Dustin Costa Struggles Against Invisibility

by FRED GARDNER

Thomas Jefferson O’Connell, MD, perused a front-page story on in the Times and said, "I’m glad the torturers are being exposed, but I can’t help thinking that the prisoners at Guantanamo get a lot more attention than Dustin Costa." Costa is a patient of O’Connell’s who has been imprisoned in Fresno since August 2005 on cultivation charges.

According to O’Connell and attorney Bill McPike, Costa thought he was protected by state law. But state law won’t apply when he goes on trial (in November, he hopes), since the U.S. Attorney took over his case from the Merced County DA. Costa won’t even be allowed to tell the jury that the plants he was growing on the family farm were intended for medical users. Nor will his own story be allowed. This is how he told it to Dr. O’Connell:

My first encounter with marijuana came in the fall of 1968. I was a 22-year-old Marine nearing the end of my four-year enlistment. It was during this time that I was diagnosed with an anxiety/depression disorder and prescribed Librium. The Librium seemed to help, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. A friend turned me on to marijuana, and to my amazement, my depression disappeared and gradually, as I continued to use it, I found that I was able to focus on tasks much better. I’d had a lifelong problem with focus that plagued me particularly in school. I always scored well on IQ tests, yet try as I might I barely made it through high school with a D average. Electronics School in the Marine Corps was similarly difficult.

After my honorable discharge I enrolled in a community college. I also became a regular pot smoker. Two years later I graduated with honors. That was one of the proudest moments of my life. Unfortunately, I also had a drinking problem. When I drank, generally daily, I became abusive and violent. I was only able to quit drinking in 1999 when, as a condition of receiving my first medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor in Marin County, I agreed to give up alcohol. It worked! I’ve been alcohol-free since 1999.

It was a revelation that marijuana could be an effective substitute for all kinds of addictions. Up till then, because of all the media hype, I was under the impression that only those with a catastrophic illness like cancer or AIDS could receive a doctors recommendation.

Costa made an annual drive from Fresno to Marin to get his letter of approval renewed. In 2002 he switched doctors to shorten the drive and saw O’Connell in Oakland. "My entire perspective on medical marijuana was about to take a giant leap forward," Costa recounted in a letter from prison. "Doctor O’Connell is a retired thoracic surgeon who once was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Medical Corps during Viet-Nam. He, too, asked me detailed questions about my alcohol and drug history. He showed great interest in my troubled childhood and in my work history. He explained that he had discovered a relationship between mental health and substance abuse. The key was that substance abusers were self-medicating most often to treat anxiety and stress. He explained that self-medicating with marijuana was a far safer and more effective choice. ‘Safer than aspirin, more effective than Ritalin.’

"He said most of his patients had anxiety/stress issues and pot worked better for them than pharmaceutical alternatives or illegal drugs. I had suspected so from my own experience, but now I had confirmation from a medical doctor I left the office with a diagnosis of a ‘mood disorder.’ This was different than for relief of alcoholism, though similar. It seemed more in tune with my core problem. I would learn later that ‘mood disorder’ covers a broad range of anxiety and depression-related disorders, including ADD, ADHD, BiPolar disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, autism, and so on.

"Even though medical marijuana is unavailable at present for prisoners, there is tremendous interest. I’ve interviewed more than 100 [inmates] so far and found that almost all have suffered from debilitating mental disorders. About 75% of those interviewed suffer from serious substance abuse of hard drugs or alcohol. Others had anger management issues. In every case, I was told that based on their prior experience and knowledge, they could successfully replace the offending substance, or better manage their anger with marijuana."

Costa forwards a clipping from the Fresno Community Alternative on the racist nature of drug-law enforcement. Although only 22 percent of illicit drug users are black or Latino, 80 percent of those in prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.

More than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars–a third of them for selling or possessing marijuana. Prohibitionist flacks reassure the public that most of those convicted of possession are "dealers" who have pled down to possession, but this is misleading. The line between evil dealers and benign users is very vague. Many working people who want to smoke high-grade marijuana but can’t afford $400 for an ounce will buy, say, a half pound for $2000 from an acquaintance, sell six ounces to friends for $350/per, thus getting their own two ounces for free (in exchange for the labor involved in distribution, and the risk).

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com




 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece