Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Open Letter to the President for my Mom and Widows of Veterans



Jesse Kent




Law Offices of Norm Kent
110 Southeast 6th Street Suite 1970
Fort Lauderdale, Fl 33301
954 763 1900


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C,

Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Eric K. Shinseki
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Concerned Public Servants,

My name is Norm Kent. I am an attorney in Fort Lauderdale, writing on behalf of my mother, Gertrude, living in a nursing home in Sunrise, Florida. She is a surviving spouse of a veteran, a soldier, and an American hero who fought overseas to defend freedom here at home.

On or about February of this year, I processed an application for Widow’s Pension Benefits on behalf of Mom. My dad, Jesse Kent, served bravely during World War II, in the 376th Infantry, and rose from the rank of Private First Class to Staff Sergeant, up through his discharge at the Separation Center in Fort Dix on August 31, 1945. I have enclosed Dad’s picture when he was in the service overseas for you to see. I keep it hanging in my office.

When my dad came home from combat duty overseas in Europe, from various battles in numeorus theaters to landing on Utah Beach with the Fighting 94th during D Day operations, his first son, and my older brother- Richard, had already been born. Dad served admirably, and as a member of the Antitank Company, was even awarded an Honorary Certificate of Service for exemplary conduct against the German forces on the battlefield in Germany, early in 1945. It was awarded to him by Captain Frederick Bucky, Jr., the Infantry Adjutant.

Dad would often tell us stories of combat operations, and what it was like to be a soldier living in a field on 'Creamed Chipped Beef'; how he wanted to make it home to see his son. He did, and he raised three of them, who survive him today.

My brothers, Alan and Richard, and me, well, we are most proud of our Dad for having earned the Bronze Star Medal on February 4, 1944 for meritorious achievement in ground operations against the enemy in the European Theater of Operations, during the Rhineland Campaign,. It was awarded by the President of the United States of America. That star, and the plaque evidencing it, also hangs proudly in my office. These are the memories of my dad, who passed away too young, in July of 1987, only 72 years of age.

Do me a favor. As you respond to my letter, think of my dad, won’t you? And think of his widow, my mom, in a nursing home, turning 88 years old last week. My family, including my older brother Richard, who was born in 1944 while Dad was still fighting overseas, celebrated Thanksgiving with her just a few weeks ago.

When I visit my Dad at his gravesite next week, for the Holidays, when I wheel my mom to his stone in her wheelchair, please tell me how I can explain to him why it has taken the United States of America over ten months to process his widow’s claim for a pension benefit.

You see, on October 1st of this year, after waiting eight months, I received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs that you had in fact acquired everything you needed to process the claim, but remarkably, the correspondence stated the claim could not go forward because my dad’s death certificate did not sufficiently indicate the cause of his death.

Dutifully, as a good citizen, trying to accommodate the bureaucracy that is our government- and the rules that are so particularized they are virtually insane, I rushed out to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and swiftly re-sent an updated death certificate within a week. Apparently, it got there too fast for you, because two months have now passed, and today, on December 17, I received the following note from the VA in Philadelphia:

We are still processing your application for PENSION. We apologize for the delay.”

You said the same thing to me on April 9 of this year:

“It is our sincere desire to decide your case promptly. However, we have a great number of claims, so action on yours may be delayed.”

I wish you all a Happy Holidays, of course. I hope you enjoy this time with your family and friends. But I am here to tell you I do not accept your apology, and I find your delays offensive and unacceptable. It should not take 65 days for the widow of a United States veteran who put his life at risk for this country 65 years ago to collect the benefits she is lawfully entitled to, let alone over ten months. So NO, then, I DO NOT accept your apology.

An America that cared more about its veterans would consider and care more for the elderly women who survived them; many of whom do not have sons who are lawyers- able to help them find marriage certificates from 75 years ago, discharge papers from 65 years ago, or death certificates from 25 or 30 years ago. First, the process you employ for citizens to gain rights they should already have is inexcusably delayed. Second, that difficulty is compounded by an arduous road of paperwork requirements for so many who are so unable.

I was fascinated to learn that there are private for profit financial service companies that aid those who cannot help themselves; that instead of our government reaching out, there are profiteers taking away. This is their right to work for a profit to serve a public need. But if we had a government that was serving public needs companies like this would not need to exist. Somehow I just don't think that our soldiers who lose their lives overseas in battles for our freedoms ever anticipated that their widows would have to cut checks to private companies to process benefit applications. I don't think it was the last thing on their mind as they took a bullet for the red, white, and blue.

My Dad was very proud of the country he served and the life he lived. He would not be so proud of the legacy you are leaving his wife and thousands of other widows who are told up front when they apply for relief for benefits from the Human Services Department the wait is long and the delays great; that is ‘just the way it is.’ That is the way it must not be.

For too long too many of our citizens have accepted the apathy without challenging it. But that is not the way my dad and hundreds of thousands of other veterans helped us win a war. They did not just lie down and take it. So do me a favor, just mark down in your books that I will not join the list of those who quietly acquiesce to administrative neglect and inexhaustible delays as routine practice. I will prosecute my mom’s rights with the same zeal and energy that my dad, her husband, fought for this country. I will not lie down and look the other way at indifference.

Finally, let me say I am not trying to threaten anyone to win one case for one woman, who matters an awful lot to me. I am trying to send a message and press a claim that the program you are administering is a colossal embarrassment to the citizens of the United States and the persons it is intended to serve. Ten months? Please! It speaks for itself. You need to do better.

You see, you are still asking soldiers to fight and die for our country, in wars and battles that are far more questionable then World War II. Your decisions are making new widows who also will one day have to negotiate these elaborate requirements for dependency and disability. Can we do something today to make it easier on them tomorrow? As long as you are sending soldiers to battle, will you consider those who they are leaving behind?

Sincerely,

Norm Kent

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanks for Life

As a cancer survivor, I have much to be thankful for.

It is not just that I have been in remission for ten years, it is that in this past decade, I have tried to maximize and appreciate the time I have been given- to do and see the things which make life worth living.

Of course, like everyone else, I have been weighed down by work, realities, and the daily drudges we all experience. But this man Jack Rushton, surviving life as a quadrapelegic, as a sit-down comedian, captures the essence of energy and resolve in the face of adversity.

We may not believe in everything he does, but you can believe in the way he does it. Like Jack, I cannot explain why some survive and others do not. As Charlie Brown has said, through the voice of Charles Schulz, sometimes your number just comes up. Until that time, make each day count ought to be more than the aspiration of a cancer survivor. It is a message for all of us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adam Lambert’s Erotic Performance Deserves Praise


Not Just Dorothy Anymore

By Norm Kent

"Part of what I love about being a live performer is that sometimes you just are in the moment and sometimes things just happen.."

-Adam Lambert

I come to praise Adam Lambert, not to bury him.

This is an artist I really want to meet.

When a bunch of gay activists complained a few months ago that he was not political enough he told them to leave him alone and let him sing. When Out Magazine complained he was not supportive enough of gay rights, he told them to screw off with a series of four letter words. He basically has sent a message that he is going to be his own man, set his own agenda, and carve out his own musical path.

Adam Lambert has asked to be accepted, if at all, as a performer, and not to worry about his role as a political activist. The gay community has somehow demanded of him to be something he is not. But in his own way, on Sunday, he became, if not a gay rights activist, America’s most notable gay performer. In a small way, with a simple act, he displayed more courage than any gay artist ever before him- in case you are listening, Barry Manilow.

Sunday, America got a taste of this erotic and emerging male Madonna. Sending shockwaves throughout the audiences at the American Music Awards, he performed a number while allowing a male to simulate fellatio upon him, only moments after sharing a deep erotic kiss with his male keyboardist. For good measure, shades of Elvis Presley, he grabbed his crotch. Oh, not to mention the boys on leashes.

His cutting edge and groundbreaking performance should probably be commended by Gay America for its brash and open display of male upon male sexuality. It was not at the Human Rights Campaign and not at ABC. The latter promptly canceled Lambert’s scheduled performance on Good Morning America set for Tuesday morning.

Still, moderate gay activists were called out to local news stations to suggest that there was a double standard in actions by heterosexual performers compared to gay ones. Surprise. But a group of timid leaders, afraid to shake the status quo, also have been opining that Lambert used an ‘inappropriate’ forum to stage his exhibition. Yeah, tell that to Janet Jackson. If a woman does this, half of male America cheers in approval. Hypocrisy Heaven.

