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Friday, February 18, 2005

Two excessive displays in Springfield

I headed down to the state capital in Illinois yesterday to see a committee hearing on medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the bill did not get voted out of committee, so there it remains. Yet many interesting things took place; Pete at Drug WarRant has a complete report.

To me, the day was typified by the two incidents involving heavy security and seemingly harmless middle-aged white men.

One man was named John Walters; the other was named Irvin Rosenfeld. Both came from out of state to testify at the hearing.

John Walters, of course, is the federal drug czar. This political appointee flew in at taxpayer expense with a full entourage, including several serious-looking security people. The intense security detail was there, I suppose, to protect the czar from the good people of Illinois. Or, perhaps, to give an otherwise bland and unimpressive bureaucrat a sense of authority. Either way, it was unnecessary overkill.

Walters insisted he wasn't there to influence the legislative process - an obviously false cover story contradicted by his very presence (when else does he show up at a state level committee meetings?) and indicative of the sincerity of all his remarks.

Physically isolated by his security team, intellectually isolated by rigid ideology,  I wonder if Walters even carries the capacity for recognizing the difference between a truth and a lie.

And, indeed, he and his allies did not want to acknowledge the truth of the other fellow who found himself surrounded by security at the state house.

Irvin Rosenfeld came to Illinois by himself from his home state of Florida and offered an unimpeachable, fact-based presentation on his experience with medical marijuana. One of the seven surviving patients in a federal medical marijuana program, Rosenfeld gets eleven ounces shipped to his pharmacy by Uncle Sam every 25 days. He's been smoking roughly 12 joints a day for 22 years. He and his doctors know that it helps relieve the pain from a rare bone disease called
multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses.

He believes that the marijuana has not only extended his life, but made his disease bearable for all these years. He's had comprehensive physical examinations which have determined no ill effects from all those years of smoking.

"The government does give marijuana to patients. I'm living proof," he told reporters during a press conference. "I'm also living proof that it works well. I'm also living proof that the government doesn't want to know how well it works. If they want to do research, all they have to do is contact me."

He brought a tin can full of marijuana cigarettes that he picks up at his pharmacy each month and showed them to a room full of astonished state legislators during the hearing. Shortly after his presentation, he found himself surrounded by four burly state security officers. They wanted to ask him some questions, and they didn't want the press to follow, so some other reporters and I were barred from the elevator where he was hustled away.

Fortunately, one of the reporters had a good idea where they were taking him. I followed her and watched as Rosenfeld faced what seemed like an unofficial interrogation over his medicine (asked repeatedly whether Rosenfeld was under arrest or being detained, the security officers would only say, "No comment.").

I thought Rosenfeld was a hero before, but watching his grace under pressure amazed me. He was polite and cooperative with the officers, effectively educating them, while remaining firm about his rights and the limits of their intrusions (he was not going to let the tin can out of his sight, and I don't blame him).

He showed them many documents confirming his situation, and offered phone numbers for his pharmacy as well as a DEA agent with whom he is on friendly terms. Eventually they got confirmation they deemed acceptable and let him go, but not before an officer finally acknowledged that Rosenfeld was being detained, and he was removed from the sight from reporters. He was released shortly after that, and he said such things happen when he speaks up. Why does he continue to do it?

Because, unlike sicker patients who have more trouble with mobility, he can. And because citizens have the right to spread the truth in America.

So it goes in the drug war. If you're a private citizen, obeying the law and exercising clearly established rights, prepare to be hassled by security. If you are a political appointee engaging in legally questionable behavior and spreading false and defamatory insinuation as fact, then you are entitled to the best protection taxpayer money can buy.

In a more sane world, Rosenfeld wouldn't face any scrutiny from law enforcement, but Walters sure would.

9:47:31 AM | permalink | comment []

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