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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Unintended Consequences

I have been a medical cannabis activist now since 2006. I have watched as this nation has continued to waste money on treating addiction as a crime. However, I believe we are about to see a sea change in how America deals with addiction.
The Harrison Narcotics Act was passed over one hundred years ago. Does anyone in this nation still believe treating addiction as a crime has moved the needle towards solving our addition problem even one point on the scale? The current Director of ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) Michael Botticelli does not.
During his 60 Minutes interview he hit all the high notes for me. He spoke eloquently about the need to concentrate on treatment & harm reduction. He said he personally was able to admit to being gay before admitting to himself that he is an alcoholic. Having a Director of ONDCP with 27 years sobriety made me hopeful we finally had a person in that position that got it. Then he made the statement that 1 in 9 people who try cannabis become addicted. In one instance, he went from someone who understands the problem to someone spreading William Randolph Hearst & Harry Anslinger’s lies.
Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim (D) MD. Dist. 11 is famous for saying “it’s time we get the sick and dying off the battlefield of the failed drug war.” I go even farther than that. It is time we recognize we traded a War on Poverty for a War on Drugs.
Maryland has an affirmative defense law which states, so long as I possess less than 28 grams and I can prove medicinal necessity I am to be found not guilty. For logistical reasons I sat at the table next to Sen. President Mike Miller when Gov. Martin O’Malley signed that right into law.
Now the DEA in contrast to ONDCP Director Botticelli’s point of view, comes along telling my doctor, that a drug I have been taking more off than on since it was introduced in 1995 I can’t have because I use cannabis. I was first prescribed Ultram (Tramadol) to battle arthritic pain because it was a non-NSAID arthritis medicine. My battle with osteoarthritis is caused in part by polio and the changes it caused to my muscular/skeletal system. They began when I was nineteen years old. On August 18, 2014, the DEA rescheduled Ultram making it a Schedule IV narcotic. This creates a serious conflict that Congress needs to address and not with the same Hearts/Anslinger arguments, they usually use.
Ultram is a pain reliever that is similar to Tylenol #3 but does not contain codeine. While chemically similar to codeine, as it is an opioid however until its rescheduling it was not considered a narcotic. Until the date above this is what the Harvard Health Guide had to say about Tramadol & osteoarthritis, “Other pain medications, such as Tramadol (Ultram) or codeine-type medicines, may be prescribed if the other medicines don't work.” As of August of last year, I lost that option. Ask yourself this, have you seen even one story about the illegal trafficking of Tramadol?
When you have health problems, you occasionally develop relationships that go farther than doctor/patient or pharmacist/customer. In fact, one of those relationships has been with one of the many pharmacists I’ve had over the years. I was discussing the issue of cannabis as medicine with one and they told me this. They believe that if cannabis were to be run through the standard FDA protocol testing it would fly through and be one of the safest most effective drugs available to physicians. Naturally being a writer, I asked if I could have an attributed quote. They told me “I’d love to be able to but my saying that could cause many more people than me, if not trouble, great inconvenience in the form of extensive audits.” I get that. I don’t want a Dr. William Crittenden dolling out OxyContin hundreds of pills at a time from the shopping center down the street. However, the rescheduling of Ultram now makes me subject to urinalysis before it can be prescribed to me on a long-term basis.
Add to this conflict in law, primary care doctors who fear the DEA looking into their prescribing practices, which causes them to decline to treat chronic pain patients. For this reason, they would rather refer them to Pain Management Specialist. Here’s the problem, because of that legal medicinal cannabis users no longer have access to a wide range of pain medicines. Pain Management Specialists are required to test for THC. If you test positive for THC, they cannot treat you with Schedule IV medicines. Even though it is perfectly legal for them to use cannabis in the manner, I have been doing so since May 10, 2011, or whenever Maryland SB 308 went into effect.
All this conflict in the law is because two conservatives roughly eighty years ago told a lie. The safety of cannabis is as much of a fact as evolution and climate change. The problem is, as with those issues, science doesn’t enter into the thinking of those who oppose it, just the irrational fear created by a lie.
Bob Twillman, Executive Director for the American Academy of Pain Management said even they recognize the efficacy of cannabis but have yet to take a formal position as to how to address this conflict. They are planning to issue a position on it in the future.
I spoke to two members of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC). It was obvious the MMCC appreciates the gravity of the issue and its implications for the sick and dying whom they are trying to help by implementing the state’s medical cannabis program. Nevertheless, I also believe they can’t be perceived as advocating for positions that might complicate their ability to operate within the political construct that has created this dilemma.
A good opinion-education article should offer a solution. Dr. Morhaim explained that despite the DEA regulations any doctor could prescribe pain medicines so long as it is justified in the patient’s chart. I think Dr. William Tham a physiatrist and pain manager from Annapolis may have hit on a solution. I contacted Dr. Tham because I had heard him testify before the Anne Arundel County Council. In his testimony, he informed the Council members that use of cannabis in conjunction with opioids actually reduces not just the chances of becoming addicted to a drug like Vicodin. It could also help reduce the amount of opioids the patient needs to achieve the relief they seek.