Here is the deal, America. Gay men kiss. Gay men grab crotches. That is what we do, preferably in private, but if it is on stage, during a performance, at nite, under the lights, designed to elicit sensuality and excitement, don’t be shocked; don’t be surprised. It is us. It is real.

Throughout the American Idol series, Adam Lambert demonstrated his ability to remain within the rules and comply with prime time TV guidelines and standards. But here he was at the American Music Awards, a show for stars and theatrics, and he brashly displays his sexuality in a way no gay male performer ever had before. That is gutsy. That is courage. No apologies from me, and good for him.

Complaints poured in about the sexually charged performance to ABC, which aired the AMA and GMA,. Supposedly, more than 1,500 people complained. Not surprising. Might even lead to a fine with the FCC. Not surprising either. As an entertainer, it may be a small price for the international exposure stars yearn for. Now who did he lose American Idol to? Can't even remember the dude's name.

Let’s keep this in mind. I mean it is not like he declared lives expendable to put an unsafe car on the road. He did not put lead based paint in children’s toys. Or, if you saw this evening's news, he did not become a crib retailer knowingly marketing unsafe dropside baby cribs. Corporate America did that for decades. All Lambert did was show who Lambert was: a sensual gay performer who has made no attempt to conceal his homosexual bent. He pushed boundaries. And? That is what an artist does; should do.

Lambert summed it up best: "You know honestly, if I offended some people... it's apples and oranges. I'm not an artist that does things for every single person," he told Access Hollywood, "I believe in artistic freedom and expression, I believe in honoring the lyrics of a song, and those lyrics aren't really for everybody either."

Without even trying to be an exponent for free speech, artistic expression, or gay rights, in one small way, Lambert is becoming one anyway. I think it is great that he kissed a male drummer on stage, and was the first performer in America to openly do so. The sad thing is that it took until December of 2009 to get there.

Heterosexual artists have played the sensuality and sexuality card on stage for decades with no consequence or criticism. Adam Lambert is sending a cross across the bow of America to let them know gay men can also. In doing so, the kid is becoming a pioneer in his own right. Good for him. If you can’t accept it, that is your problem, not his.

If he needs a lawyer to defend him, he has got one in this writer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doctors Light Up a Joint as AMA Steps into 21st Century



"Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest
therapeutically active substances known to man."
-- DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young
Docket No. 86-22. 1988.


Doctors Light Up a Joint
by Norm Kent
Better late than never, I suppose.

After decades of burying their head in the sand, the country's largest physician group, the American Medical Association (AMA), has reversed its long-held position that marijuana has no medical value. Now that the whole country has caught on, they have decided to jump into the ocean and see if they can’t swim and catch up to the ship that has left shore.

This is why the gay rights battle and pot advocates have so much in common. This decision is like the American Psychiatric Association saying there is nothing wrong with homosexuality years after gay rights professionals have formed coalitions in professions from law enforcement to medicine.

Nevertheless, to their belated credit, the AMA has called for a review of marijuana's status as a ‘Schedule 1’ drug with ‘no accepted medical use’ under the federal Controlled Substances Act. As a ‘Schedule 1’ controlled substance, in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and LSD, the federal laws for possession remain unduly harsh and the public access even for medical testing remains severely limited.

Reducing marijuana's federal classification even just to Schedule 2 -- the same class as cocaine, methadone, oxycodone and morphine -- would allow for more testing on the medical effects of marijuana. Since the government’s purported unwillingness to accept marijuana as an herb with medicinal value has been based on their allegation that all we have is limited anecdotal evidence, the scheduling conundrum becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The powers that be have been shouting we do not have enough evidence to reclassify while inhibiting the very research which could prove it. Politically savvy perhaps, but morally unconscionable.

Consequently, the rescheduling of marijuana is a critical battle that marijuana advocates must win. There is a terrible comfort zone the political left can succumb to if we find satisfaction that a particular administration is easing off on law enforcement. Political power is temporary. Those in office today can be voted out tomorrow. But those in office tomorrow will still have to follow the law in effect on that day. Thus, battles must be fought in courtrooms and legislatures. Laws must be changed now to insure change is permanent. Rescheduling initiatives must go forth.

Social activists have to understand that without pressure centrists will drift to the comfort zone of the right. The reason close to a million Americans are still getting arrested every year for marijuana possession is because so many people could care less about the laws and assume it is perfectly okay to light up where you want when they want. But some of you wind up like the South Florida judge, Lawrence M. Korda, who had spent 30 distinguished years on the bench. He decided to light up a single joint during a rock concert in a Hollywood, Florida park, and after a series of humiliating front page articles documenting his arrest, was forced to resign his position.

You can’t let up if you have the ball. For marijuana reformers, like gay rights proponents, the wave is on our side. We can’t get off the board. You have to ride it out and carry it to a new tomorrow. Yes, gay marriage may have lost a 31st state vote in Maine last month, but more significantly, scores of communities nationwide are extending homosexual couples the rights and privileges afforded heterosexuals, under the umbrella of domestic partnership ordinances. If your community is not, contact a city commissioner near you today.

It's been 72 years since the AMA has officially recognized that marijuana has therapeutic benefits. It’s been 30 years since Administrative Law Judge Frances Young ruled that rescheduling should occur. He was overruled by Presidents, politics, and the DEA. See Fred Gardner’s article about Judge Young here online in Counterpunch from early this Spring: http://www.counterpunch.org/gardner03022009.html

After three decades, it is time to honor Judge Young’s decision that cannabis has the capacity to provide medically based options in pain relief treatment. We know what they are, from taming nausea for cancer stricken patients to reducing neuropathic pain in those so suffering, whether from AIDS or multiple sclerosis or comparable ailments.

As stated by Aaron Houston of the successful Marijuana Policy Project, "Marijuana's Schedule I status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it's been a major obstacle to needed research." The truth is more people died from spinach last year than pot. And a thousand people a year, I understand, overdose from aspirin. You don’t die from pot, just maybe ‘jones’ out a bit if you don’t have it.

The government has maintained a legally inconsistent position for decades regarding the scheduling of marijuana as an illegal drug with no justifiable medical uses. Even today, our government continues to operate the remnants of its once popular ‘Compassionate Use Protocol’ program, which allows the DEA to distribute marijuana cigarettes under a prescription to those deemed medically worthy to receive it. New applications have been denied for two decades. Only four patients are still alive who still receive medical marijuana thusly.

Ask yourself this: how can the government go into court and say there is no medical use for marijuana when its own DEA was and has been distributing it to dozens of patients for two decades? It is a case we must undertake again.

In changing its policy, the AMA said its goal was to clear the way to conduct clinical research, develop cannabis-based medicines and devise alternative ways to deliver the drug. But it is a lot more than that. Now it is time to pressure your congressman to pressure the Obama Administration to pressure the DEA to insure that the rescheduling occurs, and marijuana is removed from that list of drugs which can still lock your ass up in prison for years. Make no mistake about it. This change is not just about medically based research. This change is about insuring your freedom. It’s about preventing future lawmakers from using the ‘drug war’ as a tool to inhibit your liberty.

Freedom is a nice thing to have, and repressive pot laws are a stupid reason to take it away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Breckinridge Lights Up the Slopes


Don't know about you, but I am going skiing.

Last nite, the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana.

Early returns Tuesday night showed the proposal winning with 72 percent of the vote. The measure would allow adults over 21 to have up to 1 ounce of marijuana.

The measure is largely symbolic because pot possession remains a state crime for people without medical clearance. But supporters said they wanted to send a message to local law enforcement to stop busting small-time pot smokers. So basically you have the population of a community telling the police to back off. Not surprising at all.

In Tallahassee, Florida, a few years ago, when students from FSU NORML initiated a successful petition drive to make pot enforcement a low priority, the city commission sued, alleging that they could not interfere with state enforcement. You can't sue to suppress a vote though, can you?

Breckinridge sent a message last nite that thousands of Americans all over this country are fed up with pot laws. It is also an indicator there is popular support for their new medical dispensaries statewide.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Geraldo at Large' Suggests Medical Marijuana Will Become Law of the Land


updated/newer version now online

A whopping 63% of Fox News viewers have endorsed the Obama Administration’s decision to stop targeting medical dispensaries in California. The disclosure was made by Geraldo Rivera last nite on his popular show, ‘Geraldo at Large.’

