Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.
Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.
This story appeared in Heads Magazine in 2003
by Peter Gorman
© all rights reserved
Among the most important changes in the social perception of marijuana during the past three-and-a-half decades have been the general acceptance of marijuana as medicine (despite the US Federal Government’s continued refusal to acknowledge it), the push toward hemp legalization and utilization, the Canadian revolution, and global cannabis activism.
Medical marijuana, once an underground and off-the-record topic of conversation between doctors and cancer patients, is now a mainstream topic of both conversation and politics. Hemp is being grown in commercially in several countries and utilized in Germany’s Mercedes-Benz cars, the UK’s Body Shop soaps and creams, in Adidas sneakers, in Calvin Klein linens and elsewhere. Canada is having genuine discussion of cannabis legalization. It may seem like a short list of accomplishments, but given that none of these ideas could have even been discussed 30 years ago, it is a more profound list than it looks at first glance. It’s an indication that the entire wall of prohibition is cracking. How much longer it will take is hard to say. The only prediction that can be made is that once cracks begin to show in a wall, it’s only a matter of time till it falls. When it does, it will be the result of the work of millions, whether growers, smokers, activists, politicians, doctors or nurses. But among those millions, the efforts of a handful of people who worked to changed the social perception of cannabis stands out. These are some of them.
Robert Randall: Medical Marijuana’s Ferocious Avatar
Robert Randall, an aspiring political speech writer who was making his living driving a cab, never meant to become the Father of the Medical Marijuana Movement. But when it was thrust upon him he took the position with grace and handled its responsiblities with courage.
In 1972, Randall was diagnosed with glaucoma, a degenerative disease of the eye, and told he’d be blind in three-to-five years. But in 1973 he smoked a joint after a party and noticed that his vision temporarily cleared. Surprised, he tried it again with the same results and over the course of six months determined that marijuana definitely lowered the ocular pressure that was causing him to go blind. He began smoking regularly then turned to growing his own medicine to assure a ready supply. But in 1975 a neighbor called the police when she saw pot plants on his apartment sundeck, and Randall was arrested. Shortly after his arrest, Randall contacted Keith Stroup, the Founder-Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who gave him the numbers of several people to contact. While following those leads, he discovered that a study had been done in 1970 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) by Dr. Robert Hepler, an ophthalmologist, which had shown that marijuana reduced ocular pressure. Randall visited UCLA and Hepler ran a controlled study with him for 13 days, comparing Randall’s ocular pressure after he smoked cannabis with his pressure levels without cannabis. At the end of the study, Hepler wrote, “if marijuana were legal, I would prescribe it to this patient for his medical use.”
Randall’s own doctor was skeptical that marijuana would save his patient’s sight while the most advanced glaucoma drugs couldn’t, and arranged a second study for Randall at Johns Hopkins University. That study yielded the same results.
Randall took the results from both studies and mounted a medical necessity defense to the marijuana charge against him and won. He also petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration for access to a supply of marijuana from plot that was being grown for US government research purposes at the University of Mississippi. When the government, though not happy about it, began providing marijuana to Randall in November, 1976, he became the first person to legally use cannabis since it had been outlawed in 1937.
A year later, Randall saw an article in High Times magazine written by a cancer patient in New Mexico named Lynn claiming that marijuana helped control the nausea connected with his chemotherapy. Randall contacted Lynn and the two designed legislation authorizing New Mexico to provide marijuana for use in the treatment of glaucoma and cancer. Their law passed in 1978, and New Mexico began supplying medical marijuana from cannabis confiscated in criminal cases. The Federal government’s response to Randall’s political victory was to find an excuse to cut him off from his supply of cannabis. But Randall sued the government for access, which was quickly granted under a protocol termed the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program.
Other states followed New Mexico’s lead, and by 1982 thirty-four states had some type of medical marijuana law on the books, and in six of them a total of 1,250 patients were receiving cannabis. Unfortunately, the Federal government quickly prohibited those states from continuing to supply patients with confiscated cannabis, while at the same time refusing to supply them from the Mississippi pot farm, making the programs ineffective.
But Randall wasn’t finished. He, with his longtime partner, Alice O’Leary—whom he later married—founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT) in 1981, dedicated to reforming laws which prohibit medical access to marijuana. He spoke at Statehouses and before Congress and was a key figure in a lawsuit originated by NORML against the DEA demanding the reclassification of marijuana to make it medically accessible. He also personally helped several people through the mountain of paperwork demanded by the FDA before they could be included in the Compassionate IND program.
