Give Me Back My Baggie

— Legalize it, legalize it, being in America should be about being free/ Legalize it, legalize it, it's a basic right for you and me. First off, Norman "Kyoti" King has a CD out. Second, he's got a song on it called "Legalize It," and you know what "it" is. Third, he says straight up: he thinks pot should be legal. He enjoys smoking it, recreationally, even before they "legalize it."

So why's he fighting a little fine he received for being busted? Publicity?

No, says King. The marijuana the cops took away from him last March was different. "That was legal," he says. "That was my medicine. I smoke it for my asthma. They had no right to take that from me."

Now, instead of paying $50 and going to a few Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, King is taking on the San Diego Police Department in court November 13 to fight for the use of medical marijuana. He wants nothing less than his Baggie back.

It started around 10:30 on a Tuesday morning last March 4, when Officer Steve Jorgensen stopped Kyoti and his friend in the parking lot of Kyoti's favorite hangout, Java Joe's in Ocean Beach.

"They didn't like the way my friend looked or how his truck looked. They decided his tags weren't legal. They asked me who I was. I told them. They found the warrant thing." (King had failed to appear in court some months earlier after being ticketed for sleeping on the beach at a time when he was homeless.) "And then they asked me, 'Well, you're going to go to jail. So have you got anything in your pockets we'll be upset about?' And I said, 'Yeah, I've got some marijuana in here, but it's medicine and you can't take it.' 'Let me see it,' he says. So I handed it to him."

Statement of Officer Steve Jorgensen: "While investigating expired registration plates on a vehicle in the parking lot of 4994 Newport Avenue, I contacted the passenger (later identified as King) of this parked vehicle. King was arrested for a warrant, via a computer inquiry. During a search of King's person, incident to arrest, a small Baggie of marijuana was located in King's front left pocket. According to King, he does not have any medical condition which necessitates the use of marijuana."

"My reaction to that [statement] is the jury knows when they hear a lie," says King. "My left front pocket definitely did have a bag of pot in there. But I pulled it out with my own little hands. And he took it, and I said it was for medicine. It [allows me to] breathe in the morning. Quite simple."

That's when Norman "Kyoti" (as in "coyote") King, street musician, decided to fight. "They want to give me a deal. They want me to plead guilty and take a reduced charge and go to eight NA meetings. Have me pay them $50. I said, 'I'm not addicted to a damned thing except breathing. I'm not going to give you a damned thing. I'll spend $500 before I give you a penny.' "

"We have to go on the assumption that the officer's report is true and accurate," says Lauri Twomey, public affairs director for the city attorney's office. "It's very convenient to ex post facto change the story. And that happens in criminal cases all the time. After the fact and after the arrest, his attorney has since concocted the story. [But] it does seem like a very bizarre prescription for asthma, to smoke marijuana. It's like, smoke cigarettes for asthma?"

They say that marijuana,

it is the devil's weed.

But according to the Good Book

it was made for you and me

'Cause God made all the good plants and the good herbs bearing seed to use for meat and medicine,

and everything we need.


King, 49, sits in the gloom of Java Joe's, listening to his song over the sound system. He's wearing his trademark down-brimmed Australian drover's hat, his long reddish hair swinging out like fox tails. "I've been a street musician for about 25 years. I was a stonemason, and then I injured my back. I've always loved music, and I just decided that I would make my living with music. Got me a guitar, started playing on the street. I've always enjoyed entertaining."

He sings at Java Joe's a lot. Or outside Bank of America, or over in Balboa Park, or at Lestat's on Adams Avenue. He insists that smoking marijuana helps his asthma, a condition he's had since childhood. "I smoke around two ounces a month, about two packs of cigarettes in volume. That's maybe four joints a day or five. And then usually one time at night I get to where I can't get enough breath, and I roll over, take a couple of hits, and I cough some stuff up, but pretty soon I can take a big hit off the joint, and then I can breathe all right, and I go on and I go back to sleep."

Kathy Sullivan of the American Lung Association concedes that marijuana is one way to help asthma attacks. Officially the Lung Association is anti-marijuana, but she quotes medical historian Irwin Ziment, MD, from a lecture reprinted in a February 1986 Respiratory Care Journal, outlining treatments for asthma over the last 5000 years. "Marijuana was probably employed as a narcotic from earliest times, and its bronchodilator [breathing-tube opening] effect may have been recognized."

"That sentence pretty much shows me that it's accepted that marijuana acts as a bronchodilator," says Sullivan. "That was written by a guy who's a prominent medical historian.

