Dear Governor Christie,
I am a cancer patient who would qualify for medical marijuana under New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. However, as you know, this program has not yet been implemented. So if I use marijuana to help alleviate my chronic pain, I am considered a criminal. This simply does not make sense to me.
I do not like to use the narcotic painkillers and sleep aids prescribed legally by my doctors. These drugs have terrible side effects, prevent me from being able to work at my home-based business, and present a real threat of chemical dependency.
I am glad that you have spoken out against incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, but I am not a person who needs drug counseling or treatment for marijuana use. I am simply a responsible adult who wishes to use a natural herb to treat my painful symptoms rather than highly addictive and dangerous narcotics.
I watched from the gallery today as the New Jersey Legislature voted 44-30 to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana. Knowing that you have stated you would veto a decriminalization bill, I was very disappointed that this measure didn't pass with a veto-proof majority. I am deeply saddened not only for myself, but for the other patients in our state who are suffering.
You, the Governor of our great state, have the power to help people like me. You have the choice to remove the risk of arrest and incarceration for patients who do not want to be criminals. Please reconsider your position and help to bring compassionate relief to so many in the great state of New Jersey.
I truly hope that the aide or intern who opens this letter decides to show it to you, and that you take the time to read it and consider that many of your constituents are in the same position as I am. We don't want to be criminals, we don't need drug counseling, and we just want our medicine.
[Author's name and address excised to protect her privacy]
First, allow me to introduce myself. I am a marijuana user. Though I could make a case that I use marijuana to relieve a minor medical condition, this would be disingenuous. I smoke marijuana principally for spiritual and recreational reasons. It lifts my personality, it inspires me to great ideas, it somehow improves my workout regimen. It improves my love life.
I am also an upstanding citizen, a father, a loving husband, a little league baseball coach, an adjunct math professor at a local university, an accomplished IT consultant making one-hundred-fifty thousand dollars per year. Between my wife and myself, we pay approximately seventy-five thousand dollars in state and local taxes annually. I served my country in the Peace Corps for two years, earning $100 per month. I was a Big Brother for a boy in New Jersey, donating hundreds of hours and countless dollars over the years. I am a productive member of this society, admittedly not a saint, who has made sacrifices on its behalf. In the thirty years that I have been a casual user of marijuana, I have never allowed this to interfere with my work or family life. No one has been hurt. I do not plan to stop.
One could be guilty of worse things. Alcohol and tobacco, proven killers, are sold and advertised freely while its purveyors remain unmolested. Gun dealers routinely sell weapons that inevitably end up in the hands of murderers, and are routinely forgiven when they are unable to account for their sales as is supposedly mandated by the state. Even government officials like Ollie North and John Poindexter are rewarded, not punished, for selling arms to our enemies and using the proceeds to fund terrorists. Surely casual cannabis use is a venial sin compared to these crimes, no?
Am I an anachronism? Are there others like me, leading productive, significant lives while flying under the radar of the drug war? I recall watching a documentary on PBS in which Orrin Hatch, the republican senator from Utah, was asked about the damage being done to normal people by the drug war, people who were leading successful lives as solid citizens while still casually using marijuana. Mr. Hatch dismissed the question with the curt reply, “I don’t know anyone like that.”
Perhaps not in the halls of Congress. But in the real world, according to recent statistics provided by the federal government, nearly eighty million Americans admit having smoked marijuana (though one of them, famously, did not inhale). Most of these people are just like me, who choose to use marijuana in moderation, who are still loved by their families, and who contribute to society. Every year, five hundred thousand of them of them go to jail as POW’s in America’s failed drug war.
It is not easy to obtain marijuana. Once obtained, one can never be sure that it has not been tampered with, perhaps by the unsavory characters that make up the shady supply chain, or, as is more likely, by our own government that uses our tax dollars in its immoral drug war to poison marijuana crops on the ground with herbicides. This is why I decided to grow my own marijuana, in my own low-tech way, dropping a few old dried-out seeds in a flowerpot and hoping for the best. I was pleasantly surprised to see my experiment succeed; marijuana, a rather common weed, grows well in even the most inhospitable environment. I became the proud owner of two sickly marijuana plants, growing despite my incompetence as a gardener. This was hardly a professional operation.
