Why Students Hold The Key To Ending Marijuana Prohibition

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 19, 2010

    The following speech was given by NORML’s Deputy Director before nearly 500 attendees on Saturday, March 13, at the opening plenary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy‘s 11th International Conference, at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. To read full coverage of the conference, please see DRCNet’s report here.

    My name is Paul Armentano and I’m the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and I’m the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? Max, Amber, Stacia and the many good folks at SSDP invited me to come here today to talk to you about how and why students have a vital role to play in ending marijuana prohibition.

    First let’s talk about the “why”: self-preservation. The federal government has declared war on you.

    Since 1965 law enforcement in this country have arrested over 20 million people for marijuana offenses.  But when you take a closer look at who is actually arrested you find that, for the most part, it isn’t the folks sitting on this panel; it’s all of you sitting out there – it’s young people.

    In short – the so-called ‘war’ on marijuana is really a war on youth.

    According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of the 800,000 or so Americans busted for pot each year are under age 30, and one out of four are age 18 or younger.  That’s nearly half a million young people at risk of losing their school loans, or being saddled with a lifelong criminal record at a time when they are just entering the workforce.   We’re talking about an entire generation – and that’s you out there – that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.

    And the sad fact is: you’re right!

    The question is: What are you going to do about it?

    If we’re going to finally end this 70+ year failed public policy known as marijuana prohibition, then we need students to play a lead role.  Obviously those of you in this room have already taken a critical first step in leading this charge by joining SSDP and attending this conference.  But there’s a lot more to be done and there’s a lot more that you can do.

    I believe that it was Ghandi who demanded that those who are oppressed be a part of there own liberation, and marijuana prohibition is no different.  I want you to look around you because it’s you all who will ultimately bring about an end to prohibition.

    And here’s how you start, and it’s really, really simple suggestion. Start talking to others about the need to end marijuana prohibition. Start talking about how this policy disproportionately and adversely impacts youth. Start discussing about how this policy limits young people’s opportunities at economic and academic success, and has repercussions that adversely affect people for the rest of their lives.

    Start talking about how the war on weed endangers young people’s health and safety because it enables teens to have easier access to pot than to legal, age-restricted intoxicants like alcohol and tobacco.  Talk about how prohibition forces young people to interact and befriend pushers of other illegal, more dangerous drugs.  Talk about how prohibition compels young people dismiss the educational messages they receive pertaining to the potential health risks posed by the use of ‘hard drugs’ and prescription pharmaceuticals because they say: “If they lied to me about pot, why wouldn’t they be lying to me about everything else too.”

    Most importantly, talk about how criminal prohibition is far more likely to result in having all of you sitting in this room struggling to get over a lifelong criminal conviction than it is in any way going to discourage you or your friends from trying pot.

    And when I say ‘talk about it,’ that’s exactly what I mean – TALK.  But talk to those who know you – your family, your friends, your parents, your neighbors, your professors, your faculty advisers. These are the people who you have built in credibility with. These are the people who are most likely to share and act upon your concerns because they care about you.  They care about what you think, and they actually care about what happens to you.

    (You know it’s funny, so often I hear activists talk about how they want to spread the word by going out on some street-corner and handing out leaflets to strangers. Or they want to engage in debates with some paid prohibitionist, as if by providing he or she with the facts about marijuana will somehow change his or her position.  Or they want to post messages on some anti-drug website. Big deal. Talking to strangers is easy; it’s talking to people you know that’s hard. But it’s talking to people you know that is ultimately going to make a difference.)

    So after you’re done talking about the evils of the drug war with your friends, family, and faculty – and encouraging them to begin engaging in this conversation as well – then it’s time to move the discussion to those who can shape public opinion and policy: the editors at your school paper, the leaders in your student government, your city council, your mayor, you state elected officials.  Talk to these folks, and keep talking to these folks.  And if they won’t listen to you then become one of them.  Join the school paper; run for student government; run for city council. If not you, then who?

