DRCNet Book Review: "Patients in The Crossfire: Casualties in The War On Medical Marijuana," by Americans For Safe Access 9/24/04

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Phillip Smith, Editor, [email protected], 9/24/04

In Amsterdam, you can go down to the local pharmacy and get quality-controlled, medical marijuana from government-registered suppliers. In Canada, a government contractor supplies pot for patients registered with the health ministry. (Alright, it is crappy stuff, but that's another story.) In Oklahoma, on the other hand, if you can't get your medical marijuana and you try to grow your own, you might get 93 years in prison. And even in states like California, where the voters have made the medical use of marijuana legal, rabid feds can always drop in and try to send you away for five or ten years or life.

Compiled by Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), the aggressive grassroots medical marijuana defense group that sprang up in response to the initial Ashcroft raids on California patients and providers, "Patients in the Crossfire" is primarily a compendium of the stories of medical marijuana users imprisoned, prosecuted, and persecuted by local, state, and federal authorities. Largely based on "Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War," by long-time cannabis activists Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad, and Virginia Resner, and written with additional assistance from Norris, the volume includes a very personal introduction by ASA executive director Steph Sherer, as well as brief glances at the history of marijuana as a medicine, federal policies that block its current use, and the latest advances in the science of medical marijuana.

But it is the stories of the patients that are the heart of this book. Some are well-known in drug reform circles, like Will Foster, sentenced to 93 years for trying to grow his own medicine. Fortunately for Foster, that sentence proved too long even by Oklahoma standards and he was eventually released. But not before drug warrior Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating kept him in prison for two years after a state appeals court cut his sentence, saying it "shocks our conscience."

Another Oklahoman, Jimmy Montgomery is less well-known, but suffered just as grievously at the hands of the state. Confined to a wheelchair for over 20 years because of a spinal cord injury, whose spasms he controlled with marijuana, Montgomery was convicted as a drug dealer over two ounces of pot found in his wheelchair and sentenced to life in prison. Oh, and the police tried to seize the home in which he lived -- his mother's house. The state provided muscle relaxants, opiates, and tranquilizers to the man it imprisoned for using marijuana as a medicine, but his condition deteriorated as prosecutors blocked his release. His sentence was eventually cut to ten years and he made it out early on medical parole. But he is minus one leg, the result of an ulcerated bed sore that developed while he was lying handcuffed in a prison hospital bed.

There are more. More patients thrown in prison, like Todd McCormick, or persecuted to their deaths, like McCormick's friend, author Peter McWiliams. Or forced into exile, like Steve Kubby, to avoid a veritable death sentence at the hands of vengeful local authorities. Or driven to suicide, like Shirley Dorsey, 73, who killed herself a year after she and her companion Byron Stamate were arrested for growing medical marijuana on their land.

"They want to take our property, security and herbal medicine from us, even though we have not caused any harm to anyone," Dorsey wrote in her suicide note. "It is not fair or in the best interest of people or society. I will never testify against you [Byron] or our right to our home. I will not live in the streets without security and a place to sleep. I am old, tired, and ill, and I see no end to the harassment and pressures until they destroy us."

After Dorsey's death, Byron Stamate was sentenced to nine months in prison, and his home, cottage, and life savings were seized. The prosecutor later said he would do it exactly the same way if he had to do it over again.

Maybe it's just me -- maybe not -- but this book made me angry. While "Patients in the Crossfire" doesn't delve into the whys and wherefores of this modern day witch hunt and doesn't mention the gigantic industry of control and incarceration that has grown up around drug prohibition, the stories of the patients beg the question: Who is responsible for this?

Let us not mince words: There are indeed villains in this piece. What can you say about a prosecutor who goes out of his way to send a pot patient to prison for years and then goes above and beyond the call of duty by seeking to keep him there even as he reaches death's door? Or a judge who spinelessly fails to let a jury hear the whole story and sits by as the federal imprisonment machine gobbles up another patient? Not to mention taxpayer-paid propagandists like drug czar John Walters, whose job description surely reads "must lack conscience, have ability to lie on demand without blinking." Or those minor villains, the laughing, smirking, blue-uniformed thugs who take such pleasure in invading the homes of peaceful people and ripping them and their inhabitants' lives apart. When do we get our prohibition war crimes trials, our Nuremberg?

Don't get me wrong. "Patients in the Crossfire" is hardly a fiery polemic. It doesn't have to be. Its tone is careful and measured. But in bringing to light the hideous crimes perpetrated against sick people in the name of drug prohibition, it does a great service. If its purpose is to shock the conscience, it has certainly succeeded.

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Issue #355, 9/24/04 Editorial: The Moral Choice is Clear | With New Sentencing Legislation Pending in Congress, Church Leaders Urge an End to Mandatory Minimums | Patients, Doctors, Supporters Head to Washington to Demand Rescheduling of Marijuana as a Medicine | For Second Year, John W. Perry Fund Helps Students with Drug Convictions Afford College | DRCNet Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate | DRCNet Book Review: "Patients in The Crossfire: Casualties in The War On Medical Marijuana," by Americans For Safe Access | Action Alert: Still Time to Contact Judiciary Committee Members About HEA Drug Provision | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Signs Syringe Access Bill, Vetoes NEP Bill | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Vetoes Bill Barring High School Drug Testing | Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill on Fast Track, Passes First Hurdle | Newsbrief: Former Child Actor Macauley Culkin Busted for Drugs in All-Too-Typical Cave-In to Police Search Request | Newsbrief: Montel Williams Show Brings Medical Marijuana Issue to the Masses | Newsbrief: Bush Warns of Canada Drug Threat, Whistles Past Afghan Opium Fields | Newsbrief: Guatemala Seeks More Anti-Drug Money from United States | Newsbrief: Decades of Colombian Drug War Brings... New, More Efficient Drug Organizations | Newsbrief: Narc Hates Free Publicity | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: British Drug Policy Think Tank Says Government Abandoned Planned Heroin Maintenance Expansion | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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