NORM KENT - NORML VICE CHAIR

Several years ago I had the pleasure to work with Norm, who happens to be one of my personal heroes. So I was genuinely excited  when Norm agreed to allow me the chance to interview him for HIGHLIFE.

When you meet Norm he exudes confidence, expertise, and authority without even trying.  If you aren’t familiar with his significant resume, you would think that he was just a regular guy, however, he is a giant in advocacy, a giant in the legal world, and a giant in publishing.   Norm has been with NORML since the inception over 46 years ago. Norm was the President Emeritus of NORML 2013-2014 and is currently serving as Vice Chair.

When I met with Norm at his office, he effortlessly references Joni Mitchell while speaking about the cycle of life and the cycle of prohibition.  He speaks about how historically the government has promoted false narratives about  Cannabis.  Reefer madness was publicized and depicts people who use Cannabis as dangerous individuals with behaviors that are not typically and medically associated with Marijuana use.  Instead of fighting against incarceration, Norm asserts that we fight for incorporation which will allow us to be the advocates that we need to be as well as ensuring that people are not wrongly imprisoned for their fundamental rights and freedoms.   We will become the consumer advocates NORML was always meant to be for a quality product free of mold and contaminants.   With an incorporation approach, we won’t have to fight against incarceration, long term sentences, or have veterans and single moms losing their benefits.

From Norm’s perspective, we are fighting for consumer’s freedom rather than Cannabis users fighting to stay out of jail.   It is important that we stay focused on the true issues at hand.   Norm gives the analogy that when you are up to the waist in Alligators, it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp. These ominous words, emphasize that the language we use as advocates is really important, the way we view access issues is very important.  Florida’s dispensary approach  is currently set up as an oligarchy, the limit to only 7 dispensaries is unjust and unconscionable.  An example is a person with HIV that has a right to THC according to Florida’s Constitutional Amendment, not being able to get his medicine due to the fact that there is no way currently to get access to it.

The week I sat down with Norm was during the office of compassionate use (OCU) public hearings week.   Public hearings were held in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, and Tallahassee.   The accommodations were insufficient for these public hearings which left many people out in the street, especially considering that 6,496,157 Florida voters sent such a strong message by casting their ballot for the legalization of Medical Marijuana at a Constitutional level.  A staggering 71.3%, the highest percent of any state to date. The Florida Department of Health held Public hearings that were too few and too limited, but the saving grace is that there is an opportunity to post comments online for a limited time.    According to Norm, the government has to hear the voice of the people.   It is critical for advocates to post because these comments expressing outrage of the non-conformity of policies to the Florida Constitution will allow a lawyer a year from now to subpoena the emails for judicial review as direct representation for the express will of the people.    There are three separate branches of government, the executive and legislative branches should be challenged when they ignore the express will of the people.  That is how the United States Government is designed, for there to be checks and balances.

The Department of health has  6 months to adopt rules, 3 months to implement.    The state ignoring the will of the people in this matter is not legal.   7 dispensaries is not what the public wants.   People need to have reasonable access to their medicine.  Someone in a wheel chair in Key Largo being told that the closest dispensary is in Fort Myers is not reasonable access and contrary to the Florida Constitution.   In plain language, If government fails to uphold the constitutional right, then they are acting illegally.  That’s what these public hearings are all about, the public being clear about their will.   Nobody limits the number of Starbucks because caffeine it is supposed to be bad for you.  Nobody limits the amount of Hershey’s chocolate ice cream shops because it is bad for you and can make you fat.   Edibles are medibles, it is the same medicine offered in a different way.   How you consume it should be inconsequential.  The Department of Health in other states have dealt with this by putting reasonable procedures in place.  They make the packaging child-proof and medically locked. We cannot let fear narratives guide our policy.

When asked to anticipate the future, Norm is optimistic, he says people will be able to get their Cannabis, either medicinally or recreationally, from local stores that look like flower shops and art galleries and it will be accepted by the public.  “Cannabis will be treated as it should be….as medicine and not a menace, which is something I have been aspiring to for years. What was once a childhood indiscretion has become a life long achievement.”

In December 2012, the National Legal Committee of NORML awarded Norm Kent with its highest honor, the Al Horn Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement.