Monday, December 29, 2008

GOP: Leadership Not So Grand

GOP Leaders Open Mouths and Shoot Feet

By Norm Kent

December 29, 2008

I thought Republicans were intellectually challenged and diversity impaired, but this moron who is running for the head of the RNC takes the cake.

As the story unfolds, astonishingly, Chip Saltsman a candidate to run the Republican National Committee has sent out a Christmas letter seeking support for his candidacy. In an effort to be humorous, he included a recording of a parody of the famous Peter Yarrow song, ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon.’ If you have not heard it, the song is a children’s favorite, a staple of ‘60’s activists, and a loving cute ode to peace and tranquility.

The parody does to this song what a pornographic artist once did to a painting of Disney characters. It is satire, to be sure, and lawfully protected under first amendment doctrines that shield parodies. Legally, it is defensible. But I want to talk about it artistically. Forget that I think it may be in poor taste, it is just outright poor. It is a pathetic parody with lousy lyrics, bad singing, and crappy timing. It is artistically abominable.

In this day and age, it is also a poor political move for a leading Republican to initiate. The current chair of the party admitted as much. Mike Duncan, has issued a statement saying he is "shocked and appalled" that Saltsman could have thought this was appropriate.

"The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.”

The author of the song, Peter Yarrow was also disappointed by the use, stating that he and his co author, Lenny Lipton found the satirical conversion of ‘Puff’ “vulgar and a mean spirited slur,” and those were the nice things he said.

This is a good time to point out we live in a world of hypersensitivity and overreaction. The response to the ‘Puff’ song has been both. But somewhere, somehow, I just wish someone would say: “Hey, this song is not only not funny, this is just plain bad.” Okay, I will be the first. The song stinks. It is not only not funny; the rendition is just plain bad. Make it go away, if not for political insensitivity, at least for artistic sensibility.

First played on the Rush Limbaugh show, the Barack track is part of a lengthier CD created by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin. I know he has done a few songs about liberals. I wonder if he has done any about Rush’s drug habit. That of course might not be satire. That would be truth. In fact, I am still amazed how I have clients in Florida who have gone to jail for years with the kind of oxycontin habit Rush had. Don’t think Shanklin has got to do that satirical piece yet either.

There is another parody Shanklin might want to work on as well. It would be about the 19 year old white supremacist that recently got himself elected to the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee. David Duke may be toast, Strom Thurmond is buried, but you ‘gotta hand it to these progressive Republicans. They march to the tune of a different drummer.

I wonder if Saltzman sent the CD to Marcia Stirman. She's the chairwoman of the Otero County Republican Women in New Mexico who wrote in the Alamogordo Daily News that "I believe Muslims are our enemies," and that "Obama isn't a messiah or a Democrat. He's a Muslim socialist."

Columnist Paul Jenkins said it best in a piece this week: “Let's be thankful for one thing about Bush's presidency: the white male leadership of the Republican Party showed the world once and for all that its cronyism, corruption and discrimination completely outweighed any shred of competence.”

There is no humor in any of this, just the certainty that the party is marginalizing itself even further. I also always thought Log Cabin Republicans had to hate themselves, too, working within a party that was working against them. I thought moderate Republicans were routinely crucified in the GOP. But you would think 2008 sent a message to the Grand Old Party that America is seeking an era of openness, diversity, and wisdom.

You would think they would have heard the messages of John McCain’s noble concession speech, and the graciousness with which George Bush has been greeting and meeting the President Elect. You would think.

Instead, their new leadership is fighting off an onslaught of Aryans, racists, and intellectually impaired. I mean even Newt Gingrich is condemning the party for becoming too extreme.

I love it. When Newt becomes the moderate, what does that tell you about the party?

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Head Shop Raids are Unconscionable

Raids on Head Shops Unjust and Unfair

By Norm Kent

December 28, 2008

“Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.”

---song by Phil Ochs

Duval Street is the epicenter of Key West, home to Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s and a host of bars and hotels which have for a century captured the spark and soul of this land of the lost.

The Environmental Circus is gone, Valladares’ News Stand is history, and though La Te Da still stands, Larry Formica and his pink Cadillac have long since passed. Where a beat up wooden dock and a collage of cultures once gathered on historic Mallory Square, cruise ships now pour out thousands of tourists in flowered shirts onto the city’s main streets.

Fantasy Fest still wreaks havoc to the city every fall, but the Pirate image of this out of the way city has been lost for a long time now, to t shirt shops and condos; to name hotels and tourist traps. The heart of the city, Duval Street, has seen some of its landmarks become chain pharmacies, and cheap coffee shops like Shorty’s and Dennis Pharmacy have become convenience stores.

Walking down Duval Street in 2008 you are more likely to find a foreign exchange student from Slovakia peddling a bike for extra cash than you are to stumble upon a runaway teen from New York hustling a street corner for change. The times they are no longer changing. The times they have changed.

The temperature on October 17, 2008 in Key West was its typical and tropical 75 degrees. Ladies were sunning themselves bare-breasted at the Pier House’s private beach. Fishermen were working the pier, vacationers on mopeds criss-crossed the narrow streets, and more than one drunk stumbled down an alleyway. After all, it is still Key West.

But the heat on Duval Street was about to get hotter.

The shops on Duval Street opened their doors as usual, with no threats of a hurricane brewing. Merchants, if anything, were readying themselves for the annual, sin-filled festival of self-ordained decadence, Key West Fantasy Fest. On that date, many of them, head shops, were selling rolling papers, glass pipes, bongs, and other products designed to enhance the “right of happiness,” a constitutional right not too often protected by our courts.

The stores had signs all over them saying the products are for ‘legal and tobacco use only.’ But this distressed the new mayor, concerned that his little town was sending the wrong message: “You know that you don’t really smoke tobacco out of those things.” He sounded like Sarah Palin telling us how you could see Russia ‘from my house here in Alaska.’

The misguided mayor of this island city disapproved of the displays and set to do something about it. So he called the feds. You see, under broad Florida state laws, those pipes are legal. Not so under federal law. Understandably, this confuses the average citizen. Heck, it confuses lawyers too.

Title 21, Chapter 13 of federal law states: "Drug paraphernalia means any equipment, product or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance ..."

Supported by the local district attorney, the Mayor found his answer. On this quiet morning in October, federal authorities from 16 different agencies, aided by local and state operatives, converged on Duval Street and the neighboring streets where head shops dispensed their products lawfully, or so they thought.

Store by store, law enforcement entered with badges and guns, uniforms and crates- that’s right, crates- to cart away and confiscate the inventory of these stores to the waiting Budget U Haul Rent-a-Truck conspicuously parked in the center of the street.

Systematically, the feds sucked up any items they deemed as contraband that they say could be used to violate Title 21. The items taken then were rolling papers, lighters, ash trays, bongs, catalogues, pipes, and anything they say could potentially be used to violate the law. There was no order or determination of probable cause by a jurist, no ruling by a court that the items were illegal, just law enforcement officers with cartons and guns.

Furthering their operation, these officers then seized all the financial records of the stores, including their receipts and credit card purchases. That means if you have visited Key West lately and you purchased one of those glass pipes, the Feds now know where you live too. Your credit card number is now sitting in a federal database as a drug paraphernalia consumer. No, there was no judicial hearing on that either.

As a matter of fact, no one was charged with a crime, but the feds carted off 11,920 items defined as drug paraphernalia under the federal law, with an estimated value of three quarters of one million dollars. Not a bad haul for one sleepy, sunny morning in Key West.

Since the raids, at least two stores have summarily closed their doors, their inventory entirely depleted. Said Abby Frew, the owner of a shop called Energy: “The financial loss was too great. Stay open? I don’t think so. They took all my stuff.”

“I wanted to clean up the city’s image,” said Mayor Morgan McPherson. “I did not like what I saw in the windows of all those stores.” He added that if the business people don’t like it, they “call their congressman.”

He cleaned it up all right. Aided by a complicit federal government following their own set of laws, he kicked the businesses out without due process of law. He disgraced its community, screwed its businessman, and advanced a disgusting partisan personal political agenda. In the old Key West, he would have been recalled and reviled. In the new Key West, he becomes a hero.

An enlightened mayor might have called the chamber of commerce or invited a community discussion to discuss alternatives. The mayor might have used code enforcement and local ordinances to mandate zoning changes. Instead, he called and asked the Feds to do what city cops were not allowed to do.

Moti Elfasi, an Israeli by birth, is one of those businessmen whose inventory was seized. Having lived in Key West for a decade, he loves the atmosphere and the community of the island. But his head is spinning over what happened to him.

Here is what he told local reporters: “I don’t understand America. They gave me a license in Key West. I paid my taxes. I obeyed the law. Florida said it was okay to sell the things. But now people from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration come in and take everything away from me without even a notice to remove it first.”

