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Dope: A Dialogue

The following is a debate between AVA editor Bruce Anderson and medical marijuana activist Pebbles Trippet...

Pebbles Trippet: Before I could jump on you for calling 4th District Candidate for Supervisor Paula Deeter a "stoner," Paula had called you on your assumption and you printed a prompt correction (Off The Record, 3/26/08). You praised Paula as "smart and focused" and possessing "exhilarating candor." But you wondered, alas, how could a "stoner" expect to win?

Paula explained, not only is she not a "stoner" but she doesn't use marijuana herself. She's a caregiver for her husband, a cannabis patient.

Curious minds wonder, Bruce, what is a "stoner"? Was Gertrude Stein a stoner, since she had a regular diet of Alice B. Toklas hash brownies to improve her writing skills? They made her more functional, not less, at the art of writing, where she excelled and influenced major writers of her day — Hemingway, etc.

Was Bob Dylan a stoner, when he sang "Everyone must get stoned" — a double entendre, meaning (to paraphrase) get stones thrown at you for unorthodox looks and unpopular views regarding the issues of the day: Vietnam war, marijuana, the draft and the like.

What about outstanding athletes like Ricky Williams who've never complained that marijuana hurt their performance, only that it broke a rule?

Is anyone who regularly has a joint or vaporizes a hit at night after a day at work disqualified by definition from being a stoner because they hold down a regular job and stoners couldn't or wouldn't? What about me? I work day and night. I am self-employed and self-motivated. I use cannabis regularly because it keeps me balanced and productive, prevents migraine headaches and increases my motivation to be engaged in life. Am I a stoner? I'm confused, is that good or bad?

The purpose of caregivers like Paula Deeter is, by definition, to provide for patients unable to provide for themselves. They are not authorized to use marijuana themselves (other than to grow and provide), unless they are also a patient. Caregivers are by definition not stoners, although some patients may be. A surprising number of Dr. Courtney's patients — about 65% — tell him they prefer the medicine without the high since they need to function — at a job, etc. He suggests therefore that they consume fresh leaf, since it has medical value in dealing with pain/mobility/etc. and is low in psychoactivity.

How many other caregivers are innocently helping out a friend or loved one with the medicine that works best for them?

Former Mendocino County Registrar of Voters Marsha Wharff, who does not use marijuana herself, is similarly a caregiver for her husband who survived cancer and tolerated the debilitating experience and nausea of chemotherapy by vaporizing with medical cannabis.

Ironically, the new Registrar removed Marsha's name as a signator on the No on Measure B Rebuttal Ballot Argument, based on some rule requiring that you be a Mendo voter to sign. Marsha now lives and votes in Lake County since moving there last year, after 25 years as Mendocino County's elected Voter Registrar. The exception to that rule is if she belongs to a bona fide Mendocino County organization, which she does. She serves as an advisor on the MMMAB/Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. Ever gracious, Marsha withdrew her name and title — caregiver — rather than contest the unfriendly rejection.

But she stands by her opinion: "I'm concerned about the medical aspect. Those who've never cared for another person don't have a clue what this medicine can do to ease pain, stimulate appetite, enhance one's mental outlook. In the case of my husband, a cancer survivor, eight ounces would not be nearly enough for a year's supply — closer to 24-30 ounces."

Laura Hamburg is an example of a combination patient-caregiver who uses medicinal tinctures, topicals and capsules rather than smoking it, which increases the amount of medicine required to put it in those forms.

Laura's felony marijuana charges were thrown out last month based on a faulty search warrant — the original judge was not informed of her "medical purposes." Retired Superior Court Judge Luther suppressed the evidence and denounced Deputy Hendry's "intentional omission," saying had he been the judge knowing what he knows about the case, he would not have wanted to issue the warrant himself.

A tape recording played in court by attorney Keith Faulder showed Hamburg to be a qualified patient cultivating a model garden well within county guidelines. She had 39 plants and two pounds of bud for herself and two other patients (her sister and a friend who lived on the property), all three with doctor's approvals and state ID cards, which the judge knew nothing about when he issued the warrant.