One fine day in July, a detective arrived at my doorstep at five in the afternoon. As I was pruning and pulling weeds, I came upon this man roaming the front yard.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, are you the owner of this house?”
“I am responding to an anonymous complaint that there is marijuana growing at this residence —“
My heart jumped at the word “marijuana” and I felt one of those otherworld feelings of dread.
The detective was looking at my quizzically, as if confused, and continued, “- would you know anything about that? Would you mind if I take a look?”
“Yes” I replied, then dumbly looked at him, not knowing what to expect next. A pregnant pause.
“Is there marijuana growing in the back yard?”
“Yes” I replied, reversing course and now hoping that a cooperative attitude and full disclosure might save me.
Over on the dark side of the drug war, the bad guys, the kingpins, the suppliers of drugs, are well schooled on the intricacies of drug law. They know the one key rule about drug search and seizure; that is, never, under any circumstances, consent to a search by law enforcement, followed by the second rule of immediately seeking legal counsel.
In the demilitarized zone, populated by casual users, we are not nearly as well educated in the game of law and law enforcement. We have been trained to think of the police officer as our friend, and to cooperate, even when we are in trouble. Many of us believe that the law will look kindly upon those who cooperate with the police.
I have personal empirical evidence that this is true. As a college student in the 70’s, I was discovered smoking marijuana several times. In every case, I cooperated fully — and was let go, once with my contraband intact after satisfying the officer’s curiosity about the quality of my stash.
That is why I chose to cooperate again in this instance, thinking that I was dealing with a reasonable man. But times have changed. Cooperation is no longer rewarded. Full cooperation is what put me in the predicament that I face today. Little did I know what untold pain I was to shortly encounter for my honest indiscretions.
In a casual way, as if in a casual and friendly conversation, the detective now explained helpfully, “You should know that you have the right to remain silent and that anything you say can and will be used against you. Do you understand these rights?”
I could not believe what I was hearing. Here I am, a forty-seven-year-old man (who, I am often reminded, has never really grown up), a well-paid, well-educated IT consultant with a house in a plush New York City suburb, getting arrested for a crime common among the lower-class, the bohemian counter-culture, the common people.
Yet it did not seem at all like I was being arrested; this man, shaking my hand like a neighbor, was speaking to me as if we were at a cocktail party.
Little did I know that I was being played. I was digging my own personal hole that may well destroy my life as I know it, or at least to render me unemployable for years to come and pollute my relationships with my family, friends and neighbors.
The nice detective continued to explain how my cooperation was appreciated and would surely be an asset to me when I dealt with his superiors down at the station. I offered to cooperate by destroying the crop. He asked to see it first. Believing that my cooperation and reasonable explanations would lead the authorities to overlook my minor transgression, I showed it to him - and then I turned over my pathetic marijuana crop.
Big mistake. The law in these United States is far too hard on the ignorant among us (not to mention the poor, the uneducated, and the sick). We live in fast times. Snooze and you lose. I lost.
Consequently, I face a penalty of thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees. If I am lucky, I will be admitted into a Pre-Trial Intervention program, known as PTI, in which I will attend a drug re-education camp to learn anew the dangers of hard drugs such as marijuana, followed by months of humiliating probation and demeaning drug tests. I will be permitted to make donations to the policeman’s bulletproof vest fund and provide community service. If I am unlucky, I face six months imprisonment and expropriation of property such as my home and vehicle.
All of this for two weeds in my garden, all of two feet tall.
My employment prospects are dimmed by the appearance of a criminal record in which the “manufacturing” of marijuana will be listed as a felony. This is nothing short of the McCarthyism of the 50’s, and I will be blackballed from working with any of the leading firms in my industry. I checked some of the discussion boards on the Internet to see if there were others in similar circumstances and found many examples. Interspersed within the debate about how to disclose a felony marijuana conviction and how to go about doing so with a potential employer, I found the odd conjecture from an interloper who advised, “Fry, baby, fry.”