Geraldo presented more than just a fair and balanced report. The news item clearly distinguished the marked differences between the casual user of marijuana for recreational or personal medical use and traffickers operating illegal Mexican drug cartels, which everyone acknowledged should be targeted for enhanced enforcement. Rivera even applauded Attorney General Eric Holder for his new and rededicated efforts to stop that illegality, inserting into his news report the AG’s announcement of a raid last week, which netted 300 suspects nationwide.

Ann Coulter, of course, came on to criticize Obama, but she is a howler monkey who stands on the end of the branch and shrieks at anything Barack and Friends do or do not do. Even she had a hard time coming down too hard on smokers, preferring to just attack President Obama. Surprise. When Geraldo then turned to conservative Mike Huckabee for a countervailing viewpoint, he tempered his criticism of the new policy by recognizing that every governor has to set its priorities. The best objection he came up with was that if the Obama administration wanted to “change the law, go ahead and change it, but don’t keep a law you are not going to enforce.” That is a far cry from stating this was bad policy, a poor change, and counter productive to our nation.

What viewers eventually saw on the piece Geraldo did was a presentation that medical marijuana will soon be the law of the land, and the 15 states which already provide for it are a precursor to a national future. You could almost sense that was the direction Geraldo was headed when he opened with a segue featuring Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin at a ‘Smoke Out’ rally in LA. It was then followed by a white-collared businessman explaining to the audience that he ran a lawful, state-compliant dispensary which was busted by the feds. Phil Smith, that gentleman, then explained how he had just spent ten months in jail with hardened criminals and murderers. That too is a far cry from the day and time when marijuana growers were presented to American audiences as hardened criminals. Geraldo even scoffed at the way we once thought of marijuana, with a scene from 'Reefer Madness' dropped onto the set in the background.

As he waded through the piece on medical and legal pot, Geraldo even postured this was an issue that crossed ideological lines; that Americans across the board do not want pot law enforced harshly against our citizens. Coming from the barrios of New York City, having grown up in the 1960’s, and spending decades with celebrities in the media, Geraldo uniquely understands how pervasive and personal marijuana is in the American psyche. In fact, as he recovers from knee replacement surgery, I would not be surprised if instead of using Percocet daily he tried out some Purple Haze. (I don't know, I'm just saying...)

The bottom line is Geraldo is one of America's best, grittiest and most seasoned journalists, who has covered stories from mistreatment in mental institutions to mass murders. He knows where 'pot' fits into the scheme of things- enough so that he could joke and poke at this story, recognizing as he does our nation has greater issues, more pressing problems. Personally, I got the opportunity to work with him 20 years ago on a story about runaway kids in Fort Lauderdale, and he is a guy willing to get his hands dirty to make his stories true.

When NORML (www.norml.com) recently held its annual convention in San Francisco, former Mayor Willie Brown opined that “we should legalize pot because as many people are using it recreationally as are using it medically.” Prop 215 author, activist Denis Peron, once stated: “all use is medical.” Last year, NORML’s founder, Keith Stroup, and Rick Cusick, the Publisher of High Times, along with 50 students from local colleges, were foolishly arrested for smoking joints at a ‘MassCann(abis)’ convention in the Boston Commons. The next thing you know Mr. Stroup was testifying before Massachusetts legislative committees to change the laws in the Bay State. Those statutes have now been amended to provide for the medicinal use of marijuana.

One of my clients, Elvy Mussika, is amongst the last of those getting marijuana from the United States government on a now abandoned program entitled the ‘Compassionate Use Protocol.’ Under the plan, the DEA grows experimental marijuana at the University of Mississippi and freeze-dries it for distribution in a prescription can to Ms. Mussika, a grandmother fighting the intraocular pressures associated with Glaucoma, which constantly cause pain in her eyes. 'Smoke 3x daily,or as needed for pain' the jar reads.There are thousands and thousands of other Americans similarly situated, who only want to use pot to relieve pain. For them, marijuana is medicine.

Then there are the Michael Phelps of the world, using bongs and water pipes and rolling papers to get high and give themselves a buzz, for fun's sake. They too should not be criminalized or denied scholarships to school, should they? Some may not win gold medals in swimming pools, but they should not be posting bail in county jails, either. They may not find themselves as guests of the Jay Leno show, but they should not find themselves as guests of the local sheriff either, should they?

It would seem that even Fox News agrees.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fox News Network versus Team Obama


This past week the Obama Administration said that it does not view the Fox News Network as a credible news organization because it has an agenda and a perspective inconsistent with neutrality.

As if to prove the point for them, Fox’s terror dogs immediately went on the attack, led by Karl Rove, asserting that the President is creating a Nixon-like ‘Enemies List.’ Talk about stretching the truth. The ‘enemies list’ created by 1970’s-era President Richard Nixon was a master list, created by the President, to engage in secretive and illegal surveillance on prominent citizens who disparaged or disagreed with the government. Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, stated rather routinely that Fox News ought to be called out for its transparent lack of neutrality while presenting news to the American people. Quite a difference.

Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Sostern, and then Bill Hemmer, also entered the fray for Fox News, championing their individual liberties, while remarking that Obama’s team was trying to silence a free press; that they were being ‘bullied.’ So the most powerful network on television struts out its stars to reach their massive audiences, and comes to the table shrieking that their rights are being infringed, their freedoms shattered, their lives ruined. Boo hoo! Cry me a river. Who are they kidding? This is hardly a network being silenced.

Fox is a media outlet. It relished every moment of the attack, one long overdue. Frankly, it is about time that liberals fought back, firmly and angrily. What the Obama administration showed is why they got to the White House. They do not run. They stand their ground. They do not apologize for who they are. And they will not stand idly by as Foxnuts seize misrepresentative quotes and misleading soundbites to falsely demonize decent Obama appointees as extremists and radicals.

For years, we have heard all the nasty things about the liberal media. We have listened as right wing commentators took over the AM radio stations beating and bashing those humane liberals who have fought for a 21st century society which embraces diversity. We have been demonized for supporting everything from the right of handicapped to have access to public facilities to allowing for salmon to swim upstream.

Surprise for the right. Guess what, gays are getting married and society is not collapsing. People smoke marijuana medicinally and children are still going to school and learning to read and write. We liberals are right about wrong foreign wars, corporate exploitation of citizens and making health care affordable and accessible. But our voices have not been loud enough. It is about time that changed. Many of us are strong on crime. We believe Rush Limbaugh should have gone to jail for drug trafficking years ago, the new White House should investigate illegal torturing by the military, and maybe Dick Cheney ought not be allowed to carry a rifle.

Accordingly, the Obama Administration’s David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, and Anita Dunn should not be censored for firing back, they should be celebrated. Any administration represents a point of view, sets an agenda, and argues its cause. If the Fox News Network opposes it, as they clearly do, then so be it. They have a right to write too. But the administration has no duty to pander to its activist agenda. Fox may brag it is fair and balanced, but there are many, this writer included, that believe their presentations are tilted and unbalanced, leaning to the rabid right and the wrongfully righteous.

As a network, it makes for delightfully entertaining programming. They are the best at what they do. Fox is ingenious at getting under the liberals’ skin, but it has not done much but get them ratings. The Democrats’ control the House, the Senate, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is now not only the obligation of Fox but its duty to call the administration to task for its achievements and appointments, its policies and its practices. That they do so on an entertaining and creative venue like Fox News simply requires Team Obama to rise up to the challenge with good governance and a capable administration. Achieve that goal and it is the best answer that will ever be written. But every news entity has a right to question authority, and challenge those in power. So too may those in power evaluate whether the critiques are credible and the criticisms just.

A feud between the Obama Administration and Fox is not to be demeaned and denigrated. It ought to be publicized and promoted. Each may become better voices at effectively getting their message out, and both can prosper from the discussion. Fox will get more viewers, and Team Obama may get to refine, streamline, and more effectively present their voice. Neither should be silent or intimidated.

Fox just has to own up to what columnist John Batchelor wrote this week: they may present the news, but they are in show business. So is every campaigner that gets elected to office today with its slick brochures and television marketing. Let’s be real. The most articulate conservative commentators only land in the tv studio after getting prepped in a dressing room for hair and makeup.

We are all mad men and we only get madder if we deny that essential truth. The only significance of the Obama War on Fox is that Fox got to War on Obama. It made for a good show. And that is all that counts in the end, except maybe if you really care that Americans are still dying in a foreign war that has lasted longer than all the combined years of World War I and II. You see, Steve Doocy, you are no Walter Cronkite. And that’s the way it really is.
Update:
If the White House wants to lose support, let them make choices like yesterday's colossal error. Let me talk of 'Fools on the Hill.' This is the context with which Team Obama will be known if they intemperately attempt to exclude Fox from its place at the table. You can't deny them 'pool' coverage. You can't exclude them from the debate. Win the battle of ideas on the playing field. Don't look like children who run off and say the 'balls and bats are mine and you can't play.' That is the way the White House is going to look if they attempt to isolate and marginalize Fox.

The White House did that yesterday by saying the Pay Czar, Ken Feinberg would not be made available to Fox. That was just moronic. Fox does not deserve that, and it does not become the White House. If you don't debate Fox you disgrace yourself. Challenge the ideas, not the institution.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holy Rollers! Boy Uses Bible As Rolling Papers



A 16-year-old boy who used a page from his Bible as a rolling paper for a marijuana joint was charged with drug possession, an Erie County sheriff deputy's report said.

The boy's mother called deputies at about 11:35 p.m. Tuesday, asking them to meet her at a car wash on Ohio 101.

The mother said she saw her son smoking in his bedroom and found a small bag of marijuana in his night stand, the report said.

The mother told deputies her son "was smoking a marijuana cigarette using a page from his Bible," the report said.

Now that truly is a religious experience: a holy roller. Better than a medical necessity defense- it is a first amendment defense of religious freedom. Shades of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pot and The Right to Pursue Happiness




By Norm Kent

During his tenure as the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief, the late Ron Cochran was one day asked how he relieved the stress of his tension-filled job: “Like everyone else” he quipped, “I smoke a joint.”

“Only kidding”, he quickly added to the reporter.

Well, I’m not kidding. And neither are twenty million Americans every day. They use marijuana medicinally and recreationally, but the bottom line, is ‘Weeds’ is more than a TV show on HBO. It is a way of life for good and decent people who openly inhale without apology.

Marijuana may be the second-largest cash crop in America. But we will never know until all the farmers who grow can openly distribute it. I can guarantee you this. When the day comes that the weed can be legally grown, openly marketed, and its revenue streams can be lawfully traced, we will have a new growth industry in America that rivals corn. Hemp has multiple uses. Heck, it was used as rope for our paratroopers in World War II. If it worked for George Bush, it can work for you.

In our free marketplace, where there is a demand there shall be a supply. When the late William F. Buckley recommended legalizing marijuana twenty years ago, he framed it in economic terms: “A profit of 2,000 percent is a powerful engine to try to stop in a free society.” When financial gurus were called into California last year to seek out new ways to generate income streams to prevent the imminent bankruptcy of the state, it’s no surprise that one of the recommendations postured to state legislators was the legalization and taxation of marijuana growth and distribution. Why fight what you cannot stop? Why not employ a tempered truce instead of a useless war?

The crusade to ban marijuana is unquestionably harmful. You criminalize an innocent portion of the population. You turn politicians into hypocrites. You lay the foundation for corruption in law enforcement. You deny the reality that an informed public can make educated decisions about substance abuse. You ignore the scientific truths that marijuana has historically had socially redeeming qualities and medical value.

In support of its pogrom against decency, we watch helplessly as our Government denies students scholarships and mothers welfare. Law enforcement conducts invasive aerial dragnets and unconstitutional searches which trespass on fundamental American privacy rights. We provide for courts to sanction feudal-like forfeitures of personal property for carrying some weed in your car or growing it on your own. And we justify it in the name of a law that should be off the books anyway.

The routine police pronouncements of major pot seizures involving millions of dollars and thousands of plants are reminiscent of Vietnamese war body counts, where the Government sold a bill of goods to the public while our generals promised ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. That same fraud today inaccurately suggests that drugs are evil, and criminality evolves from the use, misuse, and abuse of those drugs. The real abuse however, comes from the enforcement mechanisms our government has improperly created and wrongfully maintained. Now the government has become the criminal, and its judicial system ratifies injustice.

I am not content, though, with saying pot should be legalized because the Government’s activities are a far more criminal than they are just. I am not content with saying taxing weed today is our way of balancing budgets tomorrow. I am for legalizing marijuana because it is responsible and just legislation that preserves the dignity of the human being while maximizing individual liberty.

Pot users don’t smoke reefer anymore because they want to rebel, turn on, tune in or drop out.

Pot smokers don’t get high because marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, though it is.

Pot smokers don’t light up because they want to dis their parents, challenge their government, or need to make a political statement.

Pot smokers smoke in the privacy of their own home, or in their backyards, or on their porches at night, simply to enhance their spirit and enjoy their lives. Some use it to relieve pain, ease stress, and tame diseases which were not of their own making. For some it is recreation, others medication. What matters is that the choice is theirs, the right ours.

Our government protects many rights, and our country was born with a bill of them. The first of these is a right to pursue happiness, one our courts have somehow forgotten to guard or jealously protect.

As NORML gathers in California this weekend, let us reaffirm the principle that ‘Yes We Cannabis’ because it is perfectly normal to consume marijuana. And after 30 years we have shown there are responsible users, from Presidents to police chiefs to your neighbors next door.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Obama Follies: Can Anyone Here Play This Game?


Have you seen some of those recent chase videos where the driver of the reckless and weaving car fleeing police turns out to be a 10 year old kid?

I am beginning to get the feeling that the Obama Administration has about as steady a hand on the wheel of national security that these kids have over the cars they are pilfering.

As I was getting ready to write a memorial column about 9/11, a breaking news flash comes across CNN that as the Presidential motorcade is crossing the Potomac River, the Coast Guard is firing ten rounds at a suspicious vessel in the restricted waters nearby.

As the day unfolds, we find out that it was a pre-planned training exercise which the Coast Guard maybe just forgot to tell anyone about. In fact, the Coast Guard postured that to ensure “its readiness posture” they conduct training scenarios on a daily basis. Really? They customarily shoot off rounds and volleys of live ammunition as a Presidential Motorcade is driving by?

In the back of my mind, there is the memory last April, of the US Air Force One Jet flying over the Hudson accompanied by fighter pilots, which turned out to be a government sponsored promotional photo shoot. All it did was trigger thousands of people to evacuate their offices as memories of 9-11 resurfaced. I can see it now: the next time a 747 lands in the Hudson, citizens are going to think it’s a movie crew.

I remember a Jimmy Breslin book about the hapless New York Mets, who finished the season 40-120. It was called “Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game?” I am beginning to think it is about the Obama Administration, whose first American achievement was “vetting” Cabinet members, half of whom it seemed cheated on their taxes, had illegal housemaids, or skeletons in their closet. Can you imagine what the media would have done if it was a Republican administration trying to get away with this stuff?


The week started with Americans hearing how we are losing the war in Afghanistan and the candidate who said he was bringing troops home said 45,000 more would be going there, as we heard of our bloodiest losses in years. But the real news from the Afghan front came not on the battlefields. Instead, we heard of nude and lewd parties running rampant in the embassy living quarters, courtesy of the security guards we are paying to be there. And in a shrewd tax saving effort, we are now assigning American personnel to to watch over the embassy's security guards. So we are going to watch the watchers. This is no Abu Ghraib, but is it far behind?


We said for years Ronald Reagan was a Teflon president, with nothing sticking to him, but Obama is living like a kid on a water slide. Nine months into the new administration, all we have is an expansion of the old war, with no hope in sight of it ending. The only thing in sight is American soldiers targeted by insurgents while getting killed far away from home.

It is about time that liberals and progressives start holding Mr. Obama to task. The latest outrages are coming on the marijuana front. While the Obama Administration announced early on they were going to stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California, those raids have continued as if President Bush was still in power. His new director of anti drug policy has not modified his stance on pot reform, but remained intransigent, and very little in the way of progressive reform has been delivered, despite early promises.


