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Why Libertarianism Is As Much Fun As Medical Marijuana

By: Peter McWilliams

July 4, 1998

Thank you, thank you very much. Good afternoon. Where are the Teleprompters? How am I expected to do a political speech without a teleprompter? You mean,

I'm just supposed to stand here and say what I think and believe? What kind of political party is this?

I want to tell you about a pair of epiphanies that I had in 1996. The first happened in March of 1996 when I was diagnosed with both AIDS and cancer. I tell you this early on because I want your sympathy throughout the rest of this speech. When you mention AIDS or cancer, people are so afraid of their own death that they treat you very nicely.

I am going to demonstrate it here. I am going to show you how much sympathy this audience currently has. As an AIDS patient, if Bill Clinton had followed his campaign promise to start a Manhattan Project-style federal program to end AIDS, I would not have AIDS today.

Do you see how much sympathy I'm getting? Normally somebody saying that at

a Libertarian event would be booed off the stage. Because, in fact, if Clinton had started his federal Manhattan Project-style cure for AIDS, I wouldn't have AIDS now.

I'd be dead.

It's the greedy pharmaceutical companies who wanted to exploit and profit from my misery and my tragedy who are keeping me alive today.

Back to March 1996. I was being pumped full of chemotherapy, which causes nausea, and radiation, which causes nausea, and AIDS medications, which cause nausea, and none of the prescription antinausea medications were working. The nausea, however, ended instantly with medical marijuana. With one puff of marijuana, the nausea turned to hunger. Thank Mother Nature for that. (Mother Nature is one of Nature's Gods, from the Declaration of Independence.) Medical marijuana has been around for more than 5000 years and it hasn't killed anyone.

It is astonishing how well it works.

And you have to understand how serious it is when you can't keep your medication down--it's not just uncomfortable, if you can't keep that medication down, it's not going to save your life. And that is the important point. We're talking about life and death when we're talking about treating AIDS and cancer. Half the people not taking the AIDS combination therapy-some 40 percent of all who try-do so because of nausea. This is a shame, because the AIDS medications are working so well for those who can tolerate them. I am one of them. But 20 percent stop because of nausea. I wonder how many of those 20 percent, if they had access to legal, inexpensive marijuana, would have that problem. Every day people are denied cancer chemotherapy because the doctors stop treatment knowing that they will die of malnutrition if they go another day without eating. Nausea is an unsolved problem of medicine and marijuana is the finest anti-nausea medication known to science.

At the same time our leaders have lied about this consistently. Our leaders whom we trust, whom we look up to. From the Democratic president to the Drug Czar to the Republican leaders in Congress, in both the House and the Senate. They have lied to us about medical marijuana. They have lied to us about the harm of marijuana. There is no more benign medicinal substance known to human beings. And we have been lied to about this. And so this was my first epiphany, watching my normal run to the bathroom, with one puff of marijuana, turn into a meandering raid on the kitchen. And with that epiphany I said, "I am not going to rest until medical marijuana is available to every sick person who needs it in the United States."

Epiphany two came exactly two years ago, probably today, when I lay in bed smoking marijuana -- see, I hadn't smoked marijuana for a couple of decades. I believed all those lies having to do with lack of mental, um, uh, clarity... and short term... where was I? Anyway, all of that nonsense is really a lot of nonsense and boy, do I regret those two decades I wasn't smoking pot. I can honestly say I was not a pot smoker until I started using medical marijuana. So there I was in July two years ago and I was smoking pot and boy, was I enjoying myself. And I was channel surfing, and I was smoking pot, and I was really grooving on this whole thing called chemotherapy. And I flip to these people talking, and they would be talking and one of them would tell the truth, and I kind of sat there, stunned -- who expects the truth on C-SPAN?

So there I was watching, and one person would tell the truth, and then another person would tell the truth, and then another person would tell the truth. What on earth is going on, I mean, this must be really good pot. It turned out to be the Libertarian National Convention. I said, oh great. But then I thought, where is it, in Denver? Because you see, in 1993, when I completed Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do, I wanted to join and praise the Libertarian Party and in 1993 I called information in Washington DC and there was no listing for the Libertarian Party. I called 800 information; there was no listing for the Libertarian Party. And I thought, as much as I love these people, someone who doesn't at least have an answering machine in Washington DC or an 800 number can't be very serious about the whole political or marketing thing.

