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The Marijuana Project: A Novel About Medicine and Morality

The Marijuana Project: A Novel About Medicine and Morality

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The Marijuana Project: A Novel About Medicine and Morality

317 pagine
4 ore
Nov 16, 2015


a novel about medicine and morality
a security expert’s journey through the ethical weeds

Sam Burnett, a savvy security expert, is hiding in the catwalk of a medical marijuana production facility he has been hired to protect, caught in a surveillance plan he never thought he’d face. In fact, Sam, a conservative family man who travels the country as a highly sought after security expert, doesn’t even approve of marijuana and wonders why he’s still working there. Over the course of two years designing, implementing and operating the entire security program for MedLeaf, Sam faces one moral conflict after another. Does he favor using medical marijuana to relieve a variety of physical symptoms, easing anxiety and providing pleasure? Or does he see it as an invitation to more serious drug use, mental instability and irresponsible, even dangerous behavior?
You could call it a security expert’s journey through the ethical weeds.
At first, Sam realizes that medical marijuana needs to be protected from ending up in the wrong hands and that taking the job means he can be home much more than before. But even the positive things Sam learns about medical marijuana are at odds with his religious upbringing and his conservative views about drug use, legal or otherwise. When his son’s best friend is killed in a car accident caused by a driver under the influence of medical marijuana, Sam reaches his breaking point and takes matters into his own hands, which leads to a potentially dangerous confrontation with his employers and a group of unknown provocateurs. In the end, he must decide if he can personally continue to participate in the protection and perpetuation of this industry.
Sam Burnett’s dilemma is similar to that of millions of Americans. His story will resonate for all those struggling to make sense of this changing landscape in our society.
Nov 16, 2015

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The Marijuana Project - Brian Laslow


GUNSHOTS STARTLED SAM, who’d been stuck all night in an unbearably hot, cramped attic space above the production floor. The short burst of automatic fire wasn’t unexpected and he knew from experience what it sounded and felt like, but the percussion shakes a man’s bones no matter how often he’s heard it. Sam didn’t notice any return fire, and hoped that was good news. Maybe what he just heard had been warning shots immediately heeded by whoever had illegally entered the facility.

What about return fire from security officers?

Everything might be okay or it could just as easily become the worst scenario he’d been paid to prevent. Perhaps nobody remained alive to return fire.

Sam crouched on a box, listening intently. From the catwalk he’d chosen to do his surveillance, he could see through the edges of the light fixtures into the rooms below, where throughout the night a technician occasionally checked the many rows of growing cannabis plants. It wasn’t the perfect vantage point because he couldn’t see the vault or entrance doors, but since the attic was situated above a small portion of the facility it was the best he could do without anyone knowing he was there.

The temperature required for the plants to thrive along with the summer heat had made the waiting exceedingly unpleasant, but with what was at stake, Sam did not mind.

Suddenly, he heard shouting from multiple voices coming from an adjacent room. He couldn’t hear what was being said, but he knew that it must be related to why he’d been there all night, staking out a mystery. He had to move immediately and join the fray.

As Sam stood up he nearly fell back down. Between the endless hours sitting still and the sudden rush of blood flowing to his rapidly beating heart, his legs were so wobbly they felt like the Play-Doh his kids played with at home. After steadying himself, he rubbed his eyes, now burning from the beads of sweat dripping down his forehead.

He heard more shouts and screaming, but at least there was no more gunfire. He ran across the catwalk and out a door to the mezzanine, and then stumbled down a metal stairwell to the loading dock below. All of his preparation was finally about to pay off. Sam knew exactly what he had to do.

1 An Unexpected Odyssey Begins

THE PHONE RANG one afternoon in Sam Burnett’s office, a modestly furnished and technologically advanced basement space in the rural Far Hills, New Jersey, home that he shared with his wife, Amy, their six-year-old daughter Melissa and nine-year-old son, Tyler.

Sam Burnett, he said, in his typical formal voice.

Hi, this is John Jamison, a voice replied. I represent a group that is applying for a license here in New Jersey to produce medical marijuana and we would like your help.

