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 my life.
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 a damn.
"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 eternity.