Medical Mary: Inside the cloud of smoke

Only by looking at the facts about cannabis and its use will we create an effective approach to governing it.

April 20th, 2010
April 20th, 2010 attracted large crowds to Haight St. The sidewalk in front of the Red Vic was packed.

You, reader, most likely fall on one side or the other of the medical marijuana debate: for or against.

If against, you might think that the “medical” in marijuana is just an excuse for perfectly healthy people to legally toke up. Satirized in a recent South Park episode when a KFC is turned into a dispensary and one of the characters, Randy, gives himself testicular cancer in order to partake of prescribed cannabis.

If you’re all for it, you’ve likely smoked dope and agree that it’s no more harmful than cigarettes or alcohol. Well, I live in San Francisco in Haight-Ashbury where it all began, and here’s the scoop from inside the cloud of pungent smoke that divides public opinion.

Let’s be honest. Dispensaries here are predominately for-profit operations one way or other, against state law requiring non-profit marijuana growing co-ops and dispensaries. So critics are correct that a few unsavory types operate and run some operations, but many other dispensaries are truly focused on the medicinal side. Hey, Big Pharma makes our pills and serums and they aren’t exactly altruistic. Medical marijuana really works like nothing else for insomnia, body aches, appetite and menstrual cramps, and it’s the individual’s choice where to obtain it legally.

The majority of smokers with 215 cards (means they have medical permission) are blazing for the fun of it, with secondary medical benefit. But for a critical minority, cannabis is their only comfort, the only medicine that works, and they are truly ill. For them the law was passed. No doubt these people should not be denied. The question being asked here in California and around the country is where to draw the line.

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While true that medical cannabis has opened the door to legal recreational use, use has its benefits for society at-large. Smokers are going to acquire, no matter what the law says. I’ve learned the ins-and-outs of five metropolitan cannabis cultures, sat in cars waiting hours for some dude to return with a bag, lost money to opportunists and thieves, seen multiple pounds come in fresh off the truck, and have known my share of users and dealers, and I tell you it’s true: Like the lure of alcohol during Prohibition, smoking bud is a past-time for enough people to support an underground economy, and they’re going to do it anyway. Trust me when I say that we want that business out in the open.

Society benefits from the tax revenue and the millions of hours saved by giving pot smokers a legal outlet rather than waiting for a dealer to arrive. Millions? Could be more like billions of hours a year freed for more productive use. Society is saved from deals gone bad, from unnecessary incarcerations (prisons are overflowing with people caught selling or even just possessing weed) and from losing a huge source of public revenue. Cannabis legalization will spark a booming industry that creates jobs and high revenues with high profits when mass production kicks in. Right now a pound of high-grade costs a few hundred dollars to grow and harvest, and is sold for a few thousand. Sold on the street that pound easily fetches twice as much, so yes, there’s a big profit to be made whether or not sold in the open.

But most important for society’s benefit is breaking the Mafia-like distribution channels that are terrorizing northern Mexico, causing ruin with illegal growing operations and fueling turf warfare that costs lives and money. The people at the top are nothing less than criminals, attracted to the piles of cash that can be made. Cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs will still have a black market, but taking away cannabis denies criminal gangs a big and easy source of revenue and forces them to compete over the remaining drug business. The competition is hell, literally.

(Here’s a clip of that South Park episode)

Legal distribution also gives smokers options rather than taking whatever is available, allowing for more targeted use for certain symptoms. Indica strains of cannabis are better for body issues like cramps and aches, while sativa strains are better for loosening the mind and freeing it from the body, providing relief from stress or even reality (and who doesn’t want that sometimes?). Hybrid strains can, for instance, provide the soothing body buzz of an indica without the sleepiness or munchies. Mild strains are good for novice smokers who don’t want the heavy buzz. With street deals you take what you can get, and that takes away some if not most benefit for the self-medicating smoker.

