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  • by Norm Kent, NORML Board of Directors January 6, 2014

    leaf copyThe 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.

    Thank you.

    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

  • by Norm Kent, NORML Board of Directors February 28, 2013

    A Message from the Chair of NORML’s Board of Directors, Norm Kent:

    NORML is the pioneer, the grand patron and founder of the marijuana policy reform movement in America. We are still here and by your side, and we are needed now, more than ever.

    Some have said that as our nation moves towards medicalization, decriminalization, or legalization, our tasks will be diminished, our duties lessened, our essence threatened.

    The truth is that it is just the opposite.

    Now, with cannabis reforms about to blossom in city after city, from small communities to large counties, our nation needs a respected consumer advocacy group more than ever.

    Our nation needs a lobby such as the new NORML, firmly planted, and nationally respected, which will protect the rights of cannabis consumers, as no one else has in the past or can in the future.

    Our nation needs a new NORML, which ensures that the distribution of cannabis to anyone is universally safe, readily accessible and fairly affordable to everyone.

    Our nation needs a new NORML that ensures that the laws which legislatures pass favor freedom and fairness, not moneymakers or mercenaries.

    Our nation needs a new NORML that ensures patients have access to safe medicine, consumers acquire healthy products, and distribution mechanisms protect gender, age, and race, available not just to corporate conglomerates but individual entrepreneurs.

    The new NORML today contains a NORML Women’s Alliance representing the power of feminism and professionalism, bringing passion and gender diversity to the cause of personal freedom and individual choice.

    The new NORML brings vast youth advocacy to the table, with hundreds of chapters in 50 states, young men and women fighting with their heart and soul to ensure scholarships are not revoked, driving privileges are not taken away, and jobs are not lost because they make legal decisions to use cannabis responsibly.

    The new NORML will bring activists and academicians, economists and entrepreneurs, to political forums, explaining how justly taxing cannabis legally today can stop the bleeding of state, city and village budgets tomorrow.

    The new NORML will still need and provide the national canvas with a network of criminal defense attorneys to represent clients who are wrongly arrested and unjustly prosecuted, from patients with medical conditions to adult drivers illegally stopped.

    The new NORML needs to remind Americans that decriminalization in 18 states means we still have a ways to go in 32 others, where nearly a million Americans a year still go to jail for consuming cannabis.

    Thus, the new NORML needs to remind everyone that apathy and inertia has no room for intrusion; that our advocacy must still be engaged, that our voices still be heard.

    The new NORML thus needs to blend innovative social media tools to drive activists with initiatives from coast to coast and in community after community. With hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, and millions of cannabis consumers living and supporting our cause all across America, our word must be spread on the web and throughout the country. We must remind Americans everywhere that it is unjust and unfair for adults consuming cannabis privately and personally to get arrested anywhere, anytime, or in any place.

    The new NORML needs to be advocates not just for patients who want access to safe medicine and fair distribution systems, but adults who demand the right to responsible use along with just access for righteous, recreational use, needing no apologies for exercising their individual sovereignty openly and freely.

    The new NORML also needs to be advocates who rectify the injustices of past decades, for individuals whose futures were destroyed by a drug war that failed to do anything but ruin good lives with bad laws.

    The new NORML needs to marshal public policy so that the laws are changed everywhere not in the next few decades, but in the next few years. To achieve national reform, we need to harness the energy and network of drug policy reform organizations throughout this country. We need to speak with a common voice and universal message.

    The message to be shared and the story to be told is not just that prohibition was wrong all along, or that the drug war has been a financial and moral failure. That is a past we have learned all too well.

    The message for the new NORML is to state that Americans citizens have always come to support equal civil liberties for all, from women to African Americans, to our friends in the gay and lesbian community. After decades of pain, that morning has come for cannabis consumers. The new NORML will celebrate the future, not condemn the past.

    For 40 years, NORML has been on the side of those who embraced individual choice and the responsible use of cannabis, as an extension of personal freedom.

    Now, more than ever, the new NORML will remain by your side in order to ensure that as cannabis is distributed and disseminated to consumers from state to state, or coast to coast, it becomes readily accessible, equitably affordable and universally safe.

    Thank you,
    Norm Kent
    Chair, NORML Board of Directors

    Please consider making a donation to NORML today to help support our ongoing efforts to legalize the responsible adult use of marijuana by clicking here.