In his closing remarks at the 41st Annual NORML Conference, Executive Director Allen St. Pierre calls for a national march for marijuana legalization to take place in Washington DC on Saturday, April 20, 2013 on the National Mall.
The final day of the NORML Conference at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles began with a panel on the changing face of the medical cannabis community. Authors Martin Lee (“Smoke Signals”) and Clint Werner (“Marijuana: Gateway to Health”) appeared along with Dr. Frank Lucido MD and Dr. Amanda Reiman Ph.D. and Ann Solis from ReLeaf Center. NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano moderated the panel and asked the compelling question, “Was Dennis Peron right: is all marijuana use medical?” The panel agreed that no matter what someone’s intent may be in using cannabis, they are at least gaining a therapeutic benefit, if only in the reduction of lifetime risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. “We’re seeing the group of the Baby Boomers go into old age,” explained Dr. Lucido, “and the ones who got into cannabis in the Sixties and kept up with it to now don’t seem to have the same incidence of Alzheimer’s.”
The second panel featured NORML Women’s Alliance Coordinator Sabrina Fendrick leading a discussion with Alexis Wilson Briggs, Esq., NWA’s San Francisco Coordinator, Kelly Coulter, from Canada’s NORML Women’s Alliance, and attorney Danica Nobel, Esq. The women called on others to present ending marijuana prohibition as a necessity to protecting their families and took questions from the audience, including Ann Lee, who once again announced her formation of the new group RAMP, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.
The Women’s Alliance theme continued into the lunch break. NWA hosted a fundraiser luncheon that featured presentations from Kyndra Miller, Sabrina Fendrick, Diane Fornbacher, Cheyanne Weldon, and Cheri Sicard. Drug war victim Daisy Bram also spoke to the luncheon and thanked everyone in the activism community for their support (for more on her case, see http://freemybabies.org)
Activists who didn’t attend the NWA Luncheon found a place to gather outside the hotel to enjoy California. Karri and I ran into HIGH TIMES’ Rick Cusick and got to speak to him for quite a while. He told us of how he raised his daughter to avoid marijuana and actually went two-and-a-half years (from her age 12 to 14.5) in a deal he made with her. “I’ll not smoke marijuana if you don’t smoke marijuana,” he explained. Some of the other activists around with adult children agreed that they had been open about their marijuana use with their kids who then never seemed to be that interested in taking up the habit. “It just kills that ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect to it and makes it boring,” one told me.
As the conference resumed, we were treated to a preview of the new movie “America’s Longest War” and a discussion with the filmmaker from Reason Foundation, Paul Feine. The movie, while still in raw form, was incredibly moving. It includes the story of Corey Maye, a young man wasting away in prison for defending himself during a SWAT drug raid. It plays the disturbing video of the Columbia SWAT raid where the man’s dog is shot and killed. It delves into the drug was in Juarez, Mexico, and shows the brutal footage of televised executions and overpass corpse hangings that are regular occurrence south of our border. Perhaps the most moving footage involved the story of the Maas family, a woman and her daughters separated from their father for twenty years over his marijuana imprisonment.
The conference concluded with NORML’s Executive Director, Allen St. Pierre, delivering his concluding remarks. The speech was presented as a look at whether medical marijuana would lead to legalization or something St. Pierre calls “paraphernaliazation”. He set the frame of the paraphernalia industry being a complete lie from all sides – from the seller who knows his bongs will be used to smoke pot, but maintains “for tobacco use only” signs to maintain legality to the customer who knows not to say “bong” or else get kicked out of the establishment.
There was a context to the speech, however, that led to a palpable feeling that this speech was more a defense and repudiation of criticism of St. Pierre’s remarks about medical marijuana being a “fraud” and a “sham”. As St. Pierre recounted his 21 years working for NORML, one conventioneer asked me, “is he about to resign?” St. Pierre continued his frame of paraphernalia and showed how aspects of the medical marijuana industry fit the same sort of intellectual dishonesty used by bong sellers to maintain a veil of legality, only to suffer a backlash from the 1980′s parents movement that found it easy to go after the excesses of the head shop industry. He strongly asserted that NORML needs to stand as a representative of cannabis consumers, yet there are members on the board itself who represent cannabis producers and their opposition to legalization in Washington State. The speech reflected the frustration of a man clearly dedicated to marijuana legalization yet beset by critics of his approach to that legalization, even as legalization in the form of medical marijuana and now three ballot measures for recreational use put he and his organization closer to achieving its mission than ever before.
That strange feeling of the speech being a subtle farewell turned on a dime as St. Pierre explained a project for 2013 that has been suggested for NORML for as long as I’ve been associated with the organization: a coordinated national march on Washington DC for marijuana legalization. “I’d contend that you’re not really a civil rights movement,” St. Pierre explained, “until you’ve got the fist-pumping in the streets.” He then pointed out that the next April 20, the pot-holiday of 4/20, takes place in 2013 on a Saturday, and with six months to prepare, he’s already directed staff to secure the permits for a march on the National Mall on that weekend, to the raucous applause of the activists in attendance.
However, the cloud that seemed to hover Allen St. Pierre’s speech may still foreshadow an end to an era. As Karri and I made out way to the elevators, we found ourselves in the lobby waiting with some of the members of the NORML Board. The discussion was very agitated and the topic seemed to be the possible removal of St. Pierre as Executive Director in the wake of a series of setbacks for the organization. “This is something that has to be brought up to the entire board,” said one board member to the other as I made my way into a waiting elevator.
To close out the evening we made our way to the Orange County NORML fundraising party at The Hemp Museum, which unfortunately is closing its doors in a couple of days for lack of funds. Karri was asked to dance by a nice older gentleman. Shaun, Karli, Cheyanne, and the rest of the Texas delegation enjoyed the freedom of smoking marijuana in a relatively-public place. Cheryl Shuman spoke with Dan Rush from UFCW Local 770. Kandace Hawes and the OC NORML crew were flitting from place to place keeping the party hopping. Regina Nelson and I shared some smoke and some laughs. I hung out for a while with a guy who was from Washington DC, attending his first NORML Conference. Heather Morris from Montana told me about the poor forecast for Montana’s medical marijuana referendum.
I also spoke with NORML Board Members Dan Viets, Nick Liapis, Steve Dillon, Dale Gieringer, Paul Kuhn, and Norm Kent at the party, but in the spirit of celebration I didn’t bring up anything I’d overheard in the elevator lobby, Instead, it was very encouraging to hear from all of them and from many NORML Legal Committee members and longtime activists that they were very glad to see Karri and I continuing our mission to be the voice of the marijuana activism community.