In another entry, a woman contemplates the employment prospects of her fiancé, another marijuana felon like me. Along with some kindly advice, several others counseled her to think twice about going through with the wedding, or warned about the danger of impending divorce with a recidivist.
The local newspapers have listed me as a drug offender in their police blotter column, along with the shoplifters, the car thieves and the DUI scofflaws. Once discovered, my eight-year-old son, quite innocent, may find himself shunned from friends, disinvited from birthday parties and playmates.
My dilemma is largely self-inflicted. It was stupid to risk my family’s future by placing the plants out in the open, though I must add that I had placed them far from my property’s border and the prying eyes of nosy neighbors. I compounded my mistake by cooperating with the detective, who I mistook for a friend.
I had some help in my self-destruction. I do happen to live in a neighborhood populated by nosy neighbors with those prying eyes. The arrest report testifies to a neighbor, a housewife, who (ostensibly) innocently chased her dog into my backyard, where she discovered the offending plants and felt duty-bound to inform on me to protect the morals of the neighborhood.
I cannot be certain as to the identity of this neighbor, but I have strong suspicions. I have only two neighbors with dogs. The one neighbor is more remote, with no children and an elderly dog that mopes about in her yard. The other neighbor has three children, a staunchly Orrin Hatch-like conservative outlook on life, and a sprightly hound that happily encroaches on all of the nearby properties. Though I cannot be certain that they are the origin of my travails, my certainty is growing along with an evolving antipathy.
Why would they do this to me? We have been on very good terms. Until now, I never objected when their dog trotted over and pooped on my lawn. I did not complain when their teenager threw a baseball through my window. When a squirrel invaded their home during the dead of winter, I came and drove it away for the helpless and distraught housewife.
Yet the presence of two measly marijuana plants, aided and abetted by the drug war hysteria, erased all of our goodwill and replaced it with suspicion and malevolence.
They have their reasons for informing on me, just as I have mine for living as I do. As we were on good terms, I can discount any possibility of enmity. I can only assume that they are hopelessly uninformed. I conjecture that they imagine the two plants in my garden to be a threat somewhat like a poisonous snake, as if one of the children might happen upon them and be bitten.
So, what to do with this neighbor, who has interfered with — strike that — destroyed my life? Would I be too dramatic to say, “forgive them, for they know not what they do?” I must grant them some latitude, because I am certain that they do not understand marijuana and are victims of the drug war hysteria. However, they must have understood the implications. I can excuse their ignorance about my supposed crime, but it is difficult for me to reconcile their invasion of my privacy. This was premeditated. They could have come and spoken with me instead of pursuing their heavy-handedness with the police.
In the end, I have decided I must forgive them. I have prepared a speech in my mind, to be delivered once my punishment is determined and all of this plays out. Revenge will serve no purpose — living well is the best revenge. I will forgive them for their ethical mistake of invading my privacy and then violating my human rights. I will write this off as a matter of ignorance, not of intolerance, sanctimony, self-righteousness. If they truly believe that I deserve this treatment, then I can only rely on a spiritual faith that bad karma will be visited upon them in the years ahead.
To marijuana users, America is a totalitarian state. We live in Stalinist times, where neighbors report each other for victimless crimes, where our leaders exercise a purportedly God-given right to impose their values in a system that demands conformity. Innocent people are unjustly imprisoned. Families are destroyed. Relationships among neighbors are poisoned with suspicion. Privacy rights are trampled. Solid citizens are shunned by their communities and deprived of their livelihoods. The very freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - are nowhere to be found. The scarlet letter lives.
This is nobody’s business. Growing and smoking marijuana is a human right that transcends our law. Call me Dr. Frankenstein, if you will, for my willful but moderate use of cannabis. As I await the villagers marching up the hill with their torches and pitchforks, I make no apologies.
