Getting Over Ourselves: The Future of Cannabis Activism

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PHOTO: David Holt, Creative Commons

“I like pot. I smoke it a lot.” In true stoner fashion and decked out in a tie-dyed t-shirt, a young man brazenly chants these words into his bullhorn while walking down Locust during the 2014 Global Marijuana March and Iowa Hemp Freedom Rally held at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines this past month.

There were about 60 people in attendance including some representing groups such as Iowa NORML and myself, a newcomer. I had the opportunity to speak publicly and openly for the very first time on why I support the legalization of marijuana.

It occurred to me while listening to others speak that – although the turnout seemed on the light side, unfortunate to me and perhaps frustrating to others – it was who was missing that grabbed my attention.

Where were all those who have been pushing Iowans to contact their legislators? Where were all these moms who had inspired me with their stories of their brave children? Where were they all? Where were even a small percentage of those Iowans who, when polled, said they would support a medical marijuana program? 81 percent of registered voters or about 1.7 million Iowans, to be exact.

Photo: Crystal Brunt

Photo: Crystal Brunt

As a mother of four and a potential patient myself, I truly sympathize with the parents fighting for the lives of their children. They want what any parent would want, a safe and effective treatment for their kids, and one without the hideous side effects of so many of the medications used to treat intractable epilepsy.

I’ve written letters, made phone calls, sent emails and drummed up as much support as I could. I believe in their plight. Besides being those things mentioned above, I am also a nursing student and helping people is what I do. I support organizations like NORML and am a member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association.

Recently, I’ve attempted to organize other like-minded women in the state of Iowa through the Iowa NORML Women’s Alliance. In my naïve way, I figured there would be no shortage of interested ladies just waiting to get involved. That hasn’t been the case and what I have encountered is that a lot of fear remains keeping would-be supporters or, as I like to call them, CannaRockstars, in the CannaCloset.

As I dug and asked questions and asked to hear stories, it became clear to me that it’s really all about stigma – the catalyst and perpetual hallmark of prohibition. What was worse was when I realized that it is more than a lack of organization or effort, some supporters and other activists were actually playing in to that stigma and that has been deeply troubling and frustrating, to say the least.

We seem to have a problem with getting true organization going in Iowa and by true organization I mean pooling the efforts and resources of all of the great organizations regardless of their motivation – full legalization, hemp production for agriculture (one would think that push would be huge in Iowa), a solid medical program, decriminalization, descheduling, etc.

I mean, don’t we have common goals? That only seems to be the case for the “right” groups, the standup citizens of this state, not the low-life stoners, not the potheads and no, not even the hippies. Some moms, politicians and their followers or what have you, have some weird campaign going on to disassociate themselves from “the lifestyle” and have gone as far as excluding some decent folks disregarding them as potheads, stoners, even criminals.

I had the opportunity to spend Easter weekend in Colorado. Okay, so my husband and I bought each other two-day passes to the 2014 High Times Cannabis Cup, our Christmas and birthday presents to each other. We got to see family and, because Colorado rocks and is one of only two states that require no waiting period and allow self-solemnization, we went up about 10,000 feet in Divide, CO, and said our “I do’s” to one other.

It was perfect. The entire trip was amazing and I got a glimpse into how wonderful legalization and regulation could be. We went to dispensaries; we met marvelous people from all over the place. We asked questions of emergency medical personnel at the Cup and spoke with LEO at the 420 Rally at Civic Center Park. All in all it was an unbelievably positive experience and it reinforced my drive to make things happen in my home state.

High off the, umm, experience, I was eager to share with anyone who would listen and many who probably didn’t care but they love me so they humor me. One of the state groups I had followed on Facebook posted an article and, although I don’t think the article itself was terribly negative, it was a bit snobbish and I was tired of hearing prohibitionists and even other activists hating on Colorado and their 4/20 festivities.

I mean, seriously. Had many of these people even attended? Most likely not, so why all the hate? I made an informed and constructive comment about our experience in Denver and made sure to note that we personally witnessed one arrest and there had been alcohol involved.

My message was positive so when I got the reply I did, I was a bit flabbergasted. I was actually accused of being from Colorado and was told that I wasn’t welcome in the state I was born and raised in, where I had had all four children and that “we” (Coloradoans) are all criminals until it is legal at the federal level. Of course, when I set the record straight as to the fact that I was born at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, there was never a reply. Shortly thereafter, there was another Facebook incident (technology, affording would-be thugs a platform to be tough since, well, whenever it was created) where another activist was personally verbally attacked after expressing his opinion about an attempt to censor others and create some kind of separation between “good” activists and the “potheads”.

Seriously, how old are we? I’ve heard some stories and I have had to remind myself, for the common purpose, for the common good on many occasions.

I don’t appreciate labels. I don’t concede to their use. In fact, labels and those who try to apply them to others are one of those issues that chaps my hide. The weird campaign I mentioned above seems so ingenuous and I think about it every day. I’m a foster care kid, I spent over two decades trying to establish myself as not crazy and I’ve fought labels and stigmas tooth and nail for myself and others. This doesn’t jive with me and it poses an obstacle when all I’m trying to do is unite the people.

I take personal issue with exclusivity and am floored by the ignorance – this is EXACTLY how prohibition got its nasty start and how it’s held on so long, by giving people the opportunity to stigmatize and be “better than”.

I’ll don a pantsuit if and when I damn well please. I’ll leave it up to my own professionalism to know when I should refrain from dropping the f-bomb. I’ll wear hemp clothes with rainbow embossed pot leafs on it until the cows come home and when I talk about how cannabis has saved my life, I will shout it from the mountain top that I have self-medicated with weed and am proud to say I’ve been off of pharmaceuticals for over a year. No stimulant medications for over two years and I refuse to say I tried it this one time in this state where it’s legal. I say to hell with that, I’d rather be a stoner. A proud stoner at that.

Let’s get over ourselves, let bygones be bygones and take care of business in the state of Iowa. Someone recently said, “We can’t ALL move to Colorado.” and although I think it is a beautiful state with so much to offer, I don’t want to move. My home is here in the Hawkeye state. My family and friends are here. No one should have to move, especially for medical reasons when it would make sense that an agricultural pillar in this nation would open up its fields and mind to all the possibilities of hemp and cannabis. There are so many.

I challenge other supporters, activists and organizations to reach out to all Iowans and to join forces. Let’s be a constant presence, let’s educate our people, let’s embrace our communities through service, let’s encourage others to stand up through events and gatherings such as the 2015 GMM and Hemp Freedom Rally next May (I would be tickled if we could just double participation), let’s make sure our most vulnerable Iowans aren’t left to navigate through this matter alone, the opportunity to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous corporations when all they want is a safe and effective medicine – is very real and happening already in other parts of the country but most importantly, let’s show an inclusive and united front that accepts Iowans with open arms because we are nice people and we do care about others.

We can make this happen if we work together.