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  Pot Shots: The Faces of Marijuana in Boston
Posted by FoM on September 13, 2001 at 16:17:39 PT
By Chris Wright  
Source: Boston Phoenix 

cannabis In 1937, Harry J. Anslinger, the commissioner of narcotics, stood before the United States Congress to speak of a new scourge that was sweeping the country: marijuana. He presented many tales to illustrate just how dangerous the drug was. " A teenage boy and a girl lost their senses so completely after smoking marihuana, " he intoned, " that they eloped and were married. "

And yet, Anslinger continued, conjugal indiscretion was the least of the country’s problems in the face of the green menace.

The drug, he said, caused " delirious rage " in its users. " A man under the influence of marihuana actually decapitated his best friend; and then, coming out of the effects of the drug, was as horrified as anyone over what he had done. "

Although few are concerned about gangs of murderous potheads roaming the streets anymore, marijuana is still viewed by many Americans as a public menace — and its users are still condemned as renegades, reprobates, and criminals. The year Anslinger provided his colorful testimony, there were 338 arrests for marijuana violations in the US. Today, the annual arrest rate stands at about 700,000.

According to some estimates, as much as $10 billion of public money is spent every year in the effort to stamp out pot. And yet, says Drug Enforcement Administration literature, " Marijuana is the most commonly-used illicit drug in America today. " According to government figures (as reported by NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), about 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once; 18 million have smoked in the past year; and 10 million are regular users.

Though authorities still claim that pot use leads to a host of health problems — impaired memory, heart attacks, paranoia, cancer, infertility, psychological dependence — an ever-growing number of people are willing to challenge these claims. There are even those who say that pot is good for you — and this argument, too, is gaining ground. Today, nine states allow limited medical use of marijuana.

Partisans on both sides of the marijuana question seem unwilling to budge. For the bystander, trying to keep up with the pro/anti debate can feel like watching a tennis match. You read an editorial here, a study there, and you come away with little more than a bad case of mental whiplash. But one thing, at least, is certain: like it or not, pot is a part of American life, and it is not going away.

And beyond the statistics and the charts, the arrest figures and the thundering rhetoric, there is a human element to marijuana — one that is often overlooked amid the clamor of argument and counterargument. Just who are the people who have an intimate relationship with the drug Harry Anslinger once described as " a menace " ?


Sally

Sally is a drug dealer.

She doesn’t keep a pit bull in her apartment. She doesn’t employ runners or lookouts. She has never been involved in a turf war or a deal gone bad. She doesn’t wear gold rings or sport a single diamond in her teeth. Soft-spoken and polite — maybe even a little timid — Sally (not her real name) doesn’t fit the popular image of a drug dealer at all — except for the fact that she deals drugs.

Although she allows that selling pot is " technically illegal, " Sally, 24, doesn’t see herself as an outlaw. In fact, as far as she’s concerned, she’s providing a public service. " I’m convenient, " she says. " I don’t overcharge. The guy I get it from, he can’t believe how honest I am. " Sally’s pot is indeed quite a bargain. She charges $55 for a half-ounce — about $10 to $20 below the going rate in Boston. " And, " she says, " my stuff’s really good. "

Like the vast majority of pot dealers, Sally does not make a living from this business. Instead, she uses her revenues — about $200 a month — as a way to smoke for free. She also enjoys the social aspect of selling pot. " Sometimes people will hang out for 10 minutes, " she says, " sometimes half an hour. It’s nice because it gives me an excuse to see people. "

To pay the rent on her Somerville apartment, Sally holds down two part-time jobs. And that suits her just fine. To become a full-time dealer, she says, would make her feel " sketchy. " She doesn’t deliver. She doesn’t sell large amounts. She never has more than a couple of ounces in stock. Her customer base consists of about 25 people — all people she knows. " I keep it pretty low-key, " she says. " I wouldn’t feel comfortable making too much money. "

Still, if Sally were to get caught, she would face up to two years in prison and a $5000 fine. Her driver’s license would be suspended for two years. She would go down in the record books as a convicted dealer. Even worse, her parents might get involved. " They’re very conservative, " she says. " They found out I smoked when I first went to college and they wanted to send me to rehab. " She adds: " My little sister would probably be a little traumatized, too. "

As Sally says this, her voice takes on a jittery edge. " I do get a little sketched-out talking over the phone sometimes, " she says. " I just hope the police have better things to do than come after me. I’m not pushing crystal meth or ecstasy or any of that crazy stuff. If I thought I was causing harm, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m just hooking up my friends. "


Lester Grinspoon

Harvard Medical School professor Lester Grinspoon can still quote, word for word, the first letter he received on the publication of his 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered (Harvard University Press). " It was a one-liner, " he says. " I’ll never forget it: ‘You dirty Harvard Jew. You only did this to make money.’ " He laughs and adds, " There was no signature. "

