The Chancellor’s Wife

E. Gordon Gee, 62, has been the chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, since 2000. Vandy lured Gee away from the top job at Brown, which had lured him away a few years earlier from Ohio State. Gee is an awesome fundraiser who spends lavishly on his own needs and wants. In an attempt to constrain his spending, some trustees recently exposed his wife’s medical marijuana use.

According to a page-one Wall St. Journal profile Step. 26, “Vanderbilt paid more than $6 million, never approved by the full board, to renovate and enlarge Braeburn, the Greek-revival university-owned mansion where Mr. Gee and his wife, Constance, live. The university pays for the Gees’ frequent parties and personal chef there. The annual tab exceeds $700,000. Some trustees’ concern was aroused when they learned that Mrs. Gee was using marijuana at the mansion. The chancellor told some trustees she was using it for an inner-ear ailment.”

Constance Gee, 52, uses marijuana to treat Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear problem that causes vertigo, nausea, and hearing loss. She discussed her situation frankly with writers who did a follow-up piece for the Tennesseean Sept. 27. Implicitly questioning whether Gee’s use was really medical, they reported that Timothy Hullar of Washington University School of Medicine (“one of two major centers of study on Meniere’s”) said “he’s never heard of anyone using medical marijuana to treat symptoms of Meniere’s.” They quoted Hullar saying “I can’t imagine going to the extreme of marijuana.”

California doctors routinely approve the use of cannabis by Meniere’s patients who say that it helps ease their symptoms. “Meniere’s causes dizziness, dizziness causes nausea, cannabis relieves nausea,” says David Bearman, MD. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the symptoms caused Mrs. Gee to be a little depressed and of course cannabis helps that, too.”

Robert Sullivan, MD, corroborates: “I’ve issued many recommendations for Meneire’s, as well as tinnitus [ringing in the ears]. It works well enough to make a significant improvement in patients’ lives, i.e., symptoms not gone but much abated so they can function and carry on their daily activities, instead of sitting and suffering. It also aids sleep.”

R. Stephen Ellis, MD, has given some thought to how cannabis might help in the treatment of Meniere’s. “Three possible mechanisms come to mind,” he says. “Number one, the anti-anxiety effect of cannabis would be very useful to a Meniere’s patient. These people are anxious as can be when they hit the ER. When they get an attack it’s as if they are wired -that’s why Ativan is one of the treatments, to bring them down. Two would be the anti-nausea effect. Duh! You’re barfing and there’s a drug that offers relief in 10 seconds. The third is slowing down the vertigo itself -the sensation of spinning caused by the inner ear problem. My patients say cannabis is as good as Benadryl, which is the classic treatment. I recall reading that the auditory nerve does have CB1 receptors. I don’t know about the cochlear structure itself.”

[Small world department: Dr. Ellis’s grandfather graduated from the old Vanderbilt Medical-Dental School. His grandparents’ nine-acre estate in Nashville is now owned by Crystal Gayle.]

Constance Gee once aspired to be a painter but instead became a professor of “arts education.” She is an independent thinker. Back in Ohio, where the Gees married in 1995, Mrs. Gee opposed a publicly-funded arena that Mr. Gee was campaigning for. In 2004, after Bush’s re-election, she lowered the flag outside the mansion to half staff. Her husband quickly raised it. When Condoleezza Rice was invited to campus last year, she signed a letter of protest.

According to the Wall St. Journal, Chancellor Gee was physically trembling as trustees confronted him in his office with charges that his wife was smoking marijuana at the mansion. The man is in a double bind. He has seen first hand that cannabis really helps his wife cope with the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease. But he can’t uphold her rights -let alone encourage the faculty at the medical school to pursue research in the field of cannabinoid therapeutics- because you don’t get to be a great fundraiser without the drug companies’ backing. Gee agreed to run his expenditures by an oversight committee. Mrs. Gee has accepted a reprimand of some kind from the university.

Tennessee has no medical marijuana law, but Constance Gee is protected by the American two-tier system of justice: the rich can get away with what the poor do time for. If it were otherwise, Prohibition would end immediately. But why should the elite get rid of the drug laws when the drug laws don’t apply to them (in their full draconian viciousness)?

