Florida has repeatedly been embarrassed by voting irregularities, but the Republican legislature and Governor Jeb Bush forgot to adequately fund election departments, and it helped get Jeb’s brother elected president.
A civil rights commission concluded that Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a vicious partisan who helped George W Bush run his presidential campaign in the state, were partially responsible for violations of the Voting Rights Act that resulted in minority voters illegally being prevented from voting.
At a drug prevention conference held in Florida last November, Jeb asserted that people who fought drug use instead of voting problems were “expending their energies on something a little more noble.”
“I’m glad to be here with people who believe in BHAG,” the governor said. “Do you know what a BHAG is? It’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. We don’t usually get to talk about big goals. We normally have to talk about chads and things that don’t seem relevant to me.”
Bush explained that his BHAG was to reduce “drug abuse and use” by 50%. Jeb is following in his dad’s footsteps: the first President Bush, who lost to Clinton in 1992, has been a dedicated drug warrior since he became Ronald Reagan’s vice-president in 1982. The first prime time speech the elder Bush ever made as president, in 1989, was a rah-rah for the drug war.
The current reigning Bush, George W, appointed hard-line drug warriors to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the DEA. His mother, Barbara, is a leading opponent of medical marijuana.
Jeb Bush became the first governor to have his own state drug czar when he hired a former colonel and combat veteran, Jim McDonough, in 1998. McDonough, who was second in command to General Barry McCaffrey when McCaffrey was US drug czar, was hired to implement Florida’s multi-million dollar Office of Drug Control.
The colonel’s drug war utilizes spies, jets, naval blockades and National Guard troops. He also wants to use a deadly fungus, called Fusarium oxysporum, as a soil-borne marijuana killer throughout Florida, even though Florida Department of Environmental Protection scientists warn that the fungus could mutate, spread, and kill ecosystems, agricultural crops, and endangered plants.
“Unfortunately, we have wonderful climate and wonderful soil for growing marijuana,” McDonough complains. “I’m concerned about people growing it here. Florida is off the map in its marijuana usage. It is not a benign drug. It is a dangerous drug. We need every weapon we can get against it.”
Warm and fuzzy
I met McDonough and Jeb Bush when I attended Florida’s 2001 drug summit. Colonel McDonough was a soft-spoken man who laid his hand warmly on my shoulder to ask me to get Jeb Bush’s attention for him.
I then got a chance to talk to Bush. Yes, it was exciting to converse with the brother of the “most powerful man in the world.” Governor Bush didn’t ask who I worked for, thank God, and was friendly and professional as we chatted.
Although Bush solemnly swore that his presence at the summit indicated what he called “unstinting commitment” to his goal of a “drug-free society,” I asked him if the drug war was, as he had stated at previous summits, Florida’s number one problem.
“Well, it’s one of the number one problems, we all agree that we agree on that,” he said. “But we are on the verge of an ecological disaster with this drought, and we may even have to limit growth, so it is something we are having to share our focus on.”
I also spoke to Jeb’s wife, Columba.
“If only you could see the pain that drug abuse causes in the lives of children,” she said. “It’s so distressing. When you see all the victims, you know you have to do something.”
At an organizational meeting for people planning to protest the 2001 Florida drug summit, I talked with attorney Allen Turnage, the 40-year-old vice president and boardmember of Florida NORML. He’s also chairman of the Tallahassee-area Libertarian Party.
Turnage describes himself as a “modified Libertarian.”
“I’m against government interference in our lives, but I’m also a deep ecologist, which means I think somebody should interfere when a person wants to cut down a 600-year-old tree,” he explained. “There are times when individual behavior can negatively affect other people, but a person privately smoking a healing herb should not be harassed by government or anyone else.”
Just before I met him, Turnage had finagled his way in to a private “drug summit reception banquet” held by the Governor and Mrs Bush. During the reception, Turnage cornered Bush.
“I said: ?Governor, I’m from Florida NORML and we’d like to get you on board with medical marijuana and put it on the ballot. The polls are behind us and it’s a just and compassionate thing to do.’ I would describe his reaction as ?stony reflective silence.’ He was trying to figure out what to say. McDonough intervened, and gave him an excuse to murmur goodbye. I sensed that he wanted a dialogue, but there are people who don’t want him to hear a different view of marijuana and the drug war,” Turnage reported.
