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Bernie Ellis


“Until I was raided by the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force in August, 2002, I used cannabis daily for pain associated with degenerative joint disease in my hips and spine and for sleep disturbance and pain associated with fibromyalgia. I also used cannabis successfully to quit drinking alcohol (have been sober over eleven years), and I provided cannabis free of charge to people with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other serious medical conditions. If I were not being randomly tested regularly as part of my legal situation, I would have continued using cannabis daily. Since I have not been able to use it, my doctors have had me on several expensive medications (including injected steroids) and physical therapy. Now that I am without health insurance, I deal with the pain as best I can.

“I think cannabis has made me more appreciative of everything that I have been fortunate to experience. It has opened me up to a more pain-free existence, and to greater sensory experience and expression. It has also brought me into the company and friendship of many peaceful, hard-working, fun-loving, responsible, happy people. And appreciating its medicinal value has allowed me to be of service to sick and dying people and has given me something to share with the American Indian elders and healers who I have been fortunate to get to know.

“At this point in the early 21st century, the majority of voting-age Americans have used cannabis and/or have known cannabis users who they love, admire and respect. This democracy will demonstrate that it deserves to be a model for the world or, more accurately, that it deserves to survive when that experience is accurately reflected in the voting booth. No politician who wants to perpetuate the current ‘Drug War’ and to maintain the disproportionate penalties associated with wearing and providing ‘illegal smiles’ should remain in office beyond the next election.

“Despite the continuing and misguided anti-cannabis campaign, efforts continue at the state level to return cannabis to our medical pharmacopeia. A dozen states now allow medical cannabis and a host of others are seriously studying this option for sick and dying residents. States like New Mexico and Oregon have even proposed allowing the state or individual counties to be the provider of medical cannabis for sick people as soon as they need it. And university researchers, including those at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, are hoping to grow and test more useful cannabis strains, rather than forcing researchers to use the inferior schwag produced (intentionally) at the University of Mississippi as the only legal source of cannabis for research purposes (something that all U.S. medical researchers are now required to do.)

“If the majority of Americans ever elect leaders who are sensible about cannabis, they would start the process of decriminalizing cannabis immediately. In addition, they would develop a U.S. drug policy that is focused on the real harms associated with alcohol and hard drug abuse; and that provides a loving response, rather than a punitive one, to people who suffer from serious substance abuse problems. Our enlightened leaders would also announce that they would pardon unconditionally any nonviolent offender who was ever convicted for using cannabis or for growing and providing cannabis for medical purposes. Finally, they would abolish the seizing of homes and farms for cannabis-related offenses and they would restore the right to vote immediately to any nonviolent person who has ever lost that right due to a cannabis conviction. (If that happened, no right-wing ‘Drug War’ fanatic should ever win another election.)”

  • Public health epidemiologist, health program director and farmer (he grows four types of berries and manages pastures and large wood-lots); provides consulting services to local, state, tribal and national governments and health organization; has also served as an advisor to the U.S. Congress on substance abuse (1992-94)

  • BA in Psychology, Sociology and Political Science (Vanderbilt), MA in Demography/Human Ecology (U Texas) and a Master’s Degree in Public Health Education/Epidemiology (UC-Berkeley), along with additional graduate training at Vanderbilt and Stanford

  • Received service awards from MADD-New Mexico, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (DHHS) and the Navajo Nation; and fellowships from Vanderbilt, the National Science Foundation, U Texas, the U.S. Public Health Service, Stanford, UC Berkeley and the American Cancer Society

  • Helped restore his Tennessee community’s town square and has tended its flower beds for the past decade; he helped restore and reopen the local community center; and he established and ran the largest substance abuse treatment center in Wyoming (near the Wind River Indian Reservation) for a $1/year salary. Bernie has also provided consultant services to track the substance abuse-related improvements in Gallup, NM, once the worst city in the U.S. for alcohol abuse and now a model for successful community change

Bernie has owned a 187 acre farm since he was 19 years old. For the past four decades, his farm has allowed Bernie to learn many skills related to berry production, truck farming, raising cattle, managing wood-lots and living alone in the woods. His farm has also allowed Bernie to enjoy the peace and serenity of its 14 ridges and 13 valleys, while being part of a small, tight-knit community of friends and neighbors.

He is especially appreciative of the opportunity to learn from the tribal people in seven Western American Indian tribes (the Navajo, Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna and Crow). Bernie is also the proud uncle of nine nieces and nephews, and he has enjoyed exposing the next generation to new cultures and horizons.

In the past, Bernie has consumed cannabis with a former state Attorney General; Congressional staffers in D.C.; officials with the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society; state officials in Tennessee and New Mexico; and university professors at Vanderbilt, U Texas, UC-San Diego, Penn State, Catholic U, Harvard, U Minnesota and Stanford, among others.

Bernie has been given a four year sentence, eighteen months of which will be spent in a half-way house that will limit his movements, including restricting his ability to visit and care for his farm. He still faces the loss of his farm and home of four decades as a result of the federal government’s civil asset forfeiture actions. His four year sentence and the potential loss of everything he owns is the consequence of Bernie producing cannabis for himself and four other sick people, three of whom had died within six months of the raid on Bernie’s farm. The total amount of useable cannabis presented in evidence against Bernie was slightly more than the U.S. government gives every year to each one of the handful of medical cannabis patients who are still approved to receive federally-provided cannabis in this country. Bernie has never been accused or charged with selling any of this cannabis; he provided it free of charge to any sick and dying people who he was ever called to help.

For more information, check out this web-site constructed by Bernie’s friends to help him in his fight to keep his farm: www.saveberniesfarm.com

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