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Ex-Marine Takes the Pot Campaipn


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When he returned home to Kansas in April 2006, on leave after his first tour, he had some troubles. "I had a hard time adopting back to America," said Engel, who now lives in Arcata. He had panic attacks and couldn't deal with life back home.

"I smoked marijuana to calm myself down," Engel said. "I'm not a big fan of Western medicine." Engel said the smoking worked.

And now, kicked out of the Marines for failing a drug test, Engel is leading the Humboldt County charge for a initiative that would decriminalize marijuana and repeal all non-violent marijuana-related convictions.

After smoking marijuana, he said, he was better able to deal with going from a war zone to the safe confines of home in a matter of days and when his leave was over he returned to his home base at Twentynine Palms, Calif.

That's when the trouble started.

Engel said he failed a drug test and was immediately reduced from a lance corporal to a private first class and confined to his room on the base for 45 days.

"Instead of dealing with any of my issues, they punished me," Engel said. "They put me in a room to think about what I did."

The Marines also cut his pay, but ordered him to get his uniforms altered, which his mother had to help him pay for.

He said he knew one Marine who failed a drug test with cocaine but was put back in the field. And he has heard of Marines failing tests for harder drugs, such as methamphetamine, and who returned to duty.

As part of his punishment, Engel was also prevented from attending a Marine function where family members of fallen Marines from his unit were in attendance, including the parents of his team leader, Cpl. Jonathan Spears.

"I would have loved to talk to them," Engel said, "because he was the most outstanding Marine."

And the father of his friend who was killed, Lance Cpl. Sergio Escobar, was asking other Marines where Engel was.

His peers did not hold anything against him for the failed drug test, he said, but officers and some superiors would berate him.

"One sergeant told me the reason Marines died in Iraq is because I smoked marijuana," Engel said.

Within weeks of his unit going to Iraq for a second tour, Engel was kicked out of the Marines.

"They came to my room one day and knocked on my door," Engel said. "They said, 'You need to check in with the first sergeant. Your discharge papers are here.' I said 'What?'"

Engel made it clear that he had not been looking for a ticket out of the Marines. The camaraderie and experience with his colleagues was strong, and he felt an obligation to be with them in Ramadi for the second tour, although he was vocal about what he described as insufficient equipment and weapons.

Within three days, he was off the base and couch-surfing from San Jose to Lake Tahoe.

In September he made his way to Arcata and "fell in love with it."

"Arcata has a very strong sense of community," Engel said, and that's the catalyst he has using to propel himself into getting enough signatures to qualify the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative 2008 for the ballot.

The initiative "decriminalizes possession, cultivation, transportation, distribution and use of marijuana or hemp," the petition summary states.

"Provides persons convicted or serving time for non-violent offenses involving marijuana be immediately released from prison, jail, parole or probation and be eligible to have their convictions erased."

The initiative covers every aspect of marijuana, from hemp used as fuel to medicinal uses, and Engel is passionate about every aspect.

"It's the most beneficial natural resource in the world, and we're not allowed to use it," Engel said. "Instead of it being the problem, let it be the solution."

More information on the initiative can be found by logging on to Welcome to Jack Herer's Home on the Web and clicking "initiative."

Source: Times-Standard (Eureka,CA)
Copyright: 2008 Media News Group
Contact: editor@times-standard.com
Website: Times-Standard Online - Home
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