Medical marijuana v. recreational use: NORML controversy, Colorado connection
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the country's most powerful cannabis advocacy organization, and it's long had a close link to Colorado, which hosted its 40th anniversary conference last year. But relations between NORML and Colorado's medical marijuana community are strained due to comments by executive director Allen St. Pierre that were perceived to be anti-MMJ -- observations that Denver attorney Warren Edson played a key role in making public.
Allen St. Pierre.
The focus of this dust-up is "Allen St. Pierre on Medical Marijuana," published by Steve Bloom's Celebstoner.com website on January 5. The piece, on view in its entirety below, begins with a bold statement: "Defending the 'medical' cannabis industry is so yesterday. Why not acknowledge the political and legal farce it is and focus on the real problem at hand: ending cannabis prohibition?" From there, St. Pierre describes medical marijuana as a "sham" on par with prescription alcohol during the 1920s liquor-prohibition era, accuses the MMJ industry of opposing broader legalization efforts like California's Proposition 19, and maintains that cannabis consumers should be able to get "good, affordable cannabis products without having to go through the insult and expense of 'qualifying' as a 'medical' patient by paying physicians and/or the state for some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card."
In the wake of these words, Edson, his wife Georgia and Mile High NORML director Scott Greene have resigned from the organization. But while the post makes it seem as if St. Pierre wrote an essay on the topic with the intention of widely disseminating his views, these remarks were never meant for public consumption. Instead, they were written as a note to James Clark, a California-based attorney who's part of a LISTSERV for the NORML legal committee -- an electronic mailing list whose members include approximately 450 lawyers across the country.
"I was in an airport in October," St. Pierre recalls, "and a cop in either Colorado or California had published a first-person account, a guest column about him getting a medical marijuana card. He wrote it up as you would expect a cop who doesn't like medical marijuana and thinks it's a farce would, and I posted it to the LISTSERV with no commentary, as I usually do. And this California lawyer [Clark] took umbrage to the fact that I'd posted it, saying, 'I can't believe NORML is not supportive of medical marijuana.' And what is being circulated now is my reply, written on a laptop in an airport terminal."
Not that St. Pierre repudiates the substance of the response. "My first major mistake was not being as articulate as I could by avoiding words like 'sham,' so that it wouldn't be seen as so offensive. And second, I should have thought a little bit more about some people on that list, who at the time were not detractors but would immediately become so -- which was the case of Warren and Georgia Edson. They 100 percent melted down."
A larger look at Allen St. Pierre.
Warren Edson doesn't deny being upset by St. Pierre's characterizations, some of which he shared on his Facebook page. "We had a NORML conference in April where my clients and patients had pulled things together and put on what we thought was a heck of an event, only to have Allen call my clients and friends profiteers," he maintains. "And that's not what the industry is like here. No one's buying chunks of gold nuggets with medical marijuana profits. And they said the industry is against legalization, and when that kind of statement is made so broadly, it just isn't true." For instance, Georgia is a very public supporter of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which is all but certainly bound for the November ballot.
While the back-and-forths soon began to escalate, Edson says he tried to be patient: "I waited for about three weeks, hoping NORML would clarify its position -- maybe limit the comments to one state or particular instances, as opposed to the whole medical cannabis industry."
In St. Pierre's opinion, this wasn't necessary, since his note was obviously a critique of excesses in California's medical marijuana business. He says he was shocked someone from Colorado could take it so personally. But that wasn't clear to Edson, who ultimately concluded that "not only was NORML focusing on legalization, but they were going to firebomb medicinal on the way out the door."
Page down to read more about the controversial post.