The solution is really so simple. Continue to test for heroin, cocaine, meth amphetamine and other extremely dangerous street drugs but stop testing for the presence of THC as delta 9 THC does not negatively interact with opioids. Like with climate change it is time for lawmakers to start listening to the scientists and doctors that fully understand cannabis and not those beholding to the pharmaceutical industry or Anheuser-Busch. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Phone Banking Sunday

Well, the Iowa caucus are a little more than 24 hours away. I encourage everyone that is supporting Sen. Sanders, to go to this web page: http://map.berniesanders.com/ Find a phone banking party near you and make those calls. It is time to ratcheted it up. Revolution does not happen without "U". It's great to Feel The Bern now it's time to set Iowa ablaze with supporters who truly want to take back our country, not from liberals & progressives but from the billionaire class. The billionaires are trying to turn our representative democratic republic into an oligarchy protecting their immense wealth. Only "We The People" can stop them.

More coming soon.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Practical Politics


Oops found one more and to be truthful didn't proof it well. It is a more expansive telling of an earlier post from today that I began last month and forgot about. Writers can be scatterbrains. 

On November 10th of this year I attended a seminar host by Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where he teaches. Dr. Morhaim is also a member of the House of Delegates where he is Deputy Majority Leader. For those of you not totally familiar with how a legislator works. This means Del, Morhaim is very good at convincing his fellow delegates to vote a certain way. If that is not enough Dr. Morhaim still spends time practicing his medical speciality which is the particularly difficult practice of Emergency Medicine. You know, real ER not George Clooney ER.

Unfortunately I missed the first in the series of three seminars which were a part of Dr. Morhaim's course, Practical Politics, Policy and Public Health. That seminar was titled "Health Care Policy from the Inside: When elected representatives are also health care providers" I wish I could say more one this one but I didn't learn of the series until it got to the second one.

The second was titled, "The War on Drugs, or the War on People: Kurt Schmoke and Neill Franklin." This one for obvious reasons grabbed my attention, for it was Ethan Nadlemann who help to convince Mayor Kurt Schmoke to famously coming out in favor of treating our drug problem as a health problem as opposed to treating it as a criminal justice problem.

Former Mayor Schmoke, and the current President of the University of Baltimore & I have something in common. It was nine years ago this month that I heard Ethan speak at coincentally another Hopkins campus, Hopkins Bayview. Afterwhich I had the chance to briefly talk to Ethan. He quickly grabbed his represesentative driving an upcoming medical marijuana bill, Naomi Long.

Over the next six weeks Naomi teamed up with Caren Woodson then with Americans for Safe Access to double team me and convince me to be the first patient to testify in favor of a medical marijuana bill in Maryland.

The reality is that I had come to same decision probably around the same time as Mayor Schmoke. I met Neill through another LEAP member Howard Wooldridge. Both men made the argument that readers of Casey's Dream generally agree with. The War on Drugs not only is lost it should never have begun. I specially asked Mayor Schmoke a question who while he answered point out the fact the he & I were both older than most in the audience. The question was why did we trade a War on Poverty that was working for a War on Drugs which was destined to to fail.

In a word his answer was, Vietnam. Mayor Schmoke only being four years older than me remembers the violence of the year 1968. Besides the racial riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. our college campuses were hot beds of unrest. The Battle of Morningside Heights at Columbia came on the heals of getting the cities back under control. Nixon rode into office on a platform of law & order with a secret plan to end Vietnam. As we know that secret plan took until two hundred sixty four days after Richard Nixon had resigned rather than be convicted of high crimes & misdemeanors by the United States Senate. His impeachment was just votes away. 

As for his law & order plan well that was to scrap as much of the War on Poverty he could get away with and begin a massive war on drugs. You know if he had made it a massive war on drug addiction he might have saved his reputation some. That's all history.