I just finished reading “One man's story” on your website. It brought back the horrible beginning of a nightmare my family is currently in the middle of. I will keep this brief: late one night in August 2009, our fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms went off in the house we are renting. While I went around checking, my wife called 911. The fire department along with the police responded. The firemen, while searching, came across marijuana plants my son was growing in his closet. He had just planted seeds and the “plants” were barely an inch or two high, some had died. The firemen notified the cops who were there and we were lead to our son's room and shown what they found. My son was not home.
What followed were threats if we did not allow them to search immediately. My son came home (a 19 year old honor student), was arrested and taken to the police station, thrown in jail to scare him, etc. He was hit with first, second and third degree offenses.
Our lives have been thrown in turmoil, worrying that my son's life will be ruined. We are respected members of our community, but that doesn't matter anymore. We retained a lawyer from our community, but my son could face many years in jail for growing plants. We just got notice of a prearraignment conference in early May and we are a mess. My wife needed to start taking medication to deal with the stress. I am a disabled individual and my son is having a hard time just going to school at this point.
Our country is waging war against its citizens - when will this madness stop?
[Name Withheld at Author's Request]
Lisa Segal wakes up every morning locked in a fetal position, her muscles in spasm from multiple sclerosis.
She's 59 years old, and has tried everything. The only medicine that relaxes those muscles and settles her nausea is marijuana.
So when her supply runs out, she drives an hour from her Gloucester County home to Philadelphia, and walks the streets to buy pot, leaning on her cane. It scares her to death, but it's better than spending her remaining years curled up in bed, in pain.
“These are not people I want to deal with,” she says. “I have nightmares that the police are going to come into my house and arrest me.”
The medical marijuana movement aims to end this official cruelty, and allow people like Segal to live in dignity. That was the idea, anyway, when the Legislature passed the law last year. It was supposed to be up and running by now.
But thanks to Gov. Chris Christie, this effort has gone terribly off track. So Segal still has to sneak to Philly for her fix, like a criminal.
“The way the rules are written now, I'll have no choice but to continue doing what I'm doing,” she says.
The rules drafted by the Christie administration amount to bureaucratic sabotage. And the political and legal fights they have sparked mean the delay is certain to continue for months. One rule places a limit on potency, so the legal pot can't be as strong as the varieties Segal can find on the street. Home delivery was allowed at first, and then banned, for reasons the Department of Health will not explain.
If a doctor wants to prescribe pot, he needs to warn patients every three months that some experts believe this treatment is ineffective, and that marijuana can be addictive.
Each distribution center can carry only three strains of pot, and hold no excess inventory. They can't make pot cookies or brownies, even for patients with cancer or AIDS who have lung problems.
You get the idea. Sure, the law is on the books. But it was signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine, and Christie never liked it. So he is trying to strangle this baby in its crib by drafting one unworkable rule after another. Call it bureaucratic sabotage.
And Democrats, true to form, are divided and ineffective in the face of another Christie hurricane.
Sen. Nick Scutari, a prime sponsor, is taking a hard line. He wants to block implementation of the law until Christie agrees to stop the sabotage. Resolutions that require a rewrite of the rules have passed both houses.
But Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the other sponsor, cut a separate deal with Christie to make a few changes, and hope for the best later on.
“It's not perfect,” Gusciora says. “But I figured let's at least get it started, and with time and people complaining it could be expanded.”
That divide among Democrats is giving Christie a new opportunity to delay. His spokesman, Mike Drewniak, says the administration will redraft the rules based on the compromise with Gusciora, not the more demanding resolutions passed by both houses. So the Legislature may reject the revised rules, creating yet another delay.
“At every juncture, there is a new obstacle,” Scutari says. “Christie is a master of divide and conquer, and he obviously realized I'd be tougher to negotiate with, so he went to Reed.”
Christie's fear is that New Jersey could wind up like California, where Gen Xers skateboard to the pot clinics for a cure to their “headaches.” So he's swung the pendulum in the other direction, drafting the tightest rules in the country by far.