The cause of the letter-writer’s wrath was the central argument in Grinspoon’s book: that marijuana was not nearly as harmful as authorities had previously claimed. " When I wrote the book, believe it or not, I was concerned about this terribly dangerous drug, " Grinspoon says, looking a good deal younger than his 73 years, his lanky frame folded neatly into a chair at the Massachusetts Mental Health Institute in Boston. " So I went into the library with the idea that if I could write a really good, scientifically sound statement on the harmfulness of marijuana, maybe some of these kids who were smoking it would pay some attention. "

Grinspoon certainly had every right to expect his book to be taken seriously. A published professor and practicing psychiatrist allied with the prestigious Harvard Medical School, Grinspoon had academic credibility in spades. The book’s conclusions, however, came as a surprise to many — not least to Grinspoon himself. " I looked at the material that the ‘authorities’ — in quotes — were publishing on marijuana, and it seemed very unconvincing, " he recalls. " I came to realize that I was the one who was misinformed — that despite my training in science and medicine, I had been brainwashed like just about every other citizen of this country. "

Grinspoon got his first hint of how controversial Marihuana Reconsidered would become as he was lying in his bed one night with his wife, Betsy. " We heard it on the news: ‘Harvard professor says marijuana not harmful, should be legalized,’ " he says. " Of course, my point wasn’t that it wasn’t harmful, but that its harmfulness was far less than that of alcohol or tobacco, that the danger of the substance did not reside in any inherent psychopharmacological effect of the drug, but rather how we as a society were treating the people who used it, arresting 300,000 a year at the time. Under Mr. Clinton that figure rose to 700,000; heaven knows what will happen under Mr. Bush. But I wasn’t saying pot was not harmful — I was saying that the way we behaved towards it was more harmful. "

This distinction, apparently, was lost on Grinspoon’s critics. His book, arriving at around the same time America was tooling up for its long and messy war on drugs, was viewed by many as heresy. And it wasn’t only troglodytic right-wingers who took aim. As it turned out, being called a dirty Jew would be the least of Grinspoon’s troubles. Though reviews of Marihuana Reconsidered were positive — a headline in the New York Times Book Review called it the best dope on pot so far — many of Grinspoon’s peers in the scientific community were less enthusiastic. " They were very much at arm’s length about this, " he says. " They were skeptical. "

Some were more than just skeptical: Grinspoon’s Harvard superiors were out-and-out pissed. " My professorship was turned down, my full professorship, because of Marihuana Reconsidered, " he says. " I was told by my chief that it was too controversial. " He lets go with one of his frequent, staccato bursts of laughter. " I said it’s not supposed to be judged. This is the academy. This is a scholarly work. I couldn’t believe it. "

Grinspoon has continued to distinguish himself with his drug research, publishing, by his count, 12 books and more than 170 papers. He has testified before government committees and been quoted in countless articles on the subject. His Harvard career, however, never recovered from his association with pot. Yet he insists he has no regrets. " Freedom of thought is more important to me than whether I became a full professor rather than an associate professor, " he says. " It’s harmed my career, but what is a career? A career to me was to do what I thought was important and interesting. And that’s what I did. "

Besides, he adds, " while marijuana is not addictive in the usual sense of the word, for me, studying it was. "

Though he has been denigrated by politicians and shunned by colleagues, to many Lester Grinspoon is a true hero. " He’s amazing, really amazing, " says Jim Pillsbury, a local marijuana activist. " He really is the godfather of this movement. "

If Grinspoon helped debunk the myth that cannabis is a dangerous drug, his research into the medical use of marijuana was even more important. " He’s certainly been instrumental to the movement, " says Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) president Bill Downing. " The movement as I see it has three prongs: the medical use of marijuana, the industrial use of hemp, and the regulation of recreational use. Lester is responsible for the strength of one of those prongs. For medical use, he is the shining light. "

Indeed, it’s difficult to overstate the role Grinspoon played in promoting pot as a viable medical drug. His 1993 work (revised in 1997) Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine (Yale University Press), co-authored with James B. Bakalar, is the bedrock upon which the growing medical-marijuana lobby was built. The book argued clearly and compellingly that pot could be used to alleviate the symptoms of myriad ailments — including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, AIDS, depression, Crohn’s disease, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Grinspoon also argued that pot could help ease the aches and pains of aging — a claim that aroused hoots of derision from his critics.

But Grinspoon got the last laugh. Today, nine states allow limited medical use of marijuana, and Massachusetts has a medical-marijuana bill of its own under consideration. " I don’t have to fight for marijuana as a medicine any more, " Grinspoon says. " It’s too late — the government cannot stop it. "

The Harvard professor’s interest in medical marijuana, though, is not purely academic. In 1967, Grinspoon’s then-10-year-old son, Danny, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a fatal condition. The family was also confronted with the awful consequences of trying to treat the disease. Grinspoon visibly winces as he relates his son’s early experiences with chemotherapy, which began in 1971.

