Cheri Sicard

CHERI SICARD: SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

I first met Cheri in October 2012 at a National NORML Conference in Los Angeles, California. In wanting to broaden the horizons of The Austin420 into a more health-conscious type of publication, I couldn't think of anyone better to enlist. For those who have followed the Munchies 101 column, while we've gotten to know Cheri through that perspective, let's now take the time to get to know her through another for there is so much more to her advocacy than just the culinary arts.

AUSTIN420: What was your first experience with cannabis?

CHERI SICARD: My first ever in life is actually not that memorable, I was probably a teenager just at a party and it didn't do too much for me, when I started getting seriously involved with it, I was actually in my late 30's, other than that, it was rarely, occasionally in a social situation. I started using medicinally in my late 30's, my doctor had to recommend it "off the record" because the HMO he works for wouldn't allow it, but he did anyway and it changed my life, it fixed the problem, a chronic nausea problem I was having, and then fixed other problems I didn't even know I was taking it for, like life-long gastrointestinal problems disappeared, I was on anti-depressants which I decided I didn't need them anymore. So, it really changed things in a major way!

AUSTIN420: What was it that changed your views and perspective about cannabis?

CS: I had been raised like most of us with this indoctrination of "marijuana is horrible", so I was still worried that I was doing myself harm, and I was a food writer and just a writer in general, before that. I did a number of books on government and patriotism and things like that, so I just started doing research. What I found out shocked me; everything I had been told up to that point had been a lie. So once I started looking into it, I was like a sponge, I started to read everything I could, I went to OAKSTERDAM University. In the course of six months, I went from the typical closeted smoker to an outspoken advocate - haven't looked back ever since.

AUSTIN420: What was that one moment that got you involved in the reform movement?

CS: I remember being at OAKSTERDAM and watching Dale Jones teaching and then just thinking to myself on 'how amazing she is and how brave she is, and man, I could never be that open about marijuana use, I just don't think I could do that' and without realizing it, I became that person. The more you know the truth about it, the more it pisses you off. (laughs) And you just start speaking out and doing it. It just kind of evolved and I started off very cautiously because I wasn't comfortable in being that outspoken, but the more I learned the truth about it, the more it just made me angry. I cannot do something about this because it's just so wrong and that's how it was with cannabis. Before I knew it, I was entrenched in doing all this stuff (laughs) and was like 'Wow, when did that happen?'  

AUSTIN420: What was your first inspiration behind 'The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook'?

CS: As a writer, I had other books before I got into cannabis and was a food writer and a professional recipe developer, so getting into cannabis cooking was just kind of a natural evolution of that. When I started getting into cannabis, in my late 30's, like most people, I went to the Internet, how do I learn to cook with this and there's so much bad information and so much conflicting information that I didn't know what was the real thing to do, so I started doing my own testing and my own cooking with it. I really find that a lot of the recipes I had already written for other things worked well with cannabis, that it worked better with savory foods, real foods as opposed to just cookies and brownies, not that there's anything wrong with that. It was just a natural evolution of something I already was doing, I was already developing recipes and writing recipes for clients, publication in magazines and websites and things like that. I was used to writing recipes that were very consumer-friendly, recipes that taught people how to cook and put that power in their hands, so I wanted to do that with cannabis.  

AUSTIN420: Tell me about your latest book 'Mary Jane -The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women'.

CS:I'm very excited about this title as is the publisher who actually came to me and said, 'all those books out there, are for dudes - we need one that has an appeal to women'. Seal Press Books publishes books specifically for women by women, a lot of books that were out there, while they had a lot of great information the tone of it often turned them off, so they wanted something that appealed to women instead, that addressed issues that women were interested in relation to cannabis like parenting issues and women's health issues. But we also go into the fun stuff like pop-culture, movies and TV shows that feature 'Women in Weed', and music, things like that. So it's really a general guide, a great book, you're bound to learn some new things; it's not just for women but for anybody with an open mind.

AUSTIN420: What are you hoping for women advocates to take from this book?

CS: I hope that this book inspires some new women advocates, people that were like me that say 'I could never be that person that could speak out and make a difference'. I really hope to inspire new advocates that can be comfortable with the fact that they can make a big difference and the more of us that do speak out - the more things will change about cannabis legalization, rights, and getting our prisoners out of prison, because that is really one of my main causes that I advocate for is the people that are serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses. That just haunts me. As much as we hear people saying that 'we've won the drug war' or things like that, we haven't won as long as those people are still in. With the book, I hope to inspire more people to be able to feel comfortable enough to at least get involved and say - Yes, this has been a beneficial thing for me - and that our drug laws are wrong and we need to change them. So I hope the female activists we already have get something out of it, but mostly I hope this book inspires a whole new group of women involved in cannabis.

AUSTIN420: How do you see (from your perspective) the women of today's cannabis reform movement as compared to the women who were so intrinsic in ending Alcohol Prohibition?

CS: Oh, I see a lot of parallel's there. Alcohol Prohibition was both started and ended by women and I see that happening with cannabis. It's interesting, women seem to be really a driving force more than ever, not that there aren't a lot of great male activist, there are and they kind of got this movement started, but when you look around now, a lot of the people that are really starting to make a difference, are women. Even in a lot of activism efforts that I'm involved in for prison reform, it's women that are driving that, people like Amy Povah who started the Can-Do Foundation or people like Beth Curtis of Life for Pot, there's just women that are really driving forces in almost all the activism that I've been doing. You know I hear people say women around are not represented, I don't find that to be the case at all, women are well represented and are really in the forefront of the changes that we're seeing.

AUSTIN420: When you're not cooking or writing, what are the other forms of advocacy that fill your time?

CS: I'm Vice President for the Can-Do Foundation that stands for Clemency for All Non-Violent Drug Offenders and I got into that because I was just on my own doing a lot of advocacy for the prisoners that are serving life sentences. I started getting involved in this when I was first doing research and writing Mary Jane. I went to interview Randy Lanier, who has since been released, but served 27 years of a life sentence and his website was down and he didn't even know that. So I said to Randy, I'll make you a new website and I did and along the way, I started corresponding with more people serving life sentences. I did websites and advocacy for Paul Free, Craig Cesal, and Larry Duke who was also just released last week, so that was just amazingly good news, it doesn't get any better than that for an activist like me, but we still have a number of them in there and so, that's how I started. Then I became Vice-President of the Can-Do Foundation who was already advocating for prisoners. I've been working with the NORML Women's Alliance, up until this last year I was the L.A. County Leader, but things just have gotten so busy so we turned that over to another, but I'm still very involved with them and on the Board of Directors of Orange County NORML. So that's basically my advocacy efforts, so I would say I'm a general, all-around cannabis advocate with a focus on those prisoners serving life sentences.

AUSTIN420: In closing, when it comes to the culinary arts of cooking with cannabis, where do you see its future especially now as a number of states are pushing for legalization?

CS: The sky is the limit with that, but we have to be careful as advocates that we don't have overly restrictive legislation that keeps it from happening, but as long as it's legal, anything you see with regular food we're going to see with cannabis. Personally, I've worked as a consultant for edibles companies and businesses getting into the cannabis world. I'm developing a lot of interesting and innovative new products for this edibles company I'm working with and the other company I'm working with is doing a whole health & wellness system online that incorporates cannabis as part of the health & wellness lifestyle, so that patients can use this and be able to track it in their diet and have healthy cannabis recipe's as well, so those are two things I'm personally involved in. A lot of people turn to edibles who don't want to be smoking or inhaling it. It has so many uses on many different levels for patients all the way up to recreational. There's going to be so many job and business opportunities within the cannabis industry. I think we'll see that to be more prevalent as the more consumers get into cannabis. With edibles, people tend to start with cookies and brownies, but when you really start incorporating edibles into your daily routine or weekly routine, however you use them, people are going to want to get beyond just the sweet treats and have actual foods, healthy foods that also incorporate cannabis.

AUSTIN420: I'm looking forward to the Cannabis Cooking Network.

CS: (laughs) There's definitely interests, but a whole network, that would be wonderful! ~

 

CHERI SICARD

 


Team Alexis Interview 2015

 

On Friday December 5, 2014, my assistant and I took on a venture to Rowlett, Texas to meet an extraordinary medical cannabis advocate by the name of Alexis Bortell (a 9 year old who suffers from Epilepsy). In maintaining the voice of medical cannabis patients in Texas throughout PACT, the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, I was immediately taken in and felt the responsibility to go and meet this young advocate and her family. It wasn't a typical setting for PACT as we're typically occupying one of the public hearing rooms at the Texas State Capitol, but for December's meeting we were compelled to finally host and conduct our first meeting in the Dallas area. While the goal of PACT is to encourage patient support and empowerment, we had no problem in finding it inside this little girl; don't let her age deceive you of the wisdom and strength she embodies.

