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'Everyone's Favorite Felon' -- My mmj interview on "Democrats for Progress"

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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 11:30 AM
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'Everyone's Favorite Felon' -- My mmj interview on "Democrats for Progress"
Edited on Sun Feb-06-11 11:47 AM by Fly by night /

Preface: Good Sunday morning, all y'all. (Go Packers!!) I am posting my in-depth interview with JeffR that was posted last night on "Democrats for Progress" with his/their express consent. Hope you enjoy.

I am so thankful for the opportunity they gave me to discuss in this in-depth way the basis for my beliefs and the directions I think we need to, and can now, go in when it comes to our nation's medical cannabis policy.

I look forward to your comments. I continue to luxuriate in your friendship and support.

Now it's on to the Garden for this once long, long-ago Cheesehead. (McFarland and Menomonee Falls in 1971-72, to be precise. A high school teacher, right out of college.)

Still spreading bags of free leaves as mulch in my blueberries.
Y'all come this spring -- there'll be lots of healthy berries to eat.

Thanks again for everything. FBN

Everyones Favorite Felon: An Interview with Bernie Ellis
By Jeff Rosenzweig, on February 5th, 2011

Convicted felon. What comes to mind when you read those words? Perhaps you immediately visualize a mobster, a Capone, a Gotti. Or maybe a white-collar crook, a Madoff, a Skilling, an Ebbers. Or a murderer, a rapist, a bank robber, a gangbanger.

Bernie Ellis is a convicted felon. His crime was growing medical marijuana for his own use and for the use of four terminally-ill neighbors, a service for which he took no payment.

While he avoided prison time, he received four years of probation (later reduced by half) and spent 18 months confined in a Bureau of Prisons halfway house in Nashville.

He also forfeited 25 acres of his beloved Natchez Trace farm a parcel that netted the government a paltry $35,000 at auction and, effectively, his consulting career (hes a public health epidemiologist).

A piece he contributed last week to the Democrats for Progress Blog fills in more of his astonishing story, and his current efforts to secure a Presidential pardon.

Between meetings with Tennessee legislators and other errands as he prepares his pardon petition, he graciously took the time to give us an interview.

Can you tell us how you began the journey that led to where you are now, and in particular about your role in establishing the Tennessee Department of Health AIDS program?

Helping to establish the Tennessee AIDS program was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.

After earning my MPH from the University of California-Berkeley in 1987, I returned to Tennessee to be the fifth person hired to establish the Tennessee AIDS Program. I was hired to learn where we were and where we were going with regard to the size and scope of the epidemic. My responsibility was to oversee field staff who would identify all AIDS cases in the state and document both the circumstances of their infection and how their disease had progressed.

This active surveillance of AIDS cases involved regular and in-depth interactions with physicians and infection control staff at all Tennessee hospitals, similar working relationships with medical practices that served these patients and trustworthy linkages with at-risk groups, whether actively engaged in fighting the epidemic themselves (the gay community) or fragmented, frightened and hard-to-reach (IV drug users.).

I was fortunate to recruit a first-rate initial team of three field investigators: a three-decade DIS (disease investigation specialist) who was a former Vietnam medic; an RN with relentless energy and laser-light-focus; and an MSW who was well connected and respected in his community and his region. (Within a year, this field staff grew to seven.)

My job was to design and manage their work efforts and to transfer (anonymous) AIDS case information on to CDC to contribute to the national understanding about the disease.

Not two months after I began this work, CDC decided that they needed to accelerate our understanding of the spread of the epidemic beyond late-stage AIDS patients. The federal agency launched a multi-component HIV testing program in 30 cities, focusing on a number of well-defined sub-populations (e.g., childbearing women, sexually transmitted disease and tuberculosis clinic patients, drug users in treatment).

My job expanded to overseeing the conduct of these studies in Memphis, in cooperation with the Memphis-Shelby County Health Department and others. We also obtained CDC support to test every newborn baby in Tennessee by capturing (anonymous) heel-stick blood from samples already submitted for these babies to be screened for an easily treatable metabolic disorder. Once these studies were operational, I was responsible for testing over 120,000 people annually through this research effort.

