Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jim Miller returns to Washington, D.C.

This is the second of a series of blogs that I will write to chronicle the trips I will be making to Washington DC on behalf of U.S. military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as anybody else suffering from post traumatic stress. New Jersey has the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the country. Legislators who were in favor of it's passage were barraged with the concept of our state becoming like "the wild west of California" where anybody with a headache or a hangnail can get a registration card. In a misguided effort to ensure that wouldn't happen, supportive legislators decided they would take it upon themselves to decide who should get medical marijuana and who shouldn't. They stepped in between doctor and patient in the case of thousands of vulnerable New Jersey residents. Even though PTSD is an acceptable reason to be issued a medical marijuana registration card in other states, our legislators did not consider the scars of veterans' sacrifice to their country when they decided to play doctor. No card for you!

Now, according provisions in our state law, those wishing to have the Health Dept. add currently unapproved conditions to the acceptable list of indications for a medical marijuana registration card will need a clinical study in hand to apply. It is unacceptable that there is an FDA approved medical marijuana/veteran PTSD clinical study being blocked by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). I thank the CMMNJ for their support that allows me the ability to ensure everybody that all thirteen congressmen from NJ can no longer claim ignorance of the problem as an excuse for doing nothing about it. I don't go to DC to argue with them. I can't force them to take part. I can however make their reaction to my efforts to educate them public, something they would rather not happen. For many legislators it is a test to see if their fear of marijuana is greater than their fear of clinical tests being federally blocked that could save veterans' lives.

I love walking along the hallways of the congressional office buildings in Washington DC and looking at the legislator's names on the office doors that I pass. I get to walk right into the offices of friend and foe alike, at any office that I want, to represent any issue that is important to me. It is a right of mine as a U.S. citizen that I consider to be more valuable than my right to vote. Don't get me wrong. I vote every year even though my singular vote has never been the difference in an election, but that has never been enough for me. I want to not just have a voice, I want my voice to be heard, especially when it represents the views of seriously ill and injured Americans who cannot show up for themselves.

The cage rattling began on Dec. 6, 2011. I put the congressional delegation from NJ on notice that they had been served, so to speak, and left them with enough information to see if they would go further on their own or not. I told each that I would be by their office every couple of weeks to help keep them in the loop and get answers to any questions that they might have.

The real fun began on my return two weeks later on Dec. 20. I had over a dozen letters from constituents of representatives of other states to deliver to their congressional offices as well as followups to do at the NJ offices. I was able to take on the extra visits because CMMNJ supporter Larry Vargo volunteered to go with me and do some stops himself. After getting a late start at 5:00 AM, we made it to our first Senate Office Building in time for a bagel and coffee in the cafeteria before our goal of a 9:00 start. Then we headed off to the Senate offices we were going to go to together. We did initial visits to the offices of Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Kohl (D-WI), Johnson (D-WI) Schumer (D-NY), and Feinstein(-CA) together before moving to the congressional offices on the other side of the Capitol Building. We did the first two followups together in the Cannon House Office Building at the offices of Rep. Frank Pallone and Rep. Leonard Lance. I was correct in my prediction to Larry that they would have done nothing in the two weeks since they were advised of the situation. Basically though, we were simply setting the hook for the third visit. I advised each available staff member that statistically speaking, 250 US military veterans had killed themselves in the two weeks since I first made them aware of NIDA's blockade of the FDA approved veteran suicide PTSD/medical marijuana clinical trial. I then stated the obvious, that doing nothing was not a good look for them, and it would only get worse as the weeks passed while the number of suicides of veterans with PTSD grew on their watch. I assured them that I would be making their response, or lack thereof, a part of their "permanent record' in the form of a soon to be established website for all to see. Now I apparently have to get a website up and running. Say, anybody want to help make that happen? It is exactly the "big stick" that Teddy Roosevelt talked about. The threat of public awareness.