    Here’s something else I want you to do to help bring about an end to marijuana prohibition. There’s something I want you all to say when you are engaging in your outreach efforts, and that is this: NOT IN MY NAME.

    You know, when those who support marijuana prohibition are forced to defend it, they do so by saying that it’s all about you: it’s all about protecting and providing for the best interest of young people.  You know, sort of like “we have to destroy the village in order to to save it.”

    It’s time for all of you in this room to stop being the scapegoats for the abuses and the excesses of drug war. It’s time to say: enough! We don’t want your criminal policies; we never asked for your criminal policies; and we’re tired of having our good names be used to support your failed drug war.  The war on marijuana isn’t saving us; it’s harming us, and we demand that it comes to end before it destroys another generations the same way it has destroyed ours.

    Okay, so that’s the easy part – here’s the hard part.  If students – and I’m talking about you guys here, and I’m also talking about all of your friends and colleagues who aren’t here – really are going to be the game-changers in this battle, this fight that all of us sitting up here have been waging for far too long already, then we need for you guys to take a pledge:

    Don’t let your activism be a phase in your life; make it a part of your life.

    When I graduated college in 1994 there was no SSDP; there was no ASA. There barely was an MPP.  There was the DPA – with one office a handful of employees.  There was no LEAP, no SAFER; no frankly there was no professional movement. Since then the landscape has changed monumentally.

    Today, there are now dozens of organizations working on drug policy reform, and with that, dozens of job opportunities for you to get involved and stay involved in marijuana policy after you graduate college.  So I give you a challenge: You really want to end the drug war? Consider making drug policy your career choice. You can start right now by applying for an internship at NORML or a fellowship at SSDP.  Many of this movement’s current leaders started out this way, Kris Krane, Mason Tvert, Tom Angel, Stacia Cosner, Micah Daigle, and many others.  They did it, and you can too.

    Finally, even if you don’t wish to pursue marijuana law reform as a career, I encourage you to stay active in the movement.  Between the Internet, podcasts, list-servs, social networking sites like Facebook, you now have access to unparalleled quantities of drug-law reform information in real time.  Just this past week NORML launched its own Iphone app.

    In other words, it is now easier than ever to stay plugged in to your networks and continue to educate yourself and your friends about drug policy reform. Check out NORML’s daily podcast, the Audio Stash, for the latest breaking news, or check out NORML’s capwiz page to instantly learn about upcoming state and federal votes in legislation that affects us all. And use what you learn to continue to move this conversation forward.

    The bottom line: all of you in this room have the power to change these laws, and today you have an unprecedented opportunity to do so. So get out there and do it!

    80 responses to “Why Students Hold The Key To Ending Marijuana Prohibition”

    1. Ga Sunshine says:

      Best article I have seen yet. We baby boomers and the parent of these kids will stand up with you. I have been talking for 5 years now and as soon as my kids graduate from college I am willing to take it further with my activism. To everyone in Georgia. The University of Georgia will be hosting a debate about marijuana legalization on Monday,April 19, 2010 at the Tate Center at 7:30 p.m. admission is free for students and $5.00 for others. “Heads vs. Feds”. Join the fight and don’t be afraid. I have not found anyone to date that disagrees with me after discussing it.

    2. Yoni says:

      While I think getting younger kids involved is great and all, I really believe it’s the adults who will make the difference. Professional, mature and respectable adults who will come out and show society that they too demand change. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, businessmen etc…People who hold tremendous sway in society, who play great roles…these are the people whose support we really need. Adults who hold our respect and admiration.

      I fear politicians and voters will see the younger generations support as just a means for them to get drugs. And this is all coming from a 21 year old college student.