I could not have asked for a better and more all-consuming challenge. Within a year, Tennessees AIDS case-reporting went up 600% and we were highlighted at a national AIDS conference at CDC as the model AIDS surveillance team in the nation. Likewise, we were the third out of 30 HIV studies cities to set up our studies and begin feeding HIV data to CDC, for which our team was also acknowledged at the national level.

Within a year, 95% of the patients diagnosed with AIDS in Tennessee were being identified, investigated and reported to CDC within 30 days of their initial diagnosis. No other state could even come remotely close to our performance.

How did that experience influence your thinking about medical marijuana and the governments position on it?

In those three years of intensive work to understand and reduce the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I was also undertaking a more personal, and even more confidential, response to AIDS. I began to distribute some of the marijuana that I grew for myself on my farm to small numbers of AIDS patients, in both direct and indirect ways.

Early in 1987, I met an AIDS patient and his partner, a social worker who was working with other AIDS patients, at a weekend gathering at the Farm commune south of me. The patient (who was covered with silver-dollar-sized Kaposis lesions) described both the ravages of the disease and the unrelenting nausea that accompanied some of the toxic drugs being prescribed at that time to fight his many infections.

My new friend also spoke of the relief that cannabis provided to mediate his pain and nausea while he struggled with the disease. I told both of them that I had some extra pot from my small harvest that year and said I would be happy to share with them, at no cost.

Those two became my first conduits to a larger group of AIDS patients who I knew would derive some considerable benefit from what I had grown. Later, that conduit extended to a few nurses and social workers who were serving middle Tennessee AIDS patients. It was easy for me the patients would be helped, my anonymity would be protected by all involved, and the rewards for helping others were meaningful.

For three years, this system allowed me to help perhaps four dozen AIDS patients, some for a few weeks, others for months.

By this time, my own marijuana use had begun to take on medicinal aspects also. After years of full-court basketball and bouncing tractor whiplash, my joints and spine had begun their slow deterioration into a persistent state of pain and stiffness. I noticed that discomfort was eased whenever I used cannabis.

I also found that using cannabis early in the day made falling to sleep at night much easier. Without it, the pressures and distractions of work and the first symptoms of what was later diagnosed as fibromyalgia would keep me up for hours.

As I saw what cannabis was doing for the sickest around me, and what it was beginning to do for me in less dramatic but nonetheless beneficial ways, my own respect for this plant deepened. Somewhere in that time period, growing cannabis became a more purposeful and intentional meditation. I believe that attitude and belief, and the actions they encouraged, stood me in good stead for the next 15 years.

Why do you think your original prosecution was a federal one, rather than a state prosecution that might have given you a better chance to be exonerated?

I have had nine years to think about this. Its still not clear and likely it never will be.

My first attorney (who was replaced quickly by a more competent federal defense attorney) said that, had my case stayed at the state level, it was likely that my positive reputation in the community would have mitigated my punishment.

To be clear, there was do doubt that I was growing cannabis on my farm. From the moment the raid began, I cooperated fully, giving the task force officers permission to search every inch of my farm. I also knew that the larger number of intentionally small plants that I had on the farm that year left me facing the prospect of serious charges.

However, from the very beginning, the task force that raided my farm overstated the number of plants they found and overstated the weight of that evidence. For example, the task force initially reported they had found 127 pounds of marijuana on my farm by counting the wet weight of the entire plants and the dirt on the rootballs of those plants. When we obtained a published report from the DEAs own formula for calculating the usable weight of my cannabis, that amount came to between seven and eight pounds.

In addition, after the task force confiscated my home computer (which contained all my work projects for New Mexico, Wyoming, California, Alabama and other states I was consulting with at the time), they promised to return it in a few days after downloading the hard-drive.

Instead, the federal prosecutor kept my computer for 14 months and refused me access to it to download my work projects. It was almost as if they were trying to destroy my reputation as a public health consultant in ways (and for reasons) that had nothing whatsoever to do with the raid.

Looking back, I expect that I had gotten on the feds radar by being too casual about my own marijuana use. By the mid to late 90s, I was using cannabis daily for symptomatic relief, and I know that on at least three occasions in Wyoming and two occasions when I was speaking at USDOJ conferences, others learned of my cannabis use.

I think it may have irritated some influential officials who heard my presentations when I insisted on separating out marijuana use in my New Mexico and Wyoming studies from other illicit drug use among study participants in reproductive health, adolescent and arrestee studies I was conducting at the time.

I believed that lumping marijuana use with harder drug use made no sense from either an epidemiological or a medical standpoint. Marijuana use is fairly self-limiting, easy to discontinue and comes with few or no negative consequences (other than the real consequences of entrapment into the criminal justice system).

On the other hand, hard drug use cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, hallucinogens, pharmaceuticals all had (and have) very serious health and social order consequences. As public health professionals, we needed to make that distinction. I also felt it was important to be able to contrast marijuana use with alcohol and tobacco use, to compare this relatively benign but illicit substance with those two proven (and legal) killers.

Let me acknowledge that some people do develop a dependence on marijuana that can be challenging to overcome and that can bring negative consequences. However, tobacco use is a much more serious health risk and my own epidemiological research suggests that nicotine addiction is also much more difficult to overcome.

In my study of over 1,000 childbearing age women in Wyoming who were seen in both public and private health clinics, over 90% of the women who had ever smoked tobacco were still using it, over half who had ever used tobacco had been dependent on tobacco at one time, and slightly under half who had ever used tobacco were currently dependent on it. By contrast, around 40% of the women who had ever used marijuana were still using it (and this is probably because we had enrolled a relatively young study population). However, only 8% of the women who had ever used marijuana said that they had ever been dependent on it, and only 4% stated that they were currently dependent on it.

In this study population, among ever users of marijuana and tobacco, current marijuana use declined sharply with age, while current tobacco use did not. This research would suggest that early intervention and treatment would be more beneficial (and necessary) for the young tobacco smoker than for the young marijuana smoker. However, the reverse is true with respect to our current drug control policies.

By the way, over half of our study population was currently pregnant at the time of the study and tobacco use is one of the leading causes of miscarriage and stillbirth. Should we have locked up all of those women who could not stop smoking cigarettes while pregnant, despite their awareness of the health risks to their unborn children, in order to prevent the serious harm that could result from their maintaining their addictions? I certainly would not be in favor of that approach, and would also not be in favor of locking up the current marijuana users in that study population (a risk that all of them faced), though the risks of perinatal marijuana use are not nearly as pronounced.

Getting back to the larger issue of why my farm was raided, I realize now that my own marijuana use was becoming apparent to my colleagues, in the context of evident high-quality and high-quantity work output on my part. That disconnect was a direct challenge to the amotivational stoner stereotype that underpins much of the rhetoric of our failed war on some drugs. I was, after all, in the company of drug worriers who were perhaps made uncomfortable by the fact that my high-level performance was due, in part, to the benefits I was deriving from cannabis use rather than being diminished by it.

Thinking back, I expect it galled some of those drug worriers that my Wyoming work had been highlighted in a USDOJ publication entitled: Wyomings Methamphetamine Initiative The Power of Informed Process. That case report was distributed to 40,000+ criminal justice officials nationwide and highlighted my research work in that state, all of which they knew had been conducted by me under the influence of cannabis.

Once you begin looking for possible explanations for the raid, the list becomes endless.

I was known as a vocal Democratic Party supporter who was distressed with, and vocal about, the election improprieties in 2000.

I had been on the radar of my countys leading drug kingpin (one of our county judges, now deceased) for some time after I brought the FBI and state Attorney Generals office into an investigation of jury tampering in a creek-poisoning case a decade earlier. One of the drug dealers connected to that judge sent someone to try to buy marijuana from me a few days before the raid, and that person was summarily told to leave my farm.(Three days later, the raid occurred.)

With all of this coming together, I agree now with several of my neighbors who said that, for whatever reason, I had been walking around with a target on my back for a while and just didnt know it.

It is important to end this answer where I began it.

To be certain, I placed myself in serious legal jeopardy by growing too many marijuana plants (albeit small ones) on my farm. However, from the beginning, I accepted responsibility for that mistake and, ever since, I have paid for that mistake. I have lost nine years of my life and almost $1 million in foregone income, legal fees and the surrender of 25 acres of my farmland for what the governments own evidence suggests was between seven and eight pounds of usable cannabis.