It’s more than that, Moti. You detrimentally relied upon the representations of Key West city representatives that you could lawfully do what you were doing. Day by day, hour by hour, Key West city police patrolled your business, and no one told you that you could not do what you were doing. You have been operating openly and legally for years. You paid your taxes. You had an occupational license. You employed your neighbors. Now you got screwed.

Key West is not the first city to deal with this conflict between state and federal laws, nor will it be the last. California is of course the epicenter of this cosmos of confusion, with the feds neither recognizing medical dispensaries nor Prop 215. Just last week, our government pushed the envelope even further, raiding head shops in San Diego.

Across this country, over the past few years, other shops across this country have been systematically and surreptitiously raided, and their products also seized. Meanwhile, pipes and paraphernalia are now being marketed nationally, expanding rapidly in convenience stores from coast to coast. Find one repressive right wing mayor in the right town with the wrong agenda and you could conceivably become the target. Ask Tommy Chong. It’s still happening on a wider scale.

What happens to the products which are seized?

Agents quietly warn the businessmen to suck up the forfeiture and not challenge it in court. The advisory goes something like this: “Most likely we will just destroy this stuff as contraband, but if you attempt to challenge it, well there is no saying we won’t come back and arrest you.” Facing a not-so-veiled threat of criminal prosecution, the stores live with the bankruptcies, seizures, and loss of their products. The feds say they will “destroy the contraband.” More likely, some of them will use it at their bachelor parties.

These raids may deprive stores of their inventory, but our government abandons fundamental principles. Our citizens lose their rights. Lawyers are denied the opportunity to meaningfully contest the seizures. One more chink is carved into the heart of liberty.

If the past stays true to form, these unconscionable seizures will not make the national news. Politicians are too complacent, the drug law reform movement is too weak, and the massive pot smoking public is too disorganized, probably more concerned about getting high on those products designed for legal purposes only.

As for those merchants, outside of a small circle of their friends, no one cares.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Domestic Violence in the Gay Community

Domestic Violence in the Gay Community

By Norm Kent

Originally published on Labor Day, 2008 in the Express Gay News of South Florida

In order to promote a campaign of public awareness against domestic violence, Broward County Sheriff Lamberti is appearing this month in a public service announcement on local television to urge battered women to get help.

Last year, in Florida, a state of 18 million people, there were over 115,000 cases of domestic violence reported. Over 160 of those cases involved deaths.

When most people think of domestic violence, the stereotypical response is that of a husband beating his wife. But wives as well as husbands, and family members against other household members, can also commit acts of domestic violence. Unfortunately, so do, and so can, same-sex partners.

Marriage ban or not, the laws on domestic violence are applied to homosexual relationships in Florida. If you strike or batter your partner, you can be arrested, jailed, and prosecuted. Those of us who practice criminal defense see same-sex prosecutions in court daily.

All it takes is one punch, a thrown beer bottle, or one cut. Someone gets hurt, paramedics were called, the police responded, and somebody went to jail. More often than not, the next day, in a more sober moment, you make up with your partner. The State Attorney’s office, however, with or without the victim’s consent can go forward with a criminal prosecution. Now you are facing probation or jail time, and court ordered supervision.

An arrest for domestic violence can also be devastating to your career. It almost can never be expunged and inhibits job opportunities in many social service fields. As hard as it is to do, the best way never to get there is sometimes own up to the fact that you have to secure a civil restraining order against the potential abuser. It can be obtained by anyone who has had harm done to their person or property, or can legitimately attest such harm is likely to occur.

To secure such an order, you must make an application and fill out a self-explanatory affidavit, available at your local courthouse. While a lawyer is not required, it is often prudent to secure independent counsel if you can afford to do so. This removes you from the emotion of the moment and insures that your petition is legally sufficient. This decision should depend on the immediacy of the moment. If you fear for your life, do not wait for an appointment with a lawyer. Do it yourself.

A restraining order makes any contact by the abuser illegal, subjecting the abuser to arrest and other penalties under the law.

At the initial stages, the courts tend to favor the complaining party. They figure that the restraining order is a protection against domestic violence, and that if you were not going to do anything wrong to another, you are not victimized by being told to stay away from that person.

Once secured, a sheriff's deputy will then serve the restraining order on the person against whom it is being imposed. After being served with that order, if that person violates any of the terms of the restraining order, or has any unlawful contact with you, or he or she will be subject to immediate arrest.

Once served, you must go to court with your temporary order to make it permanent. At that time, your former partner also has a right to appear to contest it, and represent his claims. This hearing allows the judge to hear both sides of the story and make a decision about whether the restraining order should remain in effect for an extended period of time. If the jurist elects to do, he can impose a wide breadth of conditions against either party to guarantee enforcement of his order. You can be restrained from e mailing, physical contacts, verbal contacts, and from going to or from specific locations. I have even seen limitations imposed on visits for your pets.

Having a lawyer present at this stage can be critical for both sides. The claimant needs to insure his application met the proper legal requirements. The target of the order wants to prevent his rights and freedoms from being abridged. A skilled lawyer will be able to make a concise and powerful presentation of the relevant facts in your case.

There are different kinds of restraining orders as well. Domestic Violence Restraining Orders are usually imposed against people you live or lived with. However, for an act of Repeat Violence, you may file for a Restraining Order against anyone. There must have been two occurrences or acts of physical or sexual abuse, and one occurrence must have been in the last six months.

Individuals who have or have had a continuing and significant relationship of a romantic or intimate nature may also file a request for a dating violence restraining order. The dating relationship must have existed within the past 6 months.

The biggest problem I see in the enforcement of restraining orders is when partners reconcile, as we are so often likely to do. Once you resume contact with your ex-, you will jeopardize any future attempt you may make to enforce that restraining order, or secure another in the future. Seeking a restraining order is something you should not do lightly. Fill one out falsely and you can be charged with perjury.

Another mistake I often see partners make is when they do reconcile, they fail to go to court to seek an order declaring the court’s orders null and void. An argument ensues, a fight develops, the police arrive, out comes the restraining order, and into jail goes one of the partners.

Finally, don’t assume that just because you own the house and pay the mortgage that if an altercation develops with a live in partner, that person will automatically be removed from the home. If the police are satisfied the homeowner engaged in an act of domestic violence, he could still be the one to go to jail and even temporarily removed by a court from his own home.

Despite the sheriff’s noble ads, domestic violence is not just battered wives anymore. It is gay men and women also beating each other.

The time to stop it was yesterday. The time to do something about it is now.

On a personal and non legal level, if you love your partner, then explore in the calm of day alternatives to prevent the situation from reaching these disastrous stages. See counselors, attend anger management sessions, and invite intermediary steps which can avoid the catastrophic consequences of violence. Have the guts to get help before a court orders you to do so. The life and relationship you save could be your own.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Send the Pastor Packing

The President’s First Mistake:
Tell Rick Warren to Preach Somewhere Else

By Norm Kent

Christmas Eve, 2008

It is my obligation as the publisher of a national gay newspaper ( to weigh in on the President-Elect’s selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his inauguration. This is change we can’t believe in.

As a spokesperson for the gay community, I want to make it clear that I find it offensive.

Mr. Obama is not being inclusive and ‘post-partisan.’ He is being divisive. He is ‘swift boating’ us. After Jeremiah Wright, you have to wonder about his selections for Divine Guidance.

As an individual, I don’t give a damn who gives the invocation at the inauguration, because that is not the speech I want to hear. Besides, between the fires in California, earthquakes in China, and that tsunami in the Far East, God’s been doing a lousy job lately. That does not mean I am an atheist. I just believe what Woody Allen said in one of his films: “If there is a God, he is an underachiever.” Or maybe She.

Mr. Obama thinks he can move the needle and bring us all together in a unified effort for a common purpose. He sees an America where I can walk hand in hand with my partner down the aisle, and Reverend Pat Robertson will marry us. I think maybe our President Elect has a little too much of Harvard in him. I agree with Congressman Barney Frank. Some of these people will never be our friends. We are just always going to agree to disagree. If we can do so respectfully, that is great. But I don’t have to invite as the best man to my wedding a pastor who would not marry me to my partner.

Abraham Lincoln once said the best way to defeat an enemy is to make him your friend, and Mr. Obama is a strong believer in Mr. Lincoln. In fact, it was revealed today that he will be sworn in on the Lincoln Bible. Mr. Obama said his invitation to Pastor Warren does not compromise his ‘fierce’ support of gay rights. Good, then let’s not expend to much political capital on his decision to have Warren at his swearing in. Let’s understand that Mr. Obama is the President of all the people, including those we do not agree with. I sympathize with all that. I don’t have to agree with it though, and I won’t.

In fairness to Mr. Obama, and in fairness to Mr. Warren, they have met before and become friends. Mr. Warren in fact ran an AIDS conference two years ago at his church and made a point of inviting Mr. Obama to talk. He accepted, and it sparked an outcry amongst angry evangelical Republicans within his church. But Mr. Warren stood firm, arguing that both sides need to be heard, that it "takes two wings to fly." So both men are building bridges, both men are reaching out, and both are to be applauded. Just don't ask me to join in. Call me unreasonable, but I don't want half a hand.

