Martin A. Lee

Pot and Hops: A Family Reunion

Once upon a time, cannabis and humulus (hops) were the same plant.

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9 Ways Scientists Are Exploring the Body’s Relationship with Marijuana

In recent years, cannabis has been at the center of one of the most important developments in modern science, which has significantly advanced our understanding of health and disease.

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So, Is CBD Legal Or What?

Highlights: 
  • The FDA has issued more warning letters to hemp CBD companies for making unsubstantiated medical claims.
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that 69 percent of hemp CBD products tested did not contain the amount of cannabidiol indicated on the label.
  • Sporadic police raids continue to target CBD retailers in several states.
  • A legal battle over the status of hemp-derived CBD looms in federal court.

A series of police raids in North Dakota has set the stage for a courtroom showdown regarding the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating cannabis component with significant medical properties. Thus far, it’s not going well for purveyors of the claim that hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 U.S. states.

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Got the End-of-Summer Blues? Here’s How Marijuana Can Help

The possibility that a woman could have painless labor became an idée fixe of H. L. (“Doc”) Humes, a literary wunderkind and MIT science prodigy who developed some intriguing theories about cannabis. When his wife was giving birth at their home on July 4, 1977, they tried an experiment involving marijuana, breathing exercises, and massage. Humes gave her some marijuana to inhale just before each contraction and this helped her immensely.

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8 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Marijuana's Key Medical Ingredient

It doesn’t get you high, but it’s causing quite a buzz among medical scientists and patients. The past year has seen a surge of interest in marijuana’s CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabis compound with significant therapeutic properties. Numerous commercial start-ups and internet retailers have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, touting CBD derived from industrial hemp as the next big thing, a miracle oil that can shrink tumors, quell seizures, and ease chronic pain — without making people feel “stoned.” But along with a growing awareness of cannabidiol as a potential health aid there has been a proliferation of misconceptions about CBD.

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The Cutting Edge of Marijuana Medical Research Will Leave You Wondering What It Can't Help Cure

During the last week of June, more than 400 scientists from 25 countries met in Montreal for the 27th annual symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). Several presentations and posters showcased new findings about cannabidiol (CBD), the non-euphoric component of the cannabis plant that is transforming the medical marijuana landscape.

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Marijuana for the Masses

It’s been 50 years since the fabled “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. The City by the Bay was the epicenter of a countercultural uprising fueled by cannabis and LSD, which happened so vividly and with such intensity that it generated worldwide attention.

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Raids or Riches? The Uncertain Future of Marijuana's Medicinal Molecule

It began when U.S. postal workers in Alaska spotted an unidentified substance oozing from several packages. Upon inspection they found 1,000 leaky vials, some labeled, others not, of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) oil. A call went out to Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board.

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Provocative Study Points to Humans Being Best Adapted to a High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet

Cannabis has been a friend to humankind since before the written word, providing fiber for cordage and cloth, seeds for nutrition, and roots, leaves and flowers for ritual and healing. During the Neolithic period, our ancestors discovered uses for every part of cannabis, which was one of the first agricultural crops, perhaps the first, ever to be grown and harvested some 12,000 years ago.

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Distorted Science: Does CBD Change to THC in the Stomach, and Who Benefits By Claiming It Does?

In 2016, a new journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published a paper suggesting that non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) converts to psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the stomach. The controversial paper was coauthored by several scientists employed by Zynerba Pharmaceuticals in Devin, Pennsylvania. It was not the first time that researchers addressed this issue.

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Mind Over Matter Over Mind: Cannabinoids and the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is a pervasive medical phenomenon. It occurs when someone responds to an inert treatment or an expectation of benefit in the same way that they would respond to an actual treatment. Experts don’t know exactly how or why, but there’s no disputing that a person given a placebo — be it a sugar pill, a saline injection or even sham surgery or sham acupuncture — will often experience a perceived or real improvement in their condition.Placebos with no active drug ingredients can trigger changes in brain chemistry, heart rate, and blood pressure. A placebo can even enhance short-term memory. Brain imaging techniques have shown that placebos have a measurable impact on brain activity.

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The DEA Bursts the CBD Bubble

The DEA has rained all over the CBD hemp oil parade.

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I’m Just Mad About Saffron (and Other Spices That Activate the Endocannabinoid System)

Modern science is starting to catch on to the wisdom of our ancestors, who knew a lot about using aromatic herbs and spices for medicinal purposes. The use of spices for cooking, healing and dyeing fabric has shaped much of human history. In ancient times these highly precious commodities were traded along well-traveled spice routes throughout Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe. Some spices were literally worth their weight in gold.

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The CBD User's Manual: Everything You Need to Know About Marijuana's Most Medicinal Molecule

In 2009, a handful of CBD-rich cannabis strains were discovered serendipitously in Northern California, America’s cannabis breadbasket, where certified patients could access medical marijuana legally. Thus began a great laboratory experiment in democracy involving CBD-rich cannabis therapeutics. The advent of whole plant CBD-rich oil as a grassroots therapeutic option has changed the national conversation about cannabis. It’s no longer a question of whether medical marijuana works; today the key question is how to use cannabis for maximum therapeutic benefit. But most health professionals have little experience in this area. So Project CBD has created a CBD User’s Manual for patients that addresses key questions about cannabidiol and cannabis therapeutics.

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Where Does Your CBD Cannabis Oil Come From?

What are the best plants for extracting and making high quality CBD-rich oil? Marijuana, industrial hemp, both?

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Hidden Histories: Emerald Triangle Marijuana Growers and the Rise of Solar Power

When solar energy pioneer John Schaeffer sold the first photovoltaic panel to a U.S. retail customer in Mendocino County in 1978, he didn’t realize that he had struck a decisive blow against the war on drugs.

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More Proof That Synthetic Medical Marijuana Pales in Comparison to the Real Thing

groundbreaking study from Israel has documented the superior therapeutic properties of whole plant CBD-rich Cannabis extract as compared to synthetic, single-molecule cannabidiol (CBD).

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8 Things You Should Know About Pot Cannabidiol

It doesn’t get you high, but it’s causing quite a buzz among medical scientists and patients. The past year has seen a surge of interest in cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating cannabis compound with significant therapeutic properties. Numerous commercial start-ups and internet retailers have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, touting CBD derived from industrial hemp as the next big thing, a miracle oil that can shrink tumors, quell seizures, and ease chronic pain—without making people feel “stoned.” But along with a growing awareness of cannabidiol as a potential health aide there has been a proliferation of misconceptions about CBD.

