AIDS and cancer patients getting stoned DEA-style.
Just about everyone in Hollywood who hears about the Hollywood Blacklist of old declares, "If I had been there, I would have…" and then proclaims one bold and daring act of creative freedom-fighting after another. Some, especially those who were not there, have contempt for anyone who cooperated with the Blacklist in any way. But I’ll bet that even those who recently blackballed Elia Kazan from industry recognition because of his participation in the old Blacklist have knuckled under to the current Blacklist time and time again.
Yes, there is a Blacklist—a code of censorship imposed by Washington—that nearly everyone in Hollywood religiously adheres to. It is more insidious than the anticommunist Blacklist of half a century ago because no one discusses it. No one has to—everyone self-censors. The Blacklist is so ubiquitous that most people are not even aware of it any more. It just is.
It is Hollywood’s most revered sacred cow. What is on this Blacklist? The D-word. Drugs. Specifically, any mention of illicit drugs as enjoyable, productive, illuminating, or healing. These are precisely the experiences most people who take drugs have—that’s why people continue to take them. And yet, for more than a decade, Hollywood has willingly, almost enthusiastically, censored this simple fact of life, just as it censored other facts of life in generations past, generations we now laugh at for their foolish knuckling under to Puritanism.
Favorable drug experiences, while abounding in real life, have been painfully absent in American cinema and television for the past ten years. A swath of reality has been removed from today’s entertainment that will seem to future generations as absurd as David O. Selznick’s being fined $5,000 for not removing "damn" from Gone With The Wind or Lucy not being allowed to say "pregnant" as she explains Little Ricky to Ricky.
The Anti-Drug Blacklist has struck most cruelly at comedy. If a nation can’t laugh about something, it can’t think clearly about it. Oh, the millions of fabulous jokes crushed by comedy writers’ "No Drug Humor" filter. If a "drug joke" makes it past the comedy writer’s filter, the production company has lots of filters happy to do their patriotic bit. "This is very funny, but you know we can’t use it."
On October 13, 1997, the President (of the United States) complained that Hollywood promoted "warped images of a dream world where drugs are cool." The president (of the Motion Picture Association of America) responded, "I cannot answer the President, because I really don't know what he’s referring to. I can’t think of any picture in the last several years that glorified drugs."
Thank you, Mr. Valenti, for acknowledging the effectiveness of the Blacklist.
President Clinton’s accusation was a shot fired over the bow of Hollywood’s collective creative freedom. I come from thirty years in book publishing. Despite our many faults, such as the arrogance to write didactic pontifications such as this one, we in publishing are hypervigilant about censorship. You’ll note there was no anticommunist Publishers Blacklist in the 1950s. Books critical of the Cold War and even books praising communism were printed.
Today, books such as Smoke and Mirrors by Dan Baum, Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine by Lester Grinspoon, M.D., and Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts by Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D., and John Morgan, M.D., tell the truth, factually and scientifically, about drugs and the Drug War. Name one movie or TV show that does the same.
If President Clinton had made precisely the same criticism of these books or of the publishing industry he made of Hollywood, there would have been a howl of outrage. We, as writers and publishers, would have firmly asserted yet again our right—yes, right—to publish anything we saw fit.
Why didn’t Hollywood’s leaders speak out against this obvious act of creative oppression by the most powerful human being on earth?
"Mr. President, we follow our creative instincts in Hollywood, and we will portray drugs as we find them, not as you tell us to find them." Why didn’t one person say, "Hollywood, sir, is a censorship-free zone."
Instead, Mr. Valenti almost contritely explained that the Anti-Drug Blacklist is firmly in place, Mr. President, and we’ve been good little children here in Hollywood.
Television producers hurriedly lined up to declare that they, too, were being good little boys and girls. They pointed to ABC’s pathetic month-long "March Against Drugs" as proof. It was sad to see a major network and almost every creative person and newsgatherer in it collapse under the weight of Drug War political pressure.
"March Against Truth" was more like it.
