I’m Mikel Weisser, and I am tremendously honored to be the new executive director of Arizona NORML.
I did a check and this moment is indeed the culmination of a nearly forty year journey. In February of 1977, I was flipping through a Playboy magazine when the monthly interview caught my attention: a young man w big 70s hair and glasses and yet in a suit, who claimed it was possible to legalize marijuana. He had a knowing look that intrigued me. It was Keith Stroup and that was my introduction to NORML.
I was not a marijuana smoker yet, but I knew about the drug war first hand. I grew up on the border of TX & MX and I had been living in a war zone my whole life. At that point the majority of Mexican marijuana coming into the US was passing through the four county area at the southern tip of TX that is known as the Rio Grande Valley, which is where I lived. Childhood stories of dead bodies found along dirt roads, the sight of the bandoliers on the federales and news reports of gun fights in Mexican city streets dominated our culture. To my smug teenaged mind, the idea that that scary monster could be subdued felt like a fairytale, naiveté.
I’m so glad that I have lived long enough to be proven wrong.
Not much later, as a teen runaway hitchhiking around the US in the late 70s, I became a cannabis user myself. In fact the first time I smoked, while hitching in Oregon, the driver was pulled over and I had a cop’s flashlight in my face. It was not the last time I had the drug war right in my face because I have been part of various cannabis cultures ever since. At one point or another, I followed the Grateful Dead, went to Rainbow Gatherings, took our annual vacations in Jamaica, and have had family and friends that were growers. When my mom found out I was a smoker at 20, she hauled me & my weed to the cops. At 24 I was arrested while in possession, but luckily managed to get charged with a different offense & I went through this again at 45. I have had my AZ medical card since 2012 and had it save my butt when I had to sweat out a Border Patrol search in 2014.
But this is not a blog about my old war stories or bragging about all the bud I smoked. I am only including these biographical details because some will need to know that when it comes to investing in the community, to first-hand experience with the struggle, that I have earned this position, that I know the horrors of prohibition personally. I do.
Some will also want reassurance that I am technically qualified. I am 56 yrs old, have 2 masters degrees, been a school teacher, freelance journalist and a two-time congressional candidate, among other things. This is the third time I have been an administrator of a non-profit organization, having previously run an activist food co-op and a homeless shelter. I also have an assortment of accolades and titles, but aside from the basic assurance I know how to read and write, there is not much point in going through them. If you want my resume, email me. You have to earn your decorations every day. The people who want to believe in me, who want to believe in NORML, won’t need the details and those who oppose me, or NORML, will not be moved by them.
When I was tasked with this position, the NORML leader who made the offer laughed and said, “I know it’s probably an impossible mess to try to fix, but I’m going to ask you to try anyway.” In Arizona, NORML was in tough shape. For this entire decade AZ-NORML has been embattled from within the marijuana community itself. Unhappiness with the provisions of Prop 203 and the MPP campaign that created it, left lingering resentment, even as it opened up the state to a whole new world of cannabis. Because NORML works for legalization and because the close relationships that developed between MPP leadership and state NORML over the course of the 2010 campaign, NORML itself came under attack from the community. After years of conflict, NORML leadership stepped down at the end of 2013 and a new leader was brought in. Even though he was widely regarded as neutral, resentment against the organization lingered.
Seeking a middle ground, NORML kept afloat for the past few years, but has not risen to role it has in most states and certainly it is nowhere near the stature it needs to have to serve its expected role in a battleground state during an election year. We need to holding meetings across the state, rallying the activists, informing the public, doing outreach to seniors and rural communities, printing and distributing thousands of pieces of literature about the medical benefits of cannabis and the horrors of the corrupt prohibition, conducting patient support groups and reporting our activities to the press and to other cannabis organizations to advance everyone’s work on legalization. It is an immense project for a full-time staff and an impossible thing to accomplish on the backs of casual volunteers. But you can look at any issue you care about: pro-life, pro-choice, pro-gun, anti-gun, the environment, equal rights, anything, & you will find a professionally run national organization with fulltime state level staff working day and night to advance the goal. It is time to grow NORML to the level AZ deserves. Here’s how to do it.
