By: Rocky Neptun
Under the shadow of a toxic San Diego District Attorney and a cliff-hanger Attorney General election between a fanatical D.A. from Los Angeles and a sympathetic D.A. from the Bay Area, medical marijuana patients, providers, and activists met near Mission Bay under the banner of â€œPutting Patients Firstâ€.
The November 13th all-day gathering at the Marina Village Conference Center reflected the radiance of altruism in the medical marijuana movement, its ancient heritage, the potential to humanize the medical-care-giving industry, and also, the dangers that members and patients face from reactionary forces still fighting the obsolete cultural wars of the 1960â€™s.
About 50 people turned out to participate in San Diegoâ€™s first symposium on â€œTraining for Medical Marijuana Professionalsâ€, which was sponsored by Americans for Safe Access. The core curriculum, almost half the day, was centered on introductory preparation for those working with medical marijuana patients. The emphasis was on treating the whole patient with a greater understanding of how illness is not just an isolated condition, but how physical, psychological, and emotional factors interact to affect patientsâ€™ functioning. Dr. Amanda Reiman, Chairwoman of the Medical Cannabis Commission for the City of Berkeley and a lecturer at UC Berkeley, led the training session.
Don Duncan, co-founder of Americans for Safe Access (along with San Diegoâ€™s own Steph Sherer), gave an hour-long history of the movement in California and reported on present efforts in Sacramento to guarantee and expand patientsâ€™ rights.
Going way beyond the scheduled departure time, a panel of attorneys gave an overview of current law and recent court decisions, sharing knowledge about what is legal and what is not for both patients and caregivers, including cooperatives and collectives. Led by Lauren Payne, Americans for Safe Accessâ€™s Legal Services Coordinator, the lawyers conducted â€œKnow Your Rightsâ€ training sessions on encounters with law enforcement officials.
As I sat there, looking out the window at the bobbing sailboats moored near the conference center, I thought back to my days as a VISTA volunteer in the Appalachian Mountains. The Voting Rights Act had been passed; yet, the black folks we were assisting in Skunk Hollow, near Corbin, Kentucky, lacked safe access to the polls. Roaming gangs of armed â€œredneckâ€ mountain men threatened anyone who exercised their â€œrightâ€ to vote, very much like San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose ideological zeal and personal ambition threatens another group of people struggling for access to their rights. In this case, their entitlement to medical marijuana as guaranteed by the citizens of California.
Jeremy Joseph, an attorney from Los Angeles, urged the participants to continue the struggle for their rights. He noted that 11 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana provisions, and another nine states are in the process of working through those rights.
Sexism and Medical Marijuana Prohibition in the Middle-Ages
Medical Marijuana deterrence is not a new phenomenon. Whenever those in power, religious or secular, have sought to increase or maintain that dominance, one of their first acts is to prohibit knowledge (just ask the Chinese government or Google it). For thousands of years, elderly women, usually widows, made their way as village healers. There were no doctors for the common people. They passed the knowledge of natural healing (the herbs and grasses of the forests) down from mother to daughter, aunt to niece.
When I lived in a small Toltec village in the state of Morelos, Mexico, as part of a cross-cultural educational experience in the early 1970â€™s, there was no doctor around. When I developed an eye malady, the family I was staying with presented me to a wrinkled, ancient woman â€“ the villageâ€™s healer. She fanned the smoke of marijuana into my eye and also used a tincture from the plant to cure the infection.
It wasnâ€™t until the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, when a series of devastating plagues broke out, that the Church lashed out against naturalist healers in general and women in particular. From the Pope down to the lowliest friar, the official spin on the plagues was theological rather than medical; it was Godâ€™s vengeance for sin, and only more devotion and donations to the Church would save you.
Fearful mothers and fathers brought their ill children to the old women of the community, not the wine sodden priest. Some were saved; word and hope spread. The absolutism of the Catholic Church was threatened. The inquisition was formed to root out these â€œwitchesâ€ and prohibit reliance on â€œmedicineâ€ in favor of prayer and confession. One of the charges brought against St. Joan of Arc was that she used marijuana.
Not only was the giving of medicinal preparations â€“ including cannabis â€“ by herbalists and chemists declared illegal, but merely possessing the expertise, which was considered â€œwitchâ€™s knowledgeâ€, was punishable by burning at the stake.
By 1484, marijuana had become so well-known among the common people for treating the pain and suffering of the plague that a fearful Pope Innocent VIII specifically labeled it â€œan unholy sacrament of the second and third types of the Satanic mass.â€ Statements like this, flying in the face of reality, pushed ordinary folk further away from the church and laid the seeds of the Reformation.
