special to DRCNet, by Steve Beitler
"We never set out to be full-time activists," says Tracy Johnson, but she and her husband Jeff Jarvis have lately looked the part. They recently passed the first anniversary of their very public self-outing as marijuana smokers, an act that catapulted them to prominence on a thinly populated frontier of the reform effort. A year ago, Johnson and Jarvis stepped forward and said out loud what many people have known for a long time: millions of adults are using marijuana responsibly right here in Fortress America and around the world (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/192.html#neighbors).
During the 12 months since then, the self-employed Portland, OR, couple has worked to upgrade the image of cannabis users, and now they've decided that laughter can help end prohibition. They're part of a small group of reformers that is getting more vocal in taking on the "pothead loser" myth.
Jeff and Tracy's odyssey began when newspapers in Willamette (Oregon), Seattle and San Francisco ran their ads that featured an arresting tag line: "We're Jeff and Tracy. We're your good neighbors. We smoke pot." They wanted to inform (or remind) people that millions of highly productive citizens enjoy the weed. "We were hoping to inspire others like us to do something similar to what we did," Johnson said.
The ads ran only after seven radio stations, Portland's mass transit agency and the Oregonian newspaper said "no thanks" to their 30-second radio spots and print ads. The ads, and the story of their torturous course into print, kicked up a media storm in Oregon and pushed them to the front of a small group of marijuana users who have come out of a jam-packed closet.
Johnson and Jarvis went on talk radio, spoke with journalists and heard from a lot of still-closeted folks. Energized by this response, they announced plans for POTAid, "the un-hippy, no pot leaf, non tie-dyed, come out of the closet so you can be free concert." The goal was to bring 100,000 people to Oregon for a music-and-comedy bash that could raise a million dollars that they would distribute to drug policy reform groups.
The newly minted activists set September 2002 as the concert date, but plans foundered. "The talent hangs on the funding and the funding hangs on the talent," Johnson said, and they had trouble getting past that closed loop. Other ideas included a public-service announcement for television with the theme, "Who do you know who smokes pot?" They worked to recruit professional people to be in the ad.
Today, Johnson and Jarvis have moved back to Portland from Bend, Oregon, in part "because of our desire to become more actively involved in our 'Jeff and Tracy' activities," reports Johnson. POTaid is on a back burner, but the couple is "still very excited about the concept and [we] anticipate moving towards bringing that to fruition in the future."
These days they are working to stage PottyMouth, a comedy competition scheduled for October 19 at Portland's Roseland Theater. "PottyMouth will be well advertised," says Jarvis. "Laughter bridges generational, cultural and political differences. If we can recoup our expenses through ticket sales, we will have generated a lot of publicity at no cost. PottyMouth is our way of challenging a public policy that offensively defines one in three adults as criminal." Some might question the event's subtitle -- Laughing Away the DEA -- as a tough sell for people more directly victimized by the drug war, but it's in keeping with their goal of reaching people whose image of marijuana users is inaccurate.
Not surprisingly, Tracy and Jeff have networked with other reformers. "Their work is part of a powerful consumer movement that is gradually gaining momentum," commented Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org). "They provide us an example of wonderfully creative grassroots activism that should be emulated by other activists all across this country."
Johnson and Jarvis have also been in touch with Mikki Norris, who launched the Cannabis Consumers Campaign (http://www.cannabisconsumers.org) earlier this year. "I appreciate what they did," said Norris. "It was a great media ploy, and courageous too. It's time for people to take zero tolerance personally." Norris said she had spotted the most sincere form of flattery in an ad that read, "We're Mike and Jenny. We're your good neighbors. We eat beef."
So what's next for the good neighbors? Their first goal is to sell out the Roseland's 900 seats and 200 standing-room slots for PottyMouth. Beyond that, Johnson and Jarvis want to take another run at POTAid as well as at the small screen. "Television is queen," notes Johnson, "so we definitely have our long-term vision set in that direction. We want to pursue other creative endeavors in an effort to increase awareness in the mainstream." At press time they had been contacted by a producer for "The Rob Nelson Show," a FOX daytime talk show slated to debut in the fall. "We don't have the details yet, but they said they'd like to have us on the show," Johnson said.
As Jarvis told Heads magazine, "What makes us controversial isn't that we advocate smoking pot. It's that we don't fit the government-sponsored image of the drug user." In helping people understand that, they're working on behalf of what a writer for the San Diego Union Tribune described as "a vast underground of otherwise upstanding citizens secretly subverting the nation's drug laws."
Visit the good neighbors at http://www.jeffandtracy.com online.