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As the Remarkable Healing Qualities of CBD - a Component of Marijuana - Are Documented, Anti-Pot Drug Warriors Respond With CBDisinformation

Perhaps the most important discovery about the make up of cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD), a “nonpsychoactive” component of marijuana, that is causing great excitement among medical scientists and heath professionals. A growing number of physicians are recommending CBD-rich cannabis oil extracts for patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. CBD has been shown to shrink malignant tumorsimprove insulin sensitivityquell anxiety, and ease chronic pain – without making people feel high. Extensive preclinical (and some clinical) research validates the experience of many patients, including children with catastrophic seizure disorders, who successfully medicate with CBD-rich products.
Despite the enormous promise and many examples of successful treatment there are detractors and enemies of cannabis reform and none is given more media exposure than an outfit misnamed Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). SAM's cofounder, Kevin Sabet, is an anti-marijuana ideologue who served as an advisor to the drug czar’s office under Obama and George W. Bush. Sabet takes pride in Rolling Stone’s description of him as “Legalization Enemy #1." SAM recently produced a “fact sheet” titled, Everything You Need to Know About CBD, which seeks to justify the continued prohibition of cannabis by misinforming the public about cannabidiol and THC.
Sabet  stated in a letter to the Boston Globe:
“Medical marijuana is a big fat headache that serves no one but people who want to get high.”
But the clamor for non-psychoactive CBD-rich cannabis proves Sabet is wrong. Medical marijuana is not – and never was – just a front for stoners.  Not long after we formed Project CBD in 2010, we predicted that recalcitrant drug warriors would attempt to coopt the news about CBD to advance a prohibitionist agenda. As we note on projectcbd.org:
“Marijuana prohibitionists will try to exploit the news about CBD to further stigmatize high-THC cannabis, casting The High Causer, THC, as the bad cannabinoid, whereas CBD is pegged as the good cannabinoid. Project CBD categorically rejects this dichotomy in defense of whole plant cannabis therapeutics.”

SAM’s anti cannabis  polemic essentially boils down to this:

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Why the Fight to Legalize Marijuana Is Part of a Much Larger Populist Struggle

On January 10, 1965, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg led a march for marijuana legalization outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in lower Manhattan. A dozen demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans, resulting in one of the iconic images of the 1960s: a picture of Ginsberg, snowflakes on his beard and thinning hair, wearing a sign that said "Pot Is Fun." Another picket sign read "Pot Is a Reality Kick."

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The Potential Miracle Element in Cannabis That Changed Sanjay Gupta's Mind About the Power of Pot

As marijuana reforms sweep the nation, and states from coast to coast scramble to join Colorado and Washington in legalization of the notorious herb, it is clear the U.S. has reached a pivotal point in the marijuana dispute. Martin A. Lee's new book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific provides an unprecedented history of the controversial plant.

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The Same Compounds Behind Marijuana's Distinctive Stinky Smells Give Clues About the Kinds of High You'll Experience

The first thing you notice upon entering a well-stocked medical marijuana dispensary is the many varieties of cannabis on display – dozens of glass jars filled with glistening, manicured bud. Everyone has their favorites: OG Kush, Headband, Sour Diesel, Flo, Lemon Thai, Super Silver Haze ... Some strains are energizing, some are sedating; some are better for pain, others for inspiration.

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Is Juicing Raw Cannabis the Miracle Health Cure That Some of Its Proponents Believe It to Be?

William Courtney, a Mendicino County-based physician, recommends eating — or juicing and then drinking — raw cannabis leaf and bud as a way to achieve megadose therapeutic impact from marijuana without psychoactive effect. The green plant contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in its acid form, THCA, which is not psychoactive.

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8 Visions for the Future of Legal Pot

Pot-smokers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your pipe dreams.

Marijuana legalization is a beginning, not an end.

When residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the adult use of cannabis, it felt like a momentary rush of sobriety in a country dazed by decades of anti-marijuana hysteria. But what comes next?

The drug war edifice is cracking and the end of prohibition may be nigh. Or may not be. The way things play out is not preordained. Major strategic differences among legalization proponents are surfacing about how to proceed. Some drug policy reform leaders, fearing an official backlash, are urging a cautious, go-slow, approach: make it as easy as possible for the feds to back off and let the states do their thing. Other voices, claiming a pro-pot electoral mandate, are calling for bold, assertive moves to implement the will of the voters.

Some medical marijuana dispensary operators are celebrating the prospect of expanding into adult sales, while others worry about getting squeezed out as weaker players fold in an increasingly competitive, multibillion-dollar industry. Mom-and-pop growers in the Emerald Triangle of Northern California, America’s cannabis bread basket, who’ve paid their dues over the years, cringe when they hear of post-election overtures to tobacco companies from single-issue obsessed, DC-based, drug policy reform lobbyists who presume to speak for tens of millions of cannabis consumers.

The future of cannabis is up for grabs – as much as anything can be in our ailing, corporate-dominated culture. So why not think big? Here are some ideas:

1. Tax and Regulate: Endorsed by 500 economists and several Nobel laureates, a 2005 report projected that ending marijuana prohibition in the United States would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, while taxing herb transactions would bring in $6.2 billion annually—a net gain of close to $14 billion. Whatever funds that re-legalizing cannabis adds to federal and state treasuries should be matched dollar for dollar by cuts in the obese Pentagon budget, which currently exceeds the combined military expenditures of the next 21 countries on earth. If the United States can’t defend itself with a budget equal to the combined military expenditures of the next top 10 countries, then America’s military leaders are incompetent and ought to be dumped.

2. Cultivate: Implement small-is-beautiful regulations capping the number of marijuana plants in a way that favors family farms rather than agribusiness giants. Make organic farming practices mandatory and discourage high-energy intensive indoor grows. Tobacco companies – or any businesses Big Tobacco invests in – shall not be permitted to grow cannabis or produce cannabis products. Tobacco farmers instead will be encouraged to cultivate industrial hemp, which was needlessly banished from the American agricultural landscape because of the war on drugs. Offer tax breaks for farmers and companies that engage in large-scale cultivation and production of fiber hemp, a versatile, ecologically sustainable plant with more than 25,000 known industrial applications – everything from hemp clothing, food and cosmetics to hemp surfboards, insulation and car panels.

3. Exchange: Organically grown marijuana should be available for barter and purchase by men and women 18 years and older in licensed cannabis dispensaries, herb stores, farmers markets, whole (small "w") food emporiums, and health clubs from sea to shining sea. Liquor stores, drug store chains and supermarket chains will be barred from selling marijuana because they sell dangerous, unhealthy products: cigarettes, booze, toxic household items, children’s toys reeking of endocrine-disrupters, pharmaceuticals with pernicious, sometimes lethal, side effects, junk food loaded with corn syrup, neurotoxic additives and GMOs. In order to minimize exposure to these harmful substances while promoting cannabis commerce, it’s crucial to disentangle marijuana from mainstream corporate monoculture.

4. Apologize: All marijuana prisoners must be freed immediately and the U.S. government should pay reparations to those whose lives were ruined because they were among the more than 20 million people arrested for violating U.S. laws against marijuana possession. Reparations should also be paid to medical patients -- including military veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries -- who have been denied access to marijuana or discriminated against because they used cannabis for therapeutic purposes. And the millions of U.S. drug war victims in Latin America and other countries should also be compensated. This won’t ever happen given the astronomical sums at stake. In lieu of reparations, the U.S. government must issue a formal apology for waging a dishonest, destructive, and logically incoherent crusade against cannabis users at home and abroad.

