Donald M. Topping, a founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and strong advocate for medical marijuana, died June 29 at his home in Manoa, Hawaii. The 73-year-old retired University of Hawaii sociologist and linguistics professor died of colon cancer after a 15-year battle.
As cofounder of DPFHI, Topping became a prominent figure in Hawaii and national drug policy circles, helping to lead the fight that led to the state becoming the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process. That bill was signed into law by then Gov. Ben Cayetano in December 2000. He also made frequent appearances in newspaper stories and letters to the editor pages on various drug reform topics in the Hawaii press. Topping's was a voice of sanity as the state teetered on the edge of ice (smokeable methamphetime) hysteria.
Topping was an accomplished academic, working for 35 years as a linguist, sociologist, and administrator at the University of Hawaii, where he researched Micronesian languages and cultures. He wrote and edited the Chamorro-English Dictionary and served as director for the Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute and the Social Science Research Institute at the university.
It was as his academic career wound down -- he retired in 1997 -- when his interest in drug reform most flourished. "His last work was his favorite," his wife Priscilla told the Honolulu Observer. "He really liked educating people about the dangers of drugs and telling them the truth. "He's the kind of man who believed in the rights of the common person," she said. He believed "everyone deserved to live in peace and dignity, and no one should be left behind."
Though his primary affiliation in drug policy reform was the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, Topping also was a prominent figure in the national movement, among other things serving on DRCNet's Board of Advisors. DRCNet executive director David Borden recounted that Don was one of DRCNet's first members, joining in 1994 and remaining a steadfast supporter right through 2003. Borden also recalled another side of Don Topping, that of the jazz saxophonist; the two of them performed jazz standards for conference-goers in the talent show during the 2000 Drug Policy Foundation conference, Borden said.
Topping's drug reform passion and his medical situation ultimately intersected. In the autumn 1998 issue of the Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v08n3/08322top.html), he published a personal account of his experience with the visionary plant Ayahuasca, and his use of it to battle the cancer that was overtaking him. Though it's impossible to prove whether it was Ayahuasca that helped Don beat back cancer, he did beat the odds over and over again, surviving and thriving for several more years, without the surgery or chemo his doctor believed were necessary for him to have even a slim chance of lasting.
Don's ashes were scattered off his favorite surfing spot at Diamond Head. Contributions in his name may be made to the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (http://www.dpfhi.org), checks payable to Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i, P.O. Box 61233, Honolulu, HI 96839.