Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oklahoma mother sentenced to 10 years for $31 marijuana transaction

Because of $31 in marijuana sales, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow is now serving 10 years in prison, has been taken away from her four young children and husband, and has ended her work in nursing homes.

Read more here and here.


Patricia Spottedcrow
ODOC# 622641
Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center
P.O. Box 315
Taft, OK 74463-0315

UPDATE: The Bittersweet Victory of Patricia Spottedcrow’s Release

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From Actress to Activist: Heather Donahue's Journey

Editor's note: It's rare that Tokin Woman crosses paths with People magazine. But here's a case in point. (With, undoubtedly, more to follow.)

Heather Donahue correctly predicts in her new book “Growgirl” that the words “Blair Witch Project” will appear on the cover, over her objections. The actress that will forever be linked to that 1999 indie flick afterwards appeared in some mainstream films and television shows, but decided to leave LA for a country life, one that ultimately included marijuana farming in a place she calls “Nuggetown.” She has now emerged as a new, strong female voice for reason and sanity in our marijuana laws. Her wickedly funny, inspired and insightful book “Growgirl: How My Life After the Blair Witch Project Went to Pot” will be released on January 5. (Read more.)

I’ve been kinda stalking Heather since I saw a hilarious video of her reading from Growgirl on YouTube last year. She spoke at Humboldt Hempfest in November, and came to a NORML Women’s Alliance fundraiser in San Francisco, where she kindly agreed to answer some questions for Cannabis Culture.

Q: Is this the first book you've written?

A: This is the first publishable book I've written. Don't ask about that "learning novel" I spent seven years on. Or the "learning screenplays" or the short stories. They're at home in a nice, dark drawer.

Q: How did you learn to be such an astute observer of human behavior? And your own emotions? What is your educational background?

A: That's nice of you to say. My educational background is public school followed by a four-year dose of Theater training at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I think my theater training and time spent as an actress helped me to slip into other skins smoothly. I also have a long-standing (if irregular) meditation practice, which has helped on the observational front. Also, I was sort of born creepy. When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes get angry and I would just stare at her, just sort of taking it in an observing her. It was, um, disturbing. And of course everything's clearer with the passage of time, my own motivations and those of others, the protagonist of the memoir is generally a wiser, warmer, and more insightful person than the writer herself, except on her best day.

Q: At what point did you decide to write about your experience as a pot grower? What was your aim?

A: I was originally going to write a memoir about my attempt to morph from a city girl into a country girl, but most of my homesteading experiments were not, shall we say, wildly successful. Except for the raising of my dog. That went well. It took about six months into my first draft of Growgirl to even type the word "pot" or "marijuana". The paranoia I experienced as a grower was pretty entrenched by that point. I really wrestled with writing a memoir. I considered just calling it an autobiographical novel at first, but I felt like my story was one that should be shared. It's not all ballers growing pot. There are a lot of pretty normal people who've taken to growing as a way to weather this economy and try to carve out a sustainable life with some semblance of autonomy, often in beautiful places that don't have many other jobs available.

Q: When did you first smoke marijuana? Was it a positive experience?

A: I was in high school and a co-worker at Sneaker Express gave me a joint. I shared it with friends and we laughed our asses off. I felt totally at home in my body, which was rare in those awkward teen years.

Q: I love that in the book your mother praised your courage, and that you were able to tell your parents what you were up to. Had they talked to you about cannabis or drugs while you were growing up?

A: My parents have always been supporters of anything my brother or sister or I have taken on. I don't remember a specific conversation about drugs, but we always knew we could go to them with questions about pretty much anything and not be judged. Consequently, none of else felt a big urge to rebel via sex or drugs. I find it kind of funny that I tried later and my heart just wasn't in it. I make a crappy rebel. I make a good independent lady, but a terrible rebel.

Q: You got into marijuana growing through a guy, but refused to be his "pot wife," growing your own instead. Did you encounter any other women who were similarly independent in the trade?

A: Yes. But they tend to be less visible, and more aware of how they're seen in the broader community. I think this might be due to a stronger self-preservation instinct, and that they often have more to lose. When in Nuggettown's coffee shop, it isn't too hard to guess who the grow guys are, and not just when they buy a latte with a $100 bill, but there's just a certain look. Women I knew who grew, avoided having that look. Pot wives had it, but not growgirls. I'm generalizing here, obviously, but a game of Spot the Grower can be good fun.

Q: You explain well the pitfalls of an underground culture: the inability to express yourself publicly; the spoiling of children around too-easy cash; the "gaming" of the medical law. You've expressed concern about the marijuana trade becoming corporatized, asking in your Huffington Post blog, "Is there a middle path?" What would be your ideal world in which pot was legal?

A: Well there's a loaded question. A few things first, I would not suggest that it's too-easy cash. I would suggest that it's very flowy cash, that it comes with a generous dash of Carpe Diem. The medical system is so widely open to interpretation and local amendments that it is almost designed like a game--if you're willing to take the risk, then you may have the reward. This helps keep the price up. From the side of getting a doctor's recommendation, am I gaming the system because I got mine for $50 and a claim of PMS? Or am I getting my uninsured self some relief? Is pursuit of wellness a legitimate medical use? Are the laughs brought by smoking a health-enhancing stress reducer, or does smoking to giggle fall strictly under recreational use? Is feeling great a matter of health or recreation? These are blurry lines worthy of exploration, as long as we make sure that deeply ill patients still have safe access no matter how those sorts of debates shape up.

There are so many ways that you could look at the medical marijuana world and see gaming. It's harder to imagine a way of looking at it that seems entirely forthright. It's this slipperiness that has allowed it to become such a large industry, and the only one I see out there whose wealth is still primarily distributed at the mom-and-pop level. There should be some very conscious consideration around that as we progress toward legalization. I have big concerns that legalization will bring corporatization. I think, in some ways, the way the business is evolving now is ideal. It's the federal illegality that's keeping in the hands of regular people. This industry bloomed when Obama insisted he wouldn't prosecute anyone compliant with state law. The industry bloomed, but the prices dropped. It could be argued that the prices dropped to fair levels, and in some cases, made energy-sucking indoor grows less appealing. Hopefully Obama will go back to honoring his promise, and this will drive technologies like LED growlights forward, encouraging the development of a truly green industry.

Marijuana legislation should be left to the states. Take some of the DEA budget and put it into healthcare, or repurpose it to fund studies that will figure out why cannabis is so effective on epilepsy. Use Federal money for something that benefits citizens rather than oppresses them, as the enforcement of prohibition does.

Q: What was it like marketing the book to a publisher? Did your Hollywood agent help? Did you encounter derision, moralizing?