    3. It really feels like the government is trying to destroy young peoples lives. They say there trying to scare the youth into not doing them, that is understanble the youth of america really shouldn’t being smoking pot unless they have certain ailments and so forth, some of the youth of this country do try and some smoke pot on the regular and the government doesn’t realize is that most of them either quit smoking by the time there 25 and most of them don’t branch off to other drugs, some do and that is very sad. The fact is that I was arrested for two ounces of mid- grade shwag pot, since i was young and had no prior arrest they gave the chance to do something called “First Time Offenders Program” which means you go and take classes at a place called ASAP i passed and did everything that the court wanted me to do. So the general district court of richmond , va dismissed my guilty plea so that i don’t have a pot charge anymore on my dmv record and everything was all fine and dandy until two weeks i went and took the asvab to get into the military and i scored a 91 and they were all happy to take me in , until i talked about my past and my record they were fine with the dui but when i told them about my pot charge that was dimissed for first time offenders they told me that i was not allowed into the military. Unbelieveable im smart enough to do anything in the military almost and the only thing thats stopping me is my pot charge that happened 4 years ago and i did everything the gov’t told me to do.

    4. Charlie says:

      “Stop arresting responsible pot smokers.” — on image

      Yes, because it’s so responsible of them, breaking the law and all.

    5. Lea says:

      Good speech. Especially liked the NOT IN MY NAME.

      Not a student but from my standpoint I’d disagree with talking to stranger’s as that’s all I have left. I’m not going to hand out leaflets either.
      Talking to neighbors is tricky if the person doing the talking uses cannabis. Our nation has too many well meaning Snitches that destroy lives.
      The family, friends, doctors and so on know how I feel, they did a long time ago. And there are friends I’ve said good bye to because no matter what I’ve said they’re still the crazed prohibitionist.

    6. Bill says:

      Hear hear! We will never get anywhere if we just sit back and wait for the problem to fix itself.

    7. maryjanesuncle says:

      like always norml right on top of it..for some people who really hate us check http://www.theolympian.com/2010/03/17/1174940/sign-initiative-1068-to-put-marijuana.html, talk about haters

    8. denbee says:

      One comment. The old folks who represent us in Washington need to be put out to pasture. They are all so entrenched in the reefer madness mentality that the truth has little if any effect on them. There is also a “backroom” influence from big business to maintain the status quo. How else can you explain the
      government’s schedule 1 on cannabis that states that cannabis has no medicinal uses and at the same time state that they will turn a blind eye to States who have approved medical marijuana. It either is medicinal or not. A third of the States have declared marijuana as medicine…the Federal Government still says they are wrong. New Jersey just sentenced a man to 5 years in prison today for (a medical marijuana patient with MS} growing 17 plants. They deemed he had to be dealing because 17 plants were far to many for his own personal consumption! Reefer Madness lives large in New Jersey, logic, reason and compassion, not so much. Use your vote wisely. Be the squeeky wheel that cannot be ignored. The cannabis movement has grown much more powerful in recent years as evidenced by recent polls. The internet is also a powerful politicial tool. Shout out your representitives. Expound on the dangers and evils of America’s only legal recreational drug and how many lives are ruined, how many domestic assaults occur while drunk, the health problems, the addictions. Cannabis IS safer! There will soon come a day when a solid majority of America will support legalizing cannabis and the politicians who choose to ignore that fact will find themselves short a vote or two come election day. Use that too!

    9. Jed The head says:

      I started working on this issue when I was 23 years old(1977). I joined NORML in Nebraska and we helped decriminalize possession there. I am now 55 years old and I thought that by this time in my life I would be able to consume cannabis legally in the comfort of my own home. I was wrong. If the younger generation doesn’t believe that this will happen to them I can tell you it will unless you all start taking Paul’s advice and start talking to everyone you know and start demanding that prohibition ends now. Take your rightful place and change your government. You owe it to yourselves and to the next generation. Heed our words or become victims of “The War On Youth”.

    10. Kevin says:

      How exactly do u go about purseing marijuana reform as a career?