The danger in making an issue of unequal justice is that, in the name of fairness, law enforcement will crack down on Mrs. Gee and others of her class instead of lightening up on those “less privileged.” It’s the old Shelley Mandel principle -demand uniform justice and they’ll impose uniform harshness. (In the early 1970s a young clerical worker named Shelley Mandel sued to make Yom Kippur a paid holiday for California state, county and municipal employees. Her lawyers argued that Catholics got paid when they took off Good Friday, and Jewish employees deserved equal treatment. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Bostic said he agreed with their premise and ruled that henceforth Good Friday would not be a paid holiday.)

Righties Turn A New Leaf

John Tierney is a New York Times columnist who thinks that the war on drugs is not in the best interests of the U.S. ruling class. The defense of coca by Bolivian president Evo Morales at the United Nations last week inspired Tierney to publish a forceful op-ed Sept. 23 calling for an end to U.S. interdiction efforts. Tierney describes Morales as “ranting” (and he gratuitously disses Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, and Cuba) before making his cogent points.

The U.S. government, Tierney writes, has:

“sacrificed soldiers’ lives and spent billions of dollars trying to stop peasants from growing coca in the Andes and opium in Afghanistan and other countries. But the crops have kept flourishing, and in America the street price of cocaine and heroin has plummeted in the past two decades…

“[Morales] denounced ‘the colonization of the Andean peoples’ by imperialists intent on criminalizing coca. ‘It has been demonstrated that the coca leaf does no harm to human health,’ he said, a statement that’s much closer to the truth than Washington’s take on these leaves. The white powder sold on the streets of America is dangerous because it’s such a concentrated form of cocaine, but just about any substance can be perilous at a high enough dose.

“South Americans routinely drink coca tea and chew coca leaves. The tiny amount of cocaine in the leaves is a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant that isn’t more frightening than coffee or colas – in fact, it might be less addictive than caffeine, and on balance it might even be good for you. When the World Health Organization asked scientists to investigate coca in the 1990’s, they said it didn’t seem to cause health problems and might yield health benefits.

“But American officials fought against the publication of the report and against the loosening of restrictions on coca products, just as they’ve resisted proposals to let Afghan farmers sell opium to pharmaceutical companies instead of to narco-traffickers allied with the Taliban. The American policy is to keep attacking the crops, even if that impoverishes peasants – or, more typically, turns them into criminals.”

Tierney acknowledges that Morales

“is right to complain about American imperialists criminalizing a substance that has been used for centuries in the Andes. If gringos are abusing a product made from coca leaves, that’s a problem for America to deal with at home. The most cost-effective way is through drug treatment programs, not through futile efforts to cut off the supply.

“America makes plenty of things that are bad for foreigners’ health – fatty Big Macs, sugary Cokes, deadly Marlboros – but we’d never let foreigners tell us what to make and not make. The Saudis can fight alcoholism by forbidding the sale of Jack Daniels, but we’d think they were crazy if they ordered us to eradicate fields of barley in Tennessee. They’d be even crazier if they tried to wipe out every field of barley in the world, but that’s what our drug policy has come to.”

Tierney ends as he began, insulting Morales:

“We think we can solve our cocaine problem by getting rid of coca leaves, but all we’re doing is empowering demagogues like Evo Morales. Our drug warriors put him in power. Now he gets to perform show and tell for the world.”

U.S. drug warriors did not put Evo Morales in power, the people of Bolivia did–mainly his fellow Indians.

The day before Tierney decried prohibition in the Times, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, another capitalist cheerleader, did so in the Wall St. Journal. She, too, takes shots at Hugo Chavez, she calls him “the kook from Caracas.” (It’s embarassing to type her words.) O’Grady writes that Morales “dreams of an indigenous collectivist Bolivian economy.” How can this nightmare be prevented? “One thing the U.S. could do to weaken Evo is end insistence on coca eradication, which while failing to reduce drug use has alienated peasants.”

What goes unsaid as rightwing strategists question the wisdom of drug eradication is that they no longer need it as their rationale for military penetration of foreign countries -they have “terrorism.”

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



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