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Devil Weed

By       Message Bob Koehler     Permalink
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“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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Welcome to the Bush administration’s other bogus war: the war on drugs. Science be damned. Rationality, compassion and state’s rights be damned. What matters is the continual drawing of random and arbitrary borders, which are then ruthlessly defended no matter what. And with the drawing of borders comes the creation of enemies, and in the world of herbs, marijuana is the enemy — the devil weed, no matter how medically useful.

 

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commonwonders.com
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

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