas surrounding compassion centers, as patients leaving the centers are vulnerable to muggers.

Dan Bernath, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said that evidence of increased crime in areas around dispensaries in California is merely “anecdotal.” The bill, he said, is “a reflection of the understanding that these compassion centers have worked very well” in other states.

“I think it is an acknowledgement that the mood is changing,” Bernath said. “Obama and his attorney general have shown that they’re not interested in using federal law enforcement resources against people operating within the laws of the state.”

Source: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)
Author: Anish Gonchigar, Staff Writer

14 Hawaii religious marijuana advocates indicted

HONOLULU — The founder and director of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry and 13 associates are facing federal marijuana charges.

Federal authorities told a news conference Friday that Roger Christie led a major marijuana growing, processing and distribution ring.

Christie says he uses marijuana as a sacrament. But authorities say neither his ministry nor state medical marijuana laws protect him from federal prosecution.

Federal officials seized 3,000 plants, with a retail value of $4.8 million. Four Big island residences are facing forfeiture.

The defendants were arrested Thursday and flown to Honolulu. Authorities say six were released on bond. Christie and seven others remain in custody pending detention hearings next week.

Future Doctors Support Medical Marijuana

The AMA’s med student branch, the Medical Student Section, unanimously passed a resolution supporting medical marijuana at the AMA national convention this month. With the other large national med student group, the American Medical Student Association, already supporting it, it looks like therapeutic cannabis has a future in US medicine.

 

The Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American Medical Association (AMA) overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution urging the AMA to support the reclassification of marijuana for medical use at the AMA’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this month. The resolution will now go before the AMA House of Delegates for a final vote at its interim meeting in November.

After a lengthy series of whereases detailing scientific support for therapeutic uses of cannabis, the MSS resolved that:

RESOLVED, That our AMA support reclassification of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance into a more appropriate schedule; and be it further

RESOLVED, That this resolution be forwarded to the House of Delegates at I-08.
With some 50,000 members, the MSS is the largest and most influential organization of medical students in the US. The other major medical student group in the county, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which split from the AMA in the heady days of the 1960s to pursue a more socially activist agenda, endorsed rescheduling marijuana in 1993 and added its own resolution endorsing clinical research on medical marijuana in 1999. (AMSA claims 68,000 members, but also includes pre-med students.)

Those two organizations join a growing list of medical groupings supporting medical marijuana, including the AIDS Action Council, the Alaska Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the American Preventive Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the California Medical Association, the California Pharmacists Association, the Connecticut Nurses Association, Cure AIDS Now, the Florida Medical Association, the Los Angeles County AIDS Commission, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the National Association for Public Health Policy, the National Association of People with AIDS, the National Nurses Society on Addictions, the New England Journal of Medicine, the New Mexico Medical Society, Physicians for Social Responsiblity, the San Francisco Medical Society, the Virginia Nurses Society on Addictions, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, and state nurses associations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to the medical marijuana education and advocacy group Patients Out of Time.

The most recent addition to that list was the American College of Physicians (ACP), which adopted a resolution called for rescheduling of marijuana and an expansion of research into its medical efficacy in February. With 124,000 members, the ACP is the country’s second largest physician group, second only to the AMA.

But the AMA remains recalcitrant. Its most recent recommendation on medical marijuana, adopted in 2001, calls for further study, but urges that marijuana remain at Schedule 1 pending the outcome of those studies. The resolution passed by the MSS is designed to prod the organization forward.

“This is a positive and necessary step in the right direction,” said Dr. David Ostrow, a member of the AMA and Chair of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Board of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. “We are hopeful that the full house of delegates will follow the example set by the American College of Physicians earlier this year and vote to support this resolution, thereby placing the needs and safety of our patients above politics.”

“Having the AMA’s endorsement would bring this issue even more into the mainstream,” said Kris Hermes, communications director for ASA. “Having the ACP endorse earlier this year was a huge step forward, and this is just a way for more of the medical establishment to acknowledge the science and evidence around the efficacy of medical marijuana and that people can benefit from it. And the fact that the MSS passed this is very significant,” Hermes continued. “With 50,000 members, it’s a group that has the clout to push the AMA forward.”