Also at the Governor’s invitation-only reception was Florida Cannabis Action Network (FLACAN) veteran activist Jodi James.
“I never thought I’d get in,” James said with a mischievous smile. “I wrote McDonough several weeks before the summit and asked why he only invited people from his side. I nearly fell over when he invited me. As soon as I got there, he introduced me to his wife. ?Jodi, good to see you. I hope we can talk about what we have in common.’ Then he disappeared, but I got my chance to talk to Jeb Bush. I told the governor why I disagreed with the attitudes and actions fostered by drug summits and the drug war. He stood there looking at me until McDonough came and rescued him.”
Florida’s 2001 drug summit was populated by approximately 350 people in suits, ties and power-wear crowded into a tall state office building in downtown Tallahassee. I arrived before morning prayer, after driving past the Florida Supreme Court where last year protesters hurled warlike invectives at each other during the Bush-Gore debacle.
Military personnel were assistants at many of the “breakout sessions” offered for morning and afternoon attendance. The sessions reminded me of Sunday School. Elected officials, police, and drug treatment counselors invoked Christianity like it was a state-sponsored religion: “I’m a pastor at a Baptist Church.” “Druggies need to know there’s a God-shaped hole in their heart and drugs can’t fill it.” “Only the power of God frees people from addiction.” “God wants us to wipe out drug use from His great country.”
My favorite: “Going to church is the best drug I know.”
Jodi James sat in on a summit session and heard prosecutors, judges and cops discussing depriving defendants of their constitutional right of “discovery,” which defense lawyers use to determine what information prosecutors have regarding the accused.
“They wanted to limit discovery in drug cases only,” James said. “At first, I just sat there quietly because I was surprised they were talking in front of somebody like me who is in favor of constitutional rights. Finally I spoke out. I reminded them that in the 1920’s a Floridian went to the Supreme Court to establish that every defendant is entitled to discovery. I asked them why they wanted to turn the clock back, why are they trying to remove discovery only in drug crimes? Especially since drug cases are where confidential informants are used, which already means that you are deprived of the constitutional right to face your accuser. I said that in drug cases, the defendant feels they are the victim of a crime committed against them by the state. Drug defendants rarely get adequate legal representation or due process, why make it even harder?”
Just outside the hermetically sealed chambers where the drug summit was being held, 300 Florida State University (FSU) students stood at the intersection of two of Tallahassee’s busiest main highways, protesting the drug summit.
The protest was organized by a Florida State University student group called FSU NORML, which was founded last year by students Chris Mulligan, Abbey Tyrna, and Ricky Bradford.
“It took three semesters to get funded by the Student Government Association. If we’d been a Bible group or the College Republicans, it would have taken a lot less time,” said the 20-year-old Mulligan, who is completing a dual major in political science and criminology with a minor in sociology. “We’ve been subject to unusual restrictions in spending our funding. We’ve had people tear down our signs and slander us, but marijuana is its own best advocate. When people get stoned, they realize how dumb the drug war is, and they sign up to do something about it.”
Mulligan and other students I met that day are high achievers who get high. Smoking pot is an important part of their lives; they do it while earning good grades, socializing, and pursuing hobbies like scuba diving, community service, romance, sports, music and art.
The FSU NORML students I met are self-confident, poised, and career-oriented. Even though many are chronic pot smokers, they are also professional students building careers.
Abbey Tyrna, FSU NORML co-founder, is completing a four year degree in environmental science. Her senior thesis focused on using hemp for land. She’s preparing to take the rigorous Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT).
“I want to legalize marijuana and reverse environmental destruction,” Tyrna said, “but I also want to live a stable, productive life.”
Mulligan is spending his summer working for NORML in its Washington, DC headquarters, and also preparing for the LSAT.
“It’s exciting to be working with legendary advocates like Keith Stroup and Allen St Pierre,” Mulligan said, “and they are excited to be assisting students who want to reform the laws as quickly as possible.”
Until Mulligan and NORML are successful, students have to weigh their activism against their personal security.
