The Un-Official History of AZ4NORML

By Peter Wilson

sorry i'm illegal crop
Part 3   A Seed is Planted           

[link to Part 2; link to Part 1]

If I was making up a pot story, one of the characters would be called Greene. As life imitates art, the founder of AZ4NORML was named Bill Green, and you might say his induction was presidential.

Under the Reagan administration, productivity of the American workforce was increased by firing incompetent employees. This was not a new idea, of course. But as everybody who reads Dilbert knows, the problem is always one of discernment. Who is making mistakes? Who does quality work? Who causes trouble? Who is good with customers? Who is rude? Who is being productive? Who just looks busy? This last problem was acerbated in the 1980s, with the introduction of computers into the workplace. Now, anybody could sit in front of a computer screen and look busy all day doing nothing. Yet, how would the boss ever know?

As a worker, you might think evaluating other workers is easy. But try being the boss for a while. Then you will discover the lengths employees go to hide largess. While president Reagan took no credit for finding the fix to this age-old problem, he did make a personal effort to pitch its solution:

“If a pilot is flying an airplane drunk, the passengers will feel it, because the plane will be rocking back and forth. But if he is high on marijuana, they’ll never know!” [thunderous applause]

That’s the basic rationale for drug testing: marijuana’s impairment is undetectable, except by chemical analysis of the user’s urine. One wonders, would history have been different, if drugs could be detected in workers’ stool, but not their urine? Would providing a stool-sample, as a condition of employment, be as routine as providing a urine sample is today?

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But before urine-testing revolutionized employee evaluation, Garret Turbine Engine in Phoenix called in the DEA to break-up an in-house cocaine-ring. Apparently, a large number of employees had discovered, like the Inca before them, that cocaine helped with the stress and tedium of work. It was being sold right there at the engine plant. The DEA’s dragnet resulted in 23 employees losing their jobs, engineer Bill Green among them.

Bill Green, however, was not involved with cocaine use or sales. Someone had either ratted him out as a pot-user, or he failed a drug test. He was good at whatever it is engineers do, and because it was only pot, and there had been no on-the-job usage or sales, he talked his way into getting his job back, on the condition of a two-year probation, which included random drug testing. He also testified in favor of other employees at special hearings, and several people got their jobs back as a result. Green was tested five times over the course of two years, and came up clean each time. But the idea of continued employment being conditional upon the condition of his urine, instead of the quality of his work, irked him. It motivated him to do something about it, and eventually he quit. But before that, he founded AZ4NORML, the Arizona chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Bill called a dozen other like-minded persons, and the first meeting was held at Encanto park in Phoenix, in late November of 1990. The grass was not as tasty as today‘s, but the aroma of its burning was sweet! It was an auspicious beginning, a day full of hope for a brighter Arizona. They posed for a group photo, and imagined a time when–someday soon–hate, fear and ignorance would no longer rule the state.

And sow it began.

peter wilson

–Peter Wilson was the Director of Arizona NORML during the turbulent 1990s.

link to Part 2 link to Part 1