The MSS may have some clout, but it can’t do it alone, said Sunil Aggarwal, a University of Washington medical student and ASA member who guided the resolution to passage in Chicago. “If it’s just us, we lose,” he said. “Between now and November, we’ll be trying to get different organizations within the AMA to stand with us. We’ll be going after the state medical societies in all the medical marijuana states, and we’ll be building alliances with groups that are our allies, like the ACP,” he strategized. “We have to be careful, though. There are some forces that would like to quash us, like the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Even though they’re a relatively new organization, everyone tends to defer to them on matters of addiction and substance abuse. If they say no, the AMA might get cold feet.”

But even if the battle is not won this year, he and his colleagues are the wave of the future, Aggarwal said. “The two organizations that represent medical students nationally have now both called for the reclassification of marijuana,” he said. “We’re the future doctors of America. These are the people who are going to be the leaders in American medicine, and now they are officially supporting medical marijuana,” he said. “This is a big milestone.”

Dissection of a DEA Raid by Greggory Moore

Dissection of a DEA Raid

by Greggory Moore

The year is 2008, before Obama, before U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, although the feds still lacked the strength of character to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I (okay, so he didn’t announce that part quite like that), the federal government was not interested in expending its limited resources on busting state-sanctioned medical-marijuana collectives.

It starts on July 22. That is when the Drug Enforcement Administration, in the search warrant/affidavit served on Long Beach Holistic at the time of the raid, first records receiving a complaint about LBH from “a representative of the East Village Association.” Only two other complaints (both on September 18, one anonymous, the other from another EVA member) are recorded. But that is enough to spring our heroes into action, as by the morning of September 25 Special Agent Patrick L. Kelly is conducting surveillance on LBH. Later that day Kelly gets on his computer for more probable cause that LBH is indeed a medpot dispensary—which he has little trouble finding, since they’re openly operating as such. And because according to federal law marijuana is illegal, period, that’s the ballgame. By October 7 the DEA has all its ducks in a row, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh signs off on the search warrant.

As noon nears on Wednesday, October 8, a young man in a Dodgers T-shirt gets off his skateboard and enters Unit E of 745 East 4th St. He walks into the small vestibule and presents the documentation confirming he’s been diagnosed with a medical ailment whose symptoms are alleviated by marijuana, then takes a seat. Across the sidewalk creeps a visual straight out of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and a dozen helmeted and bulletproof-vested DEA agents pour through the unlocked door. For a moment the young man finds the muzzle of an assault rifle pointed directly at his heart while the rest of team make their way into an antechamber, then demand entry into the dispensary proper. Without giving the staff a moment to comply—which they are eager to do—one agent starts to pry open the door with a silver crowbar, another pounds with a handheld battering ram. It doesn’t seem they are so much in a hurry as they have nothing better to do with their energy. They gain access with guns pointed at whatever is inside, though they quickly realize there is no danger. Back in the vestibule, the young man has been handcuffed, but still a pistol is continually pointed in his general direction.

With the area secure, a curious ritual ensues: a female agent makes a survey of the premises, and whenever she comes across a camera, she points it out to her crowbar-wielding teammate, who then smashes it. He swings at one and kills it, then another, a third, a fourth. I pore over the affidavit’s 33 pages and find a long list of what the DEA is therein authorized to do and the property they are authorized to seize: it never so much as refers to cameras, nor to destruction. I contact Judge Walsh’s court to see if he has an interest in the DEA going beyond the bounds of what’s prescribed by the warrant: he doesn’t want to hear about it. I reach Special Agent Kelly by telephone, who sounds uncomfortable when I tell him I’ve seen video of the raid. “Where did you come across that?” he asks (I’d rather not say), then refers me to Sarah Pullen, a DEA public-information officer. I review the situation with the skateboarder and ask her if pointing the assault rifle at him would be consistent with DEA policy—and to my surprise, she says “yes.” Then she comes to her senses, says my questions sound “accusatory,” and declines to comment on the rest of what I ask.

