We all know that the battle for medical cannabis is an uphill fight. The playing field is not level. That is for sure. However, every now and then a situation arises where the playing field is not just level, it is downhill all the way. The trick is to recognize that situation when it occurs and then hit it with all that you have. Be willing to commit. To that end I have suspended my efforts to finish a seven year project of writing a book, "Till Death Do We Part", in order to commit to ending the de facto federal blockade of research concerning the value of cannabis as medicine in this country. I fought for medical marijuana rights for my late wife Cheryl out of fear and anger even though I knew the odds were insurmountable. I fought because I had to. This is different. This time I fight because it is a battle that is entirely winnable. I went to Washington DC on Tuesday, December 6, to prove to myself that this is true. I drove home knowing that we hold all of the cards and all we have to do is play them.
The door to my congressman's (Jon Runyan) Longworth office was locked when I arrived at 8:20 AM so I sat on the floor and waited for the business day to begin. I was sweating after the 15 minute walk from Union Station on an unseasonably warm day and wishing that I was more properly attired. I had debated waiting until I could replace my threadbare suit or at least get a jacket and nice button down shirt to wear, but in the end I decided that being better dressed would have to wait until my follow up trips. After about 20 minutes, Runyan arrived with a staffer and I stood up to be dwarfed by the 6'7" 330 lb.former offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles. I told him that I was concerned about the suicide rate among veterans and needed to talk with him or someone on his staff. I had emailed him a month ago and followed up with two visits to talk with his staff at his Mount Laurel NJ office but he didn't seem to make the connection, leaving me to believe that the issue had not even reached him. He told me that he was on his way to an appointment, but that I could wait until Jennifer came in at 9:00 and speak with her.
Having to squeeze in as many office visits as I could in six hours, including all 13 congressmen from NJ, I opted for putting Runyan on hold and going down the hall to the office of Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ). This is where I would begin to find out how earnestly this issue would be received on it's own merit. Congressional staffs like to manage their work load in part by shuffling non-constituents out of the office while saying something like "We have 600,000 constituents who we have promised to represent and our staff is already overloaded, so we regretfully must ask you to work with your own US representative to try and resolve this issue". To counter that, whenever I "cold call" a congressional office I like to bring at least one letter with me from a constituent that starts out saying something like "Dear Congressman (Smith), I would like you to have someone on your staff take the time to talk with Jim Miller when he delivers this letter to your DC office, as he can adequately represent my views on this important issue". First though, I like to see if the issue at hand keeps me from getting the bums rush before hammering them with the letter when necessary. But when someone does try to show me the door, I pull out the letter and say something like "As it happens I have a letter from a constituent whose request IS that you take the time to talk with me...now". I do enjoy watching someone's expression when they first realize that the balance of power has just shifted. In the case of Congressman Holt's staff, the issue of preventing veteran suicide was enough to be taken seriously even from a non-constituent, making the letter I brought from constituent Ken Wolski icing on the cake. I was advised that Patrick will be point man at Congressman Holt's office and to direct future correspondence to him.
I tried to work on varying presentation styles at my first couple of offices, and I arrived at the following as being the nuts and bolts of what proved to get rapt attention, one office after another. I use a staccato cadence on purpose, with each sentence meant to be considered as an individual, indisputable, stand alone fact.
"Suicide has reached epidemic proportions among US military veterans. Six thousand veterans commit suicide each year, far exceeding the national average for non-veterans. Well over 50,000 Viet Nam veterans have killed themselves, which is more than the enemy was able to kill in combat. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a factor in most veteran suicides. The Veterans Administration says that there were 40,000 diagnosed cases of PTSD in the past year among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, placing a strain on their resources. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the protocol for a clinical trial involving Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD which has proven resistant to conventional therapies. The study is designed to evaluate the efficacy of marijuana relative to PTSD. The federal government (DEA) has a monopoly on the only supply of marijuana allowed for medical research in this country. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has subsequently denied the researcher's request for the marijuana necessary to proceed with this study, even though the study is privately funded and would cost taxpayers nothing. In July, the DEA denied a petition to reschedule marijuana out of Schedule 1 of the Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, reaffirming it's stance that marijuana has 'no currently accepted medical use in the US'. It took them 9 years to come to that decision. So, what we have here is one branch of the federal government maintaining that marijuana has no medical use while another branch refuses to let a clinical trial proceed that might prove otherwise, thereby preventing acquisition of clinical information that could save veterans' lives".
Yeah...THAT got their attention at every one of the 19 offices I visited that day...some because of their compassion and some looking to protect their ass. Whether or not it warrants their attention is up to them, but I warned them that the clock is now ticking and every week they do nothing another 125 veterans will have killed themselves. I left most offices with contact information for the appropriate person on staff to follow up with.
Finally, at the end of the day I made it back to Runyan's office to finally get to talk with Jennifer. Ironically it was she who was the only one at any of my 19 office visits that day who played the "600,000 constituents" card. Although Jennifer could not use this as a reason to push me out the door, she relied on it heavily in her effort to explain why their staff had done absolutely nothing in the first month that they had this information. I reminded her that 500 US military veterans had committed suicide in that same time period. She countered with the first of several sentences she would annoyingly begin with "What you have to understand is...." in order to help me accept such delays as inevitable and as being beyond Jon Runyan's control. I suggested that although she and freshman congressman Runyan had been on the job less than 11 months and I had been lobbying congress for medical marijuana rights for 20 years, inexperience should not prevent her from knowing what "fast tracking" an issue meant. I guess that I will see what plans Congressman Runyan has to deal with epidemic veteran suicide, if any at all, on Dec. 20, my next planned visit.
Anybody (living in NJ or otherwise) who wants to take part in ending the federal blockade against studying medical marijuana relative to PTSD can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be glad to advise you as to what needs to be in your letter to get my foot in your congressperson's door and you can fill in the rest, or simply use what I write for you as your own if you think it directly reflects your concerns. If you email the letter directly to me, but address it to your representative as if you were sending it to him (or her), it allows me the element of surprise if they try to rush me out the door with "Are you a constituent Mr.Miller?" I hope to have a productive trip to DC on Dec. 20. If your congressional representative is one of the 431 who are NOT Runyan, Pallone, Holt, or Freylinghuysen...I need a constituent letter from you. It does not matter what your representative's past opinion on medical marijuana has been. I need that letter to jump start the dialogue. If you have any interest at all in righting this wrong, email me at email@example.com and I will help you publicly put your representative officially on notice and get his clock ticking...at the rate of 125 veteran suicides per week for every week that he or she does nothing. Ooh...that IS a bad look.