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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Finally Maryland is 21st MMJ state



This week Maryland passed a workable medical marijuana law. Hallelujah. This is the culmination of years of work by a variety of legislators and activists. The first person who needs recognition is Del. Don Murphy (R) Dist. 12A. Don started this ball rolling when he managed to get the Darrell Putnam Compassionate Use Act passed. Along with Don we need to acknowledge Darrell Putnam’s roll as well as his friends and family for their part.
Next to pick up the ball and run with it were Del. Nathaniel Oaks (D) Dist. 41 and Sen. Lisa Gladden (D) Dist. 41 in 2007. This is when I got involved. It unfortunately died in committee despite strong support for the bill. This is also when a variety of pro medical marijuana groups joined the fight, seeing that Maryland was ready for medical marijuana; it just needed a little push.
Following a couple of years of inaction Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim joined the fight. I still remember that first year and how frustrated I was when we didn’t get anything passed. I told my delegate Del. Jimmy Malone (D) Dist. 12A about my frustration and he told me that Del. Morhaim is like a dog that won’t let go of the bone when he’s passionate about something. How true that turned out to be. Thru fits and starts, and a lot of give and take Del. Morhaim this year formed an alliance with Del. Cheryl Glenn (D) Dist. 45. This proved to be the winning combination.
I cannot leave out the tenacious work of two senators, Sen. Lisa Gladden (D) Dist. 41 and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D) Dist. 20. Sen. Gladden in her role as vice-chairman of the powerful Judicial Proceedings committee always made sure we at least got a fair hearing. Sen. Raskin, because it was he that fought each year to include what is still missing from the law passed this year, the right to grow our own medicine. Both senators however have been staunch allies in the fight for a workable medical marijuana law.
Next I want to acknowledge the work of the patients. While I may have been the first it would never have gotten done if over the years I hadn’t been join by dozens of other patients in the years that followed my first testimony. After all, this issue is about sick people. People much sicker than I have made the trek to Annapolis to join me and stand before one committee after another to say, “I’m sick. Marijuana helps me; it is effective medicine.” Their stories tipped the scales. It is to them that the credit goes to. Del. Morhaim may have tried to pass a medical marijuana bill but if not for the brave patients putting a face to the issue I do not believe he could have succeeded in such a short period of time.
Lastly I want to acknowledge “The Fourth Estate.” Our local press has been nothing but supportive thru this whole process. I have watched and listen as newspapers, radio stations and television stations interviewed patients and activists, Not once did I hear a reporter ask a “gotcha” question. It is they that helped get our stories in front of our fellow Marylanders. After which my fellow citizens let their senators and delegates know that they support the patients.
At times this has seemed like a long and impossible journey. It has only been due to the support of my family, friends and neighbors that I personally found the strength to keep going. The patients who traveled to Annapolis in the bitter cold of Januarys and Februarys, the wind and rain of March and April have said the same thing. It is they who now get to breathe a sigh of relief. Congratulations to them all for making Maryland the 21st state to pass a workable medical marijuana law.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

