Richard Eastman, a Hollywood resident who has lived with AIDS for 25 years and a frequent speaker on cannabis issues at West Hollywood City Council meetings, was honored by the Los Angeles City Council Friday for his longtime advocacy of cannabis-related medical treatments.
According the resolution commending him, Eastman was down to a handful of T-cells in 1994 when he was diagnosed with the virus, but a year later, he was able to get out of bed and walked out of the hospital, during a time when AIDS diagnoses were almost always a death sentence. He’s now 66 years old.
“Over the past 25 years, it has been awe-inspiring to watch his civil leadership and advocacy surrounding medical marijuana,” according to the resolution, which was introduced by City Councilman Paul Koretz. “His hard work and dedication has improved the lives of countless members of the community who rely on medical marijuana for a better quality of life.”
Eastman was treated by the late Dr. Charles Farthing, who successfully co-developed the first protease inhibitors, anti-viral medications, that have saved the lives of millions of AIDS patients — some of which involved the use of cannabis infusion.
Dressed to the nines in cannabis-themed trinkets — a hemp leaf medallion dangling from his neck with a colorful shirt and black vest as a backdrop — Eastman announced that he would throw his steampunk top hat into the ring of U.S. presidential candidates.
He said he would be the first openly gay man diagnosed with AIDS to run for president, and he said his doctor has cleared him to campaign.
“I’m fighting the same war that I was fighting against Richard Nixon,” Eastman told City News Service. “My pills cost $5,000 a month. The federal government knows that marijuana is antiretroviral. This should be paid for by the federal government for little children living with epilepsy and cancer. What I’m running for is total freedom.”
Eastman said he wants to advocate for more services for the homeless population, provide better access to medical care and — though possibly not a campaign promise — to paint the White House green. He did not address questions as to how he would procure congressional funding or approval for such a project.
“I can’t guarantee that everything’s going to be free, but I want to increase food stamps for food people and make sure senior citizens get a rent cap,” he said.
Eastman’s political career includes an unsuccessful run for Los Angeles City Council. He was part of the failed secession campaign to make Hollywood its own city, like West Hollywood, and he served on the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV for four years.
He said he wanted to run for president as a write-in candidate, which he calls a “right on” candidate. Eastman said he hasn’t decided on a political party affiliation, although he’s been a lifelong Democrat. He said he has yet to file candidacy papers for his run.
Originally from San Francisco, Eastman moved to Los Angeles in 1976 and quickly became involved in local issues, such as trying to restore the Hollywood Sign. His political education began as a child when his grandmother worked in some unspecified capacity for President John F. Kennedy.
“Ultimately, she told me to go to Hollywood to change the government because the government is Hollywood,” Eastman said.
Ever the Hollywood man, Eastman said he would tap a personality like Snoop Dogg or Tommy Chong as a running mate.
The group of people who joined Eastman celebrated the City Council resolution with an appropriate cheer: “Hemp, Hemp, Hooray.”
Eastman had helped organize the first San Francisco march to keep medicinal marijuana clubs open and was the only AIDS patient invited to California Attorney General Lockyear’s task force meetings on medicinal marijuana in 1999. Eastman worked with the late Scott Imler to craft Prop. 215, which was approved by voters in 1996, making California the first state to legalize medicinal cannabis. He also worked with Imler to open the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center in West Hollywood. The club offered services to more than 900 patients with issues like cancer and AIDS. It was closed in 2001 in a raid by the Bush Administration’s Drug Enforcement Administration.