One of the things I have learned in the civil rights movements is that you will continue to have adversaries. For every step forward we make, there will be those to push us back. For every partner we find, there is a Michael Savage nurturing hate against us. Unlike some activists whose comments I have been reading, I do not think gays have been thrown under the bus or that Mr. Obama has abandoned any promises yet. But I don’t intend to watch from the sidelines and give out free passes.

The pursuit of freedom is a relentless process which requires persistence. Yes, it demands patience, but not passivity. Oh, I remember all the well-intentioned persons who spoke vigorously against the gay marriage issue in 2004, saying we were pushing for too much too soon and too quickly. Where are they now?

Where are those voices of the status quo now that the Supreme Court of California has legalized same sex marriage?

Where are they now that Massachusetts and other states have also affirmed the principle that we can go beyond socially acceptable civil unions to permanently entrenched marriage declarations?

How many of those wimps wanted us not to push Lawrence vs. Texas to the Supreme Court, afraid we might get an adverse decision which would cripple forever the gay rights movement? When it comes to civil rights, there are no acceptable partial promises; no separate water fountains gays and lesbians have to drink from. Sometimes, it takes courts to mandate human rights political partisans will never provide for.

The Human Rights Campaign has given Mr. Obama a new agenda for 2009, saying it wants to ‘move on’ from the divisive issue of Pastor Warren. To his credit, the Pastor has posted on his own website an outreach to the gay community, saying that while he opposes gay marriages, he seeks to bridge our differences. That’s nice pastor, and it brings to mind all those nice Southern politicians who were willing to let Negroes ride the bus in the 1960’s, as long as they sat in the back.

I did not work all these years for a new America that is the same as the old America. I am not interested in appeasing evangelical Christians. I am interested in telling them to stop getting in our way. I am interested in letting them know there will be a price for racism, intolerance, and that just might be losing your place at the table this time.

My message to Mr. Obama is that there is going to be no ‘honeymoon’ either. The gay community in America has multiple voices and you can expect them to be heard. As this one instance with Pastor Warren shows, we won’t be quiet. Our voices want more than lip service. We seek action. The President Elect has an obligation to fulfill his commitment to support gay rights by initiating acts consonant with the same, from moving the equal rights non-discrimination legislation through Congress, to an executive order eliminating arbitrary exclusions of homosexuals from the armed forces of the United States of America.

Look, I know there is a political reality which mandates that a new President has to get his feet wet, be grounded, and move forward with a steadiness of purpose that is based on a sure foundation. That does not mean we have to compromise our desire to see equal rights initiatives delayed or postponed. Just because something is good for the President does not mean it is good for the rights of gays. The pressure must be kept up. I don’t see any Aryans on the inaugural dais.

To those of you who are already apologists for an invocation from a pastor, whose politics has been one of exclusion, shame on you. There are too many other men and women the President could have picked. He chose not to, and Rick Warren should not be on the inaugural platform any more than the President elect should have invited him.

Norm Kent is a criminal defense and constitutional rights Fort Lauderdale lawyer who can be reached at

Monday, December 22, 2008

The President is a Marlboro Man

Obama Lights Up


November, 2008

I will be damned.

The President-Elect has a flaw and Tom Brokaw brought him out of the closet about it last Sunday on ‘Meet the Press.’ The issue has legs. It is smoking !

Noting that the White House was a no-smoking zone, Tom Brokaw asked the President-Elect during a televised interview, a week ago Sunday, "Have you stopped smoking?"

"I have," Obama replied, smiling broadly. "But there are times where I have fallen off the wagon."

"Wait a minute," Brokaw interjected, critically, "that means you haven't stopped."

"I've done a terrific job, under the circumstances, of making myself much healthier and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House," Obama replied.

No, no, no, Barack. That just won’t fly as an answer.

In fact, how many cigarettes have you smoked since?

Earlier this year, in an interview for its November issue, Obama told Men's Health magazine that he wished he had more time for staying fit, BUT that he still occasionally smoked a cigarette. Obama says he manages to squeeze in 45-minute workouts, six days a week, but wishes his exercise sessions were longer.

Obama said in that interview that he had bummed a cigarette a couple of times during the campaign. "But I figure, seeing as I'm running for president, I need to cut myself a little slack," he said. That would be like saying because it is stressful to try to lose weight you are going to treat yourself to an extra doughnut.

In St. Louis last June, Obama acknowledged he was a smoker, and admitted to “falling off the wagon” then also. Two months later, he confessed the same thing to Chris Matthews in a Hardball interview. Thus, I think we see the President has an ongoing Nicotine issue, and that he has been evasive. With all due respects to the late Paul Newman, and his role in ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ what we have here is a ‘failure to communicate’ honestly.

If in every other interview you do every other month, you admit to ‘falling off the wagon,’ well, you never really got on it. You may think you kicked the habit, but it is more reminiscent of what my friend Joe Walsh of the Eagles told me at a baseball camp a few years ago: “I have only been drunk once. For thirty years, now.” Well, at least he could hit.

Nevertheless, the President Elect did indicate the White House was going to remain “smoke-free.” So if he needs to sneak a smoke, where does he go- for a secret walk along Pennsylvania Avenue? Try to find a locker room near a gym where he could sneak a smoke? I suppose Mr. Obama is learning what many Americans have over the years: that quitting is not easy.

Mr. Obama told Chris Matthews as much: “It is a struggle like everything else. And I think that it is important to just keep in mind… I want to set a good example for all these young people here, and I want to make sure as President of the United States, everybody knows that I’m going to try to stay healthy.”

Over the summer, Obama’s doctor shared with reporters that the President-Elect has a history of “intermittent cigarette smoking, but he quit this practice on several occasions and is currently using Nicorette gum with success.”

Studies say Nicorette users do better at quitting. Maybe so, but I worked at a radio station with a guy that used to put a patch on his arm to stop smoking and I think that is as useful as telling a flea to stay off my dog’s tail by putting a collar around his neck.

Last year, Fox News TV Host John Gibson called Obama’s smoking his “dirty little secret.” I guess that is the best they could come up with to dish out dirt on the prospective president. Still, it was never really a secret Mr. Obama actually hid. Too bad for the Fox Fanatics, but this is an issue that is hardly going to bury Mr. Obama. Still, I expect the media and the press and cancer groups are going to jump all over this issue and never let it go. It is going to become the epicenter of a national debate on smoking.

The smoking issue had already been known to citizens of Illinois, where the President-Elect has served as a United States Senator. Michele Obama even discussed ‘the bad habit’ on 60 Minutes. Our future first lady said that she agreed to help her husband run for president on one condition: that he finally quit smoking, for good. Of the smoking habit, Mrs. Obama was pretty clear: “I hate it.”

In fact, as early as 2004 during his Senate campaign, Obama had told the Chicago Sun-Times his smoking is "an ongoing battle." His wife told reporters then that he smokes "about three Marlboros a day." I know smokers who wish they could only smoke three packs a day.

Today, the President Elect offers this advice to smokers: “If you want to quit, then eliminate certain key connections – that first cigarette in the morning, or after a meal, or with a drink,” Obama said last month.

Anti-smoking advocates are counting on Obama as a role model for others trying to kick the habit, showing them that while it's hard, all things are indeed possible in America. Said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “Obama has shown a firm commitment to beat this addiction even though no one could have tried under more stressful circumstances," Myers says. "It takes courage to admit failure, but even more courage to pledge to succeed.” But wait, there is another issue.

What if Obama does stay faithful to an occasional Marlboro? Does Obama smoking periodically make it cool, an abuse excuse for nicotine lovers? Or does he become the poster boy for the 2008 version of ‘Just Say No?’ Do the Mothers Against Midnite Smokers start national chapters? I don’t know. I do know we all have smoking stories.

I am a male Michele. I hate nicotine. I have been trying to get my partner to stop smoking cigarettes for about seven years. Every time we start to go into a deep kiss, I think I am inhaling stale cigarettes from a garbage can. It inhibits passion.

Every year in November the American Cancer Society conducts a ‘Great American Smokeout,’ urging smokers to commit to quit. Last month my partner John promised to show. Conveniently, he found a way not to go. They even offer follow up classes. It looks to me like Barack could pair up with my partner. They each have a recurring issue when it comes to smoking. Promises, promises.

This is not an issue I win with as a first amendment lawyer, arguing for free choice, individual responsibility, and the right to mark your life by each and every choice you make everyday. It is an argument I make because the toxic effects of smoking resonate to innocent bystanders, environmental concerns, and medical costs which influence all of us.

Since the Brokaw interview, more and more people are sure to write about smoking, and I suspect it is going to generate a new national debate. Even the Associated Press touched down on this issue in a feature article this weekend, which is sure to be picked up by hundreds of papers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 438,000 deaths each year, including thousands from secondhand smoke exposure. I don’t want to be one of them, and I don’t want my partner or my President to be one either.

