On March 23, 2013 Representative Kelly Alexander addressed Charlotte NORML and shared his ideas for reforming marijuana laws in North Carolina.
Representative Alexander was the sponsor of North Carolina’s Medical Cannabis Act – House Bill 84. That bill was famously killed in committee and followed up by callous comments by Paul Stam. Apparently, NORML’s approach to reforming marijuana laws in North Carolina didn’t jive with how Rep. Stam and his peers like to do business in the General Assembly. So NC NORML asked Kelly Alexander for some tips on making sure the next marijuana related bill gets passed.
Here’s what Representative Alexander had to say…
North Carolina’s Medical Cannabis Act is a no-brainer. The federal government is moving to a passive posture and is allowing states to do what they want. However, there was opposition to the bill in post parties in the NC legislature. And this is strange since individually members of the NC General Assembly will all tell personal stories about family members who have been helped by marijuana and know doctors who would prescribe it. They’ll also tell stories about how legal medications don’t work and have long lasting negative side effects.
There was a MoveOn.org petition that asked people to show support for medical marijuana law reform in North Carolina. The online petition received about 10,000 responses – most of which were from North Carolina. In another group show of support, many of the other representatives complain to Rep. Alexander that “your people are clogging up my email.” Our combined voices are large.
The problem in passing legislation in the South is that people are too afraid and too few people want to speak up. Too often people interested in drug policy change are reluctant to be engaged on the front end.
The first challenge is to get more people to speak up about the need to end the failed drug war and to get marijuana into the hands of people who can benefit from the plant. Currently the federal government’s arm of cancer research – National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) – states clearly that marijuana has cancer cell killing properties. The cat is totally out of the bag regarding the medicinal properties of marijuana, but yet citizens still cower with the fear that speaking up will incriminate them, cause them to lose their job or become targeted as an illegal marijuana user.
Despite being profound, the statements at the National Cancer Institute are still not enough to persuade the North Carolina legislators. To give others the confidence to speak up, we must seek resolutions through some of the medical societies so the anti-marijuana arguments can be effectively removed.
In the upcoming election cycle, it is important for cannabis sympathizers to show up to forums and ask questions about drug policy. We must all ask the candidates about medical marijuana. If the candidate is opposed to it, ask why. When we get people on this side of the discussion its tough for them to support their decision. ‘Because marijuana is a Schedule I substance’ is an often cited reason for being against legalization, we must ask people who are running for congress if they recommend changing the marijuana scheduling.
Because NORML has chapters across the state, we must hold forums and engage candidates. “There was a bill in last session that you didn’t support… why?” It’s an uncomfortable question for politicians running for re-election to be faced with publicly. We must hold their feet to the fire in a respectful yet public way.
When NORML starts publicizing what candidates’ view are (pros and cons) citizens remember that when they go to the polls.
Future Legislative Action Days will be required. We have a right to petition to get laws changed. That’s why legislative action days work. On February 12, 2013 NCCPN (North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network) organized a rally in Raleigh to show support for HB 84. About 400 people showed up who were all well mannered. Many of them made appointments with their representatives. (It’s VERY important to make appointments to meet with your representative to make sure your voice is heard.)
Rep Paul Stam was quoted widely about being annoyed and harassed by supporters of this bill. As activists we should see this as a sign we have their attention. The next step is to take that number of people who showed up in February and multiply it. Next time make it 600… then 1000… then 1500. We need to get as many folks as we can get expressing their views on what needs to change.
Peacefully assemble. Pack the General Assembly Mall in Raleigh. Demonstrate that it’s time to change drug policy. Even though this will take work, our message will be clear.
And that’s the next challenge… We can’t get that many people to the mall to demonstrate at future legislative action days without some work. We have to talk to people. We have to organize transportation. We have to line-up good speakers. We must get folks within the political establishment interested in change to be willing to address the group.
The bad news is that because of the “unfavorable” ruling given by the House Rules Committee to the Medical Cannabis Act, no new medical marijuana legislation can be introduced until after the 2014 election cycle. That’s a long time. But it also gives us time to organize and plan for the next legislative action day. We should target to have 1000 people show up at the next one. Why? Because that short session is before the next election. Then we will follow up with forums.
Another method we can use to change the laws requires a bit of psychology. We all know that there are stereotypes of the marijuana culture. When legislators have a particular idea of what a pot smoker looks and talks like, they will suffer from a useful bout of cognitive dissonance when they meet a supporter who doesn’t fit that stereotype. They begin questioning their basic assumptions when we’re well spoken and socially polished.
So be the best stoner you can be. Remove doubt in EVERYONE’s minds that pot makes you lazy. Or makes you a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Or causes you to forget what you’re talking about in the middle of a conversation. Find the right balance of marijuana in your life and still be organized in the areas that you care about – especially socially. Public opinion will change when we get our collective acts together.
Make sure this is a discussion with people who are not just your friends. Visit other forums ready to engage people in a way that they will respect you and your perspective.
And finally, the most important task we must all do – VOTE! And contribute to candidates who support your positions. Volunteer with candidates’ offices and at the voting booth. Get involved in the political process. This all takes work by people who are reliable and diligent.
In the end, just remember that if the Medical Cannabis Act had passed in North Carolina, the state would have seen taxation revenues around $100 million and kept people out of the court and prison system.
To summarize, we need more doctors and institutes to speak out on marijuana’s efficacy. We need to plan the next legislative action day (and call it “Paul Stam day”) and have a huge rally that is visually exciting. Make sure everyone wears green and have someone waving a flag around with a big pot leaf on it. And, most importantly, stay active and contribute. That’s the only way this is going to work.
We are citizens and change requires that we all get involved.