Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Marijuana: The Culture War in San Diego
by ROCKY NEPTUN • Covered by Creative Commons copyright
Photos: Steve McWilliams, Eugene Davidovich
A seemingly dysfunctional San Diego City Council voted 7 to 1 on January 5 to stall many more months deciding the mere basics of regulating medical marijuana dispensaries by rejecting the modest recommendations of its own task force.
The transparency of its motives in setting up the task force rather than having staff prepare ordinances, shows its smoke and mirrors approach to the issue — pretend to do something, while an organizing effort of the usual NIMBY suspects gets under way. Someone named Grandma posted a right-on explanation, “Fork-tongued politicians,” she wrote, “I may be old but I know bait and switch,” while Fred Williams pointed out, “This is not leadership…it’s cowardice.”
With five of the councilmembers seeking re-election or election to another office and the two brain-dead tokens of identity politics blabbering along (at least Councilmember Carl DeMaio is honest in his usual right-wing, knee-jerk opposition), the Council showed that it seems too scared to help the many citizens who are in pain and need a safe, legal place to obtain medical marijuana as approved by California voters in 1996 through Proposition215.
The vote, which sent the plain and simple recommendations of the Medical Marijuana Task Force, to the Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee, is a ploy to allow organized resistance to the use of medical marijuana to focus on preventing the logistics of providing it for those in need by using zoning ordinances and building codes as weapons, like those used against youth arcades and adult entertainment. Tellingly, included in that vote was a requirement that local Planning Groups weigh in on the discussion; which is kind of like asking the Catholic Diocese where the abortion clinics should be located and the details of the permit O.K. process. The city’s half-dozen planning groups, for the most part, are made up of property owners and businesspersons wedded to land values, NIMBY’s all. (The City Heights Area Planning Committee where I was elected in 2001 was run by real estate interests.)
Now, a deceitful City Council and its big lie about wanting to really develop a comprehensive policy on medical marijuana use could laughingly be passed on as politics as usual if it were not for the fact that many innocent San Diegans are being persecuted and prosecuted by an ambitious, despotic District Attorney.
Bonnie Dumanis, Republican Party ideologue and personal tyrant, stepped in where a fearful City Council has failed to act and has been busting legal, legitimate users and dispensers of medical marijuana. Using her prosecutorial power to implement public policy in an attempt to appear tough on crime, she steps over the ruined lives, broken families and lost jobs of ill people who tried to follow the law as best they know how. Like a local version of former despot J..Edgar Hoover, without the secret dress, Dumanis seems to bully the Council by creating an illusion of crime around medical marijuana by selective prosecution and outright lies about the defendants, thus creating a trap for any politician who supports upholding California law allowing personal medical use of cannabis.
Buried in January 5th’s cowardly Council action was the quiet removal of any language calling for an ordinance to be drafted regulating the dispensaries. The hard-working 11-member Task Force on Medical Marijuana, established by the Council in September and co-chaired by my friend and former Council candidate Stephen Whitburn, labored to bring before the Council a set of common-sense recommendations on basic regulations such as dispensaries had to be more than 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries, areas where children frequent and barred from being within 500 feet of one another. Also, the storefronts would have had to hire security and obtain appropriate land-use permits as well as limit the hours they are open and operate as non-profits. These fairly small recommendations from the Task Force were a natural process of the thinking of its members, mostly businesspersons, clergy, former police officers and professionals, rather than actual providers or patients.
However, one member of the task force, Mark Robert Bluemel, a San Diego attorney saw the matter clearly. He said the District Attorney’s misinterpretation of state law “has cruelly criminalized innocent medical marijuana users who not only suffer maladies but now face arrest, detention and federal charges.”
In early summer, the San Diego Renters Union proposed to the City Council that it find some statesmanship on this issue by setting up a permanent San Diego Medical Marijuana Regulatory Board, which would oversee the operation of the dispensaries including the cost, quality, personnel and non-profitability of the coops and cooperatives. The Renters Union suggested that if the providing process was taken out of individual hands and become a volunteer effort on the part of the organized group of patients, overseen by the city, then the District Attorney could not attack them on an individual basis as she has in the past.
While Councilwoman Frye supports the use of marijuana for medical purposes, her timidity reflects an interest in running for the County Board of Supervisors. “The goal here is to put in some guidelines that actually make sense and people can understand what the rules are,” she said “the guidelines put forward by the state are not clear.” Yet, even she did not support the humble suggestions of the task force.
However, the average citizens in San Diego are beginning to have their say on the matter. In a clear rebuke to the D.A. a Superior Court jury last week found Jovan Christian Jackson, 31, not guilty of five charges of possessing and selling marijuana illegally from a medical marijuana dispensary in Kearny Mesa called Answerdam Alternative Care.
Jackson’s attorney, Lance Rogers, successfully showed the jury that the collective operated legally and professionally. He said members of the collective were asked to show a valid doctor’s recommendation before obtaining any marijuana and sign an agreement to abide by the collective’s rules.
A San Diego police detective testified that he lied to a doctor, used a false ID and fraudulently signed a contract/agreement with the collective to make two buys in June and July 2008. Trying to find out who set up this ridiculous entrapment has been difficult. Steve Walter, the assistant chief of the narcotics office in the D.A.’s office agreed to talk to me and then backed out (could it be because Bonnie Dumanis has appeared on my annual list of San Diego piss-ants four years in a row?). Captain Miguel Rosario of the SDPD’s vice squad originally agreed to an interview about the marijuana busts, but when I e-mailed him a list of questions about the D.A.’s involvement, he quickly canceled.
Dumanis and the Culture War
San Diego’s District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis struts onto the stage. Her swagger, her measured pace, her menacing stare in front of the cameras reminds me of the persona John Wayne created on his way to becoming an American icon. As I watch Dumanis mount the platform, amid camera flashes and reporters’ shouts, my friend, who is Gay, whispers, “Who does this tough broad think she is — Raymond Burr in high-heels?”
“No,” I answer, “I know many really tough gals who are Lesbians; cab drivers, construction workers, even a few rodeo gals, whose personalities are real, they are warm, caring persons.
“This demeanor, this show, is not about Freudian over-compensation or being tough in a masculine world; it’s all about power and ambition,” I comment as she is book-ended on the stage by two modern “Dukes” of bluster and armed might, then-San Diego County Sheriff William B. Kolender, who allowed his deputies to shoot down unarmed Latinos in the barrios; and San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, who protects murdering police officers, encourages brutality against the homeless and uses his detectives to circumvent city ordinances.
John Wayne, even though he provided a cultural context, a mythical arrogance to the national character, which continues to drive American Empire, never, personally harmed anyone in his illusion. Dumanis, on the other hand, wields her power as District Attorney to manipulate the legal system for personal ambition at the expense of sick people needing relief from their suffering and pain.
American Empire seems to be a double-edged sword. It is not just bombing distant cities to protect oil pipelines or corrupt world corporations. (Would Wayne’s modern movies show him gunning down Afghan poor in their own villages and homes?). Empire is also reflected in ideology and national assumptions. From the Romans to the British to modern Corporate-Owned Capitalism — an emerging state without defined borders and its own armed forces, as the movie Avatar spectacularly highlights — the domination of others and the plunder of national resources were always driven by a mind-set that depended on power and hierarchy.
Thus the flip side of U.S. troops making the world safe for Wal-Mart and McDonald’s is the other edge of the blade; narrowing the parameters of freedoms and liberties in our neighborhoods and in our everyday lives. Empire must own and control its base, provide wonderful motivations for conformity and terrible consequences for dissent and, most importantly, make alternatives not only impossible but unthinkable. Today, everywhere, human beings, either individually or in associations such as governments, are increasingly incapable of calculating possibilities because the freedom to choose is an illusion.
Like shoppers on an escalator or cattle prodded through chutes, there is no room to maneuver. Behavior is no longer innovative and spontaneous because consciousness itself [to stand apart, the ability to give things meaning] is hammered into a socially determined aspect of self. In a corporate-owned world, most of us are trapped by the lack of alternatives and increasingly, the ability to even imagine options. Human praxis, the reflective process of thought and action, has become stunted; liberty an illusion, and the notion of individuality a cruel myth.
C. Wright Mills’ warnings, decades ago, about the continuing constraints on human freedom by those who have institutional and economic power have come to pass. Political and economic tyranny, even the manipulation of truth itself, have become commonplace, with little dissent. Thus the San Diego District Attorney can go before the press and not only spoon-feed local journalists a fraudulent legal basis for her harassment and downright lies about her victims’ personal affairs, but she is never challenged by the media — even when her statements are not what the official court documents say.
Dumanis, like any self-respecting addict, is hooked on the egotism of power and the selfishness of wealth, the rewards of Corporate-Owned Capitalism, its high, its opiate, its material comforts, its insatiable requisite for supremacy’s self-definition and purpose.
Her place in the continuing cultural wars for economic purposes, where everything is made into a commodity and sold at a price, even the health of one’s one body and the alleviation of pain, is assured as she persecutes and prosecutes medical marijuana users in San Diego. The violence of stalking ill persons, particularly fellow LGBT people, for personal ambition makes her addiction to wealth and power even more sad and pitiful.
My mother advises me not to suggest a fierce District Attorney is vindictive, deceitful, power hungry and a crook. Of course, dear old mom lives in the far-off piney woods of the Ozark Mountains and worries about her only son; she doesn’t see the shattered lives and broken families that Dumanis has scattered around San Diego neighborhoods.
I assure my mother I have nothing personal against the D.A. In almost 20 years in San Diego, I have never been arrested or even had to pay a traffic fine. I can pity Dumanis for her infirmity, her madness, the tyrannical, autocratic abuse of authority, like Richard Nixon or Jack Abramoff; and still fight the system that allows one person to have so much power to destroy lives, circumvent state law and the will of California voters and great personal greed.
“The authoritarian ideology she represents, owned by corporate dollars and backed by the armed might of all our militarized forces is what I fight,” I tell my mother, “not this tragic, fleshy android, another piece of equipment in Empire’s mechanism.”
Love and Death of a San Diego Hero
Dumanis is, indeed, just another delusional villain in a long list of San Diego prosecutors and legal violence which, under corporate-owned ideology and the police power of local authorities, has disrupted lives, harassed, entrapped and imprisoned many innocent people and led to the martyrdom of one of San Diego’s greatest heroes — Steve McWilliams.
The only time I ever saw Steve McWilliams laugh was in early summer of 2005; little realizing that soon, like a Buddhist monk wrapped in flames, he would use his own life as a metaphor for justice and light in a society gone blind with fear and greed.
I stood there talking to him, as I often did when he walked his dogs along the sidewalk in Normal Heights, discussing the weather, the dogs or the large garden I tended. With great sadness, he looked beyond my eyes, over my left shoulder, watching the bulbous clouds as they slid through the blue-green brightness. As the gray shadows moved over the daisies and roses; he remarked how, as human beings, driven by either selfishness or compassion, we can make the world either ugly or beautiful.
On his walk back, where the street ends at the edge of that great San Diego canyon, Mission Valley, he was on the opposite side and watched as I came out of the courtyard just as someone was pulling their dog off the grass, leaving a large pile of doggy-doo. Now, I had a shovel in my hand, so I scooped it up on the shovel and walked behind, yelling “Sir, you forgot something.” All the neighbors came out to witness his attempt to ignore the selfishness and contempt reflected in this act. Steve joined in that communal laugh.
It will take more than a shovel, even a skip-loader, to trail behind Judge Reuben Brooks or former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam and all the other government tyrants. Not even a freight hauler could carry the blood, anguish, wasted lives in prison, the pain and suffering they have created in their obscene efforts to control our lives.
McWilliams, nailed to a cross of pain for his efforts, fought the power of the state to regulate our personal freedoms and choices, not only for himself but every person in need of inexpensive medication without side effects. Yes, the truth shall set you free, and the government and media, both owned by powerful pharmaceutical companies, don’t want you to know that you can grow your own medicine in a coffee can, right there on the table in front of the window, alongside the geraniums and ferns.
If Steve, who suffered from severe neuropathic migraines caused by a traffic accident, had continued quietly to self-medicate with marijuana, as he had after his arrival in San Diego in 1997, he would still be with us today. However, his integrity and compassion drove him to found, with his partner, Barbara MacKenzie, Shelter from the Storm, San Diego’s first Medical Cannabis Resource Information Center.
He sought not only to empower sick people in pain with information but to liberate them from the evils of store-bought chemicals: manufactured dangerous pills, without long-term study, with threatening side-effects, developed primarily to make others, CEO’s and wealthy investors, richer.
He understood that the power of the federal government has been bought; from the President, through Congress to the Supreme Court, they have been ordered by their corporate masters to make the world safe for profit. This is what the War on Drugs is all about; why there are over 2 million young people, mostly of color, in our prisons and jails, more than the rest of the world combined.
Poor folks don’t have the resources for Valium or Prozac, so they have been criminalized, persecuted and stigmatized by the fear mongers as an excuse, the learning methodology, over the years, to build the links of the chain — a prison state, with the police and military in control, to protect the rich and to punish all who dissent.
When President George W. Bush was re-elected, a new phase in the clash of freedom over corporate tyranny began. The federal police system, using its years of experience in the hoods and barrios, moved its battle lines into middle-class neighborhoods, to win the cultural war, once and for all; to mop up the last vestiges of hippie notions and free will. Using simple-minded, cruel judges like Reuben Brooks, who McWilliams in his suicide note called “a wretched, evil little gnome,” and ambitious, ruthless agents of fear, like Carol Lam, they sought total control of our private lives.
And while the Obama administration has sought to stand down a little on the federal offense against marijuana users, local Right-wing elements and tyrannical ideologues like San Diego Police Chief Lansdowne, using his badge and taxpayer money to fund his goon squads, have went after San Diego medical marijuana users, even though that use is protected under city ordinances (as well as state law).
Steve McWilliams called himself an “impeccable warrior” in his death letter. He was facing the usual fascist response to dissent — prison- and in increasing pain, under court order not to grow or use the natural herb of relief. Saying he refused “to allow the government to control my life,” his last words were that he had “given ever thing to the cause — all my possessions, my time and, now, my life.”
In an obituary posted on the IndyMedia Web site in July 2005 I wrote the following: “Our greatest tribute to Steve, will be our own efforts toward overcoming hypocrisy and selfishness; to fight this increasingly cruel, authoritarian government on behalf of our children and neighbors. Steve, like all great and noble persons of history, hands back through space and time the courage to be free. His walk with love and death widens that path that we all must take; to make our lives meaningful, loving and liberating.”
One of Dumanis’ Victims
In his brief 28 years, Eugene Davidovich has followed all the rules, adhered to the law and lived an exemplary life. Yet, today, he stands broken, alone, homeless, persecuted and in daily pain. Clean-cut, honest spoken, go-getting; he was a child of the American dream, going from good son to impressive student to serving his country in the military. Afterward there came a fine loving marriage, a young son and a promising career in the computer programming field.
When the migraines came several years ago, he followed convention; visiting his doctor, prescription after prescription, with side-effects, until a friend turned him on to the benefits of medical cannabis. Again, following all the rules, Davidovich joined a medical marijuana collective, got a doctor’s recommendation and a city-issued patient card. Self-medicating, effectively and cheaply, he continued his family’s support, confident that he was a law-abiding citizen following the guidelines issued by the California Attorney General as outlined in Proposition 215 and adhering to the city codes and ordinances that legalized and regulated medical marijuana use.
Early in 2009, along with other legal patients of citywide medical collectives and cooperatives, he was swept up in what appears to be an illicit conspiracy by Police Chief Lansdowne and the ambitious Dumanis, to use the power of the badge and the prosecutorial muscle of the D.A.’s office to overturn and nullify city ordinances adopted by our elected officials.
Representative democracy appears to be under attack in San Diego as the Police Department, under the apparent orders of the D.A., has broadened a legitimate campaign against drug use on military bases and our campuses called alternately called “Operation Endless Summer” and “Operation Green Rx” into a witchhunt against medical marijuana users, particularly in our LGBT community.
Week after week, Davidovich and other legal cannabis users, trudge down to City Council meetings, hoping for fairness and justice, using the open forum period to plead their case. And week after week, eight sphinxes sit, roll their eyes, study reports and continue to ignore the persecution of San Diego citizens or the usurpation of the representative process in San Diego by dictatorial powers. Now, they have added insult to injury by withdrawing a mandate for city action on any kind of protection from the predatory D.A. and leaving the 30 or so dispensaries in legal limbo at risk of more attacks by Chief Lansdowne’s twisted priorities.
If the Police Chief can attack legally protected patients, as he is doing in Operation Green Rx; if the District Attorney ‘s office can tell a judge that they have arbitrary and tyrannically decided that San Diego’s ordinances and laws are invalid [which they did at the preliminary trial of Donna Lambert] without ever informing the City Council or using the legal process to go to a Superior Court or Federal judge to get them overturned: then we have moved ever closer to an Orwellian state.
“I believe in our justice system, in the rule of law,” Davidovich told me over coffee when I interviewed him in late 2009, “If I had done anything wrong, if I had broken the law, then I would simply plead guilty, accept a plea bargain and end this nightmare.” His fight back, is, indeed, our struggle. If his rights, his legal protections are not valid and can be withdrawn on a prosecutor’s whim or ambition; then, are any of us safe?
Davidovich, who followed the rules, yet ended in this Kafka-like nightmare, and all the other ill San Diegans, who thought they were protected by law, only to be attacked and prosecuted by those very authoritarian forces that should be protecting their legal rights, need our help.
What We Can Do
1. Call, write or e-mail your City Councilmember and demand they quit hiding from the issue and develop ordinances that protect the rights and access of legal users of medical marijuana.
2. Contact the District Attorney’s office and insist that this blatant political use of her office to persecute and prosecute legitimate medical marijuana users stop.
3. Contact San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and suggest that department manpower spent lying to doctors, falsifying documents, and infiltrating professional co-ops and collectives should cease. Scarce funds could better be used to fight real crime against persons and property.