Why Students Hold The Key To Ending Marijuana Prohibition

The following speech was given by NORML’s Deputy Director before nearly 500 attendees on Saturday, March 13, at the opening plenary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy‘s 11th International Conference, at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. To read full coverage of the conference, please see DRCNet’s report here.
My name is Paul Armentano and I’m the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and I’m the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? Max, Amber, Stacia and the many good folks at SSDP invited me to come here today to talk to you about how and why students have a vital role to play in ending marijuana prohibition.
First let’s talk about the “why”: self-preservation. The federal government has declared war on you.
Since 1965 law enforcement in this country have arrested over 20 million people for marijuana offenses.  But when you take a closer look at who is actually arrested you find that, for the most part, it isn’t the folks sitting on this panel; it’s all of you sitting out there – it’s young people.
In short – the so-called ‘war’ on marijuana is really a war on youth.
According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of the 800,000 or so Americans busted for pot each year are under age 30, and one out of four are age 18 or younger.  That’s nearly half a million young people at risk of losing their school loans, or being saddled with a lifelong criminal record at a time when they are just entering the workforce.   We’re talking about an entire generation – and that’s you out there – that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.
And the sad fact is: you’re right!
The question is: What are you going to do about it?
If we’re going to finally end this 70+ year failed public policy known as marijuana prohibition, then we need students to play a lead role.  Obviously those of you in this room have already taken a critical first step in leading this charge by joining SSDP and attending this conference.  But there’s a lot more to be done and there’s a lot more that you can do.
I believe that it was Ghandi who demanded that those who are oppressed be a part of there own liberation, and marijuana prohibition is no different.  I want you to look around you because it’s you all who will ultimately bring about an end to prohibition.
And here’s how you start, and it’s really, really simple suggestion. Start talking to others about the need to end marijuana prohibition. Start talking about how this policy disproportionately and adversely impacts youth. Start discussing about how this policy limits young people’s opportunities at economic and academic success, and has repercussions that adversely affect people for the rest of their lives.
Start talking about how the war on weed endangers young people’s health and safety because it enables teens to have easier access to pot than to legal, age-restricted intoxicants like alcohol and tobacco.  Talk about how prohibition forces young people to interact and befriend pushers of other illegal, more dangerous drugs.  Talk about how prohibition compels young people dismiss the educational messages they receive pertaining to the potential health risks posed by the use of ‘hard drugs’ and prescription pharmaceuticals because they say: “If they lied to me about pot, why wouldn’t they be lying to me about everything else too.”
Most importantly, talk about how criminal prohibition is far more likely to result in having all of you sitting in this room struggling to get over a lifelong criminal conviction than it is in any way going to discourage you or your friends from trying pot.
And when I say ‘talk about it,’ that’s exactly what I mean – TALK.  But talk to those who know you – your family, your friends, your parents, your neighbors, your professors, your faculty advisers. These are the people who you have built in credibility with. These are the people who are most likely to share and act upon your concerns because they care about you.  They care about what you think, and they actually care about what happens to you.
(You know it’s funny, so often I hear activists talk about how they want to spread the word by going out on some street-corner and handing out leaflets to strangers. Or they want to engage in debates with some paid prohibitionist, as if by providing he or she with the facts about marijuana will somehow change his or her position.  Or they want to post messages on some anti-drug website. Big deal. Talking to strangers is easy; it’s talking to people you know that’s hard. But it’s talking to people you know that is ultimately going to make a difference.)
So after you’re done talking about the evils of the drug war with your friends, family, and faculty – and encouraging them to begin engaging in this conversation as well – then it’s time to move the discussion to those who can shape public opinion and policy: the editors at your school paper, the leaders in your student government, your city council, your mayor, you state elected officials.  Talk to these folks, and keep talking to these folks.  And if they won’t listen to you then become one of them.  Join the school paper; run for student government; run for city council. If not you, then who?
Here’s something else I want you to do to help bring about an end to marijuana prohibition. There’s something I want you all to say when you are engaging in your outreach efforts, and that is this: NOT IN MY NAME.
You know, when those who support marijuana prohibition are forced to defend it, they do so by saying that it’s all about you: it’s all about protecting and providing for the best interest of young people.  You know, sort of like “we have to destroy the village in order to to save it.”
It’s time for all of you in this room to stop being the scapegoats for the abuses and the excesses of drug war. It’s time to say: enough! We don’t want your criminal policies; we never asked for your criminal policies; and we’re tired of having our good names be used to support your failed drug war.  The war on marijuana isn’t saving us; it’s harming us, and we demand that it comes to end before it destroys another generations the same way it has destroyed ours.
Okay, so that’s the easy part – here’s the hard part.  If students – and I’m talking about you guys here, and I’m also talking about all of your friends and colleagues who aren’t here – really are going to be the game-changers in this battle, this fight that all of us sitting up here have been waging for far too long already, then we need for you guys to take a pledge:
Don’t let your activism be a phase in your life; make it a part of your life.
When I graduated college in 1994 there was no SSDP; there was no ASA. There barely was an MPP.  There was the DPA – with one office a handful of employees.  There was no LEAP, no SAFER; no frankly there was no professional movement. Since then the landscape has changed monumentally.
Today, there are now dozens of organizations working on drug policy reform, and with that, dozens of job opportunities for you to get involved and stay involved in marijuana policy after you graduate college.  So I give you a challenge: You really want to end the drug war? Consider making drug policy your career choice. You can start right now by applying for an internship at NORML or a fellowship at SSDP.  Many of this movement’s current leaders started out this way, Kris Krane, Mason Tvert, Tom Angel, Stacia Cosner, Micah Daigle, and many others.  They did it, and you can too.
Finally, even if you don’t wish to pursue marijuana law reform as a career, I encourage you to stay active in the movement.  Between the Internet, podcasts, list-servs, social networking sites like Facebook, you now have access to unparalleled quantities of drug-law reform information in real time.  Just this past week NORML launched its own Iphone app.
In other words, it is now easier than ever to stay plugged in to your networks and continue to educate yourself and your friends about drug policy reform. Check out NORML’s daily podcast, the Audio Stash, for the latest breaking news, or check out NORML’s capwiz page to instantly learn about upcoming state and federal votes in legislation that affects us all. And use what you learn to continue to move this conversation forward.
The bottom line: all of you in this room have the power to change these laws, and today you have an unprecedented opportunity to do so. So get out there and do it!

