Bob Newland

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 16, 2010

    [Note: Bob Newland will be our guest on NORML SHOW LIVE this Thursday 8/19 – live.norml.org at 4pm ET / 1pm PT.]

    Twelve months ago, long time South Dakota NORML activist Bob Newland was legally barred by a state judge from engaging in any public advocacy for cannabis law reform while on probation for a marijuana possession offense. Newland’s First Amendment stripping sentence was all the more egregious given Bob’s high profile role in this November’s statewide ballot initiative campaign (‘Yes on 13’) to legalize the medical use of marijuana for qualified patients.

    After months of coerced silence, Bob has finally been unshackled and may once again enjoy his Constitutional right to advocate for rational and compassionate marijuana policies. And he isn’t wasting any time. His op/ed below, published last week in The Rapid City Journal, provides details on Bob’s court-ordered exile, and offers insight as to why he continues to articulately and passionately advocate for cannabis liberation. Bob’s comparison to Galileo, the renowned astronomer who spent decades under house arrest for daring to acknowledge publicly that the Earth revolved around the sun, is disturbingly appropriate.

    Marijuana prohibition aids few
    via The Rapid City Journal

    My tongue was bound. My typing fingers were paralyzed. On July 6, 2009, these acts were performed by a circuit court judge because I am a visible and ardent advocate of informed personal discretion regarding one’s choice of intoxicant or medical palliative.

    … Contrary to the beliefs of many, there is plenty of precedent for court-ordered suppression of the truth. Often recalled is the 40-year house arrest imposed on Galileo for pointing out that the Earth revolved around the sun. Millions were burned to death for less.

    I’m 62 years old. For 44 years I have observed the incalculably stupid custom of arresting people for possession of a demonstrably beneficial, easily cultivated herb. During the past 20 years alone, over 16 million people have been arrested on marijuana charges in this country, over 12 million of them for simple possession only.

    My statistics are understated, purposefully, because most people apparently can’t face how destructive cannabis prohibition has been. It’s been estimated that each arrest has cost the taxpayers of its jurisdiction a minimum of $500. If that were the extent of the damage, prohibition would be a bargain.

    It has become common practice for law enforcement to seize peoples’ cash, possessions and children, often based on only an accusation of cannabis use. Those convicted bear an undeserved social and income-reducing stigma for the rest of their lives. No one in government or the financial industry is immune to the lure of the inconceivable amount of cash generated by the prohibited substance trade in general, of which cannabis is the most prevalent. Children find it easier to obtain “prohibited” substances than they do tobacco and alcohol, because the nature of prohibition is to subsidize an unregulated and untaxed market.

    As for every politician who endorses prohibition, every judge who sentences someone for possession, every cop who arrests someone for possession; they all are awash in the blood of the 23,000 Mexicans who have been killed in the civil war over drug turf in Mexico during the past three years, and in the less visible detritus of the lives they have shattered senselessly.

    … In a twisted and particularly cruel way of parsing the matter, which above all else is the hallmark of prohibition logic, it makes sense for government to stifle the truth.

    You can read Bob’s entire commentary here.

    And if you reside in South Dakota, you can join with Bob and The South Dakota Coalition for Compassion by voting ‘yes’ this November on Prop. 13 — The South Dakota Safe Access Act.

    Bob has done — and continues to do — his part for marijuana law reform. Have you done yours?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 8, 2009

    Meet Hawaii’s Republican Governor Linda Lingle. On Monday, Gov. Lingle vetoed Senate Bill 1058, which called on the legislature to merely study “issues relating to medical cannabis patients and current medical cannabis laws.”

    Specifically, SB 1058 called for the formation of a legislative task force to:

    (1) Examine current state statutes, state administrative rules, and all county policies and procedures relating to the medical marijuana program;

    (2) Examine all issues and obstacles that qualifying patients have encountered with the medical marijuana program;

    (3) Examine all issue and obstacles that state and county law enforcement agencies have encountered with the medical marijuana program;

    (4) Compare and contrast Hawaii’s medical marijuana program with all other state medical marijuana programs; and

    (5) Address other issues and perform any other function necessary as the task force deems appropriate, relating to the medical marijuana program.

    In her veto address, Gov. Lingle alleged — laughably — that the mere act of examining the medical marijuana laws of Hawaii and a dozen other states violates federal anti-drug laws.

    “I am returning herewith, without my approval, Senate Bill No. 1058. … This bill establishes the medical cannabis task force … to review issues related to (Hawaii’s) medical marijuana program and make recommendations for any proposed legislation and rules. … The medical task force is unnecessary because it would attempt to deal with issues raised by medical marijuana users that can only be addressed by circumventing federal law.

    Keep in mind that just days earlier lawmakers in Rhode Island overwhelmingly approved legislation to allow the state to license nonprofit facilities to produce and dispense medicinal cannabis to qualified patients. Yet in Hawaii the Governor would have us believe that just gathering feedback from patients and local law enforcement regarding the state’s nearly ten-year-old medical cannabis program somehow violates federal law. It’s an absurd position and no doubt Gov. Lingle, who vetoed a similar task force bill last year, knows it.

