by Dean Becker
Stoup, outgoing director of NORML
Allen St. Pierre,
incoming director of NORML
(Audio Track) Intro – Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth about the drug war. My name is Dean Becker, and in this – our last show of 2004 – we’ll take a look back over the year and the years of drug reform. Our guests: Keith Stroup, the outgoing director, and Allen St. Pierre, the incoming point man for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We’ll have in studio the fine musical talents of Mr. David Robics.
Dean: Good evening, and welcome to Cultural Baggage. We’re not going to have any news reports tonight. Steve Nolin did come in to be our engineer for tonight, and I want to thank him for that. So, having said that, I do want to go ahead and bring in our guests for the evening. As I said, Mr. Keith Stroup and Mr. Allen St. Pierre. Good evening, gentlemen.
Both: Good evening, Dean.
Dean: Welcome to the show. I’m glad you could join us. Many folks out there may not know, but there is a transition fixing to occur with NORML. Tell us, if you will, Keith, what is going to happen on December 31.
Stroup: Well, officially, Allen St. Pierre will become Executive Director of the organization. Of course, what that means is that it really is a new era because I had obviously helped found the organization 34 years ago and ran it during the first decade, and then came back and ran it for the last decade, basically. But it is terribly important, I think, that this is an issue, of all issues probably, that needs to be in the hands of younger folks; and that was apparent to me, as I’m sure it was to many other people. So, I’m delighted to say that as of the new year, NORML will be under a new, more energetic and youthful leadership.
Dean: I thank you for that, Keith; but I know, though, that most of these old “warhorses,” these drug reformers that retire, tend to stay fairly busy just the same.
Stroup: Yes. No, no, absolutely. And I surely am going to remain actively involved on the board at NORML. It’s an organization that has meant very much to me for most of my adult life, and so walking away from it would not feel comfortable at all. I want to figure out if there are special areas where I can help the organization, and I’m sure the board will come up with some ideas. I’ll be delighted to do it. But nonetheless, I really – what I’m feeling is, it’s been a terrific opportunity to sit at the helm of NORML for as many years as I have, and I really feel privileged to have had that honor; and I think Allen understands that and appreciates it. He’s in for a very interesting time as well.
Dean: Indeed, Allen, I know its very early on in your reign, if you will, but what are some of those youthful ideas? What might we look for in the future in regards to NORML and how we go about changing these marijuana laws?
St. Pierre: Well, I think I want to pick up where Keith left off, and certainly thank him very much for his kind words. I’ll look forward to the many years of working together both on the board of directors of NORML, which we both serve, and as my capacity as director. But Keith has well invested in the organization the notion that I think is one of the binding affinities of everybody – beyond whether or not they smoke marijuana, or have in their past, or use it for medical purposes, or maybe they just believe in the non-psychoactive use of the plant for hemp. In the end, we are talking about a consumer lobby and in the history of the last 100 years, whenever an aggrieved group – women who weren’t allowed to vote, minorities, particularly blacks, weren’t allowed to vote or to enjoy the enfranchisement of coming together under the vote, and most recently in our lifetimes and most specifically out of a case out of Texas, itself – the Lawrence case – looking at and providing to some degree a degree of privacy for people engaged in homosexual activity. And all of these activities came about because those that are more aggrieved and affected by the misguided policies of the government, come together and organize in genuine grassroots manner. They petition the government at the local, county, state, and ultimately Federal level, working all four branches of government, if you will, and moving forward. And so that’s one of the things that I’m really looking forward to doing is consolidating this great public consent in this country. The numbers: 80% of the people support medical marijuana, 73% support decrim, and about 36% support outright legalization. So we have clearly got to move the numbers for legalization in from a strong plurality up into the majority, and the way to do that and to do one of the most obvious things of all – and Dean, you have gone to many drug policy conferences and I think you can attest quite quickly that these consist mainly of white men. And we’re not really going to change the laws in this country until those who are also involved in surviving in our country – women and minorities – are involved in the process. So that’s a major thing is to get the staff, the board, and ultimately the movement itself to be more reflective of the United States. Another is to use different technologies, increasing communications software technologies that are around today, radio, internet – we would like to develop a genuine broadcast of something called the NORMLcast on the internet so that thousands of people a night could view information the same way that you are getting it out to the masses outside of the mainstream that has ill-informed us for so long. And lastly is to take this good will that has existed for so many years about changing marijuana law reform and NORML as a whole and trying to concentrate on a couple of states to move forward with some – well, we could call them decriminalization, but it is probably better to call them depenalize initiatives, moving toward legalization. And also working in the House and Senate to introduce any number of bills on the decrim front rather than just the medical marijuana front where most of the action has taken place over the last 10 years. So those are three areas: diversify the organization, get more women and minorities involved, use existing and increasing technologies to get the organization of people together more readily, since that’s not happening in the mainstream. And lastly, to really focus that on a couple of states and a couple of specific bills in the House and Senate.
