Part THIRTY-TWO, the final episode of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – “Prop 215”.

HOW TO LISTEN

If you’re seeing this message, it means you aren’t logged in as a subscriber. If want to listen to the premium episodes of the series, you’ll need to become one of our Bullshit Fighters and register for one of our premium accounts.

Show Notes:

  • On July 28, 1992, the biggest of journalistic guns swiveled on the Drug War.
  • The New York Times put the failure of the War on Drugs on page one for the first time: SOME THINK THE ‘WAR ON DRUGS’ IS BEING WAGED ON THE WRONG FRONT.
  • As part of a series on George Bush’s record as president, reporter Joseph Treaster wrote that “Mr. Bush has poured more and more money into tactics that over the last 20 years have repeatedly failed to change the course of the campaign against drugs”
  • Then Bill Clinton got elected in 1992.
  • He was a child of the rock and roll generation.
  • The drug generation.
  • He admitted he smoked pot but didn’t inhale.
  • Just one of many lies he would tell while in office.
  • And people on the other side of the drug war were hopeful.
  • Everyone knew that marijuana — not crack, cocaine, or heroin — was politically the most important illegal drug.
  • It doesn’t kill people who use it, spawn gun battles in city streets, enrich foreign drug lords, or inspire women to abandon their babies
  • Without the marijuana ban, the country’s “drug problem” would have been tiny.
  • There wouldn’t be 11 million regular users of illegal drugs in the United States, there would be 2 million.
  • Of those, about 350,000 use cocaine every day.
  • Along with the country’s half million heroin addicts, these hard-core users are the real “drug problem”: tragic, resistant to solutions, but statistically minuscule.
  • Heroin and cocaine are the scary drugs that keep the Drug War’s home fires burning, but vastly more people are touched personally by a war on marijuana that yields few benefits.
  • Lives aren’t saved.
  • Violent criminal organizations aren’t disrupted.
  • Instead, a lot of harmless potheads — and the generally peaceful growers who supply them — go to prison at enormous expense to the taxpayer.
  • But a thick critique of Bush’s drug policy issued just prior to the election by Democratic senator Joe Biden’s Judiciary Committee was published.
  • It was called “The President’s Drug Strategy: Has it Worked?”
  • No, Biden answered – but only because Bush didn’t spend enough money on law enforcement, wasn’t tough enough on those addicted to drugs, didn’t give the military enough power and money to fight illegal drugs.
  • It never mentioned “racism,” “AIDS,” “poverty,” “tobacco,” or ”civil liberties.”
  • Not in nearly 200 pages.
  • Clinton’s first drug budget duplicated precisely Bush’s heavy emphasis on law enforcement.
  • On Pearl Harbor Day 1993, Joycelyn Elders, Clinton’s surgeon general, gave an hour-long speech to the National Press Club about AIDS, teen pregnancy, and other matters of public health, concluding that the country faced many difficult choices.
  • During questions, legalization activist Eric Sterling asked if legalization isn’t “one of the difficult choices we must face to fight violence.”
  • Elders answered. “I do feel that we would markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized,”  “But I don’t know all the ramifications of this. I do feel that we need to do some studies.”
  • The White House sided with Elders’s many critics.
  • “The president is against legalizing drugs,” press secretary Dee Dee Myers said, “and he’s not interested in studying the issue.”
  • For good measure, a New York congressman introduced a bill “to prohibit federally sponsored research pertaining to the legalization of drugs.”
  • Eight days after Elders’s comment, Arkansas police arrested Elders’s son Kevin for his role in a two-gram cocaine deal they’d known about for seven months.
  • Though it was his first offense, he faced a ten-year mandatory sentence without parole.
  • Still, the surgeon general came back in early January saying she’d studied up on legalization and now “realized I probably made a more honest, aboveboard statement than I knew I had made.”*
  • I think it’s important to understanding why the Democrats wouldn’t budge on drugs.