    Of course, the true motive behind Gov Lingle’s action — and the similar actions of her fellow prohibitionists — is to silence any sort of public or political debate surrounding America’s failed marijuana policies.

    This was the motivation behind President Obama’s decision to ‘laugh off’ the issue of marijuana law reform during his online town hall this past March. Silencing free speech was also the driving force behind the actions of members of Congress who earlier this year threatened to withhold funding from the city of El Paso, Texas, if they so much as dared to hold an “honest, open national debate” regarding US drug policy. And surely this was the motivating force behind a South Dakota Judge’s decision this week to bar longtime NORML advocate Bob Newland from engaging in any public advocacy of marijuana law reform for one year. (Full disclosure: Bob Newland, under the banner of SoDakNORML, had been leading the petition drive to place a medical marijuana initiative on the 2010 state ballot. In other words, Judge Delaney’s decision isn’t simply limiting Mr. Newland’s constitutional rights to free speech, it’s also potentially limiting the voting rights of all South Dakotans.)


  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director July 7, 2009

    Hello Bob,

    I’m sorry to read of this near conclusion of your run-in with cannabis prohibition laws in SD. Like you, I’d hope to see a suspended sentence, or a lower sentence all together.

    With 98% of all criminal cases being plea bargained, I’m sure this Hobson’s Choice was a difficult one to make.

    Being banned from public advocacy regarding something you–and clearly tens of millions of other Americans agree should be discussed publicly–maybe the cruelest cut of all. One that I suspect is ironically going to draw more attention/media awareness to your ‘run-of-the-mill’ cannabis bust than any cannabis possession case in your state’s history (if it has not already).

    You may have to remain mum about marijuana advocacy (for a year), but groups like NORML never will, and where your voice has been temporarily silenced by a system (i.e., the mechanisms of cannabis prohibition) no longer worthy of public respect in America (and South Dakota), know full well that hundreds of thousands of your like-minded friends and fellow cannabis consumers will be LOUDLY protesting the continuation of cannabis prohibition from the halls of Congress, to Statehouses across the country, to the streets and parks in protest of both a failed public policy—and against any government or court mandates that seek criminal sanctions against citizens who disagree with prohibition laws, and will not allow them to share their views with the general public.

    When a simple cannabis arrest turns into government restrictions on protected First Amendment speech and right of assembly, cannabis consumers and concerned citizens need to re-double their efforts to end our country’s expensive and destructive cannabis prohibition laws.

    Godspeed Bob! Please remain in touch with NORML!!

    Cannabem liberemus,

    Allen St. Pierre


    On 7/6/09 9:40 PM, “Bob Newland” <newland@rapidcity.com> wrote:

    6 July 2009

    Hello everyone;

    This will be the last email I send under the banner ‘South Dakotans for Safe Access‘ at least for a year.

    By now, most of you know I plead to a felony count of possession of marijuana in May. Today I was sentenced.

    In an hour-long sentencing hearing, Judge Delaney waxed reminiscent as he described his admiration for Muhammad Ali’s stance against an illegal war, which cost him millions of dollars and his peak performing years, during which time he did not complain, nor did he leave the country that so abused him for his beliefs.

    Then, citing the fact that he (Judge Delaney) had to account for his actions to the hundreds of kids he sees in juvenile court, he sentenced me to a year in the Penn. Co. jail, with all suspended but 45 days. During the suspended part of the sentence I will wear a bracelet that senses alcohol use and I will be subject to arbitrary piss tests by a probation officer to detect illegal “drug” use. In addition I may have no “public role” in cannabis law reform advocacy during that year.

    Work release is an option, but I have few marketable skills, especially in a time when everyone else is getting laid off. I’ll follow any leads any of you might have.

    It was somewhat harsher than I expected, and probably less than I deserved. At least it did not cost me a career worth millions, and my peak performing years won’t begin until July 6, 2010. And that’s about all I feel comfortable saying about it. For a year.

    I’ll turn 61 in prison, doin’ six weeks for smokin’ a joint. Mama cried.

    I will do my time beginning sometime in August. If I have a job of the conventional sort (you know, with a time to get there and a time to leave) I can get work release. So, if you have any ideas for me along those lines?…

    Thanks again to all who sent letters to the judge, and to those who have sent messages of support to me.

    For 40 years I have watched as dozens of people I know–and thousands I know of–go through this same, ummm?, procedure. Now it’s happening to me, and I feel the same frustration over the purposelessness of it all as I have felt for all those other people, many, many, many of whom were treated far more viciously than I.

    Someday this war will be over.

    So long for now,
    For anything for which email is inadequate, contact sender at
    24594 Chokecherry Ridge Rd
    Hermosa SD 57744