And patients are paying the price. Mike Oliveri, a Jersey native living in California, is withering away with muscular dystrophy. He can't live in his home state, he says. “I'm a patient, and I'm dying,” he says. “This is a complete political game.”
Segal has found a friend in Philly who buys pot for her on occasion, so she may not have to walk the streets as often.
If she could talk to the governor, she says, she'd give him this simple message: “Take the politics out of this and find the compassion in your heart. You are dealing with severely sick patients.”
Tom Moran may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 392-5728.
Letter to the Editor
Medicinal marijuana: The end doesn't justify the means
A recent U.S. federal appeals court ruling that keeps marijuana on the government's list of the most dangerous, tightly controlled drugs is a significant victory for those of us who serve on the front lines of the ongoing battle against drug abuse.
The judgment is the result of a case (Americans for Safe Access vs. Drug Enforcement Administration) in which medical marijuana supporters sued over the DEA's classification in 2011. The court said the plaintiffs failed to prove that marijuana has an effective, accepted and safe medical use.
As someone who has repeatedly witnessed the devastating effects of drug addiction on individuals and families, I believe it is important to note that many drug users begin their life of addiction experimenting with marijuana. Once addicted, they “graduate” to other drugs. That is one of the many reasons I have opposed New Jersey's medical marijuana law that was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2010.
While I am sensitive to the pain that individuals endure from disease, that does not make it appropriate to sanction the drug's medical use. The pitfalls associated with this policy are many and the opportunity for misuse and abuse are plentiful. A 2010 report out of California has showed that robberies, shootings, home invasions and murders involving patients, growers and clinics in some of the states that allow medical marijuana are on the increase.
Just as there is no viable evidence that a secure system can be put into place that ensures the responsible production, delivery and monitoring of medical marijuana, a federal court has justly ruled there is no convincing, credible evidence to declassify it as a highly dangerous drug.
Mary Pat Angelini,
The writer, a Republican, formerly represented the 11th District in the New Jersey Assembly. At the same time she was peddling her swill, she was serving as CEO and Executive Director of Prevention First (http://www.preventionfirst.net), an Ocean NJ organization that receives direct financial benefits from the “War on Drugs.” As Assemblywoman for the 11th District, Ms. Angelini voted in favor of the grant that benefitted her own organization. In November 2015, New Jersey voters booted her from office. Good riddance.
Response of Vanessa Waltz
In her letter to the editor (January 24), Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini paints a fear-mongering picture of medical marijuana as a gateway drug.
ASW Angelini claims to be “sensitive to the pain that individuals endure from disease,” but her ignorant rant proves otherwise. Calling marijuana a “highly dangerous drug” in the context of medical use is absolutely ridiculous. Does she have no clue about pharmaceuticals legally prescribed to cancer patients? A quick glance at the side effects of the arsenal of drugs legally prescribed for my cancer yields the following warnings: “euphoria, feeling of being 'high', tolerance, risk for dependency” not to mention “weak or shallow breathing, confusion, double vision, nausea, dizziness, seizure, liver toxicity, cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, coma, death...” I invite ASW Angelini to look me in the eye and tell me medical marijuana use -- or “abuse” -- is anywhere near as dangerous as this.
As a cancer patient, I have taken a multitude of prescription drugs including xanax, ambien, dilaudid and morphine. When combined with the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs, the effects on my body were especially devastating. I have been hospitalized for side effects of these medications, and have had to wean myself off them slowly with a doctor's supervision to avoid life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. I am thankful every day that I did not develop a full-blown addiction to these pharmaceuticals, but many patients are not so fortunate.
Surely through her work as a substance abuse program director, ASW Angelini must realize that prescription drug dependency is a true problem for people who have had serious illnesses or injuries, and that prescription opioid abuse is a real gateway to hard drug addiction. Medical marijuana does not pose any proven health risks, and offers not only pain relief, but may even provide actual treatment for certain diseases.
Board Member of Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey (http://www.cmmnj.org/)
(Posted with permission of Ms. Waltz)
Allan Marain |
Norman Epting, Jr.
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