Medical marijuana patients and supporters gathered today at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, to hand in more than 100,000 petition signatures demanding the resignation or firing of DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg after he called medical marijuana "a joke."
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The petition, which was started only two weeks ago, has more than doubled the number of signatures on an earlier petition that helped prompt the ouster of Rosenberg's predecessor, former DEA head Michele Leonhart.
After walking from the nearby site of the International Drug Reform Conference, the group held a brief press conference in front of the DEA building. It was led by petition organizer Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, whose own mother is a patient.
"My mom uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain caused by multiple sclerosis," he said. "This issue is no laughing matter for her and millions of other people who have seen the benefits of cannabis for themselves."
Also addressing the press conference were medical marijuana patients and the parents of young medical marijuana patients.
"There is no doubt that my son Jagger is alive today because of medical cannabis," said Sebastian Cotte, who helped carry the petitions. "Cannabis has tremendously decreased the pain and seizures caused by his mitochondrial disease, while improving his quality of life. For our family, this is no joke."
"There's nothing funny about suicidal thoughts, and those are something my family and I lived with day-to-day die to my military-related PTSD," said Navy veteran T.J. Thompson. "Using medical marijuana not only helps with my condition, but it has also had the added effect of making me a better father and husband."
Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, and 17 more states have more limited laws allowing for the use of marijuana extracts, primarily for children suffering seizure disorders. According to Americans for Safe Access, which supported the petition, more than two million Americans now use medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.
An ever-increasing mountain of scientific studies have shown that medical marijuana is beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of serious conditions, including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and many others. With his remarks about medical marijuana as "a joke," DEA head Rosenberg made clear that he was either ignorant of the science around medical marijuana or indifferent to it.
The petition delivery came one day after a bipartisan group of members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama calling for Rosenberg's head, saying his comments "send a clear signal to the American people that the federal government isn't listening to them. It erodes trust. Cavalier statements like these fly in the face of state policy and the experience of millions of patients."
The letter blasted Rosenberg's statements as relics of "a throwback ideology rooted in the failed war on drugs" and accused him of "trivializing" both the science and the experience of millions of American who have used medical marijuana.
"Mr. Rosenberg's statements send a clear signal to the American people that the federal government isn't listening to them…Through his statements, Mr. Rosenberg has demonstrated that he is not the right person to hold the job of head of the DEA, and we urge you to find new leadership that can work to develop the right tools to properly rationalize our treatment of marijuana," the letter said.
It was signed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Ted Lieu (D-CA). Blumenauer himself took to the House floor to echo the call for Rosenberg's resignation or firing.
"This is going to be a political problem for the Obama administration until they fix it," warned Angell.
[Update: Catharsis took place as planned. Photos from the event can be found on the event's Facebook page.]
This coming weekend, the National Mall in Washington, DC, will be the scene of a two-day vigil highlighted by the ceremonial burning of an interactive art installation dedicated to victims on the drug war in the shadow of the Washington monument.
The event is Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War, open to the public and featuring exhibits, art, music, dance, and nationally known speakers, including famed civil rights attorney Billy Murphy Jr.; Ifetayo Harvey, who lost her father at age four to prison and deportation for a first-time drug offense; and Anthony Papa, sentenced to fifteen years to life imprisonment for a first-time drug offense.
The vigil's centerpiece is the "Temple of Essence," a structure that "offers a space for healing personal and collective trauma, engaging community, and allowing the release of negative energy." It's the temple that will burn on Saturday night.
"People will see they are not alone in this struggle," said Michael Verdon, temple artist and US Air Force veteran. "As the temple burns, we will turn our individual experiences into a collective memory and heal as a community. Afterwards, our vigil will continue with cathartic dancing until sunrise."
Members of the public are invited to share their drug war stories during open mike sessions, as well as writing them within the temple's walls and leaving mementos before it burns.
"Through art and peaceful expression, we are demonstrating the transition to a more compassionate society," said event organizer and civil rights attorney, Robert Haferd. "This vigil is the first of its kind on the National Mall, and we are delighted that the National Park Service, Park Police, and the DC Fire Department have partnered with us to make it possible.
[image:2 align:right]The event is organized by Washington DC-area artists, social justice advocates, and Burning Man participants. Speakers and installations will be provided by national and local drug policy organizations, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
The vigil is timed to coincide with the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, which will bring more than one thousand researchers, academics and advocates to our nation's capital to work toward ending the war on drugs.
"From the recently-leaked United Nations document calling for drug decriminalization, to growing bipartisan support for ending mass incarceration and allowing cannabis research, we are transitioning from the traumatic war on drugs to policies grounded in public health and human rights," said Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, event organizer and Policy and Advocacy Manager for MAPS. "It’s time to come together to heal and celebrate."
See you there!