Thursday, November 20, 2014

Karen Silkwood, Mike Nichols and Marijuana



When Mike Nichols, who directed the 1983 movie Silkwood, died days after the 40th anniversary of the death of Karen Silkwood, I decided to look up the connection between Karen and cannabis.

I've noted that in the movie, Karen (played by Meryl Streep) shares a joint with her boyfriend (Kurt Russell) and roommate (Cher) in the same car where she dies after suspiciously going off the road into a ditch. A manilla envelope carrying documents about corruption at the Kerr-McGee plutonium processing plant where she worked were never found afterwards, but investigators did find marijuana cigarettes in the pocket of her coat.

Karen's death at the age of 28 led to a national discussion into nuclear plant safety, the ultimate closure of the Oklahoma plant where she worked, and a million-dollar settlement in a lawsuit brought by her family against Kerr-McGee.

Mike Nichols made his start as part of a breakthrough comedy duo with Elaine May, with great bits like their goldfish intoning "John! Marsha!" —  recently reprized on a Man Men episode. "To me, a moral issue is always so much more interesting than a real issue," is a line from their watercooler conversation sketch.

Mendocino-based performance artist extraordinaire Sherry Glaser recalls meeting Nichols while he was directing Whoopi Goldberg's one-woman Broadway show in the 1980s. "I got a ride from him to her birthday party. He asked if I'd be offended if he smoked a joint on the way," Glaser recalls. "He was a wonderfully funny man."

Nichols took an Oscar for directing The Graduate and, as he did with Cher, boosted Melanie Griffiths's acting career with Working Girl. His films include Gilda Live, starring Gilda Radner, and Birdcage with Robin Williams; he directed Philip Seymour Hoffman on Broadway in Death of a Salesman in 2012. He was married to TV newscaster Diane Sawyer.

Silkwood helped immortalize the courageous Karen Silkwood. Did her pot smoking make her more attuned to the greater issues around her, as so often happens with the cannabis-initiated? (Or as John Stewart seemed to say, being high makes you open to the message.) If so, it's one more reason why marijuana is considered dangerous to the status quo, and why it's so important for all of us to get past the cruel prejudice against it.
Public suspicions led to a federal discussion into plant investigation security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about 44 to 66 pounds of misplaced plutonium. Silkwood's story emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety. Eventually, Kerr-McGee closed the plant. In 1986, Silkwood's family, represented by Gerry Spence, settled an $11.5 million plutonium-contamination lawsuit against Kerr-McGee for $1.38 million. - See more at: http://www.simplystreep.com/content/specials/reallife/karensilkwood.html#sthash.y6Mb4vGd.dpuf
Public suspicions led to a federal discussion into plant investigation security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about 44 to 66 pounds of misplaced plutonium. Silkwood's story emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety. Eventually, Kerr-McGee closed the plant. In 1986, Silkwood's family, represented by Gerry Spence, settled an $11.5 million plutonium-contamination lawsuit against Kerr-McGee for $1.38 million. - See more at: http://www.simplystreep.com/content/specials/reallife/karensilkwood.html#sthash.y6Mb4vGd.dpuf
Public suspicions led to a federal discussion into plant investigation security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about 44 to 66 pounds of misplaced plutonium. Silkwood's story emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety. Eventually, Kerr-McGee closed the plant. In 1986, Silkwood's family, represented by Gerry Spence, settled an $11.5 million plutonium-contamination lawsuit against Kerr-McGee for $1.38 million. - See more at: http://www.simplystreep.com/content/specials/reallife/karensilkwood.html#sthash.y6Mb4vGd.dpuf

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Story of Lurae Horse: A US Vet Denied Medication Over Medical Marijuana Use



As the US prepares to honor its veterans on Veteran’s Day, California NORML has been receiving phone calls and emails from vets who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications or their medical marijuana.

Lurae Horse served in Air Force as airplane mechanic in Panama during the Grenada conflict. An Oglala Lakota Sioux, she joined up at the age of 17, and was raped three times during her service, but didn't report it because she was told she would be discharged. Later, a domestic violence incident left her with brain trauma and an inner ear problem, causing severe vertigo.

