Like many of you, Dennis Bohlke, both in person and through his actions, changed my life. I would have done anything for him, which is why he once asked me to take him to jail.
It was January of 2104, opening week of the state legislature. We had enjoyed our first big success at the state capitol. Our legalization initiative which Dennis had written, was getting national attention. A bill Dennis had also written was being introduced in the state legislature to decriminalize cannabis. Even better, the day before, the organization we were both giving up our regular lives for, Safer Arizona, held our first rally at the capitol on opening day and we captured the news cycle with our large colorful crowd. Everything looked great for reform for marijuana. Except that Dennis had to go to jail.
The incident that set him in motion as an activist had occurred years earlier. While there are thousands of heartbreaking stories of cannabis injustice every year, this case was particularly ironic. A cop let him slide with possession at a traffic stop, but happened by when Dennis was in a later stop, and suggested the arresting officer have Dennis Bohlke do a urine test because he probably had THC in his system. When it proved true, Dennis became another of the hundreds of Arizonans convicted of an evidence-free, impairment-free DUI; and even after years of legal wrangling, he still had to serve a day in jail. (Ironically, the arresting officer’s choice to leave Dennis in plastic cuffs for several hours caused him nerve damage, which led to Dennis qualifying for a medical card for chronic pain.)
So, the day after the opening day rally, at the height of our biggest success, Dennis and I arrived pre-dawn at the Lower Buckeye Street Jail. Twenty-four later when they released him, Dennis was even more fired up to change the state’s laws. And, up till his last day, Dennis Bohlke never stopped fighting.
There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of you who have similar stories of Dennis fighting against injustice. Before we met in March 2013, I was a social studies teacher who had spent 30+yrs in the cannabis closet and was just beginning to learn how to stand up for one of the gravest injustices in the history of America. With Dave Wisniewski still on active duty in South Korea, Bohlke was the backbone of Safer at the time, personally recruiting me and Robert Clark to join the cause at a NORML meeting in Sierra Vista.
I left teaching that summer and have spent the last four years working on the issue fulltime. In 2015 family struggles took Dennis away from Safer AZ. He later joined the Prop205 campaign and told me, despite everything else that challenged him in recent years, losing that election is what killed him. Like Moses, Dennis brought us far, but did not live to see the promised land. With that in mind, AZ activists, take this as my promise I will honor Dennis Bohlke and not stop fighting for cannabis reform until we have legalization or till the battle takes me. Just like my hero, Dennis Bohlke.
The last time I visited him, a few weeks before he died, Dennis was still planning out his next attack. If you have fought for reform in this state this decade, whether you knew it or not, you were carrying on the work Dennis started. In his memory, take a pause for a puff, then keep on fighting. We have a long way to go.
–Mikel Weisser is the state director of AZ-NORML and served as the political director for Safer Arizona from 2013-2015.