  • It’s probably NOT for the same reason as the Republicans.
  • Not at THIS stage, anyway.
  • For the Republicans, it’s about stopping the minorities from voting – because they probably aren’t going to vote for the GOP.
  • For the Democrats, it’s because they don’t want to appear soft on drugs.
  • But also – remember that the big money behind both parties is intrinsically interested in maintaining the status quo.
  • They don’t want blacks and Jews in the country club.
  • There’s an inherent racism in America’s white elite.
  • In 1994, Elders was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS.
  • She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, and she replied, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught”.
  • This remark caused great controversy and resulted in Elders losing the support of the White House.
  • White House chief of staff Leon Panetta remarked, “There have been too many areas where the President does not agree with her views. This is just one too many”.
  • In December 1994, Elders was forced to resign by President Clinton.
  • Of course, if she’s said “only when it’s a President masturbating one of his young female interns with a cigar in the Oval Office”, she probably would have kept her job.
  • Actually my friend Constantine said he took a tour of the West Wing recently and the incident happened in a nook in a corridor.
  • In HER nook … in a nook. In a corridor. Up her corridor. In her nook. I don’t know.
  • And then, in 1996, 66 years after Harry Anslinger went rogue, things started to change.
  • But it wasn’t any thanks to Bill Clinton.
  • First the state of California voted to legalise medical marijuana.
  • Arizona went further, forbidding the imprisonment of first- or second-time nonviolent drug possessors (requiring mandatory probation and treatment instead), permitting the medical use of marijuana, and opening the door to medical use of heroin and LSD as well.
  • The vote there — in an overwhelmingly Republican state —was 65 to 35 percent.
  • The Clinton administration lost their shit.
  • Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey – who is best known for Operation Desert Storm and being the guy who commanded the Highway of Death – said he was ready to send the DEA to California and Arizona to make marijuana arrests those states wouldn’t.
  • But considering how the public might react to televised images of federal agents hauling skeletal patients off to prison, the drug czar had to switch tactics.
  • Doctors, not patients, would be the enemy, he said; the DEA would revoke the prescription license of any doctor who recommended marijuana.
  • And Bill Clinton supported him.
  • Then the New England Journal of Medicine blasted the Clinton administration for resisting the will of the people of California and Arizona.
  • Columnists and commentators praised the initiatives, and legislators from Texas to Maine said they would try to get similar laws passed in their states.
  • “We can’t let this go without a response,” huffed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah – who is currently the longest-serving Republican U.S. Senator in history BTW
  • Being the only legal source of marijuana in the country, the federal government could either provide pot to patients, turn a blind eye, or resist the initiatives with force.
  • But either supplying marijuana or allowing the initiatives to stand unchallenged would slay the central myth of the War on Drugs: that marijuana is a lethal, addictive destroyer of souls with no medical value.
  • For if marijuana is such evil, how could our government make peace with it? And if it is not, then how do we justify confiscating pot smokers’ houses and sending non-medical users to prison for five years?
  • McCaffrey appeared everywhere on television, warning that the initiatives in California and Arizona were the narrow edge of the legalization wedge.
  • It may turn out he was right.
  • The California and Arizona campaigns provide new models for reform activists.
  • In California, a broad-based coalition was slowly and noisily built during five years, with local initiatives in San Francisco and Santa Cruz preceding the statewide fight.
  • Twice the legislature passed medical-marijuana bills only to have them vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson.
  • By the time the initiative reached the ballot, the issue was familiar to California voters and had widespread grassroots support.
  • Arizona’s campaign was the mirror image of California’s.
  • A small cadre of elites — retired Sen. Barry Goldwater among them — organized themselves privately and then pounced with a huge media blitz that introduced voters to the issue as it sought to sway them.
  • And then – In the US, Colorado and Washington state in 2012 became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
  • Several states, from Alaska to California to Maine, have since followed.
