In September, 2011, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms banned state law-abiding medical cannabis patients from owning firearms. A bureaucratic decider simply swiped away hundreds of thousands of Americans' Second Amendment rights by way of an added item on a pre-sale questionnaire.
Using an ancient herb as recommended by your doctor, one that any law enforcer will tell you makes people less aggressive? Sorry. Whacked on Oxycontin? Fire away.
My friend Carl, a Vietnam veteran, concealed handgun permit holder, political conservative of the John Wayne school and New Mexico medical cannabis patient, is apoplectic about the policy. "I can't believe I lose my rights because I'm receiving treatment. I defended this country's freedoms."
This is just one example of key ancillary details that need to be fixed as America's Longest War limps to its federal demise. Another is arbitrary limits on or zero tolerance of bloodstream THC when driving, even by locally-kosher cannabis fans: if you legally used cannabis three weeks ago at the Ziggy Marley concert in Washington, you can, absurdly, be found to be impaired today.
In addition to the mining of the harbor that such unacceptably policy represents among those sore losers, the retreating Drug Warriors, this again shows the risk that any cannabis enjoyer faces. These unscientific THC policies must be squashed in courts and state houses, and fast.
The risk list continues. On my January flight in Honolulu to testify in support of pending industrial and social cannabis legalization in the Aloha State, the grey haired 59-year-old local fellow sitting next to me, Jeb, a construction site manager, had a sadly common story for me when he found out where I was heading that day.
"Tell the folks at the statehouse that I just lost my job after 23 years because THC showed in my system," Jeb told me. "I had smoked at home on a Saturday night two weeks earlier. I don't drink. I've never come to work impaired. Never even had a sick day. My work record was so impeccable that my supervisor apologized to me. He said, 'we work for a company that will fire its best employee for pot, first time.' I might lose my house. I'm flying to Oahu to meet with my lawyer but he told me that if it's the policy it's the policy."
Not in my America. The America that resides on what I deeply believe to be on the healthier, safer side of history. The America of the Bill of Rights.
The bottom line: responsible adult cannabis users should no longer have to hide any more than responsible alcohol users do. As if to hammer home this point, when our flight landed, Jeb had some parting words for me. "Tell (the legislative committee) how deeply cannabis is embedded in Hawaiian culture. Tell them this is the only law I break. I don't even drive over the speed limit."
I did. I told the state's House Judiciary Committee about Jeb during my testimony. Social legalization, incidentally, had a lot of momentum in Hawaii last session. The speaker of the house, Joe Souki (D), told me he thinks it'll happen next session. From Florida to Maui, everyone knows the Drug War is ending. There's no reason America's 100 million cannabis users should be dealing with the life-upending administrative nonsense.
And yet they are. Even without a drug testing company fraud scandal emerging in San Diego this week, even without the revelation that some of the former DEA chiefs who are lobbying so hard against the Drug Peace in fact profit from their roles in drug testing companies, the Sniff Your Pee era is simply misguided -- it's unnecessary, intrusive and downright un-American. Work is about performance. Cannabis isn't keeping America from being competitive. In fact, it's probably helping return us to competitiveness, in the creative fields of the Digital Age. But my research into the role of practical cannabis use in Silicon Valley is a whole other column.
The point is, because some initial court decisions have supported a company's ability to fire anyone with THC in their system even without any other cause (most famously in the recent case of paralyzed Colorado Dish Network employee Brandon Coats), we can't allow it to become established policy. We're talking about the core principles of American civil liberties. Ending the federal drug war is the key, as the justices in Coats' case cited federal drug law in their decision.
And so this week's Drug Peace Bumblebee column is dedicated to open (and especially vocal) medical cannabis patients, and folks who are public cannabis aficionados in general. That millions of Americans are coming out of the shadows and beginning to wear this unabashed "I'm a productive citizen who likes (or medically needs) cannabis" badge is a key step toward fully and finally relegating the Drug War to the history books. That's because mainstream public acceptance of a cannabis-friendly America is what really will end sneaky administrative discrimination that essentially keeps underground the use of a plant that is not only a medical lifeline to so many thousands of Americans, but a health maintenance tool for millions more and a far safer social lubricant that alcohol.
