NORML 40th anniversary conference in Denver preview: A celebration of cannabis commerce
According to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), today's 4/20 bashes in Denver and Boulder are the biggest rallies of their type "on earth." And he expects that they'll ready the faithful for NORML's 40th annual conference, April 21-23 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Why was Denver chosen for the convention?
"The State of Colorado has the most advanced cannabis commerce system in the United States -- love it or hate it," notes St. Pierre, who just arrived in Colorado from Washington, D.C., where NORML is based. "It's also in clear violation of federal and international laws. Even in the Netherlands, when one goes into a coffee shop, as they're known, they can purchase as much cannabis as they like -- but there, we're told sales are tolerated, and there's no taxation system. But here, we have Mr. Hartman and Mr. Cook" -- a reference to the Department of Revenue's Dan Hartman and Matt Cook -- "and they're collecting revenue for the state.
Allen St. Pierre.
"Everyone points to California as the place where all this began politically, and they should," he goes on. "But Colorado, unlike California, actually stepped up to create a mature reply to a sociopolitical public-health quandary and created a taxation and regulatory scheme. So we brought the conference here to acknowledge this, to learn from it, and in some respects, to honor it."
Is the conference also meant to salute those mammoth 4/20 rallies, too? Not exactly, St. Pierre acknowledges. Many folks on the NORML staff feel there's so much going on around 4/20 that it's tougher to get attention for the conference. But the NORML board has also received complaints from marijuana cultivators that conferences staged in September and October, as they've been in recent years, fall smack dab in the middle of growing season. So after plenty of debate, they decided to embrace the 4/20 hoopla -- which is being covered by numerous mainstream networks this year, including Spike and G4 -- rather than shying away from it.
The agenda is certainly packed. Among the sessions St. Pierre highlights is a Denver mayoral debate slated for 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, to be emceed by veteran talk-show host Montell Williams; the High Times and NORML Activist Awards and Art Auction at 7 p.m. that evening, featuring a special acoustic performance by Ziggy Marley; a cannabis-and-commerce panel on Saturday; a keynote luncheon featuring Representative Jared Polis; and an appearance by Lester Grinspoon, a retired Harvard professor who St. Pierre calls "probably the most respected author and researcher on the topic of cannabis in our lifetime."