I truly hope that this pardon process allows President Obama to say I have paid enough.

From what we intend to place before him, I believe that, yes, he can.

Youve described the buyer of the land you were forced to forfeit as resembling G. Gordon Liddy, which is grimly funny. Is there any news update about him? Do you know what his plans for it are?

Some people seem to have more money than sense. GG definitely fits that mold. He bought my land unseen, clueless to its location and isolation. That has not prevented him from posting the land for sale (at a price five times higher than he paid for it, a price that is still less than it is worth.) I doubt seriously that he will find a buyer for it anytime soon.

The land is worth something to those of us who border it, but I cannot buy it back myself (something I was unaware of until I attended the forced sale) and none of my other neighbors have any desire to benefit from my own misfortune.

I hope the land remains unsold but that is unlikely. It does put uncertainty in my life, and the lives of my neighbors who border that land. Unfortunately, we cant do anything about that now.

Politicians, even at the federal level, no longer reflexively have to deny having tried cannabis, or resort to silliness like, I didnt inhale. President Obama has even written candidly about his own past recreational marijuana use, yet his administration at best has sent decidedly mixed signals about its marijuana policy. If you could sit down with the President and discuss the subject of marijuana in general and medical marijuana in particular, what would you say to him?

It would be a great honor to be able to speak with President Obama about these issues.

I would start by referencing the fact that the top 20 highest-vote-getting questions submitted for his recent YouTube event were related to some aspect of our failed drug policy. Those questions came from a broad segment of the American people law enforcement officers, parents, ministers, students, substance abuse treatment professionals, attorneys, teachers, physicians and nurses.

Some major elements of significant drug policy reform are supported by 70% of the American people. That percentage is the typical result in most public opinion polls conducted on the nations support for medical marijuana. Recent polls on that issue have never found less than 60% support and sometimes support has been as high as 80%.

I would say: Think about that for a minute, Mr. President. For medical cannabis to receive that level of support, every person who has ever smoked any marijuana at all would have to support the issue and half of all people who have never used it at all would have to support safe access too. The idea of returning cannabis to the medical pharmacopoeia would not enjoy that level of support if marijuana itself had caused noticeable harm to very many of the people who have ever used it.

Mr. President, the American people know that reefer madness is a myopic disease of self-serving drug war dead-enders and precious few others. The eyes of the American people do not lie. Neither does their sense and awareness of history. We know alcohol prohibition was an abject failure and we wonder why our current drug policies conceived in the same mold continue to be supported today despite parallel evidence of failure.

Why indeed

In President Obamas response to the one drug policy question included in the YouTube event, the President mentioned his desire to expand substance abuse treatment services, a goal that I wholeheartedly endorse. The President also cited the too-common experience of alcoholics and drug addicts having to wait up to six months for a treatment slot in most cities. Respectfully, Mr. President, there is a reason for that.

Too many treatment slots are filled with marijuana users who are caught up in the criminal justice system and who are forced into treatment as one more punitive consequence of that involvement. Recent studies have shown the majority of drug users in treatment are there for marijuana use and because they were forced by the criminal justice system to enroll. Up to one-third of those marijuana patients report having not used any marijuana at all in the month before they entered treatment.

Few serious alcoholics and hard drug addicts who need treatment can abstain on their own from their drugs of choice for a month before treatment. If marijuana users can, perhaps their treatment slot needs to be filled by others whose addictions are real, are serious, are unmanageable and are a risk to themselves and their communities.

If, in our one-on-one discussion, President Obama would allow me to make two more points, I would say this.

We have serious prison overcrowding problems in our country today, Mr. President, with violent offenders being released early to make room for nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences that even their judges have no control over. In recent years, a very large number of the people who entered our prisons were returning to prison because of a probation or parole violation, not a new criminal offense. The majority of those probation/parole violators were remanded for a failed drug test and the majority of those failed drug tests involved marijuana.

The problem with this picture isnt that marijuana use stimulates new criminal behavior (in fact, it probably depresses it). The problem is that marijuana use is a crime and the evidence for use lingers in the blood-streams and fat cells of users for weeks.