In the early 1990s, Randall, with Kenny Jenks, a hemopheliac AIDS sufferer who contracted the disease through tainted blood transfusions, founded the Marijuana and AIDS Research Service. MARS redesigned the paperwork necessary to apply for the IND program, reducing the time it took to fill it out from 50 hours to 50 minutes, which led to the FDA being swamped with requests for medical marijuana from AIDS patients. The first Bush Administration’s response was to shut the program down for all but the handful of patients—like Randall and Jenks and Elvy Musikka—who were already receiving marijuana.
Randall continued fighting for the rights of patients to have access to cannabis nearly to his death—caused by complications related to AIDS—in 2001 at age 53. In addition to his political work he authored or co-authored several books on medical marijuana.
Steven Hager: Refocusing the Counterculture
Journalist Steve Hager first freelanced for High Times magazine in 1985 at the behest the magazine’s editor, John Howell. He joined the tiny staff shortly thereafter on the condition that HT no longer carry any stories or run centerfolds that glorified cocaine, a drug he—like many—considered responsible for much of the loss of leadership and direction of the counterculture.
In November, 1987 he took over as Editor-in-Chief, and together with John Holmstrom—co-founder of Punk Magazine—as Publisher, the magazine began to flourish again. In short order he’d assembled a small, excellent staff of journalists who all believed deeply that the drug war was wrong and had to end.
All editors need vision of the direction of where they think their magazines should go. Hager saw High Times as the focal point for a faltered counterculture, and decided to utilize the magazine as a tool to galvanize the splintered elements of the counterculture movement. During his 15-plus-year tenure he saw the magazine regenerate the medical marijuana movement and help birth the hemp movement; he helped facilitate the creation of the vast activist network that exists both nationally and internationally; he encouraged fledgling organizations, and pushed forward the idea of cannabis spirituality. In short, he changed the perception of cannabis on several levels in ways that are still being felt socially, politically and spiritually in many parts of the world.
Which doesn’t mean he came up with the ideas. That wasn’t his responsibility. His job was to cull the best ideas of the counterculture and make them a focus of the magazine. Medical marijuana, for instance, had been a major political issue during the early seventies through the early 1980s. But it was Hager who saw the potential implications of the issue and asked a reporter on his staff to make it a national issue by covering it from every possible angle. It was also Hager who later asked that same reporter to make Dennis Peron—a hero in California but largely unknown outside the state—a national poster boy for the issue. Hager’s concept was that regular coverage of a charismatic and fearless hero of the movement would give other journalists someone to peg stories on in their newspapers and magazines. It worked, and the movement got more straight press in a year than it had in the previous 10, getting major stories on ABC, CBS, NBC and in the New York Times and other venues that hadn’t been interested in cannabis in years.
It was also Steve Hager who decided to use the magazine’s reach to making hemp a global issue. Turned on to Jack Herer, a great but obscure true-believer in cannabis hemp’s utilitarian value, by Doug McVey, one of the founders of the Cannabis Action Network (CAN), Hager decided to make Herer the poster boy for that side of the movement. He ran several excerpts of Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes prior to it’s publication in book form, and had the magazine sponsor the first Hemp Tour with Herer and CAN.
It was also Hager, who, having been turned on to the annual Hash Bash at the Diag in Ann Arbor, Michigan—founded by John Sinclair but in need of revitalization—decided to use some of the magazine’s funds to take a crew of activists to the annual bash on a bus dressed as Colonial era freedom fighters. The sight of his later-day brightly-painted hippie school bus with Hager and crew in freedom fighter garb was silly, but did what Hager wanted. “We wore the outfits for a reason. Since Washington and Jefferson were hemp promoters, and since the first US flags were made out of hemp, we needed to start waving the flag instead of giving it to the Reagan right,” he told Heads. “We also needed to spread the news about hemp through the media and by dressing up in colonial costumes we were guaranteed to get coverage in the local news.”
The outfits and the message did more than that: They sparked the creation of the Freedom Fighters, a loosely-knit democratic activist organization that soon grew to several thousand.
Hager was also instrumental in backing the Cannabis Action Network—developed by Doug McVey, Steve D’Angelo, Debbie Goldsberry, Monica Pratt and others at High Times’ senior editor Steve Bloom’s Brooklyn apartment—by putting them on the cover of a 1990 issue of the magazine and giving their tour activities constant coverage.