2014 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference



Beginning Friday evening activists from around the country began to gather at The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. The conference will continue thru Monday, April 7th. The event was hosted by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and its leader Steph Sherer. I want to thank Hunter Holliman of ASA and my friend Ken Kopper for getting me into the conference yesterday.
Boy you do what you can to press for change and you feel pretty good about yourself. Then you attend a conference like this and you realize you’re a bit of a slacker. Obviously not that’s not true but considering all that the other attendees did and spent to get here, you see others are doing so much more. They should all be commended for their commitment.
One high point of the day was getting to meet Teri Robnet (RxMaryJane) from Colorado. She’s one of my favorite posters on Facebook but more important are the hours she has spent pushing for reform in Colorado. Followers of my Facebook page will know her posts and videos. Recently she has been pushing hard to educate the Colorado legislature that just because you have 5 nanograms of THC in your system it doesn’t mean you’re driving stoned.
Recently I got the chance to use some of what RxMaryJane has taught me on this subject when talking with a small town chief of police. His panel at a recent hearing showed some really stoned people at Hempfest talking about driving high. First I pointed out that as a theatre producer (in a past life) I could have shot that same video on the same day and he would have come away thinking only doctors, lawyers and clergy were there. Secondly I told him right now if he tested my urine I would definitely bust that limit. I’m overweight and because of that THC will stay in my system much longer than when I was a young man barely able to tip the scales over a 130lbs. Even he understood that an arbitrary limit based on THC levels was probably unreasonable but he as a law enforcement officer still wants some way to quantify how impaired a driver is and how long that impairment lasts to keep our roads safe.
The Saturday session began with an opening speech from Jim Tozzi, Ph.D. which among other things dealt with the future regulation of the medical cannabis industry. His idea is to follow the insurance industry model. While federal law has certain requirements when it comes to insurance it leaves the day to day regulating up to the states. To simplify this idea Congress can pass a law that simply legalizes the medicinal use of cannabis but leave regulation up to the individual states. Great idea.
The next panel dealt with link to medicinal cannabis and other herbal medicines. The highlight of this panel was getting to hear Dr. Lyle Craker, P.D. of UMass Amherst speak. Dr. Craker for those who do not know is the professor who continues to petition the government for permits to grow his own marijuana to use in his future studies. I got to interview Dr. Craker when writing an op-ed that ran a few years ago. Most notably in his case is there was a DEA administrative law hearing that said the DEA needed to let Dr. Craker have his permit. However, Michelle Leonhart, then a Deputy but now Director of the DEA refused to issue the permit in defiance of that ruling. Last year the US First Dist. Ct. of Appeals sided with Leonhart & the DEA.
Overall this panel had a lot to teach about the various other plants that are used in the growing herbal medicine industry. Even some of those plants have myths and facts that need clarifying. The thrust of this panel was to say we should look at the models government has when regulating Ginseng and other herbal medicines and apply them to the cultivation of cannabis.
My favorite presentation dealt with looking to change regulations from being based on a per plant model like New Mexico’s 150 plant limit for large cultivations to a square footage model sometimes called a canopy model. This presenter (I apologize that I didn’t write down the presenter’s name) suggested that we need to stop using the word cultivation and replace it with farming. For what we want in the future is a system that allows for outdoor grows to reduce our industries carbon foot print.
Also their plan should help limit what are called trespass grows. Trespass grows as you may know is the term for those destructive grows on our public lands. These illegal grows have been in the news a lot in recent years. Readers of Casey’s Dream may remember “Glorifying the War on Drugs” which ran on March 22, 2012: http://caseysdream.blogspot.com/2012/03/glorifying-war-on-drugs.html. The point that was made was if we allowed legal outdoor grows the number of these trespass grows should decrease.
One thing that impressed me with this panel was listening to them refer to cannabis production as farming and their exact facts & figures pertaining to acreage and yield of a crop that is still illegal under federal law. What they demonstrated and very strongly, are that when Congress wakes up and join the 21st century our farmers are ready to rock & roll.
With the right regulations under legalization we can use some of the tax money collected to return to those public lands and clean up the mess left behind by the illegal growers. As it is now when the DEA raids these grows all they do is get rid of the cannabis. The rest of the mess, the illegal fertilizers, creek diverters and all sorts of other trash is left right where they find it. What we want is to be a responsible industry and to demonstrate this we would go back reclaim those public lands. If we don’t the growers just return for the next growing season.
After lunch I missed part of the State of the States panel. But what I did learn was that New Mexico’s program is improving despite a combative administration in Santa Fe. They have increased the number of qualifying conditions to 17, still too few. Large grows can have 150 plants but heavily regulated. Plus the supply is being kept artificially short to prevent diversion. This obviously leads to patients not able to get their medicine.
Personal cultivation does have reasonable if not generous limits. You are allowed to have 16 plants four of which can be at the flowering stage. Compare this to the proposals Maryland has try to adopt which would allow for only 10 plants and 2 oz. of prepared ready to use cannabis.
Colorado has been seeing a slight uptick in medical marijuana registration after an initial drop off. Some people let their cards lapse when the recreational marijuana law passed. However what they are finding is that if you go thru the medicinal program your cannabis is cheaper. This is most starkly demonstrated when shopping in a dual use store. Colorado has three types of retail stores for cannabis, medical, recreational, and dual use. When one shops in a dual use store they quickly realize that the medicinal side has more strains to choose from and the added benefit of not having to pay the high taxes imposed on recreational marijuana.
My fellow rabble rouser from Maryland, Eric Sterling gave the report on medical marijuana here at home. I felt sorry for Eric since he couldn’t give the most up to date report as the General Assembly was still voting this year’s marijuana reform bills.
Eric told the attendees the tale of the Darrell Putnam Compassionate Use Act and the various attempts since 2011 which saw the passage of a real affirmative defense statute. He told the about the formation of Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission which he is a member of. This was followed by passing the current law which called for academic medical centers to administer a research program. As expected by those in the know, no academic medical centers are interested in risking federal research grants by getting involved in administering a program the federal government considers illegal.
Following his presentation I spoke to Eric about why he left out our efforts in 2007 which in many ways re-fired up the push for marijuana reform. He explained that he was limited by time. I suspect that despite being a very articulate advocate for reform Eric might have also been dealing with more than a little bit of stage fright. I know he is more than a little frustrated that he couldn’t come to this conference and announce victory in Maryland. Sadly that is still somewhere off in the future.
Next state up was New Jersey. Boy what a mess those people have on their hands' which begs the re-asking “Del. Morhaim why are we using their law as a model for your bills?” The state for one has set the price of marijuana thru their system at $500.00/oz. Compare this to what my So. Jersey friends pay now of $250-$350/oz. Why would anyone sign up to pay up to 100% more for something they get cheaper on the street?
That’s not the half of their problems though. It’s $1,000.00 to get a card. You have to get a recommendation from a very limited registry of doctors, most of whom are not registered and don’t intend to register. To further inconvenience patients it takes 3 – 12 months to get approved for the program. Still not bad enough? They have only 3 dispensaries open and one of them is only open one day a week. I missed the explanation of why but one bright spot for my friends on the Jersey Shore is that the dispensary in South Jersey gets to sell its cannabis for $400/oz.
Obviously New Jersey biggest problem is their super-size Governor, Chris Christie. He has made no bones about his opposition to medical marijuana. The day’s presenter did have some good news as she was one of the parents that led the fight for access to edibles for children. But even that falls short as her child can only use edibles until age 18, than he must change to smoked cannabis, something he is unable to do.
The next panel was CBD: The Myths and Facts. I have to admit I was lost during most of this group. For one I’m just not up on the issues. My impression is that there is and has been a debate about whether THC is needed to get the medicinal benefit of cannabis or could a CBD only strain work. There was a lot of talk about ratios of THC/CBD; again it was simply over my head.
All in all it was a great day. The hotel & its staff were great and the building is beautiful. However despite medicating in the car before going in the morning and again discreetly behind a potted plant outside in the smoking area (You mean they didn’t mean weed, oh well.) I was really hurting. After all of that I was still too sore to stay for the stakeholders meetings that were scheduled run from 3:30 to 6:00. Even cannabis only goes so far when you push yourself to your limits.
I’m hoping to be able to post videos of the conference as I saw cameras filming it from multiple angles. When they get posted if you see them first let me know so I can share them on this page. After all we’re all in this fight together. The fight to be as pain free as possible is how I describe it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pain, nausea, wasting or seizures if cannabis helps us it is our right to use it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Marijuana Reform Rally & Hearing Mar. 13th 2014

