The New Pot Advocates: Mr. Natural Goes to Washington
In this same room, so I had been told, the Washington Redskins hold their prayer breakfasts. Local society books a room like this to hold debutante balls or get married. Air conditioner salesmen from all over America meet in rooms like this to sit at long tables and wear little plastic name tags. They probably get a little bored by mid-afternoon. The same way we did at this year’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) conference. Sit here and stare at the steak house interior and let the hot beef sandwich from the motel coffee shop settle in the stomach while someone at the head table drones on endlessly.
Last year, this was a doozy of a conference. It was held in a church a block from the nation’s Capitol and every one of the 250 or so folks slept on the floor, for free. This year, the 56 conferees slept in the same motel where the Green Bay Packers stay when they play Washington, ate the same food as the Packers, and coughed up $55 a person, just to eat and sleep and talk. Last year dope was smoked constantly and there were long, vaguely comprehensible talks about taking over the world, for Christ’s sake, in marijuana’s name. This year, the conferees conducted business stone sober and pleasure stoned. There were discreet giggles late at night. Last year a shrill delegation of women demanded a female chairperson, citing sexist repression. This year the meetings were almost parliamentarian and nobody got laid. Last year the plans were half-baked for a 100,000-person I-have-a-dream smoke-in at the Washington Monument. This year there were quiet, business-as-usual discussions on fundraising, legislative tactics. Last year six narks led by a pimp-like, vice squad heavy swept down on the conference for a quick bust which resulted in talk of violent confrontation: Block the streets, turn over the cars. This year no narks, no busts, no confrontation.
Invitations were limited to state NORML directors and people who had done serious work on the “issue”: academics with books on marijuana, churchmen, legislative aides, sympathetic law enforcement personnel. It was conducted with all the flair and excitement of a corporate retirement party.
Which may be a measure of how far the issue has come in the last year. On October 10th, NORML filed a civil suit in federal court in Washington, D.C. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark will ask the court to declare the nation’s marijuana laws an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Two decriminalization bills are currently pending in Congress. Texas reduced its marijuana penalties from automatic felonies to the status of “low misdemeanor.” And Oregon, in a surprisingly uncontested move, became the first state in the nation to decriminalize completely possession of a small amount of marijuana. And all of this was done with the excitement attendant to a Lawrence Welk music festival.
Decriminalization was endorsed by the American Bar Association, by the National Education Association, by a number of local Jaycee groups across the country, by the Central Conference of Rabbis, and by the National Council of Churches. Influential groups, but certainly not your counterculture heavyweights.
It was, all in all, a landmark year for marijuana law reform. These things don’t happen by themselves.