  • Globally, more countries are considering legalization.
  • Uruguay became the first country to legalize pot in 2013.
  • Canada became the first wealthy nation to do so in 2018.
  • Think of the states as dominoes lined up one by one.
  • When the first domino topples, it leads to a chain reaction that causes most, if not all, of the others to fall.
  • That’s what has happened, and continues to happen, with state legalization of marijuana.
  • The timeline for marijuana legalization in the U.S. shows how those dominoes keep falling.
  • And it affects other countries as well.
  • Once we see it happen in the U.S. – and once the U.S. stops brow-beating other countries into following them on the issue – they start to fall.
  • So how did it all happen?
  • One group we haven’t talked about is NORML.
  • The National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.
  • It was founded in 1970 by lawyer Keith Stroup with a $5000 grant from Hugh Hefner.
  • At one point, Hefner was donating $100,000 a year to NORML
  • He served as executive director until 1979, during which time 11 states adopted marijuana decriminalization laws.
  • However, his directorship was cut short by a serious blunder.
  • The administration of President Jimmy Carter had favored marijuana reform; however, Peter Bourne, Carter’s drug adviser, disagreed with Stroup on ending the spraying of Mexican marijuana fields with the herbicide paraquat.
  • In retaliation, Stroup acknowledged to a reporter that Bourne had snorted cocaine at NORML’s 1977 Christmas party.
  • Bourne was subsequently fired.
  • Stroup eventually lost his job too; “The folks at NORML didn’t like snitches and eased him out the door.”
  • He was invited back in 1994 and ran it again until 2005 when he stepped down.
  • NORML built a large grassroots network with 135 chapters and over 550 lawyers.
  • But the big thing that happened in the mid 90s was California’s Proposition 215 (1996).
  • California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana.
  • California was the first domino to fall and gave organizers outside the state the confidence to push for the legalization of medical marijuana in their states.
  • Proposition 215 was the brainchild of San Francisco marijuana activist Dennis Peron in memory of his lover, Jonathan West, who had used marijuana to treat symptoms of AIDS.
  • Peron, who himself died January 27, 2018, was born in The Bronx, grew up on Long Island, and was drafted into the United States Air Force in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
  • That was where he first encountered cannabis.
  • After the war, he moved to the Castro District, San Francisco, where he became an active Yippie and organized smoke-ins.
  • He also supported gay activist Harvey Milk, a former Long Island resident.
  • In the 1970s, he ran the Big Top marijuana supermarket out of his home.
  • The place got raided in 1978.
  • Peron got shot in the leg and sent to jail.
  • Let him tell the story.
  • 0’40 – 4’12
  • He did six months.
  • The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was the first public marijuana dispensary in the United States.
  • It first opened in 1992, in the wake of the success of Proposition P, which passed in 1991.
  • After his partner died from AIDS in 1990, Peron worked to get Proposition P passed in SF.
  • a resolution calling on the state government to permit medical cannabis, which received 79% of the vote
  • Prop P did not have force of law, but was simply a resolution declaring the city’s support for medical marijuana.
  • Santa Cruz and other cities followed suit with similar measures endorsing medical use of marijuana.
  • The California legislature went on to approve medical marijuana bills by State Senator Milton Marks and Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, but they were vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson.
  • He also founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the nation’s first public marijuana dispensary.
  • Peron’s real mission with the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was to get arrested.
  • Once charged, he planned to launch a defense based on marijuana’s medical necessity.
  • He wanted to prove in court that nothing else made AIDS patients more comfortable.
  • In 1996, Peron coauthored California Proposition 215, which sought to allow the use of medical cannabis.
  • He, worked closely with Dr. Tod Mikuriya to organize Proposition 215.
  • His mother, the former Anna Schwenk, an immigrant from Germany, was a special-education teacher.
  • His father, Tadafumi Mikuriya, the descendant of a Japanese samurai family, was a civil engineer.