I tip my cowboy hat in particular to people like Californian Diane Fortier, whose debilitating arthritis was being quite well mitigated by locally grown, outdoor organic cannabis provided by an farming cooperative called Northstone, whose farmer grew all of its members' medicine. Why do I tip my hat to Fortier (in addition to her bravery in letting me use her name)?
Because she paid with her credit card. In this simple act, Fortier showed that there is a lot less to be embarrassed about in publicly medicating with cannabis than with the ineffective pharmaceuticals that not just drained her pocketbook but, in her words, "zonked" her out. When cannabis is no longer a back alley cash business, the American taxpayer wins and the cartels lose. Just as the end of alcohol prohibition put the bootlegger out of business. California already collects $100 million in cannabis-related tax each year.
Of the 2011 federal raids that cut off her tax-generating, cartel-hurting providers at the not-for-profit Northstone Organics Cooperative, the 61-year-old Fortier told me, "Imagine if you went to the pharmacy not knowing if your prescription could be filled. Finally there's a safe source and the government is taking it away? It's causing mayhem in my life. I would do just about anything to get Northstone back on its feet, because we're vulnerable. Now I have to go to sources I worry about. Living in pain is not something I'd wish on anyone."
As such unconscionable raids on local Chamber of Commerce members in California's multibillion-dollar Emerald Triangle cannabis economy show, these last mop-up battles of the Drug War also affect producers. The Mendocino County farmers I followed in my recent book Too High to Fail, licensed and inspected by their County's Sheriff's Department, couldn't get bank accounts.
This is a problem all over the country. Even with full adult cannabis legalization in the Rocky Mountain State, one Colorado provider, Aaron Bluse of Altitude Organic Medicine, told me, "My lawyer told me to get a shovel and store our money off-site. I'm not sure he was totally kidding. I'm a taxpayer trying to be aboveboard, and the absurdity of prohibition is turning mine into a cash-only business. That helps no one."
So, American voters, as the Drug Peace Era begins, don't allow discrimination against any form of responsible cannabis user or provider. Erase THC bloodstream maximums or zero THC tolerance laws. To do this, work for state laws that institute a new mode of impairment testing. One not based on a blood test, but one that will help remove America's really dangerous drivers from the road -- the drunks and prescription pill abusers. Law enforcers must be trained to ascertain true impairment, regardless of what's causing it, from Vicodin to a poorly selected Rush Limbaugh broadcast.
When federal prohibition ends, too, American must make sure that the ATF reverses its horrifyingly unconstitutional policy on cannabis and gun ownership. Get on the horn with your local, state and federal representatives and demand that America end not just the Drug War, but also the ridiculous ancillary penalties that linger alongside it like unexploded ordnance on an abandoned battleground. No pilot, teacher or politician should fear a THC test if she comes to work unimpaired.
Being vocal on a civil liberties issue is no easy trick in the Patriot Act Era. This became clear when I heard the soon-to-be-raided founder of Northstone Organics Cooperative, Matt Cohen, tell the fellow members of his Emerald Growers Association trade group, "Don't even joke in your emails -- assume they're being read."
I laughed when I heard that, not because I thought it was paranoid (it proved not to be for Cohen), but because my sweetheart had recently sent me a text with a farmers market reminder to "please get a bunch of sweet pot. and garlic." She meant "sweet potatoes."
But it's not funny for people like Cohen and Fortier. Whether they're aware of it or not, they are practicing civil disobedience simply by trying to be healthy or helping others get healthy. Let's make sure those days are numbered. As Cohen told me before he was raided, "We're not fighting the man anymore. We are the man." Only we still have to alert our federal representatives about that (as well as some of our state and local ones).
This is what representative democracy is about, and the rapidity with which the Drug War is collapsing is restoring my faith in ours. For her part, Fortier isn't trying to be some kind of medical Rosa Parks in paying for her medicine with a credit card. She calls it "getting my life back."