I remember what my surgeon told me the day before he operated on me, after I had been diagnosed with stomach cancer at the age of 50: “If I knew I was going to get cancer this young, I may have drank and smoked a lot more,” I said. “You are looking at this the wrong way,” he replied, “You may live through this because you did not.” And here I am, ten years later.

The National Institute of Health has noted that there is a statistical prevalence of smoking excessively in African American populations as well. If Barack Obama sends a message that the habit is unhealthy, and it reaches elementary schools and cities, then there is a chance that could influence behavior for decades.

For whatever the cause, gays and lesbians also smoke at a staggeringly higher rate than most American men and women. Younger gays are even worse. They light up younger and continue longer and kill themselves sooner.

At the very least, I fully expect to see Michele Obama in a television ad, asking kids to stop smoking cigarettes. Not sure yet if Nancy Reagan will be up to the task to join with her.

As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, I do realize this whole issue of smoking does not bode well for our issue. If the President is cornered into a flip-top box where he can’t smoke cigarettes, he is going to have a hard time saying good things about pot. I just do not foresee Barack speaking out against Marlboro one day and asking for decrim for Purple Haze the next.

Well, I will at least make him this deal. If he agrees to stop the raids on dispensaries in California, I will cut him a break and let him indulge his three Marlboros a day. But if he has his nicotine lapses without going to jail, can I ask that the 750,000 plus Americans who get arrested for simple possession of pot each year be cut the same break? We can promise to get back on the wagon, too!

Anyway, I do hope the message of a more nicotine free America will start with our new President. In fact, I hope it will reach my bedroom.

Norm Kent is a Fort Lauderdale attorney who can be reached at

I Am Tired of Injustice

I Am Tired of Injustice

Norm Kent's Speech to the Seattle Hempfest, Myrtle Park on Elliot Bay

August, 2006

I stand before you, nearly 100,000 people, on a magnificent summer afternoon before a majestic bay in a progressive state. You are decent and dedicated warriors working for a better future. Most of you are younger than me, and I am here to say I hope the time has come for me not to be here anymore.

I have never been more serious about the need to take criminal penalties away from pot smokers.

I am no longer the 22 year old pot smoker from Hofstra University who smoked weed in the dorm by placing wet towels in the door cracks, opening the windows, and burning incense in the room.

No, I am no longer that person.

I am a seasoned criminal defense attorney, with 30 years of practice in criminal courtrooms, and 18 months of chemotherapy as a cancer survivor.

I am the former director of an AIDS clinic, who has seen too many young people die young, when their final days could have been made more pleasant by a peaceful herb.

I am in the Fall of my lifetime, and I do not need either a drink or a joint to find laughter and love, meaning or purpose. But I am mature enough to know I should not have the privilege to deny anyone else that right.

Because after 30 years I know that pot smoking does not make you a murderer or madman, a rapist or robber, a burglar, a thief, or swindler. Look, I am not asking for you to make pot smoking your vocation. But it should not cause you to go on probation.

Because after 30 years, here is something else I know. There are too many murderers and rapists and robbers and burglars and swindlers walking free in our communities, and too many pot smokers sitting locked up in prisons.

It is not just that America arrests over a half million citizens a year for pot possession. It is that we take resources that can be used against rapists and sex offenders, killers and car jackers, and use them against people who simply smoke pot. And that is criminal. Because we are not the criminals.

Day after day, you hear about a car getting stolen, a home getting broken into, an office getting burglarized, a convenience store getting held up, and a friend getting mugged. These are crimes of violence that shake the peaceful foundations of our community. They are acts of domestic terrorism. And it seems like no one is ever caught. Go tell the Seattle police someone broke into your car and they will tell you there is nothing we can do, cars are broken into every thirty seconds.

But go tell them three students are smoking joints by a seawall in Myrtle Park and half the SWAT squad will respond by sea and air within minutes. And that is criminal. Because we are not the criminals.

Candidly, I am tired.

I am tired of telling high school students how a couple of joints today can cost them a scholarship tomorrow.

I am tired of telling college students how getting caught with pot in their dorms can get them booted from their university.

I am tired of telling young workers doing their jobs well how a positive pot test can cost them their employment.

I am tired of telling a workman who with his bare hands, helped build the local fire station, how getting caught with pot in his car is grounds not only for his arrest, but the seizure of that vehicle.

I am tired of trying to explain how a single mother working two jobs to support three children can lose her kids to a social service agency because she stood on her terrace at nite and smoked a bowl after a day's work.

I am tired of telling poor and indigent moms in government projects that their government won't do much about crime in their community or mold and rot in their home, but they will throw them out of those projects for smoking a joint.

I am tired of trying to explain to mothers with breast cancer or grandmothers with glaucoma how marijuana may ease the agonizing throes of chemotherapy but could risk their freedom.

Oh yes, I am tired. Tired of explaining how you can still get stopped, searched, seized, booked, arrested, jailed and incarcerated for getting high. Because if kids have a problem getting high, we should find a treatment facility that retrieves and rehabilitates them, not a prison that strips and houses them.

I am tired of telling probationers how getting high on a dime bag can get them ten years in the state pen.

I am tired of seeing legislators figure out new ways to make glass pipes or artistically created bongs more illegal and grounds for federal RICO violations.

And I am tired of coming to NORML rallies and Seattle hempfests to say 'We are Not Criminals.'

Because it should not be criminal to smoke pot. Because we should not be criminals.
It should be criminal to put someone in jail for smoking pot.

We are locking up the wrong people. It is not the smokers that belong in the joint. It is the politicians whose laws put people there that do.

Do not blame the cops who enforce the law they are given.
Do not blame the judges who mete out the sentences they are dutibound to follow.

Turn your anger and attention to the political parties and the communities of apathetic voters that permit the injustice to permeate our school boards, university senates, city councils, and state legislators.

Turn your anger inward and perhaps even ask yourself the question: "What have I done to end this injustice?"

Have I protested at a school board? spoken out to my parents? educated a friend? written a letter? attended a protest? complained to an employer? You must. You must.

Truly, if our cause is just than stand up against the injustice. The wisdom of our fathers leaves us with an adage, "If not now, when? If not me, who?"

In your home, in your office, and in your community, come out of the closet, light up, look up, and say, "Hey, there is nothing wrong with that."

I am not telling you to become an around the clock weed smoking vegetable. I am asking you to become an around the clock weed warrior. I want you to be an activist, not just a stoner. Because I don't want you to go to jail or have to make bail.

I want to stand up one day, give a speech, and not be criticized for condemning the state, but be congratulated for defending it. For that to happen we must change the laws. But how does that happen?

How do you move the tides of the vast oceans of public opinion?

We go to work. Make your voice heard. Make your presence felt. Make your cause known.
I want you to put defense lawyers like me out of business.

I want to stop being tired of injustice, and stand by you without looking out over our shoulders for cops and informants. I want them to know you are good people who are trying to expand your freedom, not defy their laws.

I want the world to know we have a common bond, a sacred union, a communal goal, and it is not to beat down society, it is to better it. It is not to humiliate law enforcement, it is to illuminate it. It is not to break or bend the law so it snaps, it is to rebuild it so it lasts.

Side by side with your friends, you can see you are not alone; that you have partners and peers in the promise of tomorrow.
Make a difference.
30 years ago I stood in a hotel in the Capitol and listened to Ramsey Clark, then the Attorney General of the United States, tell me how he thought pot would be legal in twenty years.

The national director of NORML, Keith Stroup, echoed that promise. So I come here today finally, to apologize to you, because I have failed.

NORML has failed, My generation has failed. You are still going to jail, and pot is still not legal. So I apologize.

With all the music, all the festivals, all the marches, and all the mandates for change, from the proposition 215s to the medical needs, we have failed. Dispensaries are getting raided, medical users are getting arrested, bong sellers are getting indicted, and users are still getting booked and busted.

The torch must pass to a new generation. So 30 years from now you will not find someone standing here as I am today, saying we could have done better. We should have done better.

We must do better.

Make a difference so 30 years from today your children will not have to be here protesting injustice.

Make a difference so 30 years from today they will be celebrating freedom to be.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Confessions on Turning 50 With Chemo

Confessions on Turning 50
By Norm Kent
October, 1999
Published in The Express Gay News and read on the Howard Stern Show!

I confess.

For years, I have been lying about my age. Just like some of you. I even used to joke to people that my younger brother was my older brother. Anything to maintain my youth.

But today I write a column I did not know I would be able to ever publish this year. So here's the truth. I am turning 50 years old on October 18. While I do not recommend the Norm Kent Tumor Diet to anyone, I am healthier and more fit than I have been in a fifteen years.

I am a student of the 60's, turning 50, leaving my 40's, feeling like 30, wishing I was 20. But I confess: According to my mom, sometimes I still act like I was 10. Well, you gotta keep a lotta little boy in ya' to love life.

A quarter century marks my time in Florida, from my first move here to Key West, with a stop in Coral Springs, on the way to my townhouse in Victoria Park. It's been a great ride. I have experienced the blessings of life and health, of family and friends. I have cherished memories of loving moments, and endured sad ones, from the passing of my father, to the loss of two of my labrador retrievers, now begging for bones in doggie heaven.

I have taught at FAU, and lived to see my students from 1978 become Circuit Court Judges and Police Chiefs by 1998. I have practiced law for two decades, and I have still managed to maintain a heart and advance the public good, often representing those who could not effectively speak for themselves. But I confess. I have made money because of other people's troubles.

I have won significant legal victories that have afforded me honor and distinction, and fumbled some cases that a grade schooler could have won. I have held court in the Floridian Restaurant and the Supreme Court in Tallahassee. But I confess. I have had my ass kicked in court more than once.

For eight years, I had my own talk radio show in the country's 11th largest market, and even had a fan club in my name. Still, I have read the papers when critics called me 'obnoxious as hell' and 'the biggest horse's ass in the world.' Ouch ! But I confess: Sometimes I have been both, and more.

I have played on a straight State Championship softball team in 1984, and competed in the Gay World Series in 1994. I love playing softball, competitively and hard. But I confess: Sometimes I have just not given a damn, not played to my peak, and not tried hard enough. I hate complacency, but sometimes I have been complacent.

I have travelled from Mykonos to Mount Olympia, and I have witnessed glorious sunsets in Key West and magnificent sunrise’s right here in South Florida. But I confess: Not everything has been so majestic. I have also fallen asleep drunk on the floor and done far too many hedonistic party drugs. Of course they were fun. That's why I did them. But I confess: I still love pot, both medicinally and recreationally.

I have had close friends and dear lovers. I have lived through relationships which I have cherished and some that I have shattered. I confess: some relationships unearthed because of my own arrogance, pride, and hubris. And maybe because I use too many big words, and have too big an ego.

I have survived eight knee operations, a ruptured Achilles tendon, and a year long bout with lymphoma, cancer, and chemotherapy. I chose the cherry flavored kind. They called it ‘courses’ of chemo, like I was dining out instead of dying. Still, here I am, lucky to be alive, to see another rising sun, to be awake to turn 50 years old.

I am still enchanted with my youth, and 21 is definitely the age I would always choose to be. But I am happy as a bunny in heat to be where I am now. In life, if you spend too much time crying about the darkness, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars. I don't know that the golden years will be so golden, but I loved yesterday, I am still here today, and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

After surviving cancer, I now realize that the best medicine continues to be love, laughter, and chocolate. I understand that possessions and position earn you neither respect nor dignity. Only your deeds can create honor, only your character can earn you esteem. In life, you learn that to bring sunshine to yourself you first have to bring it to others.

I don't try to please everyone because I realize that then you cannot please anyone. I am true to myself and honest with my peers because it is simply so much easier to fall back on the truth you can remember, rather than fiction that you have to create. It is healthier also to be who you are, and not try to be something you are not. It is easier to live open than in the closet, because spirits grow in the sun and not on the dark side. I think I learned that from Yoda or Luke Skywalker.

I learned a lot of things from Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and Lassie. It's okay to stand up for the underdog, fight for the disenfranchised, and demand dignity for animals and all living things. We can speak out for the environment, the earth, and the protection and preservation of life. Sure the Bible begats a few too many people in an incredulous manner, but it also says more than just a few wise things in Ecclesiasticus, the Prophets, the Proverbs, and the Ten Commandments. And everyone should read Robert Frost.

For some of us, I guess it means watching your kids grow up. And that is of course a very special experience. For me, it has been watching too many of my friends die too young, from foreign wars to domestic diseases. But it has still been a marvelous journey, as is any climb to a mountaintop. The beauty is the journey itself,

Turning 50? Why, it means remembering Woodstock and Haight Ashbury; Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg; Harvey Milk and the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK. It means I was there when man landed on the moon and when they still delivered milk in glass bottles to your doorstep before dawn. It means remembering the cherished days of high schools and summer camps in the 1960's and living for the reunions in the 1990's. I had one last week at Mickey Mantle's in Manhattan. I could say I am still alive but my heroes are dying. The truth is being 50 means knowing your real heroes are the friends and family you know and love, not idols you do not.

50 means having watched Americans die unnecessarily in Vietnam and being taken hostage in Iran. It means finally, after all these years, once and for all understanding anyone America does not like automatically becomes a foreign dictator who must necessarily be invaded and bombed, whether it is Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Somalia, or Yugoslavia. Our country finds no shortage of people to kill. But we are never the aggressor. The history books tell me so.

It means knowing when AIDS was called GRID, and when Richard Nixon said he had a secret plan to end that war in Vietnam. It means recalling Watergate, George McGovern, Nehru suits, and love beads. It even means remembering when Marlon Brando was a thin, good looking actor, and when America was shocked by a three second nude scene in the play 'Hair'. It means watching MASH before there were reruns of it. And knowing when Opie was a kid.

It means I got to watch the Three Stooges and more times than I care to remember, became one of them. Forget computers, I remember when software wasn't a word, and time sharing meant togetherness. I remember Tiny Tim dancing through the tulips. 50 ? It means you have been at times rich and poor, broke and well off. Well off is better. It means you have spent more than you had to and kept more than you needed. It means you have partied too hard and at times not enough.

It means newsreels before the double feature Saturday matinees, Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody, and even Amos 'n Andy, not to mention Fred Sanford or Archie Bunker. It means Dad drove cars with tail fins and I played with toy soldiers made of lead. It means stickball in the street, roller skate keys, potsy, and polaroid cameras with blue flashbulbs.

No- you can't go back, but I can always go on, cherishing what was and looking forward to what yet may be. So can we all on any day, at any age, at any time. Well, like I said, ‘ya gotta have a lotta little boy in ‘ya to love and live life.......

1999 Guest Column for High Times Magazine

Pot, Protest and Passion:
A Challenge to do Better


The following guest editorial column appeared in High Times Magazine, its 25th anniversary edition on June 1, 1999.

Today I call upon the readers of High Times to do more than just get high.

Forgive me. I am one of those freeze-dried, 1960's activists whose body has aged, but whose blood still breathes civil disobedience, righteous dissent, and spiritual protest. After a half century on this planet, I have come to treasure the students of the Age of Aquarius, not only for the deeds we accomplished as young Americans, but because of who we were and what we believed. You, today's young readers of High Times, are not us. You do not measure up to us. Not even close.

Three decades ago, thousands of young people, students on college campuses across this country banded together to form a spiritual army that no police force could wrest asunder. It is not just that we fought for the decriminalization of marijuana with smoke-ins on college campuses, and not just that our protests helped end a war. Our collective spirit immobilized the repressive power structure. Our aggressive assertion of equal rights for our own stalled the proliferation of power solely for the mighty.

As we approach the New Millennium, a frightful era of repression infects our being. Our hearts should be revolutionary. Our souls should be boiling. Today's students, however, are not motivated, socially conscious, or visionary. You are the quiet puppets of social ringleaders who abuse your rights daily.

On campus after campus, zero tolerance policies for even minimal amounts of marijuana are causing students to face disciplinary sanctions that include expulsion for first, personal, private use. In secondary schools, your rights are even further diminished. School officials are allowed random searches of your properties and person without even a shred of probable cause. But if they find a loose joint, your academic career may forever be scathed. Instead of defiance and insurrection, only silent acquiescence invades the corridors of learning. You are not being taught. You are being led

In legislature after legislature, students who are found guilty of marijuana law violations are discovering that they are now ineligible for student aid, scholarships, and loans. Light up today and be a janitor tomorrow. Get caught with pot in your car and your driver's license is suspended for two years in Florida. Get caught driving drunk and you only get a six month suspension that can be immediately waived with a work permit. The high ball and the martini crowd still rules.

In city after city, private employers and government agencies are proudly adopting attitudes and policies for a 'drug free work place.' That means take all the abusive prescription drugs you want, from percodan to prozac, and you are okay. Smoke a joint and you are history. You are measured not by the quality of your work but by the quantity of THC in your urine. Office Depots across America have banners that read: "We drug test all our employees ! "

Maybe we ought to make them drug test all their customers before they take our money: "Sorry, Mr. Kent, we would love to sell you this new three thousand dollar desk, but you just tested positive for pot...." Don't hold your breath. Exhale. A hypocritical president could not. You should.

Speaking of the President who has pricked our consciousness, on no greater policy than marijuana law reform has the Oxford-educated Mr. Clinton been a social hypocrite. For eight years now, he has maintained a ban on even medicinal use of marijuana for critically ill patients, even those who were once fortunate enough to legally acquire pot through a federally sponsored compassionate use program. He is also signing federal prohibition bills that prove he is screwing students and interns in more than just the Oval Office.

