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Monday, August 10, 2009

NORML Pot Poster Stirs Legal Debate on Fair Use

NORML is America’s pro marijuana legalization. I serve on the national Board of Directors. Its theme for this year’s festival is ‘Yes We Cannabis.’

We decided to borrow the theme from President Obama’s successful campaign. To play on his words that it is time to turn a searing eye on an unsuccessful drug war.

What better way to play on it that draw off a 20 year old photograph of a younger Barack looking debonair and suave in a Panama hat while puffing on a cigarette? So we morphed the old photo a bit and a talented artist named Sonia Sanchez designed a popular poster for this year’s September 24-26 festival in San Francisco.

It seemed like we would get the usual suspects and quietly do our thing, fighting the good fight for what is right and just for Americans; that we would again renew our advocacy to end the foolish drug war. And we would do it in virtual anonymity once again, ignored by the national and local press despite the nationwide support for our organization and its cause. 20,000,000 pot arrests means how many million more consumers?

So what does it take to make the national news, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and CNN and Fox? Not the righteousness of our cause, but rather a threatened lawsuit from Getty Images because we inadvertently co-opted a quarter century old image of the President, and have been threatened with a copyright infringement suit we really can’t afford.

Now first of all NORML’s battle is for the legalization of pot, not to expand the fair use doctrine even though we believe this is one. We also believe that the photographer who owns the photo, a Minnesota college professor named Lisa Jack, has rights that we should not trespass on, so we will work at protecting her lawful entitlement. What is sad in a way is that the legal arguments over copyright protections have become more of an issue than the discussion about legalization.

Florida is in the backwoods swamps with this last battle. Medical battles have to be fought in courts with patients’ freedom on the line. Legislators still mine and protect laws which discriminate against minorities, students, the indigent, poor, and young people. With the expansion of forfeiture doctrines, even the middle class are being punished by draconian drug laws that allow forfeitures of your property, deny you driver’s licenses, and can take away your scholarships.

That is the battle NORML has to fight and for which I will be going to San Francisco, where I maintain a dual residence; where I could, if I wanted, to, use my medical identification card to lawfully consume marijuana. We will change our poster but our stance will remain forthright and correct, just and honorable. It will be to live in a world where people can responsibly smoke a joint without facing criminal sanctions.

This is the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. Richie Havens opened the festival with the song, ‘Freedom,’ sometimes I feel like a motherless child.' When it comes to pot, sometimes I feel like we have had to wage this battle too long; that we all know the truth. We all know better.

We don’t need any more forums or panels or commissions to tell us what the Shafer Commission told us once before in 1972: pot laws must go, as they have for millions of Americans in 14 states and scores of municipalities.
And they will elsewhere as soon as all the adults who hold office remember who they once were and where they are now and that marijuana did not stand in their way. It would be nice if the debate over Obama and pot was not about his 25 year old photo at Occidental College. It would be nice if Obama the President said what Obama the citizen and Obama the candidate did: that pot laws are about as dated as Woodstock and have not been changed in 40 years.
The best way to celebrate the Aquarian Exposition of Love which featured marijuana on every blade of grass at Max Yasgur's farm would be for the President to say, ' Hey, its NORML to use pot. Just do it responsibly.'
Then America could have a debate that mattered.

1 comment:

  1. "inadvertently co-opted a quarter century old image of the President?"

    NORML didn't know they were using it? Maybe the drugs ARE a problem!