In wheelchairs, cars, recreational vehicles, even a scale model jail cell towed on a donated trailer, the Journey for Justice med-pot caravan sojourned two hundred miles in seven days of northern Florida springtime.
Thousands of bemused but friendly Floridians, in rural towns, or driving by on two lane roads, saw activist Kay Lee, wearing a striped prisoner’s uniform, walking miles for justice. They saw Eddie Smith, a cancer and AIDS survivor, wheeling down the grassy roadside in sheets of blinding rain.
They saw Cathy Jordan, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, so debilitated that she cannot raise her arms.
They saw Joe Tacl, who has titanium pins in his spine after being crushed by a car in 1993, and has been repeatedly harassed by Levy County authorities. They arrested Tacl, his wife Anne, and their two children, in a 1998 raid that netted five pot plants and an ounce of medicine.
In a nationally televised trial, despite compelling testimony from medical experts such as Dr John Morgan who verified that Tacl had a justifiable international prescription for medical marijuana, a jury convicted Tacl and his son. Since then, police have tormented the Tacls, flying helicopters low over his house, refusing to investigate allegations that deputies stole valuable coins from him during the bust.
The Journey’s vehicles were educational platforms, plastered with digitally-enhanced pictures of crystally buds, and enlargements of pages from Chris Conrad’s Shattered Lives book and exhibit: pictures of lives shattered by the drug war.
At a truck stop, where gumbo, boiled peanuts and fried chicken were sold alongside standard American junk food, a 24-year-old African-American laborer paused to examine the car posters. He studied the photos, read the sad stories.
“One thing I know,” he said. “Used to be that they only hung black people. Now, if you smoke dope, you is the nigger!”
Florida at war
Such is the history of the Old South, where whites swooped down on blacks to lynch them and burn their homes. The days of racist lynching are gone, but Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush (brother of presidential candidate George W) and anti-pot minions have designated marijuana users as the new “nigger.”
Bush and the state’s Republican legislature have created an oligarchy run by industries and cultural conservatives whose goals are urine testing, land rape, and spending half a billion dollars on the state’s drug war.
This oligarchy has responded to the question, “Can we get away with running the drug war like a real war?” with a resounding “Yes!” Florida is the only state with its own drug czar: Bush hired career military commander James McDonough, formerly second in command in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
McDonough is a cunning warrior – he wrote an important army field manual and several commercial books. One was made into a movie, Platoon Leader, in which McDonough reveals a startling enthusiasm for military bloodletting. McDonough’s military career, during which he destroyed people, nature and cultures with a warrior’s disregard for human rights, does not qualify him to humanely deal with a social issue like drug use. But here he is ? a fanatical soldier running a war against the cannabis plant and the people of Florida.
McDonough has brought a frightening level of sophistication to Florida’s war, networking with US Customs, Coast Guard, Marine Patrol, Air Force, Marines, DEA, CIA, NSC, Interpol, FBI, and dozens of other agencies. The state’s coastline, which used to be smuggler friendly, is now patrolled by military fighter jets, airborne radar, blimps, spy satellites, androids on Coast Guard boats.
With ruthless precision, Florida’s drug warriors mount interdictions like Operation Thunder Road, during which 101 local, state and federal agencies arrested 4,000 people and stole $7 million in assets during a two day statewide action in 1998.
Florida’s arsenal includes biowarfare. Last year, McDonough angered the state’s agricultural and environmental advocates by proposing that the genetically modified Fusarium oxysporum fungus be used to eliminate Florida’s massive outdoor pot crop. Scientists warn that the fungus would kill many other plant species and wreak environmental havoc, but the czar continues to push his proposal.
Bush’s year 2000 budget gives McDonough hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars. Other drug war allies include state-funded propaganda organizations, such as the Drug Free America Foundation, Republican Party financiers, and developers. Many leaders of Florida’s anti-pot campaign are closely affiliated with the Bush family.
Drug Free America insists, as does McDonough, that medical marijuana is a total fraud, that marijuana is addictive, causes violence and hard drug use, and is always harmful.
Their battle cry: “No legal marijuana. Not now. Not ever.”
Battling for peace
Florida is home to several medical marijuana patients who receive government-grown med-pot from the federal government’s “IND” medpot program. Among them is Elvy Musikka, a glaucoma sufferer who was falsely arrested and brutalized by Gainesville police during a 1995 hemp festival.
Battling for Florida medpot patients and all herbalists is a hard-working cadre of underfunded activists affiliated with the Cannabis Action Network (CAN), The Coalition Advocating Medical Marijuana, Floridians for Medical Rights, and other non-profits.
