Home»Activism»Female Texas cannabis activists take part in Waco panel discussion

Female Texas cannabis activists take part in Waco panel discussion

Womens Panel Waco
Elizabeth Hill-Rodriguez, Sheena Marie Roberts, Nishi Whiteley, and Karli Duran participated in an all women panel discussion during the NORML of Waco meeting. Photo by Alan Caruthers.

Four Texas women met in Waco to participate in a panel to share their personal and political stories concerning their involvement in the cannabis movement.

On Saturday, April 12 at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Waco, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws of Waco, Incorporated held its bi-monthly meeting and along with it an all women cannabis panel discussion.

Executive Director Clifford “Clif” Deuvall opened the meeting with a brief introduction of the speakers and commented that many of the great social movements in America were led by women. He also stated “this is the first women’s panel in Texas to address the issue of women from diverse areas and their contributions to the progression of the cannabis and hemp movement.”

Opening the presentation was Sheena Marie Roberts. Roberts, along with her significant other, Minister Mike, co-own Grow Your Own. Roberts is a US Army veteran who brought a mother’s perspective to the program.

During extended tours of duty, Roberts often had to leave her young son behind. She stated that “the Army gave me the strength to stand up” during these long separations, adding “I had to say goodbye to my son a lot in the Army… you’re helpless in that moment.” She stated that it was this strength that helps her to endure difficult life experiences.

Roberts went on to tell the story of taking care of her grandfather while dying of lung cancer. She stated that while he lie in bed dying with a morphine patch on his arm, the doctor recommended medical marijuana to him. Her grandfather refused, stating “I won’t be caught dead doing drugs,” meanwhile wearing a morphine patch.

Roberts stated that her grandfather was a product of the Reefer Madness movement and could have been helped by the medical cannabis. She also shared that her mother was a deputy sheriff for 10 years who often stated “we arrest people for having marijuana.” When Roberts shared with her family that she had become an advocate for the use of cannabis, she was shunned by her mother and stated “I can’t go talk to her because she thinks I’m a criminal.”

Roberts was emphatic about the utility of cannabis and stated that “I maintain my home through nutrition and physical activity… I’m going to fight for safety through legalization.”

The next speaker was Elizabeth Hill-Rodriguez, co-founder of the Dallas/Fort Worth NORML chapter. A paralegal in the Dallas area, Hill-Rodriguez said that she was initially just a casual recreational cannabis user, but began to see flaws in the drug policies.

She emphasized the necessity to educate politicians about the utility of cannabis and hemp.

Hill-Rodriguez has been involved with political outreach through the NORML Women’s Alliance. The DFW NORML chapter has found that educating legislators on the importance of legalizing cannabis and industrial hemp is the most effective tool they have to make significant change. She also added that “now is the perfect time to reach out to your local legislators because they are home in the community” adding that they will be too busy during legislative sessions to meet with constituents.

She continued to say that “women tend to poll below men on (cannabis) legalization… being illegal affects women more by loss of children to CPS, auto-immune disorders, menstrual cramps” and more. She also had a grandfather who was lost to cancer and refused to try medical cannabis.

Giving a nod to the recent CNN news special by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, she further pointed out the usefulness of cannabis in treating children. In her work with families in the DFW area, she has begun to work on programming for more family friendly events such as Potlucks in the Park events in an effort to reach out to other parents.

Next up was Karli Duran, co-founder of San Antonio NORML. Duran shared how she spent time in jail for a small amount of cannabis. Since then, she has talked to a large number of people in the law enforcement community who say that cannabis reform is going to happen soon.

Growing up under parents who were “headshop” owners during the 60s and 70s, Duran said “it (cannabis use) was normal.” When a DARE program came to her class and told them “people who did drugs are bad,” she was confused.

She further delineated between legal and illegal cannabinoids, stating that approximately 50,000 people in the San Antonio area suffer from some form of epilepsy and that they could benefit from the use of cannabidiol (or CBD) for the treatment of their conditions like the children mentioned in the CNN story.