Dean: Thank you, Allen. I know that many great things have happened over this past year. This is our New Year’s show, if you will, and I kind of wanted to talk about that. The WHAM organization harvested their medicine free of DEA interference. Angel Raich and Diane Monson will soon hear the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to their medical marijuana challenge. You know, weird and devious government actions have occurred as well, but let’s go back over this year, if you will. Keith, I’ll start with you first, what are some of the highlights of this year?
Stroup: Okay, Dean, could I also let you know, I was unable to hear Allen. I have a feeling his answer was interesting, but for some reason technically, I couldn’t hear him. So just for what it’s worth, I’m afraid I can’t respond or participate. Now as to the year, my honest review of it is that it was a bit disappointing. It was not without some victories. Montana for medical use, a statewide initiative, certainly counts for something. But, you know, we got our butt kicked in Alaska again and frankly I think it is a legitimate question as to whether we should be diverting huge amounts of money to try to make things better in Alaska when, number one, it doesn’t look like we are that close to winning yet and, number two, Alaska has the best marijuana law in almost the entire world, you can possess 4 ounces – certainly in the United States – you can possess 4 ounces of marijuana in the privacy of your home, and there’s no penalty whatsoever. So, that’s based on a state Supreme Court decision and interpretation of the right to privacy. Unfortunately, it’s not something we can take to other states because it’s been tried in almost every state and rejected; but in Alaska, it’s been recently reinforced by their courts of appeal and by their state Supreme Court. So frankly, I am disappointed at both the resources we put into a number of states where we failed to make the ballot. For example, I think there was something like $350,000 wasted in Arkansas where they didn’t even come close to making the ballot. And I don’t think it was the fault of the local people. I think they were sort of sandbagged by the funders. Similarly, in Nevada it seemed to me that an enormous amount of money was spent and in the end they didn’t even make the ballot. So I didn’t see it advancing the issue much. So I think we haven’t been – frankly, we haven’t been as strategic in how we spent our resources within the reform movement in the last couple of years. Overall, we have done well. And I think the issue is still moving ahead. I think what is the most promising thing is that you really do now have a strong majority of the American public that say two things: number 1, make it available legally as a medicine if a doctor recommends it. It’s roughly 80% every place nationwide. The challenge is how do you go from having that support to voting that into actual public policy. And then, secondly, you have about three out of four Americans saying, “don’t treat marijuana smokers like criminals.” I mean, it was directly reflected in that CNN/Time Magazine poll that showed, I think, 4% favoring outright legalization and 72% saying a fine only for a marijuana smoker. That means no arrest, no jail, no criminal record. So, it’s essentially what we have been fighting about for a long time. Stop treating responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. So I think in one sense, there’s a lot to be hopeful and happy about; which is that we have largely won the hearts and minds of the American public, but I think there is still a big challenge ahead which is we have not figured out how to convert that into public policy. And they keep kicking our ass despite the fact that our side is spending more and more money. We’re not necessarily winning more and more battles.
Dean: Now, Allen, if I might ask you, I figure some of the cities that receive the Drug Truth Network programs may not have a chapter of NORML; and I was wondering what you might tell them, how you can assist them, and what we can do together.
St. Pierre: Sure. Well, I’ll be happy to. Those that would like to start a NORML chapter or find out where there is one – and there are 114 of them in the United States and around the world. They’re found at the NORML webpage, N-O-R-M-L.org. Or people can call us toll-free in Washington, DC, at 888-67-NORML. And we will track down a chapter in the state – for example, in Texas where this broadcast emanates from ultimately, there is, at least to my recollection, three to four functional chapters at all times of NORML in the state, if not five to seven. So Texas is pretty well represented, but Lord knows, we would love to double the amount of chapters in the state of Texas and in all states, to be better represented. By the way, I could give you a quick preview, probably not take more than 2 minutes, of NORML’s “Top 10, Year in Review” events for marijuana that we’ll be doing tomorrow.
Dean: Go ahead, Allen.
St. Pierre: Sure. Well, if you will, in David Letterman fashion:
10. Britain reclassified marijuana from a B to a C schedule drug, which basically made it decriminalized for the first time in 30 years.
9. Researchers proposed guidelines for per se drug testing standards, meaning that in the Federal government and state governments, very regrettably and scarily, are moving towards going after motorists for simply having a detectable amount of marijuana in their urine, which does not measure impairment, but just past use. So that’s something that all people need to be most conscious about, particularly those who make a living driving on the road.
8. Thankfully, the Ninth Court Circuit struck down the DEA’s ban on hemp food. That was a terrific victory for drug law reformers.
7. The Federal government is trying to get away from urine testing and moving towards hair, sweat, and saliva testing for government workers. This would affect at least a half-million government workers, and sets the standard, often, for private industry. So urine, as we’ve talked about for 20 years at NORML, is something that’s probably going to be disappearing and moving towards these other mediums of testing, which are not really well known.
6. Canada has moved to authorize the under-the-tongue spray, Sativex, which is, one could argue, an interesting direction.
5. NORML activists this past year held the first-ever “Congressional Lobby Day,” and the theme is “We’re Here, We Smoke, We Vote.” About 300 folks came out and lobbied Congress, and we hope to make this an annual event every year in the D.C. and state capitols.
4. Cannabinoids treating pain, protecting brain cells, delaying neurodegenerative diseases – just amazing information in our lifetimes. One could never have imagined that the crude plant we all grew up calling “marijuana” – likely people involved in some of the research there are going to win Nobel prizes for the remarkable work regarding Parkinson’s and cancer.
3. This year, very sadly, the United States had the highest-ever marijuana arrest rate at 755,000 people arrested, 88% for possession only.
2. Voters nationwide embraced marijuana law reform this year. Even though I agree with Keith’s overall tone regarding this past year, and that it was a little more vexing than satisfying, in the cumulative, there were 21 initiatives and 17 of them passed. So we sort of have to look at that as somewhat positive.
1. And lastly, as you mentioned, the Supreme Court has heard and they will decide soon on the most important case regarding medical marijuana and, arguably, the issue of marijuana that has come before the Federal government in our lifetimes, whether or not two people can use marijuana and give it to each other for no remuneration in a state where marijuana has been made legal by the voters, and whether or not the Federal government can come in and stop that basic transaction. Since there is no legal source for it in the legal scheme.
So, those are the top 10 things that we looked at out of thousands and thousands of marijuana-related news events in the year 2004.
Dean: Thank you for that. Allen St. Pierre, the incoming director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I want to reach back a moment to something you said, Allen, about the Lawrence decision. It was instituted, or the arrest happened, here in Houston. And there was a quote. I can’t remember, I think it was Justice Kennedy who indicated that what two people do in the privacy of their own home is nobody else’s business, and the very same could certainly be said for the smoking of a marijuana joint.
St. Pierre: Indeed. In fact, that was a very apt thing to pick up, and even though it was sort of an admonition by Kennedy of saying, “Gee if you can engage in this type of activity in one’s home and it’s private, those who would like to have marijuana legalized might well make the same argument.” And that’s exactly correct. They are completely analogous and as long as no one is being harmed, adults are involved in the process, it’s completely analogous to using alcohol in one’s home. So, yes, it seems like we are moving to the point where the Supreme Court and our appeals courts are going to be hearing these cases and, hopefully, settling them with some compassion and logic.
Dean: Well, we are running out time so quick here. I want to say something here. I first met Keith Stroup back in September of 2000. He was in Austin as part of the Texas Journey for Justice. And this was a double whammy against the Texas legislature that included marches. The children of the Tulia prisoners, they were there; and there was a band of medical marijuana advocates who had toured Texas in 100-degree heat. It was riding in rolling prison cells, and RVs covered with massive marijuana leaves and medical patients pictures, and these people dared. These people stood up, and it was my great privilege to meet Keith there and learn from him and his dignity and his insight. That was the day that I truly became an activist, and I want to thank him and those brave souls that braved that heat, for encouraging me to become part of this. Which we all must do. Not all of us, but enough of us need to stand up to make a difference.
St. Pierre: Well, that’s very kind of you, Dean. I will be honest. I think that until marijuana smokers learn the lessons that I think gay and lesbian Americans learned over the last 20 years, which is essentially – you must come out of the closet before you are ever really going to have your civil rights. And the difference – I mean, honestly, when we started NORML, I think the gay and lesbian issue and the marijuana issue were about the same place politically. Both of them were considered controversial. You couldn’t tell which one might be accepted or whatever. Well, frankly, the gay and lesbian issues have made wonderful strides. Of course, it is still a struggle. They are fighting over gay marriage, but my goodness, if you think of the level of acceptance of a simple gay civil union now as a fall-back position. They have made enormous strides, and I really think it has to do largely with, they have changed their negative image because they have come out of the closet and demonstrated that gay people don’t fit some silly stereotype. That there are lots of people throughout the culture who are gay. That’s what marijuana smokers have to demonstrate. We have to overcome that negative stereotype. So in any event, I thought that Texas event that you speak of was one of those nice events. It’s like the Seattle Hemp Fest or something. There were a lot of people willing to stand up and say publically, “I’m not going to put up with your marijuana laws.” In this case, primarily it was focused on medical use, but not entirely. But it was to pay attention to the fact that marijuana laws are unfair to people. And a lot of people in Texas were willing to stand up and say that publically. I was very pleased to be there.
