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ACTIVISM

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 16, 2014

    Guest Post by Jason Miller, Houston NORML

    From left to right: Dr. Teryn Driver, Zoe Russell, Jason Miller Photo credit: Nick Zalud

    From left to right: Dr. Teryn Driver, Zoe Russell, Jason Miller
    Photo credit: Nicholas Zalud

    The 2014 Texas GOP Convention wrapped up Saturday, June 7th, after a long week of debate and testimony concerning medical marijuana. Supporters of marijuana reform, including several members of RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition) along with other medical marijuana advocates, including parents, veterans, and medical doctors, gave testimony in favor of an amendment to the platform in support of allowing Texans access to medical cannabis.

    It seemed like a short-lived victory when the Temporary Platform Committee passed the amendment after listening to emotional testimony from those whose loved ones could benefit or have benefited from medical cannabis. The Chairman of the committee broke the tie and the amendment passed by a 15-14 vote. In addition, a plank supporting Hemp Cultivation passed the committee and made it into the final platform.

    The following day, the Permanent Platform Committee met and voted on the medical marijuana amendment. This was the day I arrived at the convention after driving up to Fort Worth from Houston. My second time attending the Texas GOP Convention as a delegate, I was excited to hear about what was happening in the committees and was eager to help.

    Rewind to August 2013 when I first met Ann Lee. After being involved with NORML for the past 4 years as a corporate sponsor to the legal seminars in Aspen and Key West, I had heard of Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, but I didn’t know the full extent of his story until hearing it from his mother. Ann Lee was visiting a group in Houston that several of my friends help organize called Liberty on the Rocks. Along with a representative from Houston NORML, originally co-founded by Richard Lee, Ann Lee spoke to us and her words resonated.

    She told us about growing up in Louisiana during segregation (Ann Lee is in her mid-eighties, she’s even older than marijuana prohibition itself), and she spoke of how unfairly people were treated and how unfairly minorities are treated today due to the enforcement of marijuana prohibition. She told us about her 5 sons, including educator and entrepreneur Richard Lee, who was injured in a workplace accident, leaving him in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. She told us about being a Republican activist since the 1970s and how she co-founded the group “Women for Reagan” in 1983, the year I was born. She told us about her husband, Bob Lee, and how they had initially reacted when Richard told them he uses medical marijuana to help with his muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain.

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee with Liberty on the Rocks Houston, August 2013

    Photo credit: Sang Le

    Ann and Bob Lee founded RAMP in 2012. After much reflection, they had reached the conclusion that prohibition of marijuana is directly opposed to all of their Republican values. I was immediately intrigued upon learning about this. My interest in both party politics and marijuana policy were now being fused together by this idea. I immediately approached Ann and started asking her about RAMP. She handed me a little brochure with the Republican logo with three pot leaves instead of stars. My first thought was “OK, this organization really needs a new logo.”

    Fast-forward to 2014, new logo, website, social media, and a network of young people helping Ann Lee with RAMP. We’re ready to make an impact. We’ve formed a team, including John Baucum, President of Houston Young Republicans. We’d worked a great deal on networking and outreach, held our inaugural meeting, and conducted several interviews with news media. We knew a lot of people in Houston’s conservative scene and we knew many of them would be serving as GOP delegates.

    Upon my arrival to the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Thursday, I knew that I had a mission. The vote on the medical marijuana amendment was to take place later this day and the outcome was going to depend heavily upon how the Permanent Platform Committee was to shape up. Our strategy was to try to push anyone off the committee who voted against us and replace them with someone who is supportive.

    In my Senate District, our platform committee representative had voted against medical marijuana. So I started talking to people. I thought about who would make a good candidate and one person came to mind, a Military Veteran, an author, and a frequent lecturer on conservative issues. Although medical marijuana was not the primary issue, I knew this person would be supportive. At this point there’s a lot of whispering going on in the hallways, people pulling each other aside and talking under their breath. I knew that a good number of people would unite behind this candidate, and I was able to feel confident in my ability to “whip the votes.”

    Time was of the essence. I ran across the street to the Omni Hotel and printed up flyers, highlighting the candidate’s qualifications. After some trouble with the printer, I made it back to the convention just in time. I walked into our SD Caucus and handed everyone the flyers. There were two other candidates in the race for platform committee. Although my preferred candidate did not win, we pulled about 30% of the vote and made an impact on the outcome of the race.

    Immediately after the SD Caucus, the Permanent Platform Committee met and the moment of truth was upon us. There was a great deal of commotion outside the meeting room because it wasn’t big enough to seat everyone. People were outside the door yelling for them to relocate the meeting to a larger space. Some of the committee members had changed due the immigration plank of the platform, which was the most contentious issue up for debate. I tried to peer into the room to see who was on the committee. I was curious to find out any of our people were elected to the committee in other senate districts, but I assumed they didn’t have any better luck than I did.