Before the PACT empowerment meeting which was still an hour or so away, I had the opportunity to sit down with Alexis and her father Dean as we talked of their ordeal. "Okay, I'm going to ask you and your dad a few questions," I said, "so just say what you feel and don't be shy. So to start out, tell me what Epilepsy is."

"It's where you have seizures." She responded.

"So you're affected by seizures." I replied. "When do they happen?"

"Um, usually at night." She said.

Dean followed a bit more in-depth. "She says they're seizures and they happen at night, but it is so much more. Epilepsy is a lifestyle right. You've got the disease which is epilepsy, which is the seizures, but then you've got the medicines, the doctors, the parade of tests, which you're witnessing right now, where she has to wear the wires. It's a whole new lifestyle; the minute you're diagnosed your life ends and a new one starts. So, we've witnessed horrible seizures, we've witnessed ones that have really scared her, which are the ones that hurt me."

In response to my question of how cannabis has helped, Dean stated, "We haven't started medicating yet, we can't. We have the doctor's recommendation, we've done everything from Colorado, she has a Red Card in Colorado, but because of us being so in the front in Texas, we can't medicate because of fear of CPS and law enforcement. So, she is literally stuck in a box where her life is on the line, that's why she's undergoing these tests right now to make sure she's not at risks for sudden unexplained death by epilepsy. They're testing her to make sure it's safe for her to continue."

"Alexis," I asked, "why the need for whole plant medicine versus CBD only?"

"Um, to help everyone instead of a certain amount of people." She stated.

"It's been strange." Dean stated. "We've talked to lots of doctors and if you look through her medical records, which I'll let you because I want you to see them, they have gone back and forth between two conditions, where they say she's got focal epilepsy, which is the type of epilepsy that affects just a certain part of the brain; in her case, the left temporal lobe. But she exhibits "specific times of the day" epilepsy which would point to a different type of epilepsy. They don't usually co-exist and it's made her very susceptible to even the slightest side-effect of pharmaceuticals and even the most benign pharmaceuticals have had catastrophic effects on her epilepsy. We've gone through three neurologists, specifically the pediatric neurologists. We're at Cook's in Ft. Worth now, and so they're still trying to categorize her, they can't and that's why the doctors really think that cannabis with its side-effect profile (which is nothing really) is the right medicine; they all said the same thing."

While Alexis has appeared on the TV news, spoken in front of 2000 people at 2014's DFW NORML's Medical Marijuana March, and in-person with a few state representatives, I had to remind myself that this little girl was very much that, a little girl whose hobbies included playing with her jump-rope, hula-hoop, and playing Mind-Craft. I continued about the interview in asking Alexis and Dean the question, "How does it feel speaking in front of all these people and on the TV news?

"Sometimes I get nervous," She replied, "but it's actually kinda fun!"

"When it first happened," stated Dean, "everyone goes through that first phase of why us, what happened, what did we do wrong? But seeing her in front of the crowds, getting the letters from all these people that are thanking her for speaking on their behalf, I think God put her here for a reason and so for me, it's been more of a witness experience in watching her helping other people; I couldn't ask for more of my daughter. It's an honor to be her dad."

 

In getting to know the Bortell family, it was quite clear to see the number of sacrifices they have had to make, not only in the lives of their daughters Alexis and Avery, but within themselves as a mother and father. "As a parent," I asked, "how has this whole experience made you feel?"

"Well, there are two parts of it." Dean replied. "The epilepsy has really made me cherish the time I have with her, when she's healthy and she's not seizing and not systematic, so I think it's made me a better parent because I appreciate both children more, the health of Avery, and the healthy streaks that Alexis goes through when they have days or even weeks without seizures, more days than weeks. But it's been really frustrating, as a veteran, to see the open discrimination in the medical system. You know, I've served my country which was the USA, it wasn't a zip code. But because we live in Rockwall, Texas, she can't get a medicine that "board certified" physicians (two of them, not one of them) have said, without question, will help her and she can't get access to it because she's in the wrong zip code. That is not why I wore the flag of this great nation, that's not why I served and so, it makes me angry."