Smoking cannabis keeps a lid on the deep psyche so that the ego can be more receptive and take life at a slower pace. Cannabis suppresses the remembrance of dreams, not always great but sometimes necessary. It’s also something for millions of Americans to look forward to for millions when they get home from work; nothing like a toke to relieve the stress of a long and busy day. If smoked knowingly, mindful that cannabis lowers internal barriers, it is the equivalent of a few beers or glasses of wine to take the edge off. For some people, cannabis is what keeps them sane, no kidding. A few smokers experience bad trips, especially if too young to handle it. Cannabis is a mild hallucinogen after all, used for religious ceremony going way back in human history, and should be smoked with care.

Only by looking at the facts about cannabis and its use will we create an effective approach to governing it. Medical cannabis provided inroads, and of course the next step is to try to branch out. Smokers shake their heads at people intolerant of any cannabis use, but some people feel that way about tobacco and alcohol too and will never be persuaded otherwise. Just about anyone who has smoked it agrees at least with medicinal use, also recreational. Intolerance only creates a mystique attractive to teenagers and unstable personalities, and denies the fact of the benefits. If advocates fully acknowledge the other side of the debate, they can be enlisted in creating a legal distribution system that the majority of Americans can tolerate.

Aside from eliminating a major source of revenue for gangs, providing medical benefits and taxing a potentially major industry, legal distribution acknowledges the obvious: the scare tactics used against cannabis created fallacies about its use that have stymied efforts at mutual understanding, but the time is at hand with medical use laws passing around the country. Done correctly with eyes wide open, whether legalized or quasi-legalized through medical laws, America has a chance to get real and finally end the debate. I’m all for it.

And while we’re at it, declassify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value. We know better by now.

BPA creating toxic future

Let it be known, the people responsible for disguising and perpetuating this crime against humanity will be vilified tomorrow the same as the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany are today.

If you don’t know about BPA and the mutations the chemical causes, read Nicholas Kristoff’s column. I posted this response on his blog.

Until recently I worked at a federal research facility for health sciences, and was told by a researcher that he knew 25 years ago BPA is mutagenic: it causes DNA to mutate, especially DNA associated with the reproductive system. The individual who conducted the research was unable to obtain grants for further study, the research shelved. Before calling for a Congressional investigation, though, the reason why is mundane, not conspiratorial: 25 years ago, no one wanted to know that the wonder chemical of the plastics industry might be dangerous. Heads firmly planted in the sand, Americans in general were too busy enjoying the Eternal Sunshine of Reagan’s Mind to ask about the consequences of our easier, softer way.

However, a worse crime is being committed right now, which should be investigated. Recent research has shown that the effects of BPA and other mutagenic chemicals tend to manifest like a wildfire in the second and third generations after exposure. The price of our demand for soft, colorful, throw-away materials will be paid by our children and grandchildren afflicted by mutilated genitals and vicious autoimmune diseases.

Let it be known, the people responsible for disguising and perpetuating this crime against humanity will be vilified tomorrow the same as the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany are today. From the industry cronies paid to deny the science, to the executives protecting their profit margins, the entire operation must be viewed as a crime if it is ever to be stopped. We’re already facing a holocaust of rampant deformities in our species, and in the rest of nature. Unfortunately, it is a day of reckoning long overdue.

Little Kira's Wish to Oprah, paying it forward

I told Kira that in life, we often get back more than expected by wishing for someone else. I asked her what she’d like Mary to bring for someone else, and our Kira answered, “I want Tony (my brother) to have a train.” Let me clarify that she meant a toy train. I saw the episode when you gave away the train load of cars.

Dear Oprah:

Last week a kindergarten girl named Kira sent you a wish I’m passing along. Kira goes to school across the street from the coffee shop where I frequent. Next to me on a big couch, she looked like she wanted someone to talk to as she waited for her mom. Remembering the special spark in every child, I followed a hunch that spirit wanted me do a favor for little Kira, so I asked her three questions, the first being, who she wants to be like when she grows up?

