This week I interviewed Mel Barniskis, the Information Manager for the So-Norml (Southern Oregon NORML) Chapter. Here is a transcript of the interview:
Q: What is the primary goal of your NORML chapter?
A: So-norml exists to provide accurate information and advocacy for the responsible adult use of cannabis, with an emphasis on establishing cannabis as a safe and legitimate medication. We will respectfully exhibit a ‘pay it forward’ philosophy while directly contributing to our community in a positive and compassionate approach.
Q: How many members do you have?
A: We are closing in on our 400th member. We opened our resource center in April of 2009, so that is about 40 new members a month. This makes us smile, but we are striving for even greater participation.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your state today, in regards to cannabis?
A: Like many other states, we are seeking to legalize cannabis use for any responsible adult. There are many “reefer madness” adherents still kicking around out here, so educating them with regard to the benefits of cannabis is a challenge we happily accept. Oregon is bookended by California and Washington, 2 states which are processing legalization legislation at this time. I use processing loosely, as the two states are handling the issue in very different ways, but with similar end goals. If either or both of those states achieve full legalization, the Oregon legislature has to get on board, or be left at the dock, holding an empty bag. Oregonians will cross state lines, in a heartbeat, to locate legal cannabis. All that tax revenue pouring into our neighbors’ coffers would be a fiscal mistake of epic proportions. Or as the Internet succinctly puts it … FAIL!
Southern Oregon was blessed by Mother Nature with ideal growing conditions for cannabis and hemp. Our Medical Marijuana program produces outstanding medicine that is said to rival that of anywhere else in the world. We find ourselves at the northern tip of the “Emerald Triangle”. If Washington or California legalizes cannabis, it won’t be just our tax dollars making a border crossing. Our prime cannabis will migrate as well, and, frankly, we need to keep it here to benefit Oregonians. We need to make our legislators understand the folly of continuing to ignore, or worse, attack cannabis in Oregon.
Cannabis will not go away, no matter how many laws, fines, forfeitures, felony criminal records or seizures are thrown at it. It’s time for the lawmakers in Oregon to come around and read the research, listen to the people, and free (and tax) the leaf! It’s such a no-brainer, really. Legalize and tax cannabis, and enjoy a significant rise in state revenue, or continue the failed Drug War, and spend millions on persecuting and prosecuting those who are not committing a “crime” (defining crime as that which causes harm to persons or property), but who are simply enjoying one of Nature’s greatest gifts.
Q: What are you doing to tackle this issue?
A: We advocate constantly for reform. We present our position to lawmakers, law enforcement, and the media…anyone who will listen. We operate a cannabis information and resource center which provides education, classes, support for Medical Marijuana, and works tirelessly to erode the “reefer madness” stereotypes of the couch-locked stoners, the music blaring party animals who hang out, watch movies and contribute nothing positive except for their expenditures for munchies down at the local mini mart. Cannabis users are lawyers, doctors, teachers, clerks, moms, dads … who function quite well while using cannabis, thank you. The volunteer staff of So-norml feels that leading by example is the best counter to the old, worn out, and fallacious conception of “pothead hippies.” We strive to overcome that every day, one encounter at a time. We have joined the ‘adopt a highway’ program, clearing litter from the Interstate. We organized Christmas gifts and dinners for under-privileged families in our area. We cooperate with local organizations that provide meals to the homeless, donating food, time and talent. We are serving as the organizing body for the Global Marijuana March in Medford, OR, to bring awareness to the streets. We have information tables at many state and local summer fun fairs and events, and take great pride in being the first to offer a “Meditent” (a 21 foot teepee in which Medical Marijuana cardholders could medicate without sneaking off to their cars) at a city park during the State of Jefferson Music Festival. We represent the cannabis community of today. Normal, rational, hard-working responsible adults who simply make cannabis part of their lives.
Q: If marijuana were legalized in your state, what is the projected tax revenue?
A: CNNMoney lists Oregon as realizing revenues in the area of 14.1 million. That was as of 5 years ago. Today’s figures would be higher. The backers of OCTA (Oregon Cannabis Tax Act) have stated that legalization/taxation would add 300 million dollars to the state’s General Fund (through reduction in expenditures for prosecution of cannabis incidents as well as actual tax revenue). (http://www.oregonlive.com/business/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/business/1218165915122730.xml&coll=7) So, here again, we face the same no-brainer. Spend millions making criminals out of regular folks, or collect millions from people who feel better, smile more and live happier lives through judicious use of cannabis. It’s really that simple.
Q: How close is your state to legalizing marijuana?
A: Not close enough. We have met with stony faced legislators who still believe that cannabis is the scourge of society, the assassin of youth and a blight on the American Way. Much of the public, while supporting medical cannabis in principle, is still not sure that full legalization won’t create death, disease and destruction. All we can do is keep on representing…repeating the obvious, and hoping to prove the beneficial place of cannabis in normal, everyday life.
Q: What would be the benefits of having marijuana legalized?