A: I didn't have a Hollywood agent anymore by the time I was working on the proposal for this book. I sent out query letters to about five different agents who I thought might be a good fit, and that's how I found my agent Mollie Glick. She shopped the proposal to editors who seemed to like it. I didn't encounter any moralizing directly. I got more derision from random people who can't understand why I would never leave acting, and that deciding to grow pot was somehow a bottoming out. I don't see it that way at all. For me, it was about taking my story back, seeing what else I might become. I left acting and started growing pot because I wanted to create a life I loved in a beautiful place.

Q: What's it been like doing public appearances about the book?

A: I had some idea of what I was getting into by writing this book. It's controversial material, I get that. Oddly, it's controversial on both sides. Some people in the marijuana world don't like how I've written about it. And anti-drug people think I'm glamorizing badness. What can you do? I just hope people on both sides will read it and see that at heart it's a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world. And that the cannabusiness is not all ballers and kingpins, it's a lot of regular people trying to keep the middle class dream alive.

Q: Are you in touch with any of your former community in Nuggetown? What do they think of the book?

A: Willa's read it. She and I are still besties. Ed's read it. But for the most part, I'm not in touch with the people that I've written about. By and large they're not so enthusiastic about it. I understand this. I chose to write a book. They didn't. This is why everyone's been disguised and most characters are composites.

Q: Is there interest in making the book into a movie?

A: I think there's a ton that could be mined in the grower world for a series. A little bit Weeds, a little bit Northern Exposure, a little bit Big Love.

Q: Other than promoting the book, what are you up to these days? Where do you think you're headed? Are you interested in making more films, as an actress or otherwise? Or will you again leave that question up to the universe?

A: Getting Growgirl out into the world is more than a full time job right now. I have several other book ideas in mind, and it's getting to be time to choose. In the broader scheme of things, I have no idea where I'm headed. I still have no Plan B. What I do have, what being a grower gave me, was a fair level of comfort in uncertainty. I love films, but I wouldn't want to be in front of the camera again. I love writing because I can do it anytime anywhere. What I liked least about acting was the permission required. I don't want to go back to a job where I need permission to do my thing. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, I'm open to what comes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Mother-in-Law’s One High Day

My Mother-in-Law’s One High Day
Published: December 9, 2011
The New York Times

WHEN my mother-in-law was in the final, harrowing throes of pancreatic cancer, she had only one good day, and that was the day she smoked pot. Read story.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Veggie VIPs Rock US Postage Stamps; Madonna First Female VIP to Rock Superbowl

Several VIPs (that's Very Important Potheads) will grace US Postage Stamps as part of a new series honoring "vegetarian icons" picked by PETA. McCartney (again) joins Woody Harrelson (natch), Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Portman and Pythagoras on the stamps, which are due to go on sale later this month.

It's just been announced that Hynde will open a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles along with Ellen DeGeneris, another of the 20 vegetarians to get a stamp. (Ellen's never admitted to smoking it, but joked about it when she hosted the Oscars in 2007.) Hynde's "Legalise Me" is the theme song in the new VIP video.

It's a good bet some of the other top vegetarians also toked. Pamela Anderson wrote a letter to Obama in 2008 in favor of legalization. Joan Jett covered the trippy 60s song "Crimson and Clover" and thought pot-puffing actress Kristen Stewart did a great job portraying her in a 2010 biopic. Leo Tolstoy explored the use of hashish and other intoxicants in his 1890 temperance essay "Why People Become Intoxicated," but his conclusions seem based on his experiences with wine and tobacco.

Lots of other cannabis connoisseurs have been honored with postage stamps, including Bessie Smith, Bob Hope, and Mark Twain, whose stamp came out this year. Also given a stamp in 2011 was pioneering African-American writer and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, in whose 1931 film "The Exile" VIP Louise Cook appeared.

And it's been announced that Madonna will appear at this year's Superbowl halftime show on Feb. 5.

As well as turning a suburban spa salesman onto pot in her 1985 movie "Desperately Seeking Susan," the world's most successful female musician admitted to smoking pot and taking Ecstasy in March 2008 upon her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Material Girl (worth an estimated $325 million) is far from the only pot lover who's appeared at America's biggest sports fest. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocked the stadium in 2008. At Superbowl 2005, Paul Mc Cartney played "Get Back" with the lyric, "Jo Jo left his home in Tucson Arizona, for some California grass." In 2004, Willie Nelson played along with country singer Toby Keith, he of the famed tune, "I'll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again."

At least one member of last year's halftime act, The Black Eyed Peas, is a known pot smoker: rapper Taboo (né Jaime Luis Gomez) was arrested near LA in March 2007 after marijuana was found in his car. The Peas just appeared at the nation's tree-lighting ceremony along with Kermit the "It's Not Easy Being Green" Frog and President Obama.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Football and Father Fixations

Having graduated from Penn State (now derisively called State Penn) in 1980, I chimed in on a listserve with several dozen of my sorority sisters from the 70s, who still get together for Homecoming games.

Rather than address the fundamental issues at hand, the messages were all about damage control. Almost immediately after the news hit, one woman, who works in public relations at another University, suggested all give donations to anti-child-abuse organizations in the name of Penn State. Another posted a story about current matriculates from our chapter handing out blue ribbons, the color of child abuse victims and one of PSU’s colors, before the game. One alum sent flowers to the chapter.

My pleas to reevaluate our nation’s fixation with seeing a piece of pigskin move down a patch of land fell on deaf ears. I wrote in that every time I tell people I went to Penn State, all they want to hear about is the football team and Paterno. Is that all an educational institution is supposed to be about? I asked. Is the welfare of children really secondary to who wins the game?

I brought up Noam Chomsky’s book “Manufacturing Consent," theorizing that the elites in society need to have their consent manufactured for government policies, but the vast majority just need to get distracted. Sports, which doubles as "an exercise in radical jingoism," is one of the distractions. But everyone watched the game anyway. Rah.

A week later, Paterno’s son leaked the news that his father had a treatable form of lung cancer. This prompted my sisters to suggest we all write letters of support to our “Italian grandfather.” Missed was the news that Pennsylvania Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (pictured) had just introduced a bill requiring anyone with knowledge of a sex crime against children to report it to the police, not just a supervisor.

In a press conference announcing the bill, Bishop outed herself as a childhood sexual abuse victim. Inspired by her courage, I did the same on the listserve. Like the victims Bishop spoke of in her announcement, I too have struggled with earning a living, and while reconciling my past, I missed out on marriage and family too.

Just like the Catholic church scandal, to me what was worse than the abuse itself was the fact that those in positions of authority allowed it to continue, increasing the victim count. The beloved Paterno is almost certainly guilty of this.

I asked my sisters to think on this quote by Arthur Rimbaud: "He who is legend in his own time is ruled by that legend. It may begin in absolute innocence. But, to cover up flaws and maintain the myth of Divine power, one has to call on desperate measures."

How many innocents had their lives ruined by Paterno's desperate measures? I asked. How many in the Catholic church? And how many women propped up these pathetic patriarchal institutions, and continue to do so? Why? Because we think a Santa Claus/Yahweh/father figure will save us from our own mortality? By winning a football game?