Kurt & Neill both spoke some of the history and a lot about the progress that has been made and the changes coming due to changing of attitudes as demographics naturally morph.

The third in the seminar about lobbying was titled "The Lobbyist Panel: Insiders Share Their Secrets" In a way this could have been called the networking seminar. The lobbyist spoke of the importance of knowing about those who you wish to influence.

The spoke of the changes they had seen over the years. Deals over drinks at Harry Brown's are for the most part gone. No one wants to risk having a cellphone picture of them schmoozing with a dreaded lobbyist. 

One of the last lesson they taught I quickly went  out and violated. Don't get pissed off - later I would learn from a lobbyist - they all lose their cool sometimes. If you lose your cool you better figure out how to mend that fence. 

In Polio News There Is This

This is the last of three posts to Casey's Dream today. I'm catching up while sitting by the phone to conduct an interview. This one is especially important because it highlights one very important fact. Drs. Salk & Sabin did not eradicate polio. They did however give us the mean to do so. The UN and Rotary International are pushing hard to make that a reality.

Here's the latest on that front. When I was a child I got polio. It is why I need medical cannabis today and work to make sure it is available to all Americans. To help others, as children, we all knocked on doors for March of Dimes. We almost eradicated the disease but the country (and March of Dimes) lost interest in us. At least people like actress Amanda Peet haven't; she sent me an email to this campaign: http://www.unfoundation.org/blog/polio-one-down-three-to-go.html

How I Spent Black Friday

On Black Friday I got a call from David Collins of WBAL TV news department. Basically he called and said it was a slow news day and he had an idea for a story and could he come over. He made it very clear if something big broke news wise we'd be the first to get bumped. Despite the late breaking story of the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs the story aired. 

During the interview I had the opportunity to praise the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and also point out the conflict that still exists between state & federal law. Here's the link: http://www.wbaltv.com/politics/interest-high-in-marylands-medical-marijuana/36686542

Continuing Education for Activists

Even political activists need to continue their educations. While this is, not what Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim calls his recent seminars they did provide an opportunity to do just that. Last month I attended a lecture by former Mayor Kurt Schmoke & Neill Franklin from LEAP. In attendance with me was my son. He enjoyed the experience so much we went back for the third lecture in this series. It is a part of Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim's course called "Practical Politics" (if I'm reading my chicken scratch notes correctly that is.) 

The next lecture was on lobbying. To me that used to be a bad word - lobbying. However, you can't talk about practical politics without discussing the role of lobbyists. Here's an important distinction there are differences between lobbyists. Here's another salient point about lobbying - we can all do it - it's this new thing called The Internet. It gives you a direct line to every elected official in your life. For instance, I sent an email to Del. Morhaim's office to see if there were videos of the lecture series. Unfortunately the answer was no.

One thing I learned is in the early 1900’s, the Chief of Police of Berkley, Ca. August Vollmer spoke out against the whole idea of making drugs illegal. This was before most drugs were illegal and prior to many even being invented.

 The Harrison Narcotics Act was over one hundred years ago. Yet we still tend to talk about it as if this problem suddenly popped up under Dick Nixon. It didn't we have been mistakenly treating the mental illness that is addiction as a crime far longer than that.

In reality treating addiction as a character flaw at the least or a crime at the most, goes back to the days Carrie Nation & the not so Rev. Billy Sunday. They were leading voices in the temperance movement, which led to the passage of the Volstead Act. This is commonly referred to The 18th Amendment. 

When America woke up to the fallacy of alcohol prohibition there was the father of "Yellow Journalism" William Randolph Hearst and his lying buddy Harry Anslinger ready to go after all the other intoxicants in society.

Kurt & Neill both spoke about how certain ideas on this matter were thought to be reckless and weak on crime but in the end had huge benefits to society. One idea that I worked on a panel of activists about is generally referred to as simply, treatment not jail. This expanded to ideas such as needle exchange and Good Samaritan laws.

Needle exchange drastically changed the trajectory of AIDS. Once we began allowing IV drug users to get clean needles so they would stop sharing needles that were carrying the HIV virus in the tiny bit of blood left on the syringe, HIV infections dropped.

Good Samaritan laws mean you can call 911 for someone who has overdosed without fear of being arrested for possessing the drugs. This led to EMT's carrying Narcan (Naloxone) which has led to parents being able to obtain it without prescriptions so in case they once again find their child unconscious from a heroin overdose they can save that child rather than bury them.