"Marijuana," Sullivan adds, "is just one of several possible bronchodilators. Another one would be strong coffee or tea. Caffeine also has a bronchodilator effect. But you have to offset the bronchodilator effect with the effect of inhaling something that's burning into your lungs, which has multiple negative effects. I guess it's a trade-off. If the smoke doesn't bother you that much, maybe you'll get some relief with the marijuana."

"I'd be dead in about ten years without marijuana," says King. "It'd be rough. I'd have to go to using inhalers. Inhalers are very bad. I've got some at home. I only use them in emergency. They are faster-acting, but they're not as complete. You can't breathe as well. They don't last as long. They don't have the pain-alleviation either."


Ever since Prop 215, marijuana has been legal in California, if you're using it for medical purposes and if its use is recommended by a doctor. Twomey of the city attorney's office confirms that. "This office recognizes and supports and upholds the law that was passed by the voters in the state of California. But we certainly have to have some affirmative defense from [people arrested for marijuana possession] saying that that's what they're using it for, based on legitimate medicinal use. We are supportive of that, because that's the law of the land."

In preparation for his court appearance November 13 (it's been delayed because Officer Jorgensen is on vacation), King went straight to a local doctor. "I went in and told him. I said, 'I don't even like doctors. I'm only here because the police won't leave me alone. And I use marijuana for medicine.' He examined me. It's not hard to tell somebody's got asthma. And I've got a degenerative spinal condition. It isn't going to get any better. But [marijuana] alleviates the chronic pain of that. I wouldn't stop even if it was illegal."

He shows the result of the visit: a "To Whom It May Concern" letter from his doctor.

"Gentlepersons, although I have no official records yet, based on history and physical examination, Mr. Norman King has:

1) Reactive airway disease

2) Degenerative disc disease and sciatic neuritis

3) Migraine syndrome

4) Hypertension."

The glaring omission is any words recommending or prescribing the medicinal use of marijuana. Such words are required by law as the precondition to getting legal pot. "Well, that's the problem, see?" says King. "Why don't we talk with him." He gets up. "He's right here in O.B."

"I can't [recommend marijuana use], not without committing professional suicide," the doctor says, explaining his letter. He asks to remain anonymous because he fears punishment from the state medical board or the Drug Enforcement Agency if he's quoted saying anything sympathetic about marijuana. "They send undercover people all the time. The medical board comes in. They're like the vice squad."

The problem, the doctor says, is this issue's continued legal limbo. Although medical use of marijuana is now legal in California, the federal government has not changed its views on the weed. Since 1970, marijuana has been a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The state of affairs pits Washington against California.

"President Clinton," says the doctor, "has said that any doctor in California whose suggestions were likened to prescribing [marijuana] would be busted. So unfortunately [for] a lot of us, it's very hard to stand up and stick your neck out for a patient, when the consequences are so dire for the practitioner."

"I'm unaware of any doctor in this county who will write a note that recommends marijuana for someone," says chief deputy public defender Juliana Humphrey. "The most that has been suggested by the ama [American Medical Association] that doctors do is to record in their file notes that their patient has told them they're using marijuana and not lodging an agreement or disagreement with that at all, just giving them a copy of the file notes to show that yes, they've told their doctor, and that they are in fact sick. That's about as much as anyone's going to do, until it is resolved nationally."

Humphrey says the ama is fence-sitting while its members agonize. "Before 1937, marijuana - hemp - was legal," she says. "It was just another substance. Just a thing people smoked or used for rope. It was criminalized in an effort at another type of prohibition. And at that point the ama opposed criminalizing it. They wanted it to remain as one of the drugs that at least could be prescribed by doctors. Of course, they were shut down. Now, hypocritically, the ama is, like, 'Well, we don't know. We don't know what we should do.' To me [the whole issue] is like a tempest in a teapot. Why don't we just legalize it and be done with it?"

"This is not a publicity stunt," says Marian Gaston, Humphrey's assistant, assigned to defend King. "I think he is completely sincere. He believes very strongly that there's nothing really that wrong with what he's doing, and that the government is hitting him with a sledgehammer, and he doesn't think it's right."

"I'll tell you what it is, really," says King. "I don't want everybody else to go through the same shit. And if people start standing up, quit bending over, they'll quit screwing them. I've got the truth on my side. I'm going to make a lot of noise. They've got to give me my weed back."

He breaks into song:

I'd like to teach my children all about the teacher plants.

I'd like to share sweet medicine, from the eagles to the ants

I'd teach them how to treat the man who preaches ignorance. How to know their feelings, and then when to make a stance.

"We would prefer to [agree to] a plea bargain on the issue, for resource reasons," says the city attorney's Twomey. "But if Mr. King chooses not to, we're not going to cave in on the case. As far as we're concerned, this is an illegal possession."

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