Mar 04 2011

NORML cultivates division at 2011 California conference, part 1 of 2


— Continue to Part 2 of 2

California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law) held their conference, titled “Marijuana Reform:  Next Steps For California” in Berkeley on 29 Jan 11.

While there was a live online feed, the videography was horrible.   Additionally, links to videos of the most important speakers and most significant comments are not to be found on their webpage for the conference.

There was pointed criticism of NORML, their spokesmen, and the direction they are taking, both in California and nationally.

From all appearances, there was a significant divide among those in attendance and this divide is growing.  And NORML is exacerbating things, particularly through diatribes by their Outreach Coordinator, Russ Belville, such as “10 Lessons Learned from Marijuana Election Defeats” published by The Huffington Post:

During the campaign some on our side were surprised by the emergence of the “I Gots Mine” crowd, the so-called “Stoners Against Legalization”.  But the fact is that in a medical marijuana state, especially California, what they “gots” is pretty amazing. Moving forward, any legalization measure in a medical state must include the following three explicit points:

a) This legalization bill will not affect your medical marijuana rights in any way.

b) Your medical marijuana rights will not change in any way once legalization passes.

c) If you are concerned about your medical marijuana rights, please see points a) and b).

I’m being somewhat facetious, but the point better be taken.  No legalization bill is going to succeed unless the current medical marijuana smokers believe it makes their lives better or at least doesn’t threaten to change their lives.

Now, I know as well as anyone that Prop 19 wouldn’t have affected medical rights, but it got lost within the Purposes and Intents and buried in a cloud of “notwithstandings” and “excepts”.  The next initiative needs to have an explicit declarative paragraph protecting medical rights. And it has to be written in such a way that it is perfectly clear to even the most unlikely, naive, and uneducated voters …

Among the “unlikely, naive, and uneducated voters” who believed Prop. 19 could most certainly have been used to dismantle Prop. 215 were Bill Panzer, quoted in Part 2 of this article.  And, by a show of hands, well over half of those attending the conference agreed with him.

While “Stoners Against Prop. 19” published extensive analysis of what was wrong with Prop. 19 and, above and beyond everything else urged people to just read it, NORML’s Outreach Coordinator labels them “Stoners Against Legalization”, calls them liars, and exercises the considerable influence of NORML to persuade voters to pay no attention to them.

Belville lives in Oregon, where after over ten years as a medical marijuana state patients cannot use cannabis for PTSD, depression, anxiety, or any other psychiatric condition except Alzheimer’s Rage.

Belville accuses medical marijuana patients and marijuana activists who oppose Prop. 19 of being the “I gots mine” crowd, when it’s really the proponents of Prop. 19 that were the “I gots mine” crowd.  And the patients, most of whom can’t afford to keep themselves in medicine all month, are now paying 20% or more tax on their medicine.

Evidently, the sick and dying can’t do enough for Belville and NORML.

From all appearances, NORML’s future course was decided long before the dog-and-pony show in Berkeley.

They, in partnership with the proponents of Prop. 19, are going to re-invent the wheel and write a new son-of-Prop.-19.  And they are going to pay to get the signatures required to put this son-of-Prop.-19 on the ballot (Richard Lee paid about $2/signature to get Prop. 19 on the ballot) rather than support any of the initiatives already written, such as The Jack Herer Initiative, which probably would have passed if it had been on the ballot in 2010.

Could it be that  NORML is more concerned with being in charge, calling the shots, and saving face than ending marijuana prohibition?

As Chris Conrad said when introducing the lawyers, “A lot of people say what they think is wrong with Prop.19.  What we want these lawyers to do today is to consider some of that, but what we’re really looking for is what was right.”  In other words, only sycophants are welcome at The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws?

Don’t Piggy-Back A Program On Our Backs

NOTE: Click fullscreen mode (the rectangle) in order to use the slider to skip forward through these videos.

12:04pm video: Steph Sherer, CaNORML conference 2011 – Video streaming by Ustream

The most pointed criticism was probably that of Steph Sherer, National Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

1:40 – I was only half kidding when I was saying let’s talk about things face-to-face.

And so one of the proposals I want to put out there, as we move forward with these very controversial issues, is let’s go to the source when you think somebody has said something and ask them first before you write a blog or put it out on the [list] serves.

Because I think that a lot of what we found ourselves (around Prop. 19) dealing with was just basically rumours about what someone said, and we actually didn’t really get to talk about the meat of issues that we had with Prop. 19.

While her criticism could be pointed at many, in the context of her other comments Belville is clearly the primary target.

2:30 – I think that as we are talking about these two issues – legalization and medicalization – I think it’s very important that we actually talk about them as separate issues…

What that really means is that, yes, I agree with you that the medicalization of marijuana has opened some room for the legalization of marijuana.  More people have been talking about it.  More people have brought these conversations to their dining room table than ever before.

However, the legalization movement did not make marijuana a medicine.

Even though you might have thought of it as a strategy towards legalization, the legalization movement did not make marijuana a medicine.

And so what that means is that – it doesn’t mean that you can turn it on and off.  Right?

So those who have been the loudest talking about the medicalization can’t get annoyed when patients are standing up saying “wait a second!  This is a separate system.”

As so as we move forward looking at proposals for legalization some of the things I’m hoping people will look at, specifically – there’s obviously taxation – I think that, yes, as far as the 8.5% tax that people are paying right now, I think that is enough.  So all of these cities putting more and more taxes on patients, it’s outrageous.

And as an industry, those of you who are asking for taxation, it’s crazy.  It’s absolutely insane.   [much applause]

People are going to tax you whether you ask for it or not.  So just <zip it>.  <zip it>

Because that taxation is falling on the backs of patients.   That’s the truth.

