continued "I'd be dead in about ten years without marijuana," says King. "It'd be rough. I'd have to go to using inhalers. Inhalers are very bad. I've got some at home. I only use them in emergency. They are faster-acting, but they're not as complete. You can't breathe as well. They don't last as long. They don't have the pain-alleviation either."
Ever since Prop 215, marijuana has been legal in California, if you're using it for medical purposes and if its use is recommended by a doctor. Twomey of the city attorney's office confirms that. "This office recognizes and supports and upholds the law that was passed by the voters in the state of California. But we certainly have to have some affirmative defense from [people arrested for marijuana possession] saying that that's what they're using it for, based on legitimate medicinal use. We are supportive of that, because that's the law of the land."
In preparation for his court appearance November 13 (it's been delayed because Officer Jorgensen is on vacation), King went straight to a local doctor. "I went in and told him. I said, 'I don't even like doctors. I'm only here because the police won't leave me alone. And I use marijuana for medicine.' He examined me. It's not hard to tell somebody's got asthma. And I've got a degenerative spinal condition. It isn't going to get any better. But [marijuana] alleviates the chronic pain of that. I wouldn't stop even if it was illegal."
He shows the result of the visit: a "To Whom It May Concern" letter from his doctor.
"Gentlepersons, although I have no official records yet, based on history and physical examination, Mr. Norman King has:
1) Reactive airway disease
2) Degenerative disc disease and sciatic neuritis
3) Migraine syndrome
The glaring omission is any words recommending or prescribing the medicinal use of marijuana. Such words are required by law as the precondition to getting legal pot. "Well, that's the problem, see?" says King. "Why don't we talk with him." He gets up. "He's right here in O.B."
"I can't [recommend marijuana use], not without committing professional suicide," the doctor says, explaining his letter. He asks to remain anonymous because he fears punishment from the state medical board or the Drug Enforcement Agency if he's quoted saying anything sympathetic about marijuana. "They send undercover people all the time. The medical board comes in. They're like the vice squad."
The problem, the doctor says, is this issue's continued legal limbo. Although medical use of marijuana is now legal in California, the federal government has not changed its views on the weed. Since 1970, marijuana has been a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The state of affairs pits Washington against California.
"President Clinton," says the doctor, "has said that any doctor in California whose suggestions were likened to prescribing [marijuana] would be busted. So unfortunately [for] a lot of us, it's very hard to stand up and stick your neck out for a patient, when the consequences are so dire for the practitioner."
"I'm unaware of any doctor in this county who will write a note that recommends marijuana for someone," says chief deputy public defender Juliana Humphrey. "The most that has been suggested by the ama [American Medical Association] that doctors do is to record in their file notes that their patient has told them they're using marijuana and not lodging an agreement or disagreement with that at all, just giving them a copy of the file notes to show that yes, they've told their doctor, and that they are in fact sick. That's about as much as anyone's going to do, until it is resolved nationally."
Humphrey says the ama is fence-sitting while its members agonize. "Before 1937, marijuana - hemp - was legal," she says. "It was just another substance. Just a thing people smoked or used for rope. It was criminalized in an effort at another type of prohibition. And at that point the ama opposed criminalizing it. They wanted it to remain as one of the drugs that at least could be prescribed by doctors. Of course, they were shut down. Now, hypocritically, the ama is, like, 'Well, we don't know. We don't know what we should do.' To me [the whole issue] is like a tempest in a teapot. Why don't we just legalize it and be done with it?"
"This is not a publicity stunt," says Marian Gaston, Humphrey's assistant, assigned to defend King. "I think he is completely sincere. He believes very strongly that there's nothing really that wrong with what he's doing, and that the government is hitting him with a sledgehammer, and he doesn't think it's right."
"I'll tell you what it is, really," says King. "I don't want everybody else to go through the same shit. And if people start standing up, quit bending over, they'll quit screwing them. I've got the truth on my side. I'm going to make a lot of noise. They've got to give me my weed back."
He breaks into song:
I'd like to teach my children all about the teacher plants.
I'd like to share sweet medicine, from the eagles to the ants
I'd teach them how to treat the man who preaches ignorance. How to know their feelings, and then when to make a stance.
"We would prefer to [agree to] a plea bargain on the issue, for resource reasons," says the city attorney's Twomey. "But if Mr. King chooses not to, we're not going to cave in on the case. As far as we're concerned, this is an illegal possession."