Remembering John Hudson– Pioneer Cultivator of Medical Cannabis

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The legalization of cannabis in California this year is an historic event that will beget even more significant changes in medical care, agriculture, law enforcement and numerous other areas. While many people are familiar with Prop. 215, the first state legislation legalizing medical cannabis, and its chief proponent Dennis Peron, there remains less documentation on the long road that lead to today’s landmark moment.Among the many people involved in the early days of medical cannabis legalization was John Hudson who died last week in Oakland. I first met John in 1994 when I began working at Dennis Peron’s Cannabis Buyers Club (CBC), the first venue to openly sell cannabis to patients with AIDS, cancer and glaucoma. With his bushy mustache and devilish grin, John’s mouth often burst wide open to release his reverberating laughter.

The haze of cannabis smoke filled the sun filtered air inside the compact space of the Buyers Club that was invariably filled with a vibrant mixture of queers, queens and other hold outs from the counter culture. Given that I was 21 and just out of the closet, back then everything was new to me. It was tempting to see that experience as a resin soaked trip on a time machine back to the 1960s. But as a member of the direct action AIDS protest group ACT UP San Francisco, my actions were firmly rooted in the present moment.

For all the stereotypes about lazy stoners, Peron consistently surrounded himself with the type of participants whose dedication came from the conviction of their personal experience. I was a bit curious about John Hudson. After all the CBC could be as cruisy as any gay bar in the Castro and John Hudson was unmistakably heterosexual. What was this dude doing in a place like the CBC?

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I soon learned that he was a key participant in the active disruption of unjust laws and attitudes that maintained cannabis prohibition. On a more specific note, John was a master grower of the cannabis plant at a time when doing so put one at great risk. As long as I knew and worked with John Hudson, the focus was always on providing the best quality medication to the patient’s in greatest need.

While John Hudson was heterosexual, he was by no means straight. Some of details I learned over time about John Hudson was that he had some experience with comics and comedy clubs. No matter how heavy it could get from seeing people you knew and cared about progress to death, John always found a reason to laugh. I also remember him saying that his father was among those involved in the development of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He was a classic example of the counter culture’s rebellion against authority but always with a sense of humor that was irreverent without taking himself too seriously.

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It’s a longer history than I can convey in a blog post, but by the summer of 1996 I was no longer working at the CBC which had by that point moved to its four story headquarters on Market Street. I’d already decamped and helped open the city’s first delivery service. In the summer of 1996 as we inched closer to the election day for Prop. 215, there began a viscous reaction to the open challenge against medical cannabis prohibition.

Then state Attorney General Dan Lungren raided the CBC, confiscating it’s cannabis and closing the club. This was a double blow as the CBC was not just a place to purchase medical cannabis but also a meeting place, a community space for those marginalized by their medical or economic situations. It was in response to this attack on our community, that a number of former colleagues from the CBC banned together to defiantly open a new dispensary.

Flower Therapy opened about two months before the passage of Prop. 215. We were the first dispensary that was designed to operate as above board business in anticipation of the new legislation. In hindsight many of the steps we took, such as registering for a business license (product? dried flowers), are now common place.

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John Hudson’s focus was always to grow the best quality cannabis for patients. His vision for Flower Therapy was to drive down the price which remained exorbitant due to the extreme risk faced by underground growers. John’s idea was to have all parts of the plan remain in house to keep the prices low and return profits back into the business.

Ultimately these plans were thwarted during the brief but brilliant existence of Flower Therapy when we were raided by DEA agents of the Clinton administration on April 21, 1997. Federal authorities cited among their reasons for the raid, John’s open advocacy for growing cannabis. Being photographed by the SF Chronicle (see scans above) in front of his indoor grow was more than they could stand. The implied threat was that we might have been able to continue to operate under the radar if our boss weren’t so outspoken in his challenge to authority, but for John Hudson that was never an option. The opportunity to inform and support patients and caregivers in cultivating their own medicine was the fire that drove his engine.

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There is of course more to this story, more players and developments, that I plan to explore in further posts. After the closure of Flower Therapy, ACT UP San Francisco acted as a front group in order for John to continue distribution until that relationship became unsustainable. That’s when I lost touch with John Hudson as I focused on establishing the ACT UP SF dispensary which continued as one of the city’s longest operating dispensaries (14 years) until it was shut down by federal agents of the Obama administration.

