EL PASO— On a recent Saturday afternoon, some 50 pro-cannabis legalization and decriminalization supporters and enthusiasts of all ages packed a stuffy bar here to rally for marijuana legalization in Texas.
The crowd of mostly young people wearing Bob Marley T-shirts and Vans shoes stamped with marijuana leaves, crowded into the Soho Cocktail Lounge in downtown El Paso for the first formal meeting of the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML),which lobbies for marijuana legalization.
The crowd also included casually dressed middle-aged persons as well as some dressed to the nines, along with a group of much older graying hippies. The assembly packed the bar with only standing room barely accessible.
The organizers come from different professions but are joined by the same goal — “to achieve true individual liberty” by legally consuming marijuana. “If you feel that you are a free and beautiful individual human-being with inalienable rights, with self-ownership, you should be able to do whatever you want to do with yourself without having to harm anybody else… as long as you are not harming anyone else you should be free to do what you choose,” said Joshua Dagda, the organization’s communications director.
Approximately 230 persons interested in the cause attended NORML’s inaugural organizational meeting January 11th at the Hilton Garden Inn on W. University Avenue. The meeting’s high turnout was touted as an indicator that the community was very receptive to the issues that NORML is trying to focus here.
“We are looking to legalize it both socially and economically,” Dagda said.
The nonprofit NORML started 1970 as a national group dedicated “to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”
In the United States, there are 20 states that have decriminalized cannabis or legalized medical uses for it. Two states have legalized it both recreationally and medically. NORML had no presence in El Paso until last year when the local chapter was officially founded October 8th, 2013.
Since the inaugural meeting, it now has roughly sixty members. The local board of directors has been working hard to educate people on how the drug should be legalized and decriminalized.
“It’s all education, we aren’t pushing people to use pot, we are just saying that if you want to, you should be able to,” said Colt DeMorris, executive director of the local NORML group.
NORML has also teamed up with Magic Flight Launch Box to start a compassionate gift program. Angel Perez, active member of El Paso NORML, was the first recipient of the Compassion Gift Box set, which included a vaporizer.“This is phenomenal,” Perez said.
El Paso NORML will be holding two comedy shows with El Paso Underground Comedy and The El Paso Comic Strip. NORML is also trying to screen the film American Drug War 2 as a dinner and a movie feature at a local restaurant.
They are also in the beginning stages of forming petitions, protests and picketing as well as calling representatives from both the state and local governments to voice their opinions. They are also publishing pamphlets featuring information about the benefits of cannabis. The group is trying to adopt a highway, as other chapters in Texas have, and they are looking for volunteers. The council plans to hold raffles and drawings at future events.
The organization plans to speak with city officials and is preparing for elections this spring to educate votes on the issue and to identify which representatives are running who support the cause. They are also helping people register to vote.
“Unfortunately in this country we have lobbyists who push their private interests on politicians through money. So their interests benefit the few while affecting the majority,” Dagda said.
Some candidates who are cannabis friendly will include democrat Richard Samet “Kinky” Friedman and Jaime O. Perez who will be running against Beto O’Rourke the incumbent U.S. Congressman from this area.
“Beto, who panders, talks about legalizing it but has never introduced bills,” Dagda said. “All talk but no action.”
Mike Pickett who is running for District 6 City Council representative was at the first meeting and is a supporter of legalization and decriminalization.
“I completely support you, drug test me today; it’s been a long, long time.” Pickett admitted. “But as long as it doesn’t hit our streets and our kids, 18 and older, I advocate for you guys.”
Pickett suggested that supporters visit city council Tuesday mornings at 7:45 a.m., sign in and talk about whatever you wish for a “liberal” three minutes.
“You get to talk about anything, whatever is on your heart, it’s your God given right to address your city council,” Pickett said.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told Borderzine that the issue in not on the Council’s radar. “The drug policy is not an issue that is under the purview of city government,” he said.
El Paso NORML plans to hold monthly meetings, preferably the third Saturday of every month at different locations. El Paso NORML is also trying to get exposure through local media and social networking such as Twitter and Facebook.
The organization is setting up a veteran’s liaison, a UTEP liaison, and an EPCC liaison and also extremely interested in starting a NORML women’s alliance.
“We want to start giving back to community; we want a positive outlook on us, and to kill the stoner pothead stereotype,” DeMorris said. “Just because we choose to consume a drug that is safer than alcohol, safer than tobacco, doesn’t make us criminals.”
There is a negative stigma that comes with being a cannabis user but supporters look to disprove that stereotype.
“We are all about peace, and creativity, passion, compassion and mercy,” Silver Israel, founder of apparel seller EsTYLOW JUNKTiON.
Not all people involved with NORML are cannabis users. At the meeting Saturday, numerous people attended who support the cause without using the drug such as James Riddle, an award winning author and teacher.
“When I look out at you I don’t see a single person who should be in jail. I’m on your side; I’m an advocate and I’m going to fight for you,” Riddle said. “I’m not doing it for any spotlight on me; I’m doing it to put a spotlight on the issue, which is utterly important.”
The board of directors includes DeMorris, Richard Gonzalez who is the Deputy Director, Dagda, Amanda Swenson, secretary, and James Nolan, treasurer.