5. Experiment: Medical marijuana in California, the first state to re-legalize the herb for therapeutic use in 1996, began as a laboratory experiment in democracy, and it has led to a cultural shift in favor of legalizing cannabis for personal use. A portion of the revenue accrued from taxing legal marijuana transactions should be used to underwrite other laboratory experiments in democracy – in particular, green new deal work programs founded on the premise that a green economy entails more than producing environmentally benign consumer goods. Spearheaded by a burgeoning cannabis industry, a green economy will point the way toward novel forms of labor-sharing, voluntary simplicity, and local self-providing, while challenging the tyranny of the job system that was implanted during the industrial revolution. (Work yes!! Jobs no!) Alienation and bleak prospects, not marijuana-smoking, are root causes of amotivation.

6. Educate: For a long time, the illegality of cannabis acted as a deterrent to clinical research in the United States. Recent scientific discoveries regarding the “endocannabinoid system” – which includes “cannabinoid” receptors in the brain and body that respond pharmacologically to marijuana – have breathtaking implications for nearly every area of medicine. This information will be integrated into science classes, medical school curricula, and continuing education seminars for doctors, other health professionals, and the general public. And the federal government henceforth will vigorously sponsor clinical investigations into marijuana’s healing potential, which has barely been tapped.

7. Heal: Make cannabis a centerpiece of a robust single-payer healthcare system that rewards citizens who embrace healthy lifestyles, preventative medicine, and holistic healing options. There should be incentives for women who breastfeed their children (kids who breastfeed are typically healthier than non-breastfed offspring) and for people who medicate with marijuana, exercise regularly and eat whole food diets. (Medical marijuana patients in general drink less alcohol and take less painkillers and Big Pharma meds than patients who don’t use cannabis.) Healthcare costs will plummet when the federal government guarantees that every citizen has access to vitamin D in sufficient quantities, as well as orally ingested cannabis extracts infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant with remarkable healing properties. Vitamin D combined with CBD will become the “killer” public health app of the post-prohibition era.

8. Occupy: Legalizing marijuana without challenging endemic social injustice is a formula for “repressive tolerance” – cut the masses some slack while they’re getting shafted. Economic inequality is socially divisive, psychologically stressful, and hugely damaging in terms of health outcomes, especially for poor people, who comprise half the population in 21st century America. Massive inequalities disgrace and sicken the United States. Extensive research has shown that health and social problems by almost every measure — from mental and physical illness to violence and drug abuse — are more prevalent in countries with large income disparities. A post-prohibition society that doesn’t address pathological income inequality will not be able to heal itself.

Why Candy Crowley Should Have Asked Obama and Romney About Hemp

On Tuesday, October 16, the second Obama-Romney debate was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, near where I grew up as a kid.

If I were moderator, I would have started by asking the candidates to explain the etymology of that quaint village name. Why is the town called Hempstead? Because once upon a time, farmers on Long Island grew hemp, marijuana’s durable, non-psychoactive twin. They grew hemp for fiber, cordage, paper, oil, and many other necessities. Many American farmers used to grow hemp – not just on Long Island.

Hemp was one of the first crops cultivated by Puritan settlers in New England. Early American households in some colonies were required by law to produce hemp because the plant had so many beneficial uses. Thomas Jefferson penned the original draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Patriotic wives and mothers organized spinning bees with hempen thread to clothe the Yankee army. The first American flags were made of hemp cloth. Without enough hemp, American revolutionaries would not have prevailed in their struggle against the British.

But today it’s illegal to grow hemp in the United States. A plant once prized by our Founding Fathers, a plant with an impeccable patriotic pedigree, has been banished from the American agricultural landscape because of the war on drugs.

Concerned about the availability of marijuana, the federal government imposed tight restrictions on hemp, even though hemp contains minuscule amounts of THC, pot’s psychoactive ingredient, not nearly enough to make someone feel high. If marijuana is the funny stuff, then fiber hemp is its serious sibling, a sober, can-do ecologically sustainable plant with more than 25,000 known industrial applications – everything from hemp sneakers, lip balm, body lotion and granola to hemp surfboards, backpacks, building material and car panels.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials contend that if hemp were legal to grow, it would make marijuana law enforcement much more difficult because hemp and pot bear a resemblance. (They are actually the same species -- cannabis sativa – but are genetically distinct.) By misclassifying hemp as a drug, Uncle Sam essentially ceded a lucrative and expanding agricultural market to Canada, China, Russia, and the European Union, which subsidizes hemp farmers.

The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that prohibits commercial hemp cultivation. Yet it’s okay for American businesses to import hemp fiber and hempseed oil, as long as the plant itself is grown abroad.

That’s very frustrating to David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which use 20 tons of hempseed oil in soaps and other products every year. It would be more cost-effective for Bronner’s company and better for American farmers and the U.S. economy as a whole if American businesses could purchase hemp oil and hemp fiber from American rather than Canadian farmers. “The Canadian farmers are laughing at us all the way to the bank,” said Bronner.

Rough industry estimates indicate that several hundred million dollars worth of hemp products are sold annually in the United States.

Nine states – Maine, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon and Hawaii – have passed laws permitting hemp cultivation and research. But unlike in states such as California where medical marijuana is legal and people can grow limited quantities of cannabis for therapeutic use, industrial hemp farming hasn’t taken hold anywhere in the United States.

There is no industrial hemp resistance like there is a medical marijuana resistance. That’s because the feds generally follow a policy of only busting cannabis grow-ops larger than 100 plants. Whereas a family or a collective can earn decent money from growing 99 pot plants (which command a high price relative to other crops), for an industrial hemp grow to be economically viable, it would have to exceed many times over the 100-plant limit, which would make it an automatic target of federal law enforcement.

In effect, pot prohibition makes it more difficult for a farmer to grow industrial hemp than granddaddy purple -- underscoring once again the sheer idiocy of the war on drugs, a venal and destructive policy that has fostered crime, police corruption, social discord, racial injustice and, ironically, drug abuse itself, while impeding medical advances and economic opportunity.

The politics of hemp and the politics of marijuana are inseparable – if only because the feds have made it so.

To unshackle hemp from the tyranny of pot prohibition, Bronner and other activists are supporting three state ballot measures this fall that would legalize cannabis for adult use in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

Hemp is the botanical elephant in the living room of American politics. It’s off limits to grow and presidential candidates keep dodging the issue – even when they’re debating in a town called Hempstead.

Can Pot Treat Cancer Without The Devastating Effects of Chemotherapy?

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Acid Dreams author Martin A. Lee's new book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana -- Medical, Recreational, and Scientific (Simon and Schuster, 2012):

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Eric Holder's Connection to Obama's 'Fast and Furious' Attack on Medical Pot

Eric Holder, Obama’s embattled attorney general, was under mounting pressure from Congress to explain the botched "Fast and Furious" sting operation, in which 2,000 assault rifles and other firearms were sold to suspected traffickers for the Mexican drug cartels. It was intended as an intelligence-gathering ploy, but U.S. agents lost track of most of these weapons.