Someone who’s happy to talk with me is Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access. “I think you’ve struck gold,” he says of the video. “It sounds like a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment. […] They’re not allowed to point assault rifles in people’s faces just because they have a warrant.” Nor to smash cameras (though it is better for the covering up).

On a lighter note, DEA affidavits are chock full of fun trivia. For example, did you know that “a 160 GB drive could contain as many as approximately 150 full run movies or 150,000 songs”? Wow!

3 Men and Pot – How cannabis became illegal – The untold story – By Marcus Romo

For much of this country’s history hemp has been held as an agricultural commodity. Understanding the diversity of such a plant, farmers in the Jamestown Colony were required to grow hemp. It served as the primary crop of General Washington’s plantation and was a staple at ambassador Jefferson’s Monticello.  In the pre-Civil War economy, hemp was as vital to Southern states as was cotton and tobacco. The story of how hemp went from sustaining the livelihood of southern economies to prohibition displays the broad reaching influence of three powerful Americans.

At the beginning of the 20th century, William Randolph Hearst was the world’s media tycoon. His portfolio consisted of some 30 publications, including the San Francisco Examiner, Cosmopolitan, and the Washington Herald. Hearst is also credited for developing yellow journalism, or what we have come to know as, sensational media. During this era Hearst owned a majority share of the publication industry. With his success, he purchased acres of timber forests and paper mills, which provided him with the total means of production for his company. One of Hearst’s business associates was Lammot DuPont, the president of the DuPont chemical company.  This company would one day invent the synthetic fibers we consume in our daily lives such as nylon and teflon.  However then, DuPont supplied Hearst with an essential chemical used for creating paper from wood pulp. Both individuals and their companies made a fortune through this partnership.

Towards the end of turbulent 1920’s the commodity market began to change.  The market value of hemp became cheaper than other commodities such as wood and cotton.  The drop was significant enough to cause the paper industry to entertain the idea of switching from wood pulp to the use of hemp. Hemp could also be re-grown and harvested annually in which timber cannot. Already invested in his mills and the acres of forests, Hearst adamantly opposed such a market reconstruction. Hearst and DuPont, with their fortunes tied to the established industry, were determined to not only squash the resurgence of hemp, but also ensure the plant would not be a threat in the future.

Concerned over the market prices, DuPont consulted with his company’s chief financial banker, Andrew Mellon. At this time, Mellon was serving as the Secretary of Treasury for the United States. For Mellon’s consultation to the DuPonts and Hearst companies, a healthy compensation for his continuous efforts was provided. During Mellon’s nearly 11 years tenure, the federal government grew in size.  In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established as an agency under the Department of Treasury. The agents assigned to the division focused primarily on cocaine and opium. Hemp, according to federal law, was not yet a narcotic. As the market price of hemp declined, the three men began to formulate how to make the crop illegal in the United States and maintain their supremacy. Fortunately for them, they maintained the means to do so.

Law enforcement in the Southwest told stories of drug induced violent behavior, rampent crime, and overly sexual activities amongst the Mexican population. Familiar with the term marijuana from a Mexican drinking game, Hearst ran these reports in his sensational newspapers across the country. These drugs were assumed to be hemp and hemp would forever then be known as marijuana.

Like an overnight sensation, marijuana, “the Devil’s Harvest,” was printed in newspapers and magazines from San Francisco to New York City. Meanwhile DuPont took to the airways. At this time the most popular radio show in the country was Cavalcade of America. The primary sponsor of the conservative ideology radio show was the DuPont chemical company. As Hearst ran the sensational articles in every publication, DuPont entered the living rooms of every American household cautioning them against the evils of marijuana and its “Rapture Alley.”  With the two men spreading propaganda to the American public, Mellon was left to spread his influence over the policy makers in Washington.