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee
    Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    The medical cannabis amendment failed. Some of the committee members, who supported the amendment the day before ended up changing their vote. This may have been due to our opposition whipping the votes against us. However, an additional amendment supporting “research into the medical efficacy of cannabis” was introduced by a member of the committee and passed. Unfortunately, our opposition filed a ‘minority report’ signed by 9 members of the committee in support of striking this language from the platform.

    Perhaps the most amazing revelation was that another ‘minority report’ was filed, signed by 8 members of the committee, in support of adding the original medical cannabis amendment back into the platform. This was huge. A clear message was sent that support for medical cannabis is alive and well in the Texas GOP. We considered this to be a major victory because the issue would be up for debate during the general session on Saturday when the platform is adopted by the entire delegation.

    On Friday morning, we arrived at the Fort Worth Convention Center at 6:00am, with 2000 RAMP newsletters in hand. Volunteers, including founders of the group MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) Thalia Michelle and Amy Lou Falwell, helped line seats with our literature. This day, we decided to forget about the platform and the stress, it’s time to network, educate people about medical cannabis, conduct interviews with media, and talk to as many elected officials as we can.

    Founders of MAMMA - Amy Lou Falwell and Thalia Michelle conducting a radio interview in the exhibitor area of the convention. Photo credit: Jason Miller

    Founders of MAMMA – Amy Lou Falwell and Thalia Michelle conducting a radio interview in the exhibitor area of the convention.
    Photo credit: Jason Miller

    On Saturday morning, several of us arrived early to get spots near each of the four microphones in the general convention arena. We wanted to make sure we were able to testify in support of medical cannabis. As the platform adoption process started, medical cannabis was the first topic up for debate. Our minority report in support of adding the amendment back in to the platform was introduced from the stage.

    Ann Lee spoke in favor of this amendment and told her story. She told the delegation about her son Richard and his injury. She used her entire 5 minutes of testimony and made a very clear point that garnered a great deal of applause, “Why should the federal government be able to prevent us from using a natural medicine that is clearly beneficial to sick people?”

    One person spoke in opposition to the amendment and tried to convince the delegation that Marinol and medical marijuana are the same thing, which is clearly false.

    Dr. Teryn Driver, a delegate from League City, made an emotional argument about children suffering from epilepsy and passionately educated the delegation about Cannibidiol (CBD).

    A motion was made to end debate and the crowd voted in favor of it. (The delegation will typically always vote in favor of anything that moves the process along faster). We then voted on adding the medical marijuana amendment back into the platform and it failed. We expected this to happen.

    The next item of business is the ‘minority report’ striking the support for research into the medical efficacy of cannabis from the platform. Zoe Russell, the assistant executive director for RAMP, spoke in opposition to striking this language; she testified that Texas prides itself on medical innovation and that getting our federal government out of the way of promising research will be a tremendous benefit to our medical community. She pointed out that Republicans don’t like federal interference in our healthcare choices and that should include the ability to conduct medical research. Her remarks were met with cheers and applause.

    Immediately following Zoe’s testimony, debate was cut off. A vote was taken, but it wasn’t clear. After a bit of demagoguery by the Chairman and a clarification that a no vote would leave the language in the platform, the vote was taken again. It was very close, but the yes votes won and the language supporting research of medical cannabis was stricken from the platform.

    Ann Lee speaking in favor of medical marijuana  Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee speaking in favor of medical marijuana
    Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Our opposition’s only real strategy was to cut off testimony as quickly as possible. They don’t want the delegation to hear our message. They don’t want any discussion about changing these laws. But we’re having the discussion. We’re winning over the hearts of minds of people, and we had been doing it all week. After the convention ended, I made my way down the road about 4 blocks to the Texas Regional NORML Conference. Exhausted, I dragged myself into the conference and took a seat.

    Overall, the Texas GOP Convention was a huge success. We’re furthering the discussion about marijuana reform among Republicans and we’re having fun in the process. My time spent in Fort Worth was well worth it. I learned a lot about politics and procedure, activism and how to communicate and network with people. We met supporters from all over the state and we expanded our network. We’re now gearing up for the 2015 legislative session and we’re determined to legalize marijuana in the great state of Texas.

    It ain’t gonna legalize itself.

    Stay up to date on NORML Houston’s activities by following them on Facebook here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 13, 2014

    The Jamaica government is poised to relax marijuana possession penalties.

    Justice Minister Mark Golding said yesterday in a statement that a majority of lawmakers are ready to endorse a proposal decriminalizing the possession of the plant.

    “[T]he criminalization of possession of a small quantity of ganja and of smoking ganja has caused significant hardships in Jamaica, particularly among young men,” he said. “A conviction for possession or use of ganja results in a criminal record, which often precludes the offender from engaging certain employment, impacts his ability to get visas to travel overseas, and generally limits his life prospects. This is a serious human rights issue, supporting the cry for reform to our laws in this area.”

