Report from NORML’s SouthEast Regional Conference

This past weekend the first NORML Southeastern Regional Conference. Representatives from NORML met to discuss strategy for legalizing marijuana in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee. This southern coalition met in Nashville with members of NORML’s executive board and leaders in the cannabis movement. Plenty of information about what works (and doesn’t) was shared and discussed.

Here’s the gist of what NORML recommends each state do to legalize marijuana…

Create a Voter Education Training Guide
One of the first steps is to inform the public about how to be involved in the process effectively. To do that Texas NORML created a training guide the walks citizens through the process of determining who their representatives, how to contact those congress members, as well as the useful methods for engaging them (what not to say, what to focus on). The key is to be sure we know the rules before trying to win the game.

Create an Activist Training Guide
Once you are ready to be engaged in law reform, you’ve reached the next level of activism. Texas NORML put together an Activist Training Guide. Just because you are passionate about marijuana and your right to ingest whatever you want, doesn’t mean everyone automatically agrees with you. The Activist Training Guide explains how the best way to contact your legislator by phone, letter or an in person meeting. The key is to stay on topic, be professional, and have your talking points ready. Practice makes perfect.

Maintain a Voters’ Guide
In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we are. Some of the legislators are already supportive of reforming marijuana laws. Some aren’t. Do we know which are which? NORML recommends that each state chapter create a voters guide for each legislative session. That way we know who to focus our attention on. (Here’s what was compiled in North Carolina for the last General Assembly session.)

Create and Distribute Legislators Packets to State Congress
One way to persuade the legislators is to educate them. NORML recommends that its state chapters put together an education packet to be distributed to all the members of each district (that’s almost 200 Representatives and Senators in North Carolina). Ideally NORML activists in each of these districts will hand deliver this packet to their respective congress members. This education guide includes details about marijuana’s history, current scheduling, facts and answers to common misconceptions. Many legislators don’t know marijuana is scheduled like heroin or that industrial hemp is illegal. They need to be informed. That’s where NORML comes in.


Conduct Public Opinion Polling
Across the U.S. support for marijuana continues to climb. But what about North Carolina? What about the other states in the South? Statewide public opinion polls can be commissioned for $2500 from a reputable polling agency. This poll is a necessary step in gauging where the citizenry stands in the legalization debate. If a significant enough percentage of voters want the laws changed, our work gets easier. So where are we now?

Formulate Our Tax & Regulate Details
NORML is working toward a “tax and regulate” strategy. How much taxation is appropriate? Where do the funds go? What target price of high quality bud do we assume the market will dictate? How is the money distributed among the growers, processors, dispensaries and government programs? How many people are already using marijuana medicinally and recreationally in the state? We need to have a starting point and negotiate from there with all the key players sitting at the negotiating table.

Create the Right Core Team
To be effective, each NORML chapter needs to put together a core team that gets along and stays focused. Some members of this core team will be the ones who engage the public frequently. Another will be responsible for writing strategy and working with legislators. There will also need to be a person on point for organizing events and keep everyone on task. Not just anyone can fill a role in a NORML state chapter. There are crazies out there. We need the people who are not just passionate about the cause, but who can also create an inviting front porch that people from all walks of life want to join. Effective members of the core team are calm, cool, collected and value equanimity. They don’t antagonize. This process isn’t fast. Ultimately it’s all about building relationships in congress and that takes time and the right stuff.

The Regional Conference also had workshops designed to train state chapters in forming the proper organizational structure. NORML has been doing this for over 40 years. They understand what worked in the Western states. The next step for North Carolina and other Southern states is to organize appropriately and reproduce the results of Colorado and Washington.

The drug war is over if we want it.
Do you want it?

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