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Synthetic Pot as a Military Weapon? Meet the Man Who Ran the Secret Program

It was billed as a panel discussion on "the global shift in human consciousness." A half-dozen speakers had assembled inside the Heebie Jeebie Healers tent at Burning Man, the annual post-hippie celebration in Black Rock, Nev., where 50,000 stalwarts braved intense dust storms and flash floods last August. Among the notables who spoke at the early evening forum was Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the Bay Area-based psychochemical genius much beloved among the Burners, who synthesized Ecstasy and 200 other psychoactive drugs and tested each one on himself during his unique, offbeat career.

Sitting on the panel next to Shulgin was an unlikely expositor. Dr. James S. Ketchum, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told the audience, "When Sasha was trying to open minds with chemicals to achieve greater awareness, I was busy trying to subdue people."

Ketchum was referring to his work at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, in the 1960s, when America's national security strategists were high on the prospect of developing a nonlethal incapacitating agent, a so-called humane weapon, that could knock people out without necessarily killing anyone. Top military officers hyped the notion of "war without death," conjuring visions of aircraft swooping over enemy territory releasing clouds of "madness gas" that would disorient the bad guys and dissolve their will to resist, while U.S. soldiers moved in and took over.

Ketchum was into weapons of mass elation, not weapons of mass destruction. He oversaw a secret research program that tested an array of mind-bending drugs on American GIs, including an exceptionally potent form of synthetic marijuana. (Most of these drugs had no medical names, just numbers supplied by the Army.) "Paradoxical as it may seem," Ketchum asserted, "one can use chemical weapons to spare lives, rather than extinguish them."

Some of the Burners were perplexed. Was this guy cool or creepy?

Shulgin, a critic of chemical mind-meddling by the military, was wary when he first met Ketchum at a 1993 event honoring the 50th anniversary of the discovery of LSD. But Ketchum is not your typical military bulldozer type. An intelligent, gracious man with a disarming sense of humor, in his own way he has always been a free spirit. He and his wife, Judy, who currently reside in Santa Rosa, became close friends with Sasha and his formidable partner, Ann. They stayed in frequent contact and occasionally socialized together. When the Shulgins invited them to Burning Man, the Ketchums joined the caravan of RVs driving to the desert.

"I'm kind of a Sasha worshipper," Ketchum, who reads neuropharmacology textbooks during his leisure hours, confessed. Tall and lanky, the colonel, now 76, is one of the few people who can actually understand what Shulgin, six years his senior, is talking about when he lectures on the molecular subtleties of psychedelic drugs, waving his arms furiously like a mad scientist. Shulgin took Ketchum under his wing and welcomed him into the fold.

Shulgin wrote the foreword to Ketchum's self-published memoir, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, which lifts the veil on the Army's little-known drug experiments and illuminates a hidden chapter of marijuana history. A graduate of Cornell Medical College, Ketchum describes how he was assigned as a staff psychiatrist to Edgewood Arsenal, located 25 miles northeast of Baltimore, in 1961.

"There was no doubt in my mind that working in this strange atmosphere was just the sort of thing that would satisfy my appetite for novelty," Ketchum wrote. Soon he became chief of clinical research at the Army's hub for chemical warfare studies. Although the Geneva Convention had banned the use of chemical weapons, Washington never agreed to this provision, and the U.S. government poured money into the search for a nonlethal incapacitant.

Red Oil

The U.S. Army Chemical Corp's marijuana research began several years before Ketchum joined the team at Edgewood. In 1952, the Shell Development Corporation was contracted by the Army to examine "synthetic cannabis derivatives" for their incapacitating properties. Additional studies into possible military uses of marijuana began two years later at the University of Michigan medical school, where a group of scientists led by Dr. Edward F. Domino, professor of pharmacology, tested a drug called "EA 1476" -- otherwise known as "Red Oil" -- on dogs and monkeys at the behest of the U.S. Army. Made through a process of chemical extraction and distillation, Red Oil, akin to hash oil, packed a mightier punch than the natural plant.

Army scientists found that this concentrated cannabis derivative produced effects unlike anything they had previously seen. "The dog gets a peculiar reaction. He crawls under the table, stays away from the dark, leaps out at imaginary objects and, as far as one can interpret, may be having hallucinations," one report stated. "It would appear even to the untrained observer that this dog is not normal. He suddenly jumps out, even without any stimulus, and barks, and then crawls back under the table."

With a larger dose of Red Oil, the reaction was even more pronounced. "These animals lie on their side; you could step on their feet without any response; it is an amazing effect and a reversible phenomenon. It has greatly increased our interest in this compound from the standpoint of future chemical possibilities."

In the late 1950s, the Army started testing Red Oil on U.S. soldiers at Edgewood. Some GIs smirked for hours while they were under the influence of EA 1476. When asked to perform routine numbers and spatial reasoning tests, the stoned volunteers couldn't stop laughing.

But Red Oil was not an ideal chemical-warfare candidate. For starters, it was a "crude" preparation that contained many components of cannabis besides psychoactive THC. Army scientists surmised that pure THC would weigh much less than Red Oil and would therefore be better suited as a chemical weapon. They were intrigued by the possibility of amplifying the active ingredient of marijuana, tweaking the mother molecule, as it were, to enhance its psychogenic effects. So the Chemical Corps set its sights on developing a synthetic variant of THC that could clobber people without killing them.

Enter Harry Pars, a scientist working with Arthur D. Little Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., one of several pharmaceutical companies that conducted chemical warfare research for the Army. (Two Army contracts for marijuana-related research were awarded to this firm, covering a 10-year period beginning in 1963.) A frequent visitor to Edgewood, Pars synthesized a new cannabinoid compound, dubbed "EA 2233," which was significantly stronger than Red Oil.

At the outset of this project, Pars had sought the advice of Shulgin, then a brilliant young chemist employed by Dow Chemical. Shulgin was a veritable fount of information regarding how to reshape psychoactive molecules to create novel mind-altering drugs. Eager to share his arcane expertise, Shulgin gave Pars the idea to tinker with nitrogen analogs of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Pars never told Shulgin that he was an Army contract employee. A declassified version of Pars' research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (August 1966), in which he thanked Shulgin for "drawing our attention to the synthesis of these nitrogen analogs."

The U.S. Army Chemical Corps began clinical testing of EA 2233 on GI volunteers in 1961, the year Ketchum arrived at Edgewood Arsenal. When ingested at dosage levels ranging from 10 to 60 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, EA 2233 lasted up to 30 hours, far longer than the typical marijuana buzz.

