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Oklahoma marijuana activist discusses the future of legalization, hemp, the opioid crisis and Mary Fallin

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Oklahoma native, Norma Sapp, is a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization.
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NORMAN, Okla.- When it comes to advocacy for marijuana legalization, Oklahoma native Norma Sapp has got the bit between her teeth. She’s been advocating for legalization on a daily basis for 27 years and doesn’t plan on letting up anytime soon.  Sapp had recently traveled to Bartlesville to testify for a man on trial for treating his illness with marijuana.  “He was found guilty, and charged $10,000!”,  Sapp told me.  “But he plead guilty.  He was trying to set precedent, that someone who is seriously ill can treat his illness with medicine.”  She didn’t seem discouraged in the least that she traveled all that way only to hear a guilty verdict.

Sapp first became interested in marijuana legalization after moving out to rural Oklahoma and learning about farming.  She discovered the many different uses of hemp and became energized.

“I thought, 'My God, we’ve got to do this!'.  And that started my quest of learning about the history of hemp and marijuana laws, and I realized that marijuana laws had to be changed before hemp could be grown here.”

Sapp, who apparently has at her disposal an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cannabis, gave this reporter one of the most interesting history lessons he’d ever heard.  It was the lost history of hemp in America, and how it was persecuted out of existence.

“In the beginning, the push against hemp came from other industries.  The person that pushed the most to get the laws changed around hemp was Randolph Hearst in the 30’s.  This was around the time that it was discovered that paper could be made from wood pulp.  So he got a contract from the federal government to cut down trees in the national forests for his paper mills, and that began the process of eliminating hemp as a resource for paper.  It was literally a conspiracy.  He was related to DuPont de Nemours, who produced nylon rope, and the two companies conspired to eliminate hemp as a competitor.  Paper from wood pulp is so much more devastating for our environment because you have to use chlorine bleach to break down lignin in the wood pulp to make it soluble for making paper.  That creates dioxin in our environment, and of course, all of our groundwater now is polluted with dioxin.

A lot of our historical documents in the Library of Congress were made from hemp fiber.  Those documents still exist today because they don’t have the same acid that our paper today does.  Paper disintegrates quickly, and archivists have a hard time preserving it.

Another great thing about hemp is that there are genomes available that have a high CBD content, so you could make CBD medicine hemp.

One of the arguments during the 1937 discussion in Congress was that the Audubon Society came to Congress and basically said, “You’re going to change entire patterns of migration in birds, and starve some to death, because they depend on hemp seed for their plumage and the oils in their skin.  This is their food.”  The government then allowed bird seed companies to import hemp seed from other countries to mix with their seed, on the condition that the hemp seed was sterilized, which of course ruins the nutritional value.”

Ironically, the United States shot itself in the foot with its ban on hemp.  During the Second World War, the U.S. hemp supply was cut off, and the government needed hemp fiber to make rope, so they allowed hemp to be grown again 10 years after making it illegal.

Sapp mentioned the World War 2 propaganda film, “Hemp for Victory”, that urged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort.  After the war, hemp again became an outcast, until Jack Herer, found of the Hemp Movement, discovered the film and hemp’s hidden history. The 14-minute film can be watched on Youtube now.

After learning about the agricultural value of hemp, Sapp became active with like-minded Okies.

“At that time, 1990, I had gone to Peace Fest at the Myriad Gardens in OKC, and at one of the tables, there was a man with information about hemp and marijuana laws.  He had started a chapter of Oklahoma NORML, and so I joined his efforts and we started trying to get out the word.  He moved into politics about ten years later and handed the organization over to me.  I’ve been the state director since then.  So that’s 27 years that I’ve been active.  And we have moved forward quite a bit.  Last year, representative Echols introduced a bill to take CBD oil out of the definition of marijuana per statute in our laws, so that everyone would have access to CBD oil.

CBD oil is such a wonderful thing that is doing miracles every day.  Even without THC in it, I have seen friends of mine get completely off of opiates.  It took one of my friends nine months to do it, but she’d been on opiates for 25 years, but she’s off now and she’s so much healthier.  I also saw a lady who was in her 30s and got Crohn’s disease while she was pregnant and was in danger of losing her baby and she didn’t know what to do.  She began taking CBD oil and it cured her Crohn’s disease.  She runs marathons now. Every state that has legalized medical marijuana has seen a forty percent drop in opioid use.  That saves lives.”

Sapp has seen the effects of opiate addiction up close, with friends who have been directly affected.

“A friend of mine has been taking opiates for most of her life.  She now takes time-released opiates in a pain clinic, which is a big departure from other opiates where the effects are immediate.  So older patients are taking more medication far too soon, which causes liver failure.  People are paying $35 for one pill, so it’s pushing them to the black market and onto the street. My grandson who lives in Pennsylvania became addicted to heroin, so law enforcement got involved and put him on suboxone, and now he’s addicted to that, which is far worse for the liver than even heroin.  And he’s on probation so it’s the only choice he has.”