All of which was good for the magazine, but even more importantly, good for creating a movement which could exist without it. Activists for different aspects of the cannabis plant saw the connection between their needs and the needs of others in the movement, and saw their political position bolstered by the overall increase in activism. General legalization activists were schooled in medical marijuana’s value and hemp’s importance by each other in the magazine. Prisoners of the War on Drugs realized there were thousands who sympathized with them and were given hope when they saw that there were so many working for their release. Those who’d had their property forfeited in drug busts could find each other via organizations written about in the pages of Hager’s High Times. In later years, Hager realized the spiritual importance of the cannabis plant and worked hard to make the idea of cannabis spirituality part of counterculture thinking as well.
Hager’s ideas worked. By the mid-1990s, no major story about cannabis was produced in the American press—including television—whose authors did not come to High Times to verify its information.
Along with the magazine’s work in the activist arena, Hager also understood the value of the genetics of the cannabis plant. He ran the magazine’s first indoor-grow special and encouraged people to become closet-indoor gardeners rather than participate in the criminality surrounding the illegal drug trade. On a 1987 visit to Holland’s premiere cannabis cultivation site—which Hager dubbed Cannabis Castle—he came up with the idea of having an annual seed bank contest in that country in which several judges would evaluate the quality of the strains being produced there. He called the contest the Cannabis Cup. Started as a private affair in 1988, by 1993 the Cannabis Cup had been opened to the public, and in 1994 it exploded when more than 700 judges from around the world converged over Thanksgiving weekend to judge the best cannabis, hashish and coffeeshops in Holland. Though frequently seen as a popularity contest, the breeders involved take it very seriously. The Cup, while continuing under the aegis of HT, has been copied by several other venues, a testament to its value.
In the late 1990s, Steve Hager began to concentrate on creating High Times Television, a project he continues to pursue.
Jack Herer: Mr. Hemp
IN the same way that Robert Randall can clearly be called the Father of the Medical Marijuana Movement, Jack Herer is the Father of the Hemp Movement. A longtime marijuana activist, who had worked on the California Marijuana Initiative in 1974, and the Oregon Marijuana Initiative in 1986, Herer was certain that marijuana had been made illegal to prevent hemp, with its myriad of uses, from undermining the plastics and cotton industries. He had, in fact, already begun collecting information that backed his theory and was printing broadsheets on it when he was introduced to a book on hemp written by Austria’s Dr. Hans Georg Behr in the mid-1980s. (In the small world of activism, the book reached Herer via New York Yippie Dana Beal—founder of the New York Smoke-In’s in 1967 and initiator of the worldwide annual Million Marijuana March—who gave it to one of Herer’s associates.) Herer, inspired by the Behr text, began compiling his information and working hard to glean more from old newspapers, magazines and records, and in 1988 produced the first copy of his own book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Though inexpensively produced and in need of a good edit, the book suggested that marijuana wasn’t only a good high, but that the plant could save the world. Herer championed cannabis’ value as a food/fuel/ fiber/medicine, touted its potential in a range of areas, from biodegradable plastics to regenerating poor soils, and discussed the economic reasons for its prohibition. In short, Herer had given activists an invaluable tool with which to fight prohibition, and it quickly became an underground hit. Ben Masel, a Yippie and long-time activist organized the first Hemp Tour in 1989, and several of the people involved with that, including Doug McVey, Debbie Goldsberry and Steve D’Angelo would later be instrumental in organizing the Cannabis Action Network (CAN), which ran hemp tours that hit 300 venues. Herer himself proved the perfect spokesman for the new hemp movement, tirelessly driving from one venue to the next to speak to activists about cannabis hemp until even the mainstream—including the Wall Street Journal—could no longer ignore him and his message. Farmers began asking local governments why they couldn’t plant hemp. Legislators began introducing bills into their state Senates and Congresses trying to legalize the growing of hemp. By the early 1990s, along with people like Don Wirtshafter, who ran the Ohio Hempery, and Steve D’Angelo and Eric Steenstra of Ecolution, large corporations were testing the waters with hemp: Adidas came out with a hemp sneaker, Calvin Klein began to use the fiber for expensive bed spreads, The Body Shop touted hemp lotions, soaps and body creams.
Herer’s book has been revised and reprinted more than a dozen times since that first printing. Herer himself has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles and spoken to millions of people about hemp. He’s also suffered and recovered from a serious stroke and continues spreading the word on the plant that could save the world.
