Opening Remarks At NORML 2008: NORML Board Chair, Stephen Dillon, Esq.
“It’s Not Your Parents’ Prohibition”
Stephen W. Dillon’s Welcome Address
To The 37th Annual NORML Conference
October 17-18, 2008
I. Welcome/Introduction (Cannabem liberemus!)
Good morning! I am Steve Dillon, chairman of the NORML Board of Directors. I want to welcome all of you to our 37th Annual Conference in beautiful Berkeley, California. We are very glad you are here – California is still the ground zero in the government’s war on medical marijuana.
I am honored and excited to be with you and our outstanding group of speakers and panelists. We have a great conference planned. There are lots of opportunities to learn, share, experience with each other, and recommit to ending the government’s prohibition of marijuana.
II. The theme of the conference this year is: “It’s Not Your Parents’ Prohibition“.
My parents were born during the government’s failed effort at alcohol prohibition (1919-1934). They learned about home-made beer and wine and even about secret stills for liquor in their basements. They shared with me some of the alcohol paraphernalia of my grandfather, Dr. John Dillon. He had a silver folding whiskey glass and a leather cigar case with fake glass cigars or containers for booze. My parents weren’t old enough to drink alcohol during the prohibition, but my grandparents did regularly. My parents didn’t think that their parents were criminals, only Al Capone and the gangsters who committed violent acts to support their illegal business enterprises.
There was an attitude of our citizens at that time that the government couldn’t really tell us that we couldn’t drink, we were Americans! It was fun to go to the speak-easy. It was a “forbidden fruit” that lead some people to drink alcohol just because we weren’t suppose to. However, people didn’t often get arrested for drinking a beer or having a glass of wine. People didn’t have their homes searched or seized or forfeited for home brew or wine. This marijuana prohibition is much worse than our parents’ prohibition. (1) unconstitutional/illegal, (2) more costly, (3) much longer/never-ending, (4) loss of freedom and property, (5) loss of opportunity, (6) loss of medicine and compassionate care of sick, (7) dishonest, (8) drug-testing.
What were the results of the American alcohol prohibition? It is undisputed that the prohibition was a complete failure. It certainly didn’t work to prohibit alcohol consumption by millions of Americans, from the very rich to the very poor. The prohibition resulted in an increase in organized crime and brutal violence. It resulted in corruption of our courts, police, and politicians. It misdirected our tax resources – it wasted millions of dollars that could have been spent to improve the lives of Americans.
The prohibition resulted in a growing disrespect for government and law enforcement. It led to countless deaths, not only from the gang violence in the streets trying to control the illegal market, but also from the deaths from tainted home-made liquor – “bathtub gin”. The prohibition made millions of American citizens “criminals” overnight, even though the vast majority had no intent to harm anyone, not even themselves. They had lost the right to choose.
Federal law enforcement officials like the FBI’s Hoover, used the prohibition as a reason to greatly increase the funding and power of their agencies; and they have never relinquished that power.
The alcohol prohibition was doomed because it was standing directly in the way of the citizens’ right to choose to use alcohol – even if it wasn’t good for them. There is a fundamental belief in America that we the people have the right to make decisions about how we live our life. That we are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – however we define it, as long as we don’t hurt others or interfere with their rights. The government’s marijuana prohibition was also doomed to fail for the same reasons.
III. The government’s 71 year prohibition of marijuana has also failed and is also counter-productive.
When the marijuana prohibition started in 1937, the government was trying to keep in place the federal law enforcement bureaucracy from the alcohol prohibition which ended just a few years before. The government picked marijuana to prohibit for a variety of reasons such as: (1) mostly blacks and Mexicans used marijuana (maybe 5000 users at the time). – racist, (2) most Americans were unaware of the benefits of marijuana, even though it was used in many patent medicines and treatments, (3) powerful lobbyists and their politicians protected the pharmaceutical industry, the paper industry, the oil industries from the competition for consumer dollars. The prohibition is still in place for all these reasons, mainly greed and control.
The marijuana prohibition has also resulted in an increase in organized, violent crime and gang warfare on our streets. It has resulted in corruption of police, politicians, and courts. It has wasted billions of our tax dollars each year; money that could be spent on education, or roads, or Social Security, or on protecting us from real crime or real terrorists. The marijuana prohibition has led to a strong disrespect for government, in general; and for school, police, and law enforcement officials, in particular.