One guess who she picked.

Picture the busy scene of kids and parents invading my quiet spot, a copy of Oprah Mag used as backing for Kira to write her answers on an index card I dug out of my backpack. I asked Kira if she knew the lady who granted the wishes of little girls – Kira goes to a Catholic school – and she replied, “Mary!” I told her I know where Mary goes at night to read the wishes of little girls, and I’d take hers there. Her first wish is to be like Oprah because she’s famous and uses it to help many people, schoolgirls included like Kira.

I asked her to tell me what she sees in Oprah that she also sees in herself. Looking down at your smiling face on the cover, Kira wrote: I have prte erings like oprah. Kira is also African-American. You’re beginning to feel the scene with me.

I told Kira that in life, we often get back more than expected by wishing for someone else. I asked her what she’d like Mary to bring for someone else, and our Kira answered, “I want Tony (my brother) to have a train.” Let me clarify that she meant a toy train. I saw the episode when you gave away the train load of cars. The train too I expect is easily within your capabilities. Apex, NC has trains already. It’s the highest point on the line, why it’s named Apex.

I took Kira’s message to Mary to the rose garden where a statue of mother and child overlooks wicker baskets of fresh-cut flowers. Photocopied–I kept the original index card. After a week to think about it, I wrote to you to pass on Kira’s wish. I have an idea for a kitschy segment involving trains I’ll get to, after I tell you about the feeling my experience with Kira could be part of something larger related to our mutual effort at creating a new earth.

The day I met Kira–not an hour before–I published a story called Full Circle on my website. I wrote it after reading Brian Weiss’s, Only Love Is Real. Full Circle might open eyes through story to the journey of souls and facts of afterlife, and meeting Kira after I wrote a story where one of the main characters is named Kara sent shivers up my spine to tickle my crown. Or maybe it was just Mary’s way of telling me to pay attention. Or a coincidence I gave meaning. Either way, I’m doing as directed by the still-small voice. It was Mary’s son after all who told us that what we do unto a child we do unto Him. Now for my O’ Show episode tie-in.

Kira’s brother Tony wants a toy train, how about we get him something better: a train ride with Oprah! I hear the train horn in the distance from where I currently sit, a constant feature around here along with the good living. I thought you might also use your touch on Kira to bless her life. Someone will have to take your place someday. Wait twenty years and I know a vivacious little girl who might be able to step in.

You, too, can save the planet. Five simple steps.

Talking to a young co-worker the other day, I expected the teenage generation to have fully embraced recycling. I was wrong. Instead of supporting my pro-recycling stance, he came back ambivalent with a statistic that only 40 percent of goods that make it to the recycling center is actually reused. His point: why bother?

Forty percent is better than nothing, a dubious figure anyway. Granted, we in the U.S. don’t recycle nearly enough, judging by the public waste cans overflowing with paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastic and glass. It is beyond my comprehension how we ever got to the point individually and collectively of allowing wastefulness like full meals delivered through windows and disposed of in a heap of wrappers, plastic utensils and drink cups. This waste takes up a large percentage of landfills, I heard 20 percent, so we begin here, where you and I and all of us together can make a difference. We will save the Earth one person at a time by modifying everyday behaviors, and by our good examples (not berating people!), will teach others the less dramatic but still dramatically effective ways that all of us can contribute.

1. Use steel or hard plastic (less desirable) drink cups. The employee on the other side of the restaurant counter or window might be a little confused at first — say you agree with Dick Cheney that recycling is a personal virtue. Or say please fill this up instead of using a new container. Gatorade and similar thick bottles last forever and occupy my refrigerator full of water, juice and sometimes soda from two-liters, saving money and waste. Don’t freeze plastic bottles (releases compounds from the plastic). And make sure your container is clean and easy to handle. Those folks across the counter don’t make much for their efforts, and the last thing they want to handle is a sticky plastic bottle caked with small, deceased insects and grit off the bottom of your car. Soda is the highest profit item for fast food joints, and bottled water is hugely profitable, reason enough to drop the habit of both wasteful behaviors.

