Bernie Ellis: OpEdNews’ 'Local Hero' #8
By Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews April 5, 2006
I first encountered Bernie Ellis in Cleveland last fall. I was at the People Count 2006 election integrity conference. Bernie wasn’t actually in Cleveland himself. As it turns out, he was already serving time in the half-way house where he is finishing up his eighteen-month sentence for distributing medical marijuana to terminally ill patients (through their social workers). I 'met' his celluloid self via David Earnhardt’s Eternal Vigilance, which I have, by now, seen a number of times. It’s a fine documentary about the Nashville National Election Reform Conference, held in April 2005 which gathered several hundred concerned citizens from 30 states, equally divided between ‘blue’ and ‘red’. Since it took place so close on the heels of the 2004 election, the conference had a sort of post-mortem feel. We survived, we're grieving, we're together. Now, what are we going to do?
This conference was organized by Bernie Ellis and had such a profound effect on me that I felt somehow that I was there, although I first heard of it after it had already taken place. The poignant and always-pertinent words that Bernie used to bring the conference to a close have stayed with me: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”. To me, the meaning is clear: it’s up to us, individually and en masse, to bring about change which will not happen any other way. Not of its own accord, not haphazardly, not by a few select ‘activists’ alone, not without a huge concerted push by concerned citizens everywhere. It's become something of a mantra for me. No more lolligagging, no more sitting on the sidelines. It's time to jump in. Now!
Bob Koehler has written an article about Bernie Ellis that I’m confident you will find both interesting and inspiring. I have Bob’s permission to include his piece (below) with these words as a forward. I wanted to nominate Bernie for OpEdNews’ “Local Heroes” corner, and this seemed like an appropriate time and manner to do so. I am filled with deep admiration for him. Let me know if you agree.
Original Content at OpEdNews: http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_bob_koeh_070405_devil_weed.htm
April 5, 2007
“Devil Weed” By Bob Koehler
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
So of course a guy like Bernie Ellis — who signs his letters with this catchphrase, and who lives it in so many ways, doing what needs to be done, putting himself in the vanguard of vital social movements like the one for fair elections (which is how I know him) — would eventually get nailed for crossing a line.
How easy to have played it safe, but Ellis, who until a year and a half ago lived on a 187-acre farm 40 miles southwest of Nashville, Tenn., and worked as a public health epidemiologist, had been growing, along with other crops, a small amount of medical marijuana on his farm. The recipients over the years, via their social workers, were terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients, who obtained nausea and pain relief from what has been called (by no less than Francis Young, a Drug Enforcement Administration law judge) “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
For reasons that will probably forever remain murky, Ellis’ farm was raided in August 2002. A few days earlier, a local dealer had tried to buy some pot from him and was told to shove off, so the suspicion lingers that the dealer turned him in. Two helicopters swooped overhead and eight or nine officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force entered his property — a lot of hoo-hah, you might think, for seven pounds of weed, worth about $7,000.
Ellis was interrogated for two hours and freely “confessed” to his activities. Indeed, at the very moment of the raid he’d been crafting recommendations, at the request of New Mexico’s then-Gov. Gary Johnson, on how that state could establish a program making cannabis available immediately to patients in need. He gave the officers a printout of his proposal. How guilty can you get?
“I said this from the beginning,” Ellis told me. “I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing.”
And he wasn’t arrested. The Task Force officers did some checking around and learned that Ellis was not only well known but highly respected among county officials. His troubles didn’t begin till the federal government became interested in his case — and this gets at the core outrage of the whole matter. The zeal to keep marijuana criminalized in the face of so much evidence — it has 50 to 100 therapeutically beneficial subcomponents and has been studied in connection with the treatment and control of Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, epilepsy, MS and even schizophrenia, among much else — emanates from the federal level.