" I would meet Betsy and Danny at the treatment room, and you could see the apprehension all over his face, and that would be reflected in Betsy’s face, and pretty soon in my face. It was terrible. He dreaded those treatments. He would vomit or have dry heaves for eight hours after each session. He’d get home and lie down, this big pot next to his bed, on a towel. It was just dreadful. "

One day, Grinspoon attended a dinner party during which a doctor spoke of a teenage cancer patient in Houston who appeared to have overcome the nausea and discomfort of chemotherapy by smoking pot shortly before each treatment. On the drive home, Betsy brought up the possibility of getting marijuana for Danny. " I said — and I’m ashamed to tell you this, " Grinspoon says, putting his hand over the tape recorder, " but I said, ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s against the law.’ "

Nonetheless, Betsy approached a friend of Danny’s and asked him if he knew where she could get some pot. " Once the boy had recovered his equanimity, " Grinspoon laughs, " he ran off and in five minutes was back with a little bit of marijuana. " The next time Grinspoon joined his wife and son at the treatment center, he noticed a big difference.

" I walk in this day, " he says, " and they’re having a good time; they’re laughing and kidding about, and I’m beginning to feel as though there’s some joke being played on me. I’m completely befuddled by this. " On the way home, Danny asked if he could stop off for a sub — " He loved submarine sandwiches " — and even insisted that, rather than lie on his bed for the rest of the day, he would go to school. Grinspoon immediately called Danny’s oncologist and said, " I’m not going to stand in the way of this. "

At around the same time that Danny got sick, Grinspoon had begun to toy with the idea of trying pot himself. At first, he was ambivalent. Although he was curious, he was also concerned that his using the drug would compromise the objectivity of his work, and that by smoking pot he would give ammunition to those people — and there were many — who sought to portray him as a nut.

" I anticipated that if the book was successful, I’d be called before committees to testify about this, " he says. " The senators and representatives who were hostile were always asking me whether I smoked. You know, it was another way of questioning my credentials. One time, a senator asked me that and I said to him, ‘Senator, I’d be glad to answer the question if you’ll tell me whether it will make me a more credible or less credible witness if I answer affirmatively.’ Well, he got really pissed and said, ‘You are being impertinent!’ And then he walked out of the room. I got home to Betsy and said, ‘It’s time.’ "

The first time Grinspoon and his wife tried weed, they didn’t feel much of anything. The second time, they felt even less. Grinspoon underwent a minor crisis of confidence. " I began to wonder if I hadn’t just perpetrated a fraud here, " he says. " I began to question whether I’d just written about a great big placebo. " But the third time Grinspoon and Betsy smoked pot: whammo.

" That night, the music that was on the hi-fi was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, " he remembers. " I had heard this record before, but this was the first time I had heard it. It made a powerful impression on me. The next thing I remember, Betsy and I went into the kitchen and we were standing there sharing a napoleon, each of us taking a bite. The filling moved out laterally — it was threatening to drip on the floor. It was hilarious. But also the taste was so impressive. Where did they find those napoleons? The thing that clinched it, when Betsy and I really understood what was happening, was when we got home and got into bed. We had another way of appreciating what cannabis could do, and that was very exciting for us. "

These may sound like the common recollections of a first-time smoker, but that night actually marked a leap forward in Grinspoon’s research. Those messy napoleons and freaky Sgt. Pepper numbers formed the basis for the third and final step in Grinspoon’s ongoing exploration of marijuana — and one that puts him, yet again, right in the thick of things.

In his latest book-in-the-making, The Uses of Marijuana, Grinspoon moves beyond debates over whether marijuana should be regulated, deregulated, allowed for medicinal or recreational use, or outlawed. Not only should we tolerate pot, he will argue, we should celebrate it.

" Over the years, I have come to understand that marijuana is not just for fun, it’s not just for medicine, but there are other ways in which this high is useful, " he explains. " I began to realize that this drug, this plant, is truly remarkable, that it can be used to enhance various aspects of life. " In other words, pot is a vehicle for self-improvement, like practicing yoga or going to college.

The project has at its heart a Web site Grinspoon launched -- http://www.marijuana-uses.com/ -- in which he invites pot users to submit essays describing how the drug has enriched their lives. The site currently contains 66 essays, including one by a New York City police officer who argues that smoking weed makes him a better cop.