That leads me to my last point I would respectfully like to leave with my President, based on my personal experience.

Most credible research on marijuana has debunked the canard that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads inevitably to harder drug use. I have read that research and believe it, with one very critically important exception.

When I was locked up in the federal Bureau of Prisons halfway house, I had many of my homies there who had been involved in the criminal justice system and subject to random drug tests for lengthy periods of time. They told me that they quickly learned that they could get plastered on alcohol or strung out on cocaine, methamphetamine, pills and/or heroin on a Friday night and piss clean on Monday.

However, if they smoked marijuana for recreation or relief on Friday night (which most of them preferred to do), they would piss dirty for two to four weeks. It doesnt take a rocket surgeon to do that math. Marijuana laws lead to hard drug use not marijuana use itself.

Whats the status of your Tennessee Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act? I understand its been recently reintroduced in the state Senate. What happens next and do you have reason for optimism?

We were very heartened by the positive response to our Safe Access bill last year. After years of medical marijuana bills going nowhere in the Tennessee legislature, our Safe Access bill passed out of every relevant House committee last year (including receiving a 20-4 vote in the House Health and Human Resources committee.) We were very pleased.

There were many reasons for that positive response, including the recent policy shifts of the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association to recommend that marijuana be reclassified to facilitate research and patient access.

In addition, the Obama administrations decision to stop prosecuting legitimate medical marijuana programs in the 15 states that now allow it was a policy change that won President Obama much well-deserved praise and seemed to broaden the debate on what was possible here in Tennessee.

That support was also due to our bill being described by many medical marijuana activists nationwide as the most tightly-controlled and, at the same time, the most patient-friendly program ever proposed in the country. When I attended the Fourth International Conference on Cannabinoid Therapy in Providence, RI last April, someone involved in the Netherlands medical cannabis program (where medical cannabis is distributed through pharmacies) called our Safe Access bill the best conceived program he had seen.

Finally, last years support was greatly enhanced by a handful of medical marijuana users in our state, including a disabled Iraq War vet and a 21-year-old rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, outing themselves in the press and coming to Nashville to lobby our legislators one-on-one. As the only physician in our legislature, a small town conservative Republican who initially opposed our bill, said after meeting with the arthritis sufferer for an hour, I cannot deny the reality of that patients experience.

Unfortunately, Tennessee has just undergone another inexplicable sharp shift in control to the Republican party in our state. At this point, Republicans seem more focused on how they can prevent reasonable and affordable health care and safe access to abortion services than they are in applying science, common sense and compassion to the development of a tightly controlled, patient-friendly medical marijuana program here.

In all sincerity, that is a pity because Republicans get cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis too. You just couldnt tell it by the leaders (sic) they have elected (sic). I sincerely hope they prove me wrong this year. If they do, I am ready to go to work.

Youve attempted to avoid what has been perceived as sloppiness in new medical marijuana policy in places like California when you were crafting the proposed Tennessee legislation. Do you think there is any logical confluence between medical marijuana policy and marijuana policy in general, or do the two need to remain discrete issues?

I believe that a well-run and well-regulated medical cannabis program will dispel any lingering reefer madness myths that underpin the continuing prohibition of recreational marijuana.

Likewise, I believe responsible recreational marijuana users are coming to believe that programs that will tax, regulate and control access to recreational marijuana (as we now do with alcohol and tobacco) make sense.

Some people have misunderstood our acknowledgement of the many criticisms that have been leveled at the very laissez-faire California model. I want to be clear here. I am happy that Californians have been able to get unfettered access to medical marijuana for the past decade, even if their principal medical problem was cannabis affinity.

However, I believe that the continued inflated prices that are charged in California and all other legal medical cannabis states are immoral and indefensible. No sick person should have to pay $400-600 an ounce for the relief that cannabis provides.

Our goal in Tennessee is to make high-quality, safe and reliable medical cannabis available for a cost of $60-$75/ounce. That low price would still enrich our farmers and our states coffers (since we propose that 20% of the sale price would be returned to the state, the highest marijuana tax proposed to date), while not gouging patients with prices that are now set on the street.

We are trying to reduce the influence of the street, not perpetuate it.