One of the side effects of THC is vertigo, but since it seems to spin her in the opposite direction, a neurologist figured out that synthetic THC pills called Marinol, which are prescribable under Schedule II, work for her. “If I have 30 mg of THC everyday, I can function,” Horse said. "Otherwise, I’m in a wheelchair: I instantly throw up and cannot walk.”

Three VA hospitals—in Kansas, South Dakota, and Wyoming—were prescribing her Marinol, Horse says. But when she moved to Long Beach, California in April, the VA there wouldn’t prescribe her Marinol, so she went on medical marijuana instead.

Horse was labeled a “drug addict” in her VA file, and taken off the opiate pain medication Norco by a nurse practitioner at the VA about a month ago. Since she was only on a low dose of Norco, she is able to control the pain she suffers from arthritis and a rotator cuff injury by using the right strains of marijuana, augmented with occasional steroid shots in her shoulder.

She’s more worried about the latest VA pronouncement that she must be “weaned off” her prescription Xanax. She suffers from panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, she says. Without her anti-anxiety meds, Horse says she couldn’t ride buses, or make her doctor appointments. She says her therapist is against the idea of taking her off her medication, but her patient advocate insists it's VA policy. "Month to month I worry, am I going to get my pills or not?” Horse said.

The VA issued a directive in January 2011 stating that patients in pain control treatment who are participating in state marijuana programs “must not be denied VHA services,” adding that “decisions to modify treatment plans in those situations need to be made by individual providers in partnership with their patients.”

This would seem to leave the matter to individual doctors; however many patients in Southern California are reporting that their doctors are making them choose between their prescription drugs or their medical marijuana, claiming that this is VA policy.

Horse says the VA is targeting other medical marijuana patients she has spoken to. Her broader concern is, "They’re going to end up taking somebody’s anxiety medication away, and someone’s going to go really crazy. Not the brightest thing they can do…take them off their meds to keep them calm.”

"I’m Native American; it’s my job to fight the government. I will fight them to my last breath," said Lurae, who is related to the Native American warrior Crazy Horse.

California NORML and Veterans for Cannabis Access are calling for the VA to educate their doctors and bureaucrats about VA's policy on medical marijuana, and conduct a safety study on the use of cannabis with opioid pain relievers.  Read more.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Birdman Gets High (But I Didn't)



Getting great reviews is the new movie Birdman, starring the former Batman Michael Keaton as an action-hero actor seeking redemption by producing a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story.

The interestingly named actress Emma Stone, who was so good in The Help, plays Keaton's Lindsay Lohan-style daughter, just out of rehab. In one scene, he smells that she’s been smoking a joint; she makes no apologies. Creepily she is marking up a roll of toilet paper in a manner reminiscent of the Andy Griffith TV movie that addressed drug addiction in the 70s: "In her notebook page after page just had the word, 'Wow.'") After she splits, Keaton picks up the roach, shrugs, and takes a big puff. Things got a bit trippy after that.

Pot poster boy Zach Galifinakis is awesome as Keaton’s attorney; it was the clip played of him on The Daily Show that made me go see it.  Edward Norton is superb, even in something that doesn't approach his earlier work, like The Fight Club. Norton made a career playing schizophrenic characters, and summed up our schizophrenic approach to the drugs starring both as a pot dealer and his straight brother in Leaves of Grass.

In Birdman, Keaton's alter ego is always putting him down, and the men all do a lot of yelling, hitting each other (sometimes nearly naked), and destroying things. Then they kiss pretty women, who are all in supportive roles (Natalie Gold as the former wife, Andrea Riseborough as the new love interest, Naomi Watts as the insecure actress, and Lindsay Duncan as the bitch/critic).

There were some inspiring special effects and great acting, but the theme bored me: Men secretly think they’re shitheads (and they often are), so they have (often violent) fantasies about saving the world (and themselves). This we know.

There wasn't much to the marijuana plot; mostly they drink (much is made of the fact that Carver was an alcoholic). To the extent that it’s autobiographical about “Batman” Keaton, I suppose it might mean that he smokes pot. But I don’t see that on the web; instead he rather insults marijuana smokers here.