The wind was ripping thru Lawyer’s Mall as a crowd of about 100 people gathered. That’s not a professional estimate but rather what was being reported by media outlets. The air may have been unseasonably cold but the crowd was enthusiastic. Speakers from the ACLU, LEAP, NAACP and others, some speaking for themselves addressed the crowd as news cameras taped the event. I spoke briefly. Later it was inside where the temperature was warmer but the reception even cooler than the outside temp.
Once again the chiefs of police showed up in force. I had forgotten what that was like; see the last two times I came to testify it was for simple medical marijuana not full on legalization. The police and state’s attorney’s usually don’t object too much to medical marijuana. Boy do they speak out when it’s legalization. So yesterday we were treated to a barrage of full on “Reefer Madness” arguments. Despite expert after expert pointing out the fallacies of these arguments their rebuttals were predictable if nothing else.
When I first testified the Bush White House sent their Deputy Director of ONDCP, Dr. Bertha Madras. Her argument was “If the FDA hasn’t approved it, then we shouldn’t be putting it in our bodies. Yesterday, the LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) were just as predictable. We heard about fatal car crashes because cannabis. We heard about how when the police smell cannabis and search they usually come up with much more than marijuana.
Sheriff Mike Lewis I think wanted to bring with him a whole box of flex cuffs and arrested us all figuring he’d get enough THC positive blood samples that it would be worthwhile. When he was testifying it was as if he had learned a new word – secreted. The officer pulled over [fill in vehicle type], smelled cannabis, began a bumper to bumper search founded [fill in amount of drug] secreted in a compartment in [fill in auto body part] being driven up [fill in highway]. The Sheriff ended his litany with finding two dead bodies in the trunk of a car. In other words blah, blah, blah, the war on drugs is needed.
Here’s the deal though. We know about stupid greedy drug dealers that go cruising up I-95 smoking weed and hauling cocaine, heroin & crack. They’re stupid dealers who never the learned the responsible way of selling pot to responsible cannabis users – DON’T BE GREEDY! How do you explain to people with this mindset that they have missed the point that there are tons of cannabis growers that are not a part of the I-95 smuggling trail?
Traffic fatalities, boy this seems to be there rallying cry. Don’t be mistaken, I know about fatal car crashes. I lost a brother to one. They are devastating to the families affected and their friends. But here’s the statistics they quoted to me personally. According to Chief David Morris of Riverdale, Maryland, last year there were over 500 fatal car accidents. In those accidents, 103 involved drivers with BAC’s above the limit, there were 169, where their BAC’s were over .08 plus they had cannabis in their systems. They see this as 169 deaths caused by cannabis rather than what it is which a total of 272 alcohol related fatal accidents. Of that 272 how many are speed related? That will throw out weed as a cause. And no one knows if they are seeing impairment or residual THC in the blood.
I enjoyed being able to look him square in the eye and tell him if he tested me right now I’m pretty sure I’m busting the 5 nanogram limit but I haven’t broken the law and you would still be able to charge me with under the influence even though it’s been days since I smoked. (A true statement most days - that day it wasn’t).
Earlier before the hearing I finally got to do what I always wanted to do which was go nose to nose with Mike Gimbel former Baltimore County Drug Czar. It happened right after what I’ve seen on a couple of channels which is Sheriff Mike Lewis of Wicomico County saying he isn’t going let these baby boomers make pot legal. Mike Gimbel was with that group and began addressing the reporters again. The crowd began to shout him down.
Before I knew it I was yelling too and Mike Gimbal was walking towards me as the crowd parted. Next we were face to face and I finally got to tell him he knows this isn’t working and as a drug councilor he should be standing with us and not the police.
The crowd arrived at the hearing fired up I know I was so when the troopers came over trying to make a path between SRO and seating telling us we had to leave I balked. I challenged what he was saying and told him I wasn’t leaving. I had never been asked to leave before and I have my spot for the hearing and I was staying. A couple of people gathered up computer bags and such making room for my chair at the end of a short aisle as if maybe that was what it was there for. One of them was the head of a coalition of various reform advocacy groups. Unfortunately I cannot recall her name or the name of her coalition. Hey, I’m 60 what can I say.
I hate waiting to testify. You sit there listening to people going ahead of you and one by one the images or facts you have found to bolster your testimony gets used by someone else to bolster theirs. Now as you make your way to the table your brain is going “What else ya got?” In the end though the people you are testifying in front of have heard it all before anyway. It is the underlying energy, the passion you bring to your testimony that gets thru. They’ve heard the facts. When we testify we are showing them the facts.
It doesn’t matter if it is the nurse sharing stories of compassion, students telling stories of police abuse, or everyday people coming to call for a change. A change of course is needed, a change of national policy away from arrest and incarcerate to a new course of identify and treat. Our current policy has the Roaring Twenties to continue to roll.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Doing What We Can

Yesterday I took a trip to Annapolis to beat the bushes for support for HB880. But before that I got to meet two new activist friends Doug & Penni Lynne Day. Monday the General Assembly usually conducts most of it's business during the evening but legislators can sometimes be found in their offices midday.

We didn't get to speak to any legislators but Penni got to introduce herself the Chairman Vallario's staff. She also got a bit of a tour of the House of Delegates Office Building (Casper R. Taylor, Jr. House Office Building). So now she knows to use the elevators that go to all the floors instead of the ones in the lobby.

While we were there we stopped by Del. Mizeur's office. We introduced ourselves to her staff and let them know that we would be attending the Rally for Marijuana Reform on Thursday as well as testifying. They told us that she was around but was trying to attend two committee hearings that were taking place at that same time. We went to both committee rooms but missed her at both.

Later as we were leaving we ran to Gar Roberts of Medical Cannabis Advocates of Maryland. We were talking about last month's op-ed. I was telling him I liked the way it was originally written. He suggested that I post the original version, so that will follow.

I hope to see and meet lots of new people at the Rally for Marijuana Reform on Thursday @ 11AM on Lawyers Mall in front of the State House.

Now before I post the op-ed I need to say this. I appreciate the Baltimore Sun printing my words. Our local paper has always shown me great respect in covering my story which is our story. That said I'm just the writer and as every writer can tell you if you want your piece printed you have to go with the edits.

