08/27/08 - Wendy Chapkis

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Wendy Chapkis, co-author of "Dying To Get High - Marijuana as Medicine" + Terry Nelson of LEAP, Official Govt Truth w/ Winston Francis, Ernesto Aguilar reports from Denver and the DNC

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, Aug 26, 2008

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

My name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Here in just a second we’re going to bring in our guest. We’ve got a lot of great reports for you from around the nation. But I want to just jump right on this. I want to welcome the coauthor of ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine,’ Wendy Chapkis. Are you with us?

Wendy Chapkis: I am.

Dean Becker: Wendy, thank you so much for being our guest. I just finished the book and I want to tell you, first off, thank you. I want to congratulate you on putting forward a very common sense and logic based examination of the subject, marijuana as medicine. And I’ll let you explain for the folks the content and what brought you to write this book.

Wendy Chapkis: Well, thank you, first of all, very much for having me on the show and I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed the book. I guess I started working on this project about a decade ago, shortly after California passed its medical marijuana law. I was living in Santa Cruz, California, and I was in a social and political community with a woman named Valerie Corral, who I know you’ve had on your radio show before. She was an epileptic who had been using marijuana for many years to help control seizures under physician supervision and had been arrested a couple of times by local law enforcement for growing a very small number of plants, under five plants. But they were unable to get a conviction against her. She argued medical necessity and when she got a lot of attention for it people started contacting her in the local community asking whether she knew how they might access cannabis for symptoms that they were having, mostly people who living with cancer, who were undergoing cancer chemotherapy and had heard that cannabis helped control nausea from that. So Valerie and her husband, Michael Corral, started giving away marijuana to very seriously ill people in the community and then once Proposition 215 passed and the provision of marijuana became legal, or at least it was legal under state law, they formed a patient-caregiver cooperative. And I, as I said, I was living in the community at that time and I watched them do this. I was very impressed with the kind of ethics that they embodied in doing this work. They, as I said, they gave away marijuana to patients and their caregivers collectively grew it on the Corral’s land. No money was exchanged. And the people who were involved in the organization were truly, if there is a, anybody has any doubt about the legitimacy of the use of cannabis as medicine only needed to hang out with these people for a few hours. They were people living with the most severe illness: cancer, HIV/AIDS, people who were in wheelchairs, people who were very, very, very ill. And they were creating community and growing their own medicine. It was really inspiring. So I stated sort of paying attention both as a member of the community but also as a scholar. I’m a sociologist and I thought, ‘My God, this is an amazing story.’ And eventually over the years decided that I wanted to write something more sustained about what they were doing and that has developed into the book, ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.’

The book does two things I think. One is, it’s a very detailed study of this organization, the organization that Valerie and Michael Corral founded, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. It talks about how the organization was founded, how it works as a collective, what their garden is like, or was like. About the DEA raid on the garden and the arrest of Valerie and Michael in 2002. And about the organization’s joining with city and county governments to sue the federal government and the ongoing battle that they’re involved with. So that’s one thing that it does, is that kind of detailed story about the organization.

And the other is an account of the criminalization of cannabis and the removal of cannabis from the pharmacopeia in the United States in the 1940s through the present. So how did that happen that a drug that was ubiquitous in medicines prior to the 1940s, how did it become a criminalized substance, not even available for medical use under physician supervision?

Dean Becker: Thank you. Once again we’re speaking with Wendy Chapkis, coauthor of ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.’ Wendy, I’m going to read just a quick half paragraph from the book.

Quote, “Almost exactly one year after the September 11 attacks WAMM members were confronted with the consequences of being designated ’enemy combatants’ in the war on drugs. On September 5, 2002 Drug Enforcement Administration agents staged and early morning raid on the organization, arresting the cofounders and seizing the collective’s entire crop of marijuana. The membership was effectively terrorized but the organization survived. In fact, WAMM went on the offensive.”

Wendy, those who have met Ms. Valerie Corral are always stunned, I think, by her true compassion, are always just enamored with the love they find from her words and her actions. And that has often, I think it has proved to be their salvation. I had an interview with her yesterday and she said something to the effect that ‘Mike and I could be arrested at any time but the DEA has pretty much shot themselves in the foot,’ in this regard. Your thoughts? Can that compassion be extrapolated? Can it be moved to other organizations?