The idea that pot enhances creativity and provides a sense of harmony, that it can heighten one’s appreciation of music, art, and sex, is getting to be old hat. But Grinspoon doesn’t stop here. Perhaps the most controversial argument he makes in favor of marijuana is that it is an effective problem-solving tool, and an aid to the most sacred of straight-edge ideals: reason. " Marijuana expands the breadth of variables one can bring to bear on a situation. It allows the intellect to visit parts of one’s consciousness that are usually off-limits, " he says, adding, " Cannabis has helped me make some important life decisions. This is something I’m glad I didn’t have to go through life without. "

Naturally, these claims have raised a few eyebrows. Particularly disturbing for some is that Grinspoon will openly admit to being a regular user (" I smoke, on average, a third of a joint a night, " he says). " Some people, some of my friends, have practically stopped speaking to me. They feel that I’ve destroyed my reputation by admitting that I use marijuana. A lot of people say that’s crazy, that it’s the kind of honesty that makes people think you’re not smart enough to keep to yourself. "

But Grinspoon has never been one to let a little criticism discourage him. " I think one of the reasons that cannabis users have such a negative stereotype attached to them is that people like me refuse to come out and say, ‘Hey, not only do I use cannabis, but I find it useful,’ " he says. " That’s why this book is so important: it’s saying that this stuff is not just for fun, it’s not just for medicine, it’s useful. Can you get that through your head? It’s useful!"


Marcie Duda

In 1998, doctors found five aneurysms — weak-walled blood vessels that pose the risk of bursting — in Marcie Duda’s brain. By some ugly twist of fate, some genetic bungle, such conditions seem to run in Duda’s family: she had already lost one sister to the affliction, and another had discovered an aneurysm early enough for treatment to be effective. In a sense, Duda had been waiting for the day when she would get the news. Doctors gave Duda, who was 38 at the time, little chance of survival.

Duda, a single mother of a seven- and a nine-year-old, did survive, albeit with 10 metal clips in her brain, an inability to taste or smell food, and daily bouts of nausea and searing, unbearable pain. " I get such severe migraines I have to go somewhere dark and quiet, " she says. " I lie on the couch and vomit and vomit because the pain is so bad. " For the migraines, Duda has a prescription for morphine; for the nausea and loss of appetite, she takes Marinol (a pill form of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active ingredient in marijuana).

But what she really needs, she insists, is a joint.

" I cannot cook for my kids on morphine, " she says. " I cannot think straight on morphine. Morphine gets you wicked high and it makes you want to puke. " Even the Marinol, which Duda credits with having helped her keep her weight up, has its drawbacks. " It takes three hours to kick in, " she says. " With pot, in 10 to 15 minutes, the pain’s gone. I can think straight. I can get up and take care of my kids. It gives me more of an interest in food. "

Duda knows all this because she smokes pot every day, four times a day — which makes her, in effect, a criminal. " I’ve gone public and said I smoke pot. And there’s more chance I could get caught since I went public, " she says. " Most of the local cops know. Everyone looks at me now and expects me to be stoned. I could lose my kids over this. My two kids are the last thing in the world that I can afford to lose. I’m scared. "

But Duda’s fear has not kept her quiet. She has become an insistent voice in the argument to legalize medical marijuana. " I feel it’s my duty, " she says. " I worked for 20 years as a home health aide, and I see people my age curled up with MS [multiple sclerosis] and cancer. I loved the people I worked for; they weren’t only my patients but my friends. I go and see them once a week and we light up. My friend with MS, we smoke a joint and his body uncrinkles. I’m doing this for people like that, who can’t get out of their beds and who have put their hope in me. "

Duda believes her most powerful argument is her own experience with pot. To date, she has testified twice before state legislators to argue that she should be able to grow her own marijuana — or at the very least, buy it without threat of arrest. " If they let me grow four or five plants, there’s my supply for the year, " she says. " I begged them. " But the state continues to drag its feet. Many local activists anticipate that a medical-marijuana bill currently before the legislature will eventually fizzle and die.

" I’m past frustration, " Duda says. " The bottom line, and what I said to them, is: ‘When I have a really bad headache, it’s so hard to describe the pain. When I’m like that, just give me a joint or give me a gun.’ "


Jim Pillsbury

" There’s only a handful of us who are willing to die, or willing to be arrested, for the cause, " says local marijuana activist Jim Pillsbury. " I’m not looking for trouble, but I’m not going to back down from it, either. "

Pillsbury, 48, is certainly no stranger to trouble. In 1985, he was arrested for growing marijuana. Five years after that, the town of Ashland tried to stop Pillsbury from organizing a rally for NORML. He sued the town for violating his freedom of speech — and won. But then, Pillsbury is committed to free speech — perhaps to a fault.