I volunteered at a rape crisis center as part of my healing, and the calls were very often from those who were just starting to deal with abuse they had suffered as children. It can scar a life. I asked my sisters to write their letters of support to their elected representatives in support of Bishop's bill, which has been opposed by the Catholic church.

I am, as Al Green sings, “blessed in the service of my savior”: the plant teachers who opened my mind to a childhood memory I had suppressed in my subconscious mind. Maybe if my sisters weren’t drinking their brains out at football games every week and were instead using something more enlightening for recreation, they would understand. Marijuana is Safer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Lively NORML Life

I got to see the documentary "A NORML Life" at a NORML Women's Alliance event in San Francisco last night. It's a terrific film that should be widely seen by reformers and others.

Rod Pitman, the film's director, was working on a movie about The Doors when he attended a 2008 NORML conference in Berkeley at which Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek spoke. The film has some fine snippets of Manzarek extolling the consciousness-expanding properties of pot, and the DVD contains a bonus interview with Manzerek.

Canadian activist Jodie Emery, whose husband Marc is serving time in a US federal prison for selling marijuana seeds over the internet, is one of the interviewees. In her poignant segment, Emery points out that Marc's actions were aimed at bringing back homegrown marijuana instead of cartel-grown.

Elvy Musikka, one of four federal patients who receives marijuana from the US government, is also powerful in her interview, as is her driver "Big Mike" and the little-but-mighty Ohio activist Tonya Davis (pictured).

In the film, Sabrina Fendrick describes how the new NORML Women's Alliance sprang from an article titled "Stiletto Stoners" in Marie Claire. NORML director Allen St. Pierre explains well the organization's challenge: end prohibition while still offering assistance to its victims. He likened it to trying to build a boat while already in the water.

California Drs. Frank Lucido and Christine Paoletti did a fine job explaining the scientific basis for marijuana's medical uses, and Kentuckian Gatewood Galbraith got some of the biggest laughs with his cogent analyses. Other "high" lights include musician Tim Pate, "Toke of the Town" journalist Steve Elliott and CalNORML Attorney Bill Panzer.

The film ends with a message from NORML founder Keith Stroup about folks coming "out" as pot smokers, and working with their elected officials to lift federal prohibition, allowing states to make their own laws, just as happened with alcohol.

The DVD is available at and the distributor Cinema Libre is in negotiations with Netflix. Pitman asked all in the room to go viral with the film through all their social networks, etc. He has produced a companion film, "Hempsters: Plant the Seed," narrated by Woody Harrelson and featuring Willie Nelson, Ralph Nader, and others.

If you are interested in "A NORML Life" for promotional partnerships, events, festivals and conferences, call (206) 697-2374 or email HeartBrain Media's Stephanie Bishop: Stephanie (at) heartbrainmedia (dot) com.

To request a screener for review, or to arrange an interview, contact Cassie Brewer: cbrewer (at) cinemalibrestudio (dot) com

See other information about Grassroots distribution of the film.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Girl's Got Camerones

Cameron Diaz and Phyllis Smith in Bad Teacher
Tokin' Woman Cameron Diaz lights up more than the screen in Bad Teacher (2011), a raunchy but charming comedy a bit in the style of There's Something About Mary (1998), in which Diaz tokes with Ben Stiller as they reunite onscreen. 

Diaz carries the film as a shallow but smart gold-digging woman who's teaching school (as little as she can) while saving for a boob job. When she's caught by a student smoking a "medicinal" pipe in the school parking lot, she couldn't care less. But she takes an interest in a co-worker played by Phyllis Smith ("The Office"), encouraging her to smoke a doobie; next thing you know she's happily groping a cowboy in a bar. 

Casting her former boy toy Justin Timberlake as a nerdy pantswetter who parodies himself singing a love song in pitch-perfect style, her other love interest is played by Jason Segel, who's the stoner in "Freaks and Geeks" and, as Marshall in "How I Met Your Mother," bonds with Ted over "sandwiches" in the “How I Met Everyone Else” episode. 

The film handles marijuana in irony, moderation and jubilation, with a dash of heart, and soul.

Diaz told George Lopez she "had to have" bought pot from Snoop Dogg while both were in high school in Long Beach.

Best note in the new Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas extravaganga: when Danneel Harris (Vanessa) tells Kumar not to stop smoking. The actress told High Times in 2008 she smokes pot; neither John Cho (Harold) or Kal Penn (Kumar) partake (so they say).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Merry Molly Ivins

UPDATE 9/22/2019: "Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins" is now playing in theaters. See her deliver many of her great lines, and so much more.

After she died, people sent in letters from across the country that said, "twice a week [when her syndicated column ran] I felt like I wasn't alone in my ideas." For those of us who feel the same, and miss her voice, this film is a must see.

Molly Ivins was one of a kind, a brilliant columnist and “connoisseur of political lunacy” who told it like it was from Texas and beyond. It was she who dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub” and said of Dan Quayle, "If you put that man’s brain in a bumble bee it would fly backwards.”

When she wrote of a local politician, “If his IQ slips any lower they’ll have to water him twice a day,” her newspaper took out ads saying, “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?"

The line became the title of her first book.

John Leonard, who hired Ivins to do freelance book reviews for the New York Times, “marveled at her work, thought it somewhere beyond unique—a mixture of Lenny Bruce, Rabelais, Lily Tomlin, and Mark Twain [all connoisseurs of cannabis]."

According to Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith, “In her final year at Smith, her love for alcohol deepened and she developed a willingness to experiment with other things. A college friend sent her a crackling, conspiratorial note asking if her mother had found her ‘stash.’”

Ivins struggled with alcoholism all her life, writing herself notes like, “Alcohol is a drug. It is destroying my brain and my life.” Even her friend Ann Richards couldn’t stand her sometimes when she drank.

It’s too bad Ivins didn’t find her way to a less harmful substance more often. Richards's campouts, write Minutaglo and Smith, "were almost like annual, informal political conventions in the woods--with some heavy drinking, a bit of pot smoking, and many tales spun around the fire."

According to her biographers, when she worked in Austin "there were protests, student activists, underground cartoonists, and easy-to-find pot shipped across the Rio Grande." Ivins liked the fact that Austin “had all but enshrined Willie Nelson as its patron saint—and that Willie was giggling in a smoky haze out along the Pedernales River, skinny dipping with his posse, playing rounds of stoned golf on his private course that took all day long because people were laughing their asses off, singing songs, drinking more beer, and lighting up fat doobies.”

Ivins publicized the case of Lee Otis, a black student activist who faced 30 years in prison for passing a joint to an undercover cop, by writing in 1970 that Governor Preston Smith was confused by a crowd yelling “Free Lee Otis.” Smith thought they were saying, “Frijoles!”

