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 tweeet 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 whistlestop) 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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tales of Two Cities

Highly Recommended: Woody Allen's new film, "Midnight in Paris," wherein Owen Wilson's character Gil Bender travels back in time to meet the likes of Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. For those, like me, who'd like to return to another time, this film is a magnificent journey, with a lovely lesson about living in the present.

When the would-be novelist Gil goes to Gertrude Stein's (a pitch-perfect Kathy Bates, pictured above) the door is opened for him by Alice B. Toklas, she of the brownie fame. (Actually her brownies were more of a majoon, and the recipe was contributed by Brion Gysin.) It's unknown whether or not Gertrude ate them, but the two did influence VIP Paul Bowles.

When Gil tries to explain his fantastic adventures to his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), she asks him, "What have you been smoking?" Gil may be named for Gilgamesh, mankind's original hero whose fear of death lead him to seek immortality in a magic plant.

Mentioned in the film as the first lover of the composite character Adriana is VIP Amedo Modigliani. Adriana could be based on Beatrice Hastings, the pen name of Emily Alice Haigh (1879-1943) who lived with Modigliani as his mistress, and reportedly shared his indulgence in hashish. Hastings was a journalist, a poetess, a circus artist, and a follower of Helena Blavatsky.

Also spotted: a musical version of Armistead Maupin's beloved stories of San Francisco, Tales of the City, now having its world premiere at SF's American Conservatory Theater. Here are some reviews of the show:

This musical is an enjoyable three-hour "celebration of sex, drugs, and all kinds of coming out" ...Absolutely nothing should be changed about Judy Kaye's turn as Mrs. Madrigal [pictured right], "the bohemian goddess-cum-landlady" who floats around in psychedelic robes and dispenses "sage bits of weed-infused wisdom" along with her strangely addictive brownies...this "Age of Aquarius flashback deserves to be seen on a Broadway stage." --The Week, June 17, 2011

"Exuberantly captures the sweeping current of transformation in Maupin's work . . . a happy blur of flares, gay saunas, and bongs." —The Guardian (UK)

"Whether you are a Mona or a Mary Ann, a Mouse or a Mrs. Madrigal, this show illuminates the colorful, crazy, complicated, wild times of our fabulous city. A gift to San Francisco and all of us who love it!" —Jan Wahl, KCBS/KRON-TV

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fast Times at Spike TV

Fast Times At Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling (the only woman in the picture at left) was in attendance to see her film inducted into Spike TV's "Guy Movie Hall of Fame" last night in Culver City, along with castmembers Sean Pean (in his memorable stoner role), Judge Reinhold and Forest Whitaker.

Ridgemont High is a cut above the average "stoner guy" or high school comedy; it's got heart, wit, and a finesse sorely lacking in the usual fare. Heckerling got noticed for the film and went on to write "Clueless" (1995) and the "Look Who's Talking" films, based on her experience as a mother. She pairs again with "Clueless" star Alicia Silverstone in this year's "Vamps," about Vampires in New York and their dating choices.

The female cast of the 1982 movie had better things to do that night. Jennifer Jason Leigh is busy winning raves on Broadway in The House of Blue Leaves with Ben Stiller and Edie Falco. And Phoebe Cates hasn't acted since she married Kevin Klein, had his kids, and opened a boutique in New York.

Also missing from the Spike festivities was Ridgemont High's author, Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous") and Spicoli's stoner buddies Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz. Edwards will play Beat poet publisher Lawrence Ferlingetti in 2012's Big Sur, based on a novel by VIP Jack Kerouac. Whitaker, who played the jock in the film, is set to play Very Important Pothead Louis Armstrong in an upcoming biopic, which is said to include Louis's love of the herb in the script.

Mark Wahlberg, who earlier this year admitted he'd smoked pot but was now afraid to do so around his daughter, won the "Guy of the Year" award. Award winner Jim Carrey hasn't quite come clean, but discussing performing a bungee jumping stunt on TV's "Ellen" (12/17/2008), he said "I’m thinking, If there is a God, How do I explain that trip to Amsterdam when I was 19 and saying Yes to everything?"

VIPs Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz were presenters, and Mila Kunis deservedly took home the "Holy Grail of Hot." VIP Jennifer Aniston also deserved her "Decade of Hotness" award. (Apparently, smoking pot makes you hot.)

The Guys Choice Awards, at which Keith Richards received recognition for his "brass balls", will air on Spike TV on Friday June 10 at 9 PM.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Message

Source: Los Angeles Daily News
May 7, 2011

Author: Julia Negron
Note: Julia Negron of North Hills is director of the Los Angeles regional chapter of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) and a co-founder of Moms United to end the War on Drugs.


IMAGINE a world without the scourge of our current punitive drug policies. Imagine a world where we mothers no longer wait teary eyed in prison visiting lines, where our daughters live to gift us with happy grandchildren.

Imagine our sons getting in trouble with drugs and getting saved because they are worth saving. Imagine borders where tourists bask in the sun without fear, and drug cartels' gunshots are replaced with lilting music. Imagine passionately wanting a better future for our children and grandchildren so that all humanity is treated with dignity and kindness. Imagine that billions in funding is funneled into education. Imagine that we stop fighting a war with ourselves.

