This past weekend, over 200 activists gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, to learn about trends and strategies in marijuana legalization.
The Texas Regional NORML Conference was organized by DFW NORML, the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Featured keynote speakers included Judge Jim Gray, the retired Orange County Judge who was Gov. Gary Johnson's running mate on the Libertarian presidential ticket in 2012. "Prohibition of marijuana is an atrocity we have inflicted upon ourselves," said the silver-haired judge, who admits to never having tried marijuana." He told the audience he fights for legalization on libertarian principles, explaining, "the drug war is the most failed policy in American history behind slavery."
The founder of NORML, Keith Stroup, also delivered a keynote address. "At it's core," the sixty-nine-year-old self-proclaimed pot smoker said, "it's only incidentally about marijuana. It's really about personal liberty." Stroup expressed that in the coming years of legalization "the sellers of marijuana - the industry- will be well-represented and to some extent, they already are in the medical marijuana states. NORML was founded as the voice of the marijuana consumer." Stroup illustrated NORML's beginnings as he worked with legendary consumer advocate Ralph Nader to NORML's future, having been designated the consumer's voice in regulatory work groups hammering out legalization in Colorado.
The founder and executive director of Marijuana Policy Project, Rob Kampia, also presented on the orgainization's goals for legalization in the coming years. Announcing he's "now a Texan" since moving to Austin, Kampia announced the ultimate goal of federal marijuana legalization in the 2019-2020 Congress. "We're going to put a legalization question on the ballot in Alaska in August of next year," said Kampia, referring to the only state in which MPP has such plans for 2014. "There are seven states that could be voting on legalization all in the same day in 2016," he continued, referring to Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Maine, and Massachusetts. "Oregon might jump out in front in 2014 which is risky - it's possible to pass and I hope it does if it gets on the ballot - but it's easier to pass in 2016. It's also cheaper to pass in 2016."
420RADIO host and National Cannabis Coalition contributor "Radical" Russ Belville delivered two presentations to the conference. On Saturday, Belville outlined the rhetorical strategies of prohibitionists following the "third way" tactics of Project SAM and former White House drug staffer Kevin Sabet. On Sunday, Belville delivered his "Box Canyon" presentation, updated to reflect the changes in politics and rhetoric surrounding medical marijuana legislation. In addition, Belville delivered an ad-hoc presentation on hemp as he hosted a "Hemp Fashion Show" featuring the creations of sponsoring vendors.
Other speakers and presenters included members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Texas Moms United, the Libertarian Party, the Unitarian Church, Mothers Against Teen Violence, the 9/12 Project, Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care, and members of the University of Texas Austin and University of North Texas college NORML chapters, the Houston, San Antonio, Texas (Austin), Waco, and Dalls/Ft.Worth NORML Chapters. There were also professionals from the legal, medical, religious, and cultivation industries available for presentations and questions and answers.
Another room of the conference featured vendors and non-profits from Texas. Books, stickers, CDs, t-shirts, and products unique to the cannabis community were all on display, showing the vibrant Texas marijuana culture that has flourished despite strong criminalization of marijuana. The vendors were delighted by the attendance and commerce at the event, having all made a decent weekend's profit on the endeavor. "The vendors were pretty happy and we are, too," DFW NORML's Pete Marerro told NCC, with the Dallas chapter having actually made a profit on a first-ever event, a rare occurrence in non-profit advocacy.
The information and education of the daytime was topped off with fantastic social events all three nights, affording activists the opportunity to speak directly with the speakers and presenters from the conference. DFW NORML presented marvelous bands and speakers for all the events at venues that were friendly to the special requirements of cannabis enthusiasts. At moments the events were indistinguishable from similar events on the West Coast and Colorado, with perhaps a few more "y'alls" and a few less dabs, though the handheld "vapor pen" technology has definitely made its way to the hands of Texas tokers with a need for covert vaporizing of cannabis.
There will certainly be a second Texas Regional NORML Conference next year. This effort reflects a growing movement among the NORML chapters to hold regional conferences, like earlier this year in the South, the Mid-Atlantic states, and California. Legalization has gone nationwide and the need for regional conferences highlights the differing and expanding needs of advocates across the United States.