Article by Rachel Mitchell | Photography by Matt Tennyson | Owl Staff

The name Eminem isn’t just a popular rap artist — it’s also the name of a particular strain of marijuana offered at Ballpark Dispensary in Colorado. In addition to Eminem, other strains of marijuana, such as Glass Slipper, Sour Diesel, Lemon G13 Haze, and Strawberry Trainwreck are used for a variety of medicinal purposes.

A new culture of awareness is coming forth to try and change the negative stereotype that has stigmatized a legitimate discussion of this plant for decades. Playing a large role in this culture is The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (aka. NORML).

In October 2013, Judy Pentz, executive director of Maryland NORML, set up a simple Facebook event to call like-minded individuals together and discuss the potential of marijuana law reform. Approximately 18 people came together and the Harford County chapter of NORML had begun.

NORML is comprised of different chapters across the country that facilitate the mission statement by working at the state and local levels. The organization, along with its members and affiliates, seek a change in the legislation regarding marijuana prohibition.

Maryland NORML is its own individual, non-profit corporation and a member of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland. This team effort combines capable legal and political minds of the Coalition with the more grassroots approach of NORML.

The Harford County NORML chapter is still young, but so far, they have held monthly meetings, several of which have included guest speakers such as Leigh Maddox of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition).

In addition to their own meetings, the Harford County NORML chapter can also be found with information tables at local festivals and flea markets. Fundraisers such as restaurant events and concerts are held to raise funds for renting meeting rooms, publishing literature, and paying fees to participate in county events.

One of the biggest roles of NORML is the spreading of accurate information to combat the fear propaganda of the last 40 years.

Eric Suarez-Murias, the assistant chapter leader of Harford County’s NORML, says he spreads information every day particularly via the sharing of research and stories over social networking.

Getting accurate information regarding the safety and benefits of marijuana is crucial to obtaining significant legislative reform. Marijuana, also called cannabis, refers to Cannabis sativa, a plant that can be grown all around the world with a plethora of uses including many known medicinal effects. More than 600 cannabis medicines had been documented before 1937.

In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act was introduced giving the government authority to classify dangerous substances based on their “potential for abuse and medical applications” into different classes or Schedules.

This act put a long-trusted medicine, the only substance directly linked to zero overdoses, in the most egregious category: Schedule I.

In addition to the fact the government made marijuana — a multipurpose, inexpensive, safe, natural medicine illegal — putting it in Schedule I also means that getting caught with marijuana will carry the harshest penalties.

According to the federal government, marijuana deserves to be in the same category as heroin, LSD, and peyote. Legally speaking, cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone are “less dangerous and less susceptible to abuse” than marijuana.

More than 17 states have some form of medicinal marijuana with more state’s legislatures tackling the issue every year. Pentz and many others agree that the first step in bringing marijuana laws up to date with society is to remove Marijuana from Schedule I. Individual state progress such decriminalization, medical use, and even legalization will continue to be hindered as long as the federal government insists on classifying marijuana as Schedule I.

With several years of legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington, many states are now looking to see how changes have affected the people in these recently legalized states. HCC alum Jennifer Lewis, now living in Colorado, provided some insight with regards to life in a legal state.

Lewis moved to Colorado for a summer job at a wilderness camp and simply fell in love with the environment. Although she did not live in Colorado before legalization, she says, “The subject of marijuana is very casual.” Most of the propaganda ads she sees are pro-marijuana — such as dispensary promotions. “Multiple times I’ve seen propaganda relating to Colorado’s elevation, saying things like ‘Getting this high would be illegal in most states.’”

“This act put a long-trusted medicine, the only substance directly linked to zero overdoses, in the most egregious category: Schedule I.”

After moving to Colorado, Lewis began working for a dispensary that operates as both a medical and recreational facility. Different laws within the state govern medical and recreational use and procurement of marijuana.

Lewis describes the job as “a very mellow and happy environment. I’ve learned countless information about the state laws, growing, testing, and the health benefits of different strains.” She adds, “It’s interesting experiencing both the medical and recreational aspects of the industry, because they operate so differently yet the aim is the same.”

Although a Maryland dispensary may not be enough to bring back Lewis, “depending on where working in the industry takes me, it’s very possible I could come back to the east coast to aid in its establishment.”

Many people like Lewis have found new homes in states that have a marijuana industry. The marijuana industry is providing a rewarding and lucrative career for many people. Colleges have begun offering classes in different marijuana subjects and even a specialized institute is giving people all the knowledge they need to find work in the burgeoning marijuana industry.

What could this mean for Maryland? The most obvious includes the jobs and revenue that come with the opening of any new industry. Perhaps more importantly to our community is that the Maryland Police could focus on the heroin epidemic that has rattled Harford County for years.

Simply seeking to end the arrests for minor marijuana possession charges can have a transformative effect on the economy. As Pentz states, “These people are not criminals and need to be enabled to lead productive lives. It not only affects the person who was charged, but also their families.”

Many able-bodied individuals have been removed from the workforce due to a minor possession charge that makes obtaining gainful employment difficult.

Pentz’s voice is not an isolated one. There has been a push on the matter of legalization of marijuana in Maryland. In early 2015, The Marijuana Control Act of 2015, SB531 and HB911, was introduced to the Maryland government. This legislation, whether successful or not, indicates that Maryland, along with much of the nation, is on the path to the legalization of marijuana.

In preparation for the hearings, Pentz and NORML organized people to attend the Marijuana Policy Coalition’s Lobby Night in Annapolis where citizens from all over the state speak in person with their representatives. They also produced a video and held a training seminar in lobbying.

“We have mobilized the public to attend hearings and also trained those who want to testify before the committees. It is our goal to grow our movement and numbers so that the public forces Annapolis to affect change.”

On February 24, 2015, a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on HB911 was held. Former Harford Community College student, Rashad Kimble, was in attendance.

Although he had never heard of NORML before this hearing, he gained a respect for their efforts and found it to be an “enthralling experience where he got to hear from passionate and educated individuals.”

Kimble enjoyed witnessing the testimony and its role in the government process and was surprised to find that atmosphere to be pleasant with both sides being relatively courteous. At the time of the hearing, all but one of the representatives for Harford County were against the Marijuana Control Act of 2015.

It is quite possible that these bills died not long after the hearing. The growing public support is not mirrored in local government just yet. As Pentz stated after the February hearing, “Many on that committee are in opposition to legalization. Some of that committee even left the room, having made up their minds, without even listening to testimony.”

This hearing made it clear that marijuana reform will remain a hot topic as the government continues to find its balance between protecting the public and ensuring individual rights.

It is important to take away from this that it is the people who participate who have the power. The more we educate ourselves and get involved, either socially or politically, the better chance we have of making our mark on the legal precedent.

For the last five decades we have seen what our society looks like under complete marijuana criminalization — thousands of arrests and millions of dollars spent. Education, awareness, and action on Marijuana Law reform has the power to rebuild what the Drug War has destroyed: equality, justice, and faith in government policy.

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