By: Stephen Carter
An activist group in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area brought to fruition a major conference this past weekend, touching on a topic which is in dire need of discussion in the Lone Star State, cannabis and all of the political, social and economic issues which surround it. More than 200 people were in attendance during the conference.
The Texas Regional NORML Conference put on by DFW NORML, a branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, featured speakers from a variety of organizations who delved into the subject with passion and extensive knowledge, often citing personal history as part of their arguments.
There were also a variety of sponsors tabling the event, a list of which can be found at the bottom of this article.
Kicking off the conference on Friday, June 7, 2013 was a live art and music reception held at Froggy’s Boat House.
Contributing artists included:
- Tyler Pfaffenbach of Pfaffenshop
- Vinh Luan of vinhluanluu.com
- Matthew Warlick of soulcore.net
- Aaron Gutknecht and his Marijuana Maze
- Rose Cary’s Geometric Ganja
- Chris Morphis of MorphisArt.com
Live music included:
Speakers over the next two days included:
- Tristan Tucker, Executive Director for University of North Texas NORML
- Erik Altieri, Communications Director for National NORML
- Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel and Founder of NORML
- Russ Belville, 420Radio.org host
- Terry Nelson, Executive Board Member at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), former Border Patrol agent and Homeland Security Supervisor
- Margarita McAuliffe, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Texas Moms United
- Allen Patterson, Chairman of the Tarrant County Libertarian Party
- Judge Jim Gray – 2012 Libertarian Vice Presidential Candidate and Retired Superior Court Judge
- Mike Hyde, father of Cash Hyde and Founder of the Cash Hyde Foundation
- Adrian Murray, Founding member of the 912 Project Fort Worth
- Joy Strickland, Founder of Mothers Against Teen Violence
- Dr. Russell Elleven, Unitarian Minister
- Leslie Burgoyne, Family Law Attorney and member of the NORML Legal Counsel
- Forest Scott and Nicole Pisut of Tinctura Coltivare
- Stephen Betzen, Founder of the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care
- Toni Ann Haskett-Mills, Patient Advocate for Medical Cannabis Patients with 28 yrs experience in Direct Patient Care
- Larry Talley, Strategist for DFW NORML, speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and retired US Navy
- Clif Deuvall, Co-chair of Texas at US Marijuana Party of Texas, Chairman at Texas Cannabis Party and Founder Norml of Waco Inc. at NORML
- Jamie Balagia, Public Information Officer and Attorney at San Antonio NORML
- Derek Cross, Author of Hemp Healthy Today
- Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project
- Stuart Guss, National MMJ Event Judge, State Coordinator/Cannabis Career Institute, Founder/MMJ MUSE Project (CBD Research), lifelong MMJ activist, medical professional and OG Grower
- Cheyanne Weldon, Executive Director of Texas NORML
Bright and early Saturday morning the conference got down to business at the Norris Center in downtown Fort Worth with the motto “ending cannabis prohibition one Texan at a time.”
Tristan Tucker led off and talked about how Texas is one of the most persecuted and prosecuted states when it comes to cannabis. It is his mission he said, to “fight for people who can’t speak.”
Introduction: Shaun McAlister
DFW NORML Executive Director Shaun McAlister then took the podium and thanked everyone for coming. He stated “there is a special kind of activism in DFW” and cited the great diversity of those in the movement. Shaun expressed sorrow for the 60,000 plus people dead in Mexico as a result of prohibition and then went on to say that he got involved after seeing a documentary called The Union: The Business Behind Getting High.
Speaking from his experience of being a leader in the organization, he stated “it’s not enough to just give money or join” but that people needed to become deeply involved in taking steps to end the prohibition on cannabis. He believes in the power of people and says that if you give someone a job to do, that they’ll often surprise you.
He then handed off the podium to Eric Altieri, the first of several well articulated speakers for the day.
The Dawn of Legalization: Erik Altieri
“The passion in Texas is strong! Texas won’t be the last state to end prohibition” Eric stated. “Washington and Colorado changed the game, these were no small victories” he continued. “Amendment 64 got more votes than Obama” he said referencing the legalization amendment presented on the ballot to Colorado voters. Amendment 64 received 60,000 more votes than Obama did for president to be exact, passing with 55% of the vote.
“Give people the opportunity to vote for it and it will happen” Eric claimed, and in many cases people are doing just that when given the opportunity considering that medical and recreational support inches higher with each election.
Eric then talked about an unsung victory, something that few believed would even come close to passing, was the medical initiative in Arkansas presented on the 2012 ballot. So how close did Arkansas come within creating the 20th medical marijuana state? A mere 30,000 votes.