" There was this selectman, about the same age as me, who I happen to know is a dope smoker, " he says of the Ashland incident. " He went on TV and said, ‘We need to keep Pillsbury out of town because I don’t like what he’s got to say.’ Soon as he said that on the record, we bagged him big-time. Just the fact that I had the courage to do that proves that I’m not playing about. After you win a civil-rights case, you gain a certain amount of respect. "

Though he often speaks publicly about his pot use, Pillsbury insists he has no fear of being arrested. " There isn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind, law enforcement included, that I smoke, " he says. " But they have no reason to come after me. I’m not a drug-crazed wacko. I’m a fairly upright citizen. And I’m a very good neighbor — just the other day I did three of my neighbors’ lawns. My neighbors support me. They may not be dope smokers, but they support my right to say what I believe. "

Pillsbury doesn’t exactly fit the classic mold of the upright citizen: with his long stringy hair, wispy mustache, and penchant for tie-dyed T-shirts, he actually looks every bit the renegade pothead. But looks can be deceiving. Despite his long-standing prickly relationship with authority, Pillsbury is a canny political operator. Last November, he was part of a group of six NORML members who put Question 9 — a non-binding bill that proposed decriminalizing marijuana — on the ballot. If the bill becomes law (it’s currently in committee), the penalty for possession would be a fine of not more than $100 — making it the legal equivalent of a speeding ticket. " It was the first time we’ve ever asked the general public how they feel about decriminalization, " Pillsbury says. " It was an incredible success. Overall, something like 63 percent voted yes on the question. "

If Question 9 fails, Pillsbury says he will run for state representative, with decriminalization forming the basis of his platform. " Why penalize the poor pothead? " he says. " Every year, 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana. These are, for the most part, respectable, law-abiding citizens who pay taxes and go to work every day. It’s doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, all the way down to the workingman who digs ditches. It’s not like 1968 — we’re not huddled around a puddle passing a joint. We’re all grown up now. Things have changed. "


Jasper

Jasper was 15 when he first started smoking pot. He had gone on a school trip to the Hague in Holland — a country that has long tolerated marijuana use — and he and some friends made their way to one of the city’s so-called coffee shops. " It was kind of like, ‘When in Rome,’ " he says. And so, giggling and elbowing one another, Jasper and his schoolmates began to pass around a joint they had procured from some local kids.

Like many first-time pot smokers, Jasper (not his real name) was a little disappointed. " Some of the other people were getting really stoned, " he says. " I could tell that wasn’t happening to me. I still had my bearings. " As it turned out, this was not such a bad thing. " There were definitely people who were bugging out, " Jasper says. " One kid in particular had to spend some alone time in the bathroom. "

Jasper, now 23, vividly remembers the first time he himself experienced an attack of weed-induced jitters. He was a freshman in college, rooming with a guy who was, as Jasper puts it, " further along in usage. " One afternoon, the roommate broke out his prized bong, a device in which pot smoke passes through a reservoir of water, thereby cooling it and allowing the user to inhale much more deeply. Jasper, who had never smoked from a bong before, was " completely flattened " by the experience. " I crumpled to my knees and said, ‘Water! Give me water!’ "

Nonetheless, he stuck with it, smoking weed at parties after school, taking a quick toke before classes every now and then, and sometimes blowing off school altogether to gather with his friends and smoke. " I can definitely step back and say it was part of a whole partying thing that distracted me from my studies, " he says. " But I never experienced the sense of not being able to function. "

Today, Jasper, a Somerville resident, works in retail. Though he still smokes regularly, he has slowed down considerably since his college days. " It’s not a constant thing anymore, " he says. " A lot of the time it’s something to look forward to at the end of work. The older I’ve gotten, the more I place a value on doing it as a reward: ‘Ah, I’ve just finished a shift.’ I look forward to it. "

And as Jasper gets older, he’s also noticed that a lot of his friends are starting to kick the habit altogether, though he has no plans to do so just yet. " I enjoy the relaxation it induces, " he says. " I’m usually kind of argumentative; I voice my opinions strongly. When I’m stoned, it dulls the impulse to do that. I get less bent out of shape about things. I don’t want to slip into hippie lingo, but pot definitely has a communal aspect to it. There is something to be said for passing a bowl or a joint to someone, that unspoken camaraderie. I have always totally enjoyed that. "

Jasper does, however, have one concern about his pot use. " I feel like I may have started a bit young, really, " he says. " The average adult can take on the responsibilities of getting stoned. But kids shouldn’t be blazing to their hearts’ content all through high school. "


Lea Cox

When it comes to pot, retired teacher Lea Cox is " about as anti as you can get. " As president of the Hanover-based Concerned Citizens for Drug Prevention, Cox sees herself as a foot soldier in the war on drugs. It’s a war, she says, that is getting harder and harder to fight: " I’d be stupid if I said [the anti-prohibition lobby] haven’t made headway. These pro-drug propagandists are so good at what they do. They could teach Hitler a thing or two about propaganda. They are slick. They offer half-truths. They make good people believe their lies. "

Cox is particularly annoyed by those who argue for the medical use of marijuana. " People have to understand, marijuana is a euphoria-producing drug, " she says. " It makes people think everything is wonderful. It makes them feel great. But feeling great has nothing to do with medical benefit, nothing. They could take a shot of tequila and I’m sure they’d feel the same. To take something and call it a medicine because it makes you feel good is absolutely stupid. "

