contributed by Shannon Floyd

Reefer Mindless
by Michael Simmons
Penthouse August 2000

As we enter a new century, the decades-long war against marijuana
continues, with pot busts doubling in the past decade, and tens of
thousands of Americans behind bars for possessing, growing, or selling
the nation's third favorite recreational drug. When will this official
Reefer Madness end? Possibly sooner than anyone thinks.

"We are locking up this country!" the boyish-looking man in a suit
thundered from the podium. "Should drug use in the privacy of your own
home ... end you up in jail?"

The packed crowd in a conference room at the Pyramid Crown Plaza Hotel
in Albuquerque, New Mexico, answered the question with an emphatic "NO!"

"Does anybody want to press a button and retroactively punish the 80
millio Americans who have done illegal drugs?" the man then asked.
"NO!" the crowd roared back again. "And did I mention that I'm one of
those people? I'm one of the 80 million!"

This impassioned speech, delivered last November before a group of
durg-law reformers attending a panel discussion on "The Drug War: Who is
Winning?", could have been made by any one of 70 million Americans who
have smoked pot, or the millions more who've tried harder stuff. But
here was Gary E. Johnson, the second-term Republican governor of New
Mexico, denouncing the war on drugs as "a miserable failure." The
47-year-old triatlete, who now abstains from all mind-altering
substances, including sugar, admitted prior to winning his first term in
1994 to using both marijuana and cocaine during his college days. After
declining to run for higher office following his second and last term
(which expires January 2002), Johnson began to air his maverick views.
He has received enthusiastic praise from those who see the drug war as
an attack by the government on its own citizens. He's also become the
whipping bo for everybody from White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey,
who claimed that schoolkids were referring to the governor as "Puff
Daddy" Johnson ("This is goofy thinking that's harmful to New Mexico,"
remarked the czar -- "He ought to be ashamed of himself"), to fellow New
Mexican politicos and law-enforcement officials, to a middle-school
cheerleading team that refused to meet with Johnson because of his

In a conversation after the conference, Johnson discoursed upon the
"reefer madness" scare tactics prevalent in his own youth, today's
ludicrous brain-on-drugs-equals-fried-eggs analogy, and the inability of
rule makers to differentiate between substances as disparate as pot and
heroin. "We lived the lie," he said. "Kids continue to live it, see it
played out on them. Take the [Partnership for a Drug-Free America]
advertisement, 'Here's your brain, and here's your brain on drugs.'
Well, okay, so that means marijuana. We experienced the same thing. We
did marijuana. And it's not what it's been portrayed. You don't lose
your mind. You don't have a propensity to do crime. It's okay. It's
not a bad experience. So does that mean what the rest of the government
is telling us is also a lie?"

Unlike other boomer politicos, Johnson doesn't mince words or plead
"youthful experimentation" to explain his inhalations. "I didn't
experiment, I smoked pot," he said. "At the time, it was something that
a lot of us did. We knew it was against the law. Did any of us belong
in jail as a result of what you can argue was a bad choice? I don't
think so. And that is really what this is about. We're in charge today.
So now that we're in charge today, are we supposed to enact laws that
would have made our lives different? It seems like today we're trying
to get tougher with things that we got away with! And there's hypocrisy
to that, in my opinion."

Johnson is a mind-blowing anomaly -- a politician who tells the truth,
consequences be damned. And the core truth he speaks is that at the
heart of the multibillion-dollar drug war and its thousands of related
jobs in law enforcement and the prisons system is the nonsensical
demonization of marijuana. For 63 years, since the passage of the
Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937, Americans have been told that pot is an
addictive narcotic that causes everything from amotivational syndrome to
sociopathic behavior to premature death. (The Controlled Substances Act
of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and
L.S.D., thus categorizing it as a substance with a high potential for
abuse and no medicinal applications.) Yet as we enter the twenty-first
century, pot is the third favorite recreational drug of choice in the
United States after alcohol and tobacco. Unlike alcohol and tobacco,
however, marijuana cannot be bought legally pleasure or relaxation by
Americans who run to the corner store. Unlike alcohol or tobacco,
marijuana found in the possession of adults can result in criminal
sanctions ranging from the equivalent of a parking ticket to, in the
case of a federal statute governing the import or growing of more than
50,000 plants or pounds, the death penalty.