The commissioner position of the newly created FBN was vacant and was Mellon’s responsibility to find an appointment. The appointee was Harry Ansling, the nephew-in-law of Mellon himself.  Soon after his appointment, Ansling  created the Marijuana Educational Program. With the help of Hearst and DuPont, the program received large amounts of educational information. Videos, pictures, and articles were developed in what has become known as “Reefer Madness.” The two gentlemen also provided the means to distribute the information through their publications and radio programming, the only available means of mass communication.

With the success of the program and the level of national support, Ansling proposed the Marijuana Act of 1937.  The act would levy heavy taxes on commercial use of hemp as well as provide a list of provisions where penalty can be sentenced. Effectively, it would squash the resurgence of hemp as a viable alternative to wood pulp. During the debate over the bill, the committee used reports from Hearst’s publications to justify its passage. Testimonies before Congress against cannabis were said to induced murders, insanity, and deaths. The scientific community was not invited to the discussion on the bill. Hearst, who served as a member of the House of Representatives, was successful at influencing his former colleagues on the dangers of hemp. On August 2nd the bill passed and the Marijuana Act became the law of the land in the United States.  Unfortunately for Hearst, the passage of the act came too late. Plagued with financial debt caused by the Depression, his corporation was faced with a court-mandated reorganization later that year.

What evolved from this 3 men partnership caused a 70-year prohibition and a cultural war that divided the succeeding generations. As the resurgence of legalized hemp progresses eastward from the western states, the decision on its legality must come from the professional class. Farmers, doctors, and entrepreneurs are established, contributing, and legitimate sectors of our society. At one time the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy praised hemp as an essential cash crop. Today doctors in 15 states write prescriptions for the safe consumption of marijuana. And now entrepreneurs find success in manufacturing productions, baked goods, and small businesses along the coast of the Pacific to the villages in the Rockies. Through their economic contribution a united voice can prove as influential as 3 men were generations ago.

A Disabled War Veteran’s Argument for Compassion.

A Disabled War Veteran’s Argument for Compassion.

In the midst of darkness, a man in his mid-twenties lunges awake with a visceral yell “contact three o’clock!”  Silence follows as he tries to calm the tremors in his shaking hands, and turns red with embarrassment and self-resentment as he looks around his room, quickly realizing that his time at war is actually over. He lies awake for the next several hours, fearing sleep because of the inevitable nightmares and work the next day because of his anxious fear of crowds. This story happens to be mine, as I am a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

However, this story could belong to any of the more than 23 million veterans of the United States’ wars and conflicts. As a result of the current military operations taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in returning veterans is increasingly common. This increase in diagnosis is a result of a better knowledge of PTSD and the efforts to lower the stigma associated with the disorder.  The complexities of PTSD can cause symptoms that manifest themselves at different rates and frequencies.

My experience going through the VA’s PTSD treatment program generally left me with a medicine cabinet full of unused pills and lost hope. Each symptom I had was given its very own medication. I couldn’t sleep without having nightmares so they threw me a bottle of Prazosin. It helped slightly with the nightmares, until it started causing me to feel nauseous for hours after swallowing the pill. I wasn’t having nightmares, solely because I wasn’t sleeping. My psychologist’s response came in the form of several other medications, each meeting the same fate and retiring to my medicine cabinet.

It took over a year of attempting to treat the nightmares before I gave up. Each of the medications I was given had so many severe side effects that they actually made living with the nightmares a better option.

To make matters worse, there were several other symptoms for which I needed treatment, including anxiety attacks, flashbacks, and severe depression. One of the medications for anxiety I was given caused severe abdominal cramping, the intensity of the pain limited my ability to work, or attend classes. Another medication for anxiety caused me to have random dizzy spells; this medication was dropped after it caused a near accident on the freeway.

Many of the medications being prescribed by the VA for PTSD are being prescribed “off label,” which means that these medications have yet to be approved by the FDA for the treatment of PTSD. SSRI’s, (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are the VA’s primary PTSD drug, at the time that this was written only two SSRI’s have been approved by the FDA for the treatment for PTSD.