Every case is a learning experience though and Eric cited the need for coalition building, to bring in women through the NORML Women’s Alliance and reaching out to Latinos as well by translating materials to Spanish. He also mentioned the ACLU, Children’s Alliance and several other groups, stating “work with who you can.”
He also urged the need to talk economics. It’s simply a waste and loss of money to continue prohibiting cannabis when it could do so much good for the economy. Some mark the losses each year at over $20-$40 billion when calculating lost revenue and judicial costs. Since the drug war began, many estimate the total spent to conduct a war more aptly called a war on people to be about $1.5 trillion.
“Every demographic is gaining support” he continued, citing polling results which began in 1970 with just 12% support, now at 52%. Eric emphasized the need to utilize mainstream arguments and told of how their ads did not feature pot leafs or anyone smoking, seeking to frame it as a family issue, not a law enforcement issue. A grand majority of the population does not consume cannabis, so the message must be able to resonate with people. “We have to show people that marijuana is not the problem, but that prohibition is the problem.”
He further talked about how we as a society spend more on arresting people than education, that one person is arrested for possession every 27 seconds. “Often less than 10% decide elections due to low voter turnout, and it’s even worse in off-years. Support for prohibition is even stronger due to this during non-presidential years” Eric stated as he began to wind down. “Politicians are interested but scared to embrace our cause, we have to reach out to them” he said to applause before stepping down from the podium.
Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel and Founder of NORML
Up next was Keith Stroup, a 69 year-old lawyer who founded NORML in 1970. He unabashedly claims to have been smoking for 48 years and states “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with responsible adult us of marijuana. It enhances food, music, sex and allows for a better perspective on life. I smoke pot, and I like it a lot!”
He stated that the use of cannabis can be very positive and strongly urged people to not be ashamed to speak about it.
While Keith didn’t think it would take four decades to see legalization, having started out with 88% of people against it, he states “we are winning!” Continuing he says “we’re winning because we outlived the older generation who grew up on reefer madness. Younger people, even those who don’t smoke, know people who do and don’t think it’s a big deal. Younger people are just now taking power.”
He then talked of how the US has threatened other countries to prevent them from from working towards legalization through varies means including withholding aid and embargoes.
“We shouldn’t be limiting something because it’s not appropriate for children. We couldn’t have motorcycles, sex, marriage, etc if that were the case” Keith continued, further saying “Some kids are going to drink or smoke regardless.”
He asked the question “do we want to arrest our kids and treat them like criminals?”
Keith then touched on the many decriminalization wins obtained during the 1970’s and then on how there was not another victory for 18 years until California legalized for medical use. “That’s a long time to not win anything, you just have to stay determined” he said. In total, 15 states have reduced possession penalties to fines and often do not focus on arresting and prosecuting those with small amounts.
Touching on the social perception side, Keith went on to say “we must demonstrate that legalization works. Don’t do smoke outs, smoke in private. Don’t get stoned and cause trouble. States are watching Washington and Colorado to see what happens. Prove to others that our smoking won’t negatively affect them.”
Talking regulation, he said “consumers need a seat at the table. We don’t want tobacco companies and high taxes. People are worried about impaired drivers. We’re already out there but that answer isn’t going to satisfy them. We need to develop good tests for driving” he said, explaining the need for a reliable method of determining whether or not someone is too “high” to drive.
Closing out his slot, Keith stated to a standing ovation “This is a personal liberty issue, it’s not about whether people smoke, but support liberty!”
Debating Effectively for Marijuana Reform: Russ Belville
Russ Belville gave his presentation next, touching on how to effectively debate for marijuana law reform. As a disclaimer, no written account could do justice to the presentation given by Russ. It was very visual.
As he walked up on stage he stated “I’ve always wanted to try this” and then chanted “the stars at night, are big and bright!” to which the crowd responded by clapping in unison, causing Russ to chuckle, very happy with the response.
“Our opposition is not stupid, so they are reshaping their arguments, they want to present us as extreme. They say jailing people is too harsh, but legalization is too extreme, but sending people to rehab and drug testing them, is just right” Russ stated. “They are trying to present a new way to continue the drug war without all of the negatives. Presenting themselves as the only rational people between ‘lock em up or light em up’, we need to put them back in their lock em up position.”
As Russ aptly puts it, it always comes back to jailing people if they fail to obey, so he always asks these people why they want to lock him up.
