Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 25th: Save Bernie's Farm Benefit

The "Save Bernie's Farm" benefit is sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Bernie Ellis, a middle Tennessee public health epidemiologist and farmer, is one of the more visible medical marijuana activists on the national scene. His case has been discussed widely within the medical marijuana movement. At the time of the 2002 raid on his farm, Bernie was providing medical marijuana (at no charge) to four patients, all of whom died shortly thereafter. Because of the considerable outpouring of support for Bernie, the federal judge in his case sentenced Bernie only to four years probation (though he was facing up to forty years in prison). However, the federal government is still attempting to confiscate his 190 acre farm for an amount of cannabis equivalent to what the government still provides each year to each one of its remaining "approved" patients. (More information on Bernie's case is available at www.saveberniesfarm.com ).

The April 25 "Save Bernie's Farm" benefit will star Jonell Mosser, the Mike Henderson Band and other notable Nashville musicians in an effort to help defray Bernie's legal expenses and to raise money to offer the federal government so they will drop their effort to confiscate Bernie's farm. The show will be broadcast in its entirety on WRFN-FM (98.9 FM), both on the air and on the Internet. A number of nationally prominent medical marijuana speakers will also appear at the benefit, as well as some of Bernie's neighbors, friends and physicians and patients that he helped. You will want to attend this great evening of music and mobilization to help save Bernie's farm and to help re- establish Tennessee's medical marijuana program (two bills are now before our state legislature to do just that.)

Each year, hundreds of people are prosecuted in Tennessee for growing marijuana. (Nationally, this number is in the tens of thousands.) After all, Tennessee is ranked among the top five marijuana-producing states in this country, with the estimated value of this untaxed, illegal crop now exceeding all other agricultural production in the state. Some of the marijuana growers arrested were growing pot for the very lucrative illicit marketplace, while others were growing strictly for their personal use. A few, like Bernie Ellis, were growing marijuana to provide relief to sick and dying patients. Currently, in Tennessee and the U.S., the federal government makes no distinction between these growers -- they are equally at risk for both criminal and civil punishment for their actions.

With this in mind, here are a few reasons why a large number of us have banded together to keep the federal government from confiscating Bernie Ellis’ farm, a farm he has lived on for four decades:

1) At the time of the raid on his farm, Bernie was providing marijuana to four very sick people at no charge, while also using marijuana to alleviate his own fibromyalgia and degenerative joint disease. Within months of the raid, all four of these people were dead, undergoing more needless suffering than necessary By his own admission, Bernie had provided medical marijuana to sick and dying people for seventeen years: people with AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious problems
2) Bernie fully cooperated with the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force when they raided his farm in August, 2002. He has never denied that he was growing the marijuana found there. On the day of the raid, Bernie was preparing to submit a proposal solicited by the Governor’s Office of the state of New Mexico to set up and run a medical marijuana production facility for that state. (Bernie gave the Task Force leaders a copy of that proposal on the day of the raid.) He has also provided consultant support to several other states, including Hawaii, which have considered the establishment of similar production facilities to make sure that eligible patients could get access to marijuana as soon as they need it, rather than having to wait four to seven months to grow their own.

3) While the federal government is not required to provide information on why they raided Bernie’s farm, it appears that a local drug dealer who Bernie refused to sell marijuana to a few days before the raid turned him in. So far, the federal government has presented four different versions of how much marijuana they found, without once allowing Bernie or his attorney to count and weigh the evidence against him. However, if the government’s own statements on the “evidence” are to be believed, they found only enough useable marijuana on Bernie’s farm to equal what the federal government provides each year to each one of its five remaining “federally approved” medical marijuana patients. That amount (about seven pounds) is valued by the feds at $7,000. For that marijuana, the government wants to confiscate (or force Bernie to sell) a 190 acre farm worth approximately $1 million.

4) While many people in Bernie’s situation would have remained quiet, Bernie has not hesitated to present the facts of his case to the public and to decision-makers in hopes that the madness regarding medical marijuana can come to an end in this country. Bernie’s case is one of those highlighted in the book, “Patients in the Crossfire”, published by Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patients’ advocacy group. Bernie’s case has also been reviewed on the Internet, discussed in published materials and presented at conferences of Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, Cannabis Consumers Campaign, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In cooperation with the Marijuana Policy Project, Bernie helped revise the current “model” bill being considered in Tennessee to re-establish our state’s medical marijuana program. He has also provided written testimony in support of medical marijuana programs for the states of Arkansas, New York, Oregon, New Mexico, Hawaii, Illinois and other states. A web-site ( www.saveberniesfarm.com ) has been set up by some of Bernie’s friends to provide information on his case, which includes almost forty of the over 100 letters submitted to the federal court on Bernie’s behalf.

5) At the time of his sentencing, Bernie was facing between two and ten years in prison and a $2 million fine. Since the federal government does not acknowledge the legitimacy of medical marijuana (while still growing and providing medical marijuana itself to a few patients), the judge in Bernie’s case was not required to hear any of the medical evidence on this issue at Bernie’s sentencing hearing. Instead, the judge allowed the over 100 letters of support on Bernie’s behalf (submitted by patients, physicians, public health colleagues, neighbors, family and friends) to become part of his sentencing record and he allowed testimony on Bernie’s production and distribution of medical marijuana at the hearing. As a result, the judge sentenced Bernie to four years probation (with the first eighteen months to be spent at a federal Bureau of Prisons halfway house in Nashville) and imposed no fine. Even with this lenient sentence, Bernie still faces the prospect of losing his farm, his home for four decades and the only thing he still owns after five years of dealing with this case. In addition, Bernie is now over $70,000 in debt for legal expenses associated with this case. Because of the uncertainties of the case, Bernie has not been able to pursue his career as a public health epidemiologist, although he has continued to donate his consultant services to local, state, national and tribal programs.

The facts are clear. But they are also hard. Bernie Ellis faces the loss of his home as well as personal bankruptcy for providing sick and dying people with medical marijuana without any charge to them.

In 2007, in this country, this should not happen to anyone producing medical marijuana.

If you think that what has happened to Bernie Ellis is not right, you should help save Bernie’s farm.

If you would like to reverse this nation’s current insane federal policy regarding medical marijuana,
you should help save Bernie’s farm.

If you want to send a loud and clear message to the federal government to stop taking peoples’ homes and farms for growing a benign plant strictly for medical purposes (a punishment that murderers, rapists and election thieves do not face), then you will want to help save Bernie’s farm.

Please do your part, and speak as loudly (with your voice and your pocketbook) as you can. Visit www.saveberniesfarm.com , learn more about Bernie’s case and learn how you can help this man.

No one should lose his livelihood, freedom and home for helping sick and dying people for free.

Please help Bernie Ellis save his farm now, while we still can.


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