Day Two of the NORML National Conference in Los Angeles began with what I’m told was a fiery speech by Dominic Holden, the Seattle-based writer for The Stranger, former NORML Board Member, and this year’s winner of the Hunter S. Thompson Award. “I’m so bummed you missed it,” said NORML’s Paul Armentano, “because it had ‘you’ all over it. It was right up your alley.”
I, unfortunately, had become violently ill the night before. I know, you’re thinking “too much party”, but folks who know me know that’s actually a rare occurrence in my life (I met my party-hearty quota somewhere back in 1994). I’m not sure what to blame – food cart food, the salmon at the NORML Awards buffet, a single glass of white wine, or Dan from Top Shelf Extracts* – but as soon as I got into a car and was in motion, I was ready to visit Ralph and Earl in a Buick to laugh at their shoes with a technicolor yawn and pray to the porcelain gods**. So I missed the highlight of the day, having slept in.
Apparently, Dominic set up the frame of civil rights as an incremental game – we went from slavery to Jim Crow to Civil Rights to Obama, for instance. After setting the table, he then lit into Washington’s I-502 legalization initiative and excoriated the opposition to it, by name, which included Jeffrey Steinborn, the NORML Board Member who has been an outspoken opponent of I-502. It sounds truly worthy of a Hunter S. Thompson Award winner and I will be getting the video from DFW NORML’s Shaun McAlister for reposting soon.
I arrived in time to catch the panel on the legalization initiatives for 2012. Rick Steves represented Washington’s I-502 and defended its provisions that some marijuana activists find too timid (no home grow) or actually repressive against cannabis consumer’s rights (per se DUID) by pointing to the massive financial support, high profile law enforcement and elected officials’ support, and the polling after Prop 19 that pointed to the need for I-502′s provisions. “I was told my European perspective on drugs didn’t poll well,” said Steves.
Brian Vicente represented Colorado’s Amendment 64. He posited an interesting analysis that the results from Washington and Colorado will augur well for initiatives in the future. “If Washington were to pass and Colorado doesn’t, that shows us that maybe not addressing DUID was a mistake.” Similarly, if both passed by comfortable margins, he explained, future initiatives needn’t be so restrictive.
As I listened to the panel it was a little odd, because while there are three states with legalization initiatives on the ballot, 3 of 4 panelists spoke as if there were only two. There were a few “boths” and “if this or that” language that revealed an underlying lack of respect for the Oregon effort. Roy Kaufman represented Measure 80 very well and explained how “Oregon is basically split forty-forty with twenty percent undecided.”
Ethan Nadelmann from Drug Policy Alliance explained how the big money donors have been very active in Washington and Colorado. He also took time to praise Richard Lee, the Prop 19 funder and Oaksterdam founder who sunk $1.5 million of his own into the failed attempt to legalize marijuana in California in 2010. “Prop 19 changed the landscape not so much in California – the polls haven’t really moved on legalization here – but throughout the country and the world by starting a dialogue.” Ethan even explained how he personally lobbied Richard not to go forward in an off-year election, but as polls started to show Prop 19 had a chance, he was able to bring in some big money donors at the last moment. And in a Q&A session, speaking as head of Drug Policy Action he said, “The choice between Obama and Romney on this issue is the choice between a disappointment and a disaster.”
The next panel was on Northeastern marijuana reform, so I let the video cameras record it for me while I made my way out to the convention floor. There I finally got to meet a woman who has been a guest on my show and A Different View, Daisy Bram. She is the Butte County woman who had her suckling infant and toddler ripped literally from her breasts by police in a raid on her family’s medical marijuana garden. Her children were taken away from her for months as she was accused of child endangerment for having marijuana metabolites in her breast milk. She has given birth just a little while ago to a third baby and continues to fight court battles to maintain her medical and parental rights.
For our luncheon keynote speech, both Keith Stroup and Rick Steves addressed the final days of prohibition. Keith once again expressed how excited he is that he will see one or two or maybe even three states legalize marijuana this year. Rick spoke of his experiences with the I-502 campaign and how he’ll be barnstorming the state to rally support in the next couple of weeks.
One very informative panel that followed was the one that looked at the Obama Administration’s “broken promises” with respect to medical marijuana. Don Duncan from Americans for Safe Access explained the “Camp Wake Up Obama” campaign where patient advocates have been protesting at Obama campaign headquarters. Moderator Paul Armentano of NORML asked if they were worried they might get what they don’t want: President Romney. Duncan then explained how California was going to go for Obama anyway, so any pressure from medical marijuana advocates was not going to change the outcome.
To end the day there were four breakout sessions. I attended the one from the NORML Legal Committee on How Not To Get Busted and Stay Out of Jail. One piece of advice offered by all the attorneys was that in dealing with police, one should shut the fuck up. The attorneys took questions from the attendees and explained some of their strangest cases. Bill Panzer, one of the Prop 215 co-authors, explained how a true collective can be nothing but a non-profit. “The medicine belongs to all of the members of the collective,” he explained, “and they collectively pay for any of the expenses in growing it. You can’t take money from your left pocket and put it in your right pocket and call it ‘profit’.”
That evening was free for socializing. I ended up hanging out at a table with Daisy Bram and her lawyer, Michael Levinson and his paralegal, Jennifer Reeder, Dan Rush from the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Erik Williams from Connecticut NORML and his wife, Stephanie Landa from the Landa Prison Outreach Project, and Cheryl Shuman from Rapid Fire Marketing and CannaCIG. The only downside was being out on that California Plaza patio, unable to light up a joint or a bowl that would have been so natural for all of us to enjoy. “Never fear,” says Cheryl as she whips out a CannaCIG, “you can use these anywhere you can use an e-cig.”
Soon word trickled down to us that there was a collective offering space for the NORML Conference attendees to get their smoke on. It was a little bit of a walk from the Omni, but once I got there, I found the Texas NORML folks, including Cheyanne Weldon from Austin, and Karli Duran from San Antonio, and Shaun McAlister from Dallas. I explained to them that while there are great NORML Chapters all over the country, as far as a state network of chapters that work together, Texas stands tall, followed closely by Missouri.
* Dan says to me last night, “I’ll always remember you because you were the guy [in Denver] who announced my Cannabis Cup win. Dude, you don’t know what that means; my business went from …” and then he explained how fiscally beneficial a Cannabis Cup win is for a maker of medical grade cannabis extracts.
** There. Five colloquialisms for regurgitation.