Thursday, March 3, 2016

A NORML Mom Goes to the Capitol

The golden dome of the Georgia Capitol dominates its corner of the Atlanta skyline. It's a symbol of both art and order, beneath which something important must be happening, or so it seems. 

Today I ventured to the Capitol for the first time since my elementary school tour. I was coming for something dubbed Annual Cannabis Awareness Day. However, this title was more relevant to the information session on Georgia's emerging medical marijuana legislation which took place across the street an hour or so prior to my arrival. Instead, the action I got in on within the Capitol itself seemed no more focused on marijuana than on any other single cause. It was instead a frenetic jumble of beautifully contained chaos.

What I learned is that, every day of the legislative session, crowds of paid lobbyists and common constituents alike are invited to complete a slip of paper requesting a few minutes to chat with their selected state representative or senator on topics close to their hearts, minds or pocket books. A page (seemingly an intern or high achieving high school student) takes the slip to the named legislator's chambers and then either leaves a message or escorts the requested legislator to a red rope running down a crowded aisle where quick conversations happen and, hopefully, open the doorway to deeper communication.

In my experience today, intimidation within the Capitol halls fades quickly to exhilaration, and everyone walks away with the reminder that we're all human, struggling together to find our voices and make collective sense of the messy and mysterious existence we share.

Michelle, Sharon & I, women against prohibition
As the messy mystery of marijuana is concerned, I left the Capitol and headed to my beloved Little 5 Points, where I ate at Savage Pizza and penned some letters to my state legislators, Chuck Hufstetler (whom I hope to meet) and Christian Coomer (whom I've actually had the pleasure of meeting years ago). The subject of my letters is Georgia HB 722, a bill which Representative Allen Peake introduced to expand the Haleigh’s Hope Act. Initially, HB 722 removed THC caps, added approved medical marijuana conditions and allowed for in state cultivation. The most recent iteration of the bill, however, does little more than slightly expand the approved conditions list. My letters encourage my congressional leaders to reclaim Peake's original vision, especially the part which allows in-state cultivation. Left as is, approved medical marijuana recipients under Georgia law must break federal law to travel out of state to acquire the medicine they need.

Writing to my congressmen about this got me thinking a little more about why marijuana reform is SO important to me personally. I came up with 5 reasons:
    1.Supporting marijuana reform means being able to admit that sometimes people are wrong. Generations of respectable folks have demonized marijuana and its users despite substantive evidence that the substance actually does more good than harm. It takes some serious strength for powerful people to say:  We've made a mistake. Let's make it right.
    2. I want my children to grow up within a generation of strong people who know how to responsibly use marijuana and can spend their serious time focused on more important issues--like prison reform, smarter international policy and methods of coping with previous generations' ecological abuse of our planet.

    3. I also want my children to have the freedom to relax and enjoy the added beauty which marijuana use can bring to simple things like listening to music, reading a book, going for a walk, or talking to family and friends without fear that they will be arrested or interrogated by the CPS.
    4. The realization of marijuana law reform will be a great contemporary example of how democracy can work to actualize tangible change, thereby increasing general faith in our government and inspiring others to use the system to accomplish other meaningful goals. 

    5. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta has said, marijuana is sometimes the only medicine that works. I cannot accept that is okay to deny sick people good and plentiful medicine simply because doing so breaks an outdated and prejudiced law.
NORML does a great job of allowing individuals to find legislation relevant to their state. To get started connecting with your legislators, click here.

Finally, I want to give a very special shout to Peachtree NORML's Sharon Ravert, Ted Metz, Dean Sines and Michelle, who gave me hands-on help navigating the Capitol today. Ted also took the photos displayed within this post and is running for US Senate! To find out more about his platform, click here.  In the first picture, also note the unintentional symbolism: There are fewer steps ahead of me than behind me, but it's still a climb. An elderly couple (representing older ways of thinking) is walking past, but there is still a shadowed figure at the door.To me, this represents challenges ahead of marijuana reform, which, when brought to light, will be overcome.

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