I am one of the President’s supporters, and I am still confident progressive changes are around the corner. But the corner is beginning to seem like William Westmoreland’s Vietnam War Proclamation that ‘we see the light at the end of the tunnel’. Yeah, and that light is a 15 watt bulb. Heck, some us are still ‘waiting for Godot.’


A government has to move forward on many fronts at once, and it is impossible to expect improvements immediately. It is possible to expect, however, that the new leaders are making their mark, setting their goals, and leading the way to a new direction. I cannot think of a single Cabinet member that has made a marked difference in anything anywhere. Except maybe they got there because they survived that vetting process I joked about earlier.


I remain faithful to the truths that the President espouses, but as my credit cards get cancelled, my credit lines eliminated, I am wondering why only the banks got bailouts. I am wondering why we are giving more credit to the institutions that robbed us instead of the individuals who helped us build our communities. I am wondering how one year after we gave banks millions of dollars that Bank of America executives are still getting trillion dollar payoffs for leaving the disasters they created and coddled, manufactured and mishandled, played out and perpetuated.


I am wondering just wondering when the American dream became the American nightmare, and when the economic crisis will end. I am not sure we have seen the worst. What happens when the airlines come and ask for the bailouts auto dealers did? What happens when commercial properties start crashing the way residences did, and stores like Macy’s and Sears shut their doors? What happens if food prices start to rise?


We are so busy fighting alligators every day I am concerned that we have lost sight of the greater battle to drain the swamp. And there is nothing about a government throwing dollars at every problem which suggests to me that things will change soon. I run an office of five persons and our Blue Cross costs annually are greater than the annual working wage of most Americans. It almosts pays to get sick and not work, just to get value for dollar. But then there are no jobs out there anyway.


So as Jimmy Breslin once wrote of the 1962 NY Mets, I ask, 'Can anyone here play this game?'

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rest In Peace: A 9-11 Tribute




On this day of loss and remembrance, where so many of us lost so much; where those of us born and raised in New York saw our heart and soul torn asunder, one piece comes to mind above and beyond all others.

Written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, it speaks for itself and will forever be imprinted in my mind.



REST IN PEACE
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and
I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground.
May I rest in peace.

I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not knowing where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and
I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.
May I rest in peace.

I am a pigeon in the plaza between the two towers eating crumbs from someone's breakfast when fire rains down on me from the skies, and
I am a bed of flowers admired daily by thousands of tourists now buried under five stories of rubble.
May I rest in peace.

I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and
I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive.
May I rest in peace.

I am a survivor who has fled down the stairs and out of the building to safety who knows that nothing will ever be the same in my soul again, and
I am a doctor in a hospital treating patients burned from head to toe who knows that these horrible images will remain in my mind forever.
May I know peace.

I am a tourist in Times Square looking up at the giant TV screens thinking I'm seeing a disaster movie as I watch the Twin Towers crash to the ground, and
I am a New York woman sending e-mails to friends and family letting them know that I am safe.
May I know peace.

I am a piece of paper that was on someone's desk this morning and now I'm debris scattered by the wind across lower Manhattan, and
I am a stone in the graveyard at Trinity Church covered with soot from the buildings that once stood proudly above me, death meeting death.
May I rest in peace.

I am a dog sniffing in the rubble for signs of life, doing my best to be of service, and
I am a blood donor waiting in line to make a simple but very needed contribution for the victims.
May I know peace.

I am a resident in an apartment in downtown New York who has been forced to evacuate my home, and
I am a resident in an apartment uptown who has walked 100 blocks home in a stream of other refugees.
May I know peace.

I am a family member who has just learned that someone I love has died, and
I am a pastor who must comfort someone who has suffered a heart-breaking loss.
May I know peace.

I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and
I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy.
May I know peace.

I am a frightened city dweller who wonders whether I'll ever feel safe in a skyscraper again, and
I am a pilot who wonders whether there will ever be a way to make the skies truly safe.
May I know peace.

I am the owner of a small store with five employees that has been put out of business by this tragedy, and
I am an executive in a multinational corporation who is concerned about the cost of doing business in a terrorized world.
May I know peace.

I am a visitor to New York City who purchases postcards of the World Trade Center Twin Towers that are no more, and
I am a television reporter trying to put into words the terrible things I have seen.
May I know peace.

I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and
I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans.
May I know peace.

I am a general talking into the microphones about how we must stop the terrorist cowards who have perpetrated this heinous crime, and
I am an intelligence officer trying to discern how such a thing could have happened on American soil, and
I am a city official trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering of my people.
May I know peace.

I am a terrorist whose hatred for America knows no limit and I am willing to die to prove it, and
I am a terrorist sympathizer standing with all the enemies of American capitalism and imperialism, and
I am a master strategist for a terrorist group who planned this abomination.
My heart is not yet capable of openness, tolerance, and loving.
May I know peace.

I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events, and
I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Lord/Allah/Spirit/Higher Power.
May I know peace.

I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of one another.
May we all know peace.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gay Couple Wins False Arrest Suit


SOUTH FLORIDA BLADE

Gay man wins $45,000 after false arrest
Plaintiff claimed police targeted him for being gay


By DMITRY RASHNITSOV
AUG. 27, 2009

Claude Lessard, the plaintiff in a 2003 case of false arrest at John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach, is taking home $45,000 from the state of Florida.

Lessard, an openly gay local junior high school teacher, filed suit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and park officer David Pius in March 2005, after being arrested at the park for what he said was a case of anti-gay bias. His suit included charges of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution stemming from an incident that took place in the park in July 2003.

The state, without admitting fault, decided to pay Lessard the $45,000 for damages rather than continue to fight the case.

Lessard’s attorney views this as not only a victory for gay men who are harassed at public beaches and parks, but also a legal step that gives gays another right in the fight for marriage equality.

"Our office is grateful we could help remind law enforcement authorities that gay men will no longer tolerate abuses of their civil rights, and when those rights are violated unjustly, the State will be held financially accountable,” said Norm Kent, Lessard’s attorney. "The settlement is ample proof that the government tried to whitewash and cover up the case from the start, but through the tenacity of our office, and courage of our client, we saw it to a just end. The amount they paid showed it was not just nuisance value. "

The arrest occurred during the afternoon of July 23, 2003. Lessard said he was walking along a trail in the park when he saw a man being arrested. At the time, Lessard said he was mindful of newspaper articles in which numerous gay men had alleged that they were harassed, cited for dubious trespassing violations and falsely arrested in the park.

According to Lessard, when he encountered a man along the trail whom he thought was just a park visitor, he commented to him, “Watch out. They’re arresting someone over there.”

The man Lessard encountered turned out to be a police officer. He accused Lessard of obstructing an undercover operation in the park. Park officers had been conducting undercover patrols because of reports of sexual activity in the park. But Lessard said he was there only to enjoy the beach and park on a sunny day. Lessard thinks he was targeted for arrest simply because he was a gay man in the park, according to the lawsuit.

Lessard was charged with “obstruction of justice” and jailed for 15 hours. His car was towed, and he had to pay $136 to retrieve it. Later the state dropped the charge but Lessard was so outraged about how he was treated that he sued the state for false arrest, which was reported by the Blade in 2004 (then called Express Gay News). An internal investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2004 concluded that there was no evidence that park officers acted inappropriately, violated any statute or policy, or targeted anyone in the park based on sexual orientation. Along with the monetary award, the case also establishes significant victory for gay couples seeking legal rights for their partnerships.

Lessard’s domestic partner of 27 years, Jocelyn Goulet, is also named as a co-plaintiff in this case; as a result, the judge also set case-law for Broward County establishing gay couples, who are registered as domestic partners, the right to sue together under “loss of consortium” just as straight couples would. Loss of consortium laws state that if one spouse is injured and is suing for damages, their spouse can also sue because they cannot complete their marital duties. Lessard is currently out of the country and is unavailable for comment.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Incarcerex: Marijuana Folly on Video



Every now and then you come upons something which lends meaning to the words that a picture is worth ten thousand of them. Then this video is worth 100,000...words that is. Thanks to Lynn Appleby, the Cannabis Action Director Network in Vermont, for sharing this on Facebook, so I could further disseminate it on my blog.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Streakout

Kinda speaks or streaks for itself, doesn't it?