A memorial for John will be held on Sat. January 27 from 2-4PM at the cannabis dispensary Magnolia in Oakland.

When Medical Marijuana Was No Laughing Matter

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As it looks likely that next year California voters will legalize recreational use of marijuana, ACT UP Archives will start looking back to the historic changes brought about by Proposition 215- the first statewide initiative to permit the cultivation and consumption of marijuana for medical use. The medical marijuana movement developed as part of San Francisco’s queer community response to the AIDS crisis, particularly the work of alternative treatment activists. Over the next year, we’ll examine how patients and caregivers started a grassroots movement that is transforming our social and political landscape.

ACT UP SF flyer by David Pasquarelli.

ACT UP SF flyer by David Pasquarelli.

In 1996 California’s Attorney General was the right-wing Republican Dan Lungren- a former Congressman and prominent proponent of the war on drugs. Lungren’s public opposition to needle-exchange programs had made already made him a protest target for ACT UP San Francisco. By the summer of 1996, Prop. 215 was gaining strong support among voters. Lungren, in collusion with the DEA and SF Police Department (SFPD), hatched a plan to shut down the city’s Cannabis Buyers’ Club (CBC) which had been serving AIDS and cancer patients for several years. For over two years, these repressive forces operated a surveillance campaign which included sending in undercover agents, including a gay cop from the SFPD, to pose as ailing patients in need of medical relief.

Early on Sunday morning, August 4th, armed agents stormed the club seizing not only marijuana products but also confiscating client’s confidential medical records. For weeks afterwards, patient concerns that they could face prosecution added to the stress and worry for which they were trying to seek relief by patronizing the CBC. As public outcry rose, city officials scrambled to find ways to address the needs of medical marijuana patients.

As the November election neared, the battle of Dan Lungren against San Francisco’s pot smoking ill and disabled took a turn that could have only been conjured by the consumption of some potent strain of sensimillia bud. That October legendary cartoon strip Doonesbury added the controversy to its daily panels which for decades had been a featured nationally in newspapers.

SF Chronicle Oct. 3, 1996. Cartoon by Tom Meyer

Lungren cried fowl in a three-page letter to the SF Chronicle requesting that the comic strip either be dropped from circulation or add a disclaimer that the cartoon is based upon “inaccurate information.” Illustrating that he was void of a sense of humor, Lungren alleged that Doonesbury did not contribute to a “serious debate” and worried Prop. 215 would contribute to increased drug use among children. The text of Lungren’s statement can be viewed at the end of this post.

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By late October Doonesbury set its satirical sights firmly on the cancer and AIDS patients who were affected by Lungren’s raid of the CBC. Elderly socialite Millie is sitting down with gal pal Lacey to talk about how she’s is dealing with her cancer chemotherapy. Millie’s joined another exclusive club, the San Francisco CBC, where “some of the nicest people are forced to break the law.”

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What makes Gary Trudeau’s comic strip so effective is that the humor is based upon reality. One of the reasons the CBC broke the law was to help patients avoid taking to the city’s streets and parks to obtain their medicine where they were forced to pay inflated prices to purchase marijuana that could contain mold or chemicals, particularly dangerous to patients with compromised immune systems. Even the privileged socialite Millie was forced to travel from Pacific Heights to the Mission’s Dolores Park where she has to pay “street prices.”

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In the final panel, Trudeau zeros his attack directly towards the Attorney General. Seems that Lacey has know Lungren’s family for years, not surprising given that Lungren’s daddy was the personal physician to Nixon. Millie replies, “Then you should know he has a heart like a peach pit!” Always a true friend, Lacey offers to talk to “Danny’s” mother.

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Throughout the coming year, ACT UP Archives will continue highlighting the historic development of marijuana legalization and the courageous work made of a coalition of patients and activists that was at its heart. Among the topics we will explore include the surveillance that was conducted on the CBC and its patients, how a gay police officer was involved in the Club’s closure and how the city tried to respond to the crisis created by the club’s closure.

SF Chronicle article “State Raids Marijuana Buyers’ Club” Aug. 8, 1996.

SF Chronicle Aug. 8, 1996 pages 1, 11

SF Chronicle Aug. 8, 1996 pages 1, 11

SF Chronicle Aug. 8, 1996 page 11

SF Chronicle Aug. 8, 1996 page 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full text of Lungren’s criticism of Doonesbury comic strip. Click image to enlarge.

SF Chronicle Oct. 2, 1996