In a March 1999 column Ivins wrote,

“It's an odd country, really. Our largest growth industries are gambling and prisons. But as you may have heard, crimes rates are dropping. We're not putting people into prison for hurting other people. We're putting them into prison for using drugs, and as we already know, that doesn't help them or us. . . . Last year, more than 600,000 people in this country were arrested for possession of marijuana, a drug less harmful for adults than alcohol.”

Ivins concluded, “But none of this — not all the new drug laws and new prisons or incredible incarceration rates — has reduced illicit drug use....

“Unless you are a drug user or know somebody in the joint, all this may seem far removed from your life. It's not. They're taking money away from your kids' schools to pay for all this, from helping people who are mentally retarded and mentally ill, from mass transit and public housing and more parkland and ...”

Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007, but her beat goes on.

See Molly in a Letterman interview

And watch the recent commentary by Lawrence O’Donnell on marijuana vs. alcohol

Monday, October 24, 2011

It Works, but the Feds Still Don't Like It

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a yearly event staged by Tamoxifen manufacturer Zeneca.

Hear more from FAIR's Counterspin and see the "Think Before You Pink" campaign at Breast Cancer Action. Also see NORML boardmember Barbara Ehrenreich's article Welcome to Cancerland.

Meanwhile, NORML reports that breast cancer patients definitely benefit from medical marijuana: Cannabinoid 'Completely' Prevents Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathy from Breast Cancer Drug Paclitaxel.

Yet, the feds have launched a multi-pronged assault on California's medical marijuana providers. Women, please join the protest in SF tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miss USA Goes Universal

Miss California/USA Alyssa Campanella didn't win Miss Universe last weekend, but she made a strong showing (in the top 16) and was a good sport about it.

Campanella tweeted her congrats to the winner, HIV activist Leila Lopes of Angola, on her plane ride home.

"Am I bummed not making the top 10? Absolutely. Is that going to ruin my life? No. Did I try my very best? Hell yes. Just wasn't my destiny."

Campanella wore a green gown to win the Miss USA crown in June after answering a question about medical marijuana, saying she supported it.

Lopes ought to also, since it's helpful for AIDS patients. But the question she was asked at the pageant was, "If you could change one of your physical characteristics, which one would it be and why?" The 25-year-old, 5-foot-10 ½-inch paragon of physical perfection answered, "Thank God I am very-well satisfied with the way God created me, and I wouldn't change a thing. I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. ... I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family, and I plan to follow these through the rest of my life. And now I would like to give all of you a piece of advice: Respect one another."

Alyssa looks forward to eating pizza again and vacationing with her man, Tudors actor Torrance Coombs. Her reign as Miss USA continues through June 2012.

Her costume, a "feminine George Washington" was possibly inspired by the Cindy Crawford cover on the 1995 premiere issue of George, VIP John F. Kennendy Jr.'s magazine. Actress Christina Haag, a former girlfriend of Kennedy's, writes in her recent memoir Come to the Edge that while on vacation, the two were offered an "enormous spliff" by some islanders and found “Jamaican hospitality” was “impossible to refuse.”

When will we admit that hemp smoking is as American as our icons who smoke it, and respect one another's choices in the USA?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anita O'Day: Indestructibly Good

UPDATE 10/15: O'Day is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

I just watched the documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, and am happy to report it's a worthy tribute to a brilliant talent.

Music critics and fellow musicians interviewed in the film place O'Day as the only white singer in a class with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. Interviews with O'Day and clips of with David Frost, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder and Bryant Gumbel reveal what a bright spirit she was. It's full of footage of O'Day's incomparable singing style, even though too much time was sucked away in the film—and her life—by her heroin addiction, which came about after a marijuana bust.

One segment demonstrating her improvisation skills intercuts her singing "Let's Fall in Love" at various stages of her career, each one a unique work of art. One admirer recalls her remarking on the sound of a ceiling fan during a memorable performance where she included the fan's rhythm into the song.

O'Day with Gene Krupa
Described not as a mere singer, but rather as musician who used her voice as an instrument, O'Day's rapid-fire delivery could keep up with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Stan Kenton and drummer Gene Krupa. "You can swing, you'd better come with us," Krupa told her when he hired her.

I'm convinced that O'Day is the inspiration for Sugarpuss O'Shea, the character played by Barbara Stanwick in Ball of Fire (1941), featuring Krupa (the documentary opens with her intoning the same "Drum Boogie" riff). She appears as herself in a cameo in The Gene Krupa Story (1959) starring Sal Mineo. "She's all right, if you like talent," someone remarks after she sings.

Rather abandoned as child, O'Day entered Depression-era marathon Walkathons, walking for as many as 2,000 hours to earn food and shelter, and maybe a prize. She started performing in dance contests around the age of 13, smoking reefer with her adult dance partner before they performed (and often won).

In those days, you could buy a joint at the corner store, but soon it became illegal. O'Day writes in her autobiography High Times, Hard Times, "One day weed had been harmless, booze outlawed; the next, alcohol was in and weed led to 'living death.' They didn't fool me. I kept on using it, but I was just a little more cautious." Read more.

One early clip in the film shows O'Day singing with black trumpeter Roy Eldridge during a time when such an act could bring violent repercussions. "Well come here, Roy, and get groovy," she sweetly croons. With its integration policies, the Krupa band "went for the jugular of red-neck America," one critic said.

Krupa was targeted and arrested for marijuana possession in 1943. "That really bugged me," O'Day writes. "I'd been smoking grass since I was a kid without any terrible effects." She adds in a footnote, "I've always felt that exaggerating the destructive effect of marijuana was a big mistake. The fact that people had used it for years without developing severe problems made it easier for them to discount the physical and economic problems created by use of hard drugs." She soon became a case in point.

Anita at Newport.
O'Day was arrested for pot herself in 1947. She did four months' time, and afterwards was led to heroin, figuring, "If they were going to call me a junkie, I figured I might as well be one." She became known as "The Jezebel of Jazz" and teamed up with John Poole, a heroin addict who she heard drumming in a strip club. The two nursed a 16-year addiction, touring the country and recording on the Verve label. She admitted she was high on the drug during her signature performance singing a staccato "Tea for Two" dressed like she was going to a tea party at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.

After after almost dying from an overdose in 1969, O'Day beat her addiction and came back to tour Japan and Europe, establish two record companies and write her autobiography. In 1999, she celebrated her 80th birthday with a concert at the Palladium in Hollywood. She made a final London appearance in 2004 before she died in 2006 at the age of 87.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Write to Women Behind Bars for Marijuana

By Sabrina Fendrick, NORML Women's Alliance

The NORML Women’s Alliance has teamed up with the webzine Freedom is Green to encourage reform advocates to write letters to women serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses.

Several studies suggest a prisoner’s mental health is dependent on their contact with the outside world. For many, mail correspondences are their primary contact with the public.

