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Back To NORML: Celebrating 35 Years Of Activism In The Bay State

No other consumable has grassroots advocacy like that which has been ending criminal prohibition. It is important we help it thrive.

Marijuana was criminally prohibited in 2007, so when I heard that two of my scheduled speakers had just gotten busted by the BPD, I knew I would be able to find them at the booking tent. It was minutes before the Boston Freedom Rally was due to start.

When you make it your business to fuck with everyone, eventually you fuck with the wrong people.

The folks that the Boston cop said were “too old to be smoking marijuana” were NORML founder Keith Stroup, and Rick Cusick, the publisher of High Times magazine, both of whom had made it their life’s work to legalize weed. They chose to take their case to what became the last jury trial for simple possession in Massachusetts. Taking the stand to testify in his own defense, Stroup said he could not confirm the roach in the evidence baggie was the same one he and Cusick were smoking on the Common that day, but yes, he was smoking marijuana on the Common.

The guilty verdict was to be expected; the defense team was hoping for a jury nullification of the charges. The trial was in 2008, and just a few months later, voters decriminalized marijuana. Automatic pardons and expungements have only entered the cannabis reform lexicon in the past few years, and were not included in the voter initiative. Stroup and Cusick carried their conviction (time served, and no “supervised parole” despite the DA’s request) up until March 2024, when Gov. Maura Healey issued a blanket pardon for those who had been convicted of possession.

The change has been dramatic and deep. Legalization has brought forth new concerns—equity, licensing, labor relations, and consumer apathy, to name a few. There are more consumers than ever, and most of them are politically indifferent. They do not care about what made their legal purchase possible, or what has been happening in policy. It is a different population, and those who are just turning 21 cannot recall when smoking a joint could ruin your life through criminal conviction.

Not that we should be bringing any of the horror back—I am not some bitter Gen Xer who resents student loan forgiveness because I had to pay, but we need to recognize the motivations for becoming involved in cannabis consumer advocacy are not what they were under prohibition.

Pictured: The author speaks at the 2023 Boston Freedom Rally

MassCann no longer sees panicked newcomers who had a bad encounter with police showing up to meetings, looking for sympathy and advice. Yet MassCann stands apart from many other cannabis activist groups by continuing to do valuable work post-legalization. After a four-year hiatus prompted by a couple rogue MAGA/Proud Boys board members who were since expelled, MassCann will again be operating under the NORML banner. MassCann has the opportunity to set the example of a volunteer consumer advocacy group under cannabis legalization. This is the legacy of prohibition—no other consumable has grassroots advocacy like that which has been ending criminal prohibition. It is important we help it thrive.

On May 3, NORML and MassCann will be coming together to celebrate 35 years of activism in the Bay State. This is your chance to smoke a joint with the freshly-pardoned Keith Stroup, to talk social equity with former CCC Commissioner and Parabola Center founder Shaleen Title, and to reminisce about pre-legalization escapades with MassCann’s founding president, Bill Downing. There will be a silent auction of rare collectibles and functional items, along with food and beverages and gift bags. MassCann will be presented with a citation from Gov. Healey in recognition of the good work it has done to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts.Tickets are $60 with promo code MEMBER24. After 7 pm admission is $25 (full opportunity to bid on auction items and buy into the MassCann 50/50 raffle, no gift bag or food) with promo code AFTER7.

Back to NORML @ The Summit Lounge, Worcester, 5 pm Friday, May 3. Tickets available at Eventbrite