“If you get convicted of marijuana, they’ll whack your federal education grants,” Tyrna explained. “If you are convicted of rape, murder, arson, or environmental crimes, you can still get federal grants. No wonder pot smokers get paranoid. Some students tell us they’d like to help legalize pot, but they intend to work for the government or be politicians, or they’re afraid of losing their aid, so they’re not going to stand up for what they believe in. I tell our recruits it’s OK to be a pot smoker ? don’t be ashamed. There’s too much selfish apathy. It’s pathetic to be apathetic!”
The crowd of sign-holding students, led by Mulligan, Tyrna, and Bradford, was anything but apathetic. Chanting slogans, they marched through campus at 10 am on the morning of the summit, set up in front of the capital, then spent the next six hours reveling in the approving honks and hoots of passers-by. Approximately 7,000 people drove by during the protest ? some of them held up bongs, joints, or bags of weed.
Mulligan gets maximum mileage out of his “public education events” by contacting media to ensure coverage, and gives printed “talking points” to his troops, so they can deliver a consistent, pre-formatted message.
“We like to motivate and energize people who smoke pot so they’ll stand up for their rights and educate others every day,” Mulligan explained, “but we are not going to win this battle by preaching to the converted. Our real goal is to win the hearts and minds of those who are indifferent and those who oppose us.”
Television, newspaper and radio reporters showed up to talk to FSU NORML’s media reps. Tyrna guided a young married couple with a child over to an interviewer. They were the perfect image of middle America’s “ideal” family, and they were eloquently pro-marijuana.
Mulligan was having an intense discussion with a trio of people who had come out of the summit building. One of the three identified himself as a former McCaffrey employee at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). He gamely tried to argue with Mulligan, but after listening to the student’s compelling arguments, he said, “Ok, ok, you do have some logical points. The war on marijuana is probably a bad idea.”
He then put his arm around Mulligan and said, “You’re a darned nice kid. It would be hard for a sane person to want you put in jail.”
Joseph Califano and William Bennett were two of the biggest drug war stars at this year’s summit.
Bennett was Ronnie Reagan’s Secretary of Education, and was drug czar during the first Bush presidency. Since then, he’s sold himself as a morality pundit who pontificates about “virtue” and “moral decline” while lobbying for tax cuts, war, and other right-wing causes.
Bennett might have gotten the drug czar job again, but he and his wife Elayne are too busy running the “Best Friends Foundation,” which tells young people not to have sex or use marijuana, especially at the same time.
A Bennett prot?g?, 49-year-old John Walters, was recently named as the new White House drug czar.
Walters worked for Bennett at the Department of Education, then at the first Bush White House when Bennett became drug czar in 1989.
As Bennett’s assistant, Walters had a tough guy image. He favors jail over drug treatment, harsher penalties for marijuana crimes, and increased use of military units to fight the drug war.
He was drug czar for a short time in 1993, but resigned because he disliked Bill Clinton. He later worked as a lobbyist for organizations that advocate inserting fundamentalist Christianity into peoples’ lives via government-sponsored programs. If he is confirmed as head of the White House Drug Office, he’ll have hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal to wage what many predict will be a fundamentalist campaign against California medical marijuana clubs and other reform efforts.
Califano runs the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Betty Ford, wife of former Republican president Gerald Ford, was a founding member of CASA. Jeb’s wife Columba is on CASA’s Board of Directors. Califano says CASA is affiliated with dozens of well-paid researchers working at colleges, hospitals, public schools and clinics across the country.
At the 2001 summit, Califano offered CASA research “revelations” such as:
? kids who go to schools where it iseasy to get drugs use drugs more than kids who go to schools where it is hard to get drugs
? kids whose parents use pot use pot more than kids whose parents don’t use pot
? unhappy kids use more drugs than happy kids use
Califano’s banal CASA findings are less interesting than his biography. Like McDonough, McCaffrey and many other drug warriors, Califano’s got his start in the US military. In the 1960’s, he helped American imperialism in Latin America as the General Counsel of the US Army.