After many attempts at medicating each symptom, my problems began to run full circle. Eventually, I was taking medications for the side effects that my PTSD medications were causing. All of these issues, and added side effects, only served to cause more anxiety, and more depression. I continued to avoid leaving my home for fear of debilitating side effects. After a severe increase in anxiety attacks, I was even offered Valium to take in the event that I felt an anxiety attack coming on. Valium is not a practical solution to a person in their mid-twenties attempting to juggle college, PTSD, a young marriage and a full time job. The effects were far too debilitating to be beneficial.

Fortunately, there was help for my symptoms. In a group therapy session while speaking with a Vietnam veteran, I was told of his success with using marijuana to help with his symptoms. When I looked into my legal options I was told that as a resident of Washington State I wouldn’t be able to be prescribed marijuana as a treatment for PTSD as it was not considered a qualifying medical need for marijuana.

Without help from the very government that I was both physically and mentally injured serving, I began to test marijuana as a potential treatment for my symptoms. I had no idea how beneficial I would find these efforts. I could physically feel the tension in my shoulders melting away. I continued to use marijuana in small doses after coming home in the evenings with continuous positive results.

My anxiety attacks still occur, but with much less frequency and with a significant reduction in severity. My psychologist sees me as much more relaxed, and therefore much more able to function both as a student and at work. The nightmares that I endured and attempted to medicate for years have subsided to rare occurrences thanks to marijuana. When I stop smoking marijuana regularly, I find that both of these symptoms increase severely, and only subside again with the aid of marijuana.

I spent years suffering as a direct result of my service to this country. Now as a result of my use of marijuana, I am transformed from the respected label of “disabled war veteran” to the not-so-respected label of “criminal.”

In recent days, while speaking about veterans, President Barack Obama stated,

“We have a responsibility to serve all of them as well as they serve all of us. And yet, all too often in recent years and decades, we, as a nation, have failed to live up to that responsibility. We have failed to give them the support they need or pay them the respect they deserve.”

I only ask that my government start living up to that responsibility by exploring all possible treatment options for PTSD. Veterans deserve an opportunity to treat their symptoms with marijuana if they feel that it helps. Only then will they truly have the support and respect that they have been promised.

LAWSUIT TO STRIKE LOS ANGELES’ UNLAWFUL MEDICAL MARIJUANA ORDINANCE

LAWSUIT TO STRIKE LOS ANGELES’

UNLAWFUL MEDICAL MARIJUANA ORDINANCE

A coalition of medical cannabis patients, collectives /cooperatives, and attorneys from across California are working together to strike down the Los Angeles Medical Marijuana Ordinance.  The lawsuit will be brought on behalf of patient members of collective/cooperatives.

Get informed

The lawsuit will challenge the Medical Marijuana Ordinance because it:

  • Unfairly discriminates against medical cannabis patients and treats cannabis patients differently from patients who use vicodin and other prescription drugs;
  • Disallows any collective group of four or more qualified patients from cultivating at a particular location, including at their own homes;
  • Requires collectives/cooperatives to immediately turn over patients’ records and medical usage patterns to law enforcement without a subpoena or warrant, meaning that a condition of membership will be the disclosure of your recommendation to LAPD;
  • Will close nearly all medical cannabis dispensing operations and improperly restrict patients’ access to their medicine;
  • Pushes remaining (estimated 25) medical cannabis dispensing operations into less than a handful of industrial areas;
  • Collectives/cooperatives from across the City of Los Angeles have donated time and resources to this effort.  Three powerhouse attorneys head the legal team.  Matt Kumin, of Kumin Sommers LLP, is a pioneer in medical marijuana business formation and in civil rights litigation; Eric Shevin, of the Law Offices of Eric Shevin, is a premiere criminal defense attorney and lifetime member of the NORML Legal Committee; and Michael Chernis, of Silverman Sclar Shin & Byrne LLP, is a ferocious litigator and advocate on behalf of medical cannabis patients, collectives and physicians.   These attorneys and their firms are donating, and providing at a reduced rate, time and resources to the fight.

