Monday, May 11, 2015

I Was A Teenage Pothead


I became a teenage pothead by accident. I was about 15 when I hitchhiked from Brooklyn to L.A. to stow away on a ship and emigrate to Tonga. I got caught on a ship in San Pedro harbor and roughed up pretty bad and decided to go back to Brooklyn. I met pre-hippie beatnik types in Colorado on the way home and they were NOT reacting to the marijuana they were all smoking the way we learned people react to marijuana in school. They seemed like happy, well-adjusted people having a good time at life. Long story short-- I started smoking weed and by the time I was in college I was smoking all day and all night, every day. There were only two days in the 4 years I was at college that I wasn't high on pot (and I had car accidents on both those days).

By the time I graduated I would have done almost anything to stop. It-- the drug lifestyle-- had taken over my life. On December 1, 1969, sitting in a sweltering VW van on the border between Pakistan and India, my prayers were answered. While the customs agents were taking a really long time to check my Carnet de Passages en Douane, a big "hand" reached inside my body and pulled out the desire to use drugs-- by the roots. And that was that. I never had that desire again. Ever. I used to have a ritual smoke with Neil Young when he played me a new album he was working on or had just finished. And Green Day wanted to get high with their label president, so I accommodated them. But basically, I didn't smoke any weed from 1969 until... a few weeks ago.

Last October, I was diagnosed with a relatively rare, but treatable, form of cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, and I started a treatment program at City of Hope that I'm still in the midst of. I've been writing about the whole experience here on the blog starting back in February.

My oncologist has been working hard-- and effectively-- to defeat the cancer. She keeps celebrating how well we're doing. I'm happy for her, but I don't always feel like celebrating. That's because my life has become a tangle of chemotherapy side effects. Many of those side effects come down to pain-- nerve pain in my hands and feet and legs (neuropathy), for example, or the pain from a constant, unrelenting cycle of severe constipation and diarrhea. Sometime I feel like every cell in my body is in pain. Or at least that's what I felt before a few weeks ago, when I started using medical marijuana. Full circle-- although it's part of some kind of semi-legal twilight zone now.

Many friends, relatives and chemo survivors told me to use medical marijuana to help in pain management. My oncologist said she didn't want me using any-- "Who knows what impurities are in it and what reactions it could trigger with the chemicals?"-- while I was getting chemo. After the chemo ended, she said it would be OK, although she offered to prescribe a synthetic, marinol (pure THC-- way too psychoactively strong and far less ineffective than what's available in natural form inside the twilight zone).
Across the country, people are dying from using untested, dangerous drugs that attempt to mimic marijuana. Ironically, there’s evidence that the public health emergency is being fueled specifically by the ongoing criminalization of real marijuana.

Synthetic cannabinoids-- known under a variety of names like spice, K2, or scooby snacks-- are typically synthesized in foreign laboratories and sprayed onto a mix of inactive herbs, then sold with no mention of the active ingredients or their strength. Congress and state legislatures are trying to keep up with banning the baffling array of new chemicals being introduced by clandestine chemists, but that may actually be leading to the creation of newer, even more dangerous chemicals that we know even less about.

...Synthetic cannabinoids were born from pot prohibition. Clemson University organic chemist John W. Huffman created hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids starting in the 1980s because researchers had such a hard time getting actual marijuana for research. Though President Obama recently expressed support for reclassifying it, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s very difficult for researchers to study legally. These compounds were similar enough to use in studies, and researchers could actually obtain them. “I always had a hunch that someday somebody would say: ‘Hey, let’s try smoking them.’,” Huffman has said since. “And lo and behold, that’s what happened.”

Today, synthetic pot appeals to people who cannot use marijuana for various reasons surrounding its illegality: They are regularly drug tested, they want to avoid arrest, they find synthetics to be more affordable, or they simply can’t find an illegal dealer.
I've found that doctors under 60 are far more eager to have their patients use marijuana than older doctors, who fear it and vociferously oppose it. And the older, senior doctors (who tend to have more to do with political donations) are the ones whose voices are listened to by legislators. I've talked to countless doctors frustrated that they're constrained from even bringing up marijuana as a tool in pain management.

Last month when Congress voted on Earl Blumenauer's amendment to legalize medical marijuana, 35 Republicans joined almost all the Democrats voting YES, but it failed 210-213 because of 8 backward Democrats like Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX), Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL), Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN) and Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL) who crossed the aisle in the other direction and voted NO. On top of that, local governments have an incentive unrelated to patients' health to keep marijuana illegal.
In a small number of cities clustered in Los Angeles County, Calif., people are seeing their property and money seized by law enforcement through civil asset forfeiture, and it’s making police departments tens of millions of dollars.

