NORML Conference Happening in Los Angeles!

Oct. 5 - The 41st annual NORML conference is happening this week at the Omni Hotel in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles (in the same plaza as MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art and next to the historic Angels Flight cable car).

A good time is being had by all, despite the hotel's clampdown on smoking on the patios after other patrons, apparently, complained (perhaps the belligerent Republican Romney fans watching the first presidential debate in the hotel bar on the opening night; or the senior citizens in the apartment complex next door). Despite 15 years of "legalization" there is almost no where to medicate publicly, especially because many hotels in California don't allow smoking of any kind on their premises.

Although a week earlier the feds had sent more nasty letters to 71 collectives in Eagle Rock and Downtown, and have taken action against a few, the latest news put the conference on a more uplifting note when on Monday LA City Council voted 11-2 to repeal its ban on collectives.

Paul Kuhn, the new chair of NORML's board of directors, opened the proceedings by reminding the group that our "great movement" is about truth and freedom. With a White House that serves liquor at its events, a President who smoked "a lot of good marijuana," and a Speaker of the House who is addicted to nicotine, our government has no business denying us our rights because we prefer a substance that causes less harm, he said to cheers from the crowd. "How long can a government lie to and about its citizens?" he asked.

Pot has uses as a fiber, a sacrament, and a medicine, Kuhn said. It enhances awareness, lifts our mood, and boosts creativity. How does that make us dangerous? he asked. "We don't pick fights and vomit at sports events," he said, and we don't careen down the highway thinking we're going 30 mph when we're going 80, like drinkers do.

NORML, which has added younger members like the dynamic Kyndra Miller to its board, must evolve and craft the best laws we can, he said. He invited all to stop the board members at the conference and give them an earful of where the organization should be going, and scheduled a "meet the board" session for Friday.

Tom Hayden got a standing ovation when he was introduced to speak, and another one after his speech. The prominent 60s activist and former state assemblyman said he has been traveling to Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras to learn about the effects of US drug policy on those nations. An estimated 60-70,000 Mexicans have been killed since 2007, since Calderon took office, backed by the Bush administration, and "unleashed the police on the people" with advisors from the DEA and illegally exported US weapons. The government, police and army are all corrupt and "tens of thousands have been slaughtered at the behest of the US government, so it should end."

Hayden spoke of the Caravan for Peace lead by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son Juan was killed in crossfire. Hayden said it was the first time Mexicans have come over the border to protest a US policy. He said everyone he's talked to in Latin America thinks marijuana should be legalized. He noted that at the recent Summit of the Americas, the US was rebuked for its policy and Biden and Obama responded by welcoming the debate--because they said they would win it. He mentioned Uruguay and said South America is putting muscle into its dissent, and getting results, citing a New York Times article of July 31 titled, South America Sees Drug Path to Legalization.

Since Obama took office, "the DEA has been on a warpath against democratic policies," Hayden said. He commended all for working so long and hard on our issue. "We need a medical approach, not a military one."

It's been 50 years since Hayden co-drafted the Port Huron Statement and he's as eloquent, courageous and incisive as he's ever been. He spoke at a Hemp Rally at the LA Federal Building in the past, saying he was against the pending Three Strikes legislation because it was put "marijuana farmers" in prison, but this was his first NORML conference. Hayden said a "friendly leak" in a recent GQ article claims Obama will come around on the issue in his second term, but seemed skeptical.

Another 60s icon who spoke was Paul Krassner, co-founder of the Yippies! and editor of The Realist. Krassner shared a fantasy that since Obama already has the woman and labor vote, he'll pull an October Surprise and call for legalization to get the Stoner vote.

Also as sharp as ever, Krassner got the crowd rolling in the aisles. He noted that no one criticizes chocolate eaters or red wine drinkers who enjoy their substances' health benefits as well as their taste and effects. "Marijuana enhances life," he said, mentioning music, movies, eating and sensualty. "In fact, I even get high before I roll a joint, so that I can better enjoy that experience," he joked.

Krassner signed copies of the latest edition of his charming collection Pot Stories for the Soul, with a new introduction featuring his articles in High Times. Laughter being the best medicine, Krassner is as healing as Chicken Soup Made from the Golden Goose.

He was on a panel with Constance Bumgarner Gee, whose book "Higher Education: Marijuana at the Mansion" details the public relations nightmare she endured when, as the wife of the Vanderbilt University chancellor, she was narced for smoking marijuana in her bathroom to combat the horrible effects of her Meniere's disease.

Oliver Stone, who recently graced the cover of High Times and had another tremendous film "Savages" on the drug war this year, wanted to be the keynote speaker, but had a work conflict. Instead the venerable Keith Stroup, NORML's founder, will speak at Friday's luncheon. Stroup has a new autobiography due out later this year.

A smoke-free awards ceremony sponsored by High Times gave Dominic Holden of the Seattle Stranger the Hunter S. Thompson journalism award; Diane Fornbacher as female activist of the year; Orange County NORML as the Chapter of the Year; and Clint Werner, author of Marijuana:Gateway to Health, the award for advancing the cause of medical marijuana. It was very sad long-time HT editor Steve Hagar, the founder of the Cannabis Cup who first recognized the potential of the hemp movement, wasn't there to hear the accolades for his award. The other lifetime achievement award went to the highly deserving Kevin Zeese, co-founder of Common Sense for Drug Policy. Among many other accomplishments within and without the drug policy world, Zeese was campaign manager for Ralph Nader and now works with the Occupy movement.

"We have to be a part of the turning," Zeese said, in a perfect end to a (near) perfect day that would have only been enhanced with a puff or two of the plant we're fighting for.

Read more about Krassner and Hayden's speeches.