Jane Weirick: Death of an Organizer
Jane Weirick died this week. She was 46. An organizer who could either lead or follow with competence. The devoted mom of a grown-up daughter of whom she was very proud. The opposite of a snob.
Jane had been one of Dennis Peron’s lieutenants at 1444 Market St. Then she co-founded the Patients Resource Center at 350 Divisadero in San Francisco. She ran a trimming-and-packaging service and then launched a cannabis dispensary of her own, in the Hayward storefront where she sold clothes for zaftig women. Last December Jane was stricken with a mysterious, extremely debilitating illness that her Kaiser doctors couldn’t diagnose. One thought it might be the result of a chemical exposure. She went into partial remission but never recovered. In the end she was on extremely high doses of morphine and steroids. The probable cause of death was morphine poisoning. Tod Mikuriya, MD, is asking the coroner to conduct an autopsy. (The body has already been sent to the mortuary)
Jane was convinced the chemical assault came from Avid, a pesticide that a few growers of "medical" marijuana reportedly spray on their plants to control spider mites. Avid, manufactured by Syngenta (formerly by Novartis), is a so-called "natural" pesticide, extracted from a soil bacterium. It is applied to plants in the flowering stage. It is classified by the industry as "slightly" toxic, but by entomologists as "highly" toxic. A serious organic agronomist tell us, "Abamectin [the active ingredient in Avid] is called by some a "soft" pesticide because it’s made by a bacterium, it’s ‘natural.’ But just because a toxin is made by a bacterium doesn’t mean it’s safe for human ingestion. Occasionally people have called to ask what pesticide to use and I say, ‘Absolutely no, out of the question.’ There need to be cultural practices initiated up front that prevent the need for controlled materials… Prevention is the key, period. There are truly ‘soft’ materials: soaps, oils, water pressure. There are tools to contol pests, there’s no excuse to use these pesticides -it’s greed, it’s dumb, it’s just not right."
Jane said that when she began packaging extensively for the San Francisco CBC, all the cannabis passing through her hands had been grown outdoors. By 2005, she estimated, 75 to 80 percent of the cannabis sold in Bay Area dispensaries was being grown indoors. (Cannabis grown indoors is much more susceptible to spider mites.)
I have a photo of Jane on the sidewalk outside outside the magnificent building that houses San Francisco Department of Public Health, on the morning in 2001 that city officials announced the launch of SF’s medical marijuana ID card program. That’s Jane on the right, celebrating the culmination of her work as an organizer. As fate would have it, on the night Jane died, a DPH official was announcing at a hastily called meeting of concerned citizens that the city will cease to issue ID cards in two weeks. The S.F. City Attorney’s Office has been advised by Attorney General Lockyer that the new state program supercedes all municipal programs. DPH’s Josh Bamberger, MD, repeatedly blushing in embarassment, maintained that the city "had no choice" but to defer to the state. Bamberger couldn’t explain why, with only six of 58 counties issuing cards of their own, San Francisco is in such a hurry to comply. The state will insist that the city keep individual patients’ medical records on file. Bamberger tried to reassure patients who feared their privacy might be breached that their records would be "kept under lock and key," and if the federal government subpoenas them, "the city attorney’s office will fight the subpoena.
Jane Weirick didn’t die in illusion; she knew that the fight for access to safe, affordable cannabis is far from over. She expended years of time and energy trying to help launch a trade group, the Medical Cannabis Assocation, to impose practice standards in the interests of all -growers, distributors, and medical users. Her last plan, according to a friend, was to back a juice bar in Hayward. He don’t know if that reflected disillusion towards the so-called "movement," or just Jane’s extreme fatigue and illness… Remember the small town in Humboldt County that went up for auction on Ebay a few years ago? Jane made the winning bid, on behalf of some pro-cannabis friends, but almost all of the eight or nine houses turned out to be in terrible shape, and the deal fell through. She was an organizer, that’s for sure.
The Single Issue Trap
I opened The Unlawful Concert–my book written in 1970 about the Presidio mutiny case that has just been reissued–and read:
"The 27 men who demonstrated Oct. 14  came, by and large, from the poorest, least fortunate strata of white America," it says in the book. "Only five had graduated from high school. None but Rowland finished a year of college, and he finished exactly one. When they dropped out of school they went straight to work. Mike Murphy and Keith Mather pumped gas; Larry Sales was an auto repairman; Dean Sood, a warehouseman; Buddy Shaw, a fry cook; Billy Hayes, a mill worker; Richard Duncan and Ricky Stevens did seasonal fieldwork; Mike Marino and Ed Schiro were line workers in plants; Danny Wilkins was a miner; Ed Yost installed carpets; Richard Gentile drove a truck and dreamed of being a professional boxer; Patrick Wright had a construction job. Not one of the 27 had ever made a political act of any kind before coming into the Army. It was marijuana that gave many of them their identity as rebels; and it was the Army itself -its authoritarianism and its mission in Vietnam- that provided their cause for rebellion."