Did Jesus Use Marijuana? Would it Have Saved George Washingtonâ€™s Life?
I suspect that prostitution may not be the worldâ€™s oldest profession. â€œI must have given a hundred thousand dollars of it away before I knew it was worth anything,â€ my aunt used to say. I think the tribal healer became the first vocation. From the time we climbed out of the trees, anyone could mate, but those with the insight and knowledge to restore health and salvage lives were the indispensable ones.
Over 5,000 years ago, physician farmers were growing and dispensing marijuana, called cannabis Tai-Ma, in China. Around 1,000 B.C., the migration of the Aryan tribes spread cannabis medicine from India to Europe. It had hundreds of medical applications: wound healer, muscle relaxant, tonic for pain, fever easer, helped with childbirths, and so on. It was considered a â€œsacred herbâ€ and used by the priests of many early religions as their badge to the â€œdivineâ€.
From the priests of Shintoism in Japan, who used marijuana to unite couples in marriage and drive away evil spirits, to the earliest Jews, who â€œas part of their Holy Friday night services in the Temple of Solomon, 60-80,000 men ritually passed around and inhaled 20,000 incense burners filled with kanabosom (cannabis) before returning home for the largest meal of the week,â€ as recorded by Jack Herer in his book, The Sociology Of Cannabis And World History. The Jewish Essene communities, south of Jerusalem, where Jesus is thought to have studied in his youth, are known to have used marijuana as a medicine.
But from independent, self-governing, communal associations, the Christian faith, seized by popes and emperors, became a process of tyranny and oppression. Not only medical marijuana, but an entire cornucopia of healing herbs and substances were tragically, criminally, and systematically denied to whole generations of ill people. Well into the 18th Century, bleeding patients of pints of their blood was the primary treatment used by doctors. George Washington, who woke up one morning with the flu, was literally bled to death by his doctors. One wonders, if he had just smoked some hearty Dutch Passion Feminized Cannabis and gone back to bed, would he have lived well into the 19th Century?
Todayâ€™s bleeders would have us dependent on dangerous chemicals manufactured by corporations who donate to their political campaigns. It is indeed ironic that Bonnie Dumanis, San Diegoâ€™s District Attorney and a member of the Log Cabin Republican Club, in her vicious pursuit of medical marijuana users, is at odds with Abraham Lincoln who refused to approve a proposed prohibition on the use of cannabis. Every American president until the 1930â€™s used medical marijuana, and according to Morey Amsterdam and Eddie Gordon â€“ close friends of John F. Kennedy, who used cannabis for his back pain â€“ JFK was going to legalize it during his second term.
Even though California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, patients and providers have been under attack by reactionary forces and their contempt for voters and police state mentality right up to our present day. As San Diego Attorney Lance Rogers pointed out to participants, from the July local and federal narcotics task force raid on the Amsterdam Collective in 2008 (in opposition to President Obamaâ€™s promises to leave patients alone) through the clearly illegal entrapment and forgeries of the SDPD in its Operation Green Rx busts in 2009 to October of this year, when a North Park medical marijuana collective was harassed, patients continue to have their rights assaulted.
As I sat in the conference room, I realized the participants â€“ some professionals, some poor, young, and old â€“ were always looking over their shoulder, which demonstrated that they were aware of their vulnerability and still putting the patients first. This is living proof that heroism is alive and well. They are the ethical descendants of those poor women from the Dark Ages, who were tortured and burned alive for saving a childâ€™s life with their herbal medicine bag. The attendees are in the tradition of that old woman in the thatched hut who saved my eye so many years ago. They keep the possibility open that I will have help if I need to self-medicate in the future – if that good Cuban rum I smuggled into this country can no longer ease the pain of my osteoarthritis.
There are those among us I call sufferers from â€œPleasure Disapproval Syndromeâ€. A vast populace, unhappy with their lives, trapped in dead-end jobs, bored with corporate entertainment, happy-hour devotees, and pharmaceutical addicts, who are fearful not of criminals or terrorists, but shiver in fear that somewhere, someone is having a good time and enjoying life. They voted against Prop. 19, are afraid that lesbians and gays might find enjoyment in marriage, and God forbid, are terrified that a person might actually get pleasure from taking their medicine.
The culture war continues; however, the participants at the San Diego Patient Rights Conference seemed to agree to keep their powder (ah, buds) dry and to continue struggling toward unhindered access to this ancient, safe, and effective medicine for all who need it.