Under Mendocino County guidelines of 25 plants per patient for personal "medical purposes" (MC Code 9.36/Measure G), Laura is entitled to a total of 75 plants for three people. Under another County Resolution passed by the Supervisors August 7, 2007 — allowing 25 plants +2 pounds for personal medical use — she's entitled to 75 plants +6 pounds.

Why then was Laura raided and the judge deceived? Could it be that her famous father, former US Congressman and Mendocino Supervisor Dan Hamburg, was a factor in this odd equation of eleven sheriff's deputies plus two deputy DAs, to take down unarmed 110-pound Laura Hamburg? When the deputies began to arrive one asked, "Is this the Hamburg house?" In the 80s the local powers that be failed in their attempt to recall Supervisor Dan Hamburg for persistent outspokenness. But grudges can last for years. Dan was actively involved in helping pass Measure G in 2000 and his daughter Laura is currently director of the No on Measure B Campaign to stop the prohibitionists from repealing Measure G, recriminalizing personal use for a single plant and reducing medical patients to six plants instead of 25 and eight ounces instead of two pounds.

This whole medical marijuana situation is a lot more complicated than it appears; old stereotypes and assumptions don't apply. "Primary caregivers" are legally protected in providing for patients unable to grow for themselves. Since the overwhelming majority of patients have neither land nor landlord permission to grow, collectives of patients and/or caregivers providing for others are the key to making this work.

To make up for the image of medical marijuana patients and caregivers as phonies covering up for commercial gain, many of us feel compelled to be more exemplary in trying to do it right, trying to work with law enforcement to honor local standards we can all live with, trying to convey to voters that we too recognize problems surrounding marijuana and are seeking solutions, but not by going backwards as Measure B does, not by recriminalizing our friends and neighbors for growing one plant for personal use, not by blocking access to vital medicine, and not by threatening patients and caregivers with felony charges for seven plants (one more than the state minimum). Measure B claims it aims to wipe out giant commercial grows but it actually targets mom-and-pop and small time patients with medical grows, such as Laura Hamburg.

Bruce, here is my question — since you label me as "uniformly lucid" and Paula as "smart and focused" and we are both equal advocates for medical cannabis in our own way, doesn't that constitute the collapse of a marijuana prejudice on your part, i.e., that we're all slow, deadbeat, a few cylinders short, unmotivated libby-labby non-contributors.

These are your one-size-fits-all slams at the proverbial hippy-in-the-hills 60s drop-out as the standard, whereas the medical cannabis model is closer to the sensibilities of Marsha Wharff, an unselfish caregiver in sync with her husband's medical needs; Carrie Hamburg, cancer survivor, who gratefully accepted her daughter Laura's cannabis medications from her own garden during hard bouts with chemotherapy that drew them closer; and County planner, Union steward, MMMAB advisor and mother Paula Deeter, who puts family first, including patients and the larger family called "community."

These touching small garden family stories are widespread and should not be confused with the scare stories morphing thousand-plant commercial grows on public lands leaving diesel spills using vicious dogs and guns all for the love of money.

Cannabis is probably the safest medicine on earth, never having been known to kill a single person in thousands of years of widespread human use by millions of people on every continent. It is the laws against it that make the community unsafe, not the substance itself. It can no longer be outright prohibited now that state voters have a say and now that medical science has revealed how human biological systems have evolved and interacted over centuries with cannabinoids, flavanoids and terpenes, from the human brain to a mechanism in passing mother's milk that sparks "the munchies."

Let's accept marijuana's value in the scheme of things, not prohibit it. Let's seek ways to incorporate previously prohibited people into the larger Mendocino family, just as we would with any second class citizens winning their rights as equals.