"I Just Feel Like Laughing"

In an interview videotaped seven hours after he had been given EA 2233, one soldier described feeling numb in his arms and unable to raise them, precluding any possibility that he could defend himself if attacked. "Everything seems comical," he told his interlocutor.
Q: How are you?
A: Pretty good, I guess. ...
Q: You've got a big grin on your face.
A: Yeah. I don't know what I'm grinning about, either.
Q: Do things seem funny, or is that just something you can't help?
A: I don't -- I don't know. I just -- I just feel like laughing. ...
Q: Does the time seem to pass slower or faster or any different than usual?
A: No different than usual. Just -- just that I mostly lose track of it. I don't know if it's early or late.
Q: Do you find yourself doing any daydreaming?
A: Yeah. I'm daydreaming all kinds of things. ...
Q: Suppose you have to get up and go to work now. How would you do?
A: I don't think I'd even care.
Q: Well, suppose the place were on fire?
A: It would seem funny.
Q: It would seem funny? Do you think you'd have the sense to get up and run out, or do you think you'd just enjoy it?
A: I don't know. Fire doesn't seem to present any danger to me right now. ... Everything just seems funny in the Army. Seems like everything somebody says, it sounds a little bit funny. ...
Q: Is it like when you're in a good mood and you can laugh at anything?
A: Right. ... It's like being out with a bunch of people and everybody's laughing. They're just --
Q: Having a ball?
A: Yeah. And everything just seems funny.
Q: Would you do this again? Take this test again?
A: Yeah. Yeah. It wouldn't bother me at all.

EA 2233 was actually a mixture of eight stereoisomers of THC. (An isomer is a rearrangement of atoms within a given molecule; a stereoisomer entails different spatial configurations of these atoms.) Eventually, Edgewood scientists would separate the eight stereoisomers and investigate the relative potency of each of them individually in an effort to separate the wheat from the psychoactive chaff and reduce the amount of material needed to get the desired effect for chemical warfare.

Only two of the stereoisomers proved to be of interest (the others didn't have much of a knockdown effect). When administered intravenously, low doses of these two synthetic cousins of tetrahydrocannabinol triggered a dramatic drop in blood pressure to the point where test subjects could barely move. Standing up without assistance was impossible. This was construed by cautious Army doctors as a warning sign -- a sudden plunge in blood pressure could be dangerous -- and human experiments with single THC stereoisomers were suspended.

Looking back on these studies, Ketchum wonders whether his colleagues made the right decision. "This hypotensive (blood-pressure-reducing) property, in an otherwise nonlethal compound, might be an ideal way to produce a temporary inability to fight, or do much else, without toxicological danger to life," Ketchum says now. Given the high safety margin of THC -- no one has ever died from an overdose -- and the likelihood that the stereoisomers would display a similar safety profile, Ketchum believes the Army may have spurned a couple of worthy prospects that were capable of filling the knock-'em-out-but-don't-kill-'em niche in America's chemical warfare arsenal.

As for the two exemplary stereoisomers weaned from EA 2233, Ketchum speculates, "They probably would have been safe in terms of life-sparing activity. ... But a person who received them would have to lie down. If he tried to stand up and get his weapon, he would feel faint and lightheaded and he'd keel over. Essentially he would be immobilized for any military purpose until the effects wore off."

The colonel's assessment: "A safe drug that knocks people down -- what more could you ask for?"

Volunteers for America

With THC isomers on the back burner, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps focused on several other compounds -- including LSD, PCP, methylphenidate (Ritalin) and a delirium-inducing ass-kicker known as "BZ" (a belladonna-like substance similar to atropine) -- all of which were thought to have significant potential as nonlethal incapacitants.

By the time the clinical testing program had run its course, 6,700 volunteers had experienced some bizarre states of consciousness at Edgewood. Under the influence of powerful mind-altering drugs, some soldiers rode imaginary horses, ate invisible chickens and took showers in full uniform while smoking phantom cigars. One garrulous GI complained that an order of toast smelled "like a French whore." Some of their antics were so over-the-top that Ketchum had to admonish the nurses and other medical personnel not to laugh at the volunteers, even though it was unlikely that the soldiers would remember such incidents once the drugs wore off.

Ketchum insists that the staff at Edgewood went to great lengths to ensure the safety of the volunteers. (There was one untoward incident involving a civilian volunteer who flipped out on PCP and required hospitalization, but this happened before Ketchum came on board.) During the 1960s, every soldier exposed to incapacitating agents was carefully screened and prepped beforehand, according to Ketchum, and well treated throughout the experiment. They stayed in special rooms with padded walls and were monitored by medical professionals 24/7. Antidotes were available if things got out of hand.

"The volunteers performed a patriotic service," Ketchum says. "None, to my knowledge, returned home with a significant injury or illness attributable to chemical exposure," though he admits that "a few former volunteers later claimed that the testing had caused them to suffer from some malady." Such claims, however, are difficult to assess given that so many intervening variables may have contributed to a particular problem.

A follow-up study conducted by the Army Inspector General's office and a review panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences found little evidence of serious harm resulting from the Edgewood experiments. But a 1975 Army IG report noted that improper inducements may have been used to recruit volunteers and that getting their "informed consent" was somewhat dubious given that scientists had a limited understanding of the short- and long-term impact of some of the compounds tested on the soldiers.

Ketchum draws a sharp distinction between clinical research with human subjects under controlled conditions at Edgewood Arsenal and the CIA's reckless experiments on random, unwitting Americans who were given LSD surreptitiously by spooks and prostitutes. "Jim is very certain of his own integrity," says Ken Goffman, aka R.U. Sirius, the former editor of the psychedelic tech magazine Mondo 2000. "There is little doubt in his mind that he was doing the right thing. He felt he was working for a noble cause that would reduce civilian and military casualties." Goffman helped Ketchum edit and polish his book manuscript, which vigorously defends the Edgewood research program.

Strange bedfellows, the colonel and the counterculture scribe. Or so it would appear. But these days, Ketchum and Goffman see eye to eye on many issues. Both feel that the alleged dangers of marijuana and LSD have been way overblown. No doubt, LSD could wreak havoc on the toughest, best-trained troops, derailing their thought processes and disorganizing their behavior.

When used wisely, however, LSD can be uplifting. Ketchum notes that some soldiers had insightful and rewarding experiences on acid, lending credence to reports from civilian psychiatrists that LSD was a useful therapeutic tool. "I had an interest in psychedelic drugs long before my interest in chemical warfare," Ketchum says. "I was intrigued by the positive aspects of LSD, as well as the incapacitating aspects."

Mystery Stash

One morning, Ketchum arrived at his office in Edgewood and found "a large, black steel barrel, resembling an oil drum, parked in the corner of the room," he recounts in his book. Overcome by curiosity, he opened the barrel and examined its contents. There were a dozen tightly sealed glass canisters that looked like cookie jars; the labels on the canisters indicated that each contained about three pounds of "EA 1729," the Army's code number for LSD. By the end of the week, the 40 pounds of government acid -- enough to intoxicate several hundred million people -- vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. Ketchum still doesn't know who put the LSD in his office or what became of it.

But this much is certain: Some officers at Edgewood were dipping into the Army's stash for their own personal use. "They took LSD more often than was necessary to appreciate its clinical effects," Ketchum admits. "They must have liked it."

The colonel was personally a bit skittish about trying LSD. Eventually, he worked up the courage to experiment on himself. Under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable Edgewood physician, he swallowed a small dose and proceeded to take the same numerical aptitude tests that the regular volunteers were put through to measure their impairment. Constrained by the white-smock laboratory setting, his lone LSD experience was somewhat anticlimactic. "Colors were more vivid and music was more compelling," Ketchum recalls, "but there were no breakthroughs in consciousness, no Timothy Leary stuff."

Ketchum also sampled cannabis shortly after he began working for the Chemical Corps. His younger brother turned him on to marijuana, but the first time Ketchum smoked a joint nothing happened. "Later, I read about reverse tolerance. Some people don't get high on marijuana until they use it a few times," Ketchum explains.

It wasn't until he went on a paid, two-year leave of absence from Edgewood that he started smoking pot socially. Ketchum had convinced the surgeon general of the Army that it would be in everyone's best interest if he studied neuroscience at Stanford University. How better to keep abreast of the latest advances in the field? In 1966, he joined a team of postdoctoral researchers mentored by Karl Pribram, a world-renowned expert on the brain and behavior.

Ketchum related well with his academic colleagues. "I got together with a few of my friends at Stanford and we had some cheap marijuana, which I smoked, and I got a real effect for the first time," he says. "I liked it. It was very sensuous. But I didn't use it very often. I didn't have any of my own."

Ketchum's West Coast hiatus coincided with the emergence of the hippie movement in San Francisco. "I was fascinated with this spectacular development," he gleams. "Luckily, I caught it at its peak."

Occasionally, Ketchum took his home movie camera to Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of hippiedom, and filmed the procession of exotically dressed flower children strutting through the neighborhood high on marijuana and LSD. "I was always interested in drugs, primarily because I've always been interested in how the mind works," he says. "So when this wave of psychedelic users descended upon San Francisco, I thought maybe I'd learn more by going there."

Ketchum attended the legendary Be-In in Golden Gate Park in January 1967, sitting cross-legged on the lawn with 20,000 pot-smoking enthusiasts, soaking up the rays and listening to rock music, poetry and anti-war speeches. A few months later, the colonel began working as a volunteer doctor at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, where he treated troubled youth with substance abuse problems.

Life After Edgewood

Ketchum returned to Edgewood in 1968, but the mood back at headquarters was not the same as before. Growing opposition to the Vietnam War and public disapproval of the use of napalm and toxic defoliants cast a lengthening shadow over classified research into chemical weapons. When journalists briefly got wind of the Army's ambitious psychochemical warfare program, they scoffed at the notion of making the enemy lay down their arms by turning them on.

The colonel saw the writing on the wall. Army brass consented when he asked to be transferred to another base in the early 1970s. By this time, the Chemical Corps had concluded that marijuana-related compounds would not be effective in a battlefield situation, but the testing of other incapacitating agents under field conditions would proceed. And drug companies continued to supply a steady stream of pharmaceutical samples for evaluation by the military.

In 1976, Ketchum retired from the Army and embarked upon a new career as a civilian psychiatrist in California. Commissioned by the California Department of Justice, he collaborated on a 1981 study comparing the effects of alcohol and smoked marijuana on driving performance. The results were somewhat surprising. "When combined with alcohol, cannabis produced little additional impairment," he concluded.

"While alcohol had an adverse impact on steering, THC affected a driver's ability to estimate time. But the combination of both drugs did not substantially increase the impairment produced by either one alone. ... In fact, there was an antagonistic effect. Marijuana seemed to offset some of the problems caused by alcohol, and vice versa."

Ketchum feels that drug prohibition is bad public policy. "It's the refusal to look at the evidence that keeps pot illegal. They misrepresented marijuana as an evil weed. ... I've always had a libertarian attitude toward drugs. I believe people should be able to do anything as long as it's not harmful to somebody else."

In the years ahead, Ketchum would reach out to medical marijuana trailblazers, prominent psychedelic advocates and drug-policy rebels working inside and outside the system to end prohibition. He joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and became a member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Founded by Rick Doblin, MAPS has spearheaded the revival of scientific investigations into the therapeutic potential of LSD, ecstasy, psilocybin and ibogaine, while also challenging bureaucratic roadblocks that prevent independent cannabis research in the United States. Ketchum attended fundraising events and wrote letters to potential donors, praising the work of MAPS.

During the 1960s, Ketchum supervised thousands of drug experiments, yet he barely scratched the surface of the awesome potential of cannabis and LSD. "Jim is not apologetic for what he did before," Doblin says, "and I don't think he sees it as incongruous with supporting research into the therapeutic aspect of psychedelics. These tools have tremendous power, but he only looked at a narrow slice of it while he was at Edgewood."

Today, Ketchum steadfastly maintains that cannabis and LSD are safe drugs compared to many legal substances. This is what the Edgewood experiments and other studies have shown, he contends. Given his status as a retired army officer who had extensive, hands-on experience testing psychoactive compounds, he speaks with a certain authority that most medical and recreational drug users cannot claim.

Medical Marijuana

After Californians broke ranks from America's drug-war orthodoxy in 1996 and legalized medical marijuana in the Golden State, Ketchum got a recommendation from his family doctor to use cannabis for insomnia. "I have personally found it helpful, especially for sleep," he says. "I've had problems with sleep for a long time."

It was at a picnic hosted by the Shulgins that Jim and Judy Ketchum first met Tod Mikuriya, the controversial Berkeley-based physician who has been described as "the father of the medical marijuana movement." One of the prime movers of Proposition 215, the successful med-pot ballot measure, Mikuriya quickly took a liking to the Ketchums and taught them how to use a vaporizer for inhaling cannabis fumes without tar and smoke.

With Mikuriya tendering introductions, Ketchum befriended some of the leading lights of the '60s counterculture, including Tim Scully, the prodigious underground chemist who manufactured millions of hits of black market LSD (remember Orange Sunshine?) while the colonel was administering hallucinogenic drugs to soldiers at Edgewood. "Jim and his wife visited me at my home in Mendocino County," Scully says. "I enjoyed their company. We found that we shared idealistic beliefs about the potential for good in psychoactive drugs, as well as sharing some wry understanding of the pitfalls, too."

As for their divergent paths in the past, Scully remarks, "I don't really see his work as having been in conflict with mine. I believe Jim sincerely hoped to save lives by helping in the development of nonlethal weapons as an alternative to conventional weapons."

An incurable iconoclast, the colonel has made common cause with counterculture veterans and anti-prohibition activists. His endorsement of the therapeutic use of marijuana and LSD confers additional credibility on views long championed by his newfound allies. Validation, in this case, goes both ways. Embraced as one of the elders, a peculiar elder to be sure, Ketchum somehow fits right in.

"I don't have a problem with being difficult to categorize," he says.

Government Shows No Compassion for Medical Pot Consumption

On the morning of January 13, 2004, Tehama County prosecutor Lynn Strom unexpectedly announced that the state of California was dropping charges against Cynthia Blake and David Davidson for possessing and growing cannabis with the intent to distribute. While the two medical marijuana patients waited in the courtroom, Strom and the defense attorneys disappeared inside the judge's chambers to discuss the motion to dismiss. Moments later, more than a dozen sheriff's deputies pounced on the hapless couple, handcuffed them, and shoved them into an unmarked police car waiting outside the courthouse in the Sacramento Valley town of Corning. They were already en route to jail in Sacramento when Strom informed their lawyers that the state was bowing out because the Feds were taking over the case.

