In 1819, Washington Irving published the story of Rip Van Winkle, a Colonist living in the Catskill Mountains, who was beloved by his fellow villagers for his friendliness towards all, his folksy stories and affection for children and animals. His one fault was his habit of disappearing whenever there was work to be done. While shirking his duties one afternoon, Van Winkle stumbled upon a group of unusual men playing nine-pin in the woods. Van Winkle drank some of their moonshine, and fell into a stupor for 20 years, awakening to find that his wife had died, his children were grown, and even his own dog did not recognize him. At the local tavern he proclaimed himself a loyal subject of the king, only to learn that he had slept through the American Revolution.
During the early 1800’s some saw a metaphor for North Carolina in the Rip Van Winkle story – the state, though filled with great natural resources and potential – seemed mired in the politics of the past. The state’s leaders were against spending tax money on schools, roads, agricultural reforms, or any other form of economic advancement. Thousands left the state seeking opportunity elsewhere; between 1790 and 1860, the state fell from the third most populous state to twelfth. A new constitution was written in 1835, and more progressive policies enacted, but still changes came slowly. Some of us have watched as North Carolina cycled from conservative policies to progressive policies and back within our lifetimes.
Cannabis activists in today’s North Carolina may reasonably feel that the state is in a stupor or caught in a time warp. Popular movies and television shows portray people from all walks of life smoking pot recreationally, vaporizing doctor-recommended medical marijuana, or eating brownies or medicinal medibles, while it seems most of our legislators and many of our friends and neighbors are still watching “Reefer Madness” at the drive-in theater. The national media has finally begun to pay attention to cannabis; Time, Newsweek and National Geographic have all recently published special issues with intelligent and well researched articles on all facets of cannabis. TV and print reporters are asking presidential candidates where they stand, and some candidates are voluntarily offering up their positions and their histories, perhaps knowing that the time has come for a national discussion. Ye Olde local media outlets are filled with mug shots and stories that do nothing to dispel the myths. Our reporters don’t want to ask politicians whether they inhaled or where they stand, and our politicians sure ain’t gonna bring it up themselves.
We hear about referendums in other states to put medical or legal cannabis on the ballot for citizens to vote on, while our state constitution does not provide a means for citizens to put referenda on the ballot. Multiple cities and counties across the country are decriminalizing possession of personal amounts of cannabis, giving tickets rather than arresting those who are caught with amounts from ½ ounce to up to 1 ½ ounces, depending on the local ordinance. North Carolina is a not a home rule state and all changes to the criminal code must be made by the state legislature, thus city council members rebuff citizen efforts to bring up decriminalization.
North Carolina is a very big state, and while there are cities of great size, much of the population lives in the small towns and rural areas – places where the old ways are the best ways, and people who do use cannabis or who see that our current laws need to be changed, feel uncomfortable coming out and speaking out. Even in the cities, there is often a sense of isolation and fear; people may be new to NC, they may hold jobs in sensitive positions, their families may condemn them for coming out. There thousands and even tens of thousands who may support us privately, but are not willing to speak out. We need to find ways to reach them and let them know it is safe to speak and act. We need to find our allies and let them know we have supported them and their causes, and are happy to do so, yet we need them to have our backs as well.
Who is a cannabis activist in North Carolina? We may be proud to fly to fly the Confederate flag or to march carrying Black Lives Matter signs. We may be Southern Baptist, atheist, Catholic, Jewish, or recent converts to the Church of Cannabis. We may have been born and raised in North Carolina to parents who were born and raised in NC as well or we may be transplants from Texas, New Jersey or South America. We may be feeling the Bern/Ready for Hillary or hope that Rand Paul/Donald Trump/Gary Johnson has political solutions. We may be Second Amendment supporters or believe that there must be changes to our gun laws. Even our feelings about cannabis are diverse – some of us are just ready to grow the heck out of hemp or build a Hempcrete home; some of us are 110% on board with cannabis as medicine; some see the War on Drugs is a war on people, and largely a war on minorities; some of us believe the right to consume marijuana as medicine or as euphoriant is a personal and a civil right; and yes, some of us do just want to get high.
We are a diverse and growing movement and have a lot to learn from each other. The key to changing any of our laws is communication. We must listen to multiple points of view to truly understand how to effectively communicate our own. We may not agree with every other cannabis activist, but when we can learn to discuss instead of cuss, our one million voices can be so much more powerful than one voice.
The opinions expressed above are those of Blogger Ann Twitty Caughran, not NC NORML