NORML Does LA: The 2007 National Convention

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) held its 2007 national conference last weekend in Los Angeles, or more precisely, at the Sheraton hotel in Universal City. Hundreds of marijuana patients, activists, and aficionados from across the Golden State and the nation poured in to the upscale venue for a solid weekend of strategizing, educating, and acquaintance-making, not to mention medicating and recreating.
Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris on conference panel
Recreational pot-smoking is fine, but more tokers need to get off their couches and hit the barricades, said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as he greeted attendees at the opening session. "I'm working 70 hours a week at NORML because I'm an adult, I smoke cannabis and I don't want to be a criminal," St. Pierre said.

But he needs some help, he said, noting that only 0.1% of marijuana users get involved with reform efforts. Imagine what could happen if even 1% got involved, he said. "We need to come off that mountaintop ignited for change," St. Pierre said. "Not united, ignited for change."

That message was especially resonant in California, where marijuana is the state's number one cash crop and the state's broadly-written medical marijuana law has resulted in hundreds of dispensaries, and numerous medical offices, cropping up around the state to serve the medical marijuana market.

Indeed, the conference was fairly Cali-centric, which is little surprise given that it was held in LA, California is the nation's most populous state, and it is on the cutting edge of marijuana law reform. Still, there were broader discussions, with different panels addressing the national reform picture, tackling common questions about marijuana, and giving out advice on "cannabis consumer safety," among other topics.
Tommy Chong performs at the awards ceremony
Things are happening in other parts of the country besides California to be sure. For example, in one plenary session Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) executive director Rob Kampia announced that MPP will be involved in at least four statewide marijuana initiatives: Medical marijuana in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and decriminalization in Massachusetts. The organization is also involved in legislative medical marijuana efforts in Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York, Kampia said. On the same panel, John Sajo of the Oregon group Voter Power described their pending initiative to expand the Oregon medical marijuana law OMMA.

"We have 12 states with effective medical marijuana laws now," said Kampia. "We could have 18 states in the next couple of years. Things are on a fast track."

Of course, it wouldn’t have been NORML without the appearance of movement luminaries. "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" author and founder of the modern day hemp movement, Jack Herer, manned a table as well as addressing the convention and urging support for a full-blown legalization initiative. Ed Rosenthal, the "guru of ganja," swept through the crowd in a wizard's robe and cap, and travel writer Rick Steves wondered aloud why Europeans were so much more civilized than Americans when it came to marijuana policy.

And Tommy Chong showed up Saturday night to address the dinner crowed. Among other things, Chong recounted how he got paranoid too late about being involved with the bong-making operation that got him nine months in federal prison. "About three months after I got to prison, I woke up one night and thought 'Man, I shouldn't have put my face on those bongs," he said to appreciative laughter.
LA-area medical marijuana dispensary price list
While the weekend had a full schedule of panels and speeches, many attendees spent considerable time schmoozing outside, where California's tough anti-smoking laws are not in effect and the medicating and recreating was going non-stop. Much of the buzz in those outdoor gabfests was about the state of affairs in California, which to goggle-eyed activists from other states appeared to be the Promised Land, with dispensaries popping up like mushrooms, billboards with huge marijuana buds saying "1-800-GET-KUSH," and ads featuring a sexy doctor in a mini-skirt alluringly claiming she wants to be "your medical marijuana doctor."

It's not that simple or that easy, Golden State residents were quick to point out, citing DEA raids, local busts, and difficult access for patients in many parts of the state. But it still looks pretty damned alluring to outsiders.

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Getting off our asses...

Allen St. Pierre scolds all us recreational marijuana smokers for not getting off our collectives asses to support medical marijuana. "Imagine what would happen if even 1% got involved," Mr. St. Pierre intones. Well, I say, imagine what would happen if NORML quit supporting criminal penalties for those marijuana merchants who risk much to supply all us recreational smokers. Where does NORML think we get our joints (which they say we should have the legal right to smoke) - the pot fairy?

I'll get off my ass when you get off yours, Allen...

The Tommy Chong method

I'm a firm believer in the Tommy Chong method of putting your face out there.Of course I've been in jail a whole lotta times but somebody's gotta do it.I gotta say,at 59 I've done my share,thank you very much and I'm on permanent hiatus.I still put my face out there but now it's advocating instead of being pierre is absolutly right.I do understand the politics(believe it or not)but turning your backs on your supplier is something I'm all too familiar with and I think it's cowardly behavior.You can't have it both ways.Leave the politics to those that have no moral centre and lets legalize the stuff and then the dealers will go the way of the dinosaur.

Secede from criminalizing states

Let us make our own nation of free men and women. Freedom requires constant responsibility.

the pot fairy comment

I had no idea that NORML supports "criminal penalties for those marijuana merchants who risk much to supply all us recreational smokers". I do not support that policy. It's an herb, for crissake, we can grow echinacea, St. John's Wort, Black Cohosh, Evening Primrose, all of those have medicinal properties -- we can grow them, have them in our spice cupboard and/or medicine cabinet, ingest them, and even sell them to each other without criminal penalty. Pot and 'shrooms, just because they have a form of intoxication associated with them, are prohibited from cultivation, possession, use and sale with severe criminal penalties attached. This is not logical, as Spock would say.

