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What’s Next for Legal Weed? Equal Rights!

Russ Belville

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In addition to running 420RADIO hosting The Russ Belville Show and writing this and other columns, I am the Executive Director of NORML’s Portland Chapter. One of the predictable questions from people here in legal Potland (it’s not a typo) now that Oregon has the best marijuana legalization in the world is: “NORML? It’s legal now, what do we need NORML for?”

The simple answer is that now that marijuana is legal, we need NORML more than ever.

I’ve watched two states legalize and was a participant in legalizing Oregon, and I’ve learned that passing marijuana legalization is only the beginning of the process. There are still rules and regulations to be written, and every other facet of the marijuana market comes to the statehouse ready to negotiate legalization to fit their agendas—growers, testing labs and retailers all have plenty of money and strong lobbyists working for them.

NORML is the voice of the marijuana consumer. Indeed, NORML was founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup, following his stint working with legendary consumer advocate Ralph Nader. NORML has been and shall remain the group that advocates for the marijuana consumer, whether he or she consumes for medical, religious or recreational reasons.

In addition to fighting for the basics any consumer wants in a retail marketplace—including fair prices, good customer service, advanced selection and community reinvestment—our specific goals within Portland NORML focus on fair treatment for cannabis consumers. Or as we call it, “From Legalization to Equalization.”

Equalization means we are treated with the same rights and responsibilities as beer drinkers and cigar smokers. This manifests in six key areas:

Employment: Now that marijuana is legal, a workplace piss test only proves that you consumed a legal product sometime in the past. Beer drinkers and cigar smokers can enjoy their products every night and never fear a surprise test at work the next morning will cost them their careers. Employers must adopt NORML’s Model Workplace Policy for Cannabis, and consumers should direct their business away from those employers that discriminate against us (especially if that piss-testing company seeks to do business directly in the cannabis industry).

Health Care: Cannabis consumers in legal states still face health care discrimination in the form of denial of organ transplants, denial of opiate pain medications and misdiagnosis of substance abuse disorders.

Parenting: Cannabis consumers in legal states can still lose custody or have their custody arrangements altered when one parent accuses the other parent of child neglect or endangerment due to a parent’s now-legal use of cannabis.

Self-Defense: Federally-licensed firearms dealers are prohibited by the 1968 Gun Control Act from selling firearms and ammunition to “known abusers of controlled substances,” effectively nullifying the Second Amendment rights of cannabis users in legal states because it’s considered a controlled substance by the feds.

Public Assembly: Beer drinkers and cigar smokers have numerous public houses where they may gather to enjoy their legal choice of adult substance with other adults in a social setting. But cannabis consumers in legal states are prohibited from all public use of marijuana, even the adults-only locales where beer and cigars may be consumed.

Travel: In Oregon, I am unable to vacation in about 53 percent of the state, because it is a National Forest, a National Park or Tribal Land where possession of marijuana still labels me a criminal. The same scenario exists in Washington, Colorado and especially Alaska, where many locations are only accessible by boats or planes that fall under federal transportation jurisdiction.

And, of course, there are still 46 states where we legal cannabis consumers cannot travel to, but beer drinkers and cigar smokers can use their substance almost everywhere they go (even Utah).

When legalization happens, that’s when NORML’s real work begins. My job isn’t finished until marijuana’s no longer tested for by employers, marijuana doesn’t threaten health care and family, and we have our full rights to self-defense, public assembly and travel.

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