The Value of Community in the Legalization Movement

C1_8734_r_xThe 2016 NORML Aspen Legal Seminar

I just returned a few days ago from a lovely long weekend in beautiful Aspen, CO, a charming old silver-mining town in the Rocky Mountains with breath-taking views, that serves as a popular playground for skiers in the winter and biking and hiking enthusiasts in the other seasons. And it is the location of an annual NORML legal seminar held each year in early June.

The Seminar Itself

First, for those attorneys who attend this event, it is a truly unique opportunity to hear from some of the most brilliant and creative criminal defense and marijuana business attorneys in the country.

This year the attendees heard San Antonio’s Gerry Goldstein present his annual review of the many 4th Amendment decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, and the federal appellate courts, each year. Few lawyers in America are more familiar with the legal intricacies of search and seizure law, or can present the information in such an entertaining manner. And NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, who lectured on the science legalization advocates need to know to counter the frequent claim that “we just don’t know enough about marijuana,” citing more than 23,000 marijuana studies available on Pub Med.

Former ACLU lawyer Adam Wolfe from San Francisco discussed the several legal challenges to the CO legalization law; while Mary Chartier and Natalie Alane from Lansing, MI, lectured on the impact of marijuana use on child welfare and custody cases.

This year we heard from a range of impressive new speakers as well, including Carl Hart, Ph.D, from Columbia University, talking about ways that marijuana legalization can significantly reduce racism in the criminal justice system; and Emily Gant, from Seattle, whose lecture “Marijuana Business 101,” analyzed the basic business issues with which any attorney needs to be familiar, if they intend to represent some of the newly legal marijuana businesses arising either in the medical use states or the full legalization states.

And certainly one of the more inspiring lectures was given by former US Attorney for the state of Kansas (he had retired just three weeks earlier), Barry Grissom, entitled “Why Marijuana Legalization Makes Sense from the Perspective of a US Attorney”, in which he compared the record of the Obama administration with that of three prior administrations. Grissom stressed the several significant steps taken by President Barack Obama and his Department of Justice to reduce the length of non-violent drug sentences and the number of non-violent drug offenders serving time in federal prisons; and the administration’s willingness to stand-back and permit the several states to fully implement their various marijuana laws, free from federal government interference. It reminded us that not all prosecutors are mean-spirited, and some of them are seeking justice, just like most defense attorneys.

And we heard from Law Professor Sam Kamin, who holds the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy position at Denver Law School, discussing ways to overcome the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws; Lisa Padilla from New York discussing estate planning techniques for cannabis business owners; Mary Conn from Houston, TX discussing the damage to society of criminalizing mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness; Danica Noble of Seattle discussing the unfair business practices and consumer protection issues emerging in the newly legal marijuana markets; and Portland, OR attorney Courtney Moran discussing the law and history of industrial hemp.

Those who might enjoy listening to these lectures, you can find those audio files online, thanks to Cannabis Radio personality “Radical” Russ Belville.

The Social Events – More Than Just Fun

The weather this year was perfect, with brilliant blue skies and temperatures in the low and mid-severties, and the opening reception on the roof of the Gant conference center; the benefit dinner at the fabulous log-cabin mansion of Christine and Gerry Goldstein, catered by Cache Cache Chef Chris Lanter; and the Saturday afternoon picnic with live music at Owl Farm, the legendary home of the late Hunter S. Thompson, were all fabulous events giving the seminar attendees and their guests special memories to last a lifetime (one attorney, as he was leaving, said to me, “I just wish I had discovered this seminar 10-years earlier!”).

In short, these various NORML events held throughout the year provide a valuable opportunity for those of us who are responsible marijuana smokers to make new friends and meet new colleagues who share our support for legalization, and to renew friendships we have made in earlier years. It is largely from this network of like-minded individuals that we draw the inspiration and emotional strength required to continue the struggle to end prohibition.

The Community of Marijuana Smokers

While it was certainly not the intention of those who initially put prohibition in place in the early 20th century, in fact prohibition forced those of us who did not accept the government’s exaggerated anti-marijuana propaganda, and who chose to find a way to obtain and smoke marijuana despite the threat of harsh criminal penalties, to build an underground community comprised of others who share our values and were also willing to assume the legal risks associated with “scoring” and using marijuana. Those same oppressive forces who dedicated their lives to arresting and jailing marijuana smokers were unwittingly establishing an underground culture that would nurture us during the most difficult years, and help us find a black-market supply of marijuana all during the decades of prohibition.

And that was no small task. Without the many daring smugglers and growers and “dealers” willing to risk long prison sentences to provide us consumers with marijuana, we would have had no marijuana to smoke; and with no marijuana to smoke, there would be no marijuana legalization movement.

We need to recognize the crucial role these brave pot pioneers have played in getting us to where we are today, and to find the political courage to demand those individuals who remain in jail be freed, and those with criminal records have their records expunged. Otherwise we find ourselves finally winning this long, terrible war against marijuana smokers, but leaving our POWs behind. That is neither a moral or ethical option.

Inspired and Re-Energized

As I left Aspen this year, and headed home to Washington, DC, I was reminded of the tremendous value these communal experiences play in our personal and professional lives. We draw critical strength and energy and inspiration, and our commitment to change is reinforced, when we spend quality time with others who share our political views and our belief in the importance of ending prohibition.

I would encourage any of you who share our values and political goals to join us at the next opportunity, to take a public stand for freedom. The 2016 NORML Key West Legal seminar on December 7, 8 and 9 would be a good place to start.


This column firs ran in

Photo courtesy of EQRoy /


22 thoughts

  1. Thank you Keith, for linking us into the latest legal developmentsin such a way that we at home can imagine such happy travels. Glorious mountain views, like minded leaders of NORML legal policy, cache cache chef? Sounds like heaven to me.
    Your recap of such events humbles me to find such long-time champions of reform here in my state. I was embarassed that I had heard of Gerry Goldstein on a variety of ocassions but did not know until a previous post he was still active near me in San Antonio.
    But I would like to draw attention to Mary Conn, from Houston TX, with her message about the social cost of locking up people with mental illness, continued in the next segment:

    1. In light of yesterday’s tragic event in Orlando, (where I am preparing for vacation), every time an event like this happens I see it through the prism of how little our country has focused on social programs to provide mental health treatment to the general public, including nurse practitioners licenced to provide medical marijuana. True; We live in an overprescribed society that pumps mind-numbing opiates into people, like antidepressants; Our private insurance, private prisons and opiate-peddling pharmaceutical lobbies with offshore accounts have our politicians like DNC chair Washmoney-Shultz from Florida drugtesting for MJ and trying to tell doctors and patients to “wait and see” on mmj and minimize the pill popping epidemic.
      But the attacker was described by his x-wife as “mentally unstable, violent” and frequently used “steroids.” Even though Orlando recently decriminalized marijuana, the killer came from another city; And even if medical marijuana was already legalized as it may soon be in Florida, there are no tax-funded programs in place to provide subsidized, optional therapy for victims much less mandatory intervention and counciling for the perpetrators of violence. But with a history of domestic violence and no less than three FBI investigations, do you think its time we provided mandatory tax-payer funded whole-plant medical, mental therapy? I would include Donald Trump for such subsidized services. Seriously.
      I tend to view well regulated social programs from fairly taxed marijuana like public continuing education and government employee certification as the panacea and homeostasis for unchecked patent-for-profit capitalism, but before we pick up another gun debate, does anyone else think its passed time we use the revenue from fairly taxed marijuana to send nurse practitioners certified for whole plant medicine to educate, heal and prevent violence in America?

      1. At what point does violence prevention and sponsoring mental health and legalizing marijuana become a real opportunity for corporations to invest in like commercial Airlines, Tourist industries, hotels Disneyworld etc. that we can take the lobby for the benefits of legalization directly to industries that can quantify their investment in legalization even if theyre tied up in prohibition? Its simple math now; we can see the bottom line of reducing violence in public transportation, venues and recreation in states that have legalized, which means more tickets, which equals profit. How can we approach these industries to join our efforts?

      2. I raise my hand. I think education and adminstration, in the hands of qualified nurse practitioners, is a great idea for extending critical medical help to truly needy people living in cultures where street-corner dispensaries are just not a realistic option. Some folks don’t have that kind of time. Nurses need to be able to go into these zones for targeted, medical assistance. I think it’s a great idea.

      3. The first time I was inspired that it was even possible to provide certified nurse practitioners to reach the mentally, physically and spiritually infirmed right in their homes where they need treatment most, just like in the days when my grandfathers were doctors, was at the SouthWest Cannabis Conference & Expo in Dallas Feb 27th of this year, listening to Nurse Practitioner Heather Manus, and director of Veterans for Medical Marijuana director Al Byrne speak at the podium. (Dr Sue Sisley spoke live stream from her work in Hawaii).

        I realized, listening to any of these people speak out about how opiates are killing our veterans, turning PTSD into PTSGrowth, the need for home treatment care frim a certified nurse practitioner authorized to distribute, recommend or gift medical strains of marijuana… That we need to pressure our governors and state legislatures and judges to get them in front of THEIR podiums.
        If anything the shootings in Orlando have shown us us that the violence were experiencing in America is not so much a religious problem or even a gun problem as much as it is a health crisis… An unchecked capitalization of our health industry causing mass death and violence, prioritizing after-addiction drug treatment over preventive drug education and enforcement and incarceration over basic health services, whose remedy is fairly taxed marijuana whose revenue must be spent on drug and health education provided by certified nurse practitioners who are authorized to provide cannabis.

      4. …directly to the patients’ residence… Let’s invest in preventing violence… like a Nurse Oriented Cannabis Administration for Subsidized Services in Home Health
        As in “Nurse Practitioner carries NO CASHH…” ( But we do have green…)

  2. I love America. We are a nation of freedom loving people!

    Unfortunately, in spite of the fact we call ourselves a democracy, the truth is that the rich and powerful control us to the extent that if we don’t follow their rules we could be locked up for years in one of their prisons.

    Trump is absolutely right when he claims that our election system is corrupt and greatly favors only the democratic and republican parties. On top of that, when someone runs as one of their parties candidates, it is skewed to favor the pick of the top leaders of the party. I have come to the conclusion that the democrats and republicans are really not that different. Both are very greedy, authoritative, and don’t care much for the “Will of the People” or our freedom.

    Young people need to take note: Vote the dirtbags out of office!!! Don’t be lazy – do it! If you don’t, then by the time I am long gone, you will be suffering the same crap I’ve experienced all my life; living under what is closer to a tyranny than a real democracy.

    Please use the link below to help decide who to vote for.

    My advice is to not give anyone your vote who does not get at least a “C” grade. A grade of “A” should automatically get your vote. As for those with “D” or “F” grades, like Virginia’s Randy Forbes should be thrown the hell out of office ASAP! These people care not for the greater good of the country or the Will of the People. I say this because the people of Virginia want legalization and Randy Forbes is 100% against it – screw him and others like him. I’m pissed!

    Get out and vote. Do your homework. I have made it easy with the link above and here it is again:

    We are not truly a free people when we are only free to do what our Govt allows.

    Thank the gods for NORML. They are a voice of reason in a world of madness!

  3. Without stating any legal specifics or technical constitutional points, I would say that weed should be legal based on my understanding of American government and culture that I have assimilated over a life time. Instead I’ve learned how tyranny comes into being. We need to “find the political courage to demand those individuals who remain in jail be freed”. A good place to continue that battle is California where I sense the defeat of AUMA for the same reasons as in Ohio, that being from potential yes voters that will vote no because they “love freedom” so much. Community, however, is the group not each coddled individual as in “we need to recognize the crucial role these brave pot pioneers have played”. Thanks, Keith.

  4. Consider the bong. Marijuana prohibition created an entire economy of pot paraphernalia, with all the initiating rituals. Otherwise, we might all be smoking our weed in English Briar pipes!

    Now we are folding back into mainstream society. But there will be a continuing legacy of bongs and glass pieces, even if the secret circles are no longer necessary.

    1. @Mark, I respect the workmanship that has gone into BONGS, I made a couple years ago! But you know the alleged scientific finding that bongwater traps away some cannabinoid so you’ll smoke more to get the same payoff, and also get more carbon monoxide and 4221 Combustion toxins (not as bad as $igarette papers).

      I just want to make the case for the CHOOMETTE style flexdrawtube oneheater (which $mokers can $moke on for a while till they have learned how to Vape): it has a chillum-shaped hollow wood, bone, stone Haendelpiece with a socketwrench or barbed hose nipple serving as screened crater embedded in one end, and a 22-inch quarter-inch-diameter pvc tube attached out the other. The guys that used to make bongs can put/carve their important art and messages on the surfaces of the Haendelpiece like chillum-makers do.

      And the oneheater serves as a transeducational aid to $mokers converting over to Vaping. The only difference between $moker and Vaper is that a Vaper knows how to $moke, and won’t, but a $moker hasn’t learned how to Vape yet. (One way to solve the problem more quickly is to give them a shared toke on a two-stemmed oneheater.)

