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Freedom of the Press is Real National Security

The buildings that fell on September 11, 2001 in New York City took down more than steel and concrete, and stripped us of more than 3,000 lives.

The attack on the World Trade Center was a precursor to a government assault on our civil liberties. From airport scanners and metal detectors, to cameras taking your picture- as you drive innocently through an intersection to go to the dry cleaners- we have become the Surveillance States of America. No matter where we go and what we do, someone somewhere is now watching us. We have subjugated ourselves to powerful forces that can’t be trusted.

Worse than all of the invasive intrusions into our privacy, government now seems to sanction secrecy for those who are in charge and in power. Every overreaching step that law enforcement takes is justified and defended by the need for ‘national security.’ Think about it. If you oppose a law called the ‘Patriot Act,’ what does that make you? Fighting for your freedoms makes you seem traitorous. Outrageous.

It is no secret to us that our government deploys spies, or conducts clandestine operations. But what if the lawmakers become the lawbreakers? If someone working at an agency doing spying exposes the agency for doing things illegally, who is really violating the law? Who is the hero and who is the villain?

Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War to the media. We forget that Ellsberg was prosecuted, smeared, and harassed.

There is a 2009 documentary about the story, which led to lawsuits by the NY Times, when then attorney general John Mitchell went to court to try to stop publication of the documents. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the right of the NY Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. It is a pillar of first amendment law.

Flash forward to a Moscow airport in 2013. Why is Edward Snowden fighting for his freedom after revealing to a reporter the United States has been illegally spying on our citizens? Shouldn’t we be giving this guy a medal? Has he really put soldiers at risk?  Or has he gone to a reporter and revealed systemic and institutionalized corruption which is compromising your rights as an American citizen?

Transparency is healthy for our government. There is a reason freedom of the press is in the first amendment. It is the most important. Cover-ups are unacceptable breaches of the public trust, and we cannot stand for them at any level.

Whistleblowers play a critical constitutional role in our system of government, particularly in the area of national security. We reward people for their courage in standing up to the system, not take away their rights.

So why is Bradley Manning, a gay man in jail for providing documents to Wiki-Leaks? Did he really aid the enemy or assist you as a free citizen with a right to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail. Will society so salute Bradley Manning one day?

He should not face life in jail for daring to make information accessible to the American public that the government should not have been hiding. Is the empire falling, or are our trains still running on time? His trial is a travesty of justice, with the secret lawbreakers trying to protect their secret making. The fact is we have over classified too much and declassified too little. This does not strengthen our country. It weakens us. Sunlight is a disinfectant.

We have Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. How many Americans even know there was a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Service Act?  How many people know the government has asked for about 15,000 surveillance warrants from them. which judges grant 99.997% of the time. You cannot trust these entities with delivering you the truth.   These are the people that have brought you the disgrace we call Guantanamo Bay, the internment camps of the 21st century.

The IRS did more than target the Tea Party. A disproportionate number of non profits using buzz words like marijuana reform were apparently also targeted. The powers that be enforce their powers without discretion or discrimination.

These are the people secretly spying on you, maybe with drones over your shoulder, and taps on your phones, collecting your emails and monitoring your Facebook account. A healthy distrust of government is the safest way to protect national security.

A free press has a duty and an obligation to report the truth, uncover the lies, and expose secrets. One congressman has gone as far as suggesting that Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who published Edward Snowden’s story, should himself face jail. No, the truth is that a congressman who suggests such a thing should himself face expulsion from the house.

The truth is that our country is strong enough to withstand revealing tears in the emperor’s clothes, and our fabric is strong enough to expose the lies, sew together the wounds and heal the divisions. As the Billy Joel song noted, ‘we are still standing.’ We will not only survive these purported and hyped-up alleged breaches and leaks of national security; we will become stronger because of them.

Pushing 60 with Pot

I am close to being a senior citizen. Though I will always think of myself as a student at Hofstra who was the 19 year old President of the Sophomore class, I am turning 58 this year. Damn, 60 is around the corner!

You know what that means? When I open a newspaper in the town I have lived in for the last thirty years, I know the people in the obituaries. I am older than some of them. When the city councilmen go to jail for the bribes they always seem to take in every city everywhere, I realize they are kids I grew up with. That means I smoked dope with them, got laid with them, partied with them, and got drunk with them.

If you are from the 1960′s, let’s be honest. Pot was the least of the things we did. There were mushrooms and Quaaludes, acid trips with LSD, body painting, psychedelic and psychotropic drugs up the yin yang tree. So a little weed was just a nominal high. By the time we were 20, we were reading about classmates who overdosed on Heroin.

Some of us really got into marijuana, though. It was a chance to individually transport ourselves to a higher consciousness, to strip away stress and let our bodies reach sensory highs.. It was a chance to feel and touch on a cosmic level, to tune in and turn on.

It worked then for us and it still works now for a younger generation, despite the institutional trash generated from the United States Office of Drug Control Policy. “This is not your father’s pot,” they warn. They are right. As users and caregivers everywhere know, it is better, cleaner, more refined, and probably a lot safer than ever.

If Americans are growing their own pure hydroponic pot in their homes, they do not have to worry about deceitful dealers throwing oregano, rat poison, and dirty weeds into the mix. They do not have to fear that their plants came over moldy and mildewy, after a boat trip from Colombia, where it was sprayed and stored and secreted in ways that reduced the product to rubbish.

Anyway, while we kids were dancing in the mud at Woodstock, our parents were living in the suburban valley of the dolls, downing valium by the bucket. They were pouring martinis, and finding pills by the pound to cure their own ills. Doctors called them tranquilizers and they dosed our parents in the millions.

Forty years later, whether its booze or coke, reckless citizens still generate self-inflicted destructiveness, and it has nothing at all to do with pot. In a free society, you have no conduct to condemn or congratulate but your own. The world is yours to create or ruin.

I never really used drugs until I busted up my knee playing baseball. Then the doctors shot my knee up with lidocaine, benzocaine, and any liquid that would relieve the pain. I can’t list all the arthritis and pain pills I have been given. From Celebrex to Vioxx to Bextra, the manufacturers are all now getting sued for poisoning Americans while distributing substances they knew were toxic.

I found out a lot more about pills when I contracted cancer. My life became a 24 hour cycle of constant protocols of treatment. You are dosed with oxycodone, oxycontin, percocet, darvocet, percodan, cortisone, prednisone, hydrocodone, and all or any combination or concoction of medicines doctors can prescribe to keep those good blood cells alive while beating down the bad ones. You take them because they tell you to.

Recently, we all have been anointed with human growth any purportedly natural or herbal pill with a fancy name you cannot pronounce, but all I ever wanted was a joint.

As a gay man, I have been friends with lots of men who have come down with HIV and AIDS. Many have died, but many more are living. Until the new protocols were available, they were taking as many as 30 pills a day. I can’t list them all, but the processes to match the medicine with the man would leave good people very sick and often emaciated beyond your belief. Meanwhile, joints were illegal.

So here I am now, having lived a pretty full life in a pretty pill-filled America. Over the years, we have seen lots of food scares. Just in the past few years, some E coli thing in the lettuce killed thousands, and a Mad Cow took down hundreds. Last year, we even lost Popeye from a bad can of Spinach. But I don’t ever remember reading about anyone dying from a bong hit, unless a jealous lover smashed the glass over some toker’s skull. I did cut my hand once when I dropped a ceramic bong and it shattered in my fingers.

When I was a kid, I remember there was a scare about cranberries, and then Bon Vivant Vichyssoises Soup, and then something crazy called Legionnaires’ disease. Occasionally, our city officials tell us not to drink the water because it is contaminated and we have to boil it. You know what occurred to me the other day, though? I have never had to boil pot. The only time pot ever became dangerous in America was when our government tried to spray paraquat on it.

I am proud of my efforts back then, as a young lawyer, in 1982, to stop the government dead in its tracks, asking for an injunction to end the toxic spraying. It was the first time I ever made the New York Times, and I was 32 then. Now it is 25 years later and instead of spraying pot in Florida, my government is raiding dispensaries in California. What lunacy.

Years later, I had a client smoking pot to reduce the intraocular pressure in her eyes from glaucoma. Pot saved her eyesight. Same thing with some HIV patients in Key West, who consumed cannabis to retaliate against the wasting syndrome the disease caused. Pot and the patients won. Smoke and you get better, or at least less sick.

You know, we are all day to day, and minute to minute. I may live another hour or another two decades, but in one truth I think I can trust. Pushing the age of 60, I do not need someone else to tell me what I can put in my body. I do not need laws telling me what I can eat, drink or smoke. If I don’t know by now that smoking cigarettes can give me cancer or becoming an alcoholic will destroy my liver, then ‘my bad.’

The bottom line is that if they can pass a law saying a condo can be for residents only 55 an older, maybe we can push for a law saying no drug laws can be applied against those 55 and older either. Maybe we can say we have put in our dues, earned our rights, and in the latter stages of our lives, we have an unfettered freedom and right to be free; to determine our own destinies.

Let’s see if I can’t conclude with a little story from the Mass Cann NORML conference last September in the Boston Commons. The founder and director of NORML, Keith Stroup, and the Associate Publisher of High Times Magazine, Rick Cusick, were both busted for smoking a joint at a pot rights rally in the park. They both have to go to court. Maybe more of us should.

