Clinton Gets Off--I Head to the Cemetery
When I was diagnosed with both AIDS and cancer on the same day in mid-March
1996 (beware the Ides of March, indeed), I thought I was facing the challenge of
I was wrong.
In July 1998, I was arrested on federal medical marijuana charges. I face a
10-year mandatory minimum sentence, possibly life, and a $4 million fine. After
a month in custody, I was released on $250,000 bond, guaranteed by my brother
and mother’s homes.
For more than two years prior to my arrest, I had used medical marijuana,
under my doctor’s supervision, to successfully quell the nausea caused by the
AIDS "combination therapy." Thanks to cutting-edge medical science and
one ancient herb, my viral load, a measure of active AIDS virus in the body, was
successfully kept at "undetectable" levels.
My federal bail restrictions, however, specifically forbid my use of
marijuana. Because I cannot keep down my life-saving medication (my physician
tried every prescription antinausea medication in his arsenal, to no avail), my
viral load has skyrocketed to more than 250,000.
This is a staggeringly dangerous number. AIDS doctors become alarmed when
the viral load tops 10,000. In my case, by the time my viral load had reached
its previous all time high of 12,500 in early 1996, I had already developed
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the second most common AIDS-related cancer. With viral
loads 20 times higher than my previous record, who knows what opportunistic
infections are percolating in my body even as I write?
I dare not use medical marijuana. I am urine tested, and if marijuana is
found in my system my brother and mother, who is 74 and disabled, will lose
their homes and I will be kept in federal custody until at least the trial,
which is not scheduled to begin until September 7, 1999.
But wait, you say, didn’t Californians provide for AIDS and cancer
patients to receive medical marijuana when they overwhelmingly passed
Proposition 215 in 1996?
Yes, they did—you did—but the federal government frankly doesn’t give
"Federal law supersedes state law," the federal authorities intone
with mantra-like repetition. This may be so, but the case law was developed
primarily by the feds wearing white hats: restoring the constitutional rights of
citizens in the face of mean-spirited state-legislated prejudices. Court-ordered
federal troops escorting African American children to school while Alabama’s
then-governor, George Wallace, blocked the doors, is the prototypical example.
In my case, however, the federal government has violently removed a right
granted by compassionate California voters—the right of patients, under their
doctor’s supervision, to treat serious illness with a benign herb.
One might expect this sort of vindictive letter-of-the-law treatment from,
say, one of the House impeachment managers, who would argue that I broke federal
law (I admit to having an "inappropriate relationship," federally
speaking, with marijuana), and that the federal government is only doing its
"constitutional duty" in making sure the "rule of law" is
followed, even in wayward California.
Not surprisingly, two of the thirteen House impeachment managers are also
the two most virulent anti-medical marijuana members of Congress, Rep. Bob Barr
(R-Ga.) and Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.). Barr, for example, last year snuck an
eleventh-hour amendment into the federal budget prohibiting the counting of
votes in Washington, D.C.’s November medical marijuana initiative, a
referendum exit polls indicate passed by 69 percent.
Yes, one might expect my persecution from dyspeptic Republican members of
Congress (Barr could be the poster boy for acid reflux), but keep in mind that I
am being prosecuted by the Justice Department, a department directly under
Clinton’s Democratic authority.
Clinton’s impeachment trial defense was that, while he may have been
technically guilty of violating federal law, he had an excuse, and Americans
should be understanding. Americans were, and William Jefferson Clinton was
acquitted. I even more forthrightly admit my technical guilt—I did grow,
possess, and use (though never sold) marijuana—but I have an excuse, too: I
did it to save my life.
But, unlike Clinton, I may not live to see my day in court. Federal
prosecutors, even after verifying my precarious health condition and my urgent
life-and-death need for medical marijuana, have chosen to take a Starr-bright
hard-line approach to my medical marijuana use while on bail.
Today on February 26, 1999, I asked a federal judge to either modify my bail
release conditions, allowing me the medical treatment I used to defy death from
March 1996 until July 1998, or to enroll me as a new patient in the 15-year-old
federal program that provides 300 marijuana cigarettes a month to eight
patients. I await his decision.
Finding no mercy in either the legislative or executive branches, among
Republicans or Democrats, I wonder if I will find it among the judiciary.
Meanwhile, I have purchased for myself a crypt for my ashes in Westwood Memorial
Park, midway between Marilyn Monroe and Oscar Levant. What a place to spend