Thursday, November 26, 2015

Something To Be Thankful For... And Who's Still Against Decriminalizing Marijuana?


This has been quite the year for me. Last October I was diagnosed with a rare but treatable form of cancer, Mantle Cell Lymphoma. Lucky for me I found an amazing doctor who's one of the specialists in this disease and she fought it, apparently successfully.While she fought that, I did my best to survive the treatment, treatment that was incredibly intense, in some ways the worst thing I had ever experienced in my life. Chemotherapy is no walk in the park and the "side effects: can be devastating. The cancer is in remission and the effects of the stem cell replacement are wearing off but there are still battles to fight every single day.

One that I had to fight when the chemo was finally finished involved intense pain, inability to eat and inability to sleep. It may not sound like that big a deal... but it was. Sometimes I was up after midnight screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. I lost 45 pounds and couldn't look at myself and feared I would waste away to nothing.

When I was a teenager, marijuana was an integral part of my life. In fact, there were a few years that it had been the focus of my life. But on December 1, 1969, sitting in my VW van in a desolate parking lot in the no-man's-land at the border between India and Pakistan, waiting in a very hot sun for a visa, I underwent what I always considered a miracle. I had tried to stop using drugs and sometimes I would succeed but the desire was always there and eventually I would fall back into it. But on that day almost 46 years ago, it was like a hand reached into me and pulled out the desire for drugs entirely. And, just like that-- BOOM-- I never wanted to use marijuana or any other drug again. Not that I never did it again. I just never cared about it one way or another. Years later when I worked at Warner Bros., Neil Young would want to smoke a joint when he delivered a new album. I'd take a toke and get high and be unable to work for the rest of the day but... what the hell... part of the job, and not an unpleasant part in the least. And Green Day felt that they wanted to experience smoking some pot in the president's office. Fine with me. The point, though, is that I wasn't against pot; it had been an essential part of my teen years and I appreciate what it did for me. But that was in the past and it wasn't part of my life any longer.

Then the chemo side effects. Friends and neighbors told me pot would help. I kept hearing about "medical marijuana," which I always assumed was just a ploy by pot-heads to make some headway towards legalization. But once my doctor told me it might be worth trying to relieve the symptoms, I gave it a shot. I used some marijuana oil on a piece of food. That night I slept for the first time in a long, long time. I woke up the next morning and yelled downstairs to my sister, "I'm starving." It was the first time I wanted to eat in what seemed like forever. The marijuana oil became an integral part of my recovery. If you can't sleep or eat and if you're in agonizing pain... well, you can't heal. The marijuana helped me heal. I became an advocate among other patients and helped several navigate the system of how to get it and where. And when that part of my healing was over... that was that. I'm not any more inclined to using it today than I was a year ago or ten years ago. Zero interest. But not zero interest in the politics around it. Especially now that most Americans favor legalization.

I'm so proud that several Members of Congress I'm in regular communication with understand the benefits and are working towards legalization. This year, one of L.A.'s most stalwart progressives, Ted Lieu, passed an amendment, with huge bipartisan support, partially defunding cannabis eradication operations. He is part of a group of a dozen Members-- besides Lieu, Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jan Scakowsky (D-IL), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Earl Blumenthal (D-OR), Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA)-- who have sent a letter to Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker and House Democratic Leader, and to the two heads of the Appropriations Committee, chairman Hal Rogers and Ranking Member Nita Lowey, requesting that Lieu's amendment be adopted into the upcoming spending bill that has to be passed by December 11. The amendment takes $9 million from the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program and redistributes it to 3 accounts that play a far more useful role in promoting the safety and economic prosperity: the Violence Against Women Act Youth-Oriented Program, the Victims of Child Abuse program, and the Spending Reduction Account. From Lieu's letter:
Throughout the country, states are increasingly turning away from marijuana prohibition and enacting alternative policies to lower crime rates, free up limited law enforcement resources , and keep drugs out of the hands of children. To date, four states have legalized recreational marijuana, and 23 states now allow marijuana for medical use. There has also been a great deal of movement on the science behind marijuana, and consequently, the marijuana policy landscape in Congress has shifted to more closely match the needs of the states we represent.

...Despite both the programs’ proven ineffectiveness and the seismic shift in attitudes on marijuana policy within Congress and across our nation, the DEA continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on its Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, spending $18 million in 2014 alone.

The language contained in this amendment, supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress, is an important and needed step forward to cut waste from our federal budget and focus our limited resources on programs that have proven to be effective at preventing violence, assisting children who have been victimized, and promoting public health.

This month Bernie Sanders, the most admired senator of any of the 100 in America, introduced a bill to end federal prohibition of marijuana, removing it from the DEA's schedule of controlled substances. It's the first such bill to ever be introduced in the Senate and-- no surprise here-- he's the first presidential candidate to back the idea. Hillary, like fellow conservatives Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, wants to leave it to the states to decide. O'Malley says it should still be illegal but more in line with cocaine instead of heroin. (You can see why no one takes his candidacy seriously.) Rand Paul favors legalization for medical marijuana and thinks prison for users is a bad idea. Jeb is outspokenly against legalizing even medical marijuana. Chris Christie-- playing politics as usual-- says he'll put everyone in prison who smokes pot in states where its been legalized-- Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. And Fiorina is confused and conflates marijuana with much stronger drugs. From the GOP debate:

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