NORML@UCF brings top speakers in marijuana activism to Orlando

Just the right side of the fully-packed hall in the UCF Student Union for Russ Belville's "Marijuana Facts" presentation.

It has been a busy travel year for me as NORML’s Outreach Coordinator and I couldn’t be happier.  The enthusiasm I see nationwide for marijuana law reform has never been, ahem, higher.  This year I’ve been traveling monthly, starting in March, to Columbia (MO), Denver, Austin, San Francisco, Missoula, and yesterday, I landed in Orlando.

I was a guest of the University of Central Florida’s NORML Chapter, NORML@UCF (Go Knights!)  This chapter is truly amazing.  Formed in 2001, they have expertly navigated the politics of student government and appropriated student funding for their mission.  That translates into a Speaker’s Budget, where they fly in the top speakers in marijuana activism for presentations, lectures, and discussion.  Previous guests include NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, Federal Medical Marijuana Patients Elvy Musikka and Irv Rosenfeld, HIGH TIMES Associate Publisher Rick Cusick, Cannabis Café Founder Madeline Martinez, and now, for the second time, me!

I delivered my PowerPoint of slides from my Big Book of Marijuana Facts and the response was overwhelming.  The lecture hall was completely full and as I looked at all the faces, I realized this may be the first time I have ever been the oldest person in a packed room.  I warned them that my presentation was a bit like getting a drink from a fire hose – there’s a lot to talk about in the War on Drugs! – but they were thrilled to learn that all the presentation and more is contained in the Big Book.  In appreciation of their fine work, I told them I was leaving them the very first prototype copy to use in their weekly tabling outreach on the quad.  After 90 minutes of jam-packed graphs and my presentation, the room erupted in applause and I received the first spontaneous standing ovation of my career.

After the presentation I was escorted by chapter leaders to an after-hours party at one of the officer’s houses.  I got to have so many discussions with so many young people.  It was really invigorating.  After six years now of fighting prohibition and reporting on the horrors of the War on Drugs I’ve become a bit jaded and cynical.  The optimism and enthusiasm of these young Knights was just the medicine I needed.  I realized I was talking with a generation of young people who were barely approaching first grade when medical marijuana became a legitimate public policy.  A generation weaned on Facebook and Google that can no longer be force-fed reefer madness lies.  More than a few told me that when the older generation passes and they take over, things will be different, and this time I didn’t feel the need to say “That’s what the Summer of Love generation said, too.”

We talked about Florida’s most-draconian pot laws.  A mere twenty grams in possession is a felony.  Growing one plant is a felony and over 25 plants is considered a major marijuana operation with extreme mandatory minimum sentences.  Once convicted of a felony, a Floridian loses the right to vote while incarcerated, while on parole, while on probation, and forever afterward.  You can apply to a clemency board to be re-enfranchised, but only after a 5-7 year waiting period following the end of incarceration/probation/parole.  This has contributed greatly to 9% of all Floridians and an astonishing 19.8% of African-American Floridians disenfranchised.  It’s a bit more difficult to change marijuana laws when a big chunk of your base supporters can’t vote.

Meanwhile, the Knights told me, Florida is awash in “pain clinics” where OxyContin is doled out like… well, the way they described it, it sounded like the image our opponents paint of medical marijuana in California.  ”Yeah, you can go to a shady little fake clinic,” one young man told me, “complain about pain, get a script from a shady doc, and get yourself 500 OxyContin pills, no problem.”  Another told me of a friend of his who gets the OxyContin to sell so he can buy the ridiculously overpriced marijuana in Florida.

Speaking of which, it was good, not great.  I asked what strain it was and one young lady replied sadly, “We don’t really get to know which strain, we’re just lucky to get something that’s not brickweed.”  Ah, I replied, it’s like my old days in Idaho when there were two strains of weed: “Got Some” and “Don’t”.

Keep fighting, Knights.  With education and dedication, we’ll get that regulation for legalization.  I believe you are the generation to achieve weed liberation.

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