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May 05, 2013

Mike Gray RIP

Mike Gray died suddenly on April 30; my first awareness was late in the afternoon of May First through a somewhat confusing forwarded message I simply didn't want to believe.

Mike and I had not met very often; probably on fewer than a dozen occasions, but we'd grown so close through frequent telephone conversations over the past dozen or so years that I'd come to think of him as both mentor and close friend. Not only were we close in age, we shared a profound contempt for America’s war on drugs and were dedicated to trying to change the policy through exposure of its many flaws.

When I was finally able to accept the reality of Mike's death, I was filled with a deep sense of loss. Mike will always be special to me, as I'm sure he will be for many others who were even closer to him than I was.

I discovered the cause of drug policy reform in 1995 after attending the 9th Annual meeting of an organization called the Drug Policy Foundation (now the Drug Policy Alliance) in Santa Monica. At the time, I knew almost nothing about the “movement” as anti drug war activists are wont to call it, but I learned enough at that meeting to radicalize me. I was then 63, had just cut back on active surgical practice by limiting myself to assisting other surgeons and thus had unaccustomed free time for the first time as an adult.

Armed with my first computer and thrilled by the early Internet and free-wheeling e-mail discussion groups, I was ready for a new career. By early 1997, I found myself editing an online newsletter for an organization called Media Awareness Project. In a fit of enthusiasm, I began pulling together what I’d was learning with the intention of writing a book. That was when I first heard about Mike and someone sent me a galley-proof of Drug Crazy.

Reading it was both a chastening experience and an essential part of my education: I suddenly realized that I lacked the writing and editing skills that Mike had in abundance. Although I'd acquired a lot of information, I didn't know how to organize it coherently in a way that would motivate people to change deeply held beliefs. My recognition of that reality was expressed in a book review that noted another Gray insight: California's successful 1996 Medical Marijuana initiative had unique potential for bringing about a change in policy.

Ironically, our relationship would gradually grow closer as that prediction began to be realized. In 2001 I was recruited to screen potential customers at one of California's first gray market "medical marijuana clubs," an experience that led to a unique study of applicants. Mike recognized its potential immediately and helped secure the funding that enabled publication.

At this point, it's also important to acknowledge that a significant fraction of the leadership of the reform "movement" have their own ideas about the medical benefits of cannabis and are generally hostile to what I have been reporting about its emotional benefits; both within California and nationally.

But that's another subject and I don't want to detract from Mike's memory by arguing with people who should be our allies.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at May 5, 2013 04:44 PM