The scene I liked best was when Keaton acted a "truth" to Norton, who bought it. There was much about truth versus fiction, and it tried to be revelatory about men's inner life, but it failed to explore what the play within the play set out to investigate: love. His wife tells him he confuses love with admiration, and that seems right. He even talks about his fear of being on a plane with George Clooney, fearful that should the plane crash, the headline his daughter will read will be about the more handsome Batman.

Considering that the movie playing in the other theatre where I saw it was the totally dehumanizing Interstellar, Birdman deserves marks for attempting to address the human condition. I was always proud of Keaton, who rose from my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA after making his debut on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I wanted to soar watching Birdman, but unlike the SF Chronicle's "little man clapping," it left me sitting in my seat. Because, in it, only the men soared. The women just got to watch, and admire. And sometimes supply the plot, or the pot.

Barbara Lee, Barbara Lee, oh Barbara Lee...



Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been out and about these days. She appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, then hula hooped with Stephen Colbert (just before he celebrated Washington DC's legalization of marijuana).

The only Congressperson to vote against the Iraq war (or more specifically, the blank-check ability for any President to wage war indefinitely), Lee is no stranger to courageous positions. So it was fitting that she was present to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Berkeley Patient's Group, a medical marijuana dispensary in her district (pictured).

Lee presented BPG with a Congressional recognition, just after watching them donate $10,000 to the local Women's Cancer Resource Center. We don't celebrate our sheroes often enough on this blog, or elsewhere, so here we recognize the good Congresswoman, whose constituents like to say, "Barbara Lee speaks for me."

Pundits are scratching their heads over the Republican landslide midterm election that also saw marijuana measures carry in Oregon and Alaska, as well as DC and a score of cities and counties in Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts and New Mexico. In addition, California and New Jersey passed key criminal justice measures defelonizing crimes like drug possession.

All seven of NORML PAC’s publicly endorsed candidates for the US House of Representatives won decisively, including New Jersey's Bonnie Watson Coleman. Pennsylvania's anti-marijuana Republican Governor Tom Corbett got trounced by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, who is friendly to marijuana. In California, Lee won handily but three of the worst-voting Democrats on marijuana matters got the boot:  Assemblymembers Steve Fox of Palmdale, Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, and Al Muratsuchi from Torrance. And Colorado's Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, who retained his seat, announced he would be giving a rebate to state voters after bringing in $50 million in tax revenues from legal marijuana.

The message is clear: supporting marijuana reform is no longer a third rail in politics, and being against this emerging voting block might just get you an early retirement from public life.

MORE ON THE MEDIA
Maher smoked his interview with Kal Penn, who starred as a pothead in the Harold and Kumar movies, and also worked in the Obama administration. Asking Penn to nudge Obama on pot, Maher rightly pointed out, "He must know that there's a lot of people who can't vote, can't get housing, can't do a lot of things, get jobs because they have that on their record, that he could have on his record because of what he did. And that's just a hypocrisy I don't think he should be able to live with."

Interviewing rising Democratic star Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, Colbert asked, since marijuana is now legal in DC, might that have a positive effect on the hostility in Washington. "Maybe it would help if you and Mitch McConnell got together and smoked pot," he joked. But although Colbert enjoined Obama to "appoint yourself Commander in Spleef," Obama spoke about sharing a bourbon instead with McConnell, who represents the hemp-growing state of Kentucky.

Stay tuned: CelebStoner ‏reports that Very Important Pothead Woody Harrelson will host Saturday Night Live on 11/15, and Tokin Woman Cameron Diaz will do so the following week (11/22).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kathy Bates: I Shared Some Good Stuff with Susan Sarandon



Actress extraordinaire Kathy Bates is the latest celeb to "out" herself as a potsmoker on Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live" on Bravo TV.

Asked to pick the bigger pothead between Matthew McConaughey and Susan Sarandon, Bates said she shared "some good sh##" with Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy last June. "But I didn't inhale," she joked.