A: The medicinal effects, whether sought consciously or not, must top the list. Currently Oregon recognizes a few “physical” conditions (Cancer, glaucoma, severe pain, HIV/AIDS, etc.) and allows patients with sufficient documentation of the effects of those conditions to use Medical Marijuana. But there are thousands, millions of people who would benefit from choosing cannabis as their “recreational” substance. Alcohol kills. Period. It is a poison foisted upon us by tradition and deep pocketed special interests. If people could legally choose to use cannabis instead of heading down to the local watering hole (and driving home as a real, viable threat to everyone else on the road), there would be a significant reduction in DUI deaths, domestic violence, assaults, etc. Norm Stamper of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) sums it up in this pithy truth —
“Over the past four years I’ve asked police officers throughout the U.S. (and in Canada) two questions. When’s the last time you had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana? (I’m talking marijuana only, not pot plus a six-pack or a fifth of tequila.) My colleagues pause, they reflect. Their eyes widen as they realize that in their five or fifteen or thirty years on the job they have never had to fight a marijuana user. I then ask: When’s the last time you had to fight a drunk? They look at their watches.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/norm-stamper/420-thoughts-on-pot-vs-al_b_188627.html)
Prescription medications – which can be supplanted by cannabis in MANY cases – are responsible for destroyed lives, ruined homes and plain old death. To quote the US government itself –
In seven cities in 2000 (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Seattle, and Washington, DC) 626 people died from overdose of painkillers and tranquilizers. By 2001, such deaths had increased in Miami and Chicago by 20 percent.(http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/prevalert/v6/4.aspx)
And lest we delude ourselves that things have gotten better since 2001…Drugwarfacts.org cites the following:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased 114 percent from 2001 (3,994) to 2005 (8,541), the most recent nationwide data available. Further, the number of treatment admissions for prescription opioids as the primary drug of abuse increased 74 percent from 46,115 in 2002 to 80,131 in 2006, the most recent data available, according to the SAMHSA Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS).”
National Drug Intelligence Center, Drug Enforcement Administration, “National Prescription Drug Threat Assessment,” (Washington DC, April 2009), p. III.
Smoking pot makes people feel good. What has made feeling good a crime??? Legalizing cannabis could allow people to feel good without horrendous side effects, dangers of hard addiction, death or life behind bars without hope of parole.
The financial benefits are obvious, and I have belabored them sufficiently elsewhere.
Legalizing cannabis will get the commandos out of the Siskiyou Mountains (an absolutely wondrous area which cannot now be fully enjoyed due to massive cannabis cartel grows, guarded by illegal aliens with large guns and a kill first attitude.) If the DEA could stop harassing individual users and go after these goons, lives would be saved, our money would be well spent, our forests would be open for us again, and we could keep the cannabis money within the local economy, instead of enriching the cartels. Border states could concentrate on stopping real criminals from crossing the borders, and Mexican brick would be nothing but a bad memory.
Q: What would the drawbacks be if marijuana were legalized?
A: Many people would choke on the amount of crow that they would have to devour. All those who preach the evils of cannabis would have to find other demons to exorcise (Not that there is any lack of them…what would society look like if everyone who now opposes cannabis turned to opposing sub-standard educational programs, or opposing early release of violent prisoners, or opposing child pornography, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, even *gasp* driving without being properly licensed or insured???
What do we do with all those thousands of otherwise Law Abiding Citizens who are currently incarcerated for simple possession of cannabis? A drawback would be allowing them to languish in jails and prisons for an act which would no longer be illegal. Eventually, their release back into society would have to occur, and the law professions would lose a significant cash cow. Same with asset forfeiture. Law enforcement would be forced to supplement their operating budgets by actually doing real criminal investigations, instead of just arresting some kid with a fast car and a bag of weed.
Pharmaceutical companies might lose a good deal of their profits. Gee. They might actually have to concentrate on properly testing and researching their newest concoctions instead of slamming them through FDA approval … and spending HOW MUCH on recalls and subsequent law suits when their happy pills screw up trusting citizens who take what the doctor prescribed without thinking about it, only to wake up a couple of years later addicted, sick, miserable, with birth defected children, destroyed bodily functions, or who simply wake up dead? That was an impossibly long sentence which meant simply – the government approves many bad drugs yearly. People using cannabis instead of those pills wake up hungry and happy. “Any questions?” (grin).
Q: If marijuana were legalized, how would that affect NORML?
A: “laughing” – well the party would be epic. Truly an event for the ages. There isn’t a Super Bowl parade anywhere that would come close to the celebration that would ensue! As for us here in Southern Oregon, we would continue to go on with our lives, satisfied that our efforts contributed in whatever way to finally freeing the leaf. After legalization, there will be a crying need for education and information on cannabis as a consumer good – how to ingest it without dealing with the negative effects of igniting and inhaling it, how to make brownies that don’t taste of weed, how to turn hemp into useful products… the sky literally will be the limit. Who better to help the general public understand “responsible use” than those that have been daily demonstrating this? You will have to ask the guys at the National level what they would do
Q: Is there ANYTHING readers can do to help your NORML chapter?
A: Readers to this site are probably already “in the choir” and don’t need the lessons we hope to put out there. But we are completely non-profit, so if anyone out there is in the Southern Oregon area and has disposable income that needs a good home, come and see us. We put every dollar we receive into our efforts, maintaining our center for the benefit of cannabis users and those that would like to be, and spreading the good work. That is the practical answer.
The philosophical answer would be: promote responsible adult use of cannabis at every possible occasion. Respond to counter arguments with poise and restraint. Don’t perpetuate the stoner image by appearing to be over-medicated, responding in forums and comment sections of newspapers by posting things like “I just toked out on a bowl of super green shit and boy, I am so stoned I can’t breath.” You don’t bring legalization any closer by confirming those stereotypes in older (but not wiser) heads. Wherever you are, using cannabis responsibly is job one. The sooner we get “reefer madness” replaced with “Sensimilla sense”, the better off every single one of us will be.