Neither wars, nor SARS, nor threat of rain could keep 500 patients, providers, lawyers, and doctors from attending the national convention of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) in San Francisco. The event was held over the 4/20 weekend, down at the bay front Hyatt Regency ? the hotel in High Anxiety in which Mel Brooks spoofs Vertigo. The expansive atrium lobby only smelled a little like Skunk.
Movie comparisons notwithstanding, NORML continues to attract celebrities from film, journalism, and sports to their advisory board. As a result, the air of fame wafted through the conference like trapped pot smoke.
Woody Harrelson, NORML’s newest board recruit, was in top form for the conference luncheon as he joked about his years of marijuana smoking.
“I’d like to announce that I plan to quit smoking marijuana,” he told a disbelieving audience, “but then, I’m not a quitter.”
Later, Harrelson said “there’s nobody dying from smoking pot ? I have night after night tried to kill myself!”
NORML’s cultural consciousness was exhibited in the devotion of many hours to the topic of how cannabis is treated by the entertainment industry.
The seminar, “Speaking out for Social Change” featured Toronto filmmaker Ron Mann, publisher Bill Regardie, actor Dan Stern and retired Dallas Cowboy Mark Stepnoski ? a good sport of a pothead who said he can’t seem to get far enough away from the drug bust of his former teammate, Nate Newton.
The panel on “Marijuana and Pop Culture” had author Mike Gray, author Dan Savage, and High Times Editor Steve Bloom considering widely-held stereotypes. In a speech on cannabis and culture, Allen St. Pierre blamed the 1980 movie 9 to 5 for jolting Nancy Reagan into “Just Say No” mode, and credited TV’s Murphy Brown for convincingly placing medical marijuana in a compassionate light.
Later, a breakout session with activists Ellen Komp and Mikki Norris and author Dan Savage provided advice and encouragement for closeted potheads and wannabe celebrities, including Komp’s introduction of an online trivia game called Name That Pothead.
In a room full of lawyers and legal defendants, emotions can get charged and sparks do fly. In his talk, “View from the Eye of the Storm,” author and convicted med-pot felon Ed Rosenthal more or less accused San Francisco club proprietor Bob Martin of providing testimony that helped the fed’s conspiracy charge against Rosenthal hold up in court. Immediately afterward, Martin approached Rosenthal, and the words “bitch” and “snitch” flew between them until Martin was edged out of the hall by a crowd of young Ed supporters. High drama indeed.
What women, where?
Speaking of machismo, this year’s speaker agenda was so testosterone loaded that, by the second morning, a flyer was being circulated that read: “Speaker Count: Men ? 60, Women ? 11. Arrest rate for African Americans is 2.5 times the arrest rate of White Americans. Number of African Americans speakers at conference ? one. Is this NORML?”
In response, NORML’s Allen St. Pierre claimed that while data for marijuana use indicates over a 2:1 ratio of men to women, that equation doesn’t apply to the number of experts in the field.
“Even if there is a concerted effort to involve more women in drug policy,” he said, “it’s not at all easy getting women to agree to appear at public events relating to drug policy.”
Unfortunately, for economic and personal reasons, women apparently decline invitations to speak. NORML even raised $6,000 to defray the travel costs of women invitees, but since many of their projects were “youth” oriented, they chose to have that money spent on student attendees. So, what’s a white guy to do if the gals won’t show up?
Perhaps as a result of the flyer-fueled controversy, Saturday’s “Women and the War on Drugs” panel attracted a full crowd, drawing many women away from their vending tables.
This being San Francisco, both women and men from Americans for Safe Access (ASA) donned red dresses and face masks for the Diane Dress-Up Day, in which they marched to Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and occupied it for over an hour to remind the drug warrior that she works for them.
Here’s a little aside on our hawkish homegirl’s rise to power. Had homophobic Supervisor Dan White not blown out the brains of gay-loving Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk back in 1978, Diane Feinstein could have been a nobody. With that double murder, Feinstein was propelled from being President of the Board of Supervisors to two-term Mayor, and then to US Senator in 1992 where she now serves on some very powerful committees ? Judicial being one. As for Dan White, his “Twinkie Defense” failed, and he ended up serving six years in prison before committing suicide in an Excelsior district garage.
As I’m telling this story at the NORML party, Dennis Peron hands me a black and white postcard with a young, long-haired Peron standing next to a dapper Harvey Milk and State Senator Milton Marks, circa 1976! That was a mildly innocent time, post-Summer of Love, pre-Jonestown Massacre and two years prior to the Mayoral murders that launched the career of our Wicked Witch of the West. Now, 13 years into her reign, Feinstein obstinately represents Washington to California, rather than taking the state to the feds. It’s beguiling.
Wave that flag
One of the most anticipated speeches came from Canadian Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, a gentle giant of a Quebecois who wowed the crowd with details of his groundbreaking report, Cannabis: Our Position For A Canadian Public Policy. The 700-page report was submitted by the Senate Special Committee On Illegal Drugs in September 2002.