It was a devastating blow for Blake, a retired Federal Reserve employee, and her sweetheart, Davidson, a retail shop owner. Both in their early fifties, they were booked on federal drug charges and transferred to the jurisdiction of the Eastern District office of US Attorney McGregor Scott. If convicted, they each faced a mandatory minimum of ten years to life in prison for exercising a right they thought they had gained with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the California ballot measure that legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

Both had a physician's recommendation to ease their ailments with marijuana, and neither had a criminal history. They had been tending three dozen pot plants in a remote garden, which they shared with other patients; their attorneys insist that no money had exchanged hands for the herb. But none of this would matter in federal court, which treated all marijuana as equally illicit, making no exceptions even for the seriously ill.

The well-coordinated Blake-Davidson hand-off was not the first time local authorities in California had turned over a medical marijuana case to federal authorities. But it is perhaps the most dramatic example of ongoing, secret collusion between various levels of government to prevent the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act, as Proposition 215 was called on the ballot.

For the past ten years, state and local officials sworn to uphold the state ballot measure have instead proven to be willing -- sometimes eager -- accomplices in a concerted U.S. attack on a state law. Now, a half year past its tenth birthday, the landmark California law remains under siege.

Within days after Prop 215 was enacted in the fall of 1996, top California law enforcement officials huddled privately with America's drug war high command in Washington, DC, where they plotted to sabotage a voter initiative they were unable to defeat at the ballot box.

On Dec. 3, 1996, in Sacramento, 300 district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, and narcotics officers attended an "Emergency All Zones Meeting," at which they were advised, basically, to continue arresting and prosecuting as before. Then-Attorney-General Dan Lungren and his deputies maintained that the new law did not shield marijuana suspects from arrest but merely provided them with an "affirmative defense" to invoke at a trial. Under Lungren's "narrow interpretation," local narcotics officers could exercise unilateral power in deciding if med-pot growers had more plants than they, the officers, believed justified by their medical condition.

Enforcement of the Compassionate Use Act varied dramatically across California's 58 counties. Where ballot support was strongest, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, patients could obtain locally issued ID cards and purchase their medicine from storefront dispensaries that had begun opening even before Prop 215 passed. But beyond an hour or so drive from San Francisco, in the Other California -- Red-State California, as it were -- local police and prosecutors conducted a reign of terror against patients and caregivers that went largely unnoticed by the state's metropolitan press corps.

Operating with federal anti-marijuana grants that increased by 50 percent in the first five years after passage of Prop 215, a dozen regional task forces worked with DEA and IRS partners to target marijuana growers regardless of medical use. "Prop. 215 might fly in San Francisco, but not here," a Placer County deputy told the target of a 1998 arrest and prosecution.

Nowhere did local authorities repress medical users more than in the Eastern District, the sprawling federal court district spanning California's San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and the Sierra Nevada, where Blake and Davidson faced charges.

Targetting the Pot Docs

Drug War strategists had pegged physicians as the weakest link in the med cannabis supply chain. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar, took aim at the doctors first, threatening to revoke the licenses of those who approved cannabis use by patients. A group of physicians and patients, with help from the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance, promptly sued the U.S. government on free speech and privacy grounds. The suit, called Conant v. McCaffrey, resulted in a federal injunction issued on First Amendment grounds upholding the doctors' right to discuss cannabis as a treatment option.

So the Feds passed the baton to the California Attorney General's office, via its agents in the state medical board's enforcement division, to crack down on physicians specializing in cannabis consultations. Despite specific language in Proposition 215 exempting doctors from retaliation by state officials, the Medical Board launched legal proceedings against several physicians based on evidence gathered by local undercover narcs who feigned symptoms to obtain a medical recommendation.

Unable to gag the doctors, the Clinton administration paid for anti-marijuana advertising and filed federal civil actions against a half dozen cannabis dispensaries in Northern California. It was the opening salvo of a seesaw legal battle, which culminated in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative (OCBC) in April 2001. As a result, some of the six clubs stopped selling medical marijuana, but others remained in business in open defiance of federal law.

The OCBC ruling gave the Bush administration its first chance to escalate the federal assault on California's fledgling medical marijuana infrastructure. Assisted by local narcotics units, the Ashcroft Justice Department went after dispensaries, medicinal grow-ops and high-profile activists up and down the state.

Federal agents may have overreached when they raided the Santa Cruz cannabis hospice led by Valerie and Mike Corral. Elderly disabled patients were handcuffed to their beds, while men in paramilitary gear tore apart their gardens and living quarters. Local officials rallied behind the patient collective, openly distributing marijuana on the steps of City Hall the day after the heavy-handed bust in September 2002. This was followed by another public-relations fiasco a few months later, when Americans for Safe Access, a newly formed grassroots organization, convinced Bay Area jurors to denounce their own guilty verdict in the federal trial of cannabis cultivation expert Ed Rosenthal, who ended up with a one-day sentence.

Suddenly, it seemed like the government's bare-knuckled crusade against medicinal cannabis was foundering. Optimism increased among California med-pot activists, who were buoyed by several federal and state court rulings in 2003. In December, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Appeals Court ruled in favor of Angel Raich and Diane Monson, two California women who had sued the Justice Department for the right to use medical marijuana.

But just as the momentum appeared to shift in favor of the med-pot cause, the federal government launched a concerted rollback effort. Leading the rollback has been McGregor Scott, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. Eastern District, one of four federal jurisdictions in California, in March 2003.

Scott was known to medical marijuana activists as the overzealous Shasta County DA who prosecuted Rick Levin, a disabled contractor who had been cultivating for personal medical use. (Levin prevailed.) But Scott's elevation to U.S. attorney was welcomed by California law enforcement officials. "It's going to be nice to have a U.S. attorney who has a local perspective," said Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully.

Scott had been active in the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA). A board member for three years, he also chaired the CDAA small counties committee. When he assumed his new office, Scott appointed the CDAA's veteran executive director, Lawrence Brown, as his chief assistant. Brown, who hired his successor at the CDAA, would become Scott's point-man on medical marijuana.

Scott promptly met with the district attorneys of all 34 counties in the Eastern District to lay out the federal position on medical marijuana and other issues. He also sought to influence the state medical board. Joan Jerzak, the chief of the board's enforcement division, acknowledged at an August 2003 meeting that she had conferred with Scott regarding medical marijuana, and that he wanted a closer working relationship. "A management group will probably be the interface," Jerzak said as she asked the board not to reformulate its policy on medical marijuana until the Supreme Court ruled in the Raich case.

SB 420

A key development was the October 2003 enactment by California lawmakers -- after 11th hour concessions to the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement -- of Senate Bill 420. SB 420 was written to "clarify" Prop 215 and protect patients from law enforcement's arrest-first policies. Sponsored by Sen. John Vasconcellos, the bill set a statewide minimum number of permissible plants and ordered counties to issue ID cards to qualified patients to shield them from arrest. The new statute also created more protection for caregivers, allowing them reasonable compensation for their time and services, and gave groups of patients the right to grow and distribute as collectives or cooperatives.