    The proposed change in law amends Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act by eliminating criminal penalties pertaining to the private possession of two ounces of cannabis by adults. Rather, such behavior will be reclassified under the law as a “non-arrestable, ticketable infraction … which does not give rise to a criminal record.”

    The proposed changes intend to provid broader protections for those using cannabis for religious or medicinal purposes. “[R]eligious use of ganja ought not to be criminalized, given Jamaica’s history and prevailing socio-cultural and economic environment,” the Justice Minister said. He added, “It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to possess ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes.”

    The Justice Minister said that a majority of Parliament are also backing separate legislation that seeks to expunge the criminal records of those with minor marijuana convictions. Additional legislative efforts are also “underway to develop a legal framework which will allow the emergence of medical ganja and industrial hemp industries in Jamaica,” Golding said.

    Various Jamaican national commissions have previously called on Parliament to enact similar reforms, but lawmakers in the past have largely ignored their recommendations.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 10, 2014

    The Gift from Obama

    Many marijuana smokers were thrilled when Barack Obama became president since he’d previously "outed" himself in his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father. In his memoir, Obama acknowledges that he and his friends in the "Choom Gang" were regular marijuana smokers during his high school years in Hawaii, a practice he apparently continued while attending Occidental College in LA for two years followed by two years at Columbia University in New York.

    This was further confirmed by David Maraniss’ in his 2012 biography titled Barack Obama: The Story, which provided more details and suggested that Obama had been a serious pothead during his youth, favoring local Hawaii strains such as Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, and Kona Gold; none of which apparently limited his ability to excel academically, as he was subsequently President of the Harvard Law Review in 1991.

    Many of those same smokers became disillusioned when President Obama did nothing to advance legalization during his first term, and on the occasion when the topic was raised by a White House petition or otherwise, he refused to treat marijuana legalization as a serious policy topic, instead making jokes about what all those petition signers must have been smoking – deflecting a question on a hot-button social issue, but it also felt insulting to those of us who smoke.

    Perhaps because I have lived in Washington, DC for 48 years and have seen too many administrations come and go, I did not expect Obama to do anything significant to advance marijuana legalization during his first term. Controversial policy changes generally come, if at all, during a president’s second term, when he faces no future elections, and is sometimes willing to risk some of his personal popularity to embrace a policy on principle.

    That appears to be precisely what has occurred with Obama.

    (Read the full story on Marijuana.com)

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 5, 2014

    trooyend2NORML PAC is endorsing state Senator Troy Jackson in his campaign to represent the 2nd Congressional District of Maine.

    “Troy Jackson is a man of the people and puts the concerns of the average American above special interests and petty politics,” NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri commented. “We believe he will be an incredible advocate for the majority of Mainers and Americans nationwide who want to see an end to our wasteful and destructive prohibition on marijuana.”

    “It’s clear that medical marijuana is helping countless patients. While we do need to protect the safety of our citizens, too many families have had their lives torn apart by prohibition laws,” states Troy Jackson. “States should have the right to craft a more rational approach if they choose, just as they have the right to do with alcohol.”

    Troy Jackson is set to face off against state Senator Emily Cain on June 10th in the 2nd District Democratic Primary. This is notable because Emily Cain has a long record of opposing marijuana law reform and marijuana legalization efforts in the state. In addition to publicly opposing legalization in the press during this campaign, she has voted in opposition to all of the recent attempts to reform Maine’s marijuana laws. Senator Troy Jackson, however, has supported these reforms when they came before him for a vote and will continue to support reform at the federal level in Washington, DC.

    Troy has been making a lot of waves in the campaign’s final stretch, with the speech he recently delivered at the Maine Democratic Convention which has gone viral. Commentators have called it a “convention speech for the ages” and “the best speech I’ve ever heard anyone give in Maine.”

    We encourage you to check it out to learn more about Troy’s platform here.

    More information on the Troy Jackson campaign can be found on his website here.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 3, 2014

    I am sometimes amazed at the ability of some legalization activists – especially the true believers who want to hold out for full legalization until they can pass a law with no limits on the amount of marijuana an adult can grow or possess, and no limits on who can sell marijuana to whom – to listen to each other and to convince themselves what they are hearing is a reflection of public opinion in this country. This ‘tomato model’, as it is sometimes called, has little appeal beyond those of us who smoke.

    Those of us who support marijuana legalization have been thrilled to see the many national polls showing a majority of the country finally support the full legalization of marijuana. According to the Gallup polling organization, 58% of the population now support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana for adults, regardless of why one smokes. The support for legalization, at only 12% when Gallup first asked this question in 1969, the year before NORML was founded, has slowly gained acceptance – with a modest decline in support between 1977 to 1990, followed by a steady increase that finally broke the 50% mark about three years ago. Several other national polls have since confirmed this result.

    However, only about 14% of the country are marijuana smokers – 86% are not. The continued support of a majority of those non-smokers is crucial if we are to continue to move full legalization forward across the country.

    (Read the full story on Marijuana.com)

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