But the truth is that, slowly and inexorably, the Berlin Wall of
Pothibition is crumbling. The millions of Americans who have either
tried or continue to smoke marijuana know that its negative side effects
are either overstated or outright lies, and public outrage at teh
constitutional violations perpetrated in the name of the drug war is
increasing exponentially. Medical marijuana has enjoyed majority
support wherever it's been on the ballot. And farmers looking for a
profitable crop, entrepreneurs and young people looking for a cause have
transformed hemp -- the nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana, with
hundreds of beneficial uses -- into a $200-million-a-year industry.

Still, there is a dangerous disconnect at work in America regarding
marijuana. Viewers guffaw when the gang in the 70's Show paints a
marijuana leaf on the town's water tower -- cultural code that marijuana
is a relatively harmless drug as well as a rite of passage for youth.
Reefer jokes are cracked on The Simpsons and by Jay Leno on the Tonight
Show, and weed is smoked to hilarious effect in such major studio movies
as Dazed and Confused and The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, tens of
thousands of Americans are arrested annually, imprisoned, and made to
face forfeiture of their homes and belongings because of its use,
cultivation, or sale. Furthermore, draconian mandatory minimum
sentencing (the least amount of prison time to be served by law) passed
by Congress and many states is grossly disproportionate to the alleged
crime, as well as leaving judges no leeway to take into consideration
the particulars of each case.

Indeed, the continuing integration of marijuana into the mainstream
American experience -- with presidential candidates, actors, musicians,
scientists, even Olympic medalists tabbed as tokers -- has led to a
common perception that reefer laws are relatively lax. While this is
true for small quantities of marijuana in certain regions, the horror
stories belie any notions that pot has been de facto legalized. "People
have this misinformed belief that people don't go to prison for
marijuana," says Monica Pratt of Families Against Mandatory Minimums,
one of the foremost drug-prisoner-rights organizations, headquartered in
Washington, D.C. "It's a willful blindness to what's going on in
America right now."

Last November, Time Magazine ran a tongue-in-cheek but factually
accurate of the breakdown of the particular social groups that prefer
certain drugs. For pot smokers, the social group was described as

According to recent studies, more than 70 million Americans have smoked
marijuana at least once in their lifetime, 11 million use it monthly,
and about half of those inhale almost daily; this means that about five
percent of people over the age of 12 can be loosely defined as pot
smokers, and between five and six million of them are dedicated stoners.

Of course these figures must be gauged against the reality that many
potheads will not 'fess up to illegal behavior, even when guaranteed
anonymity. With "zero tolerance" the watchphrase of the antidrug forces
and corporate policy makers, such paranoia is completely justified. If
you factor in expanded police power to search and seize, payments to
informants, snitching for plea bargains, aggressive conspiracy charges,
and mandatory urine testing, the pot smokers' dilemma becomes abundantly
clear. Their jobs and thier families, not to mention their very freedom
from imprisonment, are constantly at stake. As R. Keith Stroup, the
56-year-old founder and director of the Washington-based National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, observes, "People are in
the closet; they're intimidated after 20 years of the war on drugs.
They can't be honest; they might lose their jobs, or they might get
drug-tested. There are all kinds of reasons why people are not
necessarily honest about how they feel about marijuana smoking --
including those of us who smoke."