Bates played a marijuana smoker in the 2011-12 series "Harry's Law," but had to play a witch in "American Horror Story: Coven" to win an Emmy this year. She played Alice B. Toklas's lover Gertrude Stein on film in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."


Others who've talked about pot with Cohen include Oprah Winfrey and Sarandon herself; Martha Stewart told Cohen that "of course" she knows how to roll a joint.

Thanks to the Smell the Truth blog for the tip. 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

John Wayne & McCarthyism : Out Macho-ing Marijuana




A poster spotted by marijuana historians Michelle & Michael Aldrich at The Hash Museum in Barcelona promotes John Wayne starring in a film titled Marijuana.

Turns out the poster was for a European release of the 1952 film Big Jim McLain in which Wayne plays an  investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The film was re-written and dubbed to change the "bad guys" to marijuana smugglers for release in Europe.

In the original, Wayne's tactics include dating the secretary of a labor official's psychiatrist (played by Nancy Olson from Sunset Boulevard, who hated the script). The psychiatrist kills McLain's partner (James Arness) with an injection of a truth serum. A title card on the film says it was based on actual HUAC files, and made with the cooperation of the committee. (The pot smokers = commies connection again.)

Big Jim McLain was the first film produced by Wayne-Fellows Productions (later renamed Batjac), John Wayne's independent production company. This image is funny, as though Wayne could sock marijuana in the eye, which he tried to do to sell this rotten film in Europe. Wayne later produced The Green Berets to drum up support for the war in Vietnam.

These days, the Long Beach Police Department has seen fit to warn parents that their child might come home with marijuana-laced candies on Halloween. Their press release states, “Although there have been no reported incidents in Long Beach where a child unknowingly ingested marijuana laced candy, parents should still take every precaution.” I don’t know of marijuana-laced candy being distributed to children anywhere, on Halloween or any other time. But hey, let’s not miss another chance to scare people needlessly about marijuana.

In San Diego, a law enforcement officer was been spotted wearing a T-shirt that said, "Fuck the Growers. Marijuana's Still Illegal." Lake County, CA has made sure to let people know they're still out eradicating illegal marijuana gardens, despite a court ruling requiring officers to get a warrant first. And two licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in LA were raided by the DEA this week.

But perhaps most disturbing news came during the proceedings in federal court in Sacramento on Friday, where Dr. Greg Carter was cross-examined by a government attorney because he submitted testimony in favor of rescheduling cannabis to make it legal to study and prescribe. The US attorney demanded to know whether Carter considered himself an activist, and whether or not he was a member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This question is often asked in court proceedings in the McCarthyesque format, "Are you, or have you ever been, a member of NORML?"

Dr. Carter answered that he isn't a member of NORML, although he works with the organization on some of their publications. (He is co-author, along with Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer, of the Medical Marijuana Handbook.) A highly credentialed MD who specializes the the treatment of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Carter said he has been trying unsuccessfully to get a government grant to study the use of cannabis for ALS patients. And although he hasn't smoked marijuana in at least 25 years, Carter said if he had a disease like ALS he would try it, because, “For neuropathic pain, there is overwhelming evidence that cannabis is effective." But why bother to use science and reason when it's so much more fun to punch out what we'd rather not understand?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Siberian Princess / Shaman Used Cannabis; Had Cancer?



Scientists are claiming that the 2500-year-old mummy known as the "Ice Princess," whose elaborately tatooed body was buried with six saddled horses and other acoutrements including a container of cannabis, had breast cancer.

The Siberian woman's frozen remains were discovered in 1993 by archaeologist Natalia Polosmak high in the Altai Mountains. She was apparently a high priestess of the Pazyryk people, who were closely related to the Sythians, a tribe that inhaled cannabis smoke ritually, as described by the Greek historian Herodotus in 440BCE.

Now a team of Russian scientists say MRI technology has found evidence of breast cancer, the bone infection osteomyelitis, and injuries consistent with a fall -- perhaps from a horse, in the Ice Princess. Polosmak wrote in a recent issue of the journal Science First Hand: “It is likely that for this sick woman, the regular inhalation of cannabis smoke was a necessity.”