Monday, December 22, 2008

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.

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