Okay, Sam said slowly, trying to digest what he’d just heard. Tell me exactly what you’re looking for.

As John responded, Sam kept thinking, is this a joke? Does New Jersey even have a medical marijuana law? When did that happen? John described broadly what they needed, including developing and implementing a full security program for what they hoped would be a new medical marijuana manufacturing facility, pending the awarding of a license by the state.

We believe that with you onboard with your expertise and reputation, John said, our chances for a license and ultimately a secure facility will be increased.

This was music to the ears of anyone in Sam’s line of work, especially for someone with a reputation he’d worked so painstakingly to build. Although appreciative of the compliment, once John finished his pitch Sam stalled, unsure of what to do. This was definitely a first for him.

Why don’t you email me the information on your group and any other data you may have on what you need, he said, and I’ll review it all and get back to you.

John agreed.

So began an odyssey that Sam never expected nor could ever have predicted.

CLIENTS AND COLLEAGUES who knew Sam Burnett would all say he was a good security consultant, if not an outstanding one. Sam did not mind the praise. He had worked hard to create his well-known practice, which was made easier by his love for detail, integrity and the experience he brought to any potential customer.

Sam began his security profession during college, installing home alarm systems out of the trunk of his car—not exactly an auspicious start but it paid the bills. Since tenacity was always one of his strong points, Sam was only in his late twenties by the time he turned that modest beginning into one of the most successful independent alarm companies in northern New Jersey, servicing both residential and commercial clients, with 25 employees and a small fleet of trucks.

Security was a tough, competitive business, with small margins and ever-increasing expenses. Plus, alarm system technicians aren’t the most refined group, so turnover was high and employee issues of all kinds were the norm rather than the exception. After ten years Sam was ready for a change, and the economy enabled him to sell his company to a competitor for a handsome profit, a move he would always consider the best business decision of his life.

Risk—at least the calculated type—was never something Sam shied away from. For a couple of years, Sam had been considering how law enforcement could install mobile video equipment directly inside squad cars so that officers could see camera views from public or private buildings. This would allow them to verify alarms and increase safety for officers and the community. Sam came up with this idea while doing business with many local police departments. Rather than get a job he might not enjoy, he decided to dedicate his time and resources to invent and market such a product. He knew that he wouldn’t make a good employee anyway because taking orders from others was not one of his strong points. Sam didn’t lack confidence or ego, and having a Mensa-level IQ didn’t hurt, either.

In a relatively short time, he developed a very crude prototype and was ready to take the next step. What Sam discovered researching that next step was that the Department of Justice had a division called the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC), whose sole purpose was to help inventors and entrepreneurs develop new products useful to law enforcement and the military and bring them to market. With their help, Sam created a well-developed and marketable prototype, capable of being used to apply for a patent. Once the application was submitted, Sam waited as patiently as he could for a response—not an easy task for a person who did not like to wait for anything. But he knew that his new endeavor could progress only under the undeniable cover of federal patent protection.

But as fate would have it, an application for an eerily similar product was submitted for a patent just two weeks before Sam’s, making his application and prototype worthless. His entire investment of time and money seemed all for naught.

While the failure of his invention was a big hit to Sam’s ego as well as his bank account, while working with OLETC he met, among others, a Colonel Jacob West. J, as Sam called him, was a retired marine who used to run intelligence operations out of the Pentagon and was now a security consultant running similar but far less dangerous operations for private clients and the government. J was using OLETC to help develop his idea of a better helmet for both military and law enforcement personnel, an idea he was infinitely more successful with than Sam was with the video equipment. The two of them hit it off immediately and became fast friends. Both had type-A personalities, complete with an attraction to personal risk and the resulting thrill of success. Sam and J shared political and social beliefs as well as a healthy, if not darkly comic, sense of humor.

Sam was curious about the Colonel’s work and was offered a chance to participate in a few penetration tests with him to see how he liked it. A penetration test is essentially a nonviolent attempt to gain entrance to a clients’ facility, utilizing social engineering and other forms of deception, and to use this access to walk away with information or other tangible things that those very clients want to protect. Sam was good at it. He was pleasant but determined, and looked very much like an average guy, with clean-cut, good looks. Sam had a way about him that made people trust him, most of the time for good reason.

He liked the consulting idea, without employee issues or payroll hassles to manage, seemingly more realistic clients and the ultimate gift of some nice money. After the research and soul-searching that defined every big move he’d ever made, Sam decided to open up his own consulting firm, focusing on his areas of expertise and experience. Besides, he had recently met his bride-to-be and was ready for the next chapter in his life.

In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed to Sam, 13 years had passed since his independent contractor days had begun. Sam had become a successful, well-respected security consultant. He was professionally well-rounded, performing many services, including security risk assessments for all types of facilities, both private and governmental, designing extremely complex physical and electronic security systems and helping with ongoing client security operations.

He also continued to enjoy his cloak-and-dagger work with Colonel West, as well as Quality Control inspections for security officers at federal facilities. J had helped him obtain his security clearance, opening the door for some otherwise unobtainable but fascinating work. As a result of contacts and referrals he’d generated over the years from J and others he met at OLETC, Sam had been contracted by many government agencies from multiple governments to make facilities impenetrable by designing physical and operational security measures.

Sam’s client list looked like a who’s who of corporate giants, along with shadow clients he wouldn’t dare advertise, avoiding the bright lights that would invariably bring uncomfortable questions. Speaking engagements on all types of security subjects had become an ongoing, enjoyable way for Sam to connect with potential clients and network with a growing circle of like-minded colleagues. He had even written a book on the security-consulting field, solidifying his position as one of the more sought-after security consultants in the country.

Sam was in his mid-forties by this point, with a slight, middle-aged gut and just enough gray hair to make him look like he knew what he was talking about, but not enough that he looked like the industry had passed him by. Life was good.

So on that auspicious day when upstanding citizen Sam Burnett received that phone call from John Jamison, asking him about providing security for a marijuana factory, Sam was stunned. As soon as he hung up the phone, he searched New Jersey marijuana law online to see if this guy was just a nut case. Sure enough, a law had been passed a few months earlier, legalizing the drug for medical use, and applications for a license to produce the product were due in a month.

Where have I been?

A little while later, an email came in with information on the company, their philosophy of growing medical marijuana and a somewhat ambiguous description of what they were seeking from Sam. They called their company MedLeaf, which made Sam chuckle. They had three principals with reasonable looking resumes, as well as a few angel investors. Sam did some quick research to confirm that these people were who they claimed to be—Jamison was an investment banker, June Assante was a lawyer and Marge Dixon was a nurse from Colorado who ran a clinic educating people about the pros and cons of medical marijuana. Dixon had even testified in front of Congress about the supposed virtues of the drug.

By all accounts, they intended to run a professional, legitimate operation. The email went on to eloquently explain how medical cannabis was successful in the treatment of an array of medical problems, such as nausea, anorexia, pain, and arthritis. The proposed facility was just a short distance away in Morristown, a pleasure of a commute compared to the requisite planes and rental cars Sam used to get to most of his clients. Everything pointed to a thumbs-up for entering into negotiations, leading to another winning business relationship.

There was just one problem. Sam didn’t believe in marijuana use—medical or otherwise. He was a staunch conservative, part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, although he didn’t know exactly what he was conspiring to do, other than have his own personal beliefs. While Sam was no Jerry Falwell, he did have a picture of Ronald Reagan hanging in his office.

Sam had never done any drugs, including marijuana, and he hadn’t had a drink in 20 years. To him, California and Colorado constituted a joke with their acceptance and embrace of drugs and every other liberal program, which in his mind were only helping to lead the country down a dark and dangerous path. Sam wasn’t a prude by any stretch of the imagination. After all, he had done business with several legal but sketchy clients, including strip clubs and trash companies, and he loved both business and personal trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans.