So you can imagine my epiphany when here, totally without my interference, the libertarians had matured into a political party. And then in the two years, the two years in which I have been single-mindedly working on medical marijuana, when I wasn't ducking bullets, the Libertarian Party got an entire office in Washington DC, until today, now, July 4, 1998, Washington DC, my two epiphanies meet in this speech before the Libertarian National Convention.

Although I have not joined the Libertarian party yet, I know I stand for a lot of [audience begins yelling for McWilliams to join the Libertarian Party] -- remember, I have AIDS! Come on; get that sympathy up, huh? Come on, back, back! Boy, it's like saying I haven't accepted Christ at a Christian Coalition meeting. Down! I never thought I'd tell a Libertarian to be less aggressive politically. I thought those were words would never leave my lips.

I would like to suggest to you that you--not necessarily the party but you individually, maybe not as a party plank but more as a pet project, kind of a little Chia pet project--actively work for medical marijuana in this country. I have four reasons for this. The third one is in your own best interest, so listen up when I get to the end of number two. The first two is that I believe medical marijuana currently stands for the most hideous ongoing example of government interference in the private lives of individuals today.

The first reason: Medical marijuana prohibition is an outrage within an outrage within an outrage. The first outrage, of course, is the War on Drugs itself. Prohibition does not work, has not worked, cannot work, and anyone who says it can is either deeply delusional or is making money on the Drug War.

The next layer of outrage is marijuana prohibition. Marijuana 61 years ago was unjustly criminalized based upon lies by the self-serving drug czar of his day to a Congress who lapped it up like milk because it happened in the summer and it was hot and they wanted to go home. And so they voted in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 after ninety seconds of debate. The prohibition has been unrelenting. More than 12 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana since that time. This is a plant that has never hurt anyone in 5000 years in a country where 400,000 people die prematurely of cigarettes and 100,000 people die prematurely from alcohol. That this herb, this plant, this weed should be so illegal in this country that since the 1995 Omnibus Crime Bill, if you possess enough of it, our government will put you to death. Meanwhile we have a speaker of the house and a president and a vice-president who have all admitted to smoking marijuana.

These are pothead baby boomers and it's outrageous that they should put their fellows in prison.

Finally, the outrage within the outrage within the outrage is medical marijuana. In the War on Drugs, unlike any war in American history, unlike any modern civilized war of the past two centuries. In this War on Drugs they are not stopping the battle and allowing the Red Cross on the field. In fact, they are shooting directly at the sick and at those who are trying to help them. And they are shooting to kill. A friend of mine named Todd McCormick was arrested for growing marijuana in his own home after Proposition 215 passed in California that allowed for cultivation. He was treated for cancer nine times before he was 10. The DEA came in, destroyed his plants, and wants to put him in prison for a ten-year mandatory minimum, possibly life, plus a $4 million fine. That's shooting to kill. It's been going on for 11 months now.

As you know, the DEA and their bosom buddy, the IRS, have investigated me for 11 months now. The DEA and the IRS came into my home and they took away my computer containing a book on medical marijuana and a book critical of the DEA, which very quickly became three books critical of the DEA.

Don't tread on this faggot.

You know, the only way to discharge the hate words of the bigots of the world is to embrace them. When I was growing up, queer was the worst thing you could possibly call anybody. I don't know where the word faggot was in my town, but queer was the worst. And then all sorts of gay people started calling themselves queers, and now it's a perfectly acceptable word. You yell "Queer!" and we'll say, "What, yes?" And I think it's the same thing with faggot. It's like legalizers. That's the new demonized buzzword, like communist. If they accuse you of being a legalizer, please, don't resist. Say, "Yeah, I'm a legalizer, absolutely. I believe that everything should be legally sold in the free market, equally and open to competition. That's what I believe as a libertarian."

Of all the compliments I got for Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do, from people as diverse as Archbishop Tutu and Sting and Hugh Downs and Larry King, all those people were very kind, but the thing that meant the absolute most was when Milton Friedman, unasked, sent me a very nice letter. Milton is a great hero of mine, and I know of many people in this room. If you're watching, Milton, know that we send you our love and Nature's God's blessings, from the Libertarian Convention. [Applause.]

