Ventura County Cannabis Alliance: Separating Fact From Fiction

By Sheryl Hamlin

Hosted by the Ventura County Cannabis Alliance (VCCA), approximately 50 attendees listened to three speakers, each representing a segment of the population with a stake in the future of medical and non-medical use of marijuana: Medicine, Family and Law. Two notable attendees were Supervisor Kathy Long and Police Chief Steve McLean of Santa Paula.

The speakers representing each stake were: Dr. David Bearman MD, Judge Jim Gray, and Gretchen Burns Bergman. The Chair of the event was: Chelsea Sutula.


In 2015 Governor Brown signed into law a bill authorizing the use of medical marijuana. An important list of frequently asked questions can be read here. The law gave cities and counties the ability to define how they would implement the law. As of January 2016, the county and most cities enacted emergency legislation to ban medical marijuana completely, until such time when the opportunity for a thorough vetting of the process is established. Here is a state wide list of those cities and counties banning cannabis.

Since that time, an initiative has qualified for the 2016 ballot allowing personal use and cultivation of marijuana. Called The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), the text of the law can be read here with a summary of the bill and its endorsements here. Note that the AMA supports the AUMA, but the Hospital Association opposes it citing concerns about floods of patients into their system reference in this article. Kaiser makes this statement about cannabis.

Dr. Bearman: Cannabinoid Medicine An Overview

Dr. Bearman described the history of the first known medical use of pharmacopeia, which contained cannabis. A recent excavation in China provides evidence, he said, of medicinal use in 2600 B.C. It is known, according to this site, that the Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis as a painkiller and the article points out use can be traced back 12,000 years. Ancient uses were as an analgesic, childbirth anesthetic, migraine treatment and insomnia.

Cannabis was reintroduced into the western culture in 1839 by Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy from experience he gained in India and by the 1920’s American doctors wrote millions of prescriptions per year containing cannabis. Then came Prohibition which brought visions of marijuana threatening the establishment, corruption of morals and bringing down civilization in general. The key opponent was Harry Anslinger, who was the first and longest drug czar, who did not even have a high school education. President Nixon formed a bipartisan committee called the “Nixon Marijuana Commission” which recommended legalizing recreational cannabis, but Nixon rejected this recommendation. His presentation was lengthy, but can be found in his book: Drugs are not the Devil’s Tools. Now, he says the medical world commonly uses cannabis to treat ADD/ADHD, seizures, glaucoma, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, CRPS, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, Chron’s disease, IBS, cyclical vomiting syndrome, depression, PTSD.

Dr. Bearman noted that the California center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) located at the UCSD School of Medicine has produced 18 FDA approved smoked cannabis studies. The state-fundedCMCR reports may be read here.

Judge Jim Gray – Drug Warrior and Libertarian Vice Presidential Candidate 2012

Speaking without notes and clearly in command of the subject from years as a JAG lawyer and a judge in Orange County, Jim Gray’s percussive, pithey statements were rapid and thought provoking. Here are a few:

  • The phrase ‘controlled substance’ is an oxymoron.
  • Arresting a drug dealer just gives another drug dealer a job opportunity.
  • Deaths from heroin result from amount and impurities.
  • Marijuana is the largest cash crop in California; the second largest is grapes.
  • Let’s regulate and control it.
  • Robert Downey and Betty Ford needed medical assistance, not jail time.
  • Criminal justice protects us from each other, but it is not designed to protect us from ourselves.

He cited a 2000 study in Portugal which led to decriminalization (not legalization), regulation and control of drugs. The results a decade later can be read here and are counter-intuitive to what the naysayers predicted.

He said in 1993 there were three forums at the Hoover Institute which included chiefs-of-police, former Secretary of State Schultz, Milton Friedman and many others. There appeared to be agreement about decriminalization, but the police said they needed “political cover”.

Although not discussed by Judge Gray, it has been widely reported that three strikes laws have been funded by the private prison industry, the prison guard unions and others who say arrest is a deterrent to crime.

Running as a Libertarian in 2012, Judge Gray spoke and wrote about the failed marijuana laws in the United States.

Gretchen Burns Bergman – Mother Turned Activist

Gretchen Bergman spoke about her son who starting at age 20 spent eleven years through the criminal justice system. Being caught with some recreational pot with two other friends, he was sentenced to prison, where he learned about hard drugs, such as heroine which is plentiful in prison. He survived the criminal justice system with family support.

She said that kids who get caught up in the criminal justice system end up with lifelong exclusions: schooling, housing, jobs and even voting in some states.

Sentencing is not applied evenly. In her son’s case, one of the three friends got a light sentence, one disappeared from the country, while her son went to prison.

A person of action, Gretchen Bergman chaired the successful Proposition 36 campaign in California in 2012. She co-founded ‘A New Path’, an organization for parents for Addiction and Healing. Her husband, Dr. David Bergman, psychiatrist, is an advisor to this organization, to which she serves as Executive Director. She was honored in Washington D.C. along with other drug policy reformers in 2012.

She provided a handout about the AUMA, created by Chris Conrad, expert witness, whose information can be read here.

She said that parental rights are eroded with the War on Drugs and said that parents must take more active roles. She also said that teen use of marijuana in Colorado is not up, which appears to conflict with this report.


In conclusion, remarks from the speakers were cautious. Everything has side effects, even water, said Dr. Bearman, adding that the Sheriff Department is not designed to treat mental health issues. Drugs are here to stay, said Judge Gray, so we must talk to our children and be responsible for our own bodies. Mrs. Bergman said there is “no such thing as a drug free world”, so we must say “Just say KNOW’ to drugs.

While this meeting clearly provided strong speakers for the “pro” side of the argument, we can look forward for more spirited “con” arguments during the next few months of the election cycle.


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