“We can no longer continue to equate any use of drugs to abuse simply because of their illegality,” he told an appreciative audience. “We believe that the most important accomplishment of our report is provoking debate on the basis of rigorous information rather than by myth and morality.”
The Senator further charmed the audience by being the first, but not only, speaker to quote Abraham Lincoln, who wrote in 1840, “Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles on which the government was founded.”
His speech was followed by Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy who revealed that US “drug czar” John Walters is actually half-Canadian, and concluded by saying, “I’m hoping the Canadian tail can wag the American dog.”
American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen asserted that the drug war and the “felony disenfranchisement in Florida” may help explain how George W Bush stole the White House. Since Florida’s ex-felons can’t vote for life, Governor Jeb Bush illegally ordered 90,000 people dropped from the voter rolls, some for felonies they had yet to commit!
“The drug war is disproportionately violating the rights of racial minorities, who have been imprisoned far beyond their numbers among consumers, with enormous life-long adverse affects including permanently being outcast from our democratic form of government,” Strossen said, beneath a surge of applause.
The eminent Dr Lester Grinspoon gave a marvelous speech, “The Medical Marijuana Problem,” which he says will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Liberties. The 75-year-old retired Professor Emeritus of Harvard Medical School admitted to me he smokes pot every evening, “When I can remember.”
In answering a question from a Florida patient in need of a physician recommendation, Grinspoon quipped, “I wish we could develop a drug that will give doctors more balls.”
John Morgan, MD, made a “blanket condemnation” of poorly written marijuana research, which can snowball into unconquerable mountains of myth. “Even those who are trustworthy do not write their papers correctly,” he said.
He said the myth that “marijuana smoke is more dangerous than tobacco smoke,” which is based on an “improperly written and cited” 1975 paper, continues to be used by well-respected scientists. And the “marijuana is more potent today” myth? Again, the result of shoddy research reporting.
Professor Mitch Earlywine is a scream of a presenter and even though he claimed to be suffering a caffeine withdrawal headache, he rattled like he’d consumed a pot of espresso. Regarding the famous “gateway” theory, he said the idea that because people started smoking pot before using other drugs is a PR problem as well as myth.
“If you pull my finger and I fart, that doesn’t mean pulling my finger makes me fart.” The gateway drug, he concluded, often depends on the availability in a place.
To avoid dependence, Earlywine suggests smoking less and less often. “I know this is not the crowd to be telling this to, but as my wife says, ‘if you do it every night it’s not as special.'”
Regarding lung care, he suggests: 1) don’t smoke cigarettes 2) don’t hold your breath when you toke 3) vaporize with the Volcano ? the “Cadillac of vaporizers” 4) smoke stronger pot for less tar 5) consider oral ingestion (eating).
Apart from the issue of medical marijuana’s effectiveness is the issue of delivery. The current options are smoking, vaporization, oral consumption, and now, a mouth spray.
Dr Ethan Russo, a consultant to GW Pharmaceuticals, explained the equipment by which the company’s sublingual spray is delivered. The system used in England has no controls because “people over there do as they’re told,” but, in order to gain acceptance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the DEA, GWP developed the Advanced Delivery System. With it, the liquid or solid drug is contained in a cartridge. The device is fail-safe and access-coded with Big Brotherish features such as a quantity monitor that reports to doctors. “In the US, this is how it will be,” Russo said.
Grinspoon had a less enthusiastic attitude toward marijuana pharmaceuticals, especially with the delivery system.
“The commercial success of any psychoactive cannabinoid product will depend on how vigorously the prohibition against marijuana is enforced. New analogs and extracts will cost much more than whole smoked or ingested marijuana, even at the inflated price imposed by the prohibition tariff,” he said. “I doubt that pharmaceutical companies would be interested in developing cannabinoid products if they had to compete with natural marijuana on a level playing field, but it is unlikely that this pharmaceuticalization will displace natural marijuana for most medical purposes.”
Hemp, hemp hooray
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) came out in force, buoyed by a last minute decision by the Ninth Circuit Court to stay the DEA’s second attempt to impose new rules to outlaw THC in hemp seed.
In the elevator, Jeff Jones of the Oakland Buyers Club directed congratulations on the victory, saying, “You’re the only ones beating the DEA back.” I scoffed at first, but then I realized he’s right. The HIA did beat the DEA this round, and hey, in the drug war you are only as successful as your last court victory.
The score is now Hemp Industry: 2, DEA: 0, and the game is into overtime. Go team!
Next year, NORML convenes in the belly of the beast ? Washington, DC. It will be a potent and exciting place to be during an election year. I’ll see you all there!
? NORML: tel 202-483-5500; email [email protected]; web www.norml.org
? Name That Pothead: www.veryimportantpotheads.com
? Canadian Senate Report: www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp
? Mari Kane: email [email protected]; web www.marikane.com