However, Allen may be thinking we should all grow our own? Or get it from a friend who grows his own? That's all well and good, except growing one's own could get one's land/home confiscated by the unconstitutional law that authorizes government the power of seizure of property if drugs are "manufactured" or sold on or in it. Who would want to risk one's home to grow enough pot to last a year? Most people would be afraid of even growing one or two plants, and, if they chose to take the risk, would want to keep them small, hidden and odorless to avoid detection by law enforcement -- each of which would keep the harvest small, too. When one's supply of home grown runs out before the next crop is ready for harvest, is one supposed to do without, for 3-4 months (6-8 for heavy smokers 9-11 for super heavy smokers)? Wish there were such a thing as a "pot fairy". But we DO have to rely on those who take the risk to grow for the "retail" market. And NORML should support their right to entrepreneurship, without them we'd all be without, for at least part of the year, every year.

borden's picture

That doesn't sound correct to me.

To the best of my knowledge NORML does not support criminal penalties for marijuana, use or sales.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Yes they do, David...

For proof that NORML supports criminal penalties for pot dealers, all you need do is visit their website and read posted policy positions. Also, I've been in contact with NORML, and they do not deny that they support criminal sanctions for pot dealers.

From NORML's policy statement...

The following is from NORML's policy statement regarding recreational marijuana use (found at


NORML supports the removal of all penalties for the private possession of marijuana by adults, cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts. NORML also supports the development of a legally controlled market for marijuana."

I think that "support[ing] the development of a legally controlled market for marijuana" can be interpreted as NOT supporting criminal penalties for marijuana merchants. Regardless of how you feel about NORML's actual performance in furthering their policies, there's a difference between "support" and "poor performance." (I'm not saying they're performing poorly...I do not have enough information to make a decision one way or the other.)

I also think that it's important to keep dialogue open about DPR organizations' performance; in order to maintain the integrity and productivity of this dialogue, it's important to make informed opinions. It's hard to fight the real enemy when people on the same side of an issue are fighting each other.

Keep up your fierce-ness, contact your legislators often, and vote your conscience!

~lauren anderson payne

NORML's own words...part two

The following is a direct quote from the first paragraph in the Introduction on NORML's Personal Use page (addressing decriminalization, which NORML supports): "This policy, known as decriminalization, removes the consumer - the marijuana smoker - from the criminal justice system, while maintaining criminal penalties against those who sell or traffic large quantities of the drug."

I couldn't agree more that "it's hard to fight the real enemy when people on the same side of an issue are fighting each other." But that is true only when people are on the same side - and NORML, at least on this issue, is on the side of the ONDCP.

And while I don't think it is appropriate to out the NORML staff member who sent me an email that reiterates their support of criminal sanctions, I have no qualms with identifying myself.

Daniel E. Williams
[email protected]

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

I agree that decriminalization DOES still allow for (harsh) criminal penalties for drug "traffickers"...
However, supporting decrim is one aspect of fighting the drug war. In the section I cited above, NORML makes certain to mention that, in addition to supporting decriminalization, they support the creation of a legally controlled market for marijuana. It seems as though broad decriminalization would eventually lead to a legally controlled market. In fact, 2 sections down the page from NORML's description of decrim (as quoted by Mr. Williams), is NORML's policy about legalization, excerpted below:


NORML supports the eventual development of a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers could buy marijuana for personal use from a safe legal source. This policy, generally known as legalization, exists on various levels in a handful of European countries like The Netherlands and Switzerland, both of which enjoy lower rates of adolescent marijuana use than the U.S. Such a system would reduce many of the problems presently associated with the prohibition of marijuana, including the crime, corruption and violence associated with a "black market.""

I'm not trying to be argumentative or obnoxious. I think that there are many ways to fight the drug war. One way is to slowly chip away at it...I don't think that supporting decriminalization as a means to an end equals support for criminal penalties for dealers. NORML supports legalization. As does Mr. Williams...and millions of others.

I appreciate your candor and fervor, and welcome more discussion on this or any other drug war issues. Fight the good's good to know that there are active folks out there!

[email protected]

One of these days...?

NORML's statement of support for "the eventual development of a legally controlled market for marijuana" has all the firmness of Bob Dole without his Viagra. And I don't care how you spin it, the time between now and "eventual" will be filled with marijuana merchants being hunted down and prosecuted.

Candor and fervor aside, for NORML to support both legalization and criminal penalties leads me to ask the obvious (but without the usual sarcasm), "what are you smokin?"

Daniel E. Williams

its all the same

well i do think that normal is a strong suporter in this so called drug war but maybe if we didnt all take it ass a drug war we would all be better off .. i mean i personaliy think that weed should be leagil cuz its a dam weed .. but the fact is thats its a fedral law and once fedral aways unless we just hide it from everybody and change the name or sumthing other than that you guys are arguing over sumthing that is never going to change so there is really no point .. so you all are just better off just login off and sittin on you couchs .. and rollin a dubbie.... peace!!!!

If it's all the same to you...

No offense, dude, but it appears you may have spent a bit of time on the couch before posting your comment...


when Cannabis becomes legal, people like NORML quit getting a paycheck. Do I really have to paint a picture for you?

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