Larry got started on his own followup visits to 9 of NJ's representatives while I did initial stops at several out of state legislators offices as well as followups at the offices of NJ Reps. Runyan and Holt. I was talking to the staffer manning the desk at the door of Rep.Holt's Longworth office and trying to convince him that he should ask Patrick to see me for a few minutes when in walked Rush Holt. He recognized me from a 20 second chat we had eight years earlier and walked over to me with that "hey...I know you" look. In the 10 minute conversation that followed he showed why he was the the first person one who was smart enough to beat the Jeopardy computer. There was a certain sort of irony when Rep. Holt called Patrick out of his office to introduce him to me instead of the other way around. Rep. Holt confirmed that he is a supporter of medical marijuana and agreed that this deserved looking into. Needless to say, I now have the attention of Holt's Senior Policy Advisor for Defense and Intelligence who will also be his point man on this issue. Then, after Larry and I were finished with the remainder of our otherwise uneventful day of "setting hooks" in anticipation of my third visit, we headed back to Union Station for a quick meal at the food court before delving into the inevitable traffic delays getting out of DC. Let them all have a nice holiday recess and put all of this talk of veteran suicide on hold while they enjoy time with their families.

It turned out that I didn't get back to DC again until five weeks later on Jan. 25. That gave everybody ample time to either assess the situation for themselves or do nothing at all. I visited all 13 NJ congressional offices and made an initial visit to Ron Paul's office as well. Rep. Paul had met Cheryl and me at a Capitol Hill press conference the year before Cheryl died. He was deeply affected by Cheryl's commitment to medical marijuana rights, as displayed by her willingness to travel to DC in such an advanced stage of MS. We talked in his office a month after Cheryl died, and now I was back to ask him for help, and to offer him an opportunity to possibly spring this issue on his rivals at a future Republican presidential debate. I was treated like an old friend by his staff and Adam gave me all the time I needed to make my point, a point easily made in THAT office. They clearly remembered Cheryl's activism and enjoyed a couple of stories that they had not heard as well. I will be following up with additional information for Adam to ponder as requested. Then I was off to inform New Jersey's 13 US Representatives that there had been 875 veteran suicides since my initial visit to their offices seven weeks earlier, many while everybody else was having a good holiday celebration with their families.

My third visits to the offices of Rothman, Pascrell, and Sires showed me that they had done some vetting of the issue. Andrews had a recent change in staff setting us back one visit in the timeline, but he figures to be a supporter anyway. Payne's office and Frelinghuysen's office told me that they would get me a statement by the end of the week. They did not. Kate, from Smith's office took the time to have a productive unhurried visit with me and took copious notes. I waited until the end of our conversation to tell her that I was no stranger to her boss and that our previous encounters had been acrimonious at best. I'm not sure that she believed me when I told her that I brought Cheryl's funeral flowers to his Whiting office so he could watch them die instead of me. I'm guessing the fourth visit will be interesting. Pallone's office had apparently done nothing, and I chose to NOT tell his staff yet that I had picketed his 1175 Ocean Ave. Long Branch home with Cheryl's "memorial" wheelchair a month after she died. The fact that they did NOT know who I was certainly indicates that this issue hadn't yet reached Pallone yet.

Patrick was not in at Holt's office, leaving that follow up to an email when I got back. No need to worry there though. Gene from Sire's office had not only done his homework, he seemed to be taking the issue pragmatically for a republican rather than seeing it as a partisan issue. He rightfully took me to task for not having all of the information he needed to know whether or not NIDA was willing to work with the researchers at the Multidiciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in order to meet the requirements for selling them government marijuana for the study. Considering that the FDA had had worked with MAPS in order to give their approval of the protocol for the study, it was indeed a logical question. My guess that NIDA will not relent was not good enough. Good one Gene! The others from New Jersey also expressed an interest in focusing on the exact stumbling block in NIDA'S refusal. All except David at Scott Garret's office. Not only was he condescending, he had absolutely no concept of the possibility that a Schedule 1 substance (marijuana) was even allowed to be studied in the US. He said it is his (Garrett's) position that they would not be looking into this unless somebody else initiates a response first. Then, and only maybe then, they might look into it. He actually asked me if I was recording him, as if he was worried that I might be able to accurately quote him.

Finally stopping by my representative's office (Jon Runyan) office last, I found Jennifer to be more cordial than she was at our first encounter. I'm not saying that the potential threat of media exposure had anything to do with it, but that IS what legislators respond to. She is now anxiously awaiting my followup email with a more precise evaluation of what needs to be done. Fair enough for now. My next scheduled trip to DC is Feb. 18, two days before over a thousand veterans will assemble at the Washington Monument and march to the White House in support of Ron Paul. I have met the organizer, Adam Kokesh, and hope he will include information about Rep. Paul's support for getting this study done during his event.


  1. Jim Miller is president and co-founder of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc.

    CMMNJ, a 501(c)(3) public charity, is a non-profit educational organization.

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