She also doesn’t believe anything positive will come from the state’s Opioid Commission to address the crisis.

“The only reason that states like Oklahoma are investigating now and creating a committee is because of the millions of federal dollars that are being handed out.”

What about SQs 780 and 781?

“Even though we voted for 780 and 781, no one has implemented it across the state.  When I talk to law enforcement agencies across the state, they say “well we’re waiting for instructions from the legislature”, but we read the instructions in that bill when we voted for it and no one has even attempted to make it a civil penalty, like a city statute that says that anyone with marijuana that is under an ounce will receive a ticket instead of spending the night in jail, but nobody has done that.”

Sapp believes that marijuana prohibition is a source of so much money and power that politicians and law enforcement will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from changing.

“Our district attorney in Cleveland County is predatory.  I’m sure he’s just like most of them.  When a kid in college gets caught with a roach, they extort their parents because the parents will pay anything to make sure their kid does not have a felony and finish school.  This is a money-making deal for all of law enforcement.  And then you add forfeiture and it truly is raping American citizens.

And they’re afraid of legalization, and the jails are afraid as well because they wouldn’t have the same population that pays the $35 a day for each inmate.”

She’s followed the Friendly Market case very closely and is very happy with the outcome so far.

“The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury, 5-1 in our favor.  The second case was unanimous, the jurors came back within 30 minutes.  The DA then went on to bring charges against Steven Holman and Robert Cox and those were felonies.  When the chief of police testified for the DA, they filled the courtroom with law enforcement officers which felt like an intimidation tactic.  The jury still saw through those tactics and exonerated them.”

 All that’s left is for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule on the seized inventory.

“The Supreme Court will make a decision soon, so we’re holding our breath.  We expect them to say that the lower court rules and that the DA will then be ordered to give back the pipes.

This was the first that anyone has stood up to charges like this in the state.  No one can afford it because the DA can keep bringing you back to court over and over again.”

On the topic of Oklahoma’s high female incarceration rate, Sapp places the blame directly on the shoulders of Mary Fallin. 

“The Kaiser Foundation did a pilot program seven or eight years ago, where he invited everyone that was involved with incarceration and mental health, and take a small group of women that fit into a certain demographic that were incarcerated, and they were going to treat them right.  They were going to be sent into a treatment/education/jobs program, teaching them how to be good parents, deal with their mental health issues, dealing with a bleak family history, and then put them on the street when they were paroled.

So what happened was this.  Mary Fallin was still a legislator when we had our first interim study on women in prison.  I went all summer long to these meetings, and tens of thousands of dollars were spent on this study, people coming from other states explaining how they approached the problem of female incarceration.  So Fallin had all these answers on how to approach the problem, and the committee was then to hand out a recommendation that would then be turned into legislation.  Both Mary Fallin and the DA refused the suggestions of the rest of the committee to do a program similar to those in other states.  Nothing ever even came of that study.   I knew then that when she refused to write that recommendation that she was going to run for governor one day or some other office, and she was afraid to be seen as soft on crime.  She let all those women and all those families suffer for the past two decades in order to advance her political career.”

Sapp also battles for legalization because she sees how the Drug War has also corrupted law enforcement.

“I think probably the worst part of the Drug War, if locking people up isn’t bad enough, is the freedom that police have to steal from you, on the highway.  I remember the sheriff in McClain County had stopped a retired couple in their motorhome.  They had $18,000 in cash on them.  The police took that money.  So the rationale in the cop’s mind is that “they have legal remedies, so just use the legal remedies and they’ll get their cash back if they’re innocent.  This couple had no drugs but they still took their cash.  So they were in the middle of their vacation, now cashless, and now had to fight to get their money back, which could take years.  And the sheriff thought that what he did was okay because they had legal remedies.”

It has really led to unscrupulous law enforcement taking advantage of people, literally robbing them on the highway.”

What is the next step after medical marijuana legalization, and what will legalization mean for society as a whole? 

“We’ll go for full recreational legalization, of course. I think it will also mean less jack-booted police putting on their military gear and going out and shooting people.  But it will also be an agricultural revolution, which is what we need.  We need hemp next.  Regulation of hemp can provide the CBD oil for medicine.  When they discovered the endocannabinoid system, it is a medical revolution.” 

Sapp uses Facebook as her main medium for activism.  “It’s me and my 20,000 or so friends on Facebook.  I don’t hold meetings anymore, it was just a waste of gas and time.  Facebook is just so much simpler and faster.  I organize through Facebook and people show up.  For the two initiatives I used Facebook and people showed up, and it has worked well.  But I still do very much advocacy, traveling to hear court cases and meet people. 

It’s basically just keeping up with the news, watching for reasons to get involved.  If someone gets busted for marijuana and it’s a compelling case for medical use or cases like the Friendly Market case, and I just start spreading the news.”

Being involved in activism for over two decades, she has seen public opinion turn 180 on the topic of marijuana legalization.  Her enthusiasm appears just as strong as ever, and I imagine she’ll be advocating for a freer society with just as much energy for another two decades.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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