VOL. 38 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 21, 2014
A NORML response to those who want laws changed
By Hollie Deese
A couple of years ago, computer programmer Scott Burchfield set out to meet some new friends.
He had worked from home for 15 years, so workplace relationships were nonexistent. He was interested in meeting some cannabis-friendly folks, but not exactly interested in taking his chances at the bar scene.
Instead, he opted to go a meeting for the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
And he was impressed by the diversity of people he found there.
“Cannabis is one thing that drives everyone together in so many ways,” he says. “We have some incredibly religious people, we have some atheists, and we have every type of political and religious position between those two. And instead of isolating within one group, all of the sudden all of these people are getting together and mixing, which is wonderful because it has really opened my eyes to the variety of people out there I would never have met without this group.”
Burchfield, now the treasurer of the Tennessee chapter of NORML, wears a cannabis leaf pin everywhere he goes so people are aware he is for marijuana law reform.
By now he knows it is a great ice breaker.
“If I am wearing that pin and am in a public place like Target or Costco, people come up to me and say ‘I like your pin,’” he explains. “I have even had a police officer tell me he liked my pin. Everything is changing.”
The Tennessee chapter of NORML has over 21,000 “likes” on its very active Facebook page.
They meet on the first Sunday of every month at Sunset Grille. They also meet with legislators to try and change opinions, and ultimately, change the laws regarding cannabis for medical purposes and recreation.
NORML was never more than a grassroots organization until January 2012 when it became a 501(c)4 organization.
“A couple of years ago, legislators didn’t want to discuss it,” Burchfield explains.
“They wouldn’t even have a conversation about it. The Republicans are still not sure they want to change to a pro-cannabis position, but they are all letting us in their offices, and they are all talking to us.
“And some of them are reading the education materials we have given them because when we go back, you can see an evolution in their position.”
Nashville investment advisor Paul Kuhn, cofounder of Woodmont Investment Counsel, has been working to change marijuana laws through NORML since the 1970s. Kuhn used to be anti-pot when he graduated from Vanderbilt in 1965 on an ROTC scholarship, and once thought the penalty handed out to a sailor caught smoking pot wasn’t severe enough.
“I believed all that we had been told,” Kuhn says.
A few years later, Kuhn went to business school at Indiana University. His mindset totally changed. A campus survey revealed that 50 percent of his classmates actively smoked pot, and he decided he was going to intervene.
“I decided to educate myself to educate them and save them from a life of addiction,” he explains. “So I’d go to the library and check out the books on marijuana, and they all said the same thing. It was a relatively benign substance.”
He decided to take a hit the next time it was offered, and once he did, his decision was made – he was going to work to change the laws regarding the drug.
He organized the Chicago chapter of NORML in the 70s, and thought they were getting somewhere until the war on drugs put a stop to any momentum that had been gained.
Now, he can see that things are changing. “In the last two or three years we have made more progress than in the last 30, and we are close to the tipping point now.’’
Kuhn attributes the change to three factors – a change in demographics, the public’s greater access to information regarding the drug, and the success of medical marijuana.
“The opposition to marijuana is very highly age correlated, and as the older generation – which now includes me – dies off, statistically, the younger generation, who are by and large big supporters, become the majority,” he says.
Kuhn’s cause became much more personal as his wife, Jeanne, struggled through the end stages of breast cancer in 1996. Medical marijuana eased her suffering, and Kuhn says it eliminated her chemo-induced nausea completely.
“I had given marijuana to patients over the years, and Jeanne had always indulged my work on the issue, but it was not her issue,” Kuhn says.
“She knew enough about it and had an open mind. She had no ill effects from chemo the first round at all. It kept up her appetite and spirits.”
Kuhn thinks if anything can change legislation it is stirring patient testimony like the kind that was delivered on March 5 to the Health House committee regarding HB 1385, the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act, named, in part, for his late wife. But even that is a long shot.
“I thought the testimony was dazzling – very, very powerful,” Kuhn says.
“Unfortunately, it won’t change very many minds. They’ve never had to think about it. These politicians, this is something they have never had to think about – just oppose it.
“It’s an educational process, and we have made great progress this year. It’s unusual that it passes in any state on an election year.
“Next year we’ll have a new General Assembly and a few more states will have legalized it.
And, we are getting more organized. NORML is much better organized than ever, and I think we are helping with the process too.”