Richie Havens at Woodstock




Forty years this week. Reflections as the days unfold.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Obama Image Stirs Legal Battle on Pot Poster


-- With buzz about the Obama Joker poster still in the air, another reworking of the president's image is causing a stir.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has produced a psychedelic, '60s-style poster featuring a photo of college freshman "Barry" Obama smoking. Above his super-bad Panama hat is the slogan: Yes We Cannabis.

Artist Sonia Sanchez created the poster for NORML's annual conference using a picture taken at Occidental College in 1980 by the future president's classmate Lisa Jack. In the original photo, Obama is holding a real cigarette to his lips. Sanchez tweaked the smoking material to fit her theme, but otherwise the image is unchanged.

The pro-pot group never sought Jack's permission, even though it is selling the poster as well as giving it away to conference-goers, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post.

Jack told the Post she's "very irritated" and does not want her work, which is on display at a Los Angeles gallery, used in this way.

NORML believes it's protected by "fair use" rules, but it's far from a clear-cut case. Ashby Jones writes on The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog it "just might take the cake as Best Fair-Use Smackdown Ever."

In this case, all the players are known. The Obama Joker poster that has gone viral on the Internet in recent days is more mysterious. No one seems to know who created the image, in which Obama's face is painted like Heath Ledger's character in 'The Dark Knight.' The original photo was taken from a TIME magazine cover. The posters first appeared in Los Angeles.
"The Obama-as-Joker picture can be viewed as the evil twin" of Shepard Fairey's famous 'Hope' poster, David Ng observes in the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster blog.

Fairey, a Los Angeles artist, based his iconic red, white and blue image on an Associated Press photo. The AP is suing Fairey, accusing him of violating its copyright. Fairey is countersuing, claiming he changed the original picture enough to be covered under "fair use" as a work of art.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

THC Expo is Dawn of a New Day

"If the people will lead, the leaders will follow."

Unfortunately as I recovered from a respiratory ailment, I was unable to attend the THC Expo in Los Angeles a month ago in June.

But it was the beginning of a new day, with pot advocates, medical propositionists, gathered together with positive energy, recognizing cannabis is medical, cannabis is tolerable, cannabis is progressive.

Teenager Pushes the Envelope

Probably not the brightest way to become Johnny Appleseed or spread the cause of marijuana law reform.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Medical Marijuana Vending Machine now Available in California

Live from my San Francisco home, I just want to tell you it works. Saw it last week in Los Angeles. Tested it out. Renewed my medical marijuana card. I am good to go. No more Hershey's chocolate bars for me. Now it is the real thing!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Talented Actor Now a Total Fruitcake


So what does Hollywood do to people anyway? Here is Joaquin when he was part of the human race.

Early this morning Joaquin Phoenix jumped off the stage during a short performance at a Miami Beach nightclub and confronted an audience member. Security guards dragged Phoenix back onstage and escorted him away.

It's unclear whether the confrontation -- and his pledge to quit acting and start rapping -- was real or a put-on. Actor and brother-in-law Casey Affleck, who has been recording a documentary on Phoenix's entry into the music business, captured the performance on camera.

In October, Phoenix's publicist confirmed he was making the career switch. In January he performed at a Las Vegas nightclub and the next month he made a strange appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show." Actor Ben Stiller lampooned that appearance at the Oscars.

You have heard of phoenix rising. We are seeing phoenix descending. You almost know what is coming next. Rehab. Apologies. Contrition. Or reclusiveness, loss, and abandonment. So tragic, they will say. So self induced, I will say. He is becoming the Mike Tyson of Hollywood.

This guy needs a joint.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Police Chief Slams Obama for Making Joke of Marijuana


Guest Blogger, former Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper Speaks Out

The president is busy. He's got important things to do, like rescuing the economy, saving jobs and mortgages and industries. But we ought not to let him off the hook for his frivolous dismissal of a widely popular question he faced in Thursday's Online Town Hall

At the top of the televised event, the president announced that of the 3.5 million votes on the thousands of questions received in advance, one topic "ranked fairly high." It was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and encourage job creation. He responded: "The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy." He then asked rhetorically what the question says about "the online audience."


Get it? His in-the-flesh audience got it, chuckling politely at the allusion to a Stoner Nation plugged in to the "internets." The problem for Mr. Obama is that marijuana reform was at or near the top of the list of all questions in three major categories: budget, health care reform, green jobs and energy. Our leader doesn't seem to understand that millions of his interlocutor-constituents are actually quite serious about the issue.


Which is not to say that drugs, particularly pot, doesn't offer up a rich if predictable vein of humor. Cheech and Chong's vintage "Dave's not here!" routine is still a side-splitter. As Larry the Cable Guy would say, "I don't care who you are, that's funny right there."But there's nothing comical about tens of millions of Americans being busted, frightened out of their wits, losing their jobs, their student loans, their public housing, their families, their freedom...


And show me the humor in a dying cancer patient who's denied legal access to a drug known to relieve pain and suffering.


Having just returned from Minnesota whose state lawmakers are entertaining a conservative, highly restrictive medical marijuana law, I can tell you what's not funny to Joni Whiting.


Ms. Whiting told the House's Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee of her 26-year-old daughter Stephanie's two-year battle with facial melanoma that surfaced during the young woman's third pregnancy. The packed hearing room was dead quiet as Ms. Whiting spoke of Stephanie's face being cut off "one inch at a time, until there was nothing left to cut." She spoke of her daughter's severe nausea, her "continuous and uncontrollable pain."Stephanie moved back to her family's home and "bravely began to make plans for the ending of her life." The tumors continued to grow, invading the inside and outside of her mouth, as well as her throat and chest. Nausea was a constant companion. Zofran and (significantly) Marinol, the synthetic pill version of THC, did nothing to abate the symptoms. Stephanie began wasting away. She lost all hope of relief.


Joni's other children approached their mother, begged her to let their sister use marijuana. But Ms. Whiting, a Vietnam veteran whose youngest son recently returned from 18 months in Iraq, was a law-abiding woman. And she was afraid of the authorities. There was no way she would allow the illicit substance in her house. As she held her ground, her grownup kids removed Stephanie from the family home. Three days later, wracked by guilt, Joni welcomed her daughter back. "I called a number of family members and friends...and asked if they knew of anywhere we could purchase marijuana. The next morning someone had placed a package of it on our doorstep. I have never known whom to thank for it but I remain grateful beyond belief." The marijuana restored Stephanie's appetite. It allowed her to eat three meals a day, and to keep the food down. She regained energy and, in the words of her mother, "looked better than I had seen her in months."


Stephanie survived another 89 days, celebrating both Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family.


Shortly after the holidays, Stephanie's pain became "so severe that when she asked my husband and me to lie down on both sides of her and hold her, she couldn't stand the pain of us touching her body."Stephanie died on January 14, 2003 in the room she grew up in, holding her mother's hand. A mother who, as she told the legislative committee, would "have no problem going to jail for acquiring medical marijuana for my suffering child."


Following Joni Whiting's presentation, it was all I could do to hold it together during my own testimony. Such was the power of this one woman's story. And of the sadness and rage roiling inside me as I reflected on the countless other Stephanies who are made to suffer not only the ravages of terminal illness and intractable pain but the callousness and narrow-mindedness of their leaders.


When I finished my testimony, a local police chief, a member of the committee, angrily accused me of disrespecting the police officers in the room--who'd shown up in force, in uniform, to oppose medical marijuana. Wearing a bright yellow tie with the lettering "Police Line, Do Not Cross," the chief charged me with placing more stock in the opinions of doctors than of Minnesota's cops. Guilty, as charged. Who are we, I asked him, to substitute our judgment for that of medical professionals and their patients? Who are we, for that matter, to deny the will of the people.


There's much value in humor, even during times of pain and tragedy. So long as the joke is not at the expense of the suffering.


It's been a bad couple of weeks for the president. His Leno comment about the Special Olympics while self-deprecating and not malicious was certainly tone deaf, followed soon after by his casting gratuitous aspersions at serious advocates of marijuana reform. But Barack Obama is a decent and honorable man, compassionate and wise. I can't believe he would do anything other than what Joni Whiting did if, God forbid, he faced similar choices within his own family. I can't believe he doesn't realize the political value of taking a more reasoned, courageous stand on drug policy reform in general. Or of at least providing honest, thoughtful answers on the issue.Perhaps we should show him what's in it for him?