  • Mikuriya had worked to decriminalize cannabis and declassify cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
  • He  spoke worldwide during the 1980s and 1990s in an effort to garner support for the medical use of cannabis.
  • was a psychiatrist, and author of books such as Marijuana Medical Papers in 1972
  • Remember how the Nixon administration decided to remove all of the positive medical and scientific studies from the NIDA’s journals?
  • NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • They went around and physically removed them?
  • Well this guy made copies of all of the studies and self-published them as a book.
  • Known as the grandfather of the medical cannabis movement
  • In 1996, for instance, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Bill Clinton, publicly derided the doctor’s medical philosophy as “the Cheech and Chong show.”
  • longtime registered Republican
  • Until his death in May 2007, he continued in private psychiatric practice limited to cannabis clinical consultation.
  • He approved marijuana for medical purposes in over nine thousand patients, not solely in terminal cases, but also alleviation of physical and emotional pain in non-terminal cases.
  • Among doctors who support the therapeutic use of marijuana, many are publicly circumspect when asked if they ever take a taste of their own medicine.
  • Not so Dr. Mikuriya.
  • As The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004, “He willingly acknowledges, unlike most of his peers in cannabis consulting, that he does indeed smoke pot, mostly in the morning with his coffee.”
  • Dan Lungren, the Attorney General of California, ordered a police raid of Peron’s club a month before the election, arresting Peron.
  • In 1995, Peron, Gieringer and Imler organized Californians for Compassionate Use, a PAC dedicated to putting medical marijuana on the ballot.
  • Californians for Compassionate Use tapped veteran activist Chris Conrad to organize a grassroots, volunteer-based petition drive to collect the more than 400,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
  • As the deadline approached and it was becoming clear the unpaid signature gatherers were not on pace to qualify, a group of philanthropists, including George Soros, who donated $550,000, stepped in to pay for professional petition circulators through the Santa Monica, CA based political consulting firm of Zimmerman & Markman.
  • The opposition campaign to Proposition 215 included a wide variety of law enforcement, drug prevention groups, and elected officials, including three former Presidents and California Attorney General Dan Lungren.
  • The Clinton administration condemned it as a cynical hoax.
  • Bob Dole denounced it as dangerous.
  • And former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter call it a threat to the public health of “all Americans.”
  • The LA Times was against it too, calling it “ill-conceived” and “dangerously sloppy”
  • Which is how I like my women, but not my propositions.
  • Arguments against the proposition were signed by prominent prosecutors and law enforcement officials
  • They claimed that it was an overly vague, bad law that, “allows unlimited quantities of marijuana to be grown anywhere … in backyards or near schoolyards without any regulations or restrictions,” and that it effectively legalized marijuana.
  • Arguments in support were signed by prominent oncologists, a cancer survivor, a nurse, and two politicians, including one who wrote that he supported Prop 215 because he didn’t “want to send cancer patients to jail for using marijuana.”
  • The AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s to the early 1990s as well as recent studies regarding relief for chemotherapy patients were opening people’s minds to medical marijuana.
  • On top of that, 60-year-old “Brownie” Mary Rathburn’s arrest for baking marijuana brownies made headlines garnering sympathy for medical marijuana.
  • She was another author of Prop 215.
  • was an American medical cannabis rights activist. As a hospital volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital, she became known for illegally baking and distributing cannabis brownies to AIDS patients.
  • Her name was actually “Mary Jane”.
  • Rathbun first met fellow activist Dennis Peron in 1974 in the Castro district at Cafe Flore, where they shared a cannabis cigarette.
  • While working as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes, she earned extra money selling cannabis-laced brownies; she became known in the Castro for selling “magical brownies” out of a basket for several dollars each.
  • Rathbun baked and sold cannabis brownies for profit out of her house.
  • In the early 1980s, Rathbun was baking about 50 dozen cannabis brownies per day.