Many of the women incarcerated for marijuana offenses are isolated and alone. Receiving any outside communication from the public can be the highlight of their week or month. These small gestures let them know that they are not forgotten, and that the NORML Women’s Alliance is here to support and comfort them.

Recently, the NWA and Freedom Is Green collected letters for Patricia Spotted Crow, a first time offender from Oklahoma who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Here is her heartfelt response to this small gesture from the outside world:

California NORML tracks federal marijuana prisoners at One is Mollie Fry, who is serving 5 years for growing 100 plants over a three-year period.

MARION P FRY, 15840-097
SCP Dublin Camp
5675 8th Street - Camp Parks
Dublin, California 94568

Want to write a marijuana prisoner?

Beth Mann of Freedom is Green provides some guidelines for individuals who are interested in writing to women (and men) that are in prison for marijuana-related crimes: “What should you write? Anything. Prisoners benefit from seemingly mundane letters about your daily life to words of inspiration to pieces of creative writing to news or current events. The important part is simply reaching out.”

Please keep in mind that all of the prisoner’s mail is read by authorities.

- Please send text only, no images or attachments

- Put the prisoner’s name in subject line of email

- Send separate emails for each prisoner

- Up to 1,000 words per letter

- By sending a letter through we may contact you and ask that your letter be posted on the site to bring awareness to victims of prohibition. You may decline and we will still forward your letter directly to the prisoner.

- Send your emails to


Mad Men, Their Women, and Marijuana

The acclaimed AMC series "Mad Men" is not without its marijuana references. Set in the 1960s, the first season had talk of a competing ad agency where everyone smoked and the creative product was better. Adman Don Draper smokes pot with his Greenwich Village girlfriend Midge, whose friends give him grief about his career. "I feel like Dorothy," he says. "The world just turned to color.

In the following episode he refuses a job with a global ad agency, saying when he leaves his current job he'll do something else with his life. An interview with actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Midge, said it was suggested she read Diane di Prima's "Memoirs of a Beatnik" in preparation for the role.

Season 3 has mousy-secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson announcing "I want to smoke some marijuana" then, "I'm so high." As she leaves the room, she says, "I'm in a very good place right now." Next she expresses a sudden fascination with her secretary's necklace. She later takes a walk on the wild side with a lesbian friend at a Village pot party.

Season 4 has Don the Dick smoking "grass" with his faux wife/mother figure Annie in California, but soon he's back to New York where his entertainment is drinking and buying $25 hookers who look like Joan and Peggy for himself and a colleague.

UPDATE April 2014: Season 6 opens with Don toking once more in Hawaii, after his wife Megan scores a couple of joints she stashes in her bikini. As we move into the late 60s and the gang starts sporting longer hair and sideburns, pot smoking becomes more common, with Don announcing, "Smells like creativity in here" when his writers are caught smoking in the office. In another episode, Don tokes up with an editor to fuel a late-night work session. Even stuck up account exec Pete gets in on the puffing, and a Dr. Feelgood shows up to wreak havoc at the agency with shots in the butt of the kind Elizabeth Taylor got.

When housewife Betty tries to rescue one of Sally's friends from the Village, she's offered pot, but turns it down. The only time the long-suffering Betty got to do something more interesting than drink wine alone while waiting for Don to come home was in the Season 3 opener, when she was put into Twilight Sleep while giving birth, during which she had visions of her deceased father and mother.

The agency crew takes a business trip to Southern California, where Don joins in a hookah-smoking circle at at swinging party and starts having visions, leading him back to a more authentic life (perhaps). By the end of the season, he's put down alcohol and has a rare moment of honesty about his past life.

The final Season 7 of "Mad Men" premieres on April 13 and is set solidly in the 70s. See the Psychedelic Journey trailer here. So far, Roger is the only character who's done LSD, but that may change...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Toke the Play

Toke, the Play, written by DeeDee Kirkwood, is a fresh take on the topic based on the advertures of a pot- and fun-loving woman named Weedee. It's set to open in Berkeley on August 19, running through September 11. Tokin Women, and men too, should check it out.

Few stores of pot-smoking women have been told in any media, and Toke is an enjoyable romp through one woman's journey that's illuminating and righteous. The artwork is by the fabulous LA artist Barbara Mendes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Women Visionaries Meet in Petaluma

The 5th Annual Women's Visionary Congress was by all measures a milestone.

It opened with a strong presentation from author Dorka Keehn, whose new book, EcoAmazons: Twenty Women Who are Transforming the World chronicles the undertold story of womens' contribution to the environmental movement. Starting with Susan Fenimore Cooper (daughter of the novelist James) who wrote of her time in the woods "where the mind lays aside its daily littleness", Keehn moved to inspiring moderns like Hazel Johnson, Rev. Sally Bingham, Winina Laduke and scientist Janine Benyus who coined the term "biomimicry." "If we're going to have a sustainable future, we need to be emulating them."

Jessica Lukas followed with a charming presentation chronicling her journey from Argentina to Bringham Young University, to studies (elsewhere) in Anthropology and Linguistics, to leading Outward Bound excursions and finally back to the South American jungle, where she has participated in ayahuasca ceremonies and worked with natives on something she calls the Amazon Resistance Project. Lukas was critical of some ecotourism and NGOs, and appreciative of native wisdom, while still feeling the need to point out to them where they are not acting in harmony with the earth. "Soul and soil are absolutely connected in these realms" she said.

Clare Wilkins opened the Saturday program with stories from her clinic in Mexico that uses Ibogaine as therapy to treat addiction. "Addiction involves an unhealthy relationship to drama to thrive," Wilkins observed, "They realize they don't have to live in the shadows after Ibogaine." She stressed the need for aftercare, involving modalities like acupuncture and chiropractic, and the addicts' families as well. "How do you practice the epiphany?" she posed, adding, "Everyone has a portion of health in them. Our task is to find and develop that."

Valerie Corral from the Women's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Raha-Kudo Design for Dying Project reminded us that, "Nobody does anything extraordinary by thinking in ordinary ways. The divination of the ordinary makes things extraordinary." She played a video of Laura Huxley just before she died, speaking of a dream where she experienced "The sensuality of the spirit and the spirituality of the senses."

Amy Emerson and Linnae Ponte co-presented an update on MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), a nonprofit pharmacology organization that is working on studies of the use of MDMA and cannabis in PTSD; MDMA and autism; Ibogaine and drug dependency; pain; and LSD and end-of-life anxiety. For MDMA studies, they employ male/female co-therapist teams in South Carolina, Switzerland, Israel, and soon in Canada. MAPS is enjoying much national press, in Oprah's magazine, the New York Times, and soon CBS. On December 8-11 in Oakland, CA, MAPS will celebrate its 25th anniversary with Cartographia Psychedelia.

Jane Straight took the group outside for a talk about plant allies, to wrap up the morning.

