The conference:Belying the stereotype about pot smokers being lazy, disorganized and unfocused, this conference was organized and run like a Swiss clock. From the opening bell within 10 minutes of the posted starting time to the closing bell 10 minutes past the posted ending time, the conference was carried off within the limits that might be expected from a “professional” event co-ordinator. And it was done without resort to Robert's Rules of Order or Sergeants at Arms or paid directors that you would find at most any other 2 day conference of widely ranging topics and disparate political opinions. The speakers represented many facets and organizations associated with the movement to end the war on marijuana – and for many, the war on drugs more completely. Several NORML chapters from Georgia and other southern states, the Georgia C.A.R.E. Project, L.E.A.P., the Caravan for Peace, Moms for Marijuana Intl, Overgrow the Government, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, American Cannabis Coalition, American Medical Marijuana Coalition, Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition and others.
From North Carolina and Virginia, from Tennessee and Kentucky, from South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi as well as from Georgia, 200 activists came together to exchange information about the devastating impact of the war on marijuana on families and communities within the borders of this country and beyond. And to celebrate the richness which cannabis offers to its users – not simply as one of many other recreational substances (in many ways the safest and most benign of any of the recreational drugs in general use), but also as a powerful medical tool and valuable industrial commodity.
Many of the speakers had direct experience with the destructive nature of the war on marijuana or with the plant's varied healing properties – some tragically had experience with both. Some were long time activists, others were relative newcomers to marijuana activism – indeed to activism in general. Former law enforcement officers and prosecutors and former marijuana convicts and public defenders and defense attorneys described their own personal experiences with the war on marijuana and the more general effects from their unique perspectives. Diane Goldstein described her 20+ years as a cop in California busting drug users and dealers and described how her experience watching law enforcement resources being squandered on the war on drugs led her to become an activist with LEAP. Jamie Haase, also from LEAP, gave one of the most compelling presentations – complete with photographs of some of the 60,000 (or more – no-one knows the actual number!) victims of the drug war in Mexico – about the murderous effects of the criminalization of marijuana when he talked about his years working for the customs service on the US/Mexico border. (Jamie is from Greenville, SC, so hopefully we can get him down here to do his presentation sooner rather than later.) Adrian Bernal, a journalist with CNN, described his journey with the 24 U.S. city tour of the Caravan for Peace, over 100 members of the families of some of those Mexican victims.
Rebecca Forbes, Ron Crompton and Chris Butts all discussed the medical marijuana issue from direct impact on their lives. Rebecca spent several years in prison, lost her children and her farm for growing marijuana and is now self-medicating for cancer and is acting as something of a practitioner for other patients whose preferred – often only – form of effective relief from a variety of medical ailments is cannabis preparations. (Rebecca lives south of Raleigh, NC and has already agreed to come to Augusta to share her knowledge and her experience.) Ron and Chris are both from Alabama and are active in the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition. In the absence of legal medical marijuana access in Alabama, each of them is self-medicating – Ron for the treatment of his spinal stenosis and Chris for the treatment of chronic pain. Ron described the “side effects” of his treatment with the “official” medications prescribed, high doses of NSAIDS, which resulted in perforated stomach ulcers and 2 surgeries. Chris described the side effects of his treatment with the “official” medications prescribed for his pain, debilitating addiction to opioid pain killers.
Walker Chandler and Robert Ryan talked about “Reaching the Opposition”. They discussed strategies for turning opposition arguments on their heads and against themselves – Socratic dialogue kinda stuff. Walker, an Atlanta attorney who was once active in the LPGa and ran for Attorney General and Lt. Governor with the “L” beside his name, was one of the few speakers to bring up the issue of the war on drugs in the context of economic freedom and private property rights. Rob Ryan, who heads the Missouri Valley (OH) chapter of NORML and sits on the central committee of the LP of Ohio, talked about his efforts to successfully get a medical marijuana law passed while serving as a member of the central committee of the Maryland Republican Party. His journey into marijuana activism was motivated by his mother's battle with cancer and his son's persecution in the war on drugs.
Russ Belville founded the NORML network, a live streamed online radio network of live and recorded podcasts from around the world dedicated exclusively to the issue of marijuana law reform. Russ is known as the Voice of the Marijuana Nation and can be found on 420radio.org Russ talked about the so-called Goldilocks reform movement – the “middle ground” approach - being championed in order to maintain the war on cannabis, refuting the arguments of the Goldilocks reformers in terms of the regimes that already exist for more dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco and in terms of the morality and economics of incarceration compared to those legal regimes. On Day 2, Russ hosted “The Drug Test” a jeopardy/WWTBAM style “game show” that was both hilarious and very informative. (The game is available for download!)
Catherine Bernard, currently working as a public defender in Georgia and running for vice-chair of the Georgia Republican Party, was perhaps the most radical of all the speakers at the conference. Speaking from her experience from the “other side”(the side of the defense attorney) of the war on drugs, she gave a passionate appeal for jury nullification of drug prosecutions and defined ending the drug war as the “most important” issue facing activists.
James Bell, former ex-com member of the LPGa and leader of the Cobb County LP as well as current head of GA Campaign for Access, Reform and Education and of the Georgia Taxpayers' Alliance.
James focused his remarks on legislative efforts in Georgia and along with Ron Crumpton and Chris Butts in a different presentation, presented strategies from how to dress to what to say when lobbying
legislators. (James has already committed to coming to Augusta to share his strategies and experiences under the gold dome with us.)
Other speakers sat in on other panels discussions. A panel on mothers' perspectives and strategies for marijuana activism and another on how the different organizations addressing the issue can – and have
– work(ed) together to advance the cause of marijuana reform.
With this report, I didn't get into a lot of the specifics of the presentations and discussions. Most of what was presented – except the personal stories, and sometimes even those – can be found in an internet search. The numbers of lives ruined and snuffed out, the effects on families and communities, the violence with which the war is carried out – both by the street thugs and cartel assassins and by the government thugs; all of that is at your fingertips via a google search or a youtube. What I wish that I could convey with this report is the richness of the individuals involved in this struggle, though I feel at a complete loss to adequately do that. The people at the conference, not just the speakers but the organizers and the attendees as well, are dedicated activists from across the common political spectrum from liberal/progressive to conservative and across the libertarian political spectrum from “political” Libertarian to libertarian anarchist. Important contacts were made and human resources cultivated. We basically created a center for drug war activism here in the CSRA – the Peachtree NORML of the CSRA satellite chapter. Just waiting for a conference call and final confirmation and authorization. I, for one, was inspired and invigorated by my interaction with these extraordinary people.
Oh, and there was a party too!