This dark deal was made between James Burke, who runs the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and his brother, Daniel Burke, while the latter’s Capital Cities still owned ABC. Disney, when it took over ABC, gave in to the Burke brothers’ threat that if the "March Against Drugs" didn’t take place, Disney would be branded "soft on drugs." Disney, which took such a courageous stand on Ellen, failed to do so this past March.
That’s how powerful the Blacklist is.
But President Clinton’s words did not stop at keeping the current Anti-Drug Blacklist in place. He went on to say in his October 13, 1997, radio address to the nation that Hollywood must do more. It should, of course, not "glorify drugs, but more importantly tell our children the truth. Show them that drug use is really a death sentence," and the only acceptable message is: "drugs are wrong; drugs are illegal; drugs can kill you." (Please note the word "use" and not "abuse.")
In other words, just censoring out the positive truth about drugs is no longer enough. You must now take an actively dishonest stance. Dishonest? Does any intelligent person in Hollywood believe the "truth" about marijuana, for example, is that using it "is really a death sentence"?
And yet Hollywood remained silent this past October—even more silent than it was in October 1947. Anyone who has been tracking the War on Drugs knows that this capitulation by Hollywood was an invitation to even more and harsher censorship.
Of course, it came.
After a drug-free decade in Hollywood, cancer patient Murphy Brown smokes medical marijuana and, horror of horrors, it actually relieves her chemotherapy-induced nausea.
With this minuscule breach of the Blacklist, Thomas Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, is checking to see "if any laws were broken." Mr. Constantine, who has no medical training whatsoever, proclaimed: "Marijuana is not medicine!"
Didn’t the voters of California decide to let doctors determine whether marijuana is or is not medicine? And, as a recent cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation survivor who uses medicinal marijuana to keep down the anti-AIDS drugs that are keeping me alive, I can personally attest to medical marijuana’s anti-nausea effect. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but it’s all the evidence I need.
Please keep in mind, Murphy Brown didn’t even come out as a pot smoker the way, say, Ellen came out as a lesbian. Murphy is smoking marijuana to save her life, not because she’s an adult in a free country making an informed choice (heaven forbid).
For the transgression of saving her life with a little pot, the DEA is poking around Murphy’s creators’ lives looking for revenge.
Should you be concerned by the quibblings of Mr. Constantine, a former police chief who now heads a mostly covert billion-dollar-a-year federal agency with 200 "Special Agents" already in Los Angeles and 3,576 other "Special Agents" around the globe who would just love a special undercover assignment in the entertainment industry? (And, my friends, DEA Special Agents can be even more troublesome than CAA Special Agents.)
The DEA has launched a criminal investigation into a prime-time sitcom and a major television network over the creative content of that series.
Criminal investigation! (That’s what "we’re going to see if any laws were broken" means in DEA-speak.) If you don’t know the War on Drugs has declared total war on your individual and collective creative expression, I am here to tell you: The War on Drugs has declared total war on your individual and collective creative expression. (Remember the last self-righteous, heavily armed Constantine who declared war on the unbelievers?)
The DEA’s guns have been pointed at Hollywood for years and Hollywood has tremblingly succumbed. "Appeasement, yes, that will keep them at bay." It didn’t work, of course. It never does. The criminal investigations have begun. The DEA’s guns are now firing—at your colleagues.
Fire back with your creativity. Prove again that art conquers intolerance; that beauty can tame the beast. This Drug War is a beast that’s out of control. The government spends $50 billion a year waging a cruel war on its own citizens, mostly minorities. Every 48 seconds in the United States a life is ruined by a marijuana arrest—2.9 million since Clinton, a pot smoker, took office.
Even Washington acknowledges that Hollywood controls the mind of the world. Hollywood has for too long let the government’s dark, distorted, destructive, and painfully inaccurate view of drugs permeate that mind. The world puts its faith in Hollywood’s dreams because—in theory, at least—the entertainment industry is controlled by creative people, not policemen, not religious right moralists, not politicians.