      1. Here’s where I agree with you… carbon monoxide: very bad for your health. Butane: very bad for your health.

        But to suggest that vaping is a solution to a health problem is to suggest that marijuana smoking is itself a health problem; yet the empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

        I used a vape pen for awhile, went back to bubble hash (which mostly vaporizes when “smoked” anyway: very little ash.) I found the vapors from the pen gave me a dry cough, and lacked the expectorant qualities of bubble hash. With hash, I have no irritated cough, no respiratory problems at all. I do use an ordinary lighter. I attempt to minimize my intake of butane and it’s combustion byproducts, but acknowledge that it is a legitimate concern.

        But there are many who could benefit from your advice — other medical patients who refuse to smoke anything, but can still get their medication by vape, if they choose to do so.

        But, I give you full credit for your concern for personal and public health!

      2. I gave this butane issue some thought since it is true I promoted the “suck smooth, slow, don’t start glow till after 19 seconds or so” method which involves keeping a lighter going the whole 19 (and maybe 25 or more seconds if you go on to toast/taste the cellulose).

        In 20 years I never personally noticed any toxicity that seemed to be from doing Vapetoke with butane lighters but maybe you’ll say that’s because of my Extreme Moderation– I do two tokes, 50mg of herb a day at most– and nonapplicable to some patients who need to take Massive aMounts of herb daily compared to modesta me. In such case, apologies.

        Don’t use a Bic, which has no flame adjustment lever– use a 3-for-a-dollar Chinese which has one, and keep the flame LOW, under half inch, and hold it an inch or more under the crater while you’re sucking through that p. v. c.

        I can’t comment on whether some expensive rich guy vaporizers disappointed anyone, I haven’t tried them. To personally handmake a oneheater you trust to deliver safe Vape see free wiki article, “12 Easy Ways to Handmake 25-mg $ingle Toke Utensils From #40 Screen and $1.29 Worth of Crapp Left Lying in Your Garage by the Previous God”.

  5. The cannabis community is largely compartmentalized in states where adult recreational is not legal. You know a group of people with whom you indulge the sacred herb, but you don’t know many links in the chain of cannabis custody from seed to sale. You know maybe a number of people you can go to and buy from. Some are seedy and shady. You take whatever they have because that’s all there is, no selection, nothing’s tested, and the deals range from a lot of seeds, stems, sometimes light fluff with oregano or whatever, and shady because maybe it’s real crap and they’re spraying it with those K2 Spice synthetic marijuana chemicals and shit.

    I’d like to see some progress in DC and other big cities on the east coast. De Blasio and Jim Kenney are supposed to be friends of the sacred herb. I hope you all brainstormed some things for the Least Coast. Yeah, Least Coast, cuz we got the Least cannabis freedom of all.

    1. Waitaminute Oracle, I think you mean the SouthLeast!
      Dont worry, I feel good about Florida passing MMJ and Maine getting their initiative after all. The MPP doesnt have Ohio to focus on so now so they can back Maine and Sheldon Adleson is too busy spreading propaganda in his home state of Nevada to stop the MMJ in Florida. Even Maryland, moving like Molasses in the winter time but they recently added certified nurse practitioners to their MMJ program. Clearly, though its hard for lawyers to tell us this, we cant hold our vapor for the laws to catch up and activate. If your state is late self medicate. Pick the right strain; its good for the brain.

  6. re; prohibition created a community;
    it also made high-potency pot the norm.
    high-potency strains like panama red, and maui wowwie were once,
    a ‘once in a lifetime’ find !!

    but now, there are so many high-potency pot strains, it is impossible to remember them all !!!
    and more are being created every year !
    thank you, prohibition.

    re; Trump is absolutely right when he claims that our election system is corrupt and greatly favors only the democratic and republican parties.

    pro-pot, bernie sanders won by a landslide;
    but, pot-hating hillary stole it from him with rigged caucasses, ‘super’ delegates, (political insiders, that owe their cushy, high paying jobs to her and bill) and with rigged diebold voting machines, with no paper trail.

    1. Another distraction from Drumph; He clearly demonstrates that there exists a mentally infirmed base of American voters in need of brave, in-home nurse practitioners to treat the mentally ill followers of Drumph who are attracted to the vulgar display of money-laundering reality TV our campaign finance system has become. At least shut their TV off, throw away the remote, and introduce them to fact-based science. Place credible websites like this one in their favorites list. There’s a huge learning curve out there on the issue of health and marijuana can help inspire the curiosity required and the pain management we need from perceiving the origin of the pain so we can figure our own problems out. Cant do that with mind-numbing pills or listening to Drumph.