Supplying these millions of American tokers with their recreational drug
of choice is an underground industry that survives -- and thrives --
through secrecy. Last year, Jon Gettman, former director of NORML,
published " Marijuana by the Numbers," an as-definitive-as-possible
statistical breakdown of the American marijuana trade in the "industry"
magazine High Times. Gettman cites a 1998 NORML report that estimated
1997 U.S. domestic pot production at nearly 5.5 million pounds.
(According to 1997 Drug Enforcement Administration figures, California
is the domestic leader in marijuana production, followed by Tennessee,
Kentucky, Florida, and Hawaii.) Using High Times's highly regarded
market-quotations page as an index, the report guesstimated the weed's
total retail value to be $15 billion at $2,765 a pound. (An ounce of
pot currently retails for anywhere from $120 to $700, depending on the
regional market and quality of the drug, with the average price
somewhere in the middle.) NORML compared these numbers to federal
Agriculture Department figures and concluded that marijuana is the now
America's fourth-largest cash crop, behind corn, soybeans, and hay, and
worth as much as wheat and cotton combined.

Although domestic pot production has been rising steadily over the
years, with increasing amounts being grown indoors under scrupulous
conditions aimed at producing high-potency, high priced weed, it is
imported marijuana, primarily from Mexico, that remains the toker's
mainstay, especially in locales where there is no pot-growing culture
and high-quality strains are hard to find or afford.

Debate rages over whether marijuana is stronger than it was 20 years
ago. The antidrug warriors say yes, maintaining it's so much more
potent that it's a different drug, thereby justifying their
zero-tolerance tactics. To bolster their contention, they point to
research done at the University of Mississippi, the home of the federal
government's pot farm. The Potency Monitoring Project at Ole Miss has
found that pot is stronger now than in the early seventies, though its
average strength has been consistent since the early eighties. On the
other hadn, independent analyses have detected higher THC
(tetrahydrocannabinol, pot's psychoactive cannabinoid) content in such
seventies strains as Maui Wowie and Thai Stick than in most currently
available strains, bolstering the contention of pot advocates that
today's weed presents no unique danger.

Not content to attack marijuana alone, zero-tolerance zealot also target
its "delivery systems." Most states have some form of
anti-paraphernalia laws on the books, and while there are no available
statistics on how many candy-store owners get raided for carryingn Bambu
rolling papers, the paraphernalia laws come in handy when prosecutors
want to "pile on" years to a drug offender's prison sentence.
Furthermore, the paraphernalia laws are often used by the local police
as a pretext for an assalt in what is at its core a cultural war. Says
NORML's deputy director Allen St. Pierre, "It's literally town by town
by town. If a shop owner has things such as NORML information, or High
Times or other countercultural magazines at hand, or if there are
T-shirts or other cultural affectations in the store that would lead a
reasonable person to believe that marijuana was part of the culture
within, then that's the standard that one would probably use to arrest
somebody for selling paraphernalia. That's why most prudent
paraphernalia stores strew their displays with tobacco and insist on 18
and over, as they should, and have zero discussions beyond the obvious."

From sea to shining sea, and contrary to popular perception, the war
against marijuana is increasing in intensity. According to available
data, pot busts have accelerated in the 1990s, most notably during the
phony-liberal Clinton administration. F.B.I. statistics for 1998 record
682,885 marijuana arrests, 88 percent for mere possession, belying law
enforcements's conventional spin that the enforcers are mainly concerned
with large-scale growth and distribution rackets. These figures are
slightly lower than those of the year before, when NORML noted that the
Clinton administration had already outbusted the kinder, gentler George
Bush by 30 percent on an average yearly basis. In fact, pot busts have
more than doubled since 1990, while those for heroin and cocaine fell by
more than 50 percent. In 1998, 44 percent of all drug arrests were for
marijuana; one out of every 25 criminal arrests was for marijuana
possession; and one in seven persons in prison for drugs had been
convicted on marijuana charges. (Interestingly, teh number of pot
arrests has risen steadily while the estimated number of smokers has
fallen off from a reported high in 1979.) Approximately 43,000
Americans are presently behind state or federal bars for marijuana, at
an estimated social cost of $7.5 billion annually. More Americans get
popped annually for marijuana (and many receive harsher sentences) than
for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault combined. According
to current federal mandatory minimum sentencing law, you can be
imprisoned for 15 to 21 months and fined $1 million for delivery or sale
of a single joint, and slapped with five to 40 years and a $2 million
fine for possessing more than 100 plants. Cultivating or selling more
than 1,000 plants or 1,000 kilograms can earn you a life sentence in a
federal penitentiary.