* * *

Bruce Anderson: Drop that bomber, Pebs, and pay real close attention to what I actually said about Ms. Deeter who, by the way, I think would be a radical improvement over the incumbent 4th District supervisor in whatever state of consciousness she showed up for work in. (The AVA wants to see Deeter, Dolly Brown and Estelle Palley-Clifton on the board of supervisors.)

But what I said about Deeter was, "Paula Deeter is smart, articulate, accomplished and, unfortunately for her candidacy, stoned. Or at least that's the general impression." As co-owner of Herban Legend that's the way she's likely to perceived by the voters even though she doesn't herself smoke the stuff. Most voters are unlikely to make the distinction, but if they do I wonder how many will doom Deeter simply because she co-owns a medical marijuana store? Some will, some won't, but if I were half-owner of a bar I think I'd have a hard time convincing the general public to join the local chapter of the Temperance Society.

As for Alice B and Gertrude, if dope helped them write better they didn't take enough.

I know lots of stoners who more or less function — standards these days being what they are, how effectively is anyone expected to perform? — but I can say from my direct experience of the toking community that they, uh, like, tend to be unfocused (except where dope is concerned) and generally not, as mental health workers might say, all the way oriented to time or place. Like drunks, dopers always think they're doing just boffo when, objectively, they're not.

The other day, a lady invited me to be on a drug panel, a Boonville forum of some kind vaguely aimed, I think, at keeping "the kids" away from drugs of all kinds. I said I'd do it only if she couldn't lure anybody else to narcotize an unsuspecting public for an hour or so on the drug question. I also said I'd argue either side of Measure B because I truly think it's irrelevant to the local reality, which is that so long as prices permit people to make attractive amounts of tax-free cash money, Mendocino County, with its vast, impossible-to-police open spaces will attract the kinds of growers and affiliated crooks who have now inspired the backlash represented by Measure B. Backlash is what I said would happen back when Mendo's stoners, in a rare burst of energy they seem capable of mustering only for their drug of choice, got behind Measure G, the misguided advisory measure that brought us 25 plants plus 2 pounds as the local enforcement standard which, in turn, has brought us to where we are now — armed growers of the non-flower child personality type everywhere in the county.

Hate to be the one to break the bad news, old girl, but an easy majority of the general public regards medical marijuana as a fraud, which it obviously mostly is, and nobody, even stoners (especially stoners) wants their kids smoking dope. The harmless backyard grower of yesteryear? Another Mendo myth right up there with free speech public radio and Democrats as an alternative to Republicans. But the backyard grower, good ol' Mom and Pop Mortgage-Fighter as portrayed in the ecotopian fairy tale, has been totally subsumed by criminal syndicates, home invasion thugs and a generally ugly underside that didn't use to exist in the county to the ominous annual extent it exists now.

But not to worry, Pebs: although Measure B will easily pass, marijuana will continue to be so prevalent it will be more available than ever. Cheaper, too, if you discount it for blood weight.

PS. A pot guy called up the other day to challenge my assertion that the County's 25 plants and 2 pounds of marijuana as legal standard was more dope than even the most committed stoner could possibly smoke in a year. "I'm a committed stoner," the caller said, "and I smoke at least four pounds a year, and I'll challenge either of you two boozers at the AVA to any mental of physical contest you can name, and I'll beat you easy." (The Pot Guy conceded that he was also half our age.)

Pot Guy calculated his consumption in grams. Resisting an impulse to immediately challenge him to an over-the-phone math contest, we did the math after he hung up. Four pounds is 1,816 grams, and let's say a typical bazooka, one joint, weighs 0.4 grams. Stoner dude would be inhaling 35 grams a week or 12.5 doobs per day. At $3,000 per pound, which may be on the high side depending on his supplier, he's spending $7 a gram, $3 per doob or about $14,000 a year maintaining himself in an altered state of consciousness. A pint of quality vodka at $20 a day would run a committed juicer less than $8,000 a year — if he didn't die first.

From what we gather from the medical lit, an ounce of dope a week helps most legitimate medical marijuana patients, which works out to about 3 pounds annually.

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