Another tactic used by prohibition supporters according to Russ is “to debunk the tax positives by saying the costs will outweigh taxes by comparing marijuana to alcohol and tobacco.” He responds to this by saying “marijuana is not the same as alcohol and tobacco, it doesn’t have the toxicity, and marijuana already exists so why not bring in the money from legalization to offset any costs already incurred and stop wasting money on prohibition.”
The next tactic Russ covers is “corporatized pot” in which he says people are “worried about billboards, commercials and marketing to children.” He responds with “it’s as if we learned nothing from tobacco propaganda and marketing. Restrict advertising to not market to kids.” One must tread the fine line of freedom of speech though when attempting to restrict advertising.
He goes on to state “today’s big marijuana are drug cartels and kids selling at schools.” What’s wrong with corporatized marijuana he asks, adding “is it the jobs, the visibility, or the fact that disputes would be solved in court rather than the street? Any harms that result from pot already exists, prohibition just compounds any problems. You cannot repeal the law of supply and demand, over 21 million people per year consume marijuana, more people than there are in Texas. Why add fuel to the flames?”
Russ then tackles an often used line, “this is not your parent’s Woodstock weed.”
Citing a statistic often used by drug warrior Kevin Sabet who claims that cannabis is five to six times more potent, he addresses this with a graph from Sabet’s own material which shows that on average cannabis is only about 5% more potent, a far cry from Sabet’s claims. Russ then asks “so can we just legalize the Woodstock weed?”
“Don’t conflate pot with alcohol. The potency argument is designed to make people think the higher potency is more dangerous” Russ states. Being that cannabis is a non-toxic substance, it is impossible for a person to overdose and die from consuming the plant. A higher potency simply means that a person only has to consume less in order to achieve the desired effect of the THC, the active ingredient in cannabis which produces the “high.” It does not mean that a higher potency is somehow more dangerous though. No person has ever died from consuming cannabis. For those concerned about damage to the brain, there have been several studies done which thoroughly debunk that myth, and even some that claim it helps protect the brain from disease.
Russ also argues “pot is easier to consume than alcohol when figuring out how much you need because its effects are noticed more quickly, helping to regulate consumption.”
He then tackles another statistical claim that one out of six kids who try cannabis become addicted. Russ states “addicted is actually described as a frequent user” and that the numbers don’t work out. Another thing to keep in mind here is that often those sent to drug rehab for their “marijuana addiction” are often sent there on a court order in order to avoid jail. These people generally do not have any real addiction to cannabis, but court ordered rehab inflate the numbers.
Speaking more on the subject of kids, Russ states “44% of kids know someone who can get pot, yet it is a lot harder to get alcohol and tobacco.” It is often stated by those who support legalization that drug dealers don’t card.
Russ briefly touched on a video showing some research done about driving under the influence of cannabis. That video is below.
“By legalizing marijuana, we can do research. Texting while driving is more dangerous and traffic fatality rates in medical states are down. Texas has more traffic fatality deaths than many medical states” Russ claimed.
He then touched on medical claims by prohibition supporters. Russ asks “why is THC in pill form OK but not from the plant?” He states that they are trying to run out the clock on medical marijuana so that they can make pharmaceuticals and deliver everything in pill form, something that would be very profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.
“They manipulate the stats and try to say most people use medical marijuana only for pain while not recognizing that the pain is often from debilitating diseases.” Russ continued on, talking about statistic manipulations by talking about the claim that most people are not in jail just for simple possession. Often the police escalate the charges if children, firearms or a number of other things happen to be around when they bust you. This helps to distort the statistics of those who really are arrested only for possession.
Russ closed out his presentation with a graph he pulled from a predominantly white county in order to demonstrate that the police unfairly target blacks. Starting with a base of 10 people, he began adding up those arrested for cannabis, sorted by race. The whites, who made up the majority of the county totaled 11 arrests for the month, followed by 16 Hispanics. When it came to blacks though, he kept adding more and more columns until it totaled up to 146. This all while usage levels for blacks are about the same as other races.
Continuing on with their outstanding lineup of speakers, Terry Nelson came up to speak next.
When Drugs Are Legalized: Terry Nelson
Starting off by telling a joke about the DEA agent who went inspect a farm and getting a good laugh, he turned serious by stating “1 in 28 people have a parent in prison and 1 in 9 black children have a parent in prison, which is a total failure of the system.”
Terry then talked about how he used to be a proud drug warrior who started out in 1974 before retiring in 2005 stating “I took the king’s coin and did the king’s business.” During his entire career he never made a single cannabis arrest.
He then stated with disappointment that the drug czar is not allowed to tell the truth about marijuana because the requirements of the office.