What's more, nowadays there are fewer safe havens in hiterto lenient
cities or states. In New York City, for example, cops used to issue a
noncriminal summons for small-time pot possession (less than 25 grams).
But under the rubric of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's "quality of life"
program, the N.Y.P.D. now employs everything from undercover cops posing
as dealers to surveillance cameras in Washington Square Park to entrap
smokers. More than 40,000 pot arrests were made in New York City in
1998, seven times teh figure for 1993, the year before Giuliani took
office. Offenders are detained until arraignment, which means if you're
caught smoking a joint on a Friday, you may spend your weekend in stir.

Matters are far from laid-back for pot enthusiasts in California. Last
October, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, an interagency
eradication effort, announced that it had already seized 241,164 plants
for the year 1999. The confiscated plants had an estimated value of
$965 million, up 80 percent over the '98 tallies, and 40 percent higher
than the previous record year of 1985. And while law enforcement
figures warned that the passage in 1996 of Proposition 215, the
initiative that legalized medical marijuana in California, would tie
their hands and create a de facto legalization of recreational marijuana
use in the state, there were nearly 2,000 state pot prisoners in
California in July of '99, an increase of ten percent since the
proposition passed with the support of 56 percent of voters. In fact,
while possession of less than an ounce is punishable by a relatively
light $100 fine, the state's cops and prosecutors see red when it comes
to anything greater than an ounce, especially where cultivation and/or
distribution are concerned, with the possible exemption (thanks to
Proposition 215, as we shall see) of some medical marijuana operations.

New York State tops the United States for the greatest number of pot
busts per 100,000 smokers (6,294 as of 1997), but regionally most take
place in Midwestern states (for sales/manufacture) and the Midwest and
South (for possession). Justice in some of these states is often wildly
disproportionate to the alleged crime, even when compared with the
national standard. Oklahoma, for example, has what are overall probably
the harshest pot penalties in the United States. Possession of any
amount (such as the residue of a joint) can bring up to a year in jail
and a $500 fine. A second offense ( a second bust for the residue of a
joint) warrants two years to life and and a $20,000 fine. Possession of
paraphernalia (say, a single rolling paper) is punishable by a year in
jail and a $1,000 fine. Four years' to life imprisonment is mandated
for sale or delivery of under 25 pounds, and the minimum penalty
increases with larger quantities. Punishments are doubled for sale to a
minor or within 1,000 feet of a school. And, as in several other
states, you can have your driver's license suspended as penalty even if
you're not driving while nabbed.

Will Foster is the most well-known victim of Oklahoma's zero-tolerance
legislation. The 42-year-old Tulsa father of three was given a 93-year
sentence in 1997 for 60 plants (said the prosecutor; 10 plants and 50
seedlings and clones, Foster maintained). Foster has advanced
rheumatoid arthritis, precisely the kind of ailment for which pot has
been shown to be an effective medicine in numerous studies, including
six presented to the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., in
1997. In the summer of 1998, Foster's sentence was reduced to 20 years,
but Governor Frank Keating has ignored repeated pleas and declined to
pardon him. In face, Keating is pushing the Oklahoma legislature to
toughen its marijuana laws.

Latter-day frontier justice is not limited to state law, however.
Current federal mandatory-minimum (or "man-min") sentencing, codified by
the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, prevents judges from using their
discretion and orders lopsided sentences disproportionate to the alleged
crimes. A man-min sentence can be reduced only if the defendant
cooperates with the prosecution and snitches others out in the pursuit
of questionable conspiracy convictions. It's a quid pro quo deal: You
give us the names of fellow travelers in order to notch our belts with
more guilty verdicts, and you'll do less time or none at all. Often,
far more culpable informants receive lighter sentences than the people
they inform on. Throw in forfeiture laws, according to which, until
recently, a drug offender -- or even anyone suspected prior to trial --
forfeits his or her assets to be divvied up among the law-enforcement
agencies involved in the case, and the result is incentive for cops and
prosecutors to use the Constitution as toilet paper.