When I say medical marijuana is the most egregious ongoing federal intrusion, there are of course incidents that are worse. There's Ruby Ridge, there's Waco, there's William Bennett getting his own children's show on PBS. These are three places the federal government should not have gone.

The DEA agents who came into my house and even the two federal prosecutors who would prosecute me and try to put me in prison for the rest of my life, they're patriots. They are doing something for their government, and they're doing it because they love America, because they love the United States, because they think they are protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States. They believe this, they just misunderstand the facts, and they're caught in bureaucracy that won't teach them. These are ordinary, decent Americans. Anybody who's willing to go into covert operations and put their lives on the line like that for their country is a hero.

Then there's William Bennett, on the other hand, whom I think is personally culpable for this entire Drug War mess we're in right now. He ingratiated himself very carefully, just like Iago misleading Othello, with Reagan and then Bush as Othello, and Bennett as Iago, and Lady Liberty there [points to large replica of Statue of Liberty onstage] as Desdemona.

About now, young people are saying, "What the hell is this guy talking about?"

[Member of the convention yells, "That's because they went to public schools."]

I don't know why Libertarians have this image of being dry and kind of living in desert climates and being on a ranch all day, because libertarians have the best sense of humor of all. We can laugh at everything! Because if we're not enjoying the moment, what the hell is there? It's a very Zen party.

William Bennett is personally responsible for the fact that needle exchange was not put into effect in 1988. The studies were there proving conclusively that needle exchange significantly reduced the spread of AIDS and did not increase the use of drugs. Bennett at the time said yes, of course, we care about the AIDS epidemic, but we care about the signal we're sending to our children more. He personally fought for and got not only not federal funding for needles, but also got them made illegal. As a direct result of him, 200,000 heterosexual people in this country now have AIDS. It is about the only way AIDS got into the heterosexual population. One-third of all AIDS cases now are from drug users or their partners. Sixty percent of all new AIDS cases next year will be female partners of those 200,000 people who got it intravenously and will pass it on to their lovers, wives and children, often without even knowing it.

Thank you, William Bennett.

Ten years later, the government finally admits that, yes, indeed, needle exchange works, it doesn't make drug use go up, and it certainly reduces the spread of AIDS and, now, a new needle-spread epidemic, Hepatitis C. Who in the entire administration fought the hardest and even went to the Republicans in order to get federal funding for needle programs banned? Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. So I move that we call heterosexual AIDS the Bennett/McCaffrey illness, or the BM disease.

William Bennett personally went to Arizona and convinced the Arizona legislature that two-thirds of the people's will on medical marijuana should be overruled by new legislation. So, for all the people who have been suffering in Arizona for the past two years who could have had relief were it not for Bill Bennett, thank you very much again, Mr. Bennett.

We all know that William Bennett has been taking money from dark organizations so that he can continue to perpetrate the War on Drugs so the dark organization can continue to prosper. One of those is the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Bennett is bribed. You sit outside his office, and all day long these platinum Halliburton cases go in full and they come out empty; they go in full and they come out empty. They're full of éclairs.

Have you seen that man? I'm fat, but he's obese. Not that I have anything against obesity. If you're fat you're fat, so what? What I hate is hypocrisy. Here this man cannot stop putting food in his mouth and he wants to tell me to stop taking the medicine that is saving my life and put me in prison if I don't.

I mean, I've read the Bible, too, and I know that gluttony is punished in the Bible, the very same Bible that Bill Bennett points to to support his "moral" attack on gays, drug users, and just about everyone with whom he does not agree. "Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. [Proverbs 23:2]" "For drunkards [Bennett is rumored to be a heavy drinker] and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. [Proverbs 23:21]" "A companion of gluttons disgraces his father. [Proverbs 28:7]" "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. [Titus 1:12]"

One Biblical punishment for gluttony is to be stoned to death. As long as it 's not done with rocks, this can work. In some African tribes, the punishment for any crime is to sit and smoke marijuana endlessly - marijuana smoke is forced into a small tent so that all the criminal can do is breathe marijuana for the prescribed period of time. It is the cure for all crimes.

Gluttony is punishable in the Bible by stoning to death, or being cut off from one's people. I believe that that will be the fate of William Bennett; he will be cut off from his people. There's no need to punish the drug warriors; they are already punishing themselves.