Any kind of alcohol and drug abuse were just abominations to Sam, in part because of the heartache he had seen them cause through his experience with law enforcement agencies. He had turned down clients before, mostly due to location or because the work they were looking for didn’t fit into what Sam wanted to do for a living.

But this was a moral decision, prompted by the fact that he simply didn’t like their business. Sam had figured that this would eventually come up—an opportunity that challenged him ethically more than professionally, but it was surprising how long it had taken. Sam had always known that he wouldn’t do work for groups like Planned Parenthood or the KKK, but did this client present a level of moral incompatibility on a level equal to either of those? Sam was aware that the realities of modern legislation did not fit his old-fashioned stubbornness, but in spite of that, he felt surprisingly conflicted.

For the first time in his career, Sam decided to ask others what they thought of MedLeaf as a potential client. This was difficult for him, not only because he was an unabashed control freak. It was also because Sam had always made a conscious effort to separate business from personal affairs. The confidential nature of much of his work made this quite practical because if you don’t tell anyone about your work then you don’t have to worry about telling people something you shouldn’t, which is akin to explaining to your kids one reason they shouldn’t lie.

Anyone could see the identity of most of his public clients listed on his company website, and he proudly told his friends and close colleagues about any new, high-profile clients, but he never told anyone—including Amy—any details of what he did for a client or any conclusions from his work. Amy hated when Sam went off to see a client and didn’t tell her who or even exactly where—just what airport he was using. He couldn’t blame her, but it was for her protection as well as his, as the consequences of leaking certain information were just too great.

That type of compartmentalization kept Sam from ever asking anyone if they thought he should take on a client, but this was different somehow, and it caused a moral dilemma Sam hadn’t previously experienced. For that reason, he didn’t like it.

Up until that point, Sam’s life had been black and white. He believed in good versus evil, right versus wrong, and absolutes. Gray areas were rare and uncomfortable. As long as he wasn’t doing anything illegal and he didn’t know about any crimes committed by the client, everybody’s money was equally good, not that he didn’t get rid of clients sometimes for just being a pain in the butt. At the same time, he didn’t want to feel like he had to take a shower after accepting a fee. Sam begrudgingly decided to ask some of his most trusted colleagues what they thought. Maybe that would bring him more clarity; at least he hoped it would.

I don’t know why I’m asking you this, I mean, I’ve never questioned myself before about taking a job, but something just, I don’t know—

Sam rolled his eyes, listening to himself rehearse the conversation he though he needed to have with a few people close to him.

Do I really have to?

Amy was his first confidante. He had been married long enough to know that this was a smart thing to do, but he also had good reason. She was a fiery redhead, as beautiful as the day they met, and as strong-willed, too. Sam’s friends told him repeatedly that he had outkicked his coverage—an adage he couldn’t refute. Amy was smart as a whip, a writer by trade, focusing mainly on children’s books. Although he rarely asked her for any work advice, he trusted no one’s judgment more; she was an immensely helpful sounding board and adviser when he wrote his book and made speeches, not to mention what she brought to running their family together, especially considering Sam’s busy travel schedule. What he was asking of his wife this time was different, but as he began to explain his situation, he tried to tell himself otherwise.

I mean, it’s not like I’d be protecting an abortion clinic or doing something to support the KKK, Sam said.

Oh, right, said Amy. Bravo!

What? said Sam. What do you mean?

Hello? said Amy. Should I applaud you for turning down a bunch of white supremacists who are too scared to show their faces?

Sam shrugged, realizing how he had just sounded.

And Planned Parenthood is not just an abortion clinic, Amy said.

Yes, but they—

I know what they do, Amy said. And I’m not in favor of abortion, either, but they help a lot of women, and in doing so, they help thousands of families, too.

Okay, okay, Sam said. Now you know my dilemma. What do you think I should do?

Amy’s answer made him blink in disbelief.

Don’t you remember when I was sick a while back? she said. I was in the hospital, retching for weeks, and no medication was helping, at least until they figured it out. I had severe nausea most of the time for two months. If medical marijuana had been available, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I don’t see what the problem is.

