Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer
Published: July 18, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]
Washington, D.C. -- He is an unabashed Big Business conservative. She's
a liberal who favors the little guy. He's a Washington insider dating
back to the days of Nixon. She's all of 29 yet has landed in jail plenty
of times for underdog acts of civil disobedience.
Now Beltway lobbyist Jim Tozzi and bicoastal activist Steph Sherer have
teamed up for an uphill cause: They aim to legalize medical marijuana in
all 50 states.
Sherer's stake is personal and professional. She uses cannabis daily for
a spinal injury suffered during her arrest at a Washington protest five
years ago. Sherer also runs Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a
nonprofit bent on making marijuana available to any patient in need.
Tozzi, graying and dark-suited at 67, has come to her aid with a federal
law spawned at the behest of corporate America. In 2000, Tozzi helped
craft legislation that lets the private sector challenge the scientific
reliability of government regulations.
Medical marijuana activists like Sherer consider Tozzi's handiwork a
potential boon for a movement thwarted by cops and the courts, most
recently a U.S. Supreme Court decision that declined to protect cannabis
patients from federal prosecution.
Sherer, an energetic new combatant in a battle that's raged for
generations, said she believes medical marijuana activists now have the
scientific goods to counter government assertions that pot has no proven
If U.S. health officials fess up that marijuana is good medicine, she
says, the government won't be able to continue blocking the 33-year
effort by activists to have cannabis dropped from the restrictive list
of illicit drugs, which includes heroin and LSD. That, in turn, could
stoke research into prescription forms of cannabis, as well as wider and
less contentious medical use.
"There's no way the statement that marijuana has no accepted medical
value is true anymore," Sherer said, citing 6,500 scientific articles
from around the world on medical cannabis, as well as the thousands of
doctor recommendations in California and nine other states still defying
So far, federal officials have rebuffed the pleas of Americans for Safe
Arthur J. Lawrence, the assistant U.S. surgeon general, wrote in an
April 20 rejection letter that the federal government already has
undertaken an exhaustive review of marijuana's medicinal merits. That
effort began in 2002 when medical marijuana supporters petitioned U.S.
regulators to yank cannabis from Schedule 1, which is reserved for
abused drugs devoid of medical value. Lawrence reasoned that Scherer's
Data Quality Act request amounted to a duplication of effort.
Scherer countered that Lawrence is ignoring mounting evidence that pot
is good medicine and the act's intent: to quickly correct mistakes in
the government record. Americans for Safe Access, which claims 12,000
patients on its rolls, has appealed. U.S. Health and Human Services
officials have until Tuesday to respond.
The Bush administration gives no indication of bending.
Although there have been "suggestions" that some elements of the herb
might be developed into prescription drugs, potential benefits are
outweighed by a "manifest risk" of widespread abuse, said David Murray,
a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy analyst.
Even if new marijuana-based drugs were approved, Murray said, they would
not likely have "the character of the raw crude leaf."
For Sherer, relief comes with a dropper of liquid cannabis extract six
times a day.
The drug, she says, doesn't make her high but eases otherwise unyielding
pain and spasms at the base of her neck.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Sherer always preferred microbrew beer to
marijuana. But that relationship with cannabis changed in 2000, she
said, after a U.S. marshal hit her from behind during an International
Monetary Fund protest. Scherer's civil lawsuit against the U.S. is
winding toward trial.
The blow caused a ligament in her neck to snap. After a year of
treatment with heavy pain medications, Sherer said, her kidneys began to
When her doctor asked if she knew anyone who smoked pot or how to get
it, Sherer wondered if he had gone off the deep end.
The recommendation that she use pot as a painkiller changed both
Sherer's medical status and her career path. Instead of focusing her
budding organizational skills on world trade issues, she made medical
marijuana her prime cause.
Americans for Safe Access has since has blossomed into one of the most
active medical marijuana groups in the nation.