Get involved

The Coalition needs patient members to act as plaintiffs as well as continued financial support to fund the lawsuit.  We have raised some money but have not yet reached our target goal and we need help.

Anyone who is interested in serving as a plaintiff or in making a contribution to the cause can contact Ariel Clark, Esq. at Ariel@kuminsommers.com.

Oral Sex, Sodomy Laws and Immoral Prosecutions

Oral Sex, Sodomy Laws and Immoral Prosecutions

In 1988, James Moseley went through a bitter divorce in his home state of Georgia. His estranged wife, Bette Roberts, had accused him of rape in an attempt to secure custody of their two children. At the trial, the jury found the wife’s claim not to be credible and her ex-husband was acquitted. However, when Moseley took the witness stand, as part of his testimony he admitted to performing consensual oral sex on his then wife. In Georgia, sodomy (legally including oral sex among married heterosexual couples) was against the law. The maximum sentence for the “crime” in that state was 20 years in prison. Moseley was given five. He ended up serving 18-months.

Yes, in the land of the free, as a private citizen, going down on your wife was criminalized. And yes, penalized. Not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they rebelled against tyranny.

Moseley wrote a letter to Playboy in 1990: “My life has been virtually destroyed. I have lost everything, including my family. I am now a convicted felon, convicted of a sex crime. As a result, I will not be allowed to visit or have custody of my children. I cannot even be paroled to a Georgia halfway house, since Georgia will not accept convicted sex offenders in its halfway houses. The state will accept convicted murderers in the same halfway houses.”

It’s a story so stupid it sounds like an urban legend. It has an air of like that of the “Vanishing Hitchhiker” because the logic is missing. Why put people in jail for doing something harmless in private?

It’s legislating morality and in Moseley’s case and the many others identical to his – preference. The whole idea of living in a country touted as “free” is to enjoy freedoms. One being what you do privately is your own business and not subjected to the scrutiny of the government.

For sodomy and its proponents this all changed with the decisision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2003 in the case of Lawrence & Garner v. State of Texas. The Court  ruled 6-3 that sodomy laws are unconstitutional.

Reagan appointee, Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent wrote, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” Don’t feel bad for Scalia and his short view of what many consider to be a good time. Feel bad for his wife.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor voted with the majority and wrote, “A law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the state’s moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review.”

One class of persons as criminal solely based on the states moral disapproval? Is that about sodomy or smoking weed? Not that it’s a good idea to do either while driving …

Let’s talk class of people and for argument’s sake, let’s take potheads vs. beer drinkers.

One group can publicly claim they like to get high, do it all the time and have a great time doing it. The other has to feign back pain in order to not be thrown in jail.

Marijuana, being an illegal substance, while booze is taxed and regulated, is legislating morality and also in this case – preference. It’s not that getting buzzed is the issue – tons of mind altering drugs are legal and regulated. In regards to weed, it’s always been the circular logic: it’s illegal so it is therefore immoral.

Illegal is not the same as immoral. Jaywalking is illegal, few would argue it’s immoral. What deregulatory law makers, banks and brokers did to the economy was technically legal – but it was far from being moral.

Sodomy is an activity millions and millions of Americans enjoy without incident, yet it was against the law and prosecuted. Of course, as soon as it was decriminalized there was not an increase in sodomy – there was only a decrease in the prosecution of consensual acts. It didn’t alter morality in any way – it just made it not a punishable offense by authorities.

Indulging in some cannabis is an activity millions and millions of Americans enjoy without incident. Currently, it’s still against the law and prosecuted. Mainly because some hold fast that it’s “a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

What’s immoral and destructive is using the legal system to destroy people’s lives based on preferring the wrong (fun) drug or in Moseley’s case the wrong (fun) carnal act.