"What number of prescription medications has she had to endure?" I asked.

"Between 5 and 10." Dean stated. "The first was Carbamazepine which is like a sprinkle; she don't like taking her vitamins much less pills, right. At that time, you were what? Seven. When you were diagnosed? So you break this capsule open, put it in applesauce, and she takes the applesauce. Her seizures moved from nighttime to daytime then, and so they got worse. They then mixed it with several other drugs and that didn't work. They pulled her off those drugs and then they prescribed a drug called Carbatrol and that didn't work, it just made you sleepy, right? And you still had seizures. We ended up on this drug called Depakote which made her violent. Remember the days when you got really mean? How did Depakote make you feel?" Dean asked.

"Um, kind of drowsy, angry..." Alexis replied.

"She really did turn into a different person, but the real long seizures went away," exclaimed Dean, "we had on one hand a drug that finally started to work on the epilepsy but had so many side-effects, it wasn't safe, we couldn't leave her with her sister and so, they ruled it a failure and we ended up on something called Felbatol. That was the end of the line. That's what led us to starting over and where we are now, at Cooks with Dr. Perry; he's tapered her off all medicines because they think that the side-effects of the pharmaceuticals are doing more damage than good, and so, she's currently got rescue medicines only, when two doctors, as I said "board certified", have said that cannabis would be a totally safe and acceptable treatment."

"In speaking with State Representatives," I asked, "how has the responses been?"

"Senator Bob Doole was on board with medical cannabis and he understood," Stated Dean, "he has a family history in the research area and so he was on board. We've met several who are on board; Alexis has changed some minds. One in particular, we've had some trouble with, and I say trouble, but he just disagrees with us, Republican Scott Turner, whose running for Speaker of the House as you know. Probably what makes this story explosive with people that follow Alexis is the reason he disagrees, a couple them he listed were moral and ethical reasons and I don't think that sat well with people that follow Alexis' story. I understand that he as a person is disagreeing, but he has to remember and I really hope he remembers, that he represents his constituents. It's not about what he personally feels and so I'm hoping that people convince him and he continues to educate himself and evolve on the subject."

"And Alexis, do you have any pets?" I asked.

"Yes. I have 5 chickens and 1 dog." She replied.

"Wow! That's a full house!" I responded as Alexis giggled. "Is there anything that you would like to say to those who are following your story?"

"Thank you for your support!"

"I think when we go into session, they'll see her coming, if they're not seeing her coming already!" Dean stated. "I think your testimony is going to be important; she may be the youngest ever to do it!"

"Well then," I replied, "we'll have to check and make sure the records are correct!"

(Dean smiles and giggles)

Following the interview, we went about getting ready for the PACT Empowerment Meeting as people began to show. We talked a good meeting and while we were expecting 3 families, we actually had 6 families altogether, which in turn, led to some commonalities to be discovered. We headed back to Austin that evening (my assistant and I), but no way was this venture over as we joined the Bortell's the following Tuesday to lobby at the State Capitol. If you are not aware of the story of Alexis, you will be; she's a courageous spirit and if she doesn't capture your heart, then you're clearly not listening! ~

 

ALEXIS BORTELL OF TEAM ALEXIS

 


Marc Emery 2015

Marc Emery - The Prince of Pot Is Home!

 

Since being involved in the cannabis reform movement, I have come to know and meet many iconic figureheads over the last few years; individuals who have created and inspired mass momentum for the cannabis reform movement on a global scale. In early December, it was quite an honor to strike a conversation with one of these iconic figureheads, the "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery! After his release from a 4 1/2 year U.S. federal prison sentence in early August, Marc Emery has finally returned and is in the comfort of his home in Vancouver, British Columbia!

AUSTIN420: How does it feel to be home?

MARC: It feels strange enough just like it used to. I'm in a new apartment and the store is exactly the way it was just slightly advanced, I am really enjoying it. I hardly recall being in prison even though I was in for 4 ½ years. It's like a faded memory or some old TV series I watched. I wasn't really there, I was just sort of observing it. I guess it was because nothing traumatic happened to me or scarred me, so the experience for me was not a negative one.Jodie visited me on 81 occasions out of I believe 165 days and then she spent that much time in travel, so that was like 11 months of her life, visiting me or traveling to visit me.So that was pretty considerate. (voice in the back ground) Jodie says hi!

