Story by Kyle Kushman

On October 3, 2003, my oldest friend John "Waldo" Cliver passed away in his sleep. He was 39 years old.

Waldo's life and untimely death presents the best argument I can imagine for why cannabis laws must be changed immediately, before this tyranny against the freedom to heal yourself harms or kills one more person.

John was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect that gave him a cleft and partially exposed spinal cord. There was severe neurological damage associated with John’s case, but it spared his mind 100 percent. Suffering from serious internal disorders in addition to the more obvious affliction to his legs and back, he fought every day of his life to be accepted, happy, comfortable, and secure. Sounds like most of us, however the painful and debilitating effects of spina bifida meant the best of times to John would hardly seem bearable to many of us. His digestive tract rarely worked; whenever he ate he had to take pills. Every week, John had a nursing service shuttle him to and from various doctors and specialists. Cannabis was the only drug that gave relief from physical and mental anguish any time he needed it without serious side effects.

I met John at a friend's house in 1985 while doing lines and playing poker until dawn. I knew a lifelong friendship had begun in 1987 when he and Lisa, his only love, took me into their home. I’d been fired from my job and evicted from where I lived. For a year their dining room became my bedroom. The extra bedroom upstairs became our classroom, where John and I earned our first degrees in cannabis cultivation together. Growing cannabis immediately removed us from the hard drug scene. Although we had traded one illegal substance for another, it was the beginning of a major life change for both of us. We found new friends, played by new rules, and discovered a new perspective on life.

Despite his illness, John owned and ran a number of businesses in his life. One day, he asked me if I knew how to make pizza. When I answered "yes," he and his best friend Gary partnered up to start Pancelli’s Pizza and Panzarotti, with me as manager and chef. We cooked together during the day, and grew marijuana at night. Then a motorcycle accident laid me up for 14 months and sent me in a different direction.

Years went by, and we kept in touch by phone. John was excited about my initial contact with High Times. He was proud as a papa when I came on staff. Before long, I pitched an article about him. The July 2000 issue (with Tommy Chong on the cover) contains the story "Where’s Waldo?" With a photograph of John cloaked in black velvet, taken in that same room he and I started growing together in 1987, the legend of Waldo was born.

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