Perhaps we should make certain that in every future "town hall" the president is reassured of the seriousness of the legions of voters working to end cruel and ineffective drug laws.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/norm-stamper/marijuana-no-laughing-mat_b_180378.html

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Meet Me: I Am Patient Number 380206011


Meet Me: I Am Patient Number 380206011

By Norm Kent

Today I am going to come out of the closet as a Bi-Coastal pot consumer.

I lead two lives; one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.

In Fort Lauderdale, I own a townhouse where I have resided for over a quarter of a century. In this community, I am a lawyer and a spokesman for NORML, very active in drug law reform. But I cannot practice what I preach. That would be illegal.

In California, however, I found a small town near Berkley, east of San Francisco Bay, where I may retire. It is Walnut Creek, a hamlet, I understand, that has more open public spaces than any other village in America. There, I may eventually choose to grow my own pot. I am allowed to do so.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I practice law, and get people out of trouble for growing pot, I have to defend people who do what I am entitled to do in California legally. You see, the rules are different here. Life can thus be a bit conflicted.

In early 2006, my Florida roommate, after learning he was HIV positive, decided to move back to his hometown of San Francisco. As a pot consumer, he realized he could now get a medicinal recommendation for marijuana and grow pot legally under California law. The Florida laws are not so kind or generous. Cultivation of any amount is a second degree felony.

We went to San Francisco together, to a community I have visited and loved since the early 1970’s, from my first spectacular drive up the Pacific Coast highway. We found and rented a small apartment in the Haight.

It has been thirteen years since California voters enacted Proposition 215, which allowed citizens to utilize marijuana for medical purposes if a person had a legitimate need. As a recovering cancer patient, I more than qualified for a medical marijuana recommendation.

I sought out a legitimate physician, not one running a medical marijuana mill. I came with a full set of medical records tracking my unenviable medical past, including recent spinal surgery. The doctor thoughtfully reviewed with me the medical risks associated with the use of cannabis. Not that I did not have a little experience. I mean, I am 60 years old this year. My friends’ kids go to Bonnaroo. I lived through Woodstock.

After the screening, my physician then appropriately certified me as an individual who could benefit from the medical use of cannabis. Just like that, I became patient number 380206011. I then proceeded to a medical dispensary, proudly armed with a State of California Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

As a California patient, I am empowered to acquire cannabis lawfully at medical dispensaries. Under the California Health and Safety Code, I am also entitled to grow up to six plants of my own in my little apartment on the bay. I do not have to hide them from the authorities.

I joined the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, and was issued a Growers Certificate. It affirms that any herbs I cultivate at home would be grown for my personal medical use. I was now at liberty to grow my own medicine. It is still called pot in Florida. We call it medicine in California.

Today, therefore, the same medicine I can consume lawfully in California I have to prevent people from going to jail for in Florida. It makes no sense. Fourteen states and scores of communities across our country have either decriminalized or ‘medicalized’ marijuana. It is not good enough. Americans still face one very large federal stumbling block.

A state may pass its own laws, but so too may the federal government pass laws which preempt those state laws. In the case of marijuana, that is what Washington has done. Our federal government claims marijuana is not medicine. As such, it criminalizes all marijuana possession, use, or cultivation, regardless of what the states do.

At first, patients were lucky. In 2003, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal government had no right to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients- as long as what they possessed was for personal use. The United States Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2005. Thus, as we sit here today, in 2009, federal law enforcement officials can prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if state authorities will not; even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected by state law.

Under our Constitution, the police power of the state is to be exercised by the state. California authorities are not disobeying federal laws by not enforcing them. They are not legally obligated to do so. Nor is Florida obligated to follow California laws. Just because you have a medical right to possess cannabis in California does not give you a legal right to grow or possess it in Florida. Though some clients of mine have tried, you can’t get stopped for smoking in Miami Beach and pull out a medical marijuana card from Santa Monica. It won’t fly. Tell it to your bondsman.

Welcome then to my conflicted life. I am permitted to grow my own medicine lawfully in my California apartment. If I were to do that in Florida, police could raid my house and the Florida Bar could seize my card. Instead of representing a grower, I would need a lawyer to represent me. Florida would not care that I am patient number 380206011 in California. What is wrong with that picture?

The cannabis I purchase in a dispensary in Berkeley I can carry in my car and consume in my living room. If I am flying back to Florida though, I cannot carry it with me. That would be a federal crime. But if I am relaxing at an airport bar in either San Francisco or Fort Lauderdale, I can order and consume Crown Royal and Coke. What I can’t get on both coasts is justice. That is far more elusive, and does not come in a bottle.

One national reform group has spent 40 years trying to stem the tide of repression and advance the rights of marijuana consumers. They say it is normal to smoke pot. Their name is NORML, the National Organization to Reform the Marijuana Laws. If there was ever a time to be part of their effort, it is now, as the new administration in Washington has said they are going to put an end to the drug war madness. They have said they will end the raids on medical dispensaries.

We need to see that deed and action follows words and promises.

We need to send a message to our legislators that the silent majority of Americans support vast and overriding changes to repressive drug laws which have incarcerated too many for too long. Join NORML in that effort.

We need to show that moral authority is on our side.
Spread the word and you will spread the seed.

.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No Oscar for Citizens Protesting Unjust Federal Marijuana Laws


No Oscar for Medical Marijuana Providers
by Norm Kent
There will be no Oscar awards for this real life ceremony coming to Los Angeles today.

Protesters will righteously and defiantly gather on the corner of Main Street and Temple St outside the federal courthouse at 12:00 PM on Monday, February 23.
They will be medical marijuana patients and advocates unified to protest strenuously the upcoming sentencing of Charles C. Lynch, who was convicted for operating a medical marijuana dispensing collective in Morro Bay in August of last year.

The organizers have no red carpet. They just want to draw public attention to Lynch's case hoping against hope that Judge Wu will use his discretion to impose a lenient sentence on the 46-year old Lynch, who could face decades in federal prison. That would be Change we can believe in.

"People need to know that Charles Lynch is going to federal prison even though he was obeying state and local law," event organizer Cheryl Aichele told the online paper, Salem.News.com, "It is not fair that he should be caught in the crossfire between state and federal law." But he is and if we do not do something about it, he will be gunned down.

California is one of thirteen states in which medical marijuana is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. That means that though Mr. Lynch obeyed local and state laws, he becomes a national and federal prisoner. That means he is a victim of American injustice at its worst.

Mr. Obama became President on January 20. Of course, he wanted time to catch up and assume the role. But you do become president on Day 1, and you have to assume the role from the moment you take the oath, flubbed or not. There is no time for Mr. Lynch. His sentencing is in less than a month.
Yes, I read that on February 4, a White House Spokesman named Nick Shapiro said that President Obama did not want to waste federal law enforcement resources circumventing state medical marijuana laws. Then have the guts to do something about it now. Then please let's find a reporter in the White House pool to ask these questions before Mr. Lynch is sentenced.
Mr. Shapiro opined that he expected the President's new appointees to consider this when setting policy for their agencies. How about having one of them show up at the sentencing for Mr. Lynch? How about directing the US Attorney to stand down? I am available if they want to send me.

Just as Ed Rosenthal in San Francisco was not permitted to present evidence his growhouse was for medical consumers, the prohibitive Federal Rules of Evidence denied Mr. Lynch from presenting any testimony whatsoever about medical marijuana, Mr. Lynch's city business license, or California state law. A jury thus only heard that some man was selling marijuana to line his pockets. Thus, Mr. Lynch was convicted on all counts.

Drew Carey's account of Mr. Lynch's struggle with the federal government on Reason.tv helped the case to receive national media attention. Ed Rosenthal was sentenced to a day in jail. Will our government ask that Mr. Lynch serve any more?

Today, a quiet Monday in L.A., thousands of people will be talking about the Oscars, and as the Hollywood types watch the news this evening, one will see this rag tag band of protestors rallying around the federal courthouse. Somewhere someone will say 'This will make a good film.'
While gay people were being beaten mindlessly in alleys for decades, someone may have said the same for Harvey Milk. Maybe in 20 years some actor will play the role of a Tommy Chong, busted senselessly, incarcerated unjustly, and released to make a difference.
But for Mr. Lynch and his family, there is no time today for a movie tomorrow. This is real life. Unless our President and his administration does something, he is going to jail for years.