Later, President Lyndon Johnson enlisted Califano to help him create many of the liberal welfare state’s “Great Society” programs. Califano helped implement massive public housing projects that were later dynamited, welfare handouts that subsidized 10-child families, and public works jobs that amounted to little more than taxpayer-supported daycare for adults.
During Jimmy Carter’s years in the White House (1978-82), Califano served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Carter publicly proposed marijuana decriminalization, but Califano now hates marijuana. He blames permissive parents, peers, and schools for America’s drug problems, and divides parents into two categories: hands-on or hands-off. Hands-on parents control their teenagers using curfews, room searches, drug testing, Internet surveillance, boot camp, church attendance, mandatory family meetings, and harsh anti-drug rhetoric. Hands-off parents are liberal and lazy, Califano complains, and some of them use marijuana and “fail to tell their kids how bad marijuana is.”
Children of hands-off parents are “high risk” kids who are likely to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs, Califano warns, and they are also likely to have sex!
“We are awash in permissive culture,” he complained. “The New York Times did an article and illustrated it with a beautiful marijuana leaf. Parents are upset if schools have asbestos in them, but they aren’t raising hell when schools are full of drugs. We have two legal drugs in America, and we have zero ability to keep them out of the hands of children. How could we keep children away from marijuana if it was legal? We must make it impossible for adults to get marijuana if we want it to be impossible for kids to get marijuana.”
William Bennett shared Califano’s “zero tolerance” viewpoint.
“It’s easier for kids to get marijuana than to get cigarettes,” Bennett said. “If they light up a cigarette, they are a social pariah, but if they light up a joint they think they are making an important social statement. I wish the anti-tobacco lawyers and their allies would demonize marijuana as effectively as they demonize cigarettes. The drug culture, and all who pander to it, are destroying the American family. Yes, it’s a free country, and we have to let these drug advocates have free speech, but we have to teach family values, from the Bible’s reliable stories, and stamp out the drug culture.”
McDonough told me he wanted to “keep working on this problem from the supply side and the demand side.”
“We’ve scooped up more drugs, we’ve penetrated trafficking rings, we’re using the troops, we have 24 agencies attacking the problem,” he said. “I never used alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs. I was brought up in a healthy, happy home. I was never tempted to use them as a kid and I am not tempted now. We must prevent kids from using drugs. If you can stop a generation of kids from using drugs, you stop a generation of adults from using them. This isn’t about propaganda or a police state, this is about loving kids.”
Perhaps, but it also should be about loving adults.
At an entertaining and activist-centered Tampa “Washington’s Birthday” pot rally put on by the indefatigable Mike Palmieri, I spoke to Cathi Jordan, a long-suffering medpot patient with a rare muscle disorder who personally begged Bush and McDonough to let her grow and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest. Their response was to tell local police that she was a marijuana criminal.
In Clearwater, police found 2.3 grams of pot while investigating a burglary of city official Bob Keller’s home. Even though misdemeanor charges against the highly-respected public employee were dropped, Keller was forced to resign from his job.
I also spoke to Greg Scott, courageous leader for the Coalition Advocating Medical Marijuana who keeps himself alive using medical cannabis. Along with activist Toni Latino, he’s been trying for years to qualify a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Florida, only to be thwarted by Bush and his allies.
These dedicated people, and many other freedom-loving Floridians I talked to, said Florida’s war on drugs has coincided with a catastrophic drought of almost Biblical proportions, making hell in a state that used to be a verdant tropical paradise.
In Florida’s drug war, compassion and common sense have become rare as rain. At the summit, an anti-drug Florida State University student named Nikki Finch gave a speech praising Bush and McDonough. She recommended that harsh tactics be used against Florida students. “If existing laws are not enough, look into stronger laws and penalties that will do the job? such as locker searches, cameras in the bathrooms, and increased police presence in schools.”
Cameras in the bathrooms? Now that’s a loving idea if ever I heard one.
? Floridians for Medical Rights: tel (954) 763-1799; email [email protected]; web www.medicalrights.org
? Florida Cannabis Action Network: web www.jug-or-not.com
? Libertarian Party of Florida: email [email protected]; web www.lpf.org
? Office of National Drug Control Policy tel 800?666?3332; email [email protected]; web www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov