The former soccer mom turned marijuana activist
Meet Loretta Labrada, the Director of Finance for one of the largest and most active marijuana reform organizations in the country. It also happens to be located in Texas.
“If you had told me ten years ago that today I would be a member of the board of directors of the largest marijuana reform group in Texas, possibly the nation, I’d have looked at you and asked, “What’s NORML?””
That’s DFW NORML to be exact, the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Boasting over 850 members and strong revenue, Loretta maintains the non-profit organization’s accounting records, ensures the bills are paid, and keeps the group “kosher with the tax man.”
An accountant by trade, she’s always valued education. Growing up in Central Texas as the eldest of four siblings before moving to Lake Palestine, her mother always talked about the importance of study.
“My mother always told me to get an education, that an education is something no one can ever take away from you. So when I left home at 18, I worked days and attended college classes at night. By the time I left Tyler to attend college full-time at UT Arlington, I’d been a babysitter, fast food worker, housekeeper, restaurant server, office file clerk, pharmacy assistant and bookkeeper. Hey, I started at 12! In 1983 I graduated from UTA with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, earning my CPA designation shortly thereafter while working for a real estate firm in downtown Dallas.”
She now works at home as the bookkeeper for her husband Fernando’s IT consulting business.
Talking about the love of her life, she states “my husband, on the other hand, is not a native Texan, but as the saying goes, “he got here as soon as he could.” Fernando was born in Havana Cuba and immigrated to the US with his sister and grandparents when he was 12 years old. We met in Tyler, Texas the summer after I graduated from high school. He was tall, handsome, and smart. I was hooked, and so was he. We’ve been together since then and married to each other for over 28 years.”
Wanting to have kids, in 1987 the two bought a home in Garland where they still reside today. It wasn’t long after that they had two girls, and Loretta became a stay at home mom, an active one at that.
“Yes, I was a soccer mom, softball mom, drill team, choir, and orchestra mom. I was an active member of the PTA and volunteered as a Teachers’ Helper and Clinic Aide. I volunteered with our church youth group and chaperoned field trips for church and for school!”
Many find it hard to imagine how someone can be so involved with all of these community activities and still support marijuana legalization. The reality of it is most people do support changing the law, but many do so quietly. At first, Loretta was quiet about it too.
That doesn’t mean she wasn’t having to deal with the subject though.
“If I thought high school was hard the first time, it was nothing compared to helping my daughters navigate the waters of adulthood in a big city high school. There wasn’t really a big production made over “Drug Education” back when I was in school. Health Class had a unit on addictive drugs and the harms of abusing them; but I was never exposed to “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E. Red Ribbon Week didn’t exist. The focus was on harmful, addictive drugs, warning us of the dangers.”
She said the experience for her daughters was nothing like her own.
“Fast forward to our children’s high school years. Alcohol use at private parties is all but condoned in many neighborhoods, but illegal drugs are evil. Pills, some felonies to possess, are easier to conceal and therefore more popular than pot. “Drug Education” in our schools is entirely fear-based and factually inaccurate. What happens when these kids try marijuana and realize that all they were told about this plant is a lie? What happens when they doubt the legitimacy of all of their drug education and try something that really will harm, perhaps kill, them? The memorial bench at my daughters’ alma mater lists the names of former students who are no longer with us. Those names include young people killed while serving our country and students who died due to drunk driving. There are no marijuana deaths listed.”
This convinced her that the laws needed to change, but first she waited for her children to graduate so she could be free of the system to do her thing.
“Five years of public high school as a parent had made it painfully clear to me that the war on drugs is turning our children into criminals before they even graduate out into the real world. Zero tolerance policies have gone too far when a parent gets called up to school because the drug dog alerted on an Advil in the console of their kid’s locked car in the school parking lot. I know kids who were accused, convicted and sentenced by the school for alleged, unproven marijuana use. They lost extracurricular activities and school awards for guilt by association. When my youngest daughter graduated in 2010 I started Googling and discovered DFW NORML. I was pissed off, finally free of the system and ready to take some sort of action.”
In 2010 Loretta made her move and went to a DFW NORML meeting. It was located at The Collective Tattoo in Carrollton on a hot summer Saturday with no air conditioning and about a dozen other people in attendance. She hasn’t missed a meeting since. Meetings these days boast hundreds of attendees.
From that point she began volunteering her time with the organization, starting out like most at the merchandise table, talking to people and selling shirts, wristbands, stickers, and memberships.