Although the California District Attorneys Association made sure SB 420 prohibited anyone from making a profit from pot, entrepreneurs opened more than 100 new storefront dispensaries within a year, many in previously unthinkable locations. Medical cannabis users in many rural communities came out of the closet. They started new patient groups or allied with statewide groups, and spoke out on behalf of public access to cannabis at storefront dispensaries before city councils and boards of supervisors.

SB 420 set the stage for the current battle over the proliferation of patient-run dispensaries. For the first time, local elected officials in scores of cities and counties were forced to take a stand on the issue, as increasing numbers of activists applied for permits to open dispensaries and local law enforcement objected -- or lobbied for preemptive moratoria and prohibitions. More than 100 California jurisdictions have proceeded to ban dispensaries, but another three dozen have expressly allowed and regulated the storefront distribution of medical marijuana.

SB 420 was the ultimate product of a task force created by Vasconcellos and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat elected in 1998 to succeed the unpopular Lungren (who got only 39 percent running for governor against Gray Davis). Although Lockyer said he had voted for Prop 215 -- and would submit an amicus brief supporting Raich -- he was unwilling to rein in hostile local officials. Responding to an August 2000 plea for uniform county standards by the North State Sheriffs Association ("...the law desperately needs clarification"), Lockyer declined to issue new plant and possession guidelines, washing his hands of how local jurisdictions should act.

California police and prosecutors opposed to medical marijuana turned away from the state's top lawyer for advice about medical marijuana and instead looked to the state's private law enforcement associations. If ordered by a court to return pot to a defendant, "I have the counsel for the California Sheriff's Association telling me I'm committing a felony," remarked El Dorado Sheriff Jeff Neves at a meeting with patient advocates. In 2002, Yuba Sheriff Virginia Black had the California State Sheriffs Association ask other sheriffs to write letters to Ashcroft and DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson asking them to "resolve" the conflict between state and federal law. ("I urge you to contact your local DEA office," Hutchinson replied.) The same year, Martin Mayer, general counsel of the California State Sheriffs Association, issued an alert following a California Supreme Court ruling that overturned the conviction of Myron Mower, a 31-year-old blind diabetic arrested in his hospital room. "Does this mean that law enforcement should no longer arrest one in possession of marijuana if, for example, he or she has a note, letter, or prescription from a doctor?" Mayer asked, before declaring: "Absolutely not!"

At its 2005 Summer Conference, the California District Attorneys Association secretly issued a new opinion about SB 420 in a closed executive session. While the CDAA had inserted language in SB 420 prohibiting cooperatives from making a profit, now the CDAA went a step further and told the state's district attorneys that no money could change hands when a cooperative distributed medicine to a patient.

A Pandora’s Box

If SB 420 had opened a Pandora's box of neighborhood marijuana dispensaries, the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich gave federal authorities a powerful tool in their effort to close it. While the 6-3 decision against Angel Raich and Diane Monson -- whose medical cannabis had been grown and consumed within California -- did not overturn the law created by Prop 215, the justices reaffirmed the federal government's authority to enforce federal law.

On August 1, 2005, McGregor Scott sent a letter to all California's district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs interpreting the Supreme Court decision. Local law enforcement had asked the U.S. Attorney's office for "possible enforcement action against 'medical marijuana' dispensaries," Scott stated, before citing the CDAA summer conference opinion as proof that the dispensaries violate California as well as federal law. Scott encouraged local agencies to first consult with their own district attorney regarding the potential for local prosecution. He also attached a copy of an article about SB 420 that ran in the Prosecutor's Brief, a quarterly CDAA publication.

Scott's anti-cannabis campaign set the stage for increased cooperation with local prosecutors, who have transferred a number of difficult medical marijuana cases to federal authorities, especially in the Eastern District. Armed with Scott's letter and the secret CDAA opinion, law enforcement opposed the opening of new dispensaries and pushed city councils and county supervisors to enact moratorium ordinances. The California Police Chiefs Association lobbied officials with the League of California Cities, and on a few occasions DEA agents or a DEA counsel attended city council meetings at the invitation of local police.

Relocated to the foothills of El Dorado County, McGregor Scott took a personal interest in the public discussion of a marijuana dispensary ordinance in the gold-rush town of Placerville, the county seat. After watching public-access television coverage of a city council hearing, Scott phoned the town manager, John Driscoll, to commiserate. The U.S. attorney told him the advocates who spoke at the meeting were simply in it for the money, Driscoll reported to associates.

Showdown in Southern California

In 2005 San Diego county supervisors refused to authorize the patient ID program mandated by SB 420, and filed suit to overturn the law. In December '06, a San Diego Superior Court judge rejected this suit (which was joined by two other counties) and upheld California's law permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. San Diego Country officials have appealed the decision, and the case is pending.

Today there are 200,000 authorized medical marijuana users in California, which is the only state (among twelve that have legalized medical marijuana) with a significant aboveground pot business. Thirty-three of 58 counties have initiated ID card programs. But an ID card doesn't prevent searches of med-pot patients by local and state law enforcement officers, who still target medical marijuana providers and users in California, where doctors who recommend cannabis do so at their own risk.

Hardly a week goes by without another raid against med-pot dispensaries by the DEA in cahoots with unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. Southern California has been hit particularly hard in recent months with anti-med-pot sweeps in San Diego, the Los Angeles area, Bakersfield, Palm Springs, Morro Bay, Riverside and Orange County, and dozens of other cities.

Activists and patients hope the San Diego lawsuit and subsequent raids will be the last gasp of an ultimately futile effort to snuff out California's burgeoning medical marijuana scene, which continues to gain momentum. There are currently almost 400 med-pot storefronts and delivery services unevenly distributed throughout the state -- with 200 concentrated in the LA area. In North Hollywood alone, there are more pot clubs than Starbucks.

In April '07, the state Board of Equalization served notice that sellers of medical marijuana must pay state and local sales tax - a stipulation not applied to conventional pharmaceuticals. But the state has yet to meet its responsibilities by establishing commonsense rules and procedures to protect those involved in prescribing and distributing marijuana to the sick.

Thus far, there has been little decisive action from Attorney Gen. Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who persist in deferring to recalcitrant state and local law enforcement, which have been adamantly opposed to any legal sale of marijuana, even nonprofit exchanges, since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act. Even today, the California Narcotics Officers Association features on its website a position paper asserting: "There is no justification for using marijuana as a medicine."

As the drug warriors wage their war of attrition against medical marijuana, the human toll continues to rise. Facing the prospects of a decade in federal prison, David Davidson left Cynthia Blake and is now a fugitive. She agreed to plead guilty to a single felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in custody. Prosecutors offered leniency provided she testify against Davidson and reveal her erstwhile partner's whereabouts. In September, Blake was sentenced to 18 months in federal custody.

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