As Republicans debated at their convention down the road, marijuana activists from all over the state came together in downtown Fort Worth for a conference of their own. The two even shared some of the same speakers, attendees, and topics.
Put on by DFW NORML, a non-profit organization, the Texas Regional NORML Conference held at the Norris Center on June 7 and 8, was an event which featured many prominent activists, political figures, policy wonks, and regular people, including the parents of some very sick children who can benefit from medical marijuana.
One attendee described it as feeling as though she were at church, but instead of being on fire for God, she was on fire for cannabis activism.
Turnout for Saturday was around 140 people, with about 100 showing up on Sunday.
Opening the conference was Larry Talley, a Navy veteran of 21 years and the director of finances for DFW NORML. He spoke about the need for medical marijuana to help returning soldiers with PTSD and how prohibition is harming those who have served the country.
The director of DFW NORML, Shaun McAlister, also briefly spoke, stating “this is just the beginning for us this year.” He alluded to the conference being a starting point for bigger and better things.
“I am extremely pleased with how the 2nd annual Texas Regional Norml Conference turned out. We had some truly inspirational speakers and panelists, tremendous support from local businesses and well attended social gatherings. Cannabis activists had the opportunity to learn from and network with each other for 3 days and anytime we gather publicly in support of this topic, we are furthering the discussion on a local, statewide and national level. The rest of the country is watching Texas to see what we do next and #dfwnormlcon is proof that minds are changing about marijuana in the Lone Star State. Just wait until you see what we do next! Herb’s the word,” McAlister stated.
Kicking things off Saturday morning was 420 Radio host Russ Belville, who made a potent demonstration of how the drug war is ripping the constitution to shreds, even making points with the Second Amendment crowd as he told of de-facto gun confiscation for medical marijuana patients.
Later on, Kinky Friedman, the former Democratic candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, stepped up to speak, largely cracking joke after joke, at one point stating that when he dies, he is to be cremated, and his ashes are to be spread all over Rick Perry’s hair.
Things got highly emotional later on though when the Parents Against Prohibition panel began, as parents told heartbreaking stories about the struggles they and their children endure, and how tough it is to obtain life enhancing medical marijuana. Many in attendance cried as the panel pushed forward until applause broke the mood after Dean Bortell spoke about how people should not be restricted in what medicine they take based on their zip-code.
The primary focus was on how cannabis helps children with epilepsy and its effectiveness in greatly reducing the number of seizures they have.
One recurring theme among all of the parents on the panel is that they were willing to go to jail in order to ensure their children got the medicine that they need.
Meanwhile down the road, a group called Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, along with other delegates at the Texas Republican State Convention, were fighting to have support for medical marijuana and hemp included in the party’s platform. Ultimately it would all be voted against, save for industrial hemp. Several delegates then found themselves at the NORML conference, with some even joining DFW NORML, pushing the group’s active membership to over 700 people.
Ann Lee, the founder of RAMP who passionately defended medical marijuana as being a pro-life position at the GOP convention, spoke to attendees at the conference on Sunday. Lee stated, “if you dare call your self pro life you must support ending marijuana prohibition!”
One of the rallying cries at the NORML conference was by Belville, who stated that “this isn’t about getting high. We’re already getting high. It’s about liberty and rights.”
Belville also featured an informative game of 420 Jeopardy, which challenged the knowledge of those in attendance and provided for a lot of laughs.
Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), rounded out the day on Saturday, levying some predictions of lessening penalties in the 2015 Texas legislative session, medical marijuana legalization in 2017, and full legalization similar to that in Colorado in 2019.
Several vendors and activist groups were at the conference as well, including both the Libertarian and Green parties, along with groups from NORML of Waco and Texas NORML, as well as the newly established Legally NORML.
The conference got back into gear again on Sunday, featuring panels on women in the movement, patients, and grassroots activism, along with a workshop on how to be better activists.
A number of women were involved in panels and speaking roles, and they highlighted the effectiveness of females in the cannabis movement.
Heather Fazio of MPP was one of those women who spoke about the need to be an effective communicator as well, stating “education is the most important tool we can use but it is useless you can communicate well. Don’t be afraid to go out and have a conversation.”
Other women involved included Jodie Emery, Cheyanne Weldon, Loretta Labrada, Elizabeth Rodriguez, and a number of others, demonstrating that what was once thought of as a male dominated movement has now become well represented by both sexes.
Touching on activism in Texas, Erik Altieri had much praise for the passion, dedication, and effort put forth by Texans. He stressed the need to tailor the message to each individual when discussing cannabis reform, and asked that little steps be taken when bringing people around to the subject, especially legislators. “Most legislators are ill-informed, not ill-intentioned,” Altieri stated. He had a message of hope for everyone, saying that there is no doubt that cannabis activists are winning, and they are on the right side of history, so they should act like winners.
Others also stressed the need to work for other volunteer organizations and political campaigns while sporting pro-reform gear in order to build stronger ties with the community and bring more allies on board.
Overall, there appeared to be a strong spirit exhibited by those in attendance. An atmosphere of hope and inspiration permeated the conference. In general, people were excited to be there and enjoyed meeting with other activists from across Texas.
These people embodied the sheer will of determination to make Texas a better place.
By: Stephen Carter
Contact Stephen via email at TXCann@gmail.com
Listen to our podcast at txcann.podomatic.com
**This article was updated to include a statement from Shaun McAlister.**