Attorney who helped write Illinois Constitution speaks against War on Drugs

JIM GIERACH: Hi. Good afternoon, folks. My name is Jim Gierach. I’m an attorney from the Chicago area. I just came in. I’m suffering from jet lag a little bit, but I’m here Page 141 to talk about why cannabis should be rescheduled by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.
By way of a little bit of background, I’m a father. I’m a grandfather. I’m an attorney. I’m a former prosecuting drug attorney from Chicago. I helped write Illinois’s constitution. I’m the chairman of the church council. I have never used an illicit drug.
I’m here also on behalf of an organization called LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of people who have come to the same conclusion that I have as people in the front lines of the War on Drugs. That conclusion by judges, lawyers, prosecutors, former DEA agents, customs agents, people who are in the front — front lines of the War on Drugs is that the War on Drugs doesn’t work. It puts more drugs, contaminated drugs, everywhere. It’s the heart of the drug problem.
Secondly, not only does it not help with the drug problem, but it’s the heart of any other crisis you can name in America; the problem of guns, gangs, crime, prisons, taxes, deficits, AIDS, health care, trade imbalance, corruption, no money for schools, job programs, the corruption of Page 142 the kids, the corruption of the police, and the funding of terrorism.
Just to give you an example of how it doesn’t work, I live in Palos Park in southwest Cook County. Two weeks ago they seized 6,000 marijuana plants after 38 years of drug work.
I did a radio show in Missouri where they just seized 500 plants. In — two weeks ago in another county in Illinois, they seized 500 plants. We have more of these drugs everywhere now within a mile, 6,000 plants within a mile of my 14-year-old-son.
I’m opposed to drug use, but I’m more opposed to the War on Drugs, which causes these — these headaches unending. When I was a prosecutor in Chicago, the best heroin you could get was 2 percent. After 38 years of drug war, you can now get 90 percent pure heroin. It’s cut with Fentanyl, often causing respiratory arrest. Why has it been here for 38 years and continued without relief? Because the good guys and the bad guys are both in favor of it.
Al Capone was in favor of the prohibition of the substance that he peddled because it was the foundation for the business. Page 143. The same thing is happening with illicit drugs.
Now, the good guys on the other hand, the people who are building the prisons, the hundred thousand policemen that we hired to stop the crime, the prison contractors, the people who supply the prisons, the TV, radio, and billboard companies that are getting antidrug money to put up these drug advertisements, in effect, these people are all on the same side of the equation.
The guys who make the helicopters to go spray Columbia, the Round-Up that manufactures the substance to kill the plants, all of these things end up with both the good guys and the bad guys on the same side of the War on Drugs, so nobody is fighting against it, and we have all these problems continuing.
Now, I’m here today to suggest to you that cannabis should be rescheduled. As you know, it’s a Schedule I drug, and it doesn’t belong there. I’m here to try to help the sick and the dying.
I think the worst aspect of the War on Drugs is not even all these other problems that I’ve mentioned but the heartless, uncompassionate use of a law to deny people medicine after we’ve Page 144 got some six centuries of history with the substance causing people help and aid.
We then have 13 states where the people themselves can see that the country is so out of tune that they themselves through their legislatures and through initiatives are passing referendums, often 60 percent of the vote or more, saying that what we’re doing is wrong.
We arrest some 900,000 people in this country a year for marijuana, spending money on prisons to the point where we can’t pay for schools. It’s just absolutely wrong.
Now, I’m sure that you’ve heard plenty about the DEA, Judge Francis, 1988, who said that it would arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable to continue with the scheduling of marijuana as a Class I drug. He was right in 1988, and we’re still struggling to try and right the wrong.
I’m sure that you’re aware from having heard — this is about the third or fourth time you’ve had hearings, I believe. You have heard testimonials from individual people of how it’s helped MS or glaucoma or — or tumors on the long bone. Irving Rosenfeld who I met back in 1992 who’s handling millions of dollars of business a Page 145 year on government-supplied marijuana. We have millions of Americans who have used marijuana and know that it’s not some dread disease.