AUSTIN420: Tell her I said Hello. Were you treated well while going through this experience?

MARC: The inmates treated me fine. The guards were more or less just professional. With some of the TV shows I had done in America on the Discovery Channel and on National Geographic airing several times over the time of my incarceration, a lot of the inmates got to see me in a public professional setting which was really helpful. A lot of people knew me before I even got there in the prison system, some people had even ordered seeds from me, others knew about Cannabis Culture, our various television shows, so I was always treated very well, plus I kept very busy. I read a book every 10 days. I had 25 magazine subscriptions. I had a daily subscription to The New York Times, I did a New York Times Sunday crossword everyday and I learned to play the bass guitar and got into a rock and roll band with practice every day; we had 14 concerts and about 140 songs. We did that for about 3 years which was incredibly beneficial.

AUSTIN420: Wow that's amazing. So it definitely kept your mind busy for sure.

MARC: Yeah, I did not age that much, I essentially look the same as I did when I went in. I have less gray hair now then I had when I went in. Actually I do not know how that is even possible. In prison for me there was not much stress where there's a lot of stress in the real world. I had to make goals and so all the stress went onto Jodie’s shoulders, so she had a more difficult time than I did through the whole experience. Most of her money was going to pay to visit me, my commissary account, paying for phone calls, emails, and stuff like that. She spent 4 ½ years of her life essentially paying bills on my behalf and the previous 5 years before that, waiting for me to be extradited, so our entire 10 years together has been under a really lot of pressure. When she first got involved with me in April 2004, I went to jail for 3 months just for passing a joint, so she has had to deal with a lot with me going to jail as well as a lot of adversity based around that kind of tension and anxiety.

AUSTIN420: How were you able to maintain such a close connection with your family?

MARC: Jodie and I have always been tremendously close. I have known her since she was 16, got involved with her when she was 19. She is about to turn 30 now. We have been married for 9 years, so we are intentionally close and we're enjoying our relationship more now than ever before. It's the first time in 30 years I am not trying to go to jail or facing the conditions of incarceration or being in jail. I have been going to jail for civil disobedience since 1988 and that's a tremendously long time, 26 years. She has seen me get arrested many times and it has been very traumatic for her, so now we are enjoying this period where I'm not facing arrest. I have no restrictions but everyone in the world wants to give me a life-time achievement award. I just received 3 in Europe (in Spain, Vienna, & in the Netherlands). It's a really nice period because I'm not facing incarceration. I don't have any stress about it. I don't have much money, so I've been working hard to increase the sales of the store so I can generate a lively-hood. We've added the seed desk, we've added a lot of modern things to make our building more attractive because we have a very competitive environment in Vancouver. In the last 6 years we have had 55 Compassion Clubs open up in the city, many lounges, and lots of pipe and bong shops. There are now 100's of seed stores. There is just a lot of marijuana activity because it is a very pot friendly environment, so it's encouraging for people to compete, so that makes it challenging.

AUSTIN420: What effect do you believe your time away has had on the Legalization Movement in both the U.S. and Canada?

MARC: I served as a good figure head in my incarceration for the movement, but all my really great work was done in the period for which I was put in Jail. For example, we raised a lot of money, we gave 5 million dollars away from 1995 to 2008 for the legalization of cannabis in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. I was giving money to politicians, various activists groups, and rally's. You know there was so much activity going on with that money and that's where I was making an impact, but you do not often see the results until years and years later. So the acknowledgments I am getting now, really doesn't reflect the activity I did in prison, it actually reflects what my wife Jodie did with the work, that was really good especially in the Washington initiative where she campaigned with the guy who wrote it, which was my prosecutor, John McKay. The Mayor of Vancouver who had me arrested me four times and said he would drive me out of town is now a guy advocating legalization and is actually a friend of mine, which is so full of irony. A lot of good things happen, but some time you have to take the blows and also look down the road towards where we are going and we're definitely moving in a direction of tremendous success right now. We know we are going to be successful if we get Texas of all places to legalize. I'm pretty sure it will be legalized at the federal level before it gets legalized in Texas, but you know, it's even coming to Texas because I'm sure the poll numbers for legalization are improving there too.

AUSTIN420: They definitely are.

MARC: We're enjoying this really nice intellectual wave around the world, where almost anybody who is a knowledgeable politician is advocating legalization or some form of decriminalization or certainly some modernizing of the Drug War and Rand Paul has been very helpful in that regard because he's a Republican that clearly wants to reduce the impact of the Drug War and we got a lot of Democratic Activists who know how popular legalization initiatives are with the young people and in 2016, our vote is going to be very pivotal in the Presidential election and it's going to be very pivotal in Canada's National Election next year; my wife is seeking to be a candidate for the Liberal party of Canada and we're going to be campaigning in 30 cities next September and October to get our vote out for that particular party. So it's quite possible that Canada will have legal marijuana a year from today. As well as earning a living, my primary concern now is making sure Canadians get out to vote and vote for that party; we'll see what happens.

AUSTIN420: I've been thinking about your story and everything you and Jodie had to go through, how has this experience inspired you now?

MARC: The experience inspired me in that I proved to myself I could get through it because prison is a day to day thing, right. If you start to think about the future or reflecting on the past or start thinking about things you miss. People ask, “Do you miss things? Do you miss Marijuana?" I did not miss anything. I looked forward to visits with my wife, but other than that I did not miss anything. There weren't foods I craved. I did not really think about accessing things in the real world, I was content with what I had and knew that if I kept busy, the time would go by quickly and I would be home in that time. And it's remarkable how quickly 4 ½ years goes man, life is short; even in prison the time goes by quickly.How are you doing by the way? I hear you have a story.

AUSTIN420: I am doing pretty good. I have Muscular Dystrophy and just continuing to push the efforts here in Texas; I just recently just got done speaking at the Baker Institute at Rice University here in Texas, and so we're having a new medical panel starting to take off; it has been a very exciting time. In closing,what do you want to say to the people out there?

MARC: My sympathies go out to the people in the heartland because in jail I got 7 ½ thousand letters and 6 ½ thousand were from Americans. I do not even count one fellow who sent me, I am not kidding you, a letter every day I was in prison as well as reproductions, reprints, magazine articles, cartoons; man the guy sent me all sort of cool stuffThat's the kind of people that exist in America. Determined people. I didn't get letters from the big cities as much. I got a lot of letters from Texas, people saying how tough Texas cops were, how long the sentences were. Or Louisiana, where people get sentenced to longer time than anybody else in America and in more frequent numbers too. I would get lots of letters from those people because they knew what it was like to get their ass kicked by cops, by bad drug laws. Most of America has to suffer through quite a lot of oppression and I enjoyed reading letters from those people and sending notes back encouraging them to keep the faith.Certainlythis is no time for people to be giving up, getting jaded, cynical or depressed about the future because the future is going to look great for us, but that being said, marijuana won't legalize itself, so people still have to keep up all the energy we're putting up. Guys like you, making appearances, making people feel the pain, feel the need, feel the energy for change and why it has to happen; determined people who just simply won't be turned around are who are going to change the world in our movement. Guys like you and everyone else in NORML and all the Texas people just got to keep plugging away and never let them think that it won't happen because it's going to happen.

AUSTIN420: That is inspiring man, you got me all charged up here. ~

 

 

MARC & JODIE EMERY

 

 


The Voice That Is Ann Lee

THE VOICE THAT IS ANN LEE!

If you have heard of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California, then you have heard of Richard Lee, who was one of the first cannabis icons I had the opportunity to interview back in early 2011; I admired and became inspired by his strong sense of will and determination. As the saying goes in that 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree', I recently had the opportunity of interviewing his mother, the uncompromising and highly spirited, Ann Lee! In not only getting to meet the parents of Richard Lee, but in getting to work with them here in Texas, it has been an absolute honor and rewarding experience. In regard to Ann Lee herself, I can't personally think of a stronger or better candidate when it comes to representing the Texas Women in this Movement; check out this interview and you'll see why she is so loved by the people in this movement, by the people of the state!

AUSTIN420:  What were your views on cannabis, at first, and what was it that changed your views?

ANN LEE: The views on cannabis was that I didn't have too many views on it because I thought it was horrible stuff. I did not question the illogic of prohibiting it. Even if marijuana was a terrible thing, in prohibiting it, just like with alcohol, you make it available to kids. I wasn't smart enough to think that way, but when Richard, in 1990, looked at us and said marijuana was good for him for his spasticity... that opened our eyes! The rest is history because he was a young man who always marched to a different drum, but he would not try to lie his way out of a problem, so he was then and is now, was then at 28 and is now at 52, a man with integrity, so we had to look at this issue differently and that's what happened.