Consequently, the number of conspiracy prosecutions against Americans
arrested for the sale or manufacture of weed has soared, wreaking havoc
on thousands of lives. Take, for example, the horror visited upon the
Tucker family of Georgia.

Gary Tucker and his wife Joanne ran Southern Lights and Hydroponics, an
indoor-outdoor gardening store in Norcross, near Atlanta. Gary's
brother Steve worked part-time at the store while he held down another
job. An indoor, soil-free method of growing plants, hydroponics is a
favorite -- but hardly the sole domain -- among marijuana planters
seeking a year-round growing season as well as high yield and privacy.
During a 1993 sting dubbed Operation Green Merchant, the D.E.A.
approached Gary Tucker. The feds had been investigating Tucker
customers who the feds suspected to be pot growers, and leaned on Gary
for permission to install surveiallance cameras in his store. Citing
privacy violations, and steadfastly insisting they turned away any
customer who mentioned marijuana, Gary refused.

When some of the Tuckers' customers were later busted and faced man-min,
they informed the feds that the Tuckers had given them advice on how to
grow pot. These allegations made the Tuckers liable for conspiracy to
manufacture. On June 27, 1993, the three Tuckers were arrested by the
D.E.A. Subsequently, all three were indicted and convicted, even though
they possessed no marijuana, and no buys or sales -- not even recorded
evidence of "advice" -- were ever introduced. Despite inducements of
leniency, none of the three would snitch or turn evidence, all
maintaining their innocence throughout. On January 11, 1994, under
man-min provision, Gary Tucker was sentenced to 16 and a half years'
imprisonment, and Steve and Joanne Tucker to ten years each. The
Tuckers began serving their sentences in 1995, and all three are
currently in federal correctional facilities. Under forfeiture laws,
the Tuckers lost their homes, their cars, their bank accounts, a truck,
and a boat. Gary and Joanne are childless, but Steve has a 14-year-old
daughter and a 13-year-old son.

In some cases, alleged marijuana transgessors face a far more deadly
penalty than prison. Donald Scott, a 61-year-old wealthy Malibu
rancher, was murdered in 1992 by a joint task force (comprised of
members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, L.A.P.D, Park
Service, D.E.A., Forest Service, California Bureau of Narcotics)
conducted an early-morning raid on the pretense that Scott was growing
pot on his property. Responding to his wife's screams, a clueless Scott
grabbed a gun and confronted the intruders. Two bullets were pumped
into him. No pot was found. Ventura County District Attorney Michael
D. Bradbury released a report criticizing the task force for using false
information to secure a search warrant. Bradbury characterized the
effort as an attempt to use forfeiture laws to slice up Scott's
considerable assets between the participating agencies. "Clearly one of
the primary purposes was a land grab by the Sheriff's Department,"
Bradbury wrote. While no law-enforcement agency or officer was ever
charged with a crime, Los Angeles County and the feds tentatively agreed
to pay $5 million to Scott's survivors earlier this year.

More recently, Mario Paz, a 65-year-old father of six and grandfather of
14, was shot dead in his Compton, California home last August by
officers from the nearby El Monte Police Department who were engaged in
an ongoing investigation. Again, it was an early-morning putsch on an
uncomprehending victim. It turns out a suspected pot dealer had used
Paz's address as a mail drop. And once again no marijuana was found,
nor was any police officer charged with murder. In January, O. J.
Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran filed a suit on behalf of Paz's
survivors, accusing the cities of El Monte and Compton of wrongful death
and conspiracy to violate Paz's civil rights.

Pot smokers find themselves increasingly confronted with the indignity
of mandatory drug testing, which, while certainly not as frightening as
gun-wielding raiders, is insulting, and arguably unconstitutional as
unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. One hopes
that our airline pilots aren't flying whacked out on sinsemilla, but the
piss testing of video-store clerks is absurd. What's more, testing can
have terrible consequences.