I also did not title the piece, which is really the only criticism I have. "Fight crime: legalize pot" I felt it trivialized an important point, that being that our public policy on addiction has been a disaster. So what follows was sent titled "Tax & Regulate" (They always change it).


Tax & Regulate

On February 25, 2014 I will testify before the Maryland Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of SB0658. I looked up the word judicial; it means of or relating to courts of law and judges. Therefor it is the purpose of the Judicial Proceedings Committee to insure that the laws our courts have to rule on are in fact fair and just.

For one hundred years we have set up laws that would create the greatest criminal empires man has known. We are approaching the one hundredth anniversary of the Volstead Act, that kick started the Cosa Nostra. That gave us, Sam Giancano, Al Capone, John Gotti, and Lucky Luciano. Then even after the violence of the Roaring Twenties conservatives like William Randolph Hearst decided since they could not outlaw booze, they would outlaw every other intoxicant. And with that one mind set we have created, Pablo Escobar, The Crypts, The Bloods, and even The Black Guerrilla Family.

Addiction is a terrible health problem. Haven’t enough conservative Republicans gone into detox that we can at least agree on that? The rampant alcohol addiction that inspired Prohibition was just as horrible as the meth addiction we have today, as the cocaine addiction we have, as the heroin addiction we have, and addiction to far too many prescription drugs to list here. Yet we have turned over control of an illegal supply of all these intoxicants to human beings who are so violent we feel we have to train our DEA to behave like Seal Team Six.

Have we not seen enough senseless violence? If the carnage at the Clark Street garage in 1929 was enough to rattle America’s sensibilities, than why hasn’t, the last forty plus years of violence on steroids rattle America’s conscience enough to recognize that it is the same problem with the same result?

 The honorable men & women who make up our police forces know that sending pseudo Seal Team Six teams at our drug problem is like swatting flies with howitzers. They know that so much of the detrimental behavior of addicts is in fact because of their battle with law enforcement to be left alone. Addicts are not the problem it is the violent criminals to whom we have given over control of the addict’s life. It is time to give control over their lives to the doctors and nurses and councilors who can actually make a difference.

In 1982, the late Gov. William Donald Schaeffer was running for his last term as mayor. He held one of those big dinners that politicians are famous for at P. J. Crickets on Pratt St. All the political leaders were there. I was your chef that evening and can honestly tell you this. When I arrived at the restaurant that afternoon I climbed in to the back of my blue VW Mini-Camper and smoked a bowl of marijuana. That evening many of you stuck your head into the kitchen to thank the chef for the wonderful meal you had enjoyed.

It is time to take the first step. As someone who functioned while living a successful, and productive life living in America’s drug sub-culture I can assure you this. Whether it was pot & LSD in the sixties, or the Black Beauty speed and Quaaludes of the seventies or the cocaine of the eighties, the one constant was marijuana.

When you live in that sub-culture unfortunately from time to time you do meet hardcore junkies. Everyone I have ever met has had the same sad story. “I went to buy some weed one night and my guy was out. He convinced me it would be cool to use heroin this time and I can come back tomorrow to buy weed.” There it is - your gateway. But we have cast that gate in gold, encrusted it in diamonds and handed they keys to the most violent criminals the world has ever known. It could not be a worse outcome of political policy than if FDR had been seated at the table with The Commission’s Lucky Luciano and said we get booze - you get all the rest.

It is time to throw a bucket of cold water on this long suffering nightmare that has been drug prohibition. We can begin that by passing a sensible tax & regulate marijuana bill. In recent years I have worked with Del. Morhaim to pass a workable medical marijuana bill. The doctor is fond of saying it is time to get the sick and dying off the battlefield of the war on drugs. I say to you it is time to get all the victims of the war on drugs off the battlefield and we can begin doing that by ending the war on weed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Were They Thinking - all of them?

Yesterday Maryland held the first in this year’s round of hearings on marijuana reform bills. The next hearing is on Friday at 1pm on Del. Morhaim's attempt to fix the bill he passed last year. Then next month on Mar. 13 at 1pm the Judiciary Committee takes up the decriminalization bill and the tax & regulate bill that I personally support. Yesterday's hearing got a good bit of coverage in the local media, some good some bad.
 
The biggest news which was well covered was the show of force from law enforcement groups. There were police chiefs and local county sheriffs all with the same message - keep doing what we've been doing because to not do so would be the ruin of mankind. But boy were they eating feet.
 
First was the guy who says we shouldn't listen to the proponents’ anecdotes because they're coming from "potheads." Yes let's listen to law enforcement who has been trying to arrest their way to a cure of drug addiction for 100 years. Yes the Sun omitted that fact from my op-ed. The first federal law against cocaine was in 1914. So I say don't listen to the coppers they're just protecting their jobs.
 
Then there was the cop from Anne Arundel County Police who cited statistics from the Daily Currant. For those of you who have been caught by the Currant don't giggle. That said if you're going to testify or speak to the media you should make sure that the outrageous stat that you think proves your point isn't an outrageous hoax about to bite your donut fueled butt.
 
While I'm pointing an accusatory finger let me point it at my fellow cannabis activists. Now I could have sworn I was invited to a pre-hearing event that called for decorum or at least nice clothes. Yes I was I just checked. OverGrow Annapolis in their invite stressed the importance of making good impressions. Why then would some of you choose to blow a little dope before coming to the hearing? You did so, so close to showing up that one reporter even noted it in his report. I do hope you see how this did not help our cause.
 
We are engaging in an intellectual debate about why, after 100 years of prohibition, we should stop listening to the police and start listening to us. Our point has always been that we can responsibly use marijuana. What in the world made you think coming there stoned would make them want to listen to you? You just proved the other sides point - you can't even control your pot use enough to show respect to the legislators by showing up dressed nice and sober.
 
I can hear my naysayers now. Who the fuck am I to tell anyone how to act. In Maryland, I'm patient number one. I'm the one who showed the way that you can testify about breaking the law and not get arrested. I'm the one who until this year's first hearing has been there every year. Even though I missed this hearing I have already spent hours, on the phone, doing email and visiting legislators in person. I have penned an op-ed. I have submitted written testimony.
 
Do I have the right to tell you how to dress, nope. Am I experienced enough that should listen to me because I have been at this a long time, yep. More importantly you should look around and ask yourself this question. Who are the actual legislators talking to out in the hall? Are they talking to the guy in the bright green T with a pot leaf and "Legalize It" on it or are they talking to the guy in the old but barely worn sport coat, with dark slacks and black tennis shoes? He's talking to the guy who went to the effort at least to "look the part."
 
Talking to them is what we should be about. We have been at this a long time and my fellow activist will agree, we make progress when we get them to hit the pause button on their negative rhetoric on drugs and listen to what's actually happening out here in the real world. A politician, unless already on the record in favor marijuana reform, you can bet he has his ten word answer on drug abuse so programmed it pops out of his mouth before even the delegate or senator knew it was coming. Don't even swing at that pitch. Tell him something he knows but doesn't acknowledge, like the total cost of his sound bite.
 
I prefer to go after the futility of prohibition when talking to legislators but that is what I know. If you are more into the ecology of pot then by all means stress the other uses for hemp; that our marijuana laws exclude from our energy equation. The one that I think is most important and closest to the heart of a lawmaker is paper. The benefit of making paper from cannabis/hemp plants and letting our large deciduous forests come back which would help scrub CO2 out of the air. I like this one because it will reveal its benefit in a decade or less as baron hillsides return to tree covered slopes.
 
I've been at this a while now. I can't believe the number of times I have heard a fellow activist trying to convince someone of the great government conspiracy to hide the fact that cannabis cures all cancers. They're doing so because they are bought and paid for by insurance companies. Even if that was 100% true do you really think accusing the secret keeper of keeping a secret will get you the answer you seek. When you are defending a drug that does have a reputation of making one paranoid is acting paranoid a really good idea?
 
Like it or not we're the visiting team so we need to find their weak points not showing up with all our weak points on display. Why is it do you think the grungy guys made the newsreel? Because he fits their stereotype. Showing someone who looks like he might be one of those responsible marijuana users is not news. What's news is showing up looking like you’re headed to a "Further" concert and being asked to be taken seriously.
 
But here's the deal. When I started into this the best I could hope for was a fine and a misdemeanor drug conviction under The Darrell Putnam Compassionate Use Act. Now under SB 308 using the exact same set of facts I would be found not guilty of a crime. This is progress, not a lot but progress all the same. We also now have a medical marijuana commission trying to make new medical use law workable. Progress.
 
