Proposition 215, the first state-level medical cannabis legalization victory in the United States in 1996, was spearheaded by many dedicated activists in the San Francisco Bay Area. These included celebrated heroes of the medical marijuana legalization movement such as Dennis Peron and Lynnette Shaw. Despite the leadership of these OGs, many others were invaluable in the pursuit of legal access to cannabis for sick patients twenty years ago. Chief among these players was Wayne Justmann.
30 years of legalizing medical cannabis
Justmann, now 71 years of age and living in San Francisco, first became involved in the cannabis legalization movement in 1989, after being diagnosed as HIV positive in July of 1988.
On the advice of friends, he sought cannabis to treat his disease instead of the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by his physician.
Chatting to Wayne Justmann
Herb.co recently sat down with Justmann in his San Francisco home to discuss the role he has played in the cannabis legalization movement, and what has motivated him to remain a tireless advocate of medical marijuana for nearly 30 years.
You helped pass Proposition 215 more than 20 years ago. How did you enter the cannabis legalization movement back in the 1990s?
I was diagnosed HIV positive in 1988. The only medication that folks like me had – because there were not cocktails like today – were really harsh ones. At that time, like everybody else, I wasn’t sure if the virus was going to kill me or the medicine was going to kill me.
I had heard that cannabis can help people like me. But I didn’t want to go out in the streets to buy it. My friends referred me to 194 Church St. in San Francisco [the city’s first cannabis dispensary].”
What did you find?
Love. Compassion. Pretty good weed. And people who were tied together because all of us knew somebody who was dying.
What do you think about the topic of recreational, or ‘adult use’ cannabis and how it compares to medical consumption?
I don’t know what ‘recreational’ cannabis is. I’m not that smart. I leave that discussion for somebody else. [Holding up a jar of cannabis flowers] I know in this jar is ground up cannabis. I’m not sure if it’s ‘medical,’ but I know it is for me! Because I’m HIV positive!
How has cannabis helped you medicinally for the past 28 years?
It helped me tolerate the HIV medicine. Without it, I’d be vomiting between here and the toilet. I couldn’t hold anything down.
None of the pharmaceutical drugs were able to deal with your nausea?
No! I even tried Marinol. It made me sick! It was a chemical that made my stomach really ill. I was swallowing something that I don’t think my system agreed to. If I smoke cannabis, I’m fine. If I vaporize, I’m fine. If I eat it, I’m fine.
Some leading doctors claim that cannabis is the best anti-nausea medicine in the world, better than anything that’s been synthesized in a lab. What do you think?
I’ll second that. But I’m not a doctor. However, I’ve shared cannabis with hundreds of patients over the years. I saw the relief that this plant gives to sick and dying people. Unfortunately, they’re not here to tell their story. But I know what cannabis did for them, because I shared that experience.
One of the most famous and powerful cannabis legalization activists in the San Francisco Bay Area was Brownie Mary. Did you work with her?
Absolutely! She was a doll! She was a doll with a truck driver mouth. A week before she was going to die, no hair, and she was cursing like a sailor in the hospital. She had the courage and compassion, no matter what risks she was facing.
Brownie Mary made medical brownies and took them to sick and dying people in the hospital and got arrested! She wasn’t selling them on a street corner! She was a delight.
She was one of the characters that really took penitentiary chances. Because every day, all of us went into that dispensary knowing full well that the federal government could come in and crush us, because we had no protection.”
Before Proposition 215 passed in 1996?
Yes, like in the early ‘90s. We didn’t have 215 to do our thing! Raids were going on.
You had balls of brass.
We had something. Our balls were in the conviction in our hearts. It had to be done because we had sick and dying people. Here in San Francisco back then, everybody knew someone who was sick. You went to church with them, you worked with them…
Is it fair to say that it wasn’t necessarily about the cannabis, but more so it was about sick patients who were being mistreated by the medical establishment? That they felt, like you, that their medicine was as bad as their disease?
Don’t even talk about it! Don’t mention AIDS. We had a president, Reagan, who didn’t mention AIDS. People didn’t know what the hell it was to begin with. People were told not to hug or touch us because of our disease. That’s what I went through.
Then the politicians and other leaders wanted to isolate us. Send us to some damn island and get rid of us!
Given your extensive role in the cannabis legalization history of California, what do you think about Proposition 64, which has brought adult use legalization to the largest state in the nation?
When laypeople are asked, what do you think about the legalization of cannabis, it sounds like a pretty good idea to most. But then people like me and Dennis Peron and Eddy Lepp have to ask, at what cost?
My problem with Prop 64 is the same thing with Proposition 19 back in 2010. I didn’t support that either. All use of cannabis is medical and it’s a plant! So when Prop 64 comes to fruition [in January 2018], do we need 60 pages of legal language to figure out what to do with the plant? No!
I see big government and big money coming in. That’s why they added so much detail; to confuse the little guy and make it possible for cities to collect taxes. That’s the problem with 64, in my opinion: We’re still suffering the hangover from reefer madness.
That began in the 1920s…
And it still goes on. Oh, it’s an illegal drug! We have to keep it away from children!
How do we rid society of 100 years of cannabis stigma?
I don’t think it will happen. The reason is because advocates have sold their souls down the river to have access to cannabis in dispensaries. They accept things like being limited to growing only six or eight plants at home. And things like 1000-foot setbacks from schools. Advocates have sacrificed too much. We won’t get that back.
Many states are setting the bar so high that the small players can’t participate.
The small players are gone! In Arkansas, they are allowing only five growers! In Florida, you can’t have flowers, you can’t vaporize, you can’t have edibles. What the hell can you have?!
Minnesota has a medical cannabis program. Wonderful. No medicine, though! This is how much of a joke medical marijuana has become. The legalization movement has gotten to the point that we are legislating silliness.
You’ve been on the leading edge of the medical cannabis legalization movement for nearly three decades, Wayne. Do you have any advice for Herb.co’s readers?
I hope your readers challenge themselves to learn about the plant. Don’t fear it. The more you can learn from it, the more you’re going to appreciate it. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, but I’m not going to stop anybody from doing that. Please don’t try to prevent me from exercising my right to smoke cannabis.
Rabinski crafts compelling educational media that focuses on the science of the cannabis herb, patient advocacy, and eliminating the social stigma that has existed for more than a century in the United States. His photography is available on Instagram at gooey_rabinski and he Tweets from @GooeyRabinski.
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