California has safeguards in place to protect innocent people from the harmful practices of civil asset forfeiture. However, a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance found that such measures haven’t stopped law enforcement agencies from using federal forfeiture laws to circumvent state policies.

The Drug Policy Alliance, an organization focused on drug policy reforms, examined the cities that lead California in seizures per capita. The cities-- Baldwin Park, Beverly Hills, Gardena, Irwindale, La Verne, Pomona, South Gate, Vernon and West Covina-- are all located around Los Angeles County and collected more than $43 million in revenue from forfeitures between 2006 and 2013.
Sunday I took a friend to get a medical marijuana card so he could buy some Rick Simpson's Oil for his 80-year-old mother, whose body is wracked with agony from diabetic neuropathy. She has the misfortune of living in Florida, where conservatives-- virtually the whole GOP plus Debbie Wasserman Schultz-- adamantly refuse to allow patients to use medical marijuana. Ben Pollara, the director of United for Care, a group fighting for medical marijuana legalization, is working to overcome that opposition.
Medical marijuana didn’t get any legislative hearings in Florida for years. They’ve continued to stall on comprehensive legislation and the one bill they did pass got thrown into a regulatory nightmare to never see the light of day.

Pollara didn’t say so exactly, but there’s reason to believe that the Charlotte’s Web bill passed in 2014 was merely a ploy to keep voters from siding with United for Care on the Amendment 2 ballot measure.

He pointed out that lawmakers had remained silent on the issue until a ballot measure was a sure thing. Then, suddenly, they pushed a bill with no teeth.

“I think it is telling,” Pollara said.

The Legislature’s inaction comes after more than half of all voters in the 2014 election favored comprehensive medical marijuana. More people voted for medical pot than voted for the governor and most lawmakers-- 58 percent. In many other states, that would have been enough to pass, but Florida requires a 60 percent majority.

Regardless, the thought process had been that even though the amendment didn’t pass, the message was clear and that would leave reluctant lawmakers with no choice but to make medical marijuana a priority.

Or at least stop standing in the way.

But they didn’t so now it’ll head back to the voters. United for Care already has nearly 50,000 petitions gathered and that’s just from a barebones effort among a small group of volunteers.

“We’re already way ahead of where we were in 2013,” Pollara said referring to the close-call petition effort in which the group had to pay volunteers a steep per-petition fee to get the job done.

Pollara has no reason to believe the petition effort will be an issue this year. In fact, he said the group probably won’t have to pay nearly as much to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

And as for those lawmakers still standing firm in their “pot isn’t medicine” stance, the ballot measure will share a ballot with presidential candidates. That means more voters at the polls.
"Compassion is coming to the great state of Florida," wrote Attorney John Morgan in the Tampa Bay Times, "as it has in 23 other states plus Washington, D.C. I plan to lead this march to victory as long as it takes. Last fall we almost won. Nearly 3.4 million Floridians voted "yes" for medical marijuana, totaling 58 percent of the vote in favor. That's usually a win. Medical marijuana received a half-million more votes than Rick Scott and more than any other elected official on the ballot. This time around, we will not only win a broad majority, we will win a majority larger than 60 percent, and medical marijuana will become the law of the land. Politicians in Tallahassee may not want to work. So be it. We will do their work for them. We will do their work, for the people, for the patients, for our families."

How ironic would it be to see Texas Republicans legalize medical marijuana before Florida does? It could happen.
A proposal to legalize marijuana in Texas will head to the calendars committee, and possibly the House floor, after it was approved by a House committee Wednesday evening.

House Bill 2165 by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, would allow possession and delivery of marijuana beginning in September 2015. It would still be illegal to sell the drug to minors. The measure passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on a 5-2 vote.

“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” Simpson wrote in a March op-ed in the the Texas Tribune. He said the plant should be “regulated like tomatoes, jalapenos or coffee.”
One of the progressive candidates running for Congress who will help remedy this mess is Hermosa Beach Mayor Pro Tem Nanette Barragán and she, like almost everyone who backs legalizing medical marijuana, has very personal reasons that have gone into her thinking. Her district-- CA-44-- includes the municipality of South Gate, where local police are on a property confiscation rampage. "I am in favor of medical marijuana," Barragán stated definitively. "I was only about 13 years old when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. For the next ten years he suffered through the terrible pain and discomfort of that disease, and the more it progressed, the more helpless I felt. If there was something available to help him ease his pain I would have wanted it to be available for him. No one should be forced to suffer when reasonable, safe relief is available. Medical decisions that include the option of medical marijuana should be legal when made between a doctor and a patient." If you'd like to see more candidates-- like Nanette Barragán-- elected to Congress to change heartless and antiquated laws about medical marijuana, you can find them on this page.

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At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

Howie, we are also celebrating how well you are doing. Don't stop.

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

And special PROPS for that informative video, MUST get this out to the Peoples asap.


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