Marc Emery: Leader of the Canadian Revolution
Marc Emery looks more like the conservative bookseller he once was than the man who has been at the forefront of the Canadian cannabis revolution for nearly 15 years. Emery, born and raised in London, Ontario, opened a bookstore there in 1988, about the same time that Canada banned the sale of books related to drugs, including all NORML literature.
“My first campaign was to try to strike that law down,” he told Heads. “So in 1990 I began selling High Times, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and some others that had been banned, hoping I’d get arrested, go to court and have that law struck.”
In 1995, it was. The case involved Umberto Iorfida, President of NORML Canada, whose home was raided—and all his NORML literature confiscated—in 1992, shortly after a letter he written extolling the virtues of cannabis was published simultaneously in several hundred newspapers throughout Canada. Though criminal charges against Iorfida were later dropped, he entered a civil suit that successfully challenged the Constitutionality of the literature-ban law. Marc Emery was the funder behind that Constitutional challenge.
After a stint in Asia, Emery moved to Vancouver and set up Hemp BC in 1994 as an activist location that he was hoping would pay for itself via the sale of High Times—still illegal then—and hemp products. There was irony in that while HT was illegal, Emery was selling 2,000 copies monthly; once it was no longer banned he lost the right to distribute it. But by then, he says, it was no longer a financial linchpin for Hemp BC. “By 1995 we were wholesaling hemp products to 50 other stores in Canada.”
He had also begun Canada’s seed revolution. In 1994, he’d gone to the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and was on a panel with Ben Dronkers, of SensiSeed fame. “It was an international panel,” says Emery, “and Dronkers said ‘We’ve been selling millions of seeds for years now, making a revolution of marijuana.’ I loved that idea, so I began to sell seeds.”
Emery also began to publish Cannabis Canada, a marijuana and hemp newsletter that was also an advertising vehicle for his seeds. In Jan 1996, after 14-months of seed-selling without police interference, Hemp BC was raided and more than 70.000 seeds confiscated. At the time Emery noted that while he was surprised by the raid, “if there is something good to come out of this it will be the media attention.”
He was right. Not only did he and Hemp BC rebound from that and subsequent raids, Hemp BC became known throughout the western world as a place to purchase seeds. The Canadian revolution was in full swing.
According to Emery, one of the keys to his success has been his willingness to reinvest a good portion of his profits into the legalization movement, from backing Iorfida and the NORML suit to sending money to organizers of the Million Marijuana March in a number of cities to supporting a decriminalization rally in Vancouver attended by the Mayor. “I always thought the seed business was a perfect vehicle for furthering the revolution,” he says. “Millions of our seeds have been sold and the money has all been used to effectively do that. That’s the key for me with the money. Give it back.”
In 1998, Emery launched Cannabis Culture, a monthly magazine, giving a voice to Canadian tokers they had long yearned for, and in 2,000 he launched Pot TV, which is broadcast via internet to more than 20,000 people daily. He’s also opened a museum of psychoactives, sponsors an annual conference on their use, and as we go to press is ramping up to open an all-hemp grocery store.
Dennis Peron: The Activist’s Activist
While Dennis Peron is most well know for his work with medical marijuana, it’s fair to say that few people in the history of the movement have been as consistently active as Peron has been for more than three decades. His work began shortly after he returned from Vietnam in 1968, when he rented a house in San Francisco, started a commune and began selling pot to support himself. By 1972 he’d successfully gotten his first statewide marijuana initiative, Proposition 19, on the ballot in California. Though it didn’t pass, it did garner 36% of the vote, giving Peron the confidence to keep trying.
In 1974, Peron and his commune moved to a large old Victorian house on Castro Street in SF, which was dubbed the Big Top by Peron (“Because it was such a circus there,” he once explained to this writer), and the Big Top Pot Supermarket by others, because that’s what it was. As many as 300 clients a night came to visit the Big Top, where different strains of pot-for-sale were arranged in bowls around a large living room, with sampling joints pre-rolled to help customers make their choice. A street kid ratted the Big Top out six months after it opened, and unfortunately the place was busted. Though there were a total of 44 people arrested that night, Peron, whose name was on the lease, took the heat. But Peron, who’s been arrested more than 20 times for marijuana infractions, was given a break by the judge and sentenced to a six-month work furlough rather than prison.
For his work he opened a vegetarian restaurant that became a huge success and a center of San Francisco’s gay politics. Peron has noted that between what the restaurant made and what he brought in from the sale of 100 pounds of pot weekly, he had more money than he knew what to do with. So he gave it away. He funneled it into the Earth First! Environmental group, into the women’s movement, into the gay-right’s movement, food drives, day-care programs and elsewhere. He also funneled some of it into Proposition W, his successful 1978 San Francisco ballot initiative which demanded that “the District Attorney, along with the Chief of Police, cease the arrest and prosecution of individuals involved in the cultivation, transfer, or possession of marijuana.”
Interestingly, the initiative passed while Peron was doing six months in jail for a second pot bust at the Big Top during which the police shot him twice. And while the new law had little legal status, it did put the city fathers on notice that the majority of the people of San Francisco did not want their police arresting people for marijuana.
After his release from jail, Peron reopened the Big Top in a new location and shortly thereafter, at his first Rainbow Gathering in 1979, he met Jonathan West, who would become his best friend and partner for 12 years until West’s death in 1991.
Throughout the 1980s, Peron kept active. With the profits from the Big Top he continued to funnel money into Earth First! and other causes, among them the Oregon Marijuana Initiative of 1986. He also held smoke-ins and produced several Rock Against Reagan shows.
But in the mid-1980s, AIDS hit San Francisco like a plague. The gay community was devastated, and those who didn’t die quickly found themselves on a battery of medications that left them unable to eat or function. Marijuana was the medicine that gave them back their appetites, and Peron began to supply as much of it as he could to the community. The horror altered Peron’s political position from one of legalization to one of medical marijuana legalization first, then legalization. “If I had to give up smoking in exchange for allowing the five million people who need it as medicine to get it, I would gladly do it,” he has said on many occasions.
The day after his friend West died Peron began writing the text of Proposition P, the 1991 statewide medical marijuana initiative demanding that the State of California and the California Medical Association restore cannabis to the list of available medicines—for all medical needs—in the state. It passed with an overwhelming 79.6 percent of the vote. To help make marijuana available to those who needed it, in April, 1992, Peron held a “Marijuana Giveaway” day in San Francisco, during which he gave six seedlings to anyone—and there were roughly three thousand people in attendance—who could prove they had a medical need for it. The city didn’t interfere. Several months later, at the November, 1992 Drug Policy Foundation/NORML Conference in Washington DC, Sam Smith, a founding member of Arkansas’ Our Church, and Peron, brainstormed the idea of having clubs where people who needed medical marijuana could go to get it, and the Cannabis Buyer’s Clubs were born.
Peron opened the San Francisco CBC in early 1993—it’s difficult to say whether the San Francisco club or ACT-UP DC founder Steve Smith’s Washington DC club opened first—with a discreet promise from the city that it wouldn’t interfere in his work. Peron’s club became a blueprint for clubs not only in California but throughout the US. In August, 1996, the SF Club was temporarily closed after a raid that resulted in a Peron arrest, but an injunction allowed it to reopen in January, 1997, shortly after the successful passage of the Compassionate Use Act in November, 1996, a statewide proposition Peron spearheaded.
Peron turned over the day-to-day operations of the SF CBC to Beth Moore some time ago but continues to be active on several fronts, particularly in relation to medical marijuana.
Andre Grossmann: Lensman
Of all the photographers who ever took a picture of pot—including the early work of the great Harlan Ang—none ever changed the way we looked at the plant the way the Andre Grossmann did. Known simply as the High Times photographer, Grossmann was the first photographer to make cannabis look sumptuous. His pictures, which appeared on HT covers, in stories and centerfolds for more that 15 years beginning in the mid-1980s—and which have appeared in every cannabis magazine in the world, as well as on tee-shirts, calendars, book covers, posters and even the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine—are elegant, sensual and compelling.
Amusingly, Grossmann didn’t want to be a pot photographer. He’d moved from Germany to New York in 1984 with the intention of being a fine art photographer. But he’d become interested in the break-dancing phenomena of the day, and one day while out shooting some dancers he ran into Steve Hager, who was doing a book on the subject at the time. “He told me that if my photos of the dancers were good he’d use them for his book,” says Grossmann. “So that’s how I met him. Then he began working for High Times magazine, and he asked if I could take a picture of a Skunk #1 plant for him for $50. I was desperate for funds, so I did. And then, well, the next thing you know it’s 15 years later and I’d done more than 50 covers and about 80 centerfolds for the magazine.”
Grossmann’s work continues to grace marijuana magazines worldwide.