Last summer, Sherer discovered Tozzi's law and got an idea. She would
turn the pro-business act on its head and apply it to medical marijuana,
arguably one of America's most quixotic consumer causes.
She had never met Tozzi, but the godfather of data quality showed up
uninvited when Sherer held a news conference last October in Washington
to announce her scheme.
Sherer fretted that Tozzi was up to no good. Instead, he said he wanted
"I figured a little shot of support from me, from someone they'd never
expect, would help a group that has been battered around quite a bit,"
Tozzi, having spent a lifetime working Washington's back corridors,
calls himself "a regulatory nerd." He started in the Office of
Management and Budget during the 1960s, after a military tour in Vietnam
and a failed attempt to make it as a jazz trumpet player in New Orleans.
By the Reagan era, Tozzi had climbed to a top spot at OMB.
He promptly shifted to the private sector, got a big office near Dupont
Circle in Washington and, the ultimate insider, forged a reputation as a
lobbyist who can massage the Washington work product for clients like
the tobacco industry and chemical companies.
Tozzi played a key role in 1996 in establishing the Center for
Regulatory Effectiveness, a business advocacy group that runs a website
devoted to monitoring the wind shifts of government regulations. Out of
that he launched the Data Quality Act.
Just a few lines tucked into a 712-page omnibus bill, the act has had
Environmental and consumer groups consider Tozzi a sort of regulatory
Dr. Evil, a stealthy genius whose little tweak of federal rules has hurt
attempts to tame exploitation of the wilderness and workplace.
Businesses view it as a way to check unwarranted government regulation.
Salt companies used the act to challenge government pronouncements about
negative health effects. Builders fought claims about polluted runoff
from construction sites. Chemical companies battled rules that
threatened top-selling products.
Despite her liberal credentials, Sherer has developed an effective
working relationship with Tozzi. And mutual admiration.
"I was expecting someone from the shadow government, like the cancer man
from the 'X-Files,' " Scherer said. Instead she got "this charismatic
character who fills every corner of the room with his personality."
Tozzi, meanwhile, thinks Scherer is underemployed. "She's doing God's
work at great personal sacrifice," he said. "But when she gets this
issue straightened out, she can go anywhere."
Sherer introduced Tozzi to medical marijuana patients. One in particular
She was a schoolteacher in her early 60s who looked "just like Betty
Crocker," Tozzi recalled. The woman said she had always been a
law-abiding citizen but had been forced to buy pot on the streets to
treat her multiple sclerosis.
"I don't know if she was more bothered by the pain of her illness or the
pain of her actions," he said.
But this master of the regulatory chessboard had more than just
altruistic motives. Since its inception, the Data Quality Act has been
under attack as a weapon of big business, a stealthy way to keep federal
agencies tied in knots over what constitutes sound science.
Eager to blunt such criticism and dash attempts to thwart his law in
Congress, Tozzi has pushed public interest groups to start deploying the
act against the bureaucrats. Legalization of medical marijuana, he said,
could prove a powerful court test of government resistance to his
beloved Data Quality Act.
But does this bid by Scherer and Tozzi stand a chance?
Peter Meyers, a George Washington University law professor who in the
1970s fought for removal of cannabis from the federal government list of
dangerous drugs, doesn't hold out much hope. He considers marijuana
prohibition a part of a broader moral crusade being waged by the Bush
"This has nothing to do with the medical debate," he said. "I think it's
Jon Gettman, a George Mason School of Public Policy senior fellow who is
leading the current bid to get marijuana removed from that list,
believes the Data Quality Act challenge puts extra pressure on federal
And he welcomes the oddball pairing of Tozzi the conservative and Sherer
"The idea of overlapping interests and strange bedfellows is a sign of a
very healthy political system," he said. "I think James Madison would be
Note: Steph Sherer teams up with a Beltway lobbyist in fight to lift the
ban on medical marijuana.
Americans For Safe Access
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