Many explanations have been posited about the difficulty of changing Americas draconian cannabis policies (the nations supposedly innate conservatism, the outsized influence of Big Pharma, and so on). What do you believe is the biggest obstacle to a more enlightened marijuana policy, especially as it relates to the medical applications of cannabis?

The single biggest obstacle to a more enlightened marijuana policy is the intransigence of upper-level DEA management when it comes to acknowledging the obvious. Pure and simple.

Twice in the past three decades, two separate DEA administrative law judges within that agency after in-depth studies have recommended that marijuana be reclassified from Schedule 1 in the Controlled Substance Act ( a category of drugs considered highly dangerous, highly addictive and without medical benefit) to a more reasonable classification. They both recommended Schedule 2 I would suggest Schedule 4.

Here is what DEA Judge Francis Young had to say on the issue in1988, after two years of in-depth study:

The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.

Judge Young recommended that the DEA Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole had a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there was no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision, and that it could lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II.

Judge Young recommended the DEA transfer marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. In 1988. This was reaffirmed more recently by yet another DEA administrative judge.

Were still waiting.

Both times the senior-level political appointees who ran the DEA have overturned their own DEA judges recommendations. In so doing, they have also ignored the recommendations of every national commission on this issue since the 1930s.

The Obama administration needs to really rethink the continuation of elements of our national drug policy which are intransigent without meaningful positive results and which are nonsensical policies, particularly those policies that apply to medical cannabis.

There are a host of intelligent, credible, informed and compassionate people who are engaged in reducing serious substance abuse in our country. However, the continuation of a stonewall position at the DEA regarding medical cannabis sends a very mixed signal. Those of us who believe in science, common sense and compassion continue to believe that President Obama is precisely the right person at the right time to end this madness.

When the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, National Institute of Medicine, legislators and voters in 15 states and DC (so far), and the vast majority of Americans can get it and can state that we need to get on with it (medical marijuana policy reform), and the DEA still hasnt moved forward, what is wrong with this picture?

Do you think the best avenue to progress on marijuana rights is via the states, federally, or a combination of the two?

If President Obama would demand that the two most recent DEA administrative law judge recommendations be revisited and (finally) enacted to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule 1 and into a more appropriate schedule, we could return cannabis to the medical pharmacopoeia in an orderly and safe fashion literally overnight.

States would still have to enact their own rules and regulations (as they do with alcohol) and some federal agency or agencies (like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) would have to be tasked with overseeing the federal governments role in the process. But all of those details could be worked out in months, if not weeks.

As with everything, there are other avenues, of course, to get where we need to go. But the fastest, easiest and most readily apparent place to begin is to accept the conclusions of DEA Judge Francis Young. Once again, Judge Young made that conclusion in 1988.

President Obama, Judge Young was right then. He is still right.

New research on the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of marijuana seems to be announced every few months. Are there any recent announcements you find especially promising?

There are three that I will mention here that are particularly meaningful:

First, research has shown that components in cannabis not only reduce nausea and pain in cancer patients and increase their appetites but they may also play a powerful role in preventing cancer from occurring in the first place and serve as a powerful chemotherapeutic agent to reduce and eliminate cancer once it develops.

The recent large-scale case-control studies of Tashkin et al at UCLA and Kelsey et al at Brown University have shown that using cannabis not only does not cause head, neck and lung cancers, but that its use appears to reduce the risk of these cancers, even among people who concurrently smoke tobacco.

This research finding caused Dr. Tashkin (once a major voice for marijuana prohibition) to reverse his position completely and favor marijuana legalization now.

In addition, research from Spain, Israel and other countries have shown that cannabinoids exert a powerful chemotherapeutic effect in killing cancer cells in at least six major cancer cell types, including gliomas, a virulent type of brain cancer that has resisted successful treatment to date.

Unfortunately, these and similar research findings from as far back as the Medical College of Virginias research that came to the same conclusions in the mid-1970s, has been suppressed. That suppression cannot be allowed to stand for much longer.

Second, in addition to providing symptomatic relief for degenerative nerve diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers disease and Lou Gehrigs disease and for auto-immune diseases like arthritis, recent research has demonstrated that cannabis use may successfully retard the progression of these diseases.