      Drumph cannot be “absolutely right” when he changes his mind every second and blurts out any racist comment off script that spills out of his orange head. He is an insecure sociopath incapable of leadership. The same goes for anything he says on marijuana policy. Drumph is phony and cannot be trusted.

  7. This is all great progress we’ve had in a select few states but that progress took 70+ years since 1937 and we’re only 4/50. Its possible that if someone like Trump actually got elected, he might be able to reverse all this great but far too late progress. It could be 20-30 years until PA legalized and doesn’t restrict to dumb pills. Even if they did, I doubt I could afford any being a poor person nobody likes. Sure that’s the worst case scenario but I have to suffer about 26/30 days a month except when I get paid next to nothing because of greedy people who are going to noir because of their slimy greed like Trump. I have no good drugs most of the time except scrappy $1.56 dean’s cigars. Twice a month I have money for K-2 a gram and a half of mids or nugs some Ritalin and the rare perk. Its all gone the next day and I have to look forward to two weeks with nothing but my mental problems. Man, Its work for me to masturbate. Shit. All I’m trying to say is if you’re so into helping people GIVE weed to those less fortunate who God does not smile upon like people born rich. Just give free weed to others. Thanks for listening. -Someone who has >$1 in my pocket.

    1. Thank you for your post. Coulda gone with a little less info regarding your frequency of masturbation, but your voice for the poor suffering with mental illness is a vital reminder that safe access to affordable treatment and medicinal marijuana strains from a certified nurse practitioner still seems like a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained. But it is attainable when poor people vote. Thats what makes the scorecard in the search engine of this website so important;

      1. Yeah sorry about that info. I was upset and depressed and down on myself and may have exaggerated too much. Anyways I have enjoyed pot for almost 2 decades. It is the best drug on earth combining a hallucinogen and speed that cannot kill you and grows naturally. My grandfather was rich and was paying all our bills so we could buy an ounce a week of good mids. He died and left everything to my mom’s sister as we had “spent our inheritance from bill paying.” Next, my friend/dealer Mark said he no longer wanted to help me because I “stole” a nickel bag from him. So we have to buy K2 for a rip off and never have enough money to last more than a weeks worth a month. So I spend a lot of time passing the time until we have enough pleasure/fun/drug $. I don’t get out much cause I have no money so I can’t meet cool people/dealers. Just wish I could smoke Sativa Nugs when I wanted. Maybe this useless war on pot will end soon? We could have Heaven on earth.

  8. Im sitting here on vacation, finally able to afford to take my children fishing watching a program on hotel cable (which I still refuse to purchase at home), on the “Streets of Compton”. Here is a city infamously scarred by the drug war. The story is told by the celebrities who got out, but still show the signs and trauma of PTSD or “hoodshock.” But the story misses the informants, the double agents and bad cops who are the real promoters of violence. Compton began to reduce violence by voting for their reps in the city council, and the wonderful progressive mayor Asia Brown who did not ignore the people she represents; she sat these gangsters down and LISTENED to them. She brought businesses in that would hire people with felony convictions, which sadly includes Wal-Mart which bankrolls off of paying poverty wages, but look at the alternative for young people growing up in the hood? Theyre smoking weed to cope with disproportionate incarceration, trauma from family displacement, gang violence from the state-sponsored terror we call prohibition. These were once healthy people; but its our unchecked capitalist system that is sick, spreading fear and infection, symptoms of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which if we trace our country’s history of violence, we discover that it was then when we allowed police informants, drug czars, politicians, private insurance and private pharmaceuticals to write our drug policy and determine the cost of health care that we became violently ill as a nation. The real big, deadliest dealers on the block arent crips, bloods or even the police informants in Compton and DOJ agents having sex parties in Cartagena who think they control the resources; its not even the big private prison, pharmaceutical or insurance lobbyists in Washington; its everyone who doesnt vote; its everyone who consumes and purchases legal opiates and doesnt donate a dollar to NORML or the DPA trying to improve our corrupt drug policies;

    1. Its us; the consumers, that hold our happiness and health in check with the simple choice of what we consume and purchase. And that choice of what we consume and purchase further determines our fair access to those resources, legal or not. Every time we purchase safe, fairly taxed strains of marijuana from Colorado we end prohibition and heal our nation; now that vote belongs to California and the poorest people of Compton; a choice; will we vote for AUMA and end prohibition? Will we choose to stay at home and choose the miserable chains of our drug-war masters? Or get up, get out, unite and vote to heal our superficial racial disparities, and drink from the cup of knowledge and wisdom which is fairly taxed and regulated cannabis?

Leave a Reply