The second seminar on lobbying I'm going to skip going into for now. The reason being is that I am taking what I learned in that seminar and applying it to a new issue. However, there is one thing that cannot be said enough about lobbying. We are all lobbyists. If you have a phone or a computer, you have a lawmaker at your fingertips. More later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dems School GOP on Debating

It's the morning after a political debate for POTUS. As is always the case the TV is full of people declaring who won & who lost. My take on who won is America won. The Democrats showed the country what a political debate looks like. They kept to the issues.

Who else won - Sen Bernie Sanders. This goes against a lot of what other opinion writers think. They are saying Hillary won. I say Sec. Clinton met expectations as I thought she would. I wrote recently in the Afro-American Newspaper that I think Sec. Clinton would make a good president and I'd have no problem voting for her. However, I believe Sen. Sanders would make a great president.

On to the issues, let us begin with the issue of guns. Sec. Clinton & Gov. O'Malley went after Sen. Sanders over his position on guns. Sec. Clinton pointed out that Sanders voted five times against the Brady Bill - this is true. However, the Brady Bill was much more about arbitrary waiting periods that Sen. Sanders wanted to leave to the states. His positions on background checks and an assault weapons ban has earned him a D- from the NRA.

The other issue was the gun manufacturer's liability bill. Taking Sen. Sanders at his word, that under this law anyone using a gun in the fashion it was designed for, the victim of the crime can sue the gun manufacturers. NO. That is like saying, a guy gets in his Corvette drives at 100 mph along a highway, wrecks and kills an entire family. Under the precedent set by this law, the victims could sue Chevy for building a car that can go 100 mph and create such carnage. That would be a mistake. [I think it should be illegal to drive these cars on public roadways. Personally I wish car makers would stop worrying about how much horsepower they can get and still meet mileage and emission standards.]

My take-away on Gov. O'Malley's point about the bullets. It is a tragedy that some lawyer convinced a couple that they could sue the seller of bullets to James Holmes, apparently without warning them if they lose they have to pay the legal bills of the defendant. I don't think any ammo should be sold without proof they have passed a background check. However, no votes of Sen. Sanders had affect on this tragedy.

Secondly Gov. O'Malley says that it's not a rural issue because he passed a good gun control bill. Challenging Sen. Sanders, "Have you ever been to the Eastern Shore?" without mentioning how the vote broke down. Yes we passed his law but it failed in the most rural counties. Maryland is only controlled by Democrats because of Prince Georges County, Montgomery County, and parts of the metro counties surrounding Baltimore City. Don't forget Maryland isn't just O'Malley, Mikulski & Cardin - we also gave the US Congress Rep. Andy Harris.

Moving thru some other topics, on foreign affairs. There were two Dem Hawks on the dais Jim Webb & Hillary Clinton. Sen Sanders made it clear he has voted for military force but only when he felt it was justified as in Kosovo & Afghanistan.

On trade we got our one true flip-flop that being Sec. Clinton's position on TPP. She gets a "say what" on Keystone XL in that it has been an issue now for years and it wasn't until 3 weeks ago that she finally came out against it - guess her super pac got some environmental money.

After this debate I predict that Lincoln Chaffee & Jim Webb will be gone before Thanksgiving. Their records aren't presidential and their ability to speak to the nation was on display last night - they have none.

Democrats vs. Republicans when it comes to debates equals night & day. Full disclosure the parts of the GOP debates I've seen are clips - I would rather watch reruns of Sylvia Scott's Woman's Angle [http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2005-11-02/news/0511020088_1_sylvia-scott-miss-scott-angle] than waste a minute of my time watching politicians I will NEVER vote for.

That said the reviews from the two GOP debates were about how they tore each other apart, defended their disastrous foreign & economic policies and insulted anyone who is not a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). To the contrary the Dems, defended each other as in Bernie's remark that he was sick of talking about Clinton's email or O'Malley defending Sanders' position on Glass-Steagall. Other than that they stuck to making points that show how they differ from the other contenders while all the while making sure the audience knew they are first & foremost Democrats.

Most of these comments have to do with the three in the middle because again Webb & Chaffee were only there because after the GOP had to have a two tier system of debates and Dems needed to look like they had more than three Democrats who believe in themselves to the point of running for POTUS. This is not true there are 18 declared candidates for the Democratic Presidential Candidate. I just looked over the list - most of these men I have never even heard of. However, in the only thing Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did right concerning debates she didn't invite the other 13 declared candidates. Of course she also un-invited a deputy chair of the party because she agrees with the candidates which goes against her party's chairperson's position. To Debbie Wasserman-Schultz - More debates!!