It may seem odd for a mother to make a case for decriminalizing illegal drugs. But I can give you a grandmother's/drug counselor's/prison visiting mom's take on how we have turned on our own - how the "War on Drugs" has generated more victims than successes.

We turned on our own when we stopped helping people who need help; when we attacked the most marginalized of us; when we lost our compassion for the suffering; and when we handed over the treatment of our sick kids to men with badges, not stethoscopes.

It happened when we stood silently while criminalizing a whole class of people. When we made smuggling and killing profitable. And, we pay for this by cutting education and programs that lift people out of poverty and vulnerability, guaranteeing that nothing changes.

In real -time there is little available to help the afflicted, so we lock them up out of sight and out of mind. In my world that means "prison churning." My own son developed drug dependence early-on and has now given years to a corrections system that can not "correct" him.

His chances to make a better life for his children dim with each prison term. My life is better than my mother's, but my grandkid'sgrandkids' lives will not be better than mine. The cost of the failed War on Drugs is more than just the $40 billion we waste each year.

Think of the families torn apart by harsh prison sentences. How could we let this hopelessness happen to half a million children with a parent in prison!

As a nation we've spent billions year after year for 40 years trying to incarcerate our way out of a health issue. Gun boats and border patrols have been unsuccessful in keeping drugs out of this country, with the result that it just made them more costly. Harsh prison terms have handed us back a hollow-eyed generation of anti-social unemployable felons.

We've been encouraged to let our kids "hit bottom," and we've dutifully kicked our kids to the curb. Consequently we've buried a generation of overdosed kids who could not get it right, could not get past the stigma, could not find help, feared jail and found no rational agent of change. We tried to "just say no to drugs" yet today things are worse than ever.

Imagine that there are no more excuses and that there are solutions.

I am no different than you. Our tax dollars paid more than $250,000 to incarcerate my non-violent drug offender son in California prisons so far.

This waste must change. We can do this together. We have a way; we can start by reclassifying personal possession of small amounts of illegal drugs as misdemeanors. We can give our kids a chance to not be labeled a felon for life.

The group Moms United to End the War on Drugs has a simple mission: end the waste of the War on Drugs; end the failed policies; end the mass incarceration, the overdose deaths, and the border violence. Start by getting into action and join us in our solutions. Join us in protest on the 40th anniversary of this most damaging war - June 17 - and "just say NO" to the War on Drugs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of Patti and Pot

Photo: Daigo Oliva, Wikipedia Commons
Patti Smith has added to her prodigious accomplishments a National Book Award for her #1 New York Times bestselling book Just Kids, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
The two artists met when he bought a Persian necklace from the bookshop where she worked, which she said reminded her of a Catholic scapular. He told her he had been an altar boy and loved to swing the frankinsense censor.

Robert took a seminal LSD trip on the same day, May 30, 1967, that Patti also dedicated her life to art, in front of a statue of Joan of Arc. He was on acid the day they hooked up, but was still shocked when he found she was smoking pot, as Smith relates in her remarkable book:

"Patti, no!" Robert gasped. "You're smoking pot!" I looked up sheepishly. Busted.

I had seen
The Harder They Come, and was stirred by the music...I found irresistible the Rastafarian connection to Solomon and Sheba, and the Abyssinia of Rimbaud, and somewhere along the line I decided to try their sacred herb....

With Robert, I was not transported into the Abyssinian plain, but into the valley of uncontrollable laughter. I told him that pot was supposed to be for writing poetry, not fooling around. But all we did was laugh....

I never thought of pot as a socal drug. I liked to use it to work, to think, and eventually for improvising with [musicians] Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl as the three of us would gather under a frankincense tree dreaming of Haile Selassie.

Smith’s is not a tale of overindulgence in drugs. It is instead one of a dedicated artist who witnessed some of the excesses of drug use, and experimented herself only deliberately and thoughtfully (or, once, accidentally). She saved her marijuana smoking for the creative process, at one point agreeing to go to an esoteric bookstore with Robert and a friend only if they didn’t smoke pot first, since that would make them time warp there.

Later, she wrote,

I immersed myself in a new course of study. I was drawn to the Middle East: the mosques, the prayer rugs, and the Koran of Muhammad. I read Nerval’s Women of Cairo, and the stories of Bowles, Mrabet, Albert Cossery, and Isabelle Eberhardt. Since hashish permeated the atmosphere of these stories I had it in my mind to partake of it. Under its influence I listened to the Pipe of Pan at Joujouka; Brian Jones produced the album in 1968. I was happy to write to the music he loved. From the baying dogs to the ecstatic horns, it was time for the soundtrack of my nights.

After her hashish experience, she tripped with Robert and saw a “demon version of the city.” She rescued Robert from a bad trip and had one herself when she was dosed unknowingly. At Robert's suggestion, she took MDA before shooting a collaborative film.

Smith married Fred Sonic Smith of the band MC5, whose manager John Sinclair became a cause celeb when he was given a 10-year sentence for two marijuana joints in 1969. Her song "The People Have the Power" has become a protest anthem worldwide, and she regularly appears at antiwar rallies and political benefits. "Horses," her landmark debut album, has been named one of the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

UPDATE 10/10/2016 - Today has been declared Patti Smith Day in Boston. Smith has a new book out, M Train. In December, she’ll perform at the Pathway to Paris concert, which will coincide with the U.N. climate change conference. Pathway to Paris was co-founded by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith.