ARRESTED FOR GIVING MARIJUANA TO THE SICK

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Date: Wed, 06 Dec 2000 04:30:29 -0800
From: "D. Paul Stanford" <stanford@crrh.org>
To: restore@crrh.org
Subject: NY: The Herbalist
Message-ID: <5.0.0.25.2.20001206043010.04ff4ab0@mail.olywa.net>

Newshawk: M & M Family
Pubdate: Wed, 06 Dec 2000
Source: Village Voice (NY)
Copyright: 2000 VV Publishing Corporation
Contact: editor@villagevoice.com
Address: 36 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003
Feedback: http://www.villagevoice.com/aboutus/contact.shtml
Website: Village Voice | New York News, Food, Culture and Events
Author: Andrew Friedman

ARRESTED FOR GIVING MARIJUANA TO THE SICK, KENNETH TOGLIA STILL SOWS
SEEDS OF HOPE

When the cops arrested him this time, Kenneth Toglia was sitting
down. It happened Wednesday, November 8, at a meeting of the New York
Medical Marijuana Patients Cooperative, the buyers club Toglia
operates to sell marijuana to patients suffering from cancer, AIDS,
MS, and glaucoma. The police tagged him with felony possession, a
charge soon dropped to a misdemeanor.

Though the officers merely ticketed patients, Toglia says, they
arrested two other volunteers of the cooperative, who were meeting in
the narrow East Village walk-up at 130 East Seventh Street near
Tompkins Square, and confiscated more than a pound of pot and a pile
of oatmeal raisin cookies baked with cannabis oil, which give
patients with lung disease an easier way to digest the substance. All
but two dozen of the cookies, which somewhat mysteriously
disappeared, turned up in the officers' report.

This is the second time Toglia, a lifelong activist who also
coordinates substance abuse assistance programs at two community
service agencies for the mentally ill and HIV-positive, has been
arrested for his efforts to provide sick people with marijuana, a
drug that dramatically relieves nausea for chemotherapy patients,
restores appetite for people with AIDS, reduces spasticity for MS
sufferers, eases inner-eye pressure for those with glaucoma, and
alleviates pain. For this crime, he faces up to a year in jail and a
$1000 fine. His next court date is December 20.

Undaunted, Toglia would like to announce that the cooperative's
Wednesday-night meetings will continue running from 6 to 8 p.m. at
the same place where the activists were busted last time, the
University of the Streets, the 34-year-old community organization
that offers rehearsal space and dance, jazz, and martial arts lessons
to the neighborhood. The cooperative will not sell pot at that site
anymore. It will register new patients for the service there, and
then direct them to a new location for medical marijuana.

A couple other buyers' clubs operate around town, but Toglia's is
known for its efforts to reach out to a poorer, more disenfranchised
clientele, even giving away pot to those who prove they have very low
incomes. Buyers' clubs, which have existed in New York from the late
1980s, have traditionally been fairly underground groups, rotating
their meetings among a tight circuit of private apartments,
advertised by word of mouth. Toglia holds the cooperative's meetings
in semipublic, in the houses of mainstream institutions that bolster
their communities with vital support services. For a year, the
cooperative met in the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center on
the West Side. The group moved to the University of the Streets this
fall.

"There's a certain security to the club," says Toglia, 34, who lives
in Greenpoint. "They can get pot anywhere. Really what they get from
us is a sense of community and a larger political purpose. We explain
to them that it is quasi-legal and that it really is a kind of civil
disobedience on their part just to have our card. We're registering
people to vote now. It's not required, but we strongly encourage it."

Much like the activists from California involved in the medical
marijuana case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear last week,
Toglia sees himself as a political activist, not a pot dealer. He
knows about the lag between common knowledge and social change, and
has lived a life on the hinge that swings one to the other: direct
action.

Toglia came to New York in the '80s with his single mom, a gay rights
activist. Caught with weed and thrown out of Bryant High School in
Queens, he found the hardcore punk rock scene and, like so many other
political kids, divided his time between Black Flag shows and the
radical dreaming of the Lower East Side squatters. He learned
construction and specialized in seizing abandoned buildings. In 1987,
he organized resistance to the shuttering of a squat on East Fifth
Street. In 1988, he helped steer protests against the curfew at
Tompkins Square Park, where disorganized cops violently assaulted
demonstrators and neighborhood residents, triggering a quake of
public outrage. A later clash led to his spending a year in Rikers
Island and Ogdensburg for inciting a riot.

He reentered the world through a work-release program at Housing
Works, a housing organization for people with HIV and AIDS, where he
met patients who told him how marijuana eased their symptoms. In
time, he started the cooperative. "I saw that it was not taken
seriously where there was really a great need for it," he says. "We
started out very loose and disorderly, as you can imagine."

About 10 people now run the cooperative, which is searching for a
permanent sanctuary, possibly a church. The group has more than 600
registered members. They buy the pot on the black market, and Toglia
believes it is all grown in New York State. Patients who prove that
they have a chronic degenerative or terminal illness-usually with
official forms, letters from their doctors, or prescriptions for
commonly known medications-come to weekly meetings to buy the
high-quality weed and enter a supportive community that provides
substance abuse counseling, intervention, and social service
referrals.

The first time Toglia was arrested over medical marijuana, as he was
bringing pot to the house of a bedridden patient, he spent 72 hours
in prison before being arraigned. Finally, he pleaded guilty to a
misdemeanor, then served his punishment by volunteering at an AIDS
organization in Brooklyn, the kind of work he does anyway. This time,
getting out took only 25 hours, and prosecutors reduced his charges
to a misdemeanor.

"We told them we'd go to the grand jury and say we were giving it to
people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and MS, and that if they think
that's a crime they can charge us," he says.

Ruth Liebesman, one of Toglia's lawyers, says a verbal understanding
with the district attorney not to prosecute medical marijuana cases
has existed for four years, ever since the first major medical
marijuana case in New York City, when felony charges against a man
named Johann Moore were dismissed. Toglia says a largely sympathetic
police force has stopped more than 40 patients of the cooperative
over the past two years and let almost all of them go, many with
their weed. He is now searching for doctors, nurses, and lawyers to
help build the group into a larger nonprofit harm-reduction outfit
with more services, and says activists are discussing a petition
drive to put the issue of medical marijuana laws on the ballot;
similar drives have passed medical marijuana laws in California,
Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and
Colorado.

"I really see the medical marijuana thing as where clean needles were
a couple of years ago," he says. "Established figures don't like it,
but the fact is, the scientific proof is there. It's needed here in
New York and they have to make some kind of allowance for it.

"Eventually the law is going to change. Marijuana prohibition was
kept in place by misinformation. In the Internet age, everybody
already knows the deal."

The New York Medical Marijuana Patients Cooperative can be reached at
212-696-8954, or by e-mail at medpotny@hotmail.com.
_____________________________________________
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