DRCNet Interview:Loretta Nall, President, US Marijuana Party 1/9/04

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Self-described "Alabama housewife" Loretta Nall has become one of the brightest new stars in the drug reform firmament. Inspired by a visit from drug-hunting police at her home a year-and-a-half ago, Nall has embraced activism with a vengeance. Founder of the US Marijuana Party (http://www.usmjparty.org) and host of Canada's Pot-TV (http://www.pot-tv.net) Internet marijuana legalization program, Nall addressed the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Jersey in November, then spent time in Goose Creek, South Carolina, home of the notorious Stratford High School police raid, as she made her way home to Alabama. Nall's most recent journey was to Austin, Texas, to interview Democratic presidential nomination candidate Dennis Kucinich. DRCNet spoke with Nall from her home on Wednesday.

Drug War Chronicle: What inspired you to become an activist?

Loretta Nall: Although I've smoked pot off and on since I was 12, I had never grown or sold it or been arrested. Then, last September, I was sitting at my computer and heard a helicopter overhead. I wasn't worried -- I wasn't growing or anything -- but it circled the house for about an hour, so I grabbed my video camera and started taping. As soon as I got back inside the house, four big black Dodge wagons pulled into the yard, and about 15 or 20 heavily-armed undercover cops came piling out. I ran out and said, "What the hell is going on?" One of the cops flashed a badge and said the helicopter pilot thought he saw some pot. He asked if they could look around, and I asked if they had a warrant. He said no, and I said, "Well, you can look, but let me get my camera to film you doing this warrantless search." I went inside to get the camera, and by the time I got back outside they were all hauling ass in a cloud of dust.

There was no pot found, no charges, but that incident shook me. The cops didn't know who I was; they could just target anybody. I'm a libertarian, and I feel like I own my 2.15 acres from the ground up. I had just found the Cannabis Culture web site (http://cannabisculture.com) and was learning about Marc Emery's British Columbia Marijuana Party (http://www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca), so I decided to start an Alabama branch of the BCMP. A month later, I wrote a letter to the Birmingham News calling on citizens to stand up and fight to change the marijuana laws. Six days after that, there were 20 cops all over my property. This time they had a warrant -- based on my letter to the editor and an alleged statement from my daughter to her teacher that we had green plants hanging in our house. The cops either found or brought with them 87/100 of a gram. They locked me up for nine hours, and the case has dragged on since then. I go back to court next month. My lawyers tell me I will be convicted at the district level, but I will be able to appeal to the circuit court and get a jury trial. Alabama doesn't do jury trials at the district level. If I can get a jury trial, I'm confident I will win.

So why did I get active? Well, they started it! I had wanted to be active in the cause, but fear held me back, as I'm sure it does millions of others. If they hadn't come and messed with me, I'd probably still be back in the closet. Now I've decided to play their game, but not necessarily by their rules. They don't like me very much here now, but with people getting their doors kicked in, getting their homes and kids taken away, I decided I had to see what I could do.

Chronicle: What is the US Marijuana Party? What does it want? What will it do?

Nall: We are a grassroots organization of regular people all across the country. We're sick and tired of being persecuted and hunted and locked in jail; a lot of us have tasted the jackboot up close and personal. We want to see all criminal penalties for adult marijuana use removed, criminal records expunged, the ability to buy, grow, and sell without prosecution, and the government out of our bladders. We will run for office at every level of state, local, and national government. We don't really expect to win on a one-plank platform, but to put the issue in the public spotlight. We aim to shave a few votes from Democrats and Republicans here and there until some of them begin to realize that there are 90 million people in this country who have smoked pot. The US Marijuana Party aims to wake up those people who are running for elected office and let them know they will pay a price in votes if they continue to oppress us.

Chronicle: How many state chapters do you have now, and what do you expect from the state chapters?

Nall: We currently have chapters in 27 states, a little more than half. We've got Ed Forchion, the New Jersey Weedman (http://www.njweedman.com) in New Jersey. If we had a guy like Ed in every state, it'd be over in no time. We'd be there... or we'd be dead. Running a state chapter is an important role. Folks in the state chapters are expected to do a lot of letter writing, to be in the public eye, to get contact info out, to organize other people, organize events and protests, do media interviews, fundraising, the whole ball of wax.