If you think the entertainment industry will be exempt from a DEA witch-hunt that could make McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee seem like an ACLU picnic, think again. I’m not going to name any names, but I’m sure you could list more than a few in the industry who would be more than happy to go to Washington and turn in "drug-sympathizers." If you don’t want Senator Helms asking you under oath on Court TV, "Are you now or have you ever been soft on drugs?" get busy.
Note the relentless arrogance of the DEA. Here Mr. Constantine testifies before Congress in early December 1996, just after the passage of Propositions 215 and 200:
"The California and Arizona initiatives do nothing to change federal drug enforcement policy. The DEA will continue to target major drug traffickers, including major marijuana growers and distributors. We also can take both administrative and criminal actions against doctors who violate the terms of their DEA drug registrations…those doctors who prescribe or recommend Schedule I substances [which includes marijuana] are violating federal law. The licenses of over 900 physicians have either been surrendered or revoked in the last two years for fraudulent prescription practices."
Only an order from a courageous federal judge in San Francisco keeps the DEA from attacking California physicians. There is no such order protecting us patients, so a man who had cancer nine times before he was ten years old, Todd McCormick, was arrested by the DEA for growing marijuana in his Bel Air home—the fabled Medical Marijuana Mansion. After a three-month intensive investigation involving at least four DEA Special Agents and weeks with a federal Grand Jury, McCormick was charged not with selling, not with buying, but only with growing—cultivating—which is specifically permitted under Proposition 215 (now The Compassionate Use Act of 1996).
The DEA has given a whole new meaning to the phrase "ambulance chasing."
For this, McCormick faces life imprisonment (a ten-year mandatory minimum) and a $4 million fine.
A California law, enacted by the voters of California, is being trampled on by the DEA. That’s how powerful the DEA is—it can violate the will of the people of California, and not even California Attorney General Dan ("Am I Governor Yet?") Lungren, dares do his sworn duty to defend the laws of California against all comers.
Arresting a multiple-cancer patient is how low the DEA will sink. It won’t let McCormick use medical marijuana while awaiting trial. The DEA randomly urine tests him twice a week. It also won’t let him leave the country where he could find relief in a civilized place such as Holland.
When Todd McCormick was three, as a result of cancer treatment, his top five vertebrae were fused together. When he was nine, radiation treatment froze the growth of one hip—he has one normal adult hip and one the size of a child. "I don’t sleep through the night because every time I move my neck the pain wakes me up," he recently wrote me. "Then I am tired all day long, and my appetite is decreased, and then I ponder a bit too much about the possibilities of reoccurring cancer and life imprisonment. Not fun."
The DEA is torturing this unfortunate young man to make a cruel point—and to test its limits.
This brutality, the DEA now knows, is clearly within its limits. How much outrage have you heard about McCormick? Not much, I’ll bet. Seeing this, the DEA now feels powerful enough to test its tendrils on the entertainment industry. And it is.
What can one do but to paraphrase Oscar Wilde? "The way America treats her sick people, she doesn’t deserve to have any."
McCormick and his point of view are worth at least a TV movie, don’t you think? And a donation to his defense fund would be most appreciated, I’m sure. (Todd McCormick Defense Fund c/o David M. Michael Client Trust Account, Bank of America, Pier 5 North The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111, 415-986-5591.)
President Clinton’s October remarks were made while launching a plan, in cahoots with Partnership for a Drug-Free America, to spend $350 million this season on prime-time ads. The money comes from the federal government (that is, we’re paying for it), alcohol, cigarette, and pharmaceutical companies, and their advertising agencies.
These ads are not designed to spread the balanced truth about drugs, oh no. According to the PDFA: "The Partnership’s mission is to reduce demand for illegal drugs by changing public attitudes about drugs—to ‘denormalize’ drug use, by making use less glamorous and less acceptable." Nothing about truth. And note the word "illegal." How convenient that this campaign is being paid for, in part, by the marketers of legal drugs.
There are 3,776 DEA Special Agents in the world who would just adore an undercover Hollywood assignment— and, my friends, DEA Special Agents can be even more troublesome than CAA Special Agents.