My father was a judge. End of his life, he couldn’t take his pills anymore. He had so much pain, he couldn’t keep them down. I said “Dad, you want marijuana?”
And he said “No. I send people to jail for prison (sic). I’m going to die by the same rules that I lived by,” which he did. I mean a testament to his character but not a testament to the rules that we put in place. Julie Falco, a girl with MS who was on the verge of suicide until she found medical marijuana.
Peter McWilliams, a best-selling author who the government prosecutes in one of these California marijuana raids and says “You’re going to jail unless you stop using your medicine.” He stops using it and chokes to death. Heartless.
We have 13 states who have already seen the light and approved medical marijuana. We have 14 more states, Illinois one of them, that’s on the verge. The Illinois Senate passed for the first time this year medical marijuana. The House will before the year is out, we expect.
Page 146 We have a public consensus. I clipped something out of the Tribune where they had the seizure of drugs in a county, Dallas state, McHenry, and I’m going to leave with you, if I may, just the comments. The people writing in response to the seizure of 450 plants. “Monumental waste of taxpayer dollars. Complete waste of time and money. What a waste. What a waste.”
I mean it goes on for pages, every single one, one after another. Madam Reporter, if you would please circulate that among your seven board members.
I would call your attention to the case of Gonzales where the United States Supreme Court said that because of the supremacy clause, we have no choice but to enforce federal drug law, notwithstanding referendums and initiatives in the states that approved marijuana.
The court, so unhappy with its own decision which he felt — they felt compelled to rule as they did, they conclude their opinion, apologizing in effect for their ruling. “Respondents in this case seek to avail themselves of the medical necessity defense. We do not Page 147 address the question. We do note, however, even more important is the democratic process in which the voices of voters alive with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress and in the state legislatures.”
They had to apologize because they by the dictates of stare decisis and the need to follow precedent and not to be an activist court had no choice but to reach the conclusion that they did but at the same time imploring all of us to use our heads to let the states speak through the legislatures as I hope the Board of Pharmacy will to the Iowa Board.
It’s just essential that we restore some semblance of sanity in the drug war which has become the Achilles heel of this country where we’re rotting from the inside because of a rule that causes disrespect for law and war, police, society, and one another. I ask you to take the lead in seeing that those things change.
I’d go on but I got to be near ten. How am I doing?
DEBBIE JORGENSON: You got a minute left but I’m not –
JIM GIERACH: Okay. I mean are there any questions or concerns that you’d like to ask me about based on — on 40 years of practicing law and prosecuting, putting people in jail?
Chicago today, we’re having a meeting with the secretary of education, Arnie Duncan, with Mayor Daley, with the Attorney General Holder because the violence is so bad in Chicago, we have killed 40 children in this current school year. We have — we have shot 400 students. We have killed 500 people in the course of the year.
The War on Drugs, I give speeches around the country at college campuses, at grade schools, high schools, and more likely grade schools let me in, and it’s the same everywhere. When I get off the plane or out of the car, I know the problems in your community. You have more — more crime than you’ve ever had. Your prisons are expanding. In this state 4,800 people behind bars. So much money spent there, there’s no money left for education.
Health care, we can’t let them have a clean needle because it will send the wrong message. So as a result, we have new AIDS cases. Page 149
Well, because of the advancement in the medicines — thank you, pharmacology — they’re now living 24 years on average, and it costs us $600,000 where it used to be 100,000, and we can’t afford the bills for — for $600,000 a year for the lifetime of somebody with AIDS and then give them no way to prevent the contraction of it.
It is imperative that the states stand up where the federal government has failed and implore our national leaders and our local leaders to end this monstrosity, this albatross, which we have tied around the neck of our citizens.
You have a great opportunity here in Iowa through the Board of Pharmacy, through five pharmacists and two civilian members, to lead that fight further, to not get lost in the specious claims that have been made about the horrors.