“The last three presidents used pot, it’s hypocritical that they want to send people to prison. After billions spent, lives lost and increased imports, there is no way that this can be considered a victory. In Afghanistan, a country we occupy, we can’t stamp out the heroin trade. There is enough poppy planted there to fill half of Rhode Island. We will never have enough police, we have to take away the money from the illegal drug trade. This can only be accomplished with legalization” Terry stated.
“When alcohol was legalized the alcohol eradication enforcer was asked what he would do. He said he was gonna go have a drink” Terry remarked.
He continued, “over 400,000 rape cases are unsolved, we have no money to solve rapes but plenty for prohibition. Over one million stolen cars go unsolved which cause premium costs to increase for everyone.”
“Police are addicted to drug war money.” With money to be made by prisons and testing facilities, and budgets to be padded by asset seizure, these programs keep wanting more money even though they never hit their goals according to Terry.
“By taking a public health approach it reduces crimes and violence by an estimated 80%. In Sweden they see less deaths from drug related issues. Through regulation the drugs will be better made, causing fewer issues and less prisoners. It promotes education and treatment for people with real issues” Terry claims.
Rounding out his presentation he states “be gracious, responsible, assertive and careful. It ain’t gonna legalize itself. If you need help talking to a local group or your legislators, call LEAP. Get involved on the local level.” He even stated that he would try to come personally if he was needed to talk to legislators.
Moms & Students Working to End the War on Drugs: Margarita McAuliffe
Margarita McAuliffe was next and she shared a very personal experience concerning prohibition, talking about her son who had mental problems and had been in and out of jail.
“Substance abuse and mental abuse go hand in hand” she stated. “Marijuana is the gateway to the hell of the judicial system.”
She told of how her son had been sexually abused and how it caused him to have PTSD. He often had trouble at school and was suspended where he was introduced to other kids who got him into further trouble. As a teenager he was caught by the police for having a joint. The last time he was arrested he was beaten up by the police. This was the last straw for Margarita, so she resolved to step out and become vocal about the issue. The effect of her doing so? It resonated with a lot of people.
She talked about the need for more involvement by women and stated that they were the key to ending alcohol prohibition.
A fiery Allen Patterson stepped up to speak next.
Why Libertarian?: Allen Patterson
“We’re here to reform laws, all laws” as he referred to the Libertarian Party. “All laws allow people to profit from others illegitimately. People are making money from the drug war and will continue to do so as long as the money keeps flowing.”
He then talked about the past three presidents stating that “Clinton increased drug arrests by 115%, Bush made 40 raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in eight years, and Obama has made 170 since 2009. At least Romney was honest about refusing to legalize marijuana.”
Keeping focus on the money, Allen stated “most money spent by government is to benefit special interests. Every program is designed for someone to profit from, every bipartisan agreement is typically to screw people.” He continued saying “Vote for third parties to at least send a message. Stop wasting time voting for Democrats and Republicans. People pretend that the people locked up don’t exist. People don’t do enough and think it’s someone else’s job. Being reasonable got us where we are.”
The keynote speaker for the conference then rose to address a packed room, Judge Jim Gray.
Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: Judge Jim Gray
“By 2017 it will no longer be illegal federally to buy, possess, consume or sell marijuana” Gray led off with. “People who have worked and given themselves to ending prohibition are to thank for the progress we’ve made!” He then thanked Keith Stroup, Rob Kampia and Terry Nelson for their outstanding efforts.
Gray then said “there is so much more to do, all drug laws need to be reformed. The US leads the world in incarceration, being number one is not something to be proud of here. Release the non-violent offenders. We have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners.”
Judge Gray stated that the problem is money, saying “ask yourself who is winning. Who thinks we’re better off with drug issues under prohibition?” He cites those winners as being the cartels, juvenile street gangs, law enforcement, prisons and terrorists.
With the often used line by prohibition supporters of “think of the children” Judge Gray delved hard into that subject by saying “prohibition puts kids in harms way by giving easy access to drugs and drug dealers. To a dealer, $50 isn’t much but to a kid it’s a lot. This allows kids to easily be recruited to sell drugs. Prohibition is a gateway to prison.”
He then touched on the fact that dealers have every incentive to try and sell harder drugs to people when buying marijuana and that buying cannabis from the store will ensure that it is not laced by any other substance.
“Politicians talk tough, not smart on drugs” Judge Gray remarked.
Speaking from his experience of being a judge, he talked about prosecuting many drug users and stated that “juries hold the key in legalized states to pushing the feds away. Marijuana is California’s largest cash crop. It’s here and it isn’t going away.”