Chronicle: Why create a new organization instead of joining an existing one like NORML or the Marijuana Policy Project?

Nall: Those groups do an exceptional job of lobbying, but none of them actually runs candidates for office. We saw a niche there. By getting candidates on the ballot, we can both force other candidates to address the issue and get our message out to people who are not necessarily interested in drug reform, but who do follow the elections. The US Marijuana Party can serve as a large umbrella for anyone who wants to change the marijuana laws, and drug reform in general. We would like to see the USMJ Party become a massive voting machine. We have all of these excellent groups working various issues -- is it medical marijuana or recreational? -- and we want it legal so we don't have all these problems. If we can demonstrate support at the ballot box for changing the marijuana laws, maybe we can get somewhere.

Chronicle: You also host Pot-TV, which is funded by Canadian marijuana seed entrepreneur Marc Emery, who founded the British Columbia Marijuana Party. What's the connection?

Nall: Marc Emery and the BCMP were my political inspiration. As I said, I had just found Cannabis Culture, which Marc publishes, when I had that run-in with the police, so Marc was one of the first activists I came in contact with. He funds a great deal of what I do through Pot-TV, but the USMJ Party relies on contributions and donations from concerned Americans, as well as paying for things out of our pockets. Still, the Pot-TV money pays for my travels, and while I'm traveling I also do my USMJ Party business. I wear a lot of different hats.

Pot-TV is great! I started at the end of May. Steve and Michelle Kubby were the hosts, and when Steve got really sick, Michelle asked if I could co-host. I did four or five shows with her and got good reviews, so when they decided to move on, Marc asked me to take over. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world now. I do it from my house in Alabama, but they're upgrading the server in Vancouver and are about to start doing live broadcasts from BCMP headquarters there. We're looking at doing a cable version and some other expansions; there are investors looking at it. We're trying to take it to the next level. We don't want to be just a bunch of hippies. We want it do be like CNN in its credibility and the breadth and scope of its coverage.

Chronicle: So how has life as an activist been?

Nall: Very exciting. In the last year-and-a-half, I've spoken at events in Atlanta, Ohio, Oregon, Seattle, and, of course, at DPA in New Jersey. I went to Goose Creek twice, and that was my first really confrontational activist gig. It was frightening, very racist. I was a little bit scared. Still, I felt like I had an advantage over some other people because at least I was southern. If nothing else I informed people of their rights. The second time, I talked to Jesse Jackson a little bit, and went on my first civil rights march. And now Principal McCrackin's resigned! I was so happy you had to peel me off the ceiling. And there's a lesson there: When big shit happens, don't be afraid to go in and set up shop. Have your material ready and start talking to the first person you meet. If you can get to where something is going on and start spreading the word, that helps everybody. Those kids and parents in Goose Creek were so happy to see us; they could see they weren't alone.

Chronicle: And you met with Dennis Kucinich?

Nall: Yes, I traveled to Austin to interview him for Pot-TV. He has a very progressive drug policy platform, and his campaign has asked me to work with them on drug policy. The USMJ Party is supporting Kucinich. We will be taking out full-page ads in the major primary states in support of Kucinich and his drug policy planks. Look for ads in Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware soon.

Chronicle: How does a self-described libertarian end up supporting a progressive Democrat like Kucinich?

Nall: He has a pretty good platform overall. I guess we'll have to go our separate ways on gun control.

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Issue #319, 1/9/04 Taking Drug Policy to the Presidential Candidates: SSDP Goes to New Hampshire | Battle of Christiania Flares as Hash-Seller Burn Own Stands | Major New Reform Coalition Forming in Maryland -- Will Call for Treatment, Not Incarceration | DRCNet Interview: Loretta Nall, President, US Marijuana Party | Newsbrief: Principal in South Carolina Drug Raid Resigns | Newsbrief: Campaign Watch: Gephardt On Crank | Newsbrief: Chicago Suburb Seeks to Ban Glow Sticks from All-Ages Clubs | Newsbrief: Secret Courts, and Not Just for Terrorism Suspects | Newsbrief: Ad Execs Charged With Ripping Off Drug Czar's Ad Campaign | Kentucky Cop Kills Drug Suspect with Three Shots to the Back -- Protest Turns Into Near Riot Thursday Night | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar

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