As passionate as she is about the issue, Cox insists that her anti-pot stand is founded on hard science. " I attended a symposium — very good scientists from around the world, " she explains. " We’ve known for years the damage marijuana can do. It impairs the immune system. It causes DNA damage. There are myriad things it does and kids have no idea because people like [Harvard professor and pro-pot advocate] Lester Grinspoon tell them that marijuana grows naturally and so cannot hurt you. Well, poison ivy grows naturally and that doesn’t make it beneficial. "

Grinspoon, as befits a nemesis, is happy to refute Cox’s claims. " What the government has done in putting these countless millions of dollars into studies that would demonstrate the toxicity of cannabis, " he says, " has ended up doing just the opposite. No drug has been studied quite as much — there’s no drug in the pharmacopoeia that has been studied as much — and what’s emerging is the impression that marijuana is not a dangerous drug. "

Cox remains unmoved. " Grinspoon, " she says. " He’s the worst of them. "

Her distaste for anti-prohibitionists notwithstanding, Cox is a regular at MassCann’s annual Freedom Rally. " When I go to the pot rally, I wear my pins — a marijuana leaf with a negation through it, and a no needles pin, " she says. " One time they were all shouting at me. This stuff is supposed to make you mellow, but I’ve never seen more argumentative people in my life. This one fellow steps in front of me and says, ‘She’s got more B-A-L-L-S than I have. Leave her alone. Let her speak.’ " She adds, " I don’t get as much hostility as I’d like. "

Other than her Freedom Rally run-ins, Cox prefers to steer clear of anti-prohibitionists. " Our previous president refused to debate them and she was right, " she says. " If we had held to that then they wouldn’t have the forum they have today. They wouldn’t have the credibility they have today. These are no longer tie-dye people — they’re people with credentials who look well. They’ve gained respectability that they never had before. "

So does Cox feel as though she’s losing the war? " Those people haven’t succeeded, " she says. " They’re the ones who have lost, not us, because we’re still here. Sometimes I wish I could get rid of this drug fight so I could devote all my time to my grandchildren. But I’ll fight until the end. This is important. We’re here trying to save our children and our country. You can’t have a country that thinks it can smoke pot on the weekend and function on Monday. "


Bill Downing

On September 15, anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people will take to the Boston Common for the 12th annual Freedom Rally, an event that is part celebration, part protest, and part pain in the ass — at least for Bill Downing, president of MassCann/NORML, who organizes it. " Since we started this we’ve gone from hundreds of people to tens and tens of thousands of people, " he says. " That can be very stressful. I get knots in my stomach. One year I had these knots so bad that at the end of the rally I just collapsed. "

This sort of thing happens when you find yourself going toe-to-toe with the Boston police, Beacon Hill Brahmins, and the mayor. Naturally, local pols — Thomas Menino included — do not take kindly to having thousands of potheads cavorting within feet of the State House, and every year Downing finds himself engaged in lengthy and costly battles to obtain permits for the event. " In 1998 and 1999 it got so bad that we actually had to go to court, " he says. " We won both times, got about 30 grand from the city. It didn’t nearly cover our legal expenses. "

Though getting permits has not been a problem in recent years, Downing still gets those telltale knots. " The continuing problem with the city is them sending in the police to harass rallygoers, " he says. " We found out they spend $30,000 for every rally. We hire park rangers. They do everything we need them to do — control the crowd, make sure sick people can be evacuated, keep out pirate vendors. We don’t need the Boston police. The only reason they’re there is to do illegal searches and intimidate people. They arrest about 75 people a year. Thirty thousand dollars to do that. "

Still, Downing considers the rally to be a " tremendous asset " in the fight against what he considers oppressive marijuana laws. " This year we have [Libertarian politician] Carla Howell as one of the main speakers, " he says. " She’s an excellent speaker and a strong supporter of relaxed marijuana laws. She recently announced that she’s running for governor of Massachusetts. So that’s very exciting. "

Bill Downing — eloquent, levelheaded, and smart — represents a new breed of pro-pot activist. For starters, he doesn’t like to be called pro-pot. " Our organization is not pro-marijuana, " he says. " We don’t support smoking marijuana. We’re against the idea that ordinary citizens who smoke should be branded as criminals. We’re trying to draw people into a broad coalition. I know people don’t want their money to be used locking up potheads. But they also don’t want to be a part of an organization that advocates smoking pot. So in order to avoid alienating people, we’ve got to send a clear message: stop locking people up. "

Yet there are many pro-pot — or anti-prohibition — activists who say Downing’s Freedom Rally itself is a liability for the cause, because it alienates potential allies in local and federal government. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in 1997, Janet Lapey, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Drug Prevention, painted a lurid picture of the rally: " Forty thousand young people were lured to Boston Common to hear rock music glorifying drug use and to smoke marijuana openly, " Lapey said. " There was a thick cloud of marijuana smoke over the Common, and children as young as 12 explained to reporters they were smoking marijuana because it is a healthy medicine. "

