Members of the Tennessee Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws pose for a group picture during their most recent meeting. Courtesy photo

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — The president of the Tennessee chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has resigned, calling for diversity and growth for the consumer advocacy group.

“We lack diversity without blacks on the board,” Doak Patton said after nearly nine years as president of a state organization that’s had local groups in Memphis, and Knoxville. “It’s an organization that needs new, young and minority blood.”

Patton announced his resignation during a chapter meeting attended by half a dozen other

Doak Patton

people on Jan. 19 in the Severe Park Community Center. All are older than Patton, 56, who says a big reason people participate in NORML activities is their advocacy of medical marijuana to provide relief for a relative with cancer.

That’s why Paul Kuhn, 76, participates. His wife died of breast cancer 24 years ago. Kuhn has been a member of NORML’s national board and the board here.

“I understand Doak’s reason,” Kuhn said of Patton’s resignation. “You beat your head against the wall and get no where.”

Legislation to legalize marijuana in Tennessee failed in recent years. However, this year, according to TV news reports in Memphis and Nashville, state Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) filed a bill to decriminalize possession and allow Tennesseans to vote on legalization in their county. What could become companion legislation in the Senate has been filed by Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) who advocates decriminalization of medical marijuana for people with a medical marijuana patient card from another state.

Paul Kuhn

Kuhn gives two reasons for continued criminalization of marijuana: racism and money. Asset seizure is possible as a result of some drug arrests and there’s federal funding for drug agents. Racist attitudes linger in the public’s mind with regard to marijuana.

Historic documents described blacks and Hispanics as “degenerative races” in anti-marijuana propaganda saying marijuana makes white women want to have relations with black men and that the illegal weed makes black people think they’re as good as whites, Kuhn said, citing a national report.

“Everybody benefits from legalization of marijuana,” Patton said, and Kuhn supports the observation, citing state tax revenues, and he notes reports of referendums in nearby states where marijuana laws might be enacted.

“Medical marijuana will be on the (Nov. 3) ballot in Mississippi,” Kuhn said. “It will pass and pass big. It could pass here.”

Tennessee lawmakers, however, are prohibited from relinquishing their legislative authority, so systematic change is needed before Tennesseans can vote on policy. Marijuana remains a scheduled drug under federal law, meaning Transportation Safety Administration officers may confiscate it at airports and sea ports, and bring charges.

Recreational marijuana became legal Jan. 1 in Illinois. It’s legal in Colorado, California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Washington state, Washington, D.C., Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. Medical marijuana is legal in those states and Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii. Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...