The conference was held at the University of Missouri – Columbia in the Arts & Science Auditorium on Friday and Saturday, March 18-19, 2018. Kansas City NORML was at the conference on Saturday, March 19 and had a great time. There were informative speakers, presentations, and patient testimonies. The Missouri NORML Spring 2018 Conference opened with updates from organizations across the state including MU SSDP, Kansas City NORML, Greater St. Louis NORML, Joplin NORML and Sensible Missouri.
ACLU lobbyists John Coffman and Josh Campbell spoke about various legislation in the state of Missouri. First, Coffman told the audience that there is a steady push to implement a system of drug testing for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients. The Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval to the legislation, HB 73, which is sponsored by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, by a vote of 121-37. The bill will now go to the Missouri Senate. Campbell mentioned that a bill to outlaw bath salts was referred to committee. Coffman stated that they are “trying to criminalize every imaginable chemical in the table of elements.” They also brought up the current medicinal legislation, HB 698, which has been assigned to committee. Rep. Rodney Schad is the chair. His district covers Camden, Morgan, Cole, and Miller counties. You can email him at Rodney.Schad@house.mo.gov and ask him to set a date for a hearing of the bill. Coffman also spoke about the proper ways to contact your state legislators. You can always send an email, he said, and if you send an email, make it concise, stay professional, and always remain polite. But he stated that the best thing to do is visit their office. Dress up and look your best. Wear a smile and remain professional.
Dan Viets, J.D., Missouri NORML Coordinator and national Board Member, went through many lessons learned in 25 years of defending non-violent criminals. He explained how to exercise your constitutional rights when dealing with the police. There’s a great article on NORML’s website that summarizes much of what Dan Viets told the audience. He also spoke about the “checkpoint ruse.” Viets said that if you see a sign that says “Drug Checkpoint Next Exit,” do NOT exit. That’s where the real drug checkpoint is likely to be. And it will be on some country road, so that you have no real excuse for having exited the highway, and the cops will try to use that as “probable cause” for a search.
Mark Pederson of Sensible Missouri led a discussion by patients about how cannabis helps them and how we can all help change the law in our state, laws which threaten patients with prison for following their doctors’ advice. On the panel were three from Kansas City NORML, in addition to other patients around the state. Mark spoke about Brian Chitwood, who uses cannabis oil for melanoma, and the many struggles Brian has faced. Sahj Kaya gave her testimony about her diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and the ensuing chronic pain. She stated, “The government has committed a crime against humanity!” Greg Terry also talked about how cannabis helps keep his Chron’s disease in remission and helps his pain from arthritis. Other patients spoke about using cannabis for Scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.
David Mitchell, a Law Professor at MU, spoke on the failure of the “War on Drugs.” He compared “Jim Crow America” with today’s mass incarceration of non-violent offenders. Mitchell mentioned that the difference is that while Jim Crow laws were solely based on race, today’s drug laws are more class-based than race-based. He stated that the law is supposed to be objective, and that most Americans believe that the purpose of the war on drugs is to put people in prison for trafficking. However, in 2005, 42.6% of all arrests were for marijuana, 79% of those were for possession alone. America has the second largest prison population in the world. Mitchell went on to provide a brief history of drug laws. Mitchell stated that “we as a nation have given rise to the criminal addict.”
Michael Krawitz, Executive Driector of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access and Curator of the Medical Cannabis Museum, spoke about the history of medical cannabis and illustrated how marijuana was marketed as medicine for many decades before prohibition. He stated that there has been documented use of cannabis as a safe and effective medicine for over five thousand years. Krawitz also took questions from the audience and discussed the difficulty with standardization of dosage. He mentioned Ethan Russo, Senior Medical advisor of GW Pharmaceuticals, and the oral spray, Sativex, that has been approved in Canada on a trial basis.
Russ Belville presented “The History of Cannabis Prohibition,” a powerful PowerPoint presentation about the history of the failed policy. He explained how government used racism to confuse the American people. Americans knew cannabis to be a medicine, and that hemp was vital for rope and cloth, but they had never heard of “Marihuana” and were brainwashed into believing lies about the plant and the so-called “the degenerate races” brought to American by Harry J. Anslinger, American’s first Drug Czar. He provided such references as a San Francisco paper in 1903, The Scientific American in 1913, and the New York Times in 1933. We had come a long way from the father of our country, George Washington saying, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!”
Belville went on to illustrate the history, naming names of Republicans and Democrats alike. He told the audience that the first person to be arrested for cannabis, or as it was now called, “marijuana,” was Samuel Caldwell in 1937. During the war years of 1942-1946, the government back-tracked with the USDA film, “Hemp for Victory,” then after the war, went on to link the plant to the drug heroin. In the 1960s, the plant was linked to the anti-war and anti-establishment sentiments of that time. Throughout the 1970s, Americans began learning this history of cannabis prohibition. In 1971, President Nixon declared drugs to be Public Enemy Number One, and authorized the Shaffer Commission to study drug policy. The recommendation of the Shaffer Commission was to decriminalize. Nixon wasn’t happy, but when President Carter elected, the Oval Office was bringing America a very different message. Carter once stated:
“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marihuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marihuana.”
Then just as it looked as if prohibition might be repealed by the end of the decade, the 1980s and the ensuing campaign of “Just Say No” was thrusted on the American people. Belville stressed the two things that have helped keep cannabis prohibited: the word marijuana, and the propaganda of lies. Each new lie replaces the old one in such a way that the previous lie is forgotten, as the new lie becomes ingrained in the subconscious.
In addition to the past, Belville talked about the present. He answered the question, “What is industrial hemp?” with a fresh, realistic look at how hemp could revolutionize today’s industries: building materials, fuel, cloth, packaging, paper, food. He said the world spends $500 billion a year on hemp products. He talked about carbon-negative Hemcrete that has been developed. In comparison with corn, hemp is naturally pest resistant, requires one-third of the water, produces three times more per acre, is three times stronger. With corn there we are forced to choose between food or fuel. With hemp we get both food and fuel.
Let’s Get Busy
Now it’s time to get to work. We have to continue to educate the public about this plant. We have to continue to speak truth to every lie the prohibitionists tell. Truth, first and foremost, is our duty to our fellow Americans. In order to do this effectively, we have to be well-versed in the facts about the plant. We need to learn to use sound-bites like the media uses and be smart and fresh, as well as professional, in our presentation of the facts. Keep spreading the truth and stay actively working for the cause!