" The rally was meant to send a loud message to the State House, that we are here to reform the laws and this is how we’re going to do it — with mass demonstration, " says local activist Jim Pillsbury. " But it’s turned into more of a party than a political event. Politicians laugh at the rally. It’s turned into a kids’ fest. Parents do not want to see their kids smoking pot on the six o’clock news. And they sure don’t want to see them get busted on TV. "

Downing — who calls the Freedom Rally " my baby " — insists this kind of criticism is unfounded. " You ask me what I think about kids smoking pot on the Common, " he says, " and I’ll tell you it’s evidence that prohibition has no effect. Here we are spending $20 billion a year trying to control drugs — about a third of that goes to marijuana — and for what? " He continues, getting a little more heated: " What are you doing? What are you doing? You’re calling me and asking me questions. The rally generates interest and discussion about our cause and that’s the goal. Anyone who says it’s not a success should look at the print on this piece of paper. The only reason it’s here is because of the rally. "

Source: Boston Phoenix (MA)
Author: Chris Wright
Published: September 13 - 20, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group.
Contact: letters@phx.com
Website: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/

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http://www.norml.org/

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http://www.masscann.org/

Pot - A Special Series - Seattle Weekly
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http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread10672.shtml

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Comment #10 posted by kaptinemo on September 15, 2001 at 08:38:50 PT:

4D, the common usage of that word
generally does specify a Caucasian residing in the American Deep South, with the presumption of a poor education and daily, unthinking use of racial slurs is assumed. But what I was pointing out was that no matter what word is used, and no matter what location, the origin for the bahvior underlying it is always the same: hatred.

The Islamic fundamentalist who hates Jews is a 'cracker'. The Jewish Kahanist who hates Muslims is a 'cracker'. The Black African who hates the White farmer in Zimbabwe is a 'cracker'. The White farmer who hates the Black African in Zimbabwe is a 'cracker'. The Hindu who hates and fears the Muslim is a 'cracker'. Same for the Muslim who hates and fears Hindus. 'Cracker' might be an American idiom, but the behavior is sadly pandemic to all regions of this planet.

Why can't Hiumanity just f***ing grow up?

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #9 posted by dddd on September 15, 2001 at 08:07:01 PT
Thank You Kap
I've had several definitions so far,,,yours is by far the
most eloquent.Last night,someone told me that it was a
term for refering to,"white people".....I felt kindof stupid
asking about the term,,,I imagined it would be commonly
known,and defined,,,
......dddd


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Comment #8 posted by kaptinemo on September 15, 2001 at 07:43:32 PT:

4D, English is such a wonderful language
It's so mutable.

Words can take on meanings by both presentation and tone.

(Example: Your ol' Army buddy slaps you on the back and says, "Hey, you ol' sumbitch, how ya doin'?" Then, when he watches the tragedy at the WTC, he growls: "We oughta nuke every f***king Ay-rab sumbitch!" Same word, different context. Now you know why foreigners have such a hard time with it.)

To me, a 'cracker' is someone who's wilfully ignorant, blindly spiteful, and unwilling to concede that there might be another viewpoint just as valid as his, but diametrically opposite his. Geography has nothing to do with it. The cracker is willing to hurl racial and cultural epithets on an almost reflexive level, unthinkingly (And yes, children, all sexes, races and countries have their 'crackers'). It's having less depth than a sheet of paper. As my late Mother used to say, He's "twenty miles wide and an inch high'.

In short, it's engaging in the basest of human behavior. And I sometimes have to wonder; how far might we have gone as a species, what heights might we have reached, if we didn't have to drag these braying jackasses, kicking and screaming and slowing the rest of us down, along the way? How much of history would not have to have been written in blood?

I'm sure that there are some cracker cannabists somewhere...but I've yet to meet any. Most are in the same league as the people who post here; thoughtful, decent, considerate, concerned, open-hearted people. Willing to live and let live, but intolerant of abuse of anyone. The reactions shown by the people who have posted here in calling for restraint, patience and wisdom in dealing with the circumstances of this God-awful tragedy is indicative of that kind of people I believe may very well be the next step in human evolution. (And, yes, I do mean every word I am saying here, sincerely.)

After all, none of us 'bust caps' on the goons that would happily put us six feet under just for possession; remember Darryl Gate's suggestion to Congress that we be summarily put to death courtesy of KGB-style street excecutions? That's a 'cracker' if ever there was one!

"Cracker', 'knuckledragger', 'cave-man ethicists', it's all the same. The fly in the human ointment, the stink at our feast table, the stain on the carpet, the loud, unapologetic fart in church. It's living proof that some people are just a heartbeat away from going on all-fours. And these people wind up running things in nearly every country.



[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #7 posted by schmeff on September 14, 2001 at 12:14:40 PT
Dr. Cox, the AMA wants its certificate back!
"But feeling great has nothing to do with medical benefit, nothing."