Now you tell me what this court is going to say to two professionals who have spent their lives devoted to the advocacy and abolition of marijuana laws?

You tell me what the courts should say to two sixty plus year old men who made a conscious and deliberate choice to consume some weed on a weekend. Like they have nothing else to worry about in Boston but to bust 50 people every year in the Commons when they have a toke?

Have you seen the crime stats in Boston lately, for robbery, rape, ransacking, and plunder- and that is just in City Hall in their parking lot?

For thirty years, since those early days as a student activist, I have been fighting for change. But I guess I have not done all that well, not if our government is raiding dispensaries, arresting growers, taking scholarships away from students, seizing property from landlords and, astonishingly, arresting 800,000 citizens a year on simple pot possession charges. I guess I am not doing well if the government is still revoking your drivers’ licenses, forfeiting your cars, and locking you up for loose joints.

I think we all need to do a little bit better. You can help us help you by joining NORML today. We are still fighting the good fight. We need some freedom fighters to join us.

Yeah, NORML is still around. Yeah, I know some of you have not heard about us since your college days. Yeah, we are the old men on the block. But we are infused with new blood, still very dedicated to an honorable cause, and still in need of your help.

We were here for you yesterday, and unless we change the laws we will be around for your kids tomorrow. But you can help change that by joining us at www.norml.com today.

Pot smokers out of hiding as marijuana becomes accepted

Medical Marijuana

When 64 percent of voters in Miami Beach in a straw ballot said they would support medical marijuana in Miami Beach last week, it was no surprise.

Pot smokers may not wear rainbow flags, but they have finally come out of the closet.

For forty years, since early in the 1970′s, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been fighting to change repressive and regressive laws against the responsible use of cannabis by consenting adults.

The truth is the ‘war on drugs’ was never a war on drugs. It was a war on good and decent people, whose only crime was smoking a joint at the end of the day.

Most Americans have always known the horror stories about pot consumption were delusional hallucinations by cowardly politicians afraid to be seen as ‘soft on dope.’

NORML is winning the battle today because a raised consciousness amongst Americans realizes they can trust themselves more than their government.

This new awakening is why in 21 states where citizens have been asked if they want pot to be decriminalized, they have resoundingly said ‘yes.’ It is why current Gallup polls have showed nearly 60 percent of Americans wants pot legalized.

It isn’t because we are all stoners, though many of us are. It is because we as Americans are fed up with the lies and laws our legislators have passed and prosecuted. Over four decades, we have empowered our government to create draconian drug laws that compromised our civil liberties and sacrificed common sense.

They have enacted statutes allowing our sons and daughters to be jailed, our cars to be seized, and our scholarships to be forfeited. In certain places, moms and dads can still lose custody of their kids because they are caught smoking pot. It is an outrage and injustice Americans can no longer endure or countenance.

The only reason Miami Beach even agreed to a straw ballot is we showed them 8,000 petitions we had signed by residents supporting a special vote to make pot arrests the lowest priority of law enforcement. The public is always one step ahead of the politician.

Today, though, from Miami Beach to Maine, from Seattle to South Florida, we are saying ‘Free the Leaf.’ It’s not just to get high. There are valid medical and curative reasons to support normalizing marijuana.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans who were living with HIV learned years ago medical cannabis enhanced their appetite and inhibited a ‘wasting away’ syndrome. Others, like Elvy Mussika, a grandmother from Hollywood, Florida, who gets monthly prescriptions of cannabis from the DEA, found out pot can retard glaucoma and cataracts.

Scientists in Israel have discovered cannabis can control muscular spasticity and arthritic conditions amongst the elderly. One housewife in Manatee County, Cathy Jordan, has used cannabis for a quarter of a century to combat Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She grows her own in her backyard, and an enlightened prosecutor has declined to prosecute her, acknowledging her use is a ‘life-saving condition.’

Baby boomers from the 1960′s are now in their 60′s. For those of us who smoked joints watching Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, we have seen an America supplicate itself to pharmaceutical companies who gave us a sea of prescription pills which have led to multi million dollar class action lawsuits and premature deaths from unanticipated consequences. None of us have ever died from weed. But we have all been victims of the war against it.

Still, it does no good to enter an era of recrimination. As we approach an age of decriminalization and even legalization, let me just say ‘welcome.’ If you support reform now, and you have not before, thanks for joining a good cause.

In Florida, an effort has been launched to place medical marijuana on next year’s ballot as a constitutional amendment. If the signature requirements are met, you will get to vote on it. Like every other state where people vote on cannabis, it will pass, with cross-sectional support in both red and blue counties. Pot has only one party.

Support those communities that want to legalize and medicalize cannabis, and you will be on the right side of history, part of a community wrongfully denied a voice and now, finally, after all these years, rightfully being recognized.