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BY PAUL DERIENZO | Kenny Toglia is on a mission to legalize medical marijuana in New York State and save marijuana users from the devastating affects of what Toglia calls “one of the few things not good about marijuana.”
The blue-eyed, 46-year-old with a ponytail and soul patch claims the threat doesn’t come directly from the intoxicating THC or even the smoke from a joint. The problem with New York City street pot, says Toglia, comes from a cancer-causing fungus with the tongue-twisting name Aspergillus fumigatus, found commonly in soil and rotting vegetable matter and alarmingly in pot that’s been stored a long time before smoking.
To combat the threat, which Toglia claims affects one-third of relatively low-cost city pot, he has formed a nonprofit with the major purpose of educating marijuana smokers, especially those with compromised immune systems. Each Thursday at 6 p.m. Toglia and his crew will inspect your pot for the dangerous fungus for no cost at 130 E. Seventh St., at Avenue A. The location is known as the Muhammad Salahuddeen Memorial Jazz Theatre, named after a late East Village legend who combined squatting, jazz and community service in his University of the Streets near Tompkins Square Park.
According to Toglia, the Medical Marijuana Association of New York will act in the spirit of Salahuddeen, both organizing to combine a sense of community with a sense of larger political purpose.
On a recent warm afternoon a green-and-brown marijuana bud was presented to Toglia for inspection. He subjects the cannabis sample to what he calls a “three-way scientific test.”
The first way, according to Toglia, is to smell the marijuana, looking for “a wholesome marijuana-like odor with nothing bitter or vinegary” — sure signs that the pot is going bad.
Then Toglia pulls out a small backlight purchased from a Halloween supply store for $10. He says the light will “reveal thefungus as small white spots,” adding that, “you don’t want to see white spots.”
Finally, Toglia uses a 40X microscope he bought from Radio Shack for $20. With this instrument he searches the pot sample for telltale gray hairs associated with Aspergillus.
Toglia insists he’s not setting up another marijuana club like the one in 1999 — in the same location — that had 600 members and was raided by police. Toglia was arrested that time despite what he says was an “agreement” with then Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
Two pounds of cannabis were confiscated, according to Toglia, as well as several dozen oatmeal and cannabis-oil cookies for patients with lung problems. The cookies, he added, disappeared in police custody prompting him to file an official complaint. The cookies never turned up and charges against Toglia were dropped.
Toglia said his primary goal is a patient-membership drive, providing medical marijuana-eligible patients with special ID cards and lobbying for passage of a medical marijuana law in New York State.
He does say that legitimate pot patients, those suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and depression, will be referred to a “self-help line where patients can get help to find their medicine.”
Asked if he fears intervention by the police, Toglia a former social worker with Catholic Charities, said the cops “will understand we are performing an important public health service.”
According to Toglia “pot is the new gay,” because he added, “If you’re gay and someone calls you a homophobic name, the police will arrest them for a hate crime. But if you get beat up for pot it will probably be by a cop.”
Whether or not Toglia’s words are rhetoric or a prophesy remains to be seen.
DeRienzo produces “Let Them Talk,” every Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Manhattan Neighborhood Network