Really? Sam asked, shocked by how easy this answer came for Amy. She had never taken any drugs either, and drank only socially, so her admission was totally unexpected.

Yes, she said. Really. When you feel bad enough, sick enough, all you want is to feel better, and I would have done anything to have that.

When Amy had been sick a few years earlier, a tumor was successfully destroyed with radiation, bringing debilitating side effects. She was tough and it was always hard for Sam to judge how badly she was hurting; he had known it was bad, but now he had to wonder if he really knew the extent of it.

The conversation was shorter than he expected. While Amy offered her obligatory It’s up to you, it was clear that she didn’t have the same moral dilemma as Sam, who was appreciative but still quite surprised.

Erin Discenza was one of Sam’s oldest, closest friends, ever since they met at a party when Sam was 20 and Erin was several years older. Her brother was also entering the alarm business and he and Sam helped each other out quite often. Sam and Erin became friends from the start, but they never dated. They were the poster children for proving that men and women could just be friends.

Outside of Amy, Erin probably knew Sam the best and was always brutally honest with him. She was a fundamentalist Christian, much more church-going than Sam, but not with the stereotypical one-track mind that many may have assumed. To Sam, that made her opinion valuable. When he first told her his problem, she gave him a look she had given him before, one that read I’m disappointed in you in a way that only a close friend or loved one can dispense.

Sam figured he knew what was coming this time, too. But after Sam explained his issues, Erin didn’t answer right away, opting to think about it first for a couple of minutes.

I’m certainly against making marijuana legal for any reason, she finally said, and I would have lobbied against it if I had known about it, which I didn’t. It’s the beginning of a slippery slope for sure.

So far Sam agreed with her.

But it’s legal now, she said, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it, and it needs to be secured. I trust you more than anyone else to do that. I don’t like that someone has to do it, but if someone does, it should be you.

Sam hadn’t considered that angle before. Perhaps he had a stronger obligation to secure a medical marijuana facility because he didn’t agree with its existence in the first place. It seemed like circular logic, but in a weird way it made perfect sense.

Sam didn’t figure to be surprised seeking his third source of solicited advice and he wasn’t disappointed. Manny Espinoza and Sam had worked together on dozens of consulting projects and had become good friends, in spite of their vastly different political views. Manny, who lived with his family in San Antonio, specialized in writing security policies and security officer directives and was one of the foremost authorities on assessing and analyzing security threats quantitatively in addition to qualitatively. Sam and Manny had spent many a late night on the phone debating security threats for specific clients. However ridiculous and mundane this may have been for most people in the business, for Sam and Manny these talks were an intellectually exciting exercise that made them both better consultants and provided the client with a better overall solution.

Sam knew that Manny would help him on this project if he decided to do it, but he wanted to know how he felt about it right away. Manny laughed, reminding Sam of some of his previous clients who weren’t doing anything illegal but weren’t exactly going to be nominated for a Business of the Year award.

Manny thought marijuana should be legal—period—an opinion Sam suspected all along.

After all, Manny said, we’re talking about marijuana, not cocaine. The biggest side effect you could have is getting the munchies.

Sam disagreed with that assessment, even though he had no personal experience to base it on. It seemed that Manny did, but debating the issue would have been futile for both of them. They agreed to disagree. Regardless, Manny thought the medical marijuana field would be growing exponentially in the coming years and that getting involved now would be a solid business decision. That assessment rang true for Sam, too, but he still wasn’t convinced.

Is this an industry I want my business and me to be associated with long-term?

Sam considered asking J what he thought of the whole thing, but didn’t see the point. He had hoped that he would be advised by now not to take on the project, making his decision an easy one, but that clearly was not the case. One more voice wasn’t going to make a difference.

However, Sam did make some discreet inquiries with his federal government clients to make sure those relationships wouldn’t be in jeopardy if he decided to do the work. After all, even though the production of medical marijuana was now legal in New Jersey—and in a growing number of other states—it was still a federal crime. Sam’s colleagues assured him that because the issue was such a political and social hot button, there would be no problem.

Still, should I take that chance?

The time came to give John

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