This year more than ever we needed the kind of turn out that OverGrow envisioned. That way when the ignorant police officer called us a "bunch of potheads" he would have looked foolish. Looking like a stereotypical pothead you leave yourself only one comeback "Oh yea, Pig." But the point is we are making progress looking more like lobbyist and less like groupies. We are making progress fighting their trail of failed drug strategies with facts, facts about the cost of the drug war, facts about the number of responsible cannabis users, facts about the medical efficacy of marijuana, facts about the benefits to the environment. Our facts will trump their failed policies.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Marijuana Reform Faces a Hard Fight


UPDATE: The two news stories mentioned here have aired or gone to press. You can find them on my Casey's Dream Facebook page. As it stands at this time there will be one more story from me on this topic in a local paper. Until it's been edited and approved I'll have to leave it at that.
 
It has been a hectic start to the legislative session. Thursday the first bill to make news was introduced by Del. Curt Anderson (D) Dist. 43 of Baltimore City and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D)   Dist. 20 of Montgomery County.  Later that day reporter Jean Marabella of the Baltimore Sun called for an interview. She had already interviewed other activists including my friend Ken Kopper who suggested she call me. That interview went well. She asked great questions but more importantly displayed knowledge of the issue. Even her stats were all up to date. This is something that’s not always true. As of late Thursday afternoon Jean’s story is slated for the Sunday issue.

They wanted an action photo but that was not a possibility. Plus I was very uncomfortable about the idea. I have been out front in the local media for some time now. My wife and I both were concerned the police would be offend because I was flaunting it. My position was under current Maryland law I would have to be found not guilty by reason of medical necessity. However there is a local FBI office, and a local DEA office. In the end we had decided that had I been able to get some I would let the picture be taken. I think, hope they would feel I was just too small time to bother with. Either way they wanted a photo so we arranged for the photographer to stop by the apartment around nine Friday morning.

As we were considering what to do I reached out to WBAL TV’s David Collins. I know their station has shown people actually smoking their medicine and wanted to know whether there had been any repercussions. He didn’t know the answer to that but asked if I was available to do an interview with him also on Friday morning but in Annapolis. So when Lloyd the photographer was done I jumped into the van and booked off for that one.

David seems to be working on very good piece. We talked about the shortcomings of Maryland’s law as well as some of the states that are also struggling to get it right. I know he’s looking at Washington States medical marijuana provisions as well as Washington DC’s program.

David’s piece I got the impression is going to be a longer “in depth” piece. Unfortunately as we all know local TV is limited in time for truly in depth reporting. His story won’t run for just a bit. He’s trying to time it out with something else that’s in the wind. I don’t want to give away too much of his piece.

The main thing is I let both reporters know that while I may make myself available to promote any medical marijuana legislation it will be second to working with Sen. Jamie Raskin & Del. Curt Anderson who have introduce out right tax & regulate legalization.

Those quaint brick sidewalks that Annapolis is famous for is quite simple a bitch on my back. When they gave me this wheelchair they asked how I was going to use it. I said you know around the mall, the grocery store, places like that. It was decided I would be a moderate user or some such term that meant no shock absorbers on my wheelchair. So if I was going roll around on these things I may as well make the rounds.

First stop was Michelle Bernstein, Legislative Director for Del. Dan Morhaim (D) Dist.  11 (Baltimore County). Del. Morhaim has been spearheading medical marijuana legislation for the past few sessions and responsible for our recent successes. Del. Morhaim is working on legislation tweaking the law that was passed last year. The basic idea is to allow doctors affiliated with hospitals and hospices to make recommendations, not just the hospitals doing research. This is needed because no hospitals are showing any interest at all in doing the research. {and I cleaned that up!} The main thing is Del. Morhaim is being just like Del. Malone told me he would be which is as tenacious as a dog with a bone. He’s not going to let this issue go until he gets the sick & dying off the battlefield of America’s failed drug war.

Next I stopped by to see Sen. Raskin’s Chief of Staff Alice Wilkerson. She was pleased to see me back again this session. We made sure my contact info was on her “send to” list so I keep up with hearings and media events.

I did learn something very interesting while I was there. We were discussing the reality of passing legalization this session. It is going to be a very uphill battle as of this moment. In Maryland to get any law of significance passed you have to have two out of three between the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Delegates. Even before Sen. Raskin’s & Del. Anderson’s press conference President of the Senate Mike Miller, (D) Dist. 27 (Prince George’s & Calvert Counties) announced he would support a tax & regulate marijuana bill. That’s one. However, Speaker Mike Busch (D) Dist. 30 (Anne Arundel County) is against it as is Governor O’Malley.