0 thoughts

  1. I’ll talk to anyone young and old who will listen. I’ll talk and talk until I can tell they get it or they just can’t handle anymore information. I’ve talked to my grandfather, dad, mom, pastor, brother and sister in law, neighbor, coworkers, etc. You have to plant this seed in someone. When it comes time to vote, or they are around a marijuana related conversation, they will remember what you said. I tell people it is the most important issue in the country today and for the next 10 years.

  2. #36 patrick
    you are an idiot they have plenty to gain by arresting cannabis users
    they gain money
    they gain jobs
    they gain POWER

  3. Norml/Editor/Armentano
    What happened with CT raised bill 476 did it finally pass or do I got to hide in my underground tunnel and smoke buds still? Also, how do you impeach a governor RELL SHOULD BE OUT SHES CRAZY
    [Paul Armentano responds: S.B. 476 is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.]

  4. I also need a job, and I want out of CT any jobs norml has going in cali ill gladly move on call : )………..(ps im serious haha jk no really im serious)

  5. Remember the Buffalo Springfield’s 60’s hit: For What it’s Worth? We have been in a time warp for 50 years! I still hear the words and feel the message but my 16 year old daughter wonders what planet I’m from. I have been a companion of cannabis for over 40 years, having been introduced to MJ while touring Vietnam. I have learned to be descrete, careful, untrusting and stealthy. They have become habits to such a degree that I think I actually enjoy the secret life I lead. I have been blown away with the positive movement towards acceptance of marijuana these last few years…I never envisioned it possible. To the recreational users: Just as the public use and abuse of alcohol is disgusting to many people, I believe the public use and abuse of cannabis is disgusting to many people also and harms our effort to gain acceptance. Please celebrate responsibly, like your mother is watching!

  6. I wish there was more of a movement going here in Utah… Just recently my wife and I (21 & 24) were arrested by Cedar City police for plastic pots filled with potting soil (no plants, no seeds, no nothing), a pipe, and a half gram of cannabis, and am currently facing three felony charges. The DA is pushing for 5-15 years in a Utah Prison, and if I EVERY get custody of my little girl (13 mo) again it’ll be nothing short of a miracle. My wife and I have lost our jobs, our home, our (and our daughters) insurance, and she was unable to start schooling this past semester… even though she passed her drug tests. And we only barely made the $10,000 bail (via bond) for each of us. Oh, and to make things better, they got the search warrant for a credit fraud that apparently our IP was tied to (when our internet service was down). I was an advocate of cannabis reform before, now I’d give everything to ensure my daughter doesn’t have to live in a world with these same injustices.

  7. wut we do in our free time behind closed doors in nobody elses buisness. only the people blaming it up next you to.
    “if marajuana isnt legalized in the next 5 years i will have lost all hope in humanity”

  8. i am also from ct and jodi rell and cancer patient her self vetoed the medical cannabis thing awhile ago
    i hope she dies
    ct is the dumbest state that is ruled by the rich insurance companies after all we are the insurance capitol if the country if not the world
    anti USA is the way to go
    [Paul Armentano responds: Your consistent calls for violence, or in this case, death are hopelessly counterproductive.]

  9. #56 Thats some f**ked up shit right there but ur not the only one i can vouch for anyman or woman we can all pass the first piss test ,an if things r going good with your job atleast as far as u know you are(being on time,good worker,doesn’t have attitude, then why fuk with what we are trying to tell this Gov. Its called Being Responsible People, Get rid of cananobiods on the piss test .#52 Idiot cops wanna take your weed and make browinies an then be stupid enough to call 911 an say (He Thinks He’s Die’n) I thought that shit was funny….lol Peace Norml

  10. Does anyone know how this health care bill will effect pharmaceutical companies. Here`s an example of how big pharma is destroying our health care, our freedom, and our lives. One person I know recently researched how much their prescription drugs cost medicaid(taxdollars). Remember this is just one person out of millions. In just one year medicaid(taxpayers) was charged $21,600,for this persons prescription drugs. And how do we know these people getting these (free) drugs aren`t selling them on the black market. Why aren`t all patients receiving so many drugs tested to make sure they aren`t selling them? These questions aren`t being answered because the greedy people gaining money from it want it kept hush hush. I realize that this may be an extreme example, but to me it raises a major red flag to what does this new health care bill do about these insane costs to taxpayers? This money does not include the doctors fee and other fees, just the cost of the pills. Research and development costs to big companies should not come from tax dollars aimed at helping people in poverty. Right? Legalizing ,(100%) marijuana would make it free to grow your own pain medicine. Which would mean the big pharma would lose billions, which would mean their puppets in Washington would lose billions too. And don`t let the hypocrites of the alcohol industry off the hook either. More people under 21 die from alcohol-related deaths than any other cause. Yet the majority of idiots against legalizing marijuana drink alcohol on a regular bases. Irony? You decide. Follow the money, find the devil.

  11. This is for #4 a.k.a. Charlie………and the rest of us.
    Let`s review a few things that are”LEGAL”, shall we?
    1. It is legal for an alcoholic pedophile, who has not been caught yet, to drive to the grocery store, with children to purchase his/her drug of choice, alcohol.
    2. It is legal to purchase (alcohol) with children present.
    3. It is legal to get drunk in the home with children present.
    4. It is legal to get drunk at most sporting events with children present.(#1 reason why I hate sports now)
    5. It is legal to have alcohol and children in an automobile in most states.
    6. It is legal to advertise alcohol on network television with children viewing.
    This law is for you Charlie…
    7. A recent episode of a “show about law enforcement”,(can`t use name so NORML doesn`t get sued), showed many examples of drunken idiots driving cars. But when they put the beer and vodka bottles on the roof of the car they blocked the label so we couldn`t see which alcohol company contributed to the drunk persons idiocy. Then the same network advertises the same brand of alcohol the next afternoon when they know children are watching. So we`ll call this “Charlies Law”. Where saying anything bad about major alcohol companies on a website or television is against the law (ILLEGAL), by your logic this is bad. Yet advertising alcohol and consuming alcohol around children is legal, which by your logic is good. Because it is “LEGAL”. And cutting down people and imprisoning them simply because growing a plant and smoking it is “ILLEGAL”.
    Every day peoples lives are destroyed simply for having a plant. Whether children are involved or not.
    Does that mean alcoholics are better people than marijuana smokers simply because their drug of choice is legal? Even though it has been proven that alcohol kills more Americans than all illegal drugs combined? Including all the deaths of cops and drug dealers shooting each other, and the occasional child shot in this idiotic war on marijuana. So in closing to you Charlie, if it was against the “LAW” to be alive if your name is Charlie would you kill yourself, because it is against the “LAW”? Something for all of us to think about.