Judge Gray told of how every few weeks he would get a case where a mother would make a mistake and help someone transport a small amount of drugs in order to help make ends meet, and how he would have to separate a family because of it. The state would then have to spend $60,000 per child for foster care and $30,000 to jail the mother each year, which he stated was “a tragedy, and while I did have to enforce the law, I did haven’t to do so quietly.”
He then talked about his campaign in 2012 with running mate Gary Johnson for president, stating “Gary Johnson is the most qualified to be president.” Gray remarked that had they been included in the debates, there was a good chance that they would have won. He then cited the need to reach out and talk to more than just one another about such candidates, that we must always be reaching out to new people.
Judge Gray closed by stating “90% of drug problems are prohibition problems.”
Film Screening: American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny
A documentary produced by the Cash Hyde Foundation and directed by Kevin Booth was then shown and Mike Hyde, Cash’s father spoke afterwards. American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny can be found on iTunes and is highly recommended.
Mike Hyde, father of Cash Hyde and Founder of the Cash Hyde Foundation
“Each day 1,500 Americans die of cancer, every other day we have another 9/11 and cancer is the terrorist. The science shows that cannabis helps people with cancer and by moving away from dangerous cancer-related drugs and towards cannabis we can save people” Mike stated.
“The constitution is the employee handbook and we are allowing them to ignore it. It took an amendment to prohibit alcohol, there was no amendment for marijuana. Don’t ask for anything demand it! Every time you reach into the fridge there is something wrapped in plastic when it could be replaced by hemp.” He continued on saying “if a law undermines the constitution then it is not a law and to quote Martin Luther King Jr., we must disobey it.”
The War on Drugs and the For-Profit Prison System: Adrian Murray
Adrian Murray then came up to speak, saying that he was a non-smoking conservative and wondered aloud what he could be doing in such a place.
He then went on to state “slavery was never abolished, just redefined. Involuntary servitude still exists for those convicted of a crime, the laws are used to enslave people. During Jim Crow and Black Laws, blacks were incarcerated and then leased out as labor. Prohibition is the new slavery.” Even today prison labor is used for a myriad of things and basically amounts to slavery, which is entirely legal when a person has been convicted of a crime and is serving a sentence.
Adrian cited a statistic of 1 in 133 people being jailed and stated that America is the world’s largest prison. He closed by saying that “this is not a struggle to get high, this is a struggle to get free!”
Finishing the Day
The day rounded out with a handful of other speakers including Joy Strickland who flatly stated that prohibition will end and that people never thought slavery or segregation would end, but they did. Following her was Dr. Russell Elleven, a Unitarian minister who spoke of the religious uses of drugs.
Bringing the day to an end was a question and answer session with Forest Scott and Nicole Pisut where people were able to ask a variety of questions pertaining to growing and cultivating cannabis. The answers given were very educational.
A Special Gift
Before closing up and heading to the after party at Red Goose Saloon, there was one more surprise as DFW NORML presented a gift to Keith Stroup for his hard work and dedication, a Mr. Keifbox.
The Final Day
The conference would be in full swing again the next day, which included a full slate of speakers as well as a hemp fashion show featuring clothing from Mary Jane Smokewear, Homegrown Outfitters, Doobi.us, OdelA Threadz, DFW NORML and Minawear Hemp Loungewear.
Thus concluded a very well put together and highly informative conference which is sure to be an even bigger success next year.
Sponsors for the event included:
– Texas NORML
– UNT NORML
– Waco NORML
– San Antonio NORML
– Houston NORML
– UTA NORML
– Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
– Cash Hyde Foundation
– Tarrant County Libertarian Party
– Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care
– Mothers Against Teen Violence
– Habit’s Smoke Shop
– Hempy’s Emporium
– Filters Smoke Shop
– Minawear Hemp Clothing
– Cash Hyde Foundation
– Cannabis Energy Drink
– Smoke Room Photography
– Mary Jane Smokewear
– Odela Threadz
– Modified Models
– Skunk Magazine
– Hail Mary Jane
– The 420 Times
– Deep Ellum On Air
– Hemp Healthy Today
– Magical Butter
– Big Bubble Hemp Oil Soap
– Wrap TX
– The American Open Currency Standard
– Homegrown Outfitters
– Hostile Pipes
– Froggy’s Boat House
– Red Goose Saloon
– Whiskey Girl Saloon
– Meaty Cut BBQ & Catering, LLC
– Matthew Warlick @ SoulCore.net
– PffaffenShop Illustration & Design
– Cannapete Ventures
– McCort Entertainment
– Fish Bowl Radio Network
– Mr. Keifbox Woodworking