Protesters will gather on the corner of Main Street and Temple St outside the federal courthouse at 12:00 PM on Monday, February 23. The street address for the federal courthouse is 312 North Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. If you are in LA, grab a joint, cop a sign, and be there. It will not get you into the Academies, but it will make you a star.

Here are some related links, courtesy of Americans for Safe Access:
White House Statement on Medical Cannabis: safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=5665
Picture of Lynch at Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony for his dispensary: safeaccessnow.org/img/original/Lynch_Photo.jpg
Drew Carey/Reason TV documentary short on Lynch: reason.tv/video/show/413.html
Recent Los Angeles Times story on the trial: latimes.com/news/local/la-me-weed26-2008jul26,0,6418930.story
Friends of Charles C. Lynch website: friendsofccl.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Chorus of Gay Voices Made Themselves Heard in City Elections


Gay Voices Were Heard in City Elections

By Norm Kent


Some people in the gay community may be disappointed that Fort Lauderdale did not elect a gay mayor, but there is more still to be proud about. In the media, some have suggested gays failed. Not so.

First of all, two credible gay candidates marshaled nearly 40% of the vote in a city where our outgoing mayor spent the last two years demeaning our credibility.

Second, the incoming mayor is now, and has been an ongoing friend of the gay community. In fact, Jack Seiler once served as the Mayor of Wilton Manors and was an early supporter of the Express Gay News that I founded, the precursor to the very South Florida Blade you are reading today.

Third, the elections in Fort Lauderdale enticed many gay candidates to launch campaigns, and Coleman Prewitt is in a runoff for one open commission seat. The candidate he opposes, Romney Rogers, is a long time resident with entrenched establishment ties, and loves his city, but he has never loved or supported the gay community. However, you do not hear him bashing it openly, either.

More significantly, starting with the ‘Flush Naugle’ rallies last year, the gay community of Fort Lauderdale has sent a message to all future candidates in this growing metropolis. We have declared ourselves to be part and parcel of the process that is governance. We will not sit silently by while people in power accost or abuse who we are.

We have sent a political message that we are a strong and mobilizing force who can deliver votes to our supporters. More importantly than that, we have reminded our neighbors that we are partners in our community, and we own businesses, raise families, and care about the health and safety of our streets and schools. We are no longer scapegoats to be accused. We will not be indifferently ignored. We are the shared participants in a greater good.

There was a time, and it was not that long ago, when a human rights rally in South Florida would gather a dozen activists. Now a parade in Wilton Manors pulls together a hundred organizations with thousands of activists. We take for granted how much we have achieved. We are not unlike a tag from an old Virginia Slims television commercial promoting a popular cigarette for women, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ And courageous leaders like Dean Trantalis helped bring us there.

It may be that gay mayoral candidates lost a race in the city of Fort Lauderdale. But never again will a mayoral candidate demean the gay community without subjecting himself to public approbation and putting his political career at risk.

If I were to start listing all the gay and lesbian leaders in Broward alone, now running for office and serving the community on a commission or in some capacity, this column would run too many words, and I would leave too many out. Suffice it to say, we are making a difference.

You have to remember there was a time when being gay would disqualify you from public office. Today, it may offer you a political base. I would say this to those who are gay and seek office though. Sell us something other than your sexuality. Come to us with a history of involvement and activism, courage and commitment. The straight community may care about who you are sleeping with. We don’t.

The message the gay community sends to Fort Lauderdale today is not that we are on the outside looking in, fighting for rights we do not have. Our collective voice has affirmatively established us as partners in the future. We have a place at the table. It did not come easy, was not turned over willingly, and cost us dearly. Finally, maybe after all these years, people are beginning to see us for who we are and what we achieve in our neighborhoods, instead of just who and what we do in our bedrooms.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Case Against Michael Phelps


The Case Against Michael Phelps

Why it is more Hype than Substance
By Norm Kent
On this blog, I do not give legal advice. I express legal opinions. The one everyone is asking about is can Michael Phelps actually be charged? After all, there is no proof there was anything in the pipe at all. There is no controlled substance to present to a court. There is not even a pipe which could lead to a paraphernalia charge. So how can they possibly prosecute him?

In my law office I have a steel Florida Marlin, stuffed by an ichthyologist, which I caught off the shores of Key West, in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.Under the fish, there is a plaque which reads, “Behold the bright, blue Marlin; this creature would not be here today had he not opened his big mouth yesterday.”Michael Phelps should have come by and read it. His publicized admission that he toked from a bong at a frat party in a South Carolina dorm has stirred a whirlwind of controversy and put him in harm’s way.

The real bad news came from the sheriff in the jurisdiction where Michael allegedly toked up, with a pronouncement that he was going to investigate the case to see if he could prosecute young Mr. Phelps.The sheriff’s public information teased the media: “The Richland County Sheriff's Department is making an effort to determine if Mr. Phelps broke the law. If he did, he will be charged in the same manner as anyone else...”

Sheriff Leon Lott then commented to a local newspaper about the quality of his case. He stated that “this one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It's a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.'' Not so, Sheriff Lott. You are leaving out a lot.

First and foremost, look at Michael’s exact words, never acknowledging he smoked pot. Instead, there was a carefully worded admission that he engaged in regrettable behavior. It might even have been written by a publicist, more worried about that Speedo endorsement than a criminal prosecution. That does not a confession make. Score lap one for Phelps.

Second, what if some classmate who was at the party decides to turn the bong over to the authorities, instead of selling it on E Bay? If they find Michael Phelps’ fingerprints on it, along with residue of cannabis sativa, he can arguably be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, since the pipe is supposedly packed with pot. But how would you know months later that the pot was not added after the fact? How would you prove it was the same bong? The Phelps defense would be that there is no continuous chain of custody which can establish there was contraband in the pipe at the time he held it in his hand. There is no way to show what was in the pipe when he held it. Phelps would win the second leg.

Third, the pictures alone are insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. Someone would have to come forth and authenticate it as an actual pipe. Someone would have to come forth and attest to the fact that they took the photo. Without real parties to affirm and swear to the authenticity of the alleged contraband, the evidence is entirely circumstantial and legally inadmissible. Phelps wins again.

Fourth, since the law prosecutes possession, and there is no way to prove that there was ever pot in the pipe when Michael exercised dominion and control over it, the charge would be subject to a Motion to Dismiss for failure to establish evidentiary proof of the contraband. Proof of possession typically requires an assertion by a drug testing laboratory, which is an arm of the sheriff’s office to swear that the substance with which you are charged is actually illegal. There is no pot to test. Phelps wins a fourth round.

Venue, or location is important too. In order for any prosecution to be initiated by a law enforcement agency, someone will have to come forward with a sworn statement and independently establish the location of the alleged act. Typically, a second degree misdemeanor is not an extraditable offense. All Michael has to do is stay out of South Carolina. Phelps wins a fifth lap.

However, do not lose sight over the fact that Michael’s unsolicited statement could be used in tandem with witnesses to convict him after the fact. Just as you do not need a body to establish a murder, if the sheriff brought in a witness who said he put pot in the pipe, a second person who said ‘I handed Mike the pipe with pot in it’, a third person who said ‘I saw Mike smoke the pipe with pot in it, and I am sure it was pot based on my experience,’ and tied that up with Mike’s admissions and a picture, who someone could say was taken contemporaneously with the criminal conduct, he could arguably go down.

But even then there is a problem for the prosecution.Under the legal doctrine of Corpus Delicti, a defendant's confession or admission of guilt cannot be introduced until after the state has presented evidence showing that a crime has in fact occurred. So Phelp's admission cannot come into play or even be used as evidence until the commission of an actual crime is established through other, substantial competent evidence.

This last scenario would require testimony from other witnesses who were at the bong party with Michael. These persons would have to come forward and admit to their own conduct as either equally guilty culprits or co-conspirators. It means they too would be putting their own scholarships and educational privileges at risk, and they are not sitting with millions of dollars in endorsements.

In essence, I suspect that very soon the Sheriff will publish a statement that after ‘due diligence,’ his ‘investigation’ revealed an insufficient basis upon which to proceed. And maybe the next time Mr. Phelps gets caught with marijuana he will stand up and courageously say: “It’s normal to smoke pot. I am an Olympic gold medal winning athlete and it has not impaired me one bit.”

If he does, I will invite Michael to join the NORML advisory board. I will even buy him his own bong.