One of the worst consequences of the marijuana prohibition is the loss of the truth about marijuana and its benefits. The government lies about marijuana. Drug Czar Walters regularly states that people aren’t getting arrested for marijuana possession. This is despite the fact that the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2007 recently stated that 872,721 citizens were arrested last year. One arrest each 37 seconds! (90% for possession only) Last week on October 10, 2008 the 20th million arrest for marijuana in this country happened. Samuel Caldwell was the first federal marijuana prisoner. He was sentenced in October 1937 to Ft. Leavenworth for four (4) years for two (2) joints. He died in prison of stomach cancer. There are now at least 33, 655 state marijuana prisoners and 10,785 federal marijuana prisoners. One out of eight (1/8) inmates are there for a marijuana offense. The marijuana arrests last year were a record, up 5% since the year before. Marijuana arrests accounted for almost ½ (47.5%) of all drug arrests in the country. Our America, sweet land of liberty has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.
Americans will smoke pot if they want to, just like past Americans drank alcohol if they wanted to. About ½ of the adult population has tried marijuana. Over twenty (20) million regularly use it. Twelve (12) states have medical marijuana laws and dozens of cities and towns have decriminalized marijuana possession or have made it the lowest priority of law enforcement. More states are passing and considering eliminating the ban on hemp and hemp products, also.
The American public knows that marijuana isn’t’ harmful to them like alcohol or nicotine, which are legal, regulated, and taxed. The government itself has recognized and reported the truth in the past about marijuana and its effects; such as the Shafer Commission in 1972 and DEA Administrative Judge Francis Young’s decision in 1988. Many medical studies and reports from all over the world, for thousands of years, have told us about the relative safety and medical benefits of marijuana.
The American public has responded to numerous polls indicating that marijuana prohibition should end. The Zogby poll (3/22/07) found that over half of all Americans support decriminalization. The Time/CNN poll (2002) found that 72% of Americans wanted decriminalization for possession and 75% favored allowing states to provide for medical marijuana. We have come to the point where it is totally illogical and counterproductive to prohibit marijuana. About 80% of the voters in the medical marijuana states voted for change.
IV. We know prohibitions don’t work. 10 year effort/strategy (1998-2008) UN report on drug eradication concluded recently that despite the 10 year plan-drugs are cheaper, better, and more available.
This continuing, disastrous violation of our fundamental rights is destroying our land and darkening our spirits. A quote regularly attributed to President Abraham Lincoln is …..”That prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes….a prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
Our first marijuana law in 1619 was in Virginia. It mandated that each farmer must grow it. Our Founding Fathers grew it and used it. Presidents George Washington and Jefferson wrote about it. President Jefferson said “that the freedom and happiness of man are the sole objects of all legitimate government.” He also reminds us that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” They risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend their liberty. What will we do?
Our government must be forced to change direction and end this disastrous marijuana prohibition! We need to elect new leaders and restore our freedom to choose for ourselves. Just like the alcohol prohibition, we must recognize that the prohibition has failed and restore our liberty and freedom – end the costly damage to us, and our constitutional rights.
It is important to remember that the government needed to pass the 18th Amendment to try to regulate alcohol. There is no constitutional amendment giving the federal government the power to prohibit marijuana. The states have the right to continue to make laws regarding cannabis as long as they don’t violate our fundamental liberties contained in the bill of rights.
It is time for a change! It is time to take action to end prohibition. We are the people! We are the majority. We have the truth on our side, and we have the courage to stand up for our rights. What are we waiting for? If we wait for someone else to fight for our freedom, we will lose it.
As Simon Weisenthal, a Holocaust survivor said “Freedom is not a gift from god. If you want freedom, you must work for it every day.”
I look forward to working with you all in this battle. We are winning! And we will win! We will look back sometime soon, and be glad we spoke truth to power and to re-legalize marijuana. Thank you for attending and participating in our conference. I know you will enjoy this opportunity to rekindle the flames of liberty and justice in each of us and in our country
And let us go forth from this place, committed anew to the cause of liberty for all people, the next year we may celebrate in a world made better by our efforts.. November 10, 2008