2. While on the subject of fast food, if you know you’re going to pull over and scarf a double cheeseburger from the drive-thru window, ask for your sandwich in a wrapper with no bag and one napkin. And tell them you don’t need a “spork” set with your apple pie. I don’t agree with Sheryl Crow about using only one piece of toilet paper – maybe she doesn’t realize not all of us crap rabbit droppings – but some waste is just…obviously wasteful. Requires a little forethought, but awareness is key to green living.

This gives me an opportunity to explain my brand of activism. Once, I watched a group of high school girls walk out of a Taco Bell and proceed to drop behind them a trail of waste – the bags the food came in, wrappers, sauce packets, napkins – topped off by flippantly tossing an empty drink cup that landed five feet from a trash can. You might be able to imagine how my ire flared. I really wanted to grab a passing cop, or take that cup and wing at their heads. Instead, I picked it up and peacefully placed it in the trash can, passed in front of girls and made brief eye contact to say, I took care of your mess this time. No harangues. No condemnation. Change comes slowly through persistence, awareness and long-term planning — and by setting a good example.

3. Plastic bags are the ultimate sin. They take centuries to break down, use petroleum products for their production and choke dolphins – really! Probably a few humans,m too. When the Russian went to the north pole and planted their flag they found a plastic bag. Apparently, Wal-mart had already staked its claim. I currently have around a thousand plastic bags waiting to go the recycler; I, too, am guilty of the sin of convenience and don’t always remember to bring bags from the stash to use at the grocery store. However, Lowe’s Foods has sweetened their recycling deal to earn 50 Green Points for every bag recycled. Bring in ten bags and you can earn a free stick of butter. A full load of groceries double-bagged could equal a gallon of milk. Have you seen the price of milk lately? Now I (and you) have motivation.

Keep a canvas shoulder bag in your car for after-work grocery runs, and as often as possible, leave the plastic bag behind unused at the store. The clerks are programmed to presume you’d like your apple wrapped in plastic and placed in a paper bag. Milk doesn’t need a bag, or twelve-packs or, as I once witnessed, cigarette packs. That’s right: clerk asked if the person in front of me wanted their purchase in a bag, and the customer actually said yes. Then, I kid you not, the person took out the cigarettes and tossed the wrappings and the bag in the street. I used to live in the outer-inner city, but I’ve seen these behaviors everywhere except Singapore. There, you carelessly toss a cigarette butt and they cane your ass. Here I’ve seen people dump their vehicle’s ashtray in a parking lot.

Use this link for more green shopping tips.

4. Use rechargeable batteries. Use rechargeable batteries. Use rechargeable batteries. Never throw away worn out Energizers (speaking of rabbits); keep a big jar under the sink and once in a while pack it away to a recycling center you can find by clicking this link.
I Googled ‘recycle batteries’ and turned up many, many resources branching way out into general recycling topics, but is a comprehensive place to start.

5. Educate yourself. Educate yourself. Educate – you get the point. Use a Sunday afternoon to analyze your own lifestyle, home, work, school, neighborhood, and plan ways to reduce your environmental footprint, whether by biking instead of driving (you want to get in shape too?), or taking charge of recycling in your household and/or workplace by finding out what can and cannot be recycled (centers get swamped by unusable material). Simple, everyday decisions add up. The nature of the problem is the sheer scale. Dicky C. had a point about recycling being a personal virtue. It’s much more effective when applied on a large scale and he knows that; he found another way of telling the people who disagree with him to go f&#k themselves.

And one last note, to answer the age old question, take paper over plastic (and aluminum cans over plastic). Trees, at least in theory, can regrow.