The big thing I learned was that Sen. Raskin had been in Gov. O’Malley’s office for some time – at the governor’s request. Now Alice did point out that she didn’t know if the senator had actually been in with the governor the whole time. As she quipped for all she really knows he could be cooling his jets in the outer office.

Over the years I’ve learned how powerful Sen. Raskin’s arguments for or against legislation can be. If I had to choose any one member of the Gen. Assembly to put in a room with the opportunity to convince Gov. O’Malley it’s time to get out in front of marijuana reform it would be Sen. Raskin.

As I was entering the Miller Senate Office Building I was following a lady who was moving very slowly. I couldn’t help but think this lady really should be really using a scooter if not wheelchair something, at least a cane, or crutches.

My next stop in senate building was Sen. Lisa Gladden, (D) Dist. 41 (Baltimore City). I was surprised and sad to see the lady I had followed into the building was in fact Sen. Gladden.  The senator and I go back to the beginning as she was sponsor of the bill that first got me to go to Annapolis and engage in this fight.

We discussed the various bills and balloons that were being considered. Also we discussed the requirement of good marijuana reform. For instance she does not support decriminalization. She feels it leaves too many loopholes for people to end up in jail over. She leans towards straight up legalization but is concerned what limitations and taxes will be involved.

IMO – Seriously when in today’s reality of state governments straight up legalization is the way to go. We saw just two sessions ago a bill that had been budget neutral the year before suddenly being described as costing millions. Legalization is budget neutral. It costs little more than printing costs to allow responsible adults to use cannabis. One idea is to have it sold in state licensed shops but that’s like licensing liquor stores it is a credit on the state ledger not a debit.

Back to my time with Sen. Gladden, we talked about Del. Morhaim’s plans. Like I said before she was one of the first legislators to get on board with the need for medical marijuana legislation. She still would prefer something closer to her bill back in 2007 but supports his efforts.

As I was leaving I told her about seeing her coming in. I gently let her know she really needs to get a scooter to get around. Out little capital town is cozy. For those with healthy legs it’s a snap to dart across the street between legislative offices. The walk to the Capital Building isn’t much longer but it is slightly uphill. However, when your legs are compromised as hers are that has to be tough. She smiled acknowledging she knew where I was coming from. She said she just hadn’t been able to bring herself to do that. I told her I understood that my wheelchair lives in the car.

I also told her that I too was devastated when told I had to begin using crutches and sometimes a scooter. Since I got over the initial shock I’ve come to appreciate the freedom it gives me. I told her getting into sailing with CRAB http://crabsailing.org/  really helped me know that I could still do an awful lot. When I offered to take her out sailing she said didn’t engage in activities where drowning was possibility.

Marijuana reform in the 2014 session is a heavy lift to be sure. I believe this. In their Democratic heart of hearts Mike Busch & Martin O’Malley would love to vote for marijuana reform. After all it has been Democrats who for decades now have been opposing the nation’s failed drug policies. Both men are regrettably concerned how that vote will affect their political futures.

This is probably truer of Gov. O’Malley as he has gone as far as he can in state politics. To continue on in politics he has to run for a federal office like senator. Sen. Babs (Sen. Mikulski) may be hanging in there for now but she’s going to retire eventually. Plus he’s made sure that when they discuss the long list of possible 2016 presidential candidates his name is on that list too.

My call list is pretty much set for next week. I have met with Kristin Jones, whom I assume is still Speaker Busch’s Chief of Staff. She’ll be my first call. My impression from talking with Kristin in the past is just that, that Speaker Busch opposes reform more for political reason than principle reasons. I believe that if in fact Gov. O’Malley is reconsidering this and I have no evidence other than calling Sen. Raskin to his office to lead me to believe this, that Speaker Busch will follow his lead. IOW if we can somehow get Gov. O’Malley to come over to our side we’ll get the Speaker of the House of Delegated as well.

That leaves one man as the major obstacle and that’s the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Joe Vallario, Jr. (D) Dist. 27A (Prince George’s & Calvert Counties) to overcome. The first year I was at this the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted a favorable report on the bill. Chairman Vallario held hearings but refused to call the bill for a vote in his committee. He has that power still. While the Speaker can wield tremendous influence over committee chairs he cannot simply order the chairman to call for a vote. I’ll be giving him a call but as a resident of Baltimore County he really doesn’t worry too much about my vote.

At this point the ball is in our court. As activists it is on us to keep up the pressure. In private most of the legislators both Democrat and Republican let it be known if not for wanting to be reelected they would vote for reform. It is up to all of us to insure they understand they have nothing to worry about. This is what we want.