Wendy Chapkis: Oh, I certainly think so. One of the things that we ask -- the book is full of interviews, incidentally. It’s, ‘Dying to Get High’ has not only, I think we interviewed something like forty patients, it not only has brief quotes from patients but we also interviewed the sheriff in town, elected officials, physicians and so forth -- and one of the questions that we asked both the patients and the people on the outside of the organization who were working closely with Val and with WAMM was ‘whether or not the organization was possible to replicate, to clone elsewhere or did it need Valerie to make it work?’ And everyone said she was incredibly important to the organization. That’s certainly true. But both the patients and the people who were outside of the organization but supportive of it said that they thought it was just the gold-standard, the model for what medical marijuana organizations should be. This was a success on so many levels. That is, it’s not just a pharmacy, it’s not just somewhere where you go and pick up your medicine, an alternative pharmacy. It’s certainly not a buyers’ club since nobody comes and buys anything. It’s a community. And that that role is crucial in the lives of the patients who are involved. As anybody who’s ever been sick knows, being ill, especially being seriously ill, is very isolating. And so people end up spending a lot of time alone in their homes, people that they see are often just medical personnel and WAMM provides a community where these very seriously ill people come together and have a life beyond their illness.

I think, certainly, Valerie’s role in helping make that possible is critical and you can’t underestimate how important it is that she had the vision and that she and her partner, Michael, brought it to life. But I think even without Valerie this model can be sustained. It takes commitment. It would take, I think, somebody who really cared deeply about others, to invest the kind of time and energy that she’s done, but really the magic of the organization isn’t Valerie: it’s the patients coming together and helping one another. Collectively growing their medicine, creating medicinal products from it -- the WAMM members create everything from tinctures and capsules, liniments and, of course, smoked goods from their own crop. They package it. They bring it to the meetings, they distribute it among themselves, they provide informal hospice care to one another -- over 200 members of the organization have died since its founding and none of those people have died in an isolated hospital bed without the support of other member patients and caregivers from the organization assisting them.

So, yes. Valerie is incredibly important and she is truly somebody who lives her belief. But I don’t think she’s the only one like that and certainly my exposure to the WAMM collective made me believe that this is a possibility that could be replicated elsewhere. Now, I say ‘it could be replicated elsewhere,’ but obviously the big impediment is not whether there are other Valerie Corrals out there. The big impediment is the U.S. Federal Government’s ongoing war against medical marijuana patients.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Wendy. Now, I want to read from the chapter ‘Love Grows Here.’ This is quoting Mike Corral, Valerie’s husband:

“The garden isn’t just a place where volunteers show up and grow the marijuana. Really what it is is a healing space. People are ill when they come to the garden. They are watering the plants, leafing the plants, touching the plants that are going to their medicine. Taking care of the plants, they are taking care of themselves. That line dissolves because the plants become part of their bodies over the following year after we’ve harvested.”

And I think that, you know, there is much evidence that dealing with plants, working in gardens is, in and of itself, beneficial to the human mindset and perhaps even to physical healing, right?

Wendy Chapkis: Oh absolutely. There’s a whole field of study called Therapeutic Horticulture. It’s not for nothing that hospitals plant gardens, for instance, that people can look out on it. There’s scientific evidence that it speeds healing, for instance.

Dean Becker: Right. And I wanted to touch, you were mentioning the fact that WAMM produces the tinctures and the ointments and, you know, all the various ways of utilizing the marijuana plant. And it reminded me of the hysteria that was created back when, you know, Anslinger and others said ‘There’s a new threat. Marijuana. Comes from Mexico.’ And people were fooled into believing that it was a threat because they didn’t know the guy was talking about cannabis which they were using in their ointments and tinctures, right?

Wendy Chapkis: Correct. Absolutely correct.

Dean Becker: All right. Once again, we’re speaking with Ms. Wendy Chapkis, author of ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.’ Wendy, I want to give you a couple of minutes here to tell us about your relationship with the Corrals. I mean, how long has this gone, have you known them?