“I’ve run voter registration tables, attended panels and discussions, and just been there when help was needed. The first event that I planned and executed for DFW NORML was our Lake Arlington Trash Bash in April of 2012. We now have our own Adopted Street in Fort Worth! I have served on the board of DFW NORML doing Community Outreach, as Secretary for a short time and now as Director of Finance. I encourage anyone who wants to become more involved to just raise your hand and do it! When we ask for volunteers for our events, we’re asking each of YOU to step up and help us legalize Texas!”
While she enjoys the informal get-togethers such as their weekly NORML Nights, Loretta especially loves the big events such as the Texas Regional NORML Conferences, Lake & Bake, 420, and the Global Marijuana March, which saw over 2,000 attendees this past May.
“I’d like to encourage anyone who wants to be more involved to sign up and volunteer; then show up! Learn to run the table, help set up, or work the door at events! When we have event flyers, offer to pick up a stack and deliver them to supporting businesses in your area.”
It’s not all about marijuana though. She enjoys writing, gardening, and reading as primary hobbies.
“Hobbies? Ain’t nobody got time for that! That said, I love words and writing. There’s something about a pretty new notebook with all those naked, pristine pages that impels me to pick up a pen and write something. I also enjoy gardening. My herb garden includes Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Tarragon and Basil. I read a lot, less fiction lately it seems, opting instead for psychology, new age, magazines and internet articles. Natural health and alternative remedies particularly interest me. I’ve witnessed first-hand the side effects of dangerous pharmaceuticals and educate myself to avoid them whenever possible. And I Facebook. I don’t do TV; I end up yelling at the commercials. Facebook is one of my guilty pleasures – taking a peek into the lives of friends and family when we can’t be together as much as we’d like.”
She is also an animal lover and has adopted three dogs.
“I’ve always loved animals. Growing up, our pets included the usual cats and dogs plus assorted highway orphans that my Dad brought home, including a couple of skunks and a raccoon named Gidget. Our fur babies now are all dogs. Our boys Harley and Scooter are rescues, brothers from the same litter – a mix of Cocker Spaniel, Australian Shepherd and Boston Terrier. Taurus is a feisty little Yorkie-Poodle, boss of the pack (or so he thinks) and Momma’s boy. “Da boyz” are crazy, obnoxious, and amazing. Their hobbies are jumping the fence into my garden, barking at the trash truck, and chasing squirrels.”
When asked about her spiritual affairs, she say’s she’s not religious, but considers herself a Christian.
“I’m not a religious person and haven’t attended “church” in several years. I believe God exists and I am a Christian. I think that in most cases, religion has distorted God’s message. Reduced to a simple phrase, I believe that God is Love. And Love is the most powerful force in existence. Love does not kill. Love does not judge. Love does not have a gazillion rules that must be followed or else. Love is caring and forgiving and treating others like we want to be treated. LOVE is my religion.”
Getting back to the topic of cannabis, it’s easy to tell that she’s a fan of the herb.
“I grew up in the 70’s. It wasn’t until I was an adult (18) that I even tried marijuana. I liked it then. I like it now. I have seen the devastation wreaked by legal vices – alcohol and tobacco. And I’ve seen what chemotherapy and radiation have done to loved ones who’ve been stricken with cancer. (It killed them.) I’ve witnessed total deterioration of health and even death at the hands of modern pharmaceuticals.”
She also pushes the health aspects of marijuana as well.
“Studies have shown that cannabis is a beneficial medicine for illnesses from depression to cancer – including Alzheimer’s, ALS, TBI, PTSD, and a host of other illnesses which plague our nation. Hell, there have even been studies done which point to marijuana as a diet aid! Since when has this country NOT jumped on the weight-loss band wagon?! To ignore marijuana as a medicine and to continue to ticket, arrest and imprison American citizens for choosing a plant over all the harmful, chemical-ridden substances that are touted as medicine is ludicrous! It’s criminal! We’re creating a nation of “criminals” whose only crime is a belief in the proven benefits of this PLANT! Prohibition was a failure. It still is.”
Dedicating her time to a good cause has been a major source of happiness in Loretta’s life. She considers people in DFW NORML as part of a family which sets out to make the Lone Star State a better place to live.
“Everything we do is geared toward changing the laws here in Texas. If your representative doesn’t know you support legalization, they’re not going to spend the political capital to come out of the closet themselves. It’s up to you. It’s up to me. It’s up to all of us working together to achieve this goal. Herb’s the word!”