I had — I was diagnosed as having acid reflux, and so the doctor says “Take omeprazole.” I get the thing home, and I read the thing, says “You might have complications of cough, dizziness, back pain, headaches, stomach pain, mental mood change, depression, agitation, chest pain, irregular heart beat, severe dizziness, trouble breathing, and if you’re on the verge of Page 150 suicide, stop taking it.”
I mean you will not — I mean I didn’t eat the stuff. Once I read the piece of paper, I said “If my stomach hurts, I’m going to take an antacid and get some rest, stop worrying about the drug war for a little bit.”
But I mean it’s just so foolish. It’s so heartbreaking in so many ways every day. The — when you — when you prohibit a substance, you give up the right to regulate and control it.
In the direction from your legislature as to what your charge was as the Board of Pharmacy, you were charged with investigating, regulating, controlling, recommending. That’s what you can do until you prohibit something. When you prohibit, you necessarily by definition give up the right to control and regulate it.
So who controls the drugs right now and what’s on the streets? It’s the gangs and the drug cartels. There’s no rules about how old you have to be to buy it, how old you have to be to sell it, how strong it is, what it’s cut with. There’s no warning label. You don’t have to be 21.
These are things that control and regulation and taxation would enable us to do Page 151 better. I can tell you heartbreaking stories of clients that have overdosed and killed themselves, and overdosed on the way to a job interview on cocaine, not knowing what he had in the stupid drug.
I mean we have one heroin overdose death every day in the city of Chicago. We had ten ambulances collected on the west side of the city picking up the bodies because they had cut the drug with Fentanyl, and then — then I have to tell you all my medical stuff. Everything is confidential.
I have a — what do you call it? An endoscope, I’ll call it, and when I get the bill, aside from the bill being ridiculous, demanding health care, $6,000 for a couple hours or something, they had Fentanyl as one of the drugs that they used to put me out, now knowing that that’s how they killed all these people on the west side.
Well, I mean I don’t want to overstay my welcome but –
ROBERT MANKE: Ask them for more time.
JIM GIERACH: The town — the town next to where I live is called Orland Park, and it’s one of the upper-scale communities in southwest Cook County. And I live there. My daughter who’s an alum from here and now a lawyer in health care, the think tank of D.C., that town had kids who went to the same high school my daughter did, end up robbing another house that had marijuana to steal the cash and the marijuana. And so we ended up with three Orland Park residents killing another, shooting two all together, over this wonderful cannabis product.
I mean we have to wake up as a nation. Medical marijuana is the very, very least that we can do to help people who are sick, dying, suffering, and need help. And who better to lead us than people who believe in science instead of this whole notion of — of using — using people’s fears as a way to collect votes.
Every president from Nixon forward has been in favor of the War on Drugs, but because they’re a politician, it’s a way to collect votes. “I’m going to save your children from drugs.” I want my children saved, but it doesn’t save them. It makes it worse.
So I also read this bill. It’s a wonderful — is this the bill that you’re working Page 153 from? It’s sort of a base?
LLOYD JESSEN: It’s the one that was introduced last year, but it’s not — it’s not anything –
JIM GIERACH: Not necessarily –
LLOYD JESSEN: Yeah. It’s not the board’s bill.
JIM GIERACH: Okay. Well, it’s in the ballpark. In Illinois what they’re passing, they’re talking about six plants or two ounces, and here you’re talking about six ounces within a 30-day period.
There’s things in here about zoning.
There’s — I mean it’s really — really not a bad draft for somebody getting started and trying to do something that regulates something with thought and moderation.
So I congratulate you for what you’re doing. I hope you’re getting testimonials one after another, and you certainly know far more than I do about pharmacology. I come here basically from the perspective of what is happening to our society because what we’re doing and that we have to care about one another, and we have to provide medicine Page 154 when somebody can get help from something, even though Congress legislatively declared this has no medicinal value. Give them medicine. Thank you.

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