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Sabrina pictured at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, CO – PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher/Ladybud Magazine
I met Sabrina Fendrick in 2010 when we were on the NORML Women’s Alliance Steering Committee. She’s a spitfire and cannot help but to contribute to making the world a better place through drug policy reform with a strong focus on cannabis activism and industry. She came to be at NORML in 2008 and currently works out of NORML’s Denver office organizing campaigns and fundraisers, and developing the newly launched NORML Business Network. In addition, she wears a few other hats — she’s a writer for marijuana.com, NORML’s blog, Ladybud Magazine, an advisory council member with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) as well as the Marijuana Majority.
Having only moved from D.C. less than 6 months ago, we caught up with Ms. Fendrick to see what she’s up to these days and reflect on what brought her to her current projects. – Diane Fornbacher, Ladybud Magazine
How did you become involved in cannabis legalization reform and why?
The way I first became truly aware and impassioned about this issue was in 2005 while experiencing your typical university pot bust by campus police. It was quite dramatic at the time, and I got my first taste of how law enforcement uses tactics to trick you into giving up your rights. I was intimidated into letting them search my room, where they found a small amount of pot – and some in my roommate’s room.
We were sent before the student judiciary board (or committee, or something) to answer for our crimes, and the panel would then pass judgement and assign punishment. There were several things we had to do to atone for our “conduct violations”, such as writing a paper and community service, but we also had assigned reading. I was assigned “A Million Little Pieces” – pre-Oprah scandal. My roommate on the other hand was made to read “Reefer Madness” by Eric Schlosser. Why that particular publication was assigned I’ll never know, but that book entered my orbit and changed my life.
His stories and perspectives on this issue opened my eyes up to how absurd, unjust and racist marijuana prohibition really is. I became obsessed with learning as much as I could about the history of this infuriating policy. I wanted to know “Why is this illegal? When did it happen? Who made it happen? How has this gone on for so long? WTF?!?”
In the last semester of my senior year, I chose to switch the topic of my preliminary thesis from the second Iraq war to the history of marijuana prohibition, and the evolution of propaganda used by the government to defend the status quo.
I talked to everyone about it and was hoping there’d be something more I could do to help the cause, to help educate a desperately misinformed population. I moved back home to Washington DC in the spring of 2008 and saw that MPP was advertising temp jobs in the Washington Post. So, technically, I first became involved in legalization in March or April of 2008 when I was hired as a temp work for the Marijuana Policy Project. However, in May of 2008 I was hired to work at NORML full-time. Seeing as I had spent the prior three years obsessing and absorbing everything I could about marijuana policy and prohibition, I was thrilled! It’s been a wild ride and an endlessly fascinating experience.
You moved from DC to Denver about 4 months ago. How are you liking it?
It’s quite change from Washington DC – and it took me a while to adapt, but Colorado is an easy place to get used to. And legal weed doesn’t hurt. The whole mentality out here towards marijuana is very different from where I came from. The main focus here is industry and business technicalities, rightly so. On the east coast however, the context of the debate is more about marijuana as a criminal and social justice issue. I love that the air is cleaner and that the cost of living is cheaper than in DC. The Rockies have been an amazing place to explore. I’m really looking forward to ski season.
What do you miss about the east coast?
Right now I’m missing the ocean. This is the time of year I would go on my annual beach trip – most recently, the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Of course I also miss my friends and family.
What recent appearances have you made?
In the last few months I have been a panelist and guest speaker at several events across the country. In mid April, I traveled to Tampa for the Florida State NORML Conference held at the University of South Florida, and in May I traveled to Los Angeles for the United We Stand Festival organized by the Free and Equal Foundation, which included a mix of activists, artists and politicians educating and encouraging young voters to get active in social reform efforts. Later that month I helped out with NORML’s annual legal seminar in Aspen, CO. In June, I traveled to Las Vegas to speak at the International Cannabis Conference and Expo on the importance of corporate social responsibility in the cannabis industry – and the launch of the NORML Business Network.
Can tell us why you think that the NORML Business Network is important?
