The Hempstead T-Shirt

Pseudo-sophisticates in the media have commented snidely on the following Associated Press story, datelined Atlanta, that ran in papers across the country in late August:

The town of Hempstead, N.Y., has a message for Gwinnett County school administrators: Before you target a student wearing a Hempstead shirt, look at a map.

Terrell Jones, a student in Gwinnett County’s Grayson High School, was weeded out of a classroom by a school administrator because he wore a shirt that read: ‘Hempstead, NY 516,’ a reference to the Long Island town and its telephone area code. (The reporter and editor(s) must have snickered over “weeded out.” Few seem able to resist making puns when talking or writing about marijuana, as if the very subject produced a contact high.)

According to Jones’ family, which moved from Hempstead to the Atlanta suburb, the school thought the shirt referred to marijuana. Jones wasn’t allowed to return to class until he persuaded school officials to search the Internet for the town name.

The town’s Web site says the area may have been named for Hemel-Hempstead, England. Another theory cites the Dutch city of Heemstede, because settlers had come years earlier from the Netherlands.

‘Before they would jump to any conclusions, they should be sure of what they’re talking about,’ town spokeswoman Susie Trenkle said of the Georgia officials.

Hempstead is the nation’s largest township, with 759,000 residents spread across 22 villages and more than 142 square miles, she said.

The student’s father, James Jones, said he wants an apology for Monday’s incident. School district officials did not return a call for comment.

Terrell Jones says he will keep wearing the shirt to school.

The implication of the AP story–and the sarcastic commentaries that ensued–was that the Georgia school officials are a bunch of slack-jawed yokels. Nobody got it that Hempstead, L.I. spokesperson Susie Trenkle is either ignorant or in deep denial about the derivation of the town’s name. The “Hemp-” in Hempstead, England most certainly refers to the cannabis plant, grown for fiber and the oil from its seeds. [Stede meant “place” in English 2.0. “Hempstead,” according to cannabis historian Michael Aldrich, “probably referred to a farm where hemp was grown, which then became the name of the town that sprang up around it.”] By naming their town after the plant, the founders of Hempstead, England were paying cannabis a great honor; and subsequently, the founders of Hempstead, Long Island, were paying homage to their roots… Since hemp and marijuana are both synonyms for cannabis (albeit one is grown for fiber and one for resin), the school officials in Georgia were right! Terrell Jones was indeed violating the school’s zero-tolerance-for-marijuana policy by wearing a Hempstead, L.I. t-shirt.

Aldrich adds, “The reason George Washington and Tom Jefferson and others grew hemp was so that the US would not have to rely on England, Italy and Russia for hemp (national security, can’t have our Navy depending on foreign hemp!). Despite the Washington note in the 1790s about ‘separated male from female’ hemp plants, they were not interested in the resin, but in hempseeds so that local ‘home’ industries could produce the hemp the Navy needed. The cultivation manuals of the time (the famous one by Edmund Quincy, John Quincy Adams’s cousin) said specifically that to get the best yield of hempseeds, one pulled out the taller male plants AFTER seeds were set in the female, to give the female more space and light to produce big bunches of seeds. This is the opposite of sinsemilla. (Incidentally, my very first hemp research project was going through Washington’s multi-volume Writings in the Lockwood Library at Buffalo in 1966 to find out if he smoked pot, which he didn’t. My cullings and comments– all of Washington’s writings on hemp– were published in Robert Anton Wilson’s first book, ‘Sex and Drugs.’) The African slaves probably knew about the ‘other’ use of the hemp plant, but didn’t tell their masters.”

2. Cannabis and “Forgotten Memories”

In December, 1996, soon after California voters legalized marijuana for medical use, the U.S. government -personified by Attorney General Janet Reno, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and NIDA Director Alan Leshner- threatened to deprive doctors of prescription-writing privileges if they approved marijuana use by their patients. At a widely covered press conference, McCaffrey called the notion of marijuana having medicinal use “a hoax,” and he pointed to a large chart on an easel, as if introducing conclusive evidence. The chart was headed “Dr. Tod Mikuriya’s (215 Medical Advisor) Medical Uses of Marijuana.” Twenty-six conditions were listed in two columns (with “Migranes” misspelled). The chart had been culled from a website on which Mikuriya listed uses of cannabis cited in the pre-prohibition medical literature. The Drug Czar thought it was patently ridiculous that one treatment could affect
such a wide range of ailments.

One of the conditions on McCaffrey’s chart- “Recalling ‘Forgotten Memories'”- had been included by a zealous aide hoping to link Mikuriya to the whacko sex-abuse accusations then sweeping several U.S. communities (as they have ever since the Salem witch hunts). Mikuriya said at the time that the reference to cannabis helping people cope with traumatic memories came from John Stuart Mill (!) and had been cited by William Woodward, MD, of the American Medical Association, when he urged Congress in 1937 not to remove cannabis from the formulary.