And one of the many reason why the medicine hasn’t come down, the prices haven’t come down, at least what the providers are telling us, is because of taxation.

The other part of a separate system that we have to look at is don’t piggy-back a program on our backs.  And what I’m saying is, no matter what happens, the federal government is gonna come here.  Right?

Those of you, many of you in the room, who worked hard to get Proposition 215 passed – and thank you very much, as a patient, for doing that – what happened the day after the election?  The Department of Justice held a press conference and laid out their strategy of how they were going to defeat it.

I’m predicting that if you pass something around legalization, something very similar will happen.  Which I understand, and I know it’s your battle, and I’m excited  that you’re getting out there and fighting that battle.  But if you create a system that somehow gives the medical system an option to become legal, that puts patients in the cross-fire again.  And we fought very hard to get ourselves out of that cross-fire.

So I’m just saying as we move forward with these drafts let’s just be very mindful of  how it’s gonna impact the current system, and the system that – honestly – patients built.

Now, people who had a broader vision might have helped build it, but whether or not you meant to, you built it on our backs and we intend to keep it.

Steph goes on to make a point about the national campaign and debate, and the fact that it is often reacting to California, but NORML didn’t manage to record that part.

NOTE: Click fullscreen mode (the rectangle) in order to use the slider to skip forward through these videos.

Allison Margolin, George Mull, Bill Panzer

The Lawyers

The next video, a relatively long one at 26 minutes, is the lawyers panel. The first ten minutes consists of people milling around and Dale Geringer telling everyone to sit down and shut up.

Of the six marijuana lawyers on the panel, 4 of them had serious concerns with Prop. 19.

Rogoway and Figueroa, originally on the Prop. 19 team, split off and wrote another initiative which did not get the funding, and therefore the signatures required, to make the ballot.

One person, Richard Lee, footed the entire bill for getting Prop. 19 on the ballot, to the tune of $1.4 million.

George Mull lead the opposition to Prop. 19, representing patients, cultivators, and distributors who believed it was not legalization but thinly veiled prohibition and that it threatened to destroy the hard-won gains of medical marijuana in California over the past 15 years.

Bill Panzer, co-author of Prop. 215 and a marijuana lawyer of considerable reputation, sent an 11th-hour email over the Drug Policy Alliance Foundation list-serve which stated that the most amazing thing for him was that anyone would call Prop. 19 legalization, and particularly the media.

The fact is not a one of the lawyers had anything good to say about Prop.19 or NORML’s ‘tax and regulate it to death’ strategy.

The lawyers’ panel begins 10 minutes into the “12:42PM” video with Allison Margolin, a marijuana attorney of considerable reputation and daughter of pioneering marijuana lawyer Bruce Margolin, using her ten minutes to plea for a focus on “human rights violations” rather than “economics”, perhaps in rebuke to the Money Tree NORML planted in Times Square last May, which has born fruit such as Measure M, on the March 8th ballot for Los Angeles, which would add a 5% sin tax to the 9.75% sales tax the sick and dying already pay for medicine.

13:40 minutes, Allison Margolin – My view is that Prop. 19 focused on the economic, which I think can be used as a collateral benefit to the real reality, which is that the criminalization and prosecution of marijuana patients is a human rights violation… [Applause]

I think if it’s portrayed as a human-rights issue … I just think these issues weren’t really stressed enough in the minds of Californians, who still really believe that people don’t face jail and prison for marijuana.

At 16 minutes George Mull takes the podium. Mull is an attorney who represents marijuana businesses in Sacramento and the co-founder of The California Cannabis Association (, not to be confused with the California Cannabis Coalition (

Mull and his organization seek state-level regulation of medical cannabis, which includes tracking every plant from seed to the patient, using a system similar to that used for alcohol production and distribution.

Many of you know me for having stepped forward in opposition to Prop. 19 and we had one purpose for that … we are very very concerned with local prohibitions of medical marijuana access.  Prop. 19, in our mind, locked in the ability of cities and counties to prohibit any collective cultivation and distribution…

17:00 – … less than 10% of the jurisdictions in the state have come forward with reasonable regulations.  Over 250 jurisdictions have prohibited medical marijuana distribution.  Many more are thinking of doing that.

We think we need to step up and take that away from local governments and treat it like tobacco or like alcohol.

Our proposal is this, to work with law enforcement this year … to address real concerns of law enforcement that are actual problems. The biggest concern law-enforcement laid out for us is diversion of the crop for non-medical use, and diversion of the crop in California to other states.

We all know that takes place.  I’m sorry but we’re not here to support or worry about those that are violating federal law by moving medical marijuana outside the state. I can’t protect them and that’s not something we’re going to be moving toward.

18:00 minutes – What we’d like to move toward is statewide regulation that would cover everything from seed to sale. That would cover cultivation, distribution, and license dispensaries at the state-wide level the same way California licenses liquor providers.

Many states allow local cities and counties to have dry cities and counties. California doesn’t.

We still leave up to local government, in the liquor world, some licensing – at a business license level – and some zoning restrictions.

What we would like to posit is that there should be state-wide licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. There should be a limit – at this point we’re proposing 1 for 38,500 people because that comes out to 1,000 dispensaries or so for the state – and that every jurisdiction, even if it’s smaller than that, has to have at least one dispensary license available so that people can find access to their medicine locally.

Mull advocates mandatory testing for potency, pathogens, and micro-toxins, and pesticides. Mull hopes to form The California Cannabis Commission – a new state agency that promulgates regulations to address these issues and shore up the rights of medical marijuana patients.

He hopes this agency can be used to persuade congress to take what is now an executive order from the Attorney General and turn that into a federal law, such that the Controlled Substances Act would not be applied to intrastate jurisdictional transactions for medical marijuana.

– Continued –

— Continue to Part 2 of 2

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