Our immediate do-to list:
1) Complete required paperwork to be a fully accredited and operating NORML chapter
2) Establish bank acct & treasurer
3) Prepare for NORML presence at upcoming SWCCExpo to greet NORML founder, Keith Stroup
4) Improve communications w our subchapters & expand NORML’s activist presence statewide
5) Update & approve bylaws
6) Develop fundraising program
7) Develop a calendar of various types of cannabis themed events around the state
8) Develop outreach program based on budget generated by fundraising. (In particular, we are raising money for staffing, printing, operations and travel for outreach events.)
9) Launch membership program
10) Vitalize the rest of the state to support legalization
11) Mend the fences in the AZ legalization movement before 2016 legalization is lost.
See why some say it’s impossible, lol? As impossible as that list may sound, it is what HAS to be done; & it is even harder when we do not ask. I was brought into this role knowing the difficulty factor for the task ahead. I have spoken to several other state chapter leaders who have found themselves in the heart of “cannabis community civil wars” similar to ours, so I understand that this sort of thing happens and that it is possible to overcome.
As I said earlier, if you support NORML or support me already, you’ll already know you can count on these things to be true. If you already distrust me or NORML, I doubt you’re even still reading. For the rest of you then, here is what you can know I will commit to:
I will work every day possible in every way possible to legalize marijuana in AZ in 2016. & I will push anyone and everyone else I can every day to do the same. Every day. I will advance any legitimate efforts towards legalization or improving the conditions of cannabis in America. I will call out abuses of power, corruption, deceptions when I find them, both among the prohibitionist forces and within the community. (Our cause is immensely just, our actions must honor it.) I will try a variety of things based on my personal strengths to advance my work or the work of others who are willing to work with me. I will make mistakes and so I will listen to criticism and advice. I won’t allow someone else’s judgement of me or NORML to stop our work for their personal agenda. I will do all I can to say yes to any and all any way I can. And I will tell people no and mean it.
Those are all basic things you as a NORML member, as an Arizonan, as a human, should be able to expect. Here are some basic thoughts of what you can do to get this done:
- Remember the #1 rule of 21st century politics: If a tree falls in the forest and no one tweets an Instagram to their Facebook who cares? Did it even happen? No way to tell. You are the movement we create, everything you do can advance the cause, especially on line. Your brief conscious efforts to like and share posts, your choice to challenge or champion a fellow poster, do shape the community. Your sustained efforts will move it. There is little doubt of the power of social media to shape 21st century politics, the only question is the will to act.
- Break the paranoia cycle. Just because you haven’t seen or heard from someone for the past three days, it doesn’t mean they have turned into pod people. We are a generation who have been taught to try to always think one step ahead because everyone is up to no-good. Well, they’re not. You probably aren’t either, are you? If you’re reading this far you too probably believe in investing yourself in the things you believe in, in the potential of inherent good. If we operated from the position that everyone in our community was as equally well intentioned as ourselves, there’d be a lot less confusion. Reality is rarely as complicated, or as sinister as our imaginations. Ask before acting, if you don’t know. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised and create a lot less panic & confusion to be cleaned up later.
- It’s ours for better or worse. Society promotes the idea that letting someone else solve the problems of the world, and even of our own lives, is the way smart money plays it. To exert effort to help others or advance a cause is seen as a sucker play. But it is not. Science now shows that acts of kindness and community actually are as good for your personal well-being as they are for society. No matter what we choose to do or not do, we are creating the future. There has never been a point in the history of the world where citizens have had a greater hand in shaping the course of society. Just as your online actions can shape that culture, your real-world actions can have profound impact on those around you. Being an activist is every bit as thrilling and frustrating as you’ve ever imagined and more so. & there has never been a time the movement needed you more.
I will try to create regularly weekly posts now that we have had the transition of office. Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with any ideas. When I relocated my office to PHX for the election cycle back in January, I told my wife we were facing a 23 month long marathon. We are now at the halfway point. Get ready for a thrilling year.
Deputy Director, NORML in Arizona
4490 Sundown Dr
So-Hi, AZ 86413
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