Dean: Thank you. We want to give you a few seconds, Allen. We’ve got about 30 seconds left. If you would, tell us the website – how they might get involved with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
St. Pierre: Well, I would also like to thank Keith for starting NORML and starting this vehicle to change the laws, empower people to stand up and say, “Let’s do something different.” And people can do so by contacting us in two easy ways: over the web at www.norml.org or calling us toll-free in Washington, D.C., at 888-67-NORML. N-O-R-M-L. And please, get involved. Honor Keith’s legacy. Get involved. I mean, the very people putting this broadcast out – Dean, and particularly Steve Nolin – Hey, Steve – these individuals are involved for so long to change these laws and to just reach out to like-minded people; and so we would like to get as many people involved as possible, because it’s the only way the laws are going to change.
Dean: Well, gentlemen, thank you so much. We’re going to take a short break, and we’ll be right back with David Robics.
It’s time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, yellow eyes, liver failure, dementia, stroke, heart attack, and death. Time’s up. The answer: any of a number of nonsteroidal pain relievers approved by the FDA, including Vioxx, Celebrex, and Aleve. Meantime, the 8,000-year-old pain reliever, marijuana, remains illegal and its growers potentially subject to the death penalty.
Dean: That was thanks to Billionaires for Bush. We do have in studio with us at this time, Mr. David Robics. Hello, David.
Robics: Hey, good to be here. Billionaires for Bush – wonderful stuff, that was great.
Dean: Yes, astute folks they are.
Robics: “I smoke and I vote” – I like that, too. I hadn’t heard that before, actually.
Dean: I used to have a chant somewhere. I need to bring it back, it was a good one. It was at a NORML convention, if you will – “We smoke, we’re proud of it.” David tell the folks a little bit about yourself. You tour the nation, sometimes the world, talking about various reforms.
Robics: Yeah, yeah, I do. I travel around, play music, play concerts around the U.S. and Canada and Europe, some parts of Europe, and sometimes other places. Going to Brazil next month for the World Social Forum.
Dean: Well, folks down there will enjoy your fine music. David, did you have a song or two picked out for us this evening?
Robics: Yeah, I had a couple in mind. I know that – I’ll play this one first, which I just wrote a few days ago, a couple of weeks ago, I guess, about someone who is in prison out in Oregon for taking a certain direct action of burning a couple of SUVs at a dealership. This song is for him.
I grew up in a land of houses and roads.
I had asthma, that’s how it goes.
When you are in LA, there are cars everywhere,
See the sky and smell the air.
I left home, looked around, trying to find some solid ground.
I found life in a northern wood, and I knew that this was good.
I saw the dozers, the death machines
Tearing apart everything green.
I built a platform, sat in a tree,
Said if you are taking her down,
Then you are taking down me.
I saw the highways, I saw the mall.
I saw the evil, heard the clarion call.
Voices of reason were talking to me,
So I burned down a couple of SUVs.
Among the words and the deeds in the war for the west,
A chapter was written, and I was the test.
They set us all up and drive us apart,
All who have life and love in our hearts.
The judge did the math, and he did some more.
He was a man out to settle a score.
An illegal sentence in a stolen land,
With life or death in the palm of his hand.
And now here I am, so long behind bars,
For trying to breathe in a nation of cars.
Sanity jailed, and madness and power,
Our time it is short, and now is the hour.
So do you hide in the darkness, stay safe in the night,
Find whatever you need to stay in the fight.
There is a planet at stake, and that’s all I see,
And my thoughts will be with you until I am free.
In twenty-three years.
In twenty-three years.
Dean: Very nice, David.
Robics: Thank you.
Dean: Was it Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “when the laws are unjust, the only place for a just man is in prison”?
Robics: That’s right, absolutely, yeah. He asked his friend, Thoreau, he asked him – he said, “what are you doing out there?”
Dean: Indeed, when last you were here, we talked about the fact that these people out here listening to us, they agree with us. But they need to just do a little bit in support to help move this.
Robics: Yes, people need to step forward. People need to, you know, be out on the streets and recognize you can’t be a silent majority. It’s the majority that is really in favor of legalization, a majority is against the war, a majority is very different from the politicians that we elect. But in so many ways, we need to be able to make ourselves heard and, of course, we have electoral reform that might help, as well. Proportional representation, get money out of politics, and have some democracy here. It would look a lot different.
Dean: Get the corporations out of that equation, you bet. David, I want to close with a couple of thoughts here and maybe you can just close us out. Next week, our guest will be Doug Valentine. He has written a book The Strength of the Wolf, The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs. And always I remind you, because of drug prohibition, you don’t know what is in that bag you are holding. Please be careful.