In the afternoon, Earth and Fire Erowid gave a strong presentation about their work gathering information about the many unknown drugs that are constantly flooding in the market in packages of "Spice" or "Bath Salts," etc. Chemists slightly alter compounds and add them to "herbal" packets before they can be banned, leading to unhealthy consequences. They implored the group to share their experiences on their site, As well as collecting stories and information, Erowid has begun a testing program for street drugs, finding widely varying results.

Author and New Dimensions radio host Justine Willis Toms spoke about the importance of forming women's circles and gave guidelines based on her own experience. It should be made of "Friends who support us in our fullness, who are not afraid of our downside." More at:

Dorothy Fadiman brought the group a retrospective of her lifelong filmmaking career, starting with an LSD-inspired film. Her narration of a film about abortion rights, including her own shocking experience with a back-alley abortion, was a turning point in her journey. She went on to tell compelling stories of courage that called to her with empathy and humor.

Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia, one of the organizers of the Congress, hosted a preview of "Magic Trip", a new film about Ken Kesey and the journey of the Magic Bus, using original footage from the first cross-country trip in 1964. Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood (Enron: The Smartest Guy in the World) are the filmmakers. The film is available on Video on Demand and opens in theaters August 5.

Copperwoman lead a singing circle and brought the group together in song.

Time was left for questions, to enjoy conversation with fellow participants, to walk in the garden and the Labyrinth, and to check out the goat herd at the Institute for Noetic Sciences retreat center in Petaluma where the event was held.

On Sunday, Miss S. discussed her work with psychoactives and bodywork, wherein she carefully has begun to gather input from clients who have experienced the two together with much benefit, physically and emotionally. Practitioners should be trained in CPR and psychedelic journey sitting, she recommended, as well as their treatment modality. Legal issues were also discussed.

Eleanora Molnar posed many questions to the group about the biosustainability of entheogenic practice, advocating for a bioregional approach. Keeper Trout broadened our perspective on the study of San Pedro cactus. Stephanie Schmitz, archivist for the Purdue University Psychoactve Substances Research Collection, gave an overview of the project including new acquisitions, and invited all to visit the archives or their website,

WVC expects to have some Salons in Portland, Oregon and New York City in the coming year. They were inundated with requests for scholarships to attend this year, and some of their grants are now going to older women to "encourage transformation."

A Gaia Festival with some of the speakers will be held in Laytonville, CA next weekend (August 5-7).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Look Mom, I'm High!

Mark-Paul Gosselaar played Zach on "Saved by the Bell" and went on to TV roles as cops, as well as racing NASCAR-style cars to benefit kids with cancer. Not exactly your average poster child for marijuana.

Gosselaar just guested on George Lopez's show, and since he is Dutch, Lopez remarked, "They're very liberal with the herbal stuff."

"Yeah, they like to get high," was the immediate response (to audience cheers). Gosselaar recounted that he got high in Amsterdam with his mother when he was 18, although she tried to say she wasn't (but in a really high voice). Lopez countered that when he was 14, he went out to dinner with his grandparents and had to drive home because they both got hammered.

Asked if by Lopez if he ever Twittered under the influence, Gosselaar answered, "I've twittered while I'm loose." Lopez suggested, "Let's get your mom, let's all get some hash and tweet high." Sounds like a great idea. Except instead Gosselaar demonstrated how to shotgun a beer, with Lopez joking, "Now drink responsibly..."

Last year Gosselaar appeared as a hot bartender who succumbs to Nancy's charms in Weeds. His mother Paula is Dutch-Indonesian.

So far a poll at shows Gosselaar's revelation makes him more, not less loveable (by 60-40%).

Gosselear isn't the first young stud to admit to smoking with his parents. Matt Damon grew up in a community house with his child psychologist mother and his stepfather, and said on BBC's Johnny Vaughan Tonight, "The first time I smoked was at home with my mother and stepfather. They were like, 'If you are going to do this, we'd rather you did this with us.'" Damon appeared in "Oceans 12," filmed in part in an Amsterdam coffeehouse.

Debbie Reynolds suggested she and daughter Carrie Fisher try grass together, but instead Carrie experimented with a friend and later, Harrison Ford, whose ultra-strong (hallucinogenic-tobacco-laden?) pot "did me in."

So let's count: three adults, two who smoked pot with their parents and don't have drug abuse problems; one who didn't and does. Frank Zappa once asked, "Do you ever get drunk with your kids?" meaning (I think) do you ever treat them like adults? I would ask the same about pot: do we teach our about kids proper, respectful use or do we expect them to learn (or mis-learn) about adult behaviors on their own?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse - A Talent Denied

UPDATE Aug. 23, 2011: Amy Winehouse's Death: No Drugs Found [only Alcohol]

Street art in Mar Vista, CA from JenLaVita
I didn't think I'd be writing another obituary so soon...and for one so young: Amy Winehouse is dead at 27 of unknown causes. Prodigiously talented, Winehouse also had a huge weakness for alcohol, harder drugs, and the men who used them. She reportedly showed signs of early emphysema from chain smoking cigarettes and smoking crack cocaine.

After her 2003 debut disc Frank hit in England, the singer took three years to bring out her next one, saying she smoked a lot of marijuana during that time. When Back to Black was released in 2006, it was a monster hit in England and the U.S. too.

Transcending R&B, soul and jazz with her powerful vocals, Winehouse's "Rehab" was inspired by 60s girl groups with the modern lyrics, "They tried to make me go to rehab,, no, no."

She was banned from entering the U.S. to pick up her Grammy for the hit in 2008, ostensibly over a minor pot bust in Norway. By then she'd been sent to rehab after the London Sun newspaper posted a grainy video on its website allegedly showing her smoking a crack pipe and talking about taking ecstasy and valium. She won five Grammys that year, including Best New Artist.

Winehouse was again denied entry into the U.S. in 2009 after she was arrested again for slapping a photographer, making her unable to perform along with Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and others at the Coachella festival in Indio, California.

She died with 2.5 million Facebook fans, and countless others. Tony Bennett, 84, who recorded with Winehouse, is one of many who have expressed sadness at her passing. American idol Kelly Clarkson wrote, "I'm incredibly sad....I have been that low emotionally and mentally and that is overwhelming....Sometimes I think this job will be the death of us all, or at least the emotional death of us all."

In her title track from Back to Black Winehouse wrote:

I love you much, it's not enough
You love blow and I love puff
And life is like a pipe
And I'm a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside

We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to black.

In 2007 Winehouse told London's Daily Mail about her hit single "Rehab" and album Back to Black:
"I wrote those songs three years ago but that doesn't seem to matter. People still think I smoke a quarter a day. But it's not even a factor any more. I stopped about two years ago. My drinking has replaced weed. I still have a problem. Well, I have had problems with booze…" Too bad she didn't stick with something safer.

ADDENDUM: Has anyone noticed that Sean Hoare, the 47-year-old whistleblower in the News of the World phone hacking scandal, has also been found dead in his home of "unsuspicious causes"?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

RIP Betty Ford

I'd just blogged about Betty Ford; today I read she's died at 93.