The Empire is expecting no backlash of truth from Hollywood during this campaign, and President Clinton’s accusations were specifically designed to stifle any murmurings from Hollywood before they began. The PDFA boasts: "The Partnership has access to the entire advertising industry. This means it has a nearly limitless supply of the best creative ideas in the country."
Come on, Hollywood, are you going to take that lying down?
Take a look at Hollywood’s output during America’s last failed War on Drugs, the war against alcohol, Prohibition, 1920-1933. Movies had speakeasies and hip flasks galore. Gloria Swanson, in one Cecil B. DeMille picture after another, practically bathed in the bubbly. Joan Crawford drank and flapped her way all over the place.
The screen’s comics made the most of Prohibition. Chaplin rose to fame in music halls playing a drunk, a skill he would revise many times on screen. In one scene, Charlie’s wife leaves him. He turns away from the camera and appears to be sobbing deeply. Turning back, we find he is shaking himself a martini.
One of Keaton’s best-remembered routines—filmed twice during Prohibition—has Buster, very drunk, trying to undress a female companion who is even drunker. Keaton also explored the injustices of Prohibition. In one film, the bad guy plants a bottle of bootleg hooch on Buster and then informs a policeman. The policeman, then as now, was not bothered by the niceties of the Fourth Amendment when it came to drugs. One illegal search later, the chase was on. Even MGM, Louis B. Mayer’s bastion of "family values," released while Prohibition was still the law of the land a Buster Keaton–Jimmy Durante comedy, Speak Easily.
And, of course, there was W.C. Fields.
Hollywood had one hell of a time during the last Prohibition chiding the bigots.
The only difference between alcohol Prohibition and the current drug prohibition is that alcohol Prohibition was legal. When bluenoses made alcohol illegal, at least they did it right—they amended the Constitution. When the rest of us re-legalized alcohol, we amended the Constitution again. Without an amendment, the current Drug War is unconstitutional. Period. (Please see my book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do. It’s at bookstores, or free at www.mcwilliams.com.)
The Murphy Brown episode was entitled "Waiting to Inhale." I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting years to see any number of sitcom characters inhale. We’ve seen them all drunk. That’s a sitcom staple. Lucy’s interaction with the alcohol-laden Vitameatavegimin is a classic.
What fun it would be to see our favorite sitcom characters high. Most shows could get a whole episode out of it. Some, like Seinfeld, could get a whole season. Imagine Frasier and Niles getting the munchies for Beluga, or discovering how the Third Rock aliens react to pot’s earthly pleasures. (Maybe space creatures don’t need to inhale.)
In drama, have any character light up and announce, as more than 19 million otherwise-law-abiding Americans have, "I’m going to smoke pot from now on; I like it better than beer," and watch the fireworks.
The fundamental hypocrisy—obvious to any ten-year-old—is that tobacco and alcohol are legal while pot, no more harmful than those, is not. This hypocrisy is destroying millions of American families, and yet it has seldom, if ever, been honestly explored in the dramatic form.
Logic, science, reason, and the Constitution are on the side of an adult’s free choice to use marijuana as a recreational drug, and yet the federal government decreed in the 1995 Omnibus Crime Bill that if you possess enough marijuana, even for medical purposes, the government (our government) can put you to death.
Where is Hollywood’s answer to this injustice, to the ten million marijuana arrests since 1972? Where is the Gentleman’s Agreement or To Kill a Mockingbird or Platoon dramatizing the insane cruelty of the War on Drugs?
And what about the children? DARE to tell them the truth—the whole truth—about drugs. If you tell kids the truth about drugs, most will listen when you also tell them, "Wait until you’re an adult to decide." No one favors recreational drug use for children.
If you don’t exercise your freedom of expression about drugs now, you may never be able to again. In fact, it’s probably already too late. Find out. Throw in a joke or a positive fact about marijuana just to see if there is a Blacklist.
If you find that there is one, imagine it’s 1947.