When 24-year-old Angela Jenkins of Houston, Texas, was in labor with her
second child, Sylvan, last September she was given a drug test which
came up positive for pot. (Her doctor, she says, explained that blood
tests for drug use were standard porcedure for expectant mothers lacking
insurance or prenatal care.) Jenkins had admitted to using marijuana
once during her pregnancy to relieve stomach cramps, two days before
going into labor. Both Sylvan and his 15-month-old brother Bishop were
taken from Jenkins and her common-law husband, Aaron Asher, 23, by
Children's Protective Services. This was on the grounds of child abuse,
based on the blood test.

As of late February of this year, the children were still in the custody
of Jenkins's mother. While Angela is permitted to see the kids, she's
forbidden to be alone with them. Both parents are employed and, by the
C.P.S. caseworker's own admission, kept a clean home, and there was no
other mistreatment of the children. Jenkins has been forced by the
court to take drug-education classes and continues to be drug-tested;
she has consistently been found clean. "I feel that the severity of
[C.P.S's] actions does not fit the case," she says. The couple's
lawyer, Phil Swisher, says he is planning to file a civil-rights
complaint against the hospital that he claims seized the children
without authorization from a court.

While the millions of Americans who smoke, grow, or sell pot, or are
suspected of doing so, continue to be subjected to the brutal whim of
politics, the past half decade has seen one noteworthy suspension of
reefer madness. Though the federal government steadfastly refuses to
classify cannabis as medicine, American voters in state after state have
expressed their support for medical marijuana. Indeed, no single
drug-reform-related issue has resonated with the public like medical
marijuana. "Med-mar," as advocates refer to it in shorthand, has
consequently become a powerful weapon in exposing the intolerance of
zero tolerance. "Most people who have a family member who is
catastrophically ill or disabled know that they would do anything in
their power to ease their loved one's suffering," says Scott Imler,
coauthor of California's Proposition 215 and director of the Los Angeles
Cannabis Resource Center. "Given that people's underlying view of
marijuana is relatively benign, it's not a big leap to say, 'I'll break
this rather archaic law in order to help ease my loved one's

As medicine, cannabis has a 3,000-year recorded history, and it was
popular in many nineteenth-century over-the-counter cures. However, the
Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which kicked off the national prohibition
that exists today, effectively ended weed's beneficent role in America.
This, despite the protests of the American Medical Association, which
acknowledged that the future could hold "substantial medical uses for
cannabis." By the sixties, it was common knowledge that cancer patients
were smoking pot to quell the nausea of chemotherapy and stimulate the
appetite, and in 1976 a glaucoma patient named Robert C. Randall became
the first American in decades to gain access to licit marijuana by suing
the federal government under the doctrine of medical necessity
(marijuana helps relieve the internal eye pressure that causes

It was the gay community, however, that propelled marijuana-as-medicine
into the front pages when it discovered that pot was literally the
difference between life and death in the treatment of AIDS. Those who
have either the full-blown disease or are H.I.V.-positive are dependent
on multiple medications to support their immune system and ward off both
a variety of predatory illnesses and death. These medications often
cause nausea and neuropathy and suppress appetite; cannabis, as it does
with cancer, relieves these problems and allows patients to proceed with
their all-important medical regimen. A kind of general medical
palliative for those afflicted with AIDS, pot was also found to assist
in abating the disastrous mix of physical pain from various
opportunistic illnesses, along with the wasting syndrome of AIDS that
causes the patient to lose muscle tissue.

Americans understand that medical marijuana is an issue that transcends
the cant and paranoia of the zero-tolerance militants. When the
financial arm of the Proposition 215 movement (funded primarily by
currency speculator George Soros) took a poll in California prior to the
November 1996 election, it found an astounding one third of those
surveyed in the state knew someone who had used pot medicinally. That
November, voters in California and Arizona passed initiatives legalizing
marijuana for sick people who had a doctor's recommendation. Since
then, seven other med-mar initiatives have passed -- in Oregon,
Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Alas