Erasing Hate in Texas

Photo by Getty Images

This weekend I flew to Fort Worth, Texas, to participate in my fifth North Texas Marijuana March, coinciding with the Global Cannabis March.

Teamwork Works

I’m always impressed by the marijuana activism in Texas. Led by executive director Shaun McAlister, the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter of NORML is an exemplar for effective grassroots politics. This organization rebuts every complaint I’ve ever heard from aspiring activists about being unable to make any progress on marijuana reform because they’re living in a red state.

Witness what has transpired in the past five years in Texas.

Where once it was a deep red bottomless pit of prohibition, it now is a state with a medical cannabidiol law, a few cities with either decriminalization or “cite-and-release” and, now, bills for both whole plant medical marijuana and statewide decriminalization that are beginning to make it out of legislative committees and attract widespread support.

That didn’t happen in a vacuum.

DFW NORML, along with other NORML chapters, Marijuana Policy Project’s excellent organization there, patient advocacy organizations and allied groups like the Libertarian Party of Texas and RAMP–Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, founded by Ann Lee, mother of California Prop 19’s proponent, Richard Lee–put the pressure on their elected officials by testifying, lobbying and educating both the lawmakers and the public.

That teamwork is part of what charms me so much about my appearances in prohibition states.

Out on the West Coast, where we’ve legalized and had medical pot for two decades, the once-harmonious marijuana activist community is now fractured along multiple fault lines concerning how we get rich, who gets to remain medical and what reforms do we pursue now?

But in places like Texas, where both patients and potheads are still one encounter with a county sheriff from possibly losing everything, the community is tight and focused and ready to support one another.

Car 420, Where Are You?

That teamwork extends beyond just the activist base as well.

DFW NORML found itself an incredible sponsor in the Law Office of David Sloane. Yes, most NORML chapters are well-advised to ally with the criminal defense attorneys in the area specializing in drug crime defense, and there are many of them doing fantastic work.

But how many of them have helped outfit their allied NORML chapter with a re-fitted police car called “The Truth Enforcement” vehicle, car #420, complete with siren, flashing green lights and NORML logos and pot leaf graphics? And a DFW NORML Suburban? And a DFW NORML van? And Hydro, the DFW NORML speedboat, which powers DFW NORML’s wakeboarding team? And a couple of DFW NORML waverunners?

Sure, you’re thinking, it’s easy to be some big time NORML chapter if you have a rich lawyer backing you. But the question you should be asking yourself is what that NORML chapter did to attract the support of a rich lawyer?

Activism on a Budget

One method of activism DFW NORML pioneered that any NORML chapter could adopt for very little cost is their highway banner drops. I joined up with Shaun and his crew as we made our way Friday to a pedestrian overpass crossing Highway 360, a major north-south artery in Arlington, between Dallas and Fort Worth, for one such drop.

“HONK FOR MARIJUANA” read one of the 30-foot banners we clipped up on the chain-link fence of the overpass for the southbound lanes. “HONK FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA” read another for the northbound lanes. We also had two banners advertising the marijuana march for the following Saturday.

Literally thousands of Texans driving through that stretch saw the green lights of The Truth Enforcement vehicle pulled off to the side of the southbound lanes. As they slowed to read the overpass signs, the honks of encouragement were plentiful. We even spent time with pedestrians crossing the bridge, telling them about the two marijuana bills pending in the legislature.

One police officer showed up to survey the scene, but aside from asking The Truth Enforcement car to move to the frontage road, they made no effort to interfere with our First Amendment rights. The Department of Transportation received a few calls from irate drivers upset about the slow traffic, but also made no effort to stop us.

Ending Prohibition and Erasing Hate

The next day, we gathered in Burnett Park for speakers and bands. Vendors plied their wares, and activists registered new voters. The march itself drew in a couple thousand people, chanting and openly smoking marijuana in the streets of Fort Worth, while bicycle police maintained order but did not interfere with toking. We took over the steps of the county courthouse for more speeches before returning to the park.

It was all made possible thanks to years of relationship-building between DFW NORML, the police and the businesses in the activist community. One of the strongest business supporters of reform in the metroplex (and, full disclosure, the sponsor of my body art) is Lucky Horseshoe Tattoo and its owner, Thomas Barrington.

I was there Sunday after appearing as Harry J. Anslinger in a video shoot for a producer trying to educate Texans on the history of prohibition. Thomas was inking my latest tattoo, the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol molecule on my left forearm, as he told me about another form of activism he’s involved in—erasing hate.

“I’m committing tattoo artist suicide,” he told me as the needle seared my arm, “by doing this work for free. These guys have these swastikas, Nazi tattoos, Confederate flags on them, but now they’ve changed their lives. They’ve got kids now who are asking them, ‘Daddy, what’s that mean?’ So, I’ve been doing cover-up work on them for free, y’know?”

It’s one of the coolest charitable acts I’ve ever heard of.

“I only wish I could get more artists to donate their time to do more of this work,” Thomas lamented.

Whether it is the physical manifestations of racial hatred inked on skin or the legal manifestations of racial hatred inked into prohibition, the Texans I’ve met aren’t having it. Mark my words: Texas will shock the nation with its marijuana reforms in the next five years.

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