  12. I remember listening to this speech when I was at the conference, it was awesome! It was also great hearing him mention Stacia, as I know her and it’s cool to hear famous people talk about people you know. But anyways, everything that Paul said is true. I also really like his take on the endocannibinoid system, which he talked about in a more recent post. Paul, you are a hero to drug reformers everywhere, and I thank you!
    [Paul Armentano responds: Thank you for the feedback. SSDP’s Stacia Cosner is an excellent example of a young person working toward her own liberation (as well as the liberation of others). She’s an excellent role model for young people who wish to get involved — and stay involved — in drug law reform.]

  13. Thank you for the great article. Recently my friend was a victim of the War on Drugs when police arrested him for the second time in one week. Granted the first time involved underaged drinking, but the second time he was doing no more than smoking a little pot with friends. My friend is 16 and is facing two MIP offences. I feel sorry for him greatly and for the damage this unnecessary charge has caused to his future and to his personal psyche.
    It is true that this prohibition puts cops in a different light for people who enjoy smoking some weed to reduce stress or for medical reasons. I feel disdain for the police (excluding when they are actually saving lives or protecting innocent people) and experience anxiety whenever one is near, whether it be on the road or just the liaison officer at my high school. It is even worse if I am high or have illegal items on me.

  14. To whom it may concern,
    My name is Sean Crystal and I am writing today to get some legal advice an help in a situation where my rights were violated under the constitution. In end I wound up abiding to avoid injury to myself. I am not currently working so an attorney is not going to be an easy thing for me to obtain. In attempt to use my freedom card the officers refused to hear or read it. The officers also continued to ask questions, and refused to honor my decision of no consent to search my vehicle. The officer would not allow me to close my door as I stepped out of my vehicle, all answers and consent given were under protest and duress. Please NORML this would be a big case for the state of Idaho if you would help me win it. In order to legalize we must stand together, and I need you to stand with me.
    Thank you,
    Sean Crystal
    Webmaster: http://www.hemp4victory.com

  15. I think everyone has their own opinions of marijuana, but I also know that if the united states government made it legal TODAY, there would still be some restrictions. & naturally, there would still be people breaking the rules & going to prison. Why? Because there are so many peole today that CANNOT live their life without crime. To them it wouldn’t be natural. But I think that anyone being responsible & holding their own while using marijuana is far from deserving of the title “criminal”. All these B.S. comments such as “Yes, because it’s so responsible of them, breaking the law and all.” are completely uncalled for. I’m more than sure that MOST people AGAINST legalization of marijuana have NEVER smoked it a day in their LIFE. Bottom line, if it was legalized, I can guarantee that the United States government wouldn’t FORCE you non-marijuana users to START using! Alcohol is legal, but when you pass your local liquor store, is there a road block in front of you & a policeman demanding that you buy some? Alcohol is legal & it kills more people everyday!!! I am almost 100% certain that those who are against this legalization have drank themselves under the table, & at one point got out & drove their cars in that condition. There are bars all around the united states, where people drink alcohol & get totally plastered to the point where they start fights with locals which winds up in severe injuries, arrests, and sometimes even death. I’ve never heard of someone becoming severely VIOLENT while smoking marijuana. Cigarettes cause cancer, they give more people lung cancer than anything. People usually only smoke them because of their anxiety because they aren’t legally allowed to purchase marijuana yet. I personally have smoked cigarettes & marijuana. Marijuana is way more helpful than cigarettes or alcohol. Most people who use marijuana smoke it then sit on the couch with a bag of cheetos & laugh til they almost cry at whatever is on their television. So that leads me to my basic question… WHEN DID JOY BECOME A CRIME???

  16. Norml,
    I’m a communications senior at UHCL and I’m focusing in videography and journalism. Unfortunately I live in the very closed-minded state of Texas. I am looking to move once I have sufficient funds, but I was just wondering what and where I could help NORML on a professional level. I’m not just looking for a paying job, but a way to facilitate NORML’s movement. Otherwise, I will always urge strangers to see this dilemma from my point of view:
    If it is made in some basement lab or shack it’s no good. If it grows naturally in our world, it’s probably okay.

  17. what are they gonna do about indiana has evertyone forgotten about this state and what it is doing to me? im being forced to have to move out of state away from my kids because i dont wanna go to prison? i use for medical reasons, but i been popped so many times im scared to see prison time for my med. use. they wont give me anxiety med.’s or pain meds for my physical and mental problems. denied me ssi saying im a pothead! wtf am i supposed to do?

  18. Paul,I know someone monitors the comments and you may have already heard but the initiative made it onto the ballot in Ca. A historical day in NORML’s history of fighting for change.