Wendy Chapkis: Oh, I’ve probably known them for twenty years now just because I shared a community -- I now live in Maine -- but for many, many years I lived in Santa Cruz, California. I was teaching at the University and I was a graduate student there before that. So I knew them socially and as part of a political community in California and then I followed them through the early years of the creation of the organization and was very interested. This is not -- drug policy work is relatively new for me to be studying. Most of my research has been on gender and sexuality issues. My last book was on prostitution policies. And what was very interesting to me, as somebody who’s studied the criminalization of prostitution, when I started studying drug policy to try to understand why the federal government was so opposed to what seemed to me such an obviously good thing that Valerie and Michael were doing, is I started to hear the same arguments that were used against criminalizing commercial sex used against criminalizing drugs. Clearly, neither one of those things has worked. There’s still prostitution, there’s still drug use. What it does do is make people’s lives a lot more risky, a lot less safe for both drug users and for sex workers. And it impacts communities negatively. You have an underground economy rather instead of a regulated economy. Anyway, that was my introduction to the subject and I became completely gripped by the human interest aspects, as well as the political aspects of the story, and ended up deciding to write a book about it.

Dean Becker: Well, you know, on the West Coast, I guess, particularly California it was the involvement, the leadership of many within the gay community that also kind of teamed up with, I guess, the other marijuana activists that really gained traction and that really got progress for their state, right?

Wendy Chapkis: That’s absolutely true. Yes. I mean, certainly one of the groups that’s been most centrally involved in medical marijuana activism has been gay men living with AIDS. And that, indeed, was probably the reason that the compassionate use program by the federal government was stopped is that there were thousands and thousands of people who would have qualified under the compassionate use program to get federally supplied marijuana because AIDS wasting syndrome was one of the early conditions that scientists discovered could be alleviated through using cannabis. And the federal government, instead of realizing that their policies on medical marijuana were ridiculous, decided to simply end the compassionate use program, or to not allow any new patients to join. So patients instead now have bonded together and changed state law and created California’s Proposition 215, for instance, to allow patients to grow and use cannabis for medical use with a physician recommendation. So yes, the gay community has been absolutely centrally involved in medical marijuana.

Dean Becker: All right. Wendy, I find it hard to say this. But we’re going to have to wrap this up in about a minute. I want to invite you to come back at a future date and perhaps you and your coauthor, Richard Webb. She’s the author of ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.’ Great new book I highly recommend. And a closing thought I want to bounce off of you, Wendy, is that if we only had, you know, one person in every state with the courage of Valerie Corral I think much of this drug war would be over in a hurry, right?

Wendy Chapkis: Oh, absolutely. And if we had only the courage of the patients involved in WAMM -- these people who are living with the most serious illnesses, taking on the most powerful government on Earth. These people are incredible role models for all of us.

Dean Becker: Indeed they are. Well, Wendy, real quick, is there a website you want to point folks towards?

Wendy Chapkis: If they go to the New York University Press website, that’s the publisher of the book, the New York University Press, they can click on a link that will take them to information about ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine.’ And that link includes, for instance, the introduction to the book which they can read online.

Dean Becker: All right. Wendy Chapkis, thank you so much.

Wendy Chapkis: Thank you.

It’s time to play ‘Name That Drug by its Side Effects.’

Serious infections, headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, injection site reactions, tuberculosis, lymphoma, depression, personality disorders, multiple sclerosis, seizures and death.

Times Up!

The answer! From Amgen and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--Enbrel for arthritis.


Terry Nelson spent thirty-three years working for the U.S. government as a customs, border and air interdiction officer. He retired about two months ago as a GS-14, the equivalent of a bird colonel.



Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards, and wardens. They have seen first hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

Please visit LEAP.cc.

Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson, speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is calling for an end to America’s drug war by initiating a total policy change. Instead of arrest and incarceration it is time to use regulation and control coupled with education and treatment for drug abusers. And as many of you know, for something to regulated or controlled it must be legal. By instituting a policy of regulation and control we can eliminate about eighty percent of the crime and violence associated with drug trafficking.