Where's my [looks in his pockets], I had my medicine here [takes out gold Art Deco cigarette case]. The nice thing is, if you're gay-- I'm a gay libertarian, I'm one of those laissez fairies - is that you get to carry around delightful things such as this cigarette case that Gary Cooper gave Marlene Dietrich in 1936 for a good, [clears throat] well, anyway, for a good time. So I'll have it there just in case I need it. I know you won't mind.

Reason number two: unlike any other issue currently in political play, public opinion polls are outrageously in favor of medical marijuana and, at the same time, almost every politician vigorously opposes it. Public opinion polls show that somewhere between 65 and 80 percent of the population, but never below 65, favor marijuana use under a doctor's supervision. They say that even though all five living presidents and Nancy Reagan said it was a hoax, even though C. Everett Koop said it was a hoax. People still believe that if a doctor says it's okay, it's okay, and if you're sick it's okay to take medicine, and we make exceptions when people are sick. Compassion has not been beaten or tricked or propagandized out of the American people. It is still there and we can appeal to it.

I invite you to be not just ringside seats holder, but a direct participant, because, boy, this has been fun the last two years. It's not just public opinion polls, it's been reflected in the polling booth. As you know, in California 56.4 percent of the population voted for medical marijuana. That's more than voted for [California Attorney General] Lungren, who's been trying to suppress it. In the same election more Californians voted for Proposition 215 than voted for Bill Clinton.

Reason number three: Many of you are asking, as libertarians do when pondering deep moral issues, "What's in it for me?" You see, the Libertarian Party can embrace a political cause that is in very, very dire need of friends, and by embracing, there's a marvelous line from Shakespeare, by embracing the two make more than one plus one. Or is that Milton Friedman? Anyway, I think there is the synergistic possibility here between medical marijuana and the Libertarian Party at this particular juncture of time. Because when medical marijuana is truly accepted for what it is, we will see a phenomenon that makes Viagra's phenomenon seem limp. You know, I kind of think of the Libertarian Party as a kind of political Viagra.

On October 19, 1997, the National Academy of Neuroscience published a report based on scientific evidence from four universities. It began, "New research shows that substances similar to or derived from marijuana, known as cannabinoids, could benefit more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year." Ninety-seven million Americans! So imagine those 97 million people turning around and asking, "Why?" People who have been in intractable pain for years, for decades, asking, "Why didn't I have this medication before now? Why was this kept from me?"

And they'll look to the Democrats: guilty. They'll look to the Republicans: guilty. They'll look to the Libertarians [imitates inhaling from a joint]: "We told you so!" If the Libertarian Party has the gratitude of those 97 million people, and believe me it will, we can elect everybody to every office everywhere.

And finally, I ask you to support medical marijuana now because it is the right thing to do. I am tired of people thinking that libertarians don't have morality, that they don't have values. That's a lot of hogwash. Libertarians are the only politicians with moral values. "I won't physically harm your person or your property without your consent. Therefore, I am a moral person." And for those who choose to go above and beyond that, who choose to work for change, to make the government more moral, more accountable, more "right," who look at what is and say there is great harm being done and we must stop it because we can stop it and we can stop it now - these are my heroes, my friends, my compatriots.

You know, on C-SPAN those bars, those great pillars of the Capitol Building [indicates a replica of the Capitol Building onstage behind him], almost looks as if I'm standing in front of prison bars. And I look there and I think, that's where the federal government wants me for the rest of my life for taking my medicine--prison. And so I ask you who are the beacons of liberty in this country, and I ask you in the name of her, that Lady Liberty there [indicates model of Statue of Liberty]. (I'm gay, but that woman turns me on. In fact, she is only one of three women I've ever been inside. My mother told me that joke. She stole it from Woody Allen.) I ask the Libertarian Party to take this healing herb and use it to heal, [a baby cries] yes, you too, we'll be doing it for you, that baby crying in the corner there, we'll be doing it for you, our children, and I ask you to take this herb, this healing herb, and I ask you to heal the body politic with it. And I ask you, Lady Liberty, to once again lift your shining lamp above the golden door.

[Takes a joint out of the golden cigarette case and holds it to his mouth].

"Hey, lady, got a light?"