Stating that if the government takes the CBD rich medications away from these sick children, there will be a lot of “pissed off moms out there… you don’t want to piss off a bunch of moms.”

She has recently had conversations with representatives at GW Pharmaceuticals and was told that “they will be the first to have approved FDA trials.” The representative added that “you can’t call something (cannabis) ‘medicinal’ until you’ve had controlled studies.”

Duran added that while she doesn’t want the big pharmaceutical companies to take away an individual’s ability to grow their own medicine, she also sees the necessity for the validation that such studies will bring.

“There will be a natural CBD medication soon for epilepsy in children,” Duran said. She added that there are significant grants available to grow and study a cousin to cannabis called Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus). She further added that while the DEA doesn’t make it easy, the grants are available. She stated that Kenaf is a “mop product” that is able to help with bio-remediation of soils which is similar to industrial hemp.

Finally, she stated that “it pissed me off that we couldn’t petition in this state,” referring to a lack of initiative and referendum laws in Texas. Duran remarked, “three years ago, people barely talked about marijuana, but now everybody wants to get in on the growing cannabis movement.” Not wanting to be left out, she said “I want a piece of the pie I helped bake.”

The last speaker was Nishi Whiteley, a business development consultant who started a website called ChronicRelief.com. Whiteley opened by saying that fear and ignorance is the root cause of the prohibitionist cannabis laws in the United States. Growing up, she stated that she “thought pot was what bad people smoked.”

Once while on a hiking trip in Amsterdam, she decided to try cannabis in one of the famed coffee shops, but she reported not experiencing anything from it. She later learned that it is often not until a person smokes cannabis a second or third time that they possess the neural receptors to experience a high.

Whiteley also added that she was losing a loved one to cancer. While her mother lie wasting from the disease progression, she tried and got some relief from cannabis. Whiteley used the code word “Kenny Chesney” when wanting to get away and try some cannabis (she and a friend used to hide their joints in a Kenny Chesney CD), especially on mornings when she didn’t want to get out of bed.

“I tried a few puffs and put it back in the plastic bag for a few months,” stated Whiteley. She said that her old, moldy ‘ditch weed’ may have been the “worst weed on the planet, but I made it into the best stuff with it.”

Learning how to make recipes that her mother could tolerate, they were able to reduce her suffering in her final days. Emotionally, she added that the “best thing was that she was fully present when she died.”

As a result of the tailored recipes she came up with for her mother and her own use, Whiteley started a recipe book of beneficial cannabis recipes. The cookbook served as a springboard for her latest projects, the ChronicRelief.com website and a new book she hopes to release soon.

The website helps answer questions for new users of cannabis about how to identify and safely use cannabis. She began writing under the pen name AlliVio, but later began writing under her own name, stating “it dawned on me that there’s nothing wrong with cannabis, why am I not putting my name on this?”

With her father’s support, she began to make it clear to her clients about her work with cannabis and ending prohibition. To her surprise, she found that all of her clients supported her. Whiteley added, “I hope this book will change lives and give others the courage to speak out.”

In her conversations with people, she “starts from a place of safety… information you’ve been told has nothing to do with the science.” Whiteley says that people listen when you talk about the federal government holding a patent on cannabis for the treatment of multiple diseases. Referring to addiction rates published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, she adds that the statistic showing 9% of cannabis users are addicted is a complete lie.

Whiteley reminded those present that “we make decisions from the emotional side of our brain.” If cannabis is a legitimate and safe medication and intoxicant, we need to tell our own stories about how it has benefited us as individuals. She is hoping to have her book in print by December in an e-book and print format.

Thus concluded a powerfully emotional panel discussion which adds to the growing sentiment here in Texas that marijuana should be legalized.

By: Alan Caruthers
Alan is a social worker by training who has found himself in the middle of a struggle to fight a rare bone marrow disorder called Myelofibrosis. Cannabis has been the only substance to help him find relief from the pain, but frightened Texas doctors have been afraid to recommend it. He now finds himself down the rabbit hole of the grassroots cannabis activism movement. He lives with his wife and son in Waco, Texas and can be reached at alan@normlwacoinc.org.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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