Using driver's license revocations as weapons against teenagers, law enforcement officials are now making informants out of scared teenagers. Parents are getting turned in by their own kids. If after executing a warrant the authorities find pot in a home, parents are finding themselves charged with reckless endangerment. Their children are being removed from the home and turned over to colossally misguided and mismanaged social service agencies. Welcome to the New Millenium, maybe without your mother, father, or children.

Sure, most parents do not want their kids to smoke dope. But they don't want their kids to go to jail for doing so either. They want the law out of their living rooms. They don't want their kids going to jail for lighting a joint. And they certainly don't want to lose a custody battle because they light up. The policy of denying parents' custody of their children because they toke is the Millenium's new version of Reefer Madness. And you thought Harry Anslinger was dead.

Get pulled over for a traffic ticket, and you find canine units sniffing your car. If the dog alerts, not only can your car be seized, but any cash you have on you as well. Forfeiture was last socially popular in the Dark Ages in feudal times, when the King seized a serf's land and threw him out of the castle. Today, our government not only has the right to arrest you, but your money and property too. Then you have to prove it was lawfully yours. To do that you now have to spend money you no longer have to hire a lawyer you may not be able to afford. Innocent until proven guilty? It makes good copy for a textbook, but it is not real life any longer.

The bottom line is that more people are smoking and growing their own pot than ever before. Call it American ingenuity, but we were not going to grow it in open fields only to let our government spray paraquat on it. So the pot movement has gone indoors, and everyone tends to their little closet garden. So the powers that be now do garbage pulls, infrared searches, thermal imaging, and electronic surveillance to detect whether or not the devil weed is blossoming in your home. They subpoena High Times advertisers for their credit card records. They tap your phones, search your utility records, and inspect your trash. And what are we doing about it? Watching John Glenn land in a Space Shuttle ?

The truth is we have become all too apathetic. Comfortable that pot is socially acceptable, we have forgotten all too often that it is still legally unacceptable. Quietly, we look the other way as a half million Americans still get arrested every year. Silently, we roll our joints on the way home from work, but we don't do smoke-ins, protests, or politics. We have become the new silent majority, tolerating a social injustice that we see being played out across America daily. In ballot boxes, we have let government know enough is enough, and medical marijuana initiatives have passed in eight states in eight tries. But government won't listen. We are like the vegetarian citizens of H.G. Well's 'Time Machine', looking the other way as our colleagues drown.

The movement needs you. We need you in corporate boardrooms, university senates, legislative bodies, and city commissions. We need you to say that the laws against pot are wrong and you will not stand for them. We need you to put your body and soul on the line to make a difference. Thirty years ago, thousands of us did. We made the world a better place to be. But the cause and movement is a continuing battle.

Tolerate the silence of today and you create the repression that foils you. Students across America need to unite again; need to mobilize into a social force that will make us care more about all of us. We need to stand up, light up and be counted. Everywhere I go, I am greeted by people, young and old, who say how cool the gold pot leaf necklace I wear around my neck is. But it is not enough to wear hemp clothes or a pot leaf. We have got to carry the message of what that symbolizes.

To the students of America, I say this: 'Don't come up to me anymore, as I tour college campuses, lecturing about social injustice, and ask me what it was like to live in the sixties. Make your own sixties happen. There are battles to be won, causes worth fighting for, and shattered lives yearning to be saved. Remember, the drug war is a war against people. You could be the next casualty. Defend yourself as a free person today, so you will not be calling your mother to bond you out of jail tomorrow.

Get angry. Get high. Make a difference......

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The President and Pot

What Will the New President Do About Marijuana?

By Norm Kent

Christmas Week, 2008

“I inhaled frequently, that was the point.”
-Barack Obama, November 2006

He picked for Vice President one of the major architects of the Drug War.

He picked for Chief of Staff one of the chief opponents of medical marijuana.

He is talking about picking for the Drug Czar spot a conservative candidate who has been a congressional leader fighting drug reform.

He has promised to put an end to raids on medical dispensaries in California, but he has not said he will broadly support the Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment which would let states decide the issue.

He has moved from once supporting marijuana decriminalization to publishing comments that he cannot overuse ‘political capital’ on the issue.

He has now appointed for Attorney General a candidate who has a long history of opposing drug policy reforms and who has in court supported mandatory minimum sentencing and civil forfeiture.

Allen St. Pierre, the Executive Director of NORML, summed it up best about Mr. Obama’s appointments thus far: “So Far, Not So Good:” His thought-provoking article appears on the website at its blog.

From summarizing why the selection of Joe Biden as Vice President caused him ‘digestive tumult’ to tracing Rahm Emanuel’s anti-drug policies for the past decade, the article captures a snapshot of what was routine politics as usual for the players soon to be in power.

When it comes to our 44th President, some of his positions on marijuana were once encouraging. But as Mr. Obama has moved towards the national limelight, there is a new found frustration for reformers. It seems the President to be is moving from the left to the middle. And as Loudon Wainwright once wrote in a popular song, the only things you see in the middle of the road are dead skunks and yellow lines. Still, I am not alarmed yet. It is way too early, and there is still room and reason for optimism.

Commencing your administration in the face of a national economic crisis at home while American soldiers are at war abroad can focus your priorities on other issues outside the need for weed. We have seen what happened to Bill Clinton when he tried, too early in his administration, to advance the cause of gay rights by banning discrimination against homosexuals in the military. He started a firestorm which burnt up valuable first months of his presidency.

We do know this though, and it is a challenging start. Rather decisively, on the official administration website, at, the following statement appears: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

What can we then expect of Mr. Obama once he becomes President?

I think there are many encouraging things.

First, in his past he has acknowledged the broad failures of the drug war, declaring in 2004 that it was an “utter failure” which needs to be rethought.

Second, as an African-American in an urban community, few people will be as sensitive as Mr. Obama to the exhaustive legal toll this drug war exacts on minority communities. The arrests come quicker, the prosecutions are more frequent, and the sentences are longer. Drug arrests have been tools to deny poor people driver’s licenses, scholarships and federal welfare benefits, causing innocuous conduct to endure catastrophic consequences for otherwise decent people.

Third, the President is ‘with it’. His telling comments to a group of students when asked whether he ‘inhaled’ marijuana were “Of course, I thought that was the whole purpose.”

Those remarks are a reflection of the candor and commitment of Mr. Obama to address the issue in a new light. He did not play a game of Clintonian holier-than-thou cover-up. With the same self-deprecating qualities that he shared with the nation when he called himself a ‘mutt,’ Mr. Obama implied in tone and substance that marijuana may not be as bad as we have been hearing from the government for too many decades.

Last week, the website asked the public to provide them with a list of the top public policy questions facing America. Visitors to the site were then asked to vote on which questions should take priority for the incoming administration.

After receiving nearly 100,000 total votes on more than 10,000 separate public policy issues, the most widely voted on question for Obama is:
“Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

Maybe Rahm Emanuel has turned a corner as well. Rahm is politically smart if nothing else, so I hope that he’ll follow his boss’ lead in the area of criminal justice reforms. Also, to his credit, after voting years against Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment in 2007, as member of Congress from Illinois, Rahm voted in favor of holding back federal funding from law enforcement (read DEA) to raid or harass medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries.

I know I have been unsuccessful in getting my own liberal Congresswoman from South Florida, Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, to even support this effort. Maybe Mr. Emanuel will influence her and dozens of others. It will take leadership from the oval office. That can only happen when the people in office are looked upon as enlightened reformers rather than being weak on crime.

Politically, I know such polls as the one the administration inaugurated here are instrumental in turning mindsets. If we can show politicians that it is ‘safe’ to support drug reform, even popular, we can suddenly find them on our side. To their credit, outstanding philanthropists like Peter Lewis and George Soros have been national leaders in helping bring public opinion out of the closet. These are men whose voices may be heard by the new administration. And I am here for them too if they need me. My number is listed. So too is Barney Frank, the influential Massachusetts congressman who has long supported decriminalization legislation.

The truth is that people who support decriminalization have always been a silent majority afraid to speak out. But give them a secret ballot box, and in state after state, you see massive support for medical marijuana and a more enlightened approach to marijuana reform. Perhaps the President, in his own unique disarming way, can lead a new path. He has surrounded himself with educated leaders who also have been willing to speak candidly in favor of decriminalization including new Cabinet nominee Bill Richardson.

We do not need a new Drug Czar, either. This is America. Czars are for Russia. What we need is the appointment of an educator, a scientist, a doctor, a constitutional rights lawyer to pave the way to a new era of drug enlightenment.

At the last NORML Board of Directors meeting, one issue we raised was one many of us within the drug reform movement can support. It has been three decades since the Shafer Commission released its national study on marijuana, which Nixon immediately trashed. Perhaps a new Blue Ribbon Commission, with decades more research behind it, and years of medical marijuana evidence, can look into new recommendations for the 21st century.

On one hand, such a Presidential panel would buy time for the new administration to get settled in with more pressing priorities. But it would also give drug reformers a national platform to address so many issues that have been, forgive me, cultivated- since the Shafer Commission, from forfeiture laws to raids on dispensaries, from the THC content of marijuana to medicinal initiatives. It is time to look again at marijuana with a scholarly and clinical eye instead of with SWAT teams and law enforcement raids.

Correspondingly, it is also time for the national drug reform organizations to speak with a singular voice and work together for a common purpose. There needs to be a unity of purpose, and leaders from the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and a host of other respected reform organizations, too many to mention here, should hold their own meeting to develop a common theme with a collective initiative. We need to work together to send a message that is enlightened and progressive, convincing legislators and the executive branch that we are responsible and right.

The drug reform movement needs to act in a way that President-elect Obama has asked all of us to move towards: not to be tied to the politics of the past and the way things have always been done, but to engage hope by broadening our constituency and reaching out to others. Within the drug reform movement, fratricide must come to an end. We must bury the hatchet on our own rivalries, and move forward with a common purpose. We defeat ourselves by ourselves when we do not.

Our cause is just, and our goals have always been righteous. We may have only ourselves to blame if we cannot achieve now what we have fought so long for. I would say our time is now, but I thought that in 1976 when the Attorney General of the United States, then Ramsey Clark, said we should see an end to unjust marijuana laws before the end of the decade. I think we are overdue. Together, let us do better than we have already done.

We have a President who is willing to listen, a Congress that is willing to learn, and a public that is salivating for a better solution.

Norm Kent is a nationally known criminal defense lawyer from Fort Lauderdale who serves on the Board of Directors for NORML He can be reached at, and his law office website is

An Open Letter to Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota

June, 2007


Dear Mr. Coleman,

My friend Norman.

Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana.

Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.

Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice.

We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later.

We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession.

You never said then that pot was dangerous. What was scary then, and is as frightening now, is when national leaders become voices of hypocrisy, harbingers of the status quo, and protect their own position instead of the public good. Welcome to the crowd of those who have become a likeness of which they despised. Welcome to the mindless myriad of legislators who gather in cocktail lounges to manhandle their martinis while passing laws against drunk driving.

We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot. We have endured generations of drug addicts overdosing on a multitude of drugs, from heroin to crystal methamphetamine. In your public life, as an attorney general, mayor and United States senator, you have been in the forefront of speaking out against abuses which are harmful. You have been a noble and honorable public servant. How about not being such a dope on dope?

How about admitting that if the Rockefeller drug laws were applied to Norman Bruce Coleman on Long Island in 1968, or to me, or to our friends, and fellow students, you, I and others we knew and loved might just be getting out of jail now? How about recognizing that for too long too many have been wrongly arrested, unjustly prosecuted and illegally incarcerated for unconscionable periods of time?

How about recognizing that you have peers who have smoked pot for 25 years or more and they are successful record producers, businessmen and parents?

How about standing up and saying you have heard and witnessed countless stories of persons who have used pot medicinally, as I have, to endure the effects of chemotherapy?

You who have travelled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS so up close and personal would deny medicinal marijuana relief to those souls wasting away from malnutrition, nausea and no access to fundamental medicines?

How about not adopting the sad and sorry archaic path of the Office of Drug Control, which this week suggested pot smokers are more likely to become gang members than others?

How about standing up and saying: "I, Norm Coleman, smoked pot in 1969." That "I am not a gang member, a drug addict or a criminal."

How about saying: "I was able to responsibly integrate my prior pot use into my life, and still succeed on my own merits."

How about standing up not only for who you are, but who you were?

How about it, Norm?

I will always love, admire and cherish what you have achieved and accomplished and the goals you have met. I will always fondly look at the remarkable success of your present.

How about you looking back at your past and saying: "What I did was not so wrong and not so bad and not so hurtful that generations of Americans should still, decades later, be going to jail for smoking pot - nearly one million arrests for possession last year."

Can't Norm Coleman come out of the closet in 2007 and say "These arrests are wrong - that there is a better way, and we need to find it."

You might find more integrity and honor in that then adopting the sad and sorry policy of our Office of National Drug Control Policy. You might find the person you were.

Norm Kent
Your Friend Always

Tommy Chong: The Comedian as Warrior

Not Just A Comedian Anymore: The ‘Unanticipated Warrior’ Tommy Chong

October, 2008

By Norm Kent
I double dare you to tell me that when you hear the names ‘Cheech and Chong’ you don’t smile, chuckle and recall a funny, hazy moment in your life.

Between 1972 and 1985, the comedy team released nine albums, starred in eight films, and won a Grammy award. They became the Dynamic Duo of Dope, and some of their films, like ‘Nice Dreams’ and ‘Up in Smoke’ became celebrated classics.

Tommy and Cheech would often be pressed to talk about their ‘message.’ They would reply simply: “All we can do is be funny and try to make people laugh.” In a lifetime far away, that was their modest and fulfilling goal. That, however, was before a fully armed Department of Justice swat team raided Tommy Chong’s comfortable suburban California home in February of 2003.

Armed with a search warrant, you would think these machine gun toting FBI agents were expecting to find 9-11 terrorists. You would think Tommy was holding hostages. Not close. The feds found Tommy, his wife, his elderly dog and some pot. They found a comedian whose entrepreneurial bent enabled him to become the CEO of business enterprise which sold beautiful and designer glass pipes over the Internet.

Unfortunately, ‘Nice Dreams Enterprises’ was about to become Tommy Chong’s nightmare.

In a different world, maybe Tommy would have been given an award for glass artistry. But in the mind of President George Bush, Tommy Chong was aiding and abetting a culture of ‘terrorists’ who glamorized pot. Said the Chief Assistant United States Attorney from the Western District of Pennsylvania, who would personally handle Tommy Chong’s prosecution, and see him to prison: “The people who sell the accessories are just as bad as those growing the plant.”

On that date, Tommy Chong went from telling jokes and producing glass pipes to starring in a real life documentary which exposes just how transcendentally meaningless the drug war against our citizens is. Like the young man who stood alone before a cannon twenty years ago in Tiananmen Square, Tommy Chong has become the unanticipated warrior whose life experience has exposed the abject foolishness of our government’s drug war.

Tommy Chong has gone from living off the culture of pot to going to prison because of it. He has become the person he joked about. But he never asked to be a hero. He just sought to be funny, to do for pot what Red Skelton used to do for booze. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell the feds that Marcus Welby was never really a doctor and Tommy Chong was never really a stoner. Well, maybe a little. But it was not his whole life.

Tommy Chong was a comedic writer, a guitarist, a filmmaker, a humorist, a businessman, and an entertainer. He trivialized law enforcement. He made stoners laughable and humorous. He mimicked those panicked moments when we would stash the stash, or swallow a roach. He made us laugh about being high even when we were not high. He made funny movies and comic albums. Along the way, he became a counter culture hero, and for everyone who ever bogarted a joint, there is a Cheech and Chong moment stored in your memory bank.

Says Tommy today: “I turn 70 this year. And I still smoke pot about as regular as I want to.”

One of Tom’s more unique honors was being given a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Cannabis Cup ceremonies in Amsterdam. His tour still involves comedy of course, but in his own words, Tommy gives talks “on how Pot can save the Planet. My life is full of love and adventure thanks to the magical herb.”

Following a path many of us tracked, Tommy grew up, has grown older, got married, got divorced, got married, raised a family, and started a successful business. ‘Nice Dream Enterprises’ sold bongs over the ‘Net. Today, any convenience stores on street corners from San Francisco in California to Saint Petersburg in Florida carry pipes and papers and smoking agents. They are not getting busted and they are not going to jail.

But in 2003, while our nation was still removing bodies from the World Trade Center, 55 defendants got popped for bong-selling on the ‘Net. It was a nationwide operation heralded in a press conference by the Attorney General of the United States. Tommy Chong was the Potboy Centerfold, targeted as the number one offender, with a government hell-bent on sending a message which would make Tommy the example to be burnt at the stake.

After 9-11, selling glass pipes on the Internet became a low priority for the federal government. The law was pretty much ignored. Out of all those eventually charged and found guilty, one man of course, would have to wind up with a sentence longer than any other. That man would be a man in his sixties with no criminal record, a father, a parent, and entrepreneur. That man would be one Tommy Chong, who would go to Taft Prison in California for nine months between 2005 and 2006.

“I tried to look at it as going on location for nine months,” Tommy says in a newly released documentary, A/K/A Tommy Chong. It’s playing now on Showtime, and it is a compelling, commanding feature, produced by Blue Chief Entertainment. Even the title has a double entendre: the federal indictment including the charges which would send Tommy to prison, reads United States of America vs. Thomas B. Kin Chong A/K/A Tommy Chong.

