Columbia group fights for change in marijuana laws
Columbia Norml will hold its first rally in support of legalization of marijuana at the State House on April 20. To prepare for the event, Kristyn Sanito painted posters with other members at the Feb. 1 meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Spokesman Christopher Kimble says Columbia Norml became an official chapter in September.
A political action group that plays "pass the bowl" of questions to get to know each other and has poster-making nights? Norml, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is not your usual nonprofit.
Its goal is to legalize marijuana, and on Sept. 20, Columbia Norml became the first official chapter registered with the national organization in South Carolina. A Greenville group hopes to create the state's second chapter.
The first Tuesday of every month, Columbia's chapter meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Heyward Street. Spokesman Christopher Kimble says about 30 people consistently attend the meetings that start with passing a bowl filled with questions on slips of paper.
"What are you doing here?" one might ask, or "Why do you believe in legalization?"
Kristyn Sanito, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, said she got involved with Norml after an invitation from one of the group's directors. But her desire for legalization has kept her coming back.
"It's to the point where it doesn't make sense not to legalize," Sanito said. "If it was regulated, it could make a lot of money for the state and the country."
Sanito said legalization would help marijuana users "come out the closet."
The Columbia group plans an April 20th rally at the State House to make its point.
"The bigger scene we create, the more people are going to take notice," Archie said.
Former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who served 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, stirred up the legalization debate recently when he argued for the repeal of prohibitions on marijuana and cocaine.
"Drug abuse is a medical, health care and spiritual problem, not a problem to be solved within a criminal justice model," Ravenel wrote in a Feb. 5 column in The Post and Courier of Charleston.
Dezz Archie, executive director of the Columbia chapter, argues that prohibition does not work.
"We saw it back when alcohol was illegal. It never worked. It gives way to crime," he said. "Let's focus on stopping the flow of cocaine and meth, not something that makes people hungry, happy and sleepy."
But four bills moving through legislative committees would instead tighten state drug laws. By declaring synthetic cannabis, also known as K2 or spice, and salvia divinorum, a psychoactive mint plant native to Mexico, to be a schedule one drug, the bills would allow for up to five years in prison and a $5,000 penalty for distribution.
Attempts to reach the bills' sponsors were unsuccessful.
Archie said he gives out "freedom cards," which explain what to do when confronted by authorities. "That's a big thing," he said. "First, knowing the law. Knowing what they're supposed to be subjected to, knowing how to handle themselves."
For now, Columbia chapter members said being in a conservative state changes their immediate goals. Bringing industrial hemp to South Carolina is one of the main focuses, Kimble said.
Industrial hemp is a cannabis plant grown for its fibers, seed, seed meal and seed oil. The North American Industrial Hemp Council says it contains almost no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and cannot be used as a drug.
"Industrial hemp is going to bring money to the people. It's going to bring jobs to the state. It's going to help out with so many different things," Kimble said. "It's about the people, and that's what we're about, too."
While Columbia Norml spends most of its time focusing on legalizing marijuana, members also take time to volunteer with Pets Inc. and other local projects.
"We're just a very relaxed and positive group. And that's something we want to portray, especially as people that support cannabis," Kimble said. "We promote positivity and love and peace."