This is so bogus that everything else she says (no, she isn't a doctor, OBVIOUSLY) is suspect.

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #6 posted by Robbie on September 14, 2001 at 08:51:09 PT
Confusing anti rhetoric
It [cannabis] makes people think everything is wonderful. It makes them feel great.

Is that an example of damning with faint praise? Or is that praising with faint damning?

Looks like (in context) damning with STRONG praise!

Antis are such idiots.

[ Post Comment ]
 
Comment #5 posted by dddd on September 14, 2001 at 05:54:13 PT
saltines
Hey Kap,,,,,on the subject of the term;"crackers",,,,I think
there may be a new use,and definition for the word,but the
problem is,I'm not sure what it's supposed to really mean to
the now generations.
Perhaps some readers can tell us what the heck a "cracker" is nowdays???
,,is it like "cracked",,,,"crackhead"???

Let's say I call Lehder a "cracker",,,what would that mean Lehder?,,,How bout the same question for SWAMPIE,Greenfox,Dan B,NewMexican,and MIKEEEEEE....I'm serious,,,,I dont know "cracker" is supposed to mean.......hope this doesnt make me seem way out of touch..?

dddd

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on September 14, 2001 at 05:00:19 PT:

B-A-L-L-S, maybe...but B-R-A-I-N-S?
Doubtful.

It's been my sad experience that antis simply are terrified of the possibility that they may someday be forced to maybe, just maybe have to consider that they may be have been wrong. Because they know where such an admission leads.

I remember many years ago overhearing a conversation between two Northern versions of 'crackers'. (For those kids unfamiliar with the term, just think 'bigot'. That's all you need to remember.) This was in the early 1960's, during the Civil Rights marches and the rally Dr. King led on the Mall in DC. (I keep telling you I'm an old fart :) )

Said crackers were railing about how Blacks thought they were just as good as Whites, going on and on about their supposed inadequacies. I didn't know the term for this, back then, but I was smart enough as a little shaver to know that what they were doing was what psychologists call 'projection'. They were signalling fears of their own inadequacies by projecting them at their targets. And secretly afraid someone would discover those very same qualities in them.

I've often commented on the anti personality. Their overwhelming need to control the behavior of others. Some of it, I have no doubt, was based upon childhood abuse. But I believe that there's another component to it: they are closet hedonists struggling to keep this bottled up.
In other words, they'd probably enjoy some boffo weed more than we do. And they are frightened of the prospect of 'losing control'. Which they associate with cannabis use.

Like I keep saying, I'd pity them if they weren't so damn dangerous.

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #3 posted by firedog on September 13, 2001 at 21:51:41 PT
Major verbal mistake
I just noticed that in my last post I made a big mistake towards the end. I support the Freedom Rally type events. I absolutely, emphatically, in no way support the terrorist events.

It may have seemed a bit unclear so I just wanted to clarify that. Thanks.

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #2 posted by firedog on September 13, 2001 at 21:48:50 PT
Last year's rally
I was at the rally last year. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed and frustrated at the end of it.

On the news that night, about fifteen seconds was devoted to coverage of the rally. Most of it consisted of footage of pierced kids blowing smoke at the camera and other flattering scenes and discussions of how many arrests the Boston Police made.

To me, it seemed almost like the organizers were trying to get people to come by booking a bunch of bands, and that most of the people in attendance didn't give a **** about legalization, as long as the bands started on time. The kids around me were mostly ignoring the speakers. So the speakers seemed to be desperately trying to get their attention by talking about "how not to get busted". In Middle America, this plays about as well as the footage of Palestinians celebrating in the streets.

I think having a smaller, but more dedicated, group in attendance would be better than just pushing for raw numbers. Of course, I say this a little late, but seeing this article reminded me of what I saw last year.

I realize that what I say might be controversial, but it's my honest observation. I hope things go better this year, although I think it will be a real challenge with the tragic events of this week.

I do strongly support these events, and I wish there were more of them. I also recognize that it is a serious challenge to organize one and that a lot of tough compromises must be made in order to get attention. My hats go off to those who organize it each year. I'm just trying to offer a little constructive criticism, and my impression of how Middle America saw last year's rally.

- Firedog

[ Post Comment ]

 
Comment #1 posted by E. Johnson on September 13, 2001 at 21:02:49 PT
Someone who flunked Civics
Other than her Freedom Rally run-ins, Cox prefers to steer clear of anti-prohibitionists. " Our previous president refused to debate them and she was right, " she says. " If we had held to that then they wouldn’t have the forum they have today.

They probably teach Civics 101 in night school somewhere in your area, Ms. Cox.

Try dropping in one night, you might be be surprised...

Sometimes I wish I could get rid of this drug fight so I could devote all my time to my grandchildren.

Ms. Cox, I'm glad to see you have such strong family values to add to your deep respect for open social discourse.



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