We can also humanize drug users instead of judging them and labeling them as ‘just another junkie.’ The first thing propaganda specialists do in a war is to dehumanize the enemy but in this case the ‘enemy’ is our citizens. So in effect, this is not a war on drugs but is a war on our citizens.

Last week I attended the National Black Police Officers Association in St. Louis, Missouri. I talked with many of their leaders as well as rank and file officers. Many of these officers are already LEAP members but we signed up several more members on this trip. Of the officers that we spoke to, approximately 84% of them agreed with us with only one officer disagreeing and the remainder of the officers were undecided or did not put their names down for fear of retribution from their departments.

While attending this meeting, I was invited to appear on two talk radio stations and, again, a majority of the callers agreed that the war on drugs in its current state is a total waste. One of the callers who served as a United States Attorney during the Reagan Administration and was a former chief of a regional organized crime/drug taskforce supported our position completely.

When I speak to citizens, including police officers, I get this type of reaction. They are receptive to change. I know, without a doubt, it is the right thing to do and that it’s just a matter of time before the legislators, policy makers and official resistance will feel the need to acknowledge failure and consider change. What better time than this contentious election year to have an open discussion about making America safer and better for all citizens.

LEAP believes that it’s time for total policy change in order to win America’s drug war. Legalize, regulate and use the resulting billions of dollars in savings to provide education, funds for medical treatment and research to find a cure for drug addiction. LEAP believes that drugs are too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals. Sustaining the current drug war policy and essentially supporting drug cartels is ludicrous. It’s time to openly discuss the issue and create a strategy for success. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

This is Terry Nelson at www.LEAP.cc signing off.

[Pseudo-Gilbert and Sullivan accompaniment]

Fizer and Merck kill more of us
than the cartels’ crap ever could.
They thank us for silence,
Each year’s hundred billion dollars,
And the chance to do it for evermore.

Drugs: the first eternal war.

Dean Becker: The fact is, we invite politicians, authorities of many types to come on our show and defend this policy of drug war and they absolutely refuse to do so, so we produce the following segment on their behalf.

Winston Francis: If you think that smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody then you’ve been hypnotized by the drug legalization advocates’ nonsense and mumbo-jumbo. Let’s break the trance. In Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is essentially a narco-terrorist organization that enjoys shooting down planes, blowing up buildings and killing innocent people. They fund their activities through the drug trade. On August 22, 2008, the Colombian Army seized 6.7 tons of marijuana from our friends at FARC. It was enough to cover a parking lot. So let’s break it down: they give you the marijuana, you give them the money, they take the money and buy a bomb, they use the bomb they bought with your money to kill innocent people.


It sounds to me like you’re indirectly responsible for an atrocity. So it does hurt someone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You have to buy it there because you can’t get it anywhere else because it’s illegal. Well, that’s just an excuse. Would a rapist’s actions be excused if it could be shown that rape was the only way he could have sex? Of course not.

There is of course one other option that both he and you have chosen to ignore and that is to obey the law. The law is not some list of arbitrary rules designed to inconvenience you. Our laws are in place to prevent you from doing things that hurt other people and to prevent other people from doing things that could hurt you.

Remember, the money you use to buy marijuana buys bombs that kill good people: women, children, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. And just because you will never be held accountable for that doesn’t mean that you’re not responsible for it.

This has been Winston Francis with the Official Government Truth.

Dean Becker: The Program Director of the Mothership of the Drug Truth Network is in Denver and he files the following report from the Democratic National Convention.

Ernesto Aguilar: Let me have you introduce yourself first.

Richard Eastman: All right. My name is Richard Eastman. I’m 55 years old living with HIV and AIDS since 1994 and I’m one of the founders of medical marijuana in the United States.

Ernesto Aguilar: So what brought you out to the DNC?