AUSTIN420:  When and how did RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition) come together?

AL: Back in 1990, we joined a group here in Houston called Drug Policy Forum of Texas and that had the same issue and we just went along with that and in 2010, I went out to help with Prop 19 and that's when I made the statement to the Oakland Tribune that, 'the drug war was so bad it was the most racist thing we've done since Jim Crowe'. And it wasn't too long after that Michelle Alexander's great book, The New Jim Crowe, came out, documenting it. She made such a good case to show how every President is guilty. But it was two years ago when we were in California at the NORML National Conference and I know exactly when it was because that was Richard's 50th birthday, October of 2012, he was born in '62, and we were there with Richard and I was asked to substitute on a panel and of the 5 that were on the panel, 3 of us were Republicans! So we just sort of realized that Republicans should not stand for prohibition, and so Richard said I came down the next morning to the hotel with RAMP! (laughs) And that is how and where RAMP was born. I think that so many things that we're trying to do is right, is God inspired, and from that, it was sort of a thought and we talked about it, people thought it was a good idea. In January of this year, some YR's, Young Republicans, got involved in the issue and they gave it an energy and an expertise that we did not have, and so, RAMP did pretty well at the Republican State Convention in Fort Worth in June of this year.

AUSTIN420:  I was going to ask you how that went and how the reception was to your views?

AL: It was amazing! We had a lot of support. I had a lot of people who would come up and say something to me about, you know, I agree with you, I think it's good, and that sort of thing, but it became an acceptable topic of discussion, I would say! That was in June of this year and RAMP is now doing somewhat better; we have inquiries from across the country, there are people who are interested in RAMP, quite a few different places.

AUSTIN420:  What would be the #1 thing you could suggest to bridge the divide on this issue when speaking to those Republicans against prohibition?

AL: The number one issue I think is supposedly Republicans have always stood for law enforcement, correct? And I think, through the years, we've sort of believed that you support law enforcements by supporting the Drug War, and I think the big thing we need to find a way to show all people, Republicans in particular, is that the Drug War is not the way to support law and order. The Drug War has given us a situation; there is no reason why young blacks should trust a cop, at least to what's going in Ferguson I believe. It's led to many, many things. We need to, in some way, dispel the idea that the Drug War is good for law enforcement and I think that's the big thing that we have to do, and I have to find a way to make people see that.

AUSTIN420:  Tell me about your views concerning medical cannabis as a pro-life issue?

AL: Oh! Thank you! Thank you! What do you mean by being pro-life? Is pro-life stopping an abortion? What good does it do to stop an abortion if later on that baby child needs a medicine for their well-being and they can't get it? If that medicine is marijuana. It's hard to say that you are pro-life and be anti-medical marijuana, I think is the simplest way to put this for the pro-life issue and that's an issue that I need to try to find a way to get to the people who are pro-life. At least ask them to think about it, to tell me what do you mean by being pro-life?

AUSTIN420:  With the changing times currently in Texas, how do you feel about Texas in this fight right now?

AL: How do I feel about Texas and our chances of having any decent legislation? Well I think we have a better chance this year than ever. Of course MPP (Marijuana Policy Project) is coming in with their lobbyist, Heather Fazio, which I think is a great asset to this cause. Do you know Joy Strickland from Dallas? She's put together this group to gather all the people who support medical marijuana.

AUSTIN420: In closing, what has been your favorite aspects in being involved in this movement?

AL: The people that I have met like you; with the sacrifices that you have to make just to get by, and the fact that marijuana can help you, we need to make it possible for you to use it legally, that's our whole purpose here! I have met people who are willing to stand up and be counted for what they believe in. There's a young man, here in Houston, that I met because I was wearing a medical marijuana pin, which I have worn since 1996, 97; I wear it all the time! He didn't know what to make of this white-haired, older woman wearing a marijuana pin. His name is John Baucum; he's very involved with the young Republicans and with RAMP, he's a big supporter of RAMP and we've become good friends. And I think it's incredible, this 80 year old, senior-citizen no less, has a good friend with this young 30 year old young man, and that to me, has been the beautiful thing that I have personally gotten out of it, it's in meeting the people that share my views and we cover all the different aspects of the political spectrum too. ~

 Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition


Cheyanne A True Lady of the Leaf

CHEYANNE WELDON: A TRUE LADY OF THE LEAF!

AUSTIN420: How do you perceive the influence of so many high powered women in the Cannabis Law Reform movement when it comes to affecting the attitudes of our lawmakers in this upcoming 2015 Legislative Session?

CHEYANNE WELDON: I guess I never think of us as “high powered” (was that your intentional pun or mine?), but I do believe an increase in support from women sends a message to lawmakers, just as it did when alcohol was prohibited and when it was later repealed. Regardless of the variations in family lifestyles, women are traditionally thought of as the caregivers, nurturers, the ones “looking out for the children,” and truly, we are now again, through supporting a legal market and a plant that is not contraband. I do believe though, an increase in any demographic where support was previously lacking, is noteworthy and of great benefit, gender just happens to be a larger percentage of the population than most other categories in polls.

AUSTIN420: How can the younger voters affect the upcoming election considering the low voter turnout of an off season election?

 CW: Talking about the election, the voter turnout, the candidates, seriously talking about it with anyone that will listen and for as long as they will listen. Ask questions, do research, volunteer, meet your Senator and Representative’s staff and try to meet the members themselves, follow their social media, and make sure to learn the rules of the game in our state and educate others about what they learn. Wanting change is not enough, you have to be willing to work for the change within the parameters of the laws here, not the laws of other states where we see headlines. There are thousands of bills filed each session, but the Texas Legislature’s website is easy to navigate and provides a wealth of information on our elected officials, history of bills including videos of hearings, glossary of terms, detailed steps on how bills become law, and pre-defined searches such as “bills filed today.” Anyone of any age scrolling through the various proposed laws will surely find more than one issue that they are interested in, and being knowledgeable about and interested in more than one topic will help anyone understand how hard we need to work to make our issue a priority, and give you something else to talk to your legislator about. The site even provides House and Senate links to help teach kids, think School House Rock and “I’m Just a Bill.

AUSTIN420: What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to the cannabis reform movement?

 CW: Having only been involved 5 years, the greatest contribution I can think of is what I have done for myself and those who interact with me by “becoming NORML". Changing my habits as a social drinker and walking away from all the turmoil that came with that for me over the past 20 years, by learning and continuing to learn how I can help others, and building a real community of supportive friends for the first time in my 40+ years. In having this kind of support while being in a better state of mind, I have been able to contribute more to the movement. Really it’s more what the cannabis reform movement has done for me since I stumbled into it in late 2008, and it’s only through the knowledge and support I’ve been given from so many others that I have anything at all to contribute.

 AUSTIN420: What do you feel are the lessons we should take into next session?

 CW: We learned a lot about procedures as well as relationship building in the 2013 session. We now have more allies and advisors going into this session and understand more about how our laws are changed. We’re way ahead of the game this time. We just can’t expect our issue to be as important to everyone. We must remember to always educate, no matter how opposed the person is. It simply means they need more information, which we have and should choose the best and most pertinent evidence to first address concerns of others. We must hear the concerns, so that we address and get that out of the way, THEN we can explain the many benefits of the change we want.

 AUSTIN420: What are your views as a woman, mother, and grandmother on Medical Cannabis use for epileptic seizures and other medical conditions affecting children?

 CW: Parents and caregivers are the best experts for understanding how to look out for the child’s best interests. Our current laws are non-sensical in that doctors legally recommend prescriptions for children with harmful (sometimes fatal) side effects, while they and parents are restricted from exploring avenues of benefits from a plant without the risk of those side effects. I believe that all adults and children should have rights over their own bodies and certainly the final word on how to care for those bodies.

 AUSTIN420: As Executive Director of Texas NORML, what is your perception of the public’s view regarding Cannabis going into the 2015 Legislative Session?

 CW: I think the general public, even most non-consumers, believe it is time for a change in how we allocate our time, funds, and resources. In who we lock up, or at least interfere with their future education and employment choices. Many of those who are actually opposed understand that legalization is inevitable in our future. Remember we have only been arresting for cannabis in Texas for ONE century…. this “era” is only known to our generation and a couple before us, this too shall pass. ~

 

CHEYANNE WELDON

2014 TEXAS NORML MARCH & RALLY - STATE CAPITOL