CAN organizer Jodi James is a feisty mom who fought back in 1997 when officials tried to take her newborn son because an illegal blood test revealed traces of THC. James battled hospital administrators and government bureaucrats, and avoided being arrested for having used hemp oil and herb during pregnancy.
James is assisted by Kevin Aplin, a suave media spokesperson who was put on trial in Texas for hemp bird seed! Aplin and James work with Scott Bledsoe, who has been repeatedly arrested and beaten by police during political rallies and other non-violent protests. Bledsoe is currently fighting charges in Jacksonville, where he was arrested last year for trying to get signatures on a pro-marijuana petition, and for being a long-haired pot advocate driving at night.
Bledsoe, Aplin and James have sued seven local governments for violating their right to peacefully lobby for marijuana; they have won every case.
Closely affiliated with CAN is Gainesville pot patriarch Dennis Watkins, otherwise known as Murli. He and CAN organized yearly hemp festivals in downtown Gainesville; the festivals became famous because Murli and friends distributed hundreds of free joints in what came to be known as the “doobie toss.”
Murli also created a commune called Fort Ganja, which has been raided and busted several times. He’s faced several sets of drug charges, and has beaten almost all of them, in part because authorities have brutally used helicopters, paid informants, battering rams, kidnapping, extortion, violence and other unconstitutional methods against him.
Other Florida activists, such as author Joan Bello, the owners of Tallahassee’s famous Epitome Caf?, Rasta Coptic Jeff Brown, Toni Leeman, and Kay Lee, a grandmother who became a patients/prisoners’ advocate in part because her daughter Tiffany needs medical marijuana, are also instrumental in actual and symbolic victories across the state.
Tearing down the walls
The Journey for Justice resembled marches led by Martin Luther King Jr during the battle against segregation in the deep South 35 years ago.
Police told CAN they were too understaffed to provide traffic escorts, but officers found time to harass the marchers ? repeatedly examining permits, licenses, and vehicles. Police tried to search the caravan for medical pot; Aplin, James and Bledsoe told them to fuck off; no searches were conducted.
In Monticello, as the caravan circled the small town’s stately courthouse, the police chief chased the Journey in circles, flapping his arms, hysterically yelling, “Stop!” James argued with him as activists kept rolling, leaving him sweating, red-faced and bewildered in the middle of his town’s plaza.
At Jefferson Prison, Kay Lee and Bledsoe spoke to guards and prisoners through megaphones while other Journey participants played drums, sang freedom songs, and chanted: “Pot’s a medicine? Bush is a dope.”
Burly guards wearing T-shirts with death’s heads on them menaced the marchers, while the prison’s warden told James: “We have to protect our prisoners and guards from you.”
Kay Lee, pacing near the razorwire fence: “We know guards abuse prisoners, beating and killing them. We know that many of you are in prison for non-violent acts. We want you to know you are not forgotten. We’re here for you. This is the Journey for Justice and we will be back.”
Halls of power
As the caravan neared Tallahassee, traffic jams piled up behind Eddie and Cathy, who rode fearlessly onward ? their wheelchairs buffeted by wake and pollution from huge trucks.
The Journey was met by cheering high school students at a federal prison just outside Tallahassee. Florida State University pot activists Christopher Mulligan and Abbey Tyrna recruited a group of drummers to lead the march to the capitol buildings.
Near the prison, a car hit marcher Ray Krieger. He first used marijuana to help alleviate epilepsy; now he’ll have to use it to alleviate the pain of two broken legs.
Thunderstorms and lightning heralded the final march up the broad avenue that led to Florida’s government buildings. Inside, Governor Bush huddled, afraid to come out.
“For weeks, we’ve been trying to set up a meeting,” James explained. “He refuses to meet. He’s scared of sick and dying people.”
The caravan twice circled the Capitol; young marchers carried a coffin symbolically filled with drug war victims.
A group of schoolgirls told a college student pot advocate they believed marijuana should be illegal; by the time the college activist got through explaining that they had been lied to by DARE and their parents, the girls agreed that pot laws “are stupid.”
Cathy Jordan sat quietly in her wheelchair, rained on but proud.
“My disease makes it very hard for me to move,” she said. “My biggest fear is that the police will come to arrest me for my medicine, tell me to raise my arms, and then when I can’t do it, they’ll shoot me.”
? Florida Cannabis Action Network: 2613 Larry Ct, Melbourne, FL 32395; tel (321) 255-9790; mail [email protected]; web www.jug-or-not.com
? Floridans for Medical Rights: tel (954) 763-1799; email [email protected]; web www.medicalrights.org