As of this morning, Philadelphia is the largest city in the country to decriminalize marijuana. You’ll now receive a $100 fine for smoking in public and a $25 for possession of up to 30 grams — but you will not be arrested. Pot advocate Mike Whiter called dibs on the first marijuana citation weeks ago, and today, he promptly lit up a joint in City Hall’s courtyard at 8 a.m. with police by his side. One quick puff and one handwritten ticket later, Whiter was the happiest man to pay a municipal fine I’ve ever seen.
On the eve of his marijuana citation, I sat down with Whiter to understand the motivation behind the ceremony, what led to him founding Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana, and why he thinks marijuana can help millions with PTSD.
What message are you trying to send by smoking up at City Hall?
My intention is to point out that Philadelphia finally decriminalized marijuana, that it’s the largest city in the country to do so, and I’m here representing veterans who use marijuana for medicine. And we still can’t get our medicine legally. I can go out and smoke and get a $100 fine. I won’t get put in cuffs, but I’m still not going to have legal access to my medicine.
How involved were the police ahead of time?
We’ve been having discussions with the police since Smoke Down Prohibition VI. After that, we decided that we’d extend an olive branch to them and let them know what our intentions were: just non-violent protesters trying to get our medicine. They were very receptive to sitting down with us and cooperating with us.
One of the main topics with decriminalization is the racial bias involved with marijuana arrests, and the hope that decriminalization will free up police to fight more serious crimes. Do you think this law will put a dent in that?
Minorities are arrested at a five-times higher rate than white people in Philly. I walk down Broad Street smoking a joint and nobody says a word to me. Black kid walks next to me, and we’ll both get nailed. It’s just not right. … The racial bias in marijuana arrests is something that we want to point out. The Mayor talks about focusing on real issues like how black men can’t get jobs, but guess what, black men can’t get jobs because they have arrests.
How did you go from being a marine fighting overseas to founding PA Veterans for Medical Marijuana?
I spent 11 years in the Marine Corps. I got my first taste of combat in Kosovo at 23. I went to Iraq and got hurt in 2005. The Marine Corps put me on a “personality disorder.” After I got out, I went to the VA medical system and they said I didn’t have a personality disorder, I had PTSD. They started throwing medication at me. I was on Methadone, Oxycontin, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil, Prozac — you name it. I was on 40 medications. The VA put me on anti-depressants and turned me into a zombie. I literally sat in front of my TV all day and zoned out. I was 310 pounds. One day I was watching the National Geographic Channel and a medical-marijuana special came on. There was a guy with PTSD, and I thought I would try this. A friend gave me some weed — Mexican dirt weed, the worst stuff you can get — and I smoked and smoked and smoked. Then I decided I would stop taking pills. I knew the pills were not working. They were making me worse.
Describe how PTSD impacted you?
I would be walking down the street, see a trash bag on the side of the road, and it’d scare the shit out of me, because I didn’t know if the trash bag was gonna blow up. I was in Ikea, and somebody dropped a box behind me and I hit the deck. Weed saved me, man.
Do you think it’s significant that Tom Corbett has backed medical marijuana for children with seizures?
He’s supporting CBD-only legislation for children with intractable epilepsy. And the thing about the governor coming out and saying that, is now he’s got these senators listening to him and the House listening to him. When Senate bill 1182 first went into the Senate, it had 40-plus conditions on it. They amended it to I think 10 conditions now. PTSD, traumatic brain injury are included. Cancer is included. They took HIV/AIDs off it. That’s ridiculous man.
It’s not going to happen soon. When Corbett gets out of there, I don’t know if that’s going to change things. If Tom Wolf gets elected, I know he’s pro-legalization, but we have these conservative politicians in this red state that we live in that are just like, no, marijuana’s a drug, it’s a bad drug, it’s a gateway drug. It’s a gateway to the freaking fridge, man! There are people saying yay for the bill that the Senate passed. They’re saying it’s a step. It’s not a fucking step, man, it’s a step for a medical marijuana program like New Jersey’s, which absolutely doesn’t work, because it doesn’t help patients. It helps the state gain revenue, because they’re charging $500 an ounce for 10% THC weed. But it doesn’t help the patients. And that’s what medical marijuana is about, it’s about helping the people that need it. It’s not about gaining the money for the state, it’s about sick people. It’s medical.
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