The reason the Presidio stockade was bursting at the seams by the Fall of 1968 is that so many AWOLs headed for the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco -for freedom in all its aspects.
What should have happened at the end of the ’60s was fusion -the formation of a party intent on taking power and reorganizing the society to achieve equality and freedom on all fronts. What happened instead was fission -emergence of all these single-issue groups and "movements." We’re living with the consequences.
NORML Splits Off
At this year’s meeting of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) the new director, Allen St. Pierre, praised his predecessor, Keith Stroup, for "starting the movement at the end of the ’60s." St. Pierre said that all the reform groups operating today -DPA (the Drug Policy Alliance), MPP (the Marijuana Policy Project) and ASA (Americans for Safe Access), "the whole alphabet soup"-, could trace their origins to Stroup’s founding of NORML. More applause. But I was thinking: Keith Stroup didn’t start the movement. He took one strand of an existing movement and teased it out and defined it as a movement unto itself. In 1968, identifying with "the movement" meant being for peace, civil rights, civil liberties, equality for women, an end to poverty and oppression, repression, and discrimination of all kinds I like Keith Stroup, I don’t think that he consciously tried to direct the energies of potsmokers in a direction that would be politically unproductive in the long run. Single-issue groups were in the zeitgeist. This may have been because enlightened capitalists would sooner underwrite single-issue groups than, say, a political party seeking to reorganize the society along egalitarian lines. Keith Stroup, a young lawyer who had been working in Washington, D.C. with Ralph Nader’s "Raiders," undoubtedly sensed this
Just as NORML was being launched, Dennis Peron came home from Vietnam and said, "I’m dedicating my life to world peace." He made his living as a pot dealer, and in due course everyone came to to think of him as Mr. Marijuana, but Dennis never lost sight of his goal During the campaign for Prop 215 in 1996 he was often heard to say, "It’s not about marijuana. This is about America -who we are and how we treat each other as people." Dennis’s instinct was to break out of the single-issue trap. He had said all along he wanted Prop 215 to be a step towards something bigger MUCH bigger than the "legalization" goal that the Drug Warriors accuse the medical-marijuana advocates of pursuing. He said that whatever we achieved would be the legacy of all his friends who had died in the epidemic, and he wanted it to be of maximum significance. After 215 passed he was in a double bind. He had built the prototype "buy-low, sell-high" cannabis club model, but he didn’t see how that model could lead to social change.
The single-issue focus provides the rationale for supporting or ignoring other cruel aspects of our society. A recent MPP press release/webpage announcing a cost-of-prohibiton study gratuitously asserts: "Tax marijuana and spend the money on the War on Terror." As if the government that lies about marijuana tells the truth about oil! As if the money from marijuana taxes won’t be spent shooting pellets or Tasers at antiwar protesters. As if there can actually be a "war on terror" any more than there can be a war on drugs. As if "War on Terror" isn’t code for arms spending and the occupation of Iraq and the Patriot Act (which to date has only been used against drug distributors).
By single-issue logic, the marijuana prohibition is a "mistake" and every other aspect of the society is unrelated or -at the logical conclusion- hunky-dory. Steve Fox of MPP tells one of the pro-cannabis California doctors, Tom O’Connell that if and when O’Connell publishes a paper in a peer review journal, MPP will be "thrilled" to publicize it. This at the very time that the corruption of the journals is revealed to the American people By single-issue logic, it would have been appropriate in 1968 for marijuana advocates to chant "Bomb Haiphong, not my bong." But in that time and context, such creepy, selfish opportunism would have been obvious to all. Now it’s admired: "controlling the spin."
There is a seductiveness to the single-issue-reform approach, the goal seems so much more attainable than reorganizing the whole society. But in the 35 years that the single-interest groups have been pushing for marijuana-law reform, the glaciers have melted. It might actually be more practical and expedient to organize a revolution. (It can be planned in a Sims game.) In any case, NORML should have the courage to go back to the beginning and redefine its relationship to the non-existent party.
FRED GARDNER can be reached at: email@example.com