The Josh Gilbert film illustratively reveals the way the government improperly solicited and perhaps unlawfully entrapped ‘Nice Dream Enterprises.’ The revealing evidentiary tapes show that the company originally sought NOT to ship glass pipes into the Western Pennsylvania jurisdiction where a phony paraphernalia store run by feds was pleading for product. But the propositions from the undercovers kept on coming, and the corporation headed by Tommy Chong made a bad call. Then came the feds.

As the film shows, Tommy had little to do with the day to day operations of the company. He was, his son Paris says, too busy “dreaming about creating a million dollar bong with gold and diamonds.” But the indictment named Tommy, and in exchange for the government not adding as co-defendants his wife and son, who were instrumental in the operation of the company, Tommy bit the bullet and took the fall.

To secure a lenient plea deal and possible sentence reduction means your attorney has to plead you guilty swiftly. This sentencing guideline enables you to get credit for ‘early acceptance of responsibility.’ It means you have to waive your right to contest the indictment, file defensive motions, and allege such issues as unlawful entrapment. As his attorneys in the film point out, and as Tommy himself found out, your options are severely limited.

The Prince of Dope Films became the pot prisoner he used to joke about. In the film, drug reformers Ethan Nadelman and Eric Schlosser acknowledge as much: “He convinced the government he was the guy he played in the movies.” And Andy Griffith was really a Sheriff.

In 2008, as he tours North America with Cheech Marin for the first time in 25 years, Tommy recognizes of our government: “They made me a martyr.” How true. Within months of his release, Tommy was on the Tonite Show with Jay Leno. “Too bad he wasn’t a conservative radio talk show host,” Leno would remark in his monologue: “he would be in rehab instead of jail.”

On Bill Maher’s weekly television show, Maher noted with irony that Tommy’s federal sentencing date was on September 11: “Osama may still be running free in caves, but our country will be much safer with a 65 year old Tommy Chong in a prison.”

Now free of prison, but forever an adjudicated felon, Tommy says: “I made a living for thirty years talking about a culture. Today, I stand up for it.” He is truly not just a comedian anymore.

Joshua Gilbert produced, wrote, and directed the film. He had the ingenuity and foresight to create a film which followed Tommy from his indictment to his release from prison. We see Tommy entertaining on stage before his incarceration, and then doing a sobering interview while doing his time. In a lighter moment, he jokes with his new found friends, all inmates at a federal prison. Few actors have better worked the ‘method’ system. Tommy’s was real.

In a later scene, we see Tommy leaving the gates of this deserted and lonely steel prison, walking out of the federal penitentiary on his release date, his wife waiting to meet him. Driving home along an isolated road, Tommy sees a goat entangled in a wire cage. He frees him. “It feels good to be free,” Tommy says. He then arrives home, bends down, and kisses the concrete steps leading up to his house.

The film’s insight reveals that the end of a sentence for a prisoner can also be the beginning of a new one. As a felon, you have to register and report to police stations, half way houses, and you can be subject to post-custodial supervision and random drug testing. The failure to meet these conditions can cause your return to prison. After spending nine months in jail, Tommy had to go to one of those half way houses and endure nine more months of probation. We forget what that can do to the human spirit.

“Once you have been jailed, you are never really free again,” Tommy says. “You no longer feel invincible. You have been humbled. You know what the meaning of ‘doing time’ means.”

In life, sometimes you are called upon to stand naked in front of the cannon, as that young man in Tiananmen Square did years ago. Sometimes, you are called upon to just be funny.

The new tour of Cheech and Chong is taking them to cities in America and Canada. As she has since 1996, Tommy’s wife Shelby opens the show. An entertainer in her own right, she is the prelude for the duo that has now been booked for over 50 dates in 50 cities between now and March of 2009.

One of those dates, on March 07, 2009, is not many miles from the very county in Pennsylvania where Tommy’s bongs arrived in a shipment, in 2002, which would lead to his arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. If he has not already, I suspect on that stage and in that forum, Tommy may find true vindication.

Tommy is not alone turning 70 this year. So are many members of his audience. But the crowds laugh and cry, stare and abide by the Dukes of Dope, now in the autumn of their lives. Maybe they go home to lattes instead of lines, grandkids instead of ganja, but Cheech and Chong are one with the crowd, no more so then the closing moments of the performance, when all join in a joyful, playful, sing-along rendition of ‘Up in Smoke.’

“And we close our show,” says Cheech in a Rolling Stone interview, “with ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s for world peace. It’s for the kids. It’s for the future.”

“I am inspired,” Tommy says now, “not just to tell jokes, but to send a message. My arrest, my sentence is a badge of honor..”

A published writer on issues related to Marijuana and law reform, Norm Kent ( is a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney who serves on the Board of Directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. His website can be accessed at

The Legacy of Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk’s Legacy: Connecting the Dots from Past to Present

By Norm Kent

December, 2008

“My name is Harvey Milk, and I am here to recruit you.”

Anyone who was alive then has to see this movie now.

As 2008 comes to a close, the month of November has turned out to be a defining moment in the evolution of gay American history.

Call it a collage of circumstance, but the past has met the present, and today it defines our future.

It was November of 1978 when the first openly gay office holder in California, Harvey Milk, was slain by a disgruntled colleague on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A chronicle of his life and death came last week to the big screen, a mainstream studio film starring a renowned actor, Sean Penn. Rapidly winning critical acclaim, the historically accurate film is riveting and compelling.

Years ago, a renowned lesbian writer named Patricia Nell Warren authored a ground breaking gay novel, The Front Runner, featuring a youthful track star and the gay coach who loved him. It never made it to the movies. No major star wanted to play the role of a gay man. No major studio would bankroll a film based on a gay love affair. We lived in a different world three decades ago.

South Floridians who have lived here long enough will also remember the progressive human rights ordinance enacted by the Dade County Commission in 1977, protecting the rights of gays and lesbians. We will also recall the successful initiative to repeal it, led by Anita Bryant, the Orange Juice Queen. Rare footage of what happened in Miami, Florida is captured in the film on Harvey Milk. Those are pictures you won’t find in this week’s magazines capturing last week’s White Party.

The history of South Florida’s struggle thirty years ago is also the focus of a new book by Fred Fejes, a well known local educator. The Blade covered its release, showcased for the Stonewall Library, housed in a wing of a public library on East Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Thirty years ago, gays who treaded openly along East Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale would more likely wind up being housed in the city jail.

This week, a leading candidate for a Presidential appointment to head national AIDS policy is an HIV-positive gay man. Vizcaya again hosted the White Party, South Florida’s annual testimony to an ongoing struggle against AIDS. It was a battle Harvey Milk never had to fight. He was shot and killed less than a year after he took office, years before we would hear the words ‘Gay Related Immune Syndrome.’ Still, he would be proud of the way that the gay community has raised hundreds of millions of dollars on its own to fight this pandemic.

Last week, while supporters of the Miami Dade Gay and Lesbian Film Festival were gathering at a benefit for the Harvey Milk film, Circuit Court Judge Cindy Lederman was striking down as unconstitutional a Florida statute banning gays and lesbians from adoption. The law was created thirty years ago in response to Anita Bryant’s unrighteous campaign.

Yet here we were again, only last month, in California, Florida, and elsewhere organizing voters not to approve a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to unions of only men and women. We were defeated, but this is simply a setback within a larger cause. We have not lost ground. We are picking at sacred institutions, and temples do not fall lightly.

One of the things you learn about Harvey Milk in the film is how he galvanized his legions after every defeat. On November 15, 2008, a week after losing the marriage amendments in three states, gays and lesbians spontaneously protested in fifty. We did so without the help of fancy gay bureaucrats at the HRC in DC holding banquets. With new leaders, younger voices, and the promise of tomorrow at our doorstep, I have confidence in the future.

Last week, I went to the funeral of another gay American hero. He led no marches. He spoke at no rallies. He simply did his job, and died in the line of duty. His name was Alex Del Rio and he was a 31 year old gay cop serving the city of Hollywood. To the thousands of friends and fellow law enforcement professionals attending his rites, it did not matter that he was gay.

Harvey Milk opened the doors yesterday that invite gay men throughout our community today to run and serve openly on city commissions, in the judiciary, or even in law enforcement.

“If Athens shall appear great to you” wrote Aeschylus, “consider that the city purchased its honor simply by good men doing their duty.” If we continue to stand our ground and there abide, in our time or the future, eventually the whole world will come ‘round to us.

I met Harvey Milk only once, in the summer of 1975, on Castro Street. I told him I had just finished law school at Hofstra University, on Long Island, in New York State, and that I was thinking about relocating to San Francisco or Southern Florida. I shared that like him, I was from Woodmere, New York, a point he would raise in so many of his spirited speeches.

“Well, then come move out here with me,” he said, “and we will change the world.”

Harvey paid the ultimate price, but made a unique difference. We all owe him a debt we can only pay forward by fighting that same fight.