Mikuriya himself has encountered patients who use cannabis to this end. He has identified two distinct mechanisms by which it exerts a helpful effect. “In some patients, it appears that cannabis makes dissociation unnecessary by permitting conscious processing of their horrific memories,” he says. As an example he describes “a middle-aged female patient who was enabled by cannabis to acknowledge and ‘own’ the source of her emotional pain, after which she no longer felt the need to be ‘all clenched up,’ and hyper-vigilant, so that she could actually form relationships, which she’d been unable to do before.”

Other patients have been helped, Mikuriya says, by cannabis easing or eliminating obsessive thought patterns. He has treated “a male Vietnam-era vet who was a communications person on an aircraft patrolling for submarines. During a landing, one of the engines malfunctioned and a propeller came off, piercing the fuselage and killing a crew member who was sitting two feet from him. For the rest of his life he’s been replaying and
obsessively going through the sequence of events, a loop he couldn’t shut off. But cannabis helped him do so, and now he can sleep without being awakened by nightmares.”

At this year’s meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, Giovanni Marsicano and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Germany reported on how the body’s own cannabinoids control “extinction of fear behavior.” They trained normal mice and mice lacking cannabinoid receptors (CB1-knockout mice) to associate a 20-second tone with a 2-second electric shock, resulting in the mice “freezing” whenever they heard the tone. In the next phase the researchers played the tone without
providing the shock. Normal mice, over time, stopped freezing in response; but the CB1 knockout mice continued freezing, leading to the conclusion that CB1 receptors are involved in extinguishing fear. The experiment was repeated with mice receiving an antagonist drug that blocks the CB1 receptors; they, too, continued exhibiting the fear response. Marsicano et al have identified the amygdala, the medial prefontal cortex and the hippocampus as areas of the brain involved in the fear-extinction process.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey mistaking Dr. Tod Mikuriya for a scammer is an example of what psychiatrists call “projection” -assuming the other person thinks like you. Mikuriya is civic-minded and straight. McCaffrey’s duplicity reached a murderous level in 1991 when he ordered retreating Iraqi soldiers mowed down from behind. But I digress… The irony of McCaffrey’s attack on Mikuriya is that the very act of documenting all the conditions for which cannabis provides relief is a major contribution to medicine, and a prerequisite to understanding how cannabis works within the body.

Mikuriya presented a poster at the 2001 meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society calling for the reclassification of cannabis, which is listed as a “hypnotic” or “sedative” in various formularies, and as a “hallucinogen” in the Federal Controlled Substances Act. “The term ‘easement’ most aptly characterizes the unique medicinal effects of cannabis,” according to Mikuriya. “Its properties are unique and distinctly different from other categories of drugs. Subjective descriptions categorize cannabis’ therapeutic actions as sedative, anxiolytic, and analgesic; the power of the drug to alleviate depression is, perhaps, as important… Cannabis calms agitation, anger, and mania. Painful, disruptive, and frequently incapacitating symptoms are brought under control with
minimal side effects.”

Recent reports that cannabinoids are “retrograde messengers,” exerting their effects by inhibiting nervous activity, makes the term “easement” seem all the more apt. It makes sense that an observant clinician could intuit a few things about mechanism of action. Too bad our scientific establishment has dug a deep cultural moat between the researchers in the lab and the hands-on MDs.


On Aug. 25 U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer put off sentencing Robert “Duke” Schmidt of Petaluma, until the Raich and Blakeley cases have been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. (The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled in Raich v. Ashcroft that marijuana grown within the state for consumption by a patient within the state doesn’t affect interstate commerce and therefore the federal government has no jurisdictional basis for banning it. Blakeley concerns the legality of mandatory minimums.) Schmidt had pled guilty to cultivation and distribution. The US Attorney had been demanding that he serve five years in prison followed by seven years’ probation. Schmidt went into court expecting to get, worst case, a year in a federal prison camp, and best case, time served. He says his jaw dropped, and so did his federal public defender’s, when Breyer put everything on hold… Angel Raich is flying to New York Sept. 10 to tape a Montel Williams show. Also appearing will be Irvin Rosenfeld, the broker from Boca, one of six surviving patients who are provided with marijuana by the feds under the federal Investigational New Drug program (cut off in the late 1980s by George Bush I when large numbers of AIDS patients started applying)… A feature on medical marijuana will appear in a future issue AARP Magazine, which is sent free to millions of geezers and pre-geezers. Author Eric Bailey is an honest, thorough reporter employed by the Los Angeles Times. There’s no more appropriate readership for a story on this subject than AARP’s… The Oakland ballot initiative to “tax and regulate” marijuana use by adults has been designated Measure Z, and city officials are characterizing it in the Voters Handbook as a bill to “legalize” marijuana (symbolically, since state law still prohibits cultivation, distribution and possession except for medical use). The initiative’s backers thought they were being slick not to use the L-word in their signature drive and were upset, initially, to see it in the Voters Handbook. So they commissioned a poll to see how much damage had been done, and lo and behold, 70% of those sampled said “legalization” was fine with them. (While that awkward, misleading concept known as “decriminalization” got thumbs up from only 64%!) Measure Z has received endorsements from the California Nurses Association and the new leader of the State Senate, Don Perata.

FRED GARDNER can be reached at



Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at