With another presidential election fast approaching, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back 24 years when it was Bill Clinton running instead of Hillary. Like any election year, cannabis was an issue and pioneering state activists Jacki Rickert and the late Ben Masel were there to shine light on cannabis after the harsh times of a dozen Reagan-Bush years. Jacki and I have discussed that day many times over the years and she filled me in on a few more details for this post.
On August 7, 1992, three weeks after securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Clinton, his running mate Al Gore, along with Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, were on a three-day bus tour through Western Wisconsin ending in the Twin Cities.
The eight-bus caravan began the day in La Crosse. On August 8, 1992, the Eau Claire Leader Telegram included a column on Page A2 titled, “Campaign Notebook,” written by Leader-Telegram staff with an item about two cannabis activists at the La Crosse stop, Ben Masel and Jim Schmidt.
The sign getting the most attention at the La Crosse rally read “next time . . . INHALE,” held by Jim Schmidt of La Crosse, a representative of the National Organization To Reform Marijuana Laws. The sign refers to Clinton’s statement that he smoked marijuana but didn’t inhale. “It’s just kind of stupid for him to say that,” Schmidt said. Schmidt favors Clinton because he’s ready for a change, but he’s not entirely enamored of him.
Ben Masel of Madison, also representing NORML, was at the rally holding a sign reading “1 acre hemp, 20 barrels oil.” Masel said he supports the legalization of hemp while regulating the closely related marijuana plant. Paper, cloth, fuel and even food can be made from hemp, he said. Masel said he will vote for Clinton, ‘but I won’t inhale.’
After a town hall meeting at a family farm near Chippewa Falls, the caravan of buses headed to Osseo. According to the Leader Telegram, Osseo was a “planned impromptu stop,” with risers already set up for the press.
In Osseo, Wisconsin pioneer medical cannabis patient/activist Jacki Rickert, Founder of IMMLY.org, had a multi-minute encounter with Bill Clinton. Jacki had been approved for federal medical cannabis supplies through the Compassionate IND program in Dec. 1990, but was never supplied, after then-President George H. W. Bush suspended the program in 1991.
On August 7, hearing that Bill Clinton would be making the Osseo stop, Jacki and her daughter headed to the event in such a hurry they forgot to grab much more than the packet of documents showing that Jacki had been approved to participate in the Compassionate IND Program, a very small federal program that supplies federal medical cannabis supplies to a tiny group of Americans.
Jacki was desperate because despite the approvals, federal authorities had not yet shipped her doctor any of the federal marijuana supplies. She and her daughter hoped to make a personal appeal to Bill Clinton that day in Osseo.
Jacki told me it began to rain as soon as Clinton stepped off the campaign bus. He was handed a raincoat which he quickly put on.
Jacki, accompanied by her daughter, was in her wheelchair so she was allowed on the non-public side of the crowd tape. She knew she had one chance and called out to Clinton as he got off the bus, “Yo, Mr. President”. “Well, we’re really hoping” Clinton responded in a southern drawl. Media behind her said, “Would you mind turning around?” Jacki’s daughter replied “Yes, we would mind turning around. We’re not here for a photo-op. This is business – very important. This has to do with my Mom’s life.”
Bill Clinton came straight over to Jacki and her daughter, the first people he talked to after getting off one of the bus. Jacki said she spotted Tipper Gore and said “Whoa, there’s Tipper.” By then Bill Clinton had approached, beginning an encounter that Jacki has said lasted as long as 8 minutes. Jacki explained her problem telling him her story of her health issues, how her doctor worked to get her approved for the IND, etc. Jacki said Bill Clinton responded as they told her story, “Why that’s just terrible! I feel your pain, If elected, I’ll make it right within the first 100 days.”
Her daughter handed him a large folder of paperwork documenting Jacki’s story. A secret service agent abruptly grabbed it from a startled Clinton’s hands, shook it, and handed it back. Bill Clinton put it in his breast pocket told Jacki he’d read it, “just as soon as I get back on the bus,” patting his pocket.
Clinton walked down the line further greeting people and signing autographs and Al Gore looked at Jacki’s art book which Clinton had signed, drawling, “I like your art.” Bill Clinton then came back and talked to Jacki and her daughter another minute or two.
Clinton also hungrily consumed a hamburger brought to him from an Osseo restaurant, Heckel’s, and put on a cap bearing their logo. The August 8 Leader-Telegram ran a front-page photo of Bill Clinton holding a baby at the Osseo event, wearing his new Heckel’s cap.
Repeated contacts with the Clinton administration after his election were ignored. Jacki never got the medicine her courageous physician, Dr. William Wright had worked so hard for her to obtain.
On Feb. 14, 2008, Ben Masel and I held signs asking “Where’s Jacki’s Medicine” at an appearance by Bill Clinton campaigning for Hillary during the 2008 primaries. I posted about that earlier this year here, “Valentine’s Day 2008: Asking Bill Clinton, Where’s Jacki’s Medicine?” Bill Clinton was said not to remember the 1992 encounter by Joe Wineke, a Wisconsin Democratic party official that Ben had filled in on the original story. Ben passed away in April 2011 after a short illness.
Another Leader Telegram article from Aug 8, also on Page A2 also reported on details of the of the Osseo stop: “Some wait in rain for hours to greet Democratic hopefuls.”
Waiting in the crowd there was Bea Jordan, 67, of Augusta, who repeated the familiar theme – she’s for a change, for “Bill and Gore all the way.”
Jordan said she wants a better health care program, lower taxes for the middle class, and jobs.
“We want people to work,” she said forcefully. “Quit taking jobs overseas.”
Does she believe the Clinton-Gore ticket will bring that? “We wouldn’t be here in the rain otherwise,” said her companion, adding that they’d been there for three hours.
Jordan planned to tell Clinton: “I’m with you all the way, Bill. Be like Truman and give ’em hell.” (Note: Jacki Rickert remembers someone loudly yelling “Give ’em hell” from somewhere in the crowd behind her)
It’s interesting to note that although this all happened 24 years old, people had many of the same concerns as during the current election cycle.
The Aug. 8, 1992 Kenosha News also referenced the Osseo stop, “Clinton woos state’s family farmers.”
Earlier, about 300 to 400 people welcomed Clinton as he and Gore stopped at the parking lot of a farm-implement dealer in the western Wisconsin town of Osseo. Some supporters clambered atop farm machinery to catch a glimpse of the nominee as he shook hands with the crowd under cloudy skies. “This is the most excitement in a long time,” said Greg Doberspike, an insurance salesman in the town of about 1,500. ” A lot of people are out here for curiosity to see what’s going on.”
The Kenosha News also reported Bill Clinton said at the town hall that he supported “raising the minimum wage annually, consistent with inflation, to prevent what he said were one in five workers living below the poverty line” at the town hall meeting on the family farm.”
Bill Clinton turned out to never be much of a friend of the cannabis community during his presidency. Not only did he ignore Jacki and other medical cannabis patients including many afflicted by the AIDS epidemic, he threatened doctors after California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing medical pot. And while he pardoned a billionaire on his way out, the best he could do about pot was offer up the statement it should be decriminalized. For what it’s worth the 2016 Democratic Party platform includes a so-called “pathway to legalization.” While party platforms don’t generally mean all that much, that cannabis attained that level is a sign of some progress.