A former Martha Graham dancer, Ford had back problems and got hooked on the painkillers she took, along with alcohol. Though she is known for her drug abuse treatment center, she had a sensible outlook on marijuana.

Asked by Morley Safer as first lady what she thought about her children possibly using marijuana, Betty replied, "I think if I were their age I probably would have been interested to see the effect." She compared the use of marijuana at the time to her generation's consumption of beer.

(Source: Betty Ford, The Times of My Life, 1987)

UPDATE: AP's adieu to Betty by Connie Cass and Linda Deutsch has a beautiful lead:

Betty Ford said things that first ladies just don't say, even today. And 1970s America loved her for it. According to Mrs. Ford, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana - and if she were their age, she'd try it, too....She mused that living together before marriage might be wise, thought women should be drafted into the military if men were, and spoke up unapologetically for abortion rights, taking a position contrary to the president's. 'Having babies is a blessing, not a duty," Mrs. Ford said.'

By contrast, CNN's David Frum wrote a nasty column about her and the "Me" generation (which was a whole lot better than the "Greed" one that followed).

UPDATE 2022: Michelle Pfeiffer played Ford in "The First Lady" on Showtime. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Misses and Mrs. High Times

Miss High Times Clazina Rose Van Andel
Women were well represented this weekend at the High Times medical cannabis cup in San Francisco. Held on the weekend of the Gay Pride parade, the festivities kicked off with a party thrown by the NORML Women's Alliance at Pier 5 legal offices in the celebratory city. The group had a booth at the event and reported great interest among attendees in gathering the women together on this issue.

Miss High Times, a woman chosen yearly to be the ambassadress of ganga at events including the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, gave a nod to her fellow females as she took the stage on Sunday night at the awards ceremony that wrapped up the event. Clazina Rose Van Andel and 2007 Miss High Times Sarah Newton both encouraged young women to enter the contest which "changed their lives."

Debby Goldsberry, the founder of the Cannabis Action Network who has been one of the leaders of the medical marijuana movement, acknowledged her fellow female indica judges, among them a filmmaker and an accountant. "We're all been touched by the war on cannabis, and we're sick of it," she said.

Michelle Aldrich Accepting Her Award
(PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher)
A High-light of the evening was the presentation of the second annual Lester Grinspoon award for Lifetime Achievement to the stellar Cannabis Cup-ple Michael and Michelle Aldrich, celebrating their 40th year in activism. Coining the term "Cannabis Cup-ple" was High Times Medical Marijuana editor David Bienenstock, who gave a deserved shout out to his "beautiful fiancee" Elise for her help with the well attended event.

The Aldriches were long involved with the FitzHugh Ludlow museum, the largest collection ever assembled of drug-related material from around the world. Michael Aldrich wrote the first doctorial dissertation ever on the history of cannabis in 1970. He hipped Jack Herer to hemp and co-founded Amorphia, the first cannabis law reform organization in California, in 1972. That group backed the first Prop. 19 in 1972 and has morphed into California NORML.

Michelle Aldrich (pictured) co-founded the San Antonio free clinic and the National Free Clinic Council. She was vice president for drug education at Amorphia and a US Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse researcher. She served on the Drug Abuse Advisory Board for the City and County of San Francisco, and is currently a member of the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force. She is a board member of California NORML and Patients Out of Time, among many other affiliations.

Aldrich glittered in a black gown when she thanked High Times for the honor. "I look and see all the friends I have here, especially the women," she said. "The women have changed this movement. The women are going to make this happen." She encouraged activists to get to know their elected officials. "That's how I got to meet Harvey Milk," she said, speaking of the SF gay rights activist. "That's how I got to meet Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer...go straight to the community, get involved in democratic politics." She ended her speech, as is her custom, with, "What we want is free, legal backyard marijuana!"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Miss USA Wears the Green

Alyssa Campanella, Miss California, was given points for her answer about medical marijuana on her way to being crowned Miss USA in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Real Housewife of New Jersey Caroline Manzo, one of the pageant's judges, asked Campanella her final question: "Many have argued that marijuana should be legalized and taxed to boost the economy and alleviate drug wars. Do you believe in legalizing medical marijuana? Why or why not?"

"Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today's economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically," Campanella replied.

"I'm not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war," she added. "I mean, it's abused today, unfortunately, so that's the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it's OK."

Despite that rambling answer (proving perhaps she has a future in politics), Campanella is said to have impressed judges with her intelligence. One of only two contestants who said they believe in evolution, she is a self-proclaimed history geek who likes to watch The Tudors and Game of Thrones on TV. The stunning redhead chose emerald green for her evening gown and also shone in her metallic blue polka-dot bikini.

Campanella, a 21-year-old who was crowned Miss Teen New Jersey in 2007, will represent the US in the Miss Universe pageant in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sept. 12.

UPDATE 2015: Lost in the flap about Steve Harvey crowing the wrong contestant was the fact that Miss Australia said marijuana is "amazing" at treating cancer.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Garr-dantua and Pantagruel

After blogging about Teri Garr’s final appearance on Friends (where marijuana is oh-so-briefly alluded to), I checked out Garr's autobiography Speedbumps: Flooring it Through Hollywood (2005). The book contains some unexpected revelations. First, when Garr was a young go-go dancer on TV shows like "Shindig!" and in movies like Pajama Party with Annette Funicello, she traveled to England and was invited to the recording studio while the Beatles recorded "Yellow Submarine." Seems a guy named Steve, the road manager for the Mamas and the Papas, put Garr and her friends up in a London flat. She writes:

We sat on plastic chairs outside the sound room and stared at them through a glass window. I thought I smelled pot….Eventually we went home but we saw them throughout the rest of our stay in London. The doorbell at our flat would ring, we’d look out the second-story window, and there would be George Harrison, wanting to know if anyone was home (Of course, it’s possible that they were more interested in seeing Steve than us. Steve kept some sort of chemistry set on the coffee table that the boys seemed to be very interested in. It contained sugar cubes and stuff. Wonder what that was about…?)…We returned to Los Angeles no wiser, but plenty cooler.

Garr hung out with fellow acting-school student and VIP Jack Nicholson, and appeared in his psychedelic movie Head (along with the Monkees and Funicello). Of Dennis Hopper, she writes, “This was my escape from showbiz—hanging out with this totally cool group of Venice beat artists and contemplating the meaning of life. The whole group was reckless, and Dennis was the ringleader. He took me and Toni [Basil] to love-ins and peace marches, and he was the only guy I knew who had the courage to drive his Corvair convertible (with the top down!) through a wall of flames during the Watts Riots. He may have been stoned at the time (who wasn’t)…"

Soon Garr was onto success in films like Young Frankenstein, Oh, God! (with VIP John Denver) and Tootsie. After Carrie Fisher introduced her to her future novia, Dr. David Kipper, they went to Hawaii together so Garr could shoot a Pepsi commercial. She writes,

After my work was done, we went to stay in a fancy hotel on Maui. Biking to the beach, we passed a guy who offered to sell us pot. We rode past him nonchalantly, but once we got to the beach we changed our minds. I sent David back to buy a joint from him. The tabloids weren’t the unrelenting presence that they are today, but I still didn’t want to be recognized as a poster child for marijuana. So David rode back alone and bought a joint from the guy. But just as he was leaving the guy took another look at him and said, ‘Hey, you’re the guy who was with Teri Garr.’ So much for anonymity.

