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 too soon.
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 surpasses 10,000.
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 treatment." Oh.
That’s "the treatment" I’m currently getting for my AIDS from McCaffrey’s government.
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 safe enough.
"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 cry.