The End of My Day
Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's favorite phrase seems to be, "At the end of
the day." I notice that USA Today has already quoted him using it twice in
February—the shortest month of the year—on February 2nd and February 18th.
Rumor has it that the end of McCaffrey's day as Drug Czar is near; that he
will soon take over the post as director of the American Red Cross left vacant
by presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole.
As an AIDS patient, the end of McCaffrey’s day as Drug Czar cannot come
General McCaffrey has fought the war against medical marijuana and needle
exchange, two essential components in AIDS treatment and prevention, with the
same ferocity he fought that other misguided war, Vietnam. (Surely he is the
highest public official to think Vietnam was a good war, a winnable war, a war
in which America would have been victorious if only those pesky war protestors
had supported the military.)
I had successfully used medical marijuana to keep down the life-saving but
nausea-producing AIDS "combination therapy" from the time of my
diagnosis in March 1996 until my arrest on federal medical marijuana charges in
July 1998. While on bail, I have been deprived of medical marijuana by the
federal government. I vomit up my AIDS medications shortly after taking them.
My viral load, the measure of active AIDS virus in the body, has gone from
less than 40 to more than 250,000. AIDS doctors worry if the viral load
I am urine tested, and if I attempt to treat my illness with medical
marijuana, my brother’s home and disabled mother’s home, put up as federal
bond, will be forfeited. I will most likely die before I have a chance to defend
myself in court.
All thanks to Czar McCaffrey. His holy war against medical marijuana set the
federal tenor that is causing my death to take place.
I live in California, where the law, Proposition 215, says AIDS patients can
use medical marijuana under a doctor’s care. McCaffrey came to California
several times in 1996, with his entire entourage and at taxpayer’s expense, to
proclaim the initiative, "A cruel hoax." After it passed by an
impressive 56.4 percent, McCaffrey declared California voters "duped."
As he was quoted in USA Today on January 2, 1997, the electorate was
"asleep at the switch."
When McCaffrey threatened California doctors with arrest if they recommended
medical marijuana, a federal court told him, "No." So McCaffrey
encouraged federal law enforcement to go after patients. As one of the most
vocal advocates of medical marijuana in the country, it wasn’t hard for the
DEA to find me. Hence, my arrest.
Don’t be misled by McCaffrey’s call for "prevention and
treatment" as the key to ending drug abuse. His current and projected drug
budgets—$200 billion over the next ten years—call for two-thirds spent on
arrest and imprisonment.
Prevention? Fear of arrest is the best prevention, according to the good
general. Treatment? McCaffrey has a different definition of
"treatment" than those of us who have been "duped" into
thinking "treatment" is something you get from the doctor, not from
the police at the point of a gun. As McCaffrey clearly stated in USA Today on
February 18th, "vigorous law enforcement is part and parcel of the
That’s "the treatment" I’m currently getting for my AIDS from
McCaffrey’s demand that medical marijuana "go through rigorous FDA
approval like any other prescription medication" ignores the fact that, in
the treatment of AIDS, marijuana it is medically known as a palliative—it
makes the side effects of other FDA-approved medical treatment more palatable. I
don’t need an FDA-approved study to tell me whether medical marijuana eases
nausea: I smoke it, the nausea goes away, my life-saving AIDS medication stays
inside. What more do I need to know?
That it’s safe? Aspirin kills 1,000 Americans each year, and aspirin is
considered so safe it’s given to children in sugar-flavored tablets. Marijuana
has killed no one in 5,000 years of recorded medical use. Considering the
alternative—death by AIDS—both my doctor and I agree: medical marijuana is
"Physicians should be allowed to prescribe marijuana as an emergency
measure to people with HIV/AIDS without further research," the heads of
seventeen major AIDS organizations wrote McCaffrey on February 17th. "Our
request is simple. Just as other promising AIDS medications have been made
available prior to final FDA approval, so too should marijuana, when recommended
by a physician, be made available to patients who choose to use it."
McCaffrey’s response was simple, too. Refusing to respond personally, his
spokesperson, Bob Weiner, said, "Our office will defer to the FDA and the
National Institute on Drug Abuse." The buck stops where?
I can only echo the sentiments of Steven B. Johnson, policy director of the
Northwest AIDS Foundation in Seattle, the largest AIDS social service agency in
the Northwest, "The General clearly doesn't know what's going on in the
front lines in the fight against AIDS."
As I approach the end of my day, brought on by Czar McCaffrey, I hope that
at the end of his day he will reflect on the unnecessary misery and death his
continued opposition to medical marijuana has caused, and he'll bow his head and