I would recommend two major sources for up-to-date information on this research: the proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Cannabinoid Therapy and a recent update of the impact of cannabis and cannabinoids for treating 19 major diseases available from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Third, I am also very excited by emerging research (conducted through surveys of medical marijuana patients in California and other states) that cannabis is being used frequently as an exit drug in helping alcoholics and hard drug addicts to abstain from other, more deadly addictions.

This research finding validates anecdotal reports of thousands of people recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, it reflects the research findings of large-scale studies of opiate addicts funded by our federal government every decade for the past half-century (studies which did not count marijuana use as a relapse for opiate addicts, though you had to read the very fine print in buried footnotes in those studies to learn that fact), and they parallel the recommendations of the Womens Christian Temperance Union in the last century who suggested that wives find hashish to wean their husbands off alcohol.

How is your health these days?

Anyone who knew me before and after my troubles knows that I have aged 20 years in the past nine. Some of this is due to unrelenting stress, which was a constant in my life for seven years, with vestiges remaining now.

Some of it is due to the rapid deterioration of my hips and spine, influenced in part by not being able to use cannabis for symptomatic relief and (as recent research has shown) to slow the progression of the disease.

And some of it is due to my no longer being able to afford access to either medical or dental care, since I have remained essentially unemployable in my field.

Fortunately I found a free medical clinic last year and am receiving excellent care from a physician there who has me on blood pressure medication for the first time in my life. She also arranged a much-needed total left hip replacement for me as a charity patient at a Nashville hospital. The rehabilitation on that hip has been slow but steady; but I am told the right hip may also need replacement in the near future.

My dentist provided free care for several years but I am embarrassed to keep asking for that care so I have stopped going. Right now, I have four teeth with major problems that have not gotten attention (and need to).

Other than all that Im in good health.

The story of your travails is heart-wrenching, but one of your own comments about it I have learned (and re-learned, one day at a time) that keeping an attitude of gratitude is the best way to face everything and recover. is a wonderfully uplifting message. How do you maintain this in spite of the injustice youve endured?

That life-saving philosophy is shared by many and was passed on to me by the millions of people who have successfully overcome alcoholism and drug addiction through the practice of what is known as the 12-step recovery movement. This past Tuesday (appropriately, on Groundhogs Day), I celebrated 17 years of continuous freedom from alcohol with a large group of sober friends here in middle Tennessee, friends who are well aware of my medical cannabis conviction and activism but who celebrated with me nonetheless. Through them and with them, I have learned that I am protected and loved and supported every step of the way by friends and by my own Higher Power, who I choose to call (and who is) Mother Nature, the life force or the Great Mystery. Those are potent and ever-present allies and they help keep me sane every day.

Besides, in my decade of troubles, I have learned that nothing upsets the farces of evil more than to remain calm, collected and comfortable in my own skin.

I have tried to live my life by staying sober, helping others and doing the next right thing. I do not regret my past life as I have been privileged (challenged) to live it. Even now, I do not wish to shut the door on it even the pain, sadness and loss of the past decade.

If I am fortunate to receive a Presidential pardon, I might be able to return to the life that I was privileged to live before my trouble, to once again be a trusted servant for people and communities in need of a truth-teller, a hard worker and a friend. Very soon, that will be in President Obamas hands that and a half-bushel basket of letters of support.

Unlike any President in the past 30 years, I trust President Obama absolutely to do the next right thing. Until he does, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will keep smiling and I will keep working for science, common sense and compassion in the conduct of our public policies around medical cannabis.

If nothing else, I have learned that those behaviors continue to drive the drug worriers crazy. Thats not a bad side-effect of medical cannabis it is one of its many benefits.

With all that youve gone through, do you despair that real progress will ever be made on the issue of medical marijuana?

Absolutely not.

Despite what Ive gone through, and what 800,000+ other American who are arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses go through, we will overcome. When it comes to medical cannabis policy, its no longer just that the emperor wears no clothes. On this issue, our policies are dead-wrong, and there is nothing amusing about that.

But I take heart because I know the majority of the American people are in the right on this issue.

