Reverend Scott Tracy Imler, medical marijuana hero and Methodist minister, has unexpectedly died at the age of 60. He passed peacefully in his sleep on August 9, 2018.
I met Scott in the 1990s in Santa Cruz, California where he was successfully orchestrating the passage of Prop A, a local ballot initiative authorizing the medical use of cannabis. Scott would go on to become a co-author of Prop 215, the 1996 history-making ballot initiative that launched the era of state-authorized medical cannabis programs. After passage of Prop 215, Scott would establish the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center which was raided by federal DEA agents in October 2001. Scott would battle charges for the next several years. He was eventually convicted but did not serve any time in jail.
What I will most remember about Scott was his untiring work for Bob and I during the October 1992 display of the AIDS Quilt on the Washington Mall. It would be an unprecedented event with the entire Quilt on display, stretching from one end of the Mall to the other. At that time Bob and I were focused on the Marijuana AIDS Research Service (MARS), an offshoot of our group, the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT). MARS had one purpose: to get AIDS patients legal access to cannabis. We had streamlined the paperwork that would allow AIDS patients to request legal access to federal marijuana. The project was incredibly successful with thousands of AIDS patients completing the paperwork and submitting it to the FDA. The federal government’s response was to shut down the only means of legal access to cannabis. The public’s outrage caught the feds completely by surprise. They expected an uproar from AIDS groups but the outrage spread across the general public as well. It was these events that set the stage for passage of Prop 215 four years later.
But in the Fall of 1992 we were still endeavoring to get federal officials to change their minds and re-open the compassionate access program. When we learned about the Quilt display we quickly arranged for an exhibit booth. We realized we would need lots of help to coordinate our efforts. Tens of thousands of people were expected to visit the Mall and view the Quilt and visit the exhibits. We asked Scott, who was living in Santa Cruz, to come to Washington for several months and help us get everything coordinated. He readily agreed and his help was invaluable.
We arranged for several AIDS patients to travel to Washington and to help us at the exhibit booth. These were our “men from MARS.” They included Kenny Jenks, a recently widowed hemophiliac who contracted AIDS from tainted blood and unwittingly passed it on to his wife Barbra. They became national heroes when they successfully fought marijuana cultivation charges and then secured legal access to federal marijuana. Jim Barnes was a quiet soul from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His application for federal marijuana was approved but he never received legal supplies. Ezekiel Ramshur was from Monroe, Louisiana, was also approved to receive cannabis but had not gotten supplies. Soft spoken with the trendy single braid at the nape of his neck, Ezeikiel arrived with his partner Robert who had just been crowned Miss Monroe. “The city, not the star,” he exuberantly exclaimed.
Scott was the like a platoon commander, organizing the men and quickly determining who was capable of what. The opening day of the display was cold and wet but our Men from MARS carried on. The next day dawned with crisp autumn air and the sunlight was dazzling in that way that only autumn sunlight can be.
Our exhibit table was swamped with people. That night we participated in the Candlelight March, up the Mall and past the White House, ending at the Reflection Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. President George H.W. Bush had talked about “a thousand points of light” and here was tens of thousands of points. But Bush senior had turned his back on AIDS patients and they wouldn’t forget. A few weeks later he was defeated by Bill Clinton.
Scott is in nearly every photo from that day. He was tireless. And his calm demeanor helped keep everyone focused. It was an event that none of us would ever forget.
Looking at that photo from the Candlelight March I realize that everyone but me is gone. I think of the line from James Taylor’s song, Fire and Rain, “I always thought I would see you again.” I certainly thought I would see Scott again.
The true cannabis pioneers — the ones who carved the way through the wilderness of the federal prohibition and set the stage for the reform that has come in this Century, are dropping away. Scott Imler was part of that pantheon and he will be missed. ✦