Springtime for Potheads: Notes From Day 1 of NORML's Annual Conference


Next Signal: FREEDOM

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is holding its 39th annual conference in beautiful downtown Portland, Oregon from today through Saturday. I'm haunting the freedom-smelling halls of the Governor Hotel, and thought I'd share a few notes:

* Tipping Point Watch: If a room full of gray ponytails can be said to have a spring in their collective step, September 2010 is that moment for drug policy activists. As NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre put it, we are "at the observable tipping point between medical cannabis and legalization." Many references to more progress being made over the past cupla years than in the three decades preceding them. Polls inching toward and even beyond the magical 50% level for the first time in history. Nouns like "opportunity," and "momentum"; multiple chants of "Just Say Now!" California's legalize-it Prop. 19 has been portrayed by nearly every speaker as the single most important bit of potential lawmaking since the Golden State's groundbreaking Proposition 215 in 1996. "We are never going away; prohibition is!" and etc.

Yes you are

* Prop. 19 Update: According to Michael Whitney, of FireDogLake's impressively splashy new Just Say Now campaign, a full 49 of California's 53 Congresstards oppose Prop. 19, as do future governortards Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, plus Senatortards Boxer and Feinstein. In fact, DiFi is heading up the opposition! Which suggests what I think would be an unbeatable ad campaign:

Every single member of California's political class is against Prop. 19. Any questions?

Just close your eyes and think of Mother Austria

* Arnold Agonistes: An important piece of decriminalization legislation is sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's lame-duck desk. SB 1449 would reclassify simple pot possession as a ticketable infraction, rather than a misdemeanor. Supporters say that would eliminate some 60,000 totally pointless exercises in paperwork, while keeping people's criminal records appropriately clean. MR. GOVERNATOR, SIGN THAT BILL!

* The Revolution Is Outpacing the Revolutionaries: Multiple panelists have remarked that Prop. 19 and other ballot-box insurrections this year are happening not because of, but maybe even in spite of the three most famous Daddy Warbucksi of the legalization movement: George Sorors, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling. Since no one here in the largely Republican-unfriendly crowd will probably say it, I certainly will: Isn't it interesting that these were among George W. Bush's biggest haters and Barack Obama's biggest donors? The financial crisis and the public surge toward decriminalization has created a moment more revolutionary than certainly professional Democrats are going to do a damned thing about. Which is another reason to appreciate the pressure being applied by progressives like FireDogLake. Though there's also some worry that the pro-pot youth vote will be too depressed this November to turn out. To which I say: Blame Obama!

* Sobering Moment: Someone asked for a show of hands on who had tangled with the criminal justice system over pot. About half went up.

* Keeping it Real: I am sure it's an ancient joke, and no longer intended for laffs, but "Wanna medicate?" is really one of the greatest questions in the English language. Also, all afternoon sessions are scheduled to end at 4:20, and there's a dessert bar!

You can watch events unfold live at the NORML site. I'll be speaking tomorrow on a panel about California at 2:30 left coast time, and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson will be giving a lunchtime keynote.