One very sad revelation in the book: Garr suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. That the former dancer has a disease that affects her motility seems a particularly cruel twist of fate. She was a spokesperson for Rebif, an interferon manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Serono, which has just paid $44.3 million in fines to “resolve” allegations by the DOJ that it paid health care providers to induce them to promote or prescribe Rebif. The kickbacks resulted in the submission of false claims to federal health care programs including Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s unknown whether or not Garr has tried cannabis for her MS. If she’s smoked throughout her life, it may well have delayed the onset of the disease, which she suspected she had for many years before finally being diagnosed. Dr. Dennis Petro, and others, have long maintained their studies show cannabis can retard and maybe even cure MS. See a review of studies on MS and cannabis.

I worked with the California Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society to secure their endorsement for Proposition 215, the voter-approved measure that made medical marijuana legal in California in 1996. In 2009, the National MS Society came out with an Expert Opinion Paper saying, “There are sufficient data available to suggest that cannabinoids may have neuroprotective effects that studies in this area should be aggressively pursued…. Because inhaled smoked cannabis has more favorable pharmacokinetics than administration via oral or other routes, research should focus on the development of an inhaled mode of administration that gives results as close to smoked cannabis as possible.” The MS Society is funding cannabis research, summarized in their Summer 2011 newsletter. Multiple Sclerosis affects an estimated 400,000 Americans.

It’s rumored that Funicello, who also had MS, tried cannabis during her lifetime. Garr’s book mentions David Lander (Squiggy), who is an advocate for medical marijuana because of his MS. And of course you have probably read that VIP Montel Williams, another MS patient who has found benefit from medical marijuana, has opened a medical marijuana collective in Sacramento.

Maybe it's time for Garr to become a poster child for pot after all.

(If you don't get the title of this post, see the Rabelaisian explanation. )

UPDATE: The MS Society updated their position in 2014 when it said, "The Society is currently supporting a clinical trial of different forms of cannabis products. This study is designed to test the effectiveness in relieving spasticity in people with MS. Unfortunately, completion of this trial has been delayed due to challenges with recruiting patients able to adhere to the significant government requirements for trials using cannabis products. The Society is committed to funding additional research with cannabis products." A 2017 paper was less sanguine about cannabis's effectiveness, and lamented the difficulties in completing studies in the US.

On March 21, 2019, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada announced a partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to fund research into using cannabis for treating symptoms of MS, and the general effects of cannabis on MS patients.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Climb On the Drug Peace Train

Today on the 40th anniversary of the day Richard Nixon declared war on “drugs,” I happened to find myself at an Amtrak station. Standing in a (long, inefficient) line waiting to buy tickets, I noticed a poster celebrating the 40th anniversary of Amtrak, the national railroad system which also began in 1971.

It almost made me cry. Imagine what our rail system would look like today if instead of spending billions on our failed war on drugs, we’d have put that money into our country’s infrastructure. How many gallons of gasoline would we have saved? How much would we have improved air quality? How many trips would have been taken, broadening people’s experiences or just making their lives a little easier, giving them more time with family and friends? How many other programs, schools, libraries and parks could we have funded? How many highway deaths might we have prevented?

Rick Steves, the PBS travel host and author, has been coming to NORML conferences to speak in favor of legalizing marijuana. "To me travel is accelerated living," Steves enthused in 2005. "Travel carbonates your life. It makes things different, it sort of refreshes your perspective and in a lot of ways, that's like marijuana, I would say. . . And of course when you travel in Europe you realize that there is a non-criminal approach to marijuana that could be quite inspirational to American policy makers if they would just learn about it."

Every time I consider taking Amtrak, I see that routes have been cut or turned into bus routes instead. Only one daily train travels from Los Angeles to Oakland, and it takes 11 hours to do so. Some innovations like car trains are boosting ridership, but with nearly all federal funds going to highways or air travel, trains barely get noticed. California’s high speed rail plans keep getting derailed over funding and NIMBY issues; ditto the North Coast Railroad. But everyone has money to spend on prisons for drug offenders.

I first became politically active in 1971 at the age of 13, campaigning against Richard Nixon when he ran for his second term as president. I was so disillusioned when he won by a landslide (aided by his dirty tricks) that I didn’t become politically active again until 1991, when I became a hemp/marijuana law reform activist. That the last 20 years of my life have been wasted fighting a battle that shouldn’t need to be fought is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other wasted lives and resources we’ve dropped down the well of woe that is the war on drugs.

The first president I got to vote for, Nixon’s eventual successor Jimmy Carter, has an oped in today's New York Times in support of drug policy reforms called for in a report by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, Sir Richard Branson, and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.

Carter wrote,

Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state's budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.

While president, Carter was for marijuana decriminalization, until his drug chief was smeared for taking cocaine at a party. Then he got drummed out of office over the Iranian hostage crisis which, it turns out, Reagan negotiated away at the root of the reprehensible Iran-Contra affair. That the husband of Hillary Clinton’s traveling chief of staff has just resigned over a trivial tweet is proof that the dirty tricks are alive and well.

Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for his tricks and Betty Ford (pictured here with her husband at a whistle stop) founded a drug treatment center because of her problems with alcohol and painkillers. Asked by Morley Safer as first lady what she thought about her children possibly using marijuana, Betty replied, "I think if I were their age I probably would have been interested to see the effect." She compared the use of marijuana at the time to her generation's consumption of beer.

Gerald and Betty’s son Jack said in an interview, "I've smoked marijuana and I don't think that's so exceptional for people growing up in the 1960s. The fact that there's so much moral indignation over it is one of the reasons there are so any problems with the disillusionment and alienation of young people in this country."

With the last three sitting presidents admitted former pot smokers, policy is at a standstill at the federal level. President Obama called drug legalization “an entirely legitimate topic for debate” earlier this year in response to yet another internet poll that made this the top issue among Americans. But when the report Carter has endorsed came out, Obama administration officials rejected the notion with more of its failed “just say no" rhetoric.

Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." We've got to get this country moving again, off the War on Drugs train and onto one of tolerance and reason that will take us into the future. Otherwise it won’t be, as Utah Phillips sang, “Daddy, What’s a Train?” it will be, “Daddy, What’s a Country?”

All aboard.