  19. I have cirosa of the liver in its final stages.No transplant/no future.Pills and classic meds have a negative affect on my body.The pain pills have a strong chemical effect.A toke now and then helps when I am bored.There is no negative effect.Help,get mad and talk it up

  20. #68 Where about in Texas are you? I’m a journalism student at UNT. I also have been considering moving out of the state, because Texas is so conservative, it wouldn’t surprise me if they fought marijuana reform long after it was legalized.
    I also would like to work with NORML. I’ve been having difficulty finding information on the internship mentioned in the article. I wouldn’t mind switching to PR, if that would be more beneficial to the movement.
    When I was younger, I regretted not being alive during the 60’s. I thought I had missed out on the chance to cause social change. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that society is constantly changing, and our cause is simply to make sure it goes in a direction we can be proud of. I would be proud to live in a society where people can make their own choices about what to put in their body, without a moralistic government punishing them and all taxpayers for the “crime.”
    But seriously, where’s further info on the internships?
    [Paul Armentano responds: Internship application information is available on the NORML website: http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=3428.%5D

  21. This was intoxicatingly brillant!!!! this represents the biggest change in america post civil rights movement. as someone who has an open mind about marijuana and avid supporter but also as someone who has never used i fully under stand the medicinal, economical, and also social benifits of this amazing plant.never before have i see so many convincing and intelligent activists.with time and unending effort this should turn out to be the greatest era in the new mellenium. i would like to personally commend ant thank each and every one of you,ESPCIALLY the founders, workers, and supporters of NORMIL.thank you

  22. For social change to take place, one must recognize injustice. Many people do not realize that this is an injustice, simply because they’ve not tried it, or made it part of their lifestyle. THEY DO NOT FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING VIOLATED AGAINST. This is not only an injustice, but a human rights issue.
    Jimmy Carter said, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”
    The notion that I am unintelligent, lazy and a blight on society simply because I’ve smoked cannabis is void. My IQ has been measured and confirmed multiple times between the ranges of 140-185, I have a family with two kids and a wonderful wife, and am a teacher in a public high school
    So what is it? Why is pot illegal? Because we aren’t mad. We aren’t angry. We can learn much from the teachings of non-violence ie. Ghandi, but we must first gather the fortitude to say, “God Damnit! I’m tired of this shit and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
    We receive no change in law simply because of our inability to organize, target and demand. We must organize (Norml), target (Our representatives) and demand change. Our numbers are not small, we are large, in fact. It is simply the crippling paranoia due to the over enforcement of prohibition and the social stigmata of cannabis use.

  23. I live in michigan where the law are harsh on pot smokers . two months ago i got busted for three joints. since then ive paid 2500 dollar in fine and court cost. been condemed by the jugde as being a bad parent. although i raised my kids kept a job and health ins through their childhood i was a hands on father changed dipers feed them burped and rock them to sleep at night .i attened all their sports allways on the side line. the jugde it was sad that i was at pot user .that i was lacking as a father i have 65 hour commity service to do counsuling at 65 dollar per visit.iam slow at work now have a hard time paying all this i dont like drinking but i cant smoke now so iam drinking more .this cant be right

  24. Also, to Charlie,
    Wasn’t it illegal to petition the Government/Anglican church of England?
    Wasn’t it illegal to assemble under the Government/Anglican Church of England?
    These are the very reasons our protestant ancestors created this great nation (Assuming you are of Anglo-Saxton heritage), so that we as a people were free to live our lives. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand the history of our nation.

  25. ya i agree wit this guy im only in 9th grade my friend got exspelled from schoolbecause he had pot on him now he wont be able to get into collages that he wanted to go to just becuz of this ‘war on drugs’.

  26. As I read the article, I expected to read about a plea for all young people to vote. Especially this fall in California where the people could deal a real blow to the cannabis prohibitionists.
    I’m a 63 year old living in Michigan and want to see legal cannabis in my life-time. And I’m planning on it.

  27. One of the more reasoned and intelligent arguements for the legalization of cannabis is a post I copied a while ago, tell me what you think…
    “Our nation can acknowledge the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana while still permitting their use. The only logically and morally consistent argument for marijuana prohibition necessitates the criminalization of all harmful recreational drugs, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. We can agree that such an infringement on personal freedoms is as impractical as it is un-American. The time has come to accept that our nation’s attitude toward marijuana has been misguided for generations and that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it.”
    Dr. Nathan, a psychiatrist in Princeton, N.J., is a clinical assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Leave a Reply