  • She advertised her “original recipe brownies” on San Francisco bulletin boards, calling them “magically delicious”.
  • An undercover police officer discovered what she was doing, and on the night of January 14, 1981, police raided Rathbun’s home and found more than 18 pounds (8. kg) of cannabis, 54 dozen cannabis brownies, and an assortment of other drugs.
  • When Rathbun opened the door, she reportedly told the police, “I thought you guys were coming.”
  • She was 57 years old when she was first arrested.
  • Rathbun’s brownie customers were mostly gay men.
  • When they first began coming down with AIDS in the early 1980s, she noticed that cannabis helped them with the wasting syndrome; she also found this to be true of cancer patients.
  • People donated cannabis to Rathbun and she began baking brownies in the hundreds and distributing them to sick people free of charge.
  • Rathbun’s monthly $650 Social Security check helped her to purchase baking supplies.
  • On December 7, 1982, Rathbun was walking down Market Street carrying a bag of brownies when she by chance met one of the officers who had originally arrested her in 1981.
  • Rathbun was on her way to deliver cannabis brownies for a friend who had cancer and was suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.
  • The officer inquired as to the contents of her bag and found her in possession of four dozen cannabis brownies.
  • She was taken to the city jail and held on multiple counts of possession and violation of her probation.
  • The district attorney eventually dropped the charges.
  • Rathbun was arrested for a third time in Cazadero, California, on July 19, 1992, while pouring cannabis into brownie batter at the home of a grower.
  • She was charged with possession of 2 pounds (1 kg) of cannabis and released on bail.
  • The Sonoma County district attorney’s office attempted to prosecute her in People v. Rathbun, bringing her case international media coverage.
  • She pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony marijuana possession.
  • Rathbun was acquitted of the charges.
  • Attorney Norman Elliott Kent notes that Rathbun’s legal defense relied on medical necessity
  • According to Kent, Rathbun “was able to testify that her deliveries were made to assist others in need, not to advance individual greed, that the nobility of her actions outweighed the reprehensibleness of her offense according to the law.”
  • Rathbun often appeared in public wearing polyester pantsuits, and she was said to have a “sailor’s mouth.”
  • Rathbun died of a heart attack at age 77 on April 10, 1999.
  • Proposition 215 passed with 55.% support, setting off a chain reaction across North America of medical marijuana legislation.
  • Peron opposed California Proposition 19 in 2010, which would have legalized recreational cannabis, because he did not believe that recreational use exists, as all people who use marijuana are using it medicinally.
  • He also opposed California Proposition 64 in 2016, which was passed and allowed recreational cannabis sales in California.
  • His reasoning seems to be that he was worried that if it became totally legal, outside forces would come in, and “Walmart” weed.
  • Just normal people, fighting the good fight.
  • What about the TV show, Weeds?
  • Aired from 2005-2012
  • Starring the VERY sexy Mary Louise Parker.
  • Dr Dina
  • The real Nancy Botwin
  • Not a real Doctor
  • Runs The oldest dispensary in Southern California
  • The princess of Pot
  • Queen of Cannabis
  • Lots of celebrity and politician clients
  • What I think happened is this:
  • Eventually marijuana lost its mystique.
  • Everyone has either tried it, or knows someone who smokes it.
  • And everyone knows those people seem happy when they smoke it.
  • They don’t become crazy killers.
  • They don’t quit their job.
  • They don’t become crack whores.
  • They just laugh and get on with life.
  • And then people like Cheech and Chong, Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen, Snoop, Willie Nelson, Bill Maher, Woody Harrelson, just made it normal.
  • Generations of people grew up admiring people who smoked weed.
  • NOT because they smoked weed – but because of their art.
  • And then we found out they smoked weed, and they seemed creative and held their shit down, so it can’t be all that bad.
  • So the moral of the story is – people can make a difference.
  • They can use their art and the courage of their convictions to overturn a century of propaganda and fear and discrimination by governments and the media.