Aaron King recently risked his long-time dream of a career teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After receiving his purple belt, Aaron’s first major employer was a gym for people who “Want to Train like a UFC athlete.” Like other athletes who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, King was unable to put himself out in public long enough to teach martial arts1 without the medicine that works best for him – cannabis. This is why he wanted to share his experiences and help others through founding NORML Athletics.
On January 12th, Aaron was fired. The email notifying Aaron of his termination from UFC stated:
After conducting some research I came across a post on your Facebook page that is in conflict with our Communication Policy at the gym. On November 12, 2014, there was a post … with your picture attached, describing your involvement with NORML Athletics, an organization that supports the use of cannabis “as a vehicle towards athletic self-improvement.” Your position as Founder of NORML Athletics could jeopardize our relationships with members, schools, PTAs, corporate clients and our insurance carriers.
This Communication Policy is meant to balance business interests with freedom of speech online. Recognizing a diversity of staff, it explicitly forbids “drug use or illegal activity; derogatory statements towards any race, sexual orientation, gender or religion; sexually explicit language, sexual activity; and inappropriate or sexually explicit pictures.” The policy even provides a helpful “guiding principle”:
Is this communication something that someone else would find appropriate or acceptable in a face-to-face meeting?” or “Is this something you would be comfortable saying out loud to the intended recipient of your communication in front of the intended recipient, intended recipient’s parents, the coaching staff, the owners, or other coaches.”
King’s termination was due to a political interpretation of the Communications Policy, not for explicit “drug use” – he did not fail a drug test. A reasonable person would not see this as a violation of the spirit of the policy. Had King instead voiced his position on gay marriage, it would be perfectly acceptable and he would remain in his position as an instructor.
The issue of marijuana reform affects all Americans, not just people who use marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. It affects disadvantaged and privileged youth, minorities, the workforce, economic and health policies, our prison system, and how every member of the public interacts with law enforcement. Several of the central themes listed in the Declaration of Independence speak to the very ideas of civil liberty and self-government that our society holds in the highest esteem. Yet our supporters, people of every background, are afraid to act as a cohesive political group due to the very nature of the topic in question. If we are to succeed as a movement, we must all risk our very livelihoods, reputations, and honor, or we will fail to affect our collective “Safety and Happiness.”
This is how the Gay Rights movement began. “Crimes Against Nature”, laws on the books of several states making certain sexual activity criminal, were only ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. Gay citizens were marginalized, violently attacked, suppressed by law enforcement and acts of government. They were discriminated against, fired from jobs. Eventually, by demanding rights, the gay rights movement has become extremely successful, and is on the cusp of legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. Can a similar strategy work for marijuana reform?
Over 100 million Americans have tried marijuana, and over 5% of the total population regularly use marijuana. Although four states have fully legalized recreational use, and 23 states (plus the District of Columbia) have medical marijuana (source: www.norml.org/marijuana). In contrast, only 3.8% of the total population identifies as a member of the LGBT community, according to the 2010 US Census, and thirty-three states have legalized gay marriage in some form (source: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_demographics_of_the_United_States).
NC NORML needs people with experience in business, law, academia, law enforcement, and politics. And we need all of our supporters, whether they are marijuana users or not, to participate in our operations. But people are scared to participate. Look at what happened to Aaron King. For exercising his right to freedom of speech he was fired! How many other people fear volunteering or donating to NC NORML because they are frightened the exact same thing will happen to them?
Resistance to social change, to the reform of marijuana laws, hurts all Americans. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated a right to self-government and to the existence of “certain unalienable rights”. “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” must be respected by governments; when “Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People … to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” This idea demands individuals take action to solve modern social problems. By creating NORML Athletics, King sought to advance the social status of cannabis using athletes, to challenge social and medical stereotypes, and to encourage others with similar experiences to political action.
If the community of marijuana users, as well as non-using supporters, wants to effect change, they must stand for their beliefs as others have. If supporters are unwilling to participate in the political process, if they are unwilling to engage friends, family members, and neighbors about their beliefs, if they refuse to donate time and funds, if they cannot organize themselves into a coherent political force, marijuana will continue to be illegal. People will continue to be sent to prison. Patients of many illnesses will not get treatment. The War on Drugs will continue unabated. Marijuana users will continue to be ostracized and eliminated from society. Social change requires the vanguard assume risk. Without leaders to stand up boldly, as a community, we cannot become the change we seek.