I am sitting in my office in a small room in some big city, under gray winter skies, longing for home.
Happy Holidays, lol.
No seriously, I haven’t seen So-Hi in 10 days and once this workday is done I will head back home for Xmas festivities, but for now it is nose to the grindstone and time for wrapping up the year-end odds and ends, such as writing a year in review column.
Exactly a year ago, I was making the trip back home, by bus, for the holidays and psyching for the year ahead. After months of laying the groundwork, my wife and I agreed to prepare for what we expected to be one of the most difficult periods of our lives: me leaving our country home to camp out in the capitol city for the two year marathon for legalization. Little did we know how right our expectations would be of the difficulty we would face or that exactly at the midpoint of the year, I would leave the grassroots organization I had helped found and become the state director of the most important marijuana organization in America—NORML.
Many organizations will take some time to review their year’s progress, but since I have only been on the scene since July, we will have to settle for half a year in review. For example, instead of a Top Ten List of our year’s-worth of accomplishments, we’re only going to list a top 5:
½ of a “Arizona NORML 2015 Top Ten Wins” List
- Matforce Debates: Twice this year, in Sept. in LD24 and again in Nov. in LD25, Arizona NORML stopped the spread of BS by challenging Matforce propagandist Ed Gogek on the facts of cannabis and its prohibition in public debate. In addition–
- Arizona Cannabis Education Program: –Over the course of the year, Arizona NORML, has literally educated hundreds in 2015. NORML’s natural role is to educate. Our summary of the state of cannabis reform in Arizona was published nationally and our two part history of cannabis prohibition is running in Blazed420, but most importantly we have begun changing Arizona’s true understanding of cannabis with a presentation called: “The History of Marijuana in Only 480 Million Years.” Taught as a segment of Staff MMJ’s Herbal Risings Cannabis Industry Training Program and presented to another half dozen social and political organizations so far, explaining topics ranging from the endocannabinoid receptor system to the US 2003 Patent on Cannabis as medicine and the dark history of prohibition, over the course of 2015, Arizona NORML has helped build an educated army to battle reefer madness with the most powerful weapon of all: truth.
- Relaunch Website: With new design talent like Manny Chavez of Fyresite Web Design and returning classic Arizona NORML writers, Peter Wilson and Chuck Hadd, after a period of being more-or-less a reposting website, Arizona NORML’s site (normlinarizona.org or arizonanorml.org—our new URL currently redirecting back to the old address during the remodel) has become a steady source of AZ cannabis info once more with original artwork and writing, like this article right here.
- SWCCExpo: We could have spent a year holding bake-sales and carwashes and not had a fraction of the social impact generated from our participation in the Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo. Over four thousand visitors to the 3-day event, with 130 exhibitors and 75 speakers, with over 40 national articles about it, the event was rightly billed as the largest single cannabis event in AZ cannabis history. Arizona NORML leadership was there from the ground up, helping create, promote and run it every step of the way.The state’s media and general public got their first taste of the cannabis culture that is growing across the country and our nascent industry literally was thrust into high gear (yes, the pun was intended). Activists got a chance to meet NORML founder Keith Stroup and other cannabis celebrities & Arizona NORML got a chance to launch our newly reformed organization to the state’s cannabis community.
- Opens New Offices & Reforms & Refiles Chapter: The fact that we exist at all at this holiday season is our greatest accomplishment of 2015. Since my tenure started in July Arizona NORML has: moved into interim and now semi-permanent offices, reviewed the chapter’s paperwork with the national organization, created a 90 day action plan to build the chapter to full-scale strength, removed inactive board members, appointed replacements, added a legal counsel, updated and refiled our AZ Corporation Commission paperwork, changed our name from NORML in Arizona to Arizona NORML, began rebranding the website and got our own @ArizonaNORML.Org emails at last as a result, identified and removed multiple entities operating online under the guise of Arizona NORML, survived three relocations in four months for our monthly meetings, reviewed and revised our mission statement and bylaws, reopened a bank account, resumed fundraising and as a result has been able to hire our first staff.
OK, that might not be as flashy as some of the #1s you’ll read on full-length top ten lists this year’s end. But for all of us here at Arizona NORML, we are very jolly this 2015 holiday season about our present and looking forward to an even bigger 2016.
½ of Our Top Ten Goals for 2016
1. Expanded Support for Cannabis Users Facing Criminal Injustice: Part One: Probation–While not a completely launched project in 2015, Arizona NORML began a project of developing our office as a community service placement provider for MMJ patients assigned community service hours as part of their probation cannabis charges. Talk about a motivated and underserved segment of the public! With over 16,000 arrests in AZ each year for cannabis charges and a required 360 hours per conviction, cannabis users amount to a whopping five million seven hundred and seventy thousand hours of volunteer labor. While only about 10% of the average probation officer’s caseload are people with MMJ cards, they add up and the state Supreme Court has ruled patients are to be allowed to continue their cannabis use. Our unique experience and mission with the cannabis community makes Arizona NORML an ideal potential location for folks being punished by the drug war to use their own community service to dismantle it.
Currently we are reviewing our presentation before taking it to the probation offices and judges around the state, but, among the services we are preparing to provide as a way of mmj holders: 1. Court support as community service, 2. Creating and distributing Arizona NORML educational materials, 3. Assisting with Arizona NORML office and social media operations, in addition to more traditional types of community services activities such as adopt-a-highway, urban clean-up and food bank volunteering.
1. Expanded Support for Cannabis Users Facing Criminal Injustice: Part Two: Court/Legal/DCS Support—In addition to our goals of offering court support as a community service hour option for probationers, Arizona NORML is committed to expanding our efforts at organizing community support for Arizonans charged with cannabis offenses across the state. Working with the nationally renowned The Human Solution International, Arizona NORML is committed to providing more court support more victims of the Criminal Injustice System. By developing our network of informed supporters and learning the local processes of various courts and DCS officials, in addition to reviewing and rating AZ’s cannabis lawyer pool, we can improve the treatment our community receives from a still under-educated Arizona government.
2. Covering the Map: Subchapters Everywhere—Currently, besides our PHX based state-affiliate chapter, Arizona has only one fully operational local chapter (Tucson NORML, love you guys) two semi-functional sub-chapters (Shout outs to Peoria and Cochise County NORMLs), and lots of folks who wish there was a NORML in their neck of the woods. So far this year we have heard from former chapters in Buckeye, Gilbert and Mesa, proposed chapters in Yuma and Mohave County and interested activists in Prescott and Flagstaff. But even with those chapters coming on-board there are still thousands of Arizonans with no local NORML. The people want their voice to be heard, we want to help them do it. Over the course of this next year, as we expand our speaking schedule and educational programs, Arizona NORML intends to travel to every corner of the state and help local activists build their local cannabis communities.
3. Becoming Arizona’s Official Voice of Marijuana—With all the drama in the Arizona marijuana community, it is small wonder that no single cannabis activist organization has risen to be recognized as a distinctive significant voice on Arizona cannabis issues in general. Having two cannabis campaigns at the same time has led bickering, distrust and diminished capacity for the movement as a whole. Fighting amongst ourselves has weakened our communal ability to fight the prohibitionists and left our voices out of the mainstream discussions on the future of our own community. In 2016 Arizona NORML aims to navigate above the fray and address Arizona marijuana issues to the larger state political and business communities instead of battling to be heard in our internal echo chamber.
4. Making Marijuana Legal in 2016, Every Day in Every Way—Duh, right? You might think that every cannabis consumer in AZ is committed to legalization in 2016. But not necessarily. Besides the hundreds of thousands of disengaged otherwise harried consumers in the cannabis closet who don’t even keep up with the movement, there are scores of businessmen, both legal and illegal who are happy to keep the market exactly as it is: based on fear, scarcity and distrust. In addition to those folks who both openly and covertly work against the legalization movement, there are those in our community determined to wreck the legalization campaigns because of their disapproval of the language of the respective initiatives.
And none of that even begins to address the fact that the state’s leading political party has issued a fatwa for our movement. The other party’s politicians are handling the issue as gingerly as if they’d been handed a soiled toddler to kiss. MATFORCE AZ is raising millions to spend to tell recycled reefer madness lies about the plant. The state’s private prison industry and their lobbyists, along with the state prosecutors’ lobby are wielding every bit of their might to keep the status quo. Meanwhile the national organizations behind the movement and at least one of the state’s initiatives remains flatfooted and tone-deaf to the complaints in the movement. While the CRMLA leadership has the potential to right some of MPP’s earlier AZ-related PR errors, one can’t help but remember in 2010 the AMMA only passed by only 0.13% on our fourth try. Meanwhile, while thousands of cannabis activists reject CRMLA in favor of the AZFMR, their campaign is far off the pace they will need to qualify for the ballot and the eventual fall-out could jeopardize Arizona’s chances for legalization for the next four years. So success is far from a slam dunk.
But 2016 legalization is achievable and I vow as Arizona NORML’s executive director that our organization will work each day and night between now and the election to do all we can to help Arizonans win this vote. Of course to accomplish these and the other goals we will reach for in 2016, we will have to accomplish our true number one goal, anytime, anywhere–
5. –Having you join us to get where we want to go. Expanding Arizona NORML’s Membership & Volunteer Base—NORML is a group of interested cannabis consumers willing to invest their time, dollars and energy into making marijuana better. In our society we are taught that all is hopeless and no good deed goes unpunished, but every social change that has ever been happened because people got tired of waiting and stood up for the things they cared about. It is our number one goals to expand the readership on this site, to develop chapters for local activism, to hear the voices around the state that want to heard for a change and give everyone a chance to lead their own charge. National NORML has been around more than 45 years now providing that opportunity for citizens to improve themselves and their cannabis experience by working to improve our country in a tremendously rewarding, tremendously patriotic way. I hope by this time in 2016, Arizona NORML will have hundreds of new members and thousands of new readers. You can join the national organization today and in the months ahead we will soon be reopening our own membership role and once offer Arizonans a chance to change the world, by being NORML.
Thank you, now I’m heading home. Happy Holidays to you all!
–Mikel Weisser the the state director of Arizona NORML and writes from the left coast of AZ