Pubdate: Mon, 19 Apr 2010
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2010 Statesman Journal
Author: Stacey Barchenger


Police, Property's Owner Have Had No Problems With NORML's Salem Organization

Twice each month, more than a hundred people gather in a northeast 
Salem warehouse to talk about gardening and smoke pot.

To the 250 members of Salem's NORML subchapter, the smoking ritual is 
medication needed for their pain, stiff joints and other ailments.

"I would call this a huge success," Oregon NORML chapter coordinator 
and co-founder Anna Diaz said. "The support in the cannabis community 
here is great."

NORML is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 
The Oregon chapter was started in 2001 and now boasts the largest 
membership, about 2,000, Diaz said.

Subchapter director Jim Hickam began using marijuana to alleviate 
back pain after trying other medications that left him feeling "out of it."

"There are people up to 90 years old there that have given up 
traditional medication because they realize they're being poisoned by 
the doctors," Hickam said.  "We aren't a bunch of young hippies. We 
really have a need for medicinal marijuana."

The Salem chapter was born about a year ago when Diaz began talking 
to a local man and Hickam got tired of driving to Portland for 
meetings so packed he'd have to get there hours early.

"We worked so hard to start this," said Diaz, the chapter 
coordinator. "It's amazing. People are getting the medication they need."

And the group, who some might stereotype as problematic, simply isn't.

Salem police reported no uptick in crime in the area surrounding the 
subchapter headquarters since they made it a permanent home., a Web site that the Salem Police Department uses to 
publish some crime data, shows there have been no calls for service 
to the location in recent months.

Even city officials weren't aware of NORML moving in.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Salem City Counselor Diana 
Dickey said in response to a Statesman Journal inquiry. Dickey is 
counselor for Salem's ward 5, where NORML has set up camp.

Doug Comstock owns the warehouse NORML has been renting since February.

"These kinds of people are good people, they're not drug dealers. 
They're trying to help people out who find relief from certain types 
of illnesses," Comstock said.

Comstock reported no problems with the building or vandalism since 
Salem NORML moved in.

"I don't suspect it will change," he said.

If anything, the biggest problem they've brought to the neighborhood 
is parking issues.

But they might not be there for long with membership numbers that 
grew from 50 at the first meeting in December to more than 150 at the 
March meeting.  Subchapter leaders are mentioning a move.

"We had no idea there was going to be so many people here," Hickam 
said. About 30 new members showed up for the April Salem NORML meeting.

A NORML meeting

Hickam invited the Statesman Journal to attend the group's April meeting.

At the door, members showed identification, NORML membership card and 
medical marijuana card. Without those three things, they can't get 
in, Hickam said.

Inside the concrete warehouse, a hundred people gathered on 
rolled-out carpets and around plastic folding tables.

When Hickam banged a gavel on a counter, cheers erupted from the crowd.

"No marijuana can be smoked ... until medication period is announced 
by me," he reminded the group.

"We don't let anyone smoke while we talk because they don't pay 
attention," Diaz said with a smile.

Hickam ushered a cluster of patients waiting for tincture -- a 
glycerine-based pain reliever that draws on the CBCs and THCs in 
marijuana -- to be quiet.

In the opposite corner of the room is a table filled with clones: 
marijuana plants grown by NORML members who donate them to new members.

"The medical-marijuana program allows (cardholders) to share plants, 
cuttings and medicine with each other so long as they don't exchange 
money for it," said John Lucy IV, a Portland attorney, former NORML 
chapter president and member of NORML's national legal committee.

Each new member gets a playing card they can exchange for a plant, Hickam said.

"A lot of people don't know what to do," he said. "We teach them how 
to do it legally so they don't go to jail."

The plants vary in size and grow in Dixie cups and 5-gallon buckets.

The people in the room walk, rely on walkers and some are in wheelchairs.

They laugh, share growing tips and stories, and cheer when Hickam 
shares the NORML mantra.

"We all want marijuana legal, that is our common goal.  ... We stand 
together for our right to change our right to medicate," Hickam said.

The benefits of legalizing marijuana, Hickam said, are cutting costs 
to law enforcement and raising more money in taxes. NORML wants 
marijuana state-regulated and sold through a cannabis store, he said.

Hickam continues thanking volunteers for their help with meetings and 
"Brother Bud" for teaching classes during the week.

He pitches support for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act to the 
standing-room only crowd, and then there's a giveway of medication, 
smoking apparatus and T-shirts.

When it's time to medicate, the Statesman Journal agreed to leave.

"NORML does everything according to the book," Hickam said.

"We make sure we obey the letter of the law," Diaz said.
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