Richard Eastman: Well, first of all we need to elect a president like Barack Obama, who believes in compassionately helping sick and dying people that need medical marijuana, people with cancer and AIDS and MS and all the serious illnesses that affect people that need it. In 1996 I worked on Proposition 215 and I opened the very first and second cannabis clubs in California with Dennis Peron and it was called the Compassionate Use Act and because of that it spread to twelve states and we have six hundred cannabis buyers’ clubs in California and I’m here in Denver because on Thursday, August 28, at 1:15, the Secret Service gave me a permit for 10,000 people to march in support of medical marijuana. From the Lincoln State Park to the Invesco Field and then we’re going to be in the free-speech zone. And we’ve invited people like Irv Rosenfeld, one of the medical marijuana patients that gets his marijuana from the government. A lot of surprise celebrities, Dennis Peron, Richard Eastman and Steve Corchado, one of the founders of medical marijuana and we’re looking forward to having 10,000 patients marching in support of medical marijuana.

Barack Obama has said that would end the war on medical marijuana by telling the DEA to stop raiding us and that’s why we need to elect Barack Obama our next president.

Ernetso Aguilar: What has the evolution of this issue been? As pointed out...

Richard Eastman: It actually started back about 25, 30 years ago with a friend of ours, his name was Bob Randall, he was a glaucoma patient and he died of AIDS a few years ago. But it started in the late 70s and early 80s in Washington, DC, when Bob Randall started the first modern medical marijuana movement. And then when Dennis Peron decided to open the medical marijuana cannabis buyers’ club in the early 90s because people were dying of AIDS and they need medication to keep them eating the modern medical marijuana movement was born. I almost died from HIV and AIDS in 1994 but I became an experimental guy with the protease inhibitors and I traveled to Europe twice and spoke out for people with AIDS all over the planet. I met President Clinton with my friend Steve Corchado, we’re the only two activists to ever meet the president. And this issue has gone on for a long time and it should end soon if we get Barack as a president.

John McCain has said he would keep the war in Iraq for a hundred years. You know, he would keep the war on drugs a hundred years too. So we don’t want John McCain as president. He probably would arrest more of my friends. We need to elect Barack Obama. Not only to help medical marijuana but to end the war in Iraq and the injustice and reclaim our civil rights in this country.

Ernesto Aguilar: Any other comments you want to add? Websites?

Richard Eastman: Ok. Yeah. You can reach me at RichardEastman, Citizens4SafeAccess.com. Or I’ll give you my cellphone number: 323-474-4602. Once again, people can reach me at
Citizens4SafeAccess.com or my personal cell phone is 323-474-4602. Just don’t call too late at night. Thank you all and God bless America.

Ernesto Aguilar: Last question. How important is this protest in your opinion coming up.

Richard Eastman: Well, if it wasn’t for the marijuana, living with HIV and AIDS, I would have probably died of malnutrition. That’s how important it is. People with cancer have nausea and they can’t eat, people with AIDS have nausea and they can’t eat so this is a life saving medication for people such as myself. And that’s why I’m here: to help all the patients across the United States and the world that need marijuana as a medicine. It’s a no-brainer. The Chinese were using it for 5,000 years as a medicine. The reason they made marijuana illegal, it was racial profiling, 90% of the people in jail all these years from marijuana have been black and brown. It wasn’t because it was a bad thing. They didn’t like Louis Armstrong in the 1930s, they didn’t like the farm workers. Flash to today, they don’t like Snoop Dogg, they don’t like the farm workers. I’d like to quote Hillary Clinton. Hillary once said ‘Washington, DC, is the last plantation.’ And when we elect Barack Obama the president that plantation will be over. Thank you.

Dean Becker: Once again, that was Ernesto Aguilar, the Program Director of the Mothership station, reporting from Denver and the Democratic National Convention.

It is my hope that on next week’s DTN programming you’ll get to hear the premiere of a brand new song, ‘The First Eternal War.’

You already heard the intro there, about Fizer and Merck killing more of us than the cartels ever could.

All right. I hoped you enjoyed this edition of Cultural Baggage. I do recommend ‘Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine,’ Wendy Chapkis, Richard Webb. It’s a great book. I urge you to tune into this weeks Century of Lies. It’s an interview with Graham Boyd of the ACLU about our subject of today’s show, Ms. Valerie Corral.

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net