The gravesite closest to President John Kennedy in Arlington belongs to a courageous, but assassinated congressman from Long Island, Allard Lowenstein, who fought many years to bring an end to the Vietnam War. His tombstone reads: “If a man stands his ground and there abides, the whole world will come round to him.” As the four decade long war against cannabis consumers comes to a crashing halt in America, I think of those words today.
I think too of the 1960’s folk singer, Phil Ochs, who once penned a remarkable song, “The War is Over.” The drug war now is. We have won. Nothing can stop us now.
We have climbed every mountain, challenged every foe, met every test, and we have proved to America that marijuana is medicinal, cannabis is recreational, and responsible adults ought to be able to consume it under the law, not outside it. The days of jail and bail need to go the way of Jim Crow laws. Let’s find a scale instead.
The public has spoken. Whether it is CNN holding a nationwide poll, or regional balloting in rural and urban communities, the marijuana majority is finally, after all these years, being heard. The popular numbers for allowing citizens to access cannabis are over 80%. Politicians have seen the polls, and their failure to listen to you will now take a toll on them.
Still, there is a lot of work for NORML to do, and many ways for you to continue to help us. Complacency leads to a bad place. We can’t just kick back on the carpet and roll joints just yet. Let me outline ten steps you can employ to carry the momentum forward. We still have to move the needle, control the debate, and gain supporters.
First of all, let’s not forget while the tide has turned in 22 states, our America has 50. Don’t be fooled by the long lines in Colorado as long as we are still jailing people with long sentences in Cheyenne. Organize locally and let your chapter’s voice be heard loud and clear in every state capitol. Whether you focus the debate on harm reduction, medical use, or decriminalization, get the discussions going where you live.
Second, in those states where progressive legislatures are taking the first steps to alter their cannabis laws, participate actively in the process. Insure that the regulations are reasonable, that taxes are not prohibitive, and that the consumers are protected. Insist that the instruments of decriminalization do not become tools for over-regulation. Make sure the product is pure. NORML has always been the voice of the cannabis consumer. Now we need our individual members to become the voice of NORML.
We need to guarantee that the cannabis delivered to the marketplace is pure and clean, free of herbicides or criminal cartels that would corrupt these new initiatives. You need to insure that the rules for your dispensaries are fair, and that your friends are following the rules. If we allow the process to become fractured, our own goals will be shattered.
Third, remember this drug war has taken a toll on innocent people. Your friends have been jailed, denied scholarships, turned away from jobs, and altogether demonized with criminal records for marijuana arrests. Don’t just work to free the leaf today. Work to rectify and right all the wrongs of yesterday. We are in the process of undoing the social stigma of being a cannabis consumer. Let’s see if we can also undo some of the many legal injustices already inflicted.
Fourth, don’t use this time of change to criticize the voices who for so long opposed us. Respect their willingness to alter their own course. We don’t need to demean those who fought us. We need to now have them on our side and to fight with us.
A few days ago the former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, told me that he had been wrong in the past about the medical uses of marijuana. As he runs again on the Democratic ticket, he has endorsed a statewide constitutional amendment to provide medical marijuana for Floridians. We need new friends. Let’s welcome them today so we are better situated tomorrow.
I was in a local retail store the other day, and ran into a 65 year old salesman with Bell’s palsy.
“You know,” he said to me, “I have been smoking for years and it has helped me so much, so much more so than all the prescriptions the doctors have given me. But I couldn’t tell anyone.”
I understand, of course, and so must we all. We have to respect that so many of our friends had and still have reason to fear. There are jobs and lives and freedoms still at risk.
Still, the fifth thing I would ask of you is to learn what the LGBT community has learned in fighting for its rights. Come out of the closet. Speak up and be heard. Today, become one of the millions who, like Howard Beale in the great 1976 movie Network, called upon America to tell the government to leave us the hell alone in our living rooms; that you are a human being and your life has value.
Beale railed that we should all get up, go to our windows, and shout out loud, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore.” It’s time for us to do so; time to speak the truth from the beaches of South Florida to the ports in Seattle to the sediment that is Washington, D.C.
Sixth, so how do you do that? Send NORML a couple of bucks and join our member’s base. Go to Café Press and buy one of our gold buttons or t shirts or hats. Wear it proudly. Walk down the street with it and watch how a friend says, “Right On.” You deserve to celebrate. You are on the right side of history. You always have been.
Seventh, you don’t need a gun to stand your ground and be proud. You see, you have never really been the criminal. It’s the laws that locked you up, took away your freedom, and jailed your friends that have always been criminal. It’s the justice system that was more unjust than just.
Look, NORML is not asking for everyone to be allowed to smoke pot in an elementary schoolyard, and we never have been. And we are not asking you to drive high and be stoned all day either. We never have. We are asking that you be able to drive your own decisions freely, without the fear of arrest and prosecution. Tell your congressman if he can get probation for snorting cocaine you ought to get a reward for just smoking a joint.
Eighth, get educated. Be in front of the debate. Surf our website. Learn about hemp and cannabis and decriminalization or legalization. Be able to speak intelligently and argue cogently for your cause. Hell, yes, there is a big difference between shooting heroin, smoking meth, and using a vaporizer to inhale high quality THC cannabis. Marijuana eases stress, reduces muscular spasticity, retards glaucoma, and treats the side effects of chemo.
Yes, responsible adults can distinguish between products that are good for you and stuff that is real bad. It’s a simple debate to win. We make similar choices everyday when we buckle our safety belts and look both ways before we cross a street.
Ninth, your local newspaper editorial boards are speaking out as well. Dozens of major newspapers have now endorsed marijuana decriminalization. All are doing op-ed pieces pro and con. Do not let antagonistic and regressive articles go unchallenged. Write back and be heard, in print, on the net, and in public. Speak out.
Tenth, well this last bud’s for you. Tell me what you think. Neither NORML nor myself has all the answers. This is a column on the NORML blog with room for comments below. Our national office does large things with small numbers. We still need your advice and input; your concern and commitment. So here is your chance.
Talk to me and the rest of the staff. Fill the space below with your wisdom and words; the direction you want NORML to go. We have been working together for decades, but there are still roads to ride, joints to roll, and paths we can take together.
You tell me, what’s next?
A national symposium in Washington, D.C.?
A nationwide write-in to the Obama Administration, telling them finally and firmly to back off from using federal agents to enforce marijuana prohibition laws? It’s time they did so, don’t you think?
Let me know.
If you want to reach me personally, you can on twitter, @normkent.
Whether you are baking in Colorado, shoveling snow in New York, or sunbathing in Florida, have a great New Year.
Onward and upward always. We will get there together.
-Norm Kent, Chairman, NORML Board of Directors