A wise man (St. Augustine) once said, An unjust law is no law at all. Another wise man (JFK) once said, One man can make a difference. Everyone should try. A group of wise men (the Hopi elders) once said, We are the ones weve been waiting for. Finally, one of our wisest, bravest and most compassionate role-models (Martin Luther King) told us: We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now We must move past indecision to action.

I believe all those wise men, and try to live my life and pursue a change in our drug policies with their words in mind. To do otherwise would be to ignore the evident need for change that is all around us. My eyes do not lie, and neither do the eyes of the American people.

At least 20% more Americans support safe access to medical marijuana than now support the person that I strongly support as the leader of the free (someday) world, President Obama. I believe my President when he says that real science should influence our policy decisions. I sincerely believe he agrees with me that common sense and compassion should also be in that policy-influencing mix.

I believe that President Obama is one of the most skilled and talented political minds we have been graced with in this country in recent years. I also believe he would increase his favorable polling by 5-10%+ if he signaled a major shift in medical marijuana policy.

He could do that in decisive brush-strokes (by reversing current DEA policy re: medical marijuana) or in more subtle ways, by granting my petition for a Presidential pardon, and the petitions of the thousands like me who have been punished for a crime that involves seeking personal relief and providing respite to sick and dying neighbors.

All I can do right now to help facilitate that process is to put the facts of my case and the support for me that is coming from all corners of this country, from the hundreds of people who know me, on the Presidents desk. At that moment, the ball will be in the Presidents court.

The President has demonstrated to me that he knows his way around a ball court and that he knows what to do with a ball when it is in his hands. My petition for a pardon is just one lowly assist on the way to the victory we all seek a much-needed change in our governments policies toward cannabis, a change that is long overdue.

When do you anticipate a decision about the pardon? Will you let us know what happens?

I am unsure how long the review process takes. My goal is to have a completed application, with all support letters, ready to ship to the US Department of Justice around March 1. I am unsure of their process and their timetable, and I know we will be submitting them potentially more follow-up that might help to delay a response.

We will remain hopeful and trust that President Obama will have a chance to weigh in. I am one American (of many) who would be happy to start paying taxes again, and this pardon is directly tied to that. I hope that truth is viewed as another micro-level stimulus plan on the road to (finally) exhaling in this war on some drugs.

As soon as I hear a decision, you will either hear me shouting from the roof-tops or youll get an email.

Either way, I am thankful for the process and the leader in whose hands I will soon be entrusting my fate. Yes we can, Mr. President. Yes we can come to our senses.
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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 11:45 AM
Response to Original message
1. One self-kick and to the Garden
Bart Starr was my hero.
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immoderate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 01:24 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. But Paul Hornung was a more "accessible" role model.
Edited on Sun Feb-06-11 01:28 PM by immoderate
Paul and Frank Gifford were the "pretty boys" of football in those days.


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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 12:11 PM
Response to Original message
2. Here's a link to the letter-writing campaign started here last week.

I've already gotten my first two letters from DUers -- that feels great.

Thanks again.
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Ghost in the Machine Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 01:06 PM
Response to Original message
3. This should be a bumper sticker and t-shirt
"Marijuana laws lead to hard drug use not marijuana use itself."

I need to install my paintshop pro on this new computer anyways... would it be ok if I used that, along with a graphic, and see what I come up with?




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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 03:48 PM
Response to Reply #3
8. Go for it -- I'd like one of the first ones (signed, of course)
We are the ones ....
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JeffR Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 02:51 PM
Response to Original message
5. K & R
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bleever Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 02:54 PM
Response to Original message
6. Another kick.
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nofurylike Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 03:31 PM
Response to Original message
7. outstanding! you've got a way with words, Fly by night!! best of

i'll be supporting you in any ways i can!

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DemReadingDU Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 08:16 PM
Response to Original message
9. Fascinating interview

Thank you for sharing. You are always doing good by helping others.
I hope Obama grants you a Presidential pardon.

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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-07-11 07:40 AM
Response to Reply #9
11. Thanks kindly. I hope so too.
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Melissa G Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-06-11 08:28 PM
Response to Original message
10. Kickin' for Fly n/t
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SidDithers Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-07-11 07:56 AM
Response to Original message
12. K&R...nt
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