by Tamara Trichome
When I first met Mike, he was in his office and I have to admit it was the easiest medical appointment I’ve ever had. I admit it, I was one of many who hated doctors. Visits to doctors have always been about too many questions and too much shame. But Dr. Mike was different. Very different. He insisted that the patients call him by his first name, because he detested the hierarchy. His analog-scale clinic was a much needed addition in the early days of legal medical cannabis in California. It allowed people to pay what they could. It also had free clinics in Oakland and Santa Cruz for low-income people. Later, when I needed a refresh and had less money, he gave me my recipe for free.
Mike Alcalay was one among the first activists to increase access to medical cannabis in California after its legalization in 1996. His broad view of social justice brought this fight along with AIDS rights, gay rights and constant consideration of the poor and wretched in the U.S. and abroad. His early death from leukemia in 2006 was a huge loss for many activist communities. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to meet him and he is still an inspiration to many.
Mike’s commitment to social justice began after serving as a doctor in the Vietnam War. When he returned, he started a free medical clinic for immigrant farmers in California and then traveled to Nicaragua after sandinista’s revolution to offer his medical services. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1986, he created a public radio show called “AIDS in Focus”, which educated the public in current scientific research and supported the rights of those living with HIV. It also hosted coverage of the Sixth Annual International AIDS Summit in San Francisco in 1990. That year, they highlighted the violation of immigration rights by the U.S. government. At that time, no one with HIV could obtain a visa to visit the United States. As a result, all visa applicants were tested for HIV.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Mike turned to cannabis to combat the side effects of protease inhibitors he used to keep HIV under control. As in everything he did, he devoted himself to his new work. He became the medical director of one of the first providers of medical cannabis, the Oakland cannabis buyer cooperative, where he imported thousands of patients. He continued to work closely with many other cannabis providers around the San Francisco Bay Area, such as the Berkeley Patient Group and the Wo/Men Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM). He even collected scientific data from these interactions, discovering beneficial uses of cannabis for depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders. He provided this information in the newsletter of O’Shaughnessy, Chris Conrad, and other activists to improve the guidelines for the use of medical cannabis.
He even risked his medical license to help treat a young boy whose violent rage and unstable mental state could not be treated with more typical pharmaceuticals. This work of his has been immortalized in the book Jeffrey’s Journey: Healing the Violent Rages of a Child. Although Jeffrey’s parents were conservative Christians who voted against the legalization of medical cannabis, they resorted to it as a last resort. No doctor knew how to reduce Jeffrey’s violent eruptions. Instead, he had been exposed to a drug overdose by the age of 3. His parents discovered that a piece of a cannabis muffin immediately relaxed him without all these negative side effects. Mike was the doctor who found the right dose and helped Jeffrey’s family through this procedure.
Dr. Mike’s activism helped me too. Not only did he give me an affordable prescription, but he came to defend me in court when the local police arrested me for my medical cannabis garden. Once again, he didn’t charge me for these services. My life benefited directly from his tireless devotion to protecting the civil rights of those who use cannabis as a medicine. At that time, in the event of an arrest for possession or cultivation, patients needed to prove their medical need in court, even if they already had a legal prescription. Mike provided this proof. As a result, the court withdrew most of the charges and I was saved from a costly and lengthy jury trial. Dr. Mike was a beacon of light during this difficult chapter of my life.
I can not stress, how much Dr.Mike Alcalay positively influenced my life. I am proud and lucky to have called him a friend and mentor. It continues to be a role model for those fighting to protect the right to use cannabis as a drug. In this world, we cannot be people of individual issues. Cannabis cannot be dissociated from other struggles such as access to medical care, environmentalism, reform of criminal justice and support for the rights of the marginalised in our societies. Dr. Mike was a good example of this combination.
The Green Greeks Magazine