The importance of the NORML Business Network is two-fold. First, it is starting to bridge consumer advocacy with the cannabis industry. Similar to that of the ‘Better Business Bureau’ or ‘Angie’s List,’ it serves the purpose of helping people find cannabis-related businesses that abide by the principles of corporate social responsibility, and using their business as a platform for change. NORML business partners go above and beyond the letter of the law in an effort to align their economic benefits along the interests of their customers and communities. In that, businesses that carry the NORML partner seal confirms that they are operating a “values-driven” enterprise, and are active supporters of marijuana law reform nationwide. NORML Business partners are setting a positive example for the industry by catering to a market that demands products be manufactured and distributed with safety, quality and sustainability in mind. If a customer sees the NORML logo on a store or product he or she will know that it is not only “NORML approved,” but also that the business is an active supporter of the cause.
Second, members of the NORML Business Network (all of whom are required to pass a stringent vetting process) will be highlighted to a nationwide audience, media, elected official and the public safety community as top-tier examples of the marijuana industry. Amplifying the positive impact these businesses are having on their communities, and promoting the high standards they are setting for the burgeoning cannabis market will help solidify the integrity of legalization as public policy, and ensure the sustainability of the industry as reform takes root nationwide.
So much is happening all over the world with cannabis legalization in one form or another – what is most exciting to you these days?
I’d say what is most exciting is watching the establishment of actual, legal retail marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington. These two states are just the beginning, and with each election cycle I expect we’ll see more states follow suit. I catch myself in moments of disbelief from time to time. The idea that I can walk down the street and into a store to purchase tested and taxed cannabis still feels a bit surreal.
How is the reform different today than when you first become involved?
When I first got involved George W Bush was still president, and John Walters the Drug Czar. Needless to say, there wasn’t much progress on the reform level and any news coverage of marijuana was portrayed in either a negative or mocking context. There seemed to be an inability by the media and the public to understand the crucial economic and social implications of prohibition – and benefits of legalization.
Then, in 2008 at the same time Obama was elected president, Massachusetts voted to decriminalize, and Michigan voted to implement a medical marijuana program. This was a triple success as Obama had also made a campaign promise that he would not interfere with state marijuana laws, and was even been quoted during the primaries saying he believes we should “rethink and decriminalize” our marijuana laws.
A couple of months into the Obama administration the Department of Justice attempted to reinforce the President’s campaign promise to leave the states alone – and issued its first, of what is now four non binding memorandums. Up until that point, a majority of people I was engaging with were either your basic run of the mill stakeholders who just wanted to help change the law, people seeking legal advice and drug testing inquiries, among other things. We still get all of those communications but after that memo, a growing number of calls and emails were questions about how to open a medical marijuana dispensary in their state. Those were the first true rumblings of the “green rush.”
Then, between about 2009-2011 there was an onslaught of what I like to call ‘protestivals’ popping up around the country – KushCons, and HempCons abound. Many were done in the name of reform, but it was pretty transparent that a majority of these events were largely for-profit endeavors. You don’t see too many of those anymore, however the original ‘protestivals’ like the Seattle Hempfest and the Boston Freedom Rally continue thriving to this day. Today in that same fashion, I see a similar pattern starting to emerge with the sudden saturation of cannabis conferences popping up around the country. The only difference is there seems to be far less discussion about advocacy and more about business and profit. This absolutely doesn’t apply to every marijuana conference taking place (and they’re happening everywhere), but there’s no denying this is the latest trend in our marijuana saga.
Another difference would be the increase in political interest. I’ve also been quite impressed by the increasing level of interest with policy reform by politicians from all levels of government. A growing number of these lawmakers seem to be coming out of the woodwork, seeking public endorsement or PAC funding. Six years ago, only a handful of elected officials were willing to accept money from reform organizations. The movement seems to have matured a great deal in many aspect in the last few years. The look of tie-die shirts and dreadlocks are falling by the wayside as suits and stilettos begin to take their place. Events are classier. Images and messaging is more refined and the context of the conversation has changed for good. When I got involved in 2008 we were losing. Now we’re winning.