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A New Beginning for NORML Charlotte 

New blood hopes to revive local efforts to legalize marijuana

Just a few months ago, Walker Spruill didn't know the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) existed. Now, she finds herself at the head of a revival of the organization's Charlotte chapter.

One month into her new appointment as NORML Charlotte's executive director, Creative Loafing spoke with Spruill about why NORML Charlotte isn't technically even a group yet and what she wants to accomplish when it finally becomes one.

Creative Loafing: How did you get involved with NORML?

Walker Spruill: In October, I literally had no idea there was an organization called NORML, which is crazy because it's been around forever. I just started speaking out and being more vocal about my own marijuana use. As I started talking about it more, people were responding well to it and I thought, "Gosh, I wish we had more of a community." Then one of my friends posted on Facebook that she was going to a NORML meeting, so I said, "What's this?" and I literally just showed up the next day. It's awesome. I think the universe definitely drew me there for a reason.

What do you mean by speaking out about your personal marijuana use?

For me, my marijuana story is I've used marijuana for at least half of my life. I'm 35 and I started smoking off and on at the end of high school. A few years ago, I got a job with a local hospice and they drug tested so I gave up marijuana. It's something I've done with a lot of things in my life. I gave up cigarettes, I gave up fast food for Lent and ended up giving it up for 2 years. It's a kind of willpower testing that I do. I gave up marijuana thinking that I was done with it — thinking it was an addiction that I had. I gave it up for three years while I was working that job.

In those three years working with hospice, I saw how all those meds weren't doing for these people what they actually needed in that time. Also during that three-year period I weened myself off of pharmaceutical meds, which I had been on for 18 years. When I went off my meds, my body still needed something else to help supplement, so I went back on marijuana because I had finished with the hospice job and I had the freedom to use it again. That was 2 years ago, and now I don't use any other medication. I use marijuana to manage my bi-polar disorder, my depression, my ADD.

Now that I am finding such great success with it and as I talk about it, people tell me how much success they've had with pain management or nausea or things like that. It was always one of those things I wanted my hospice patients to be able to try. While I was at these patients' houses I wanted to be able to say, "Hey, have you ever considered burning one and that would really help your whatever?" and also ask the caregivers, "Hey, have you ever considered burning one because it would really help your stress as well?"

I'm getting to that point in my life, two years after I decided that I wanted marijuana back in my life, now I'm finding more and more people who are interested in talking about it, but they're still afraid. They're still scared because it's still a taboo subject. So my thing is that I want to start the conversation about it. That's actually my goal with everything I've come across in life, it's to start a conversation to get people talking about it so they feel more comfortable talking about it when someone else brings it up another day.

That's really my goal now to make it more of an everyday conversation so we can start having these conversations and people can express how marijuana affects their lives so the information can be passed around. People are still secretive, they're still living in fear about using it. I just want people to not be living in fear, essentially. I want people to be able to openly discuss whatever they want to if they so choose, and I think marijuana is a pretty awesome place to start a conversation.

How did you find yourself in the executive director chair so quickly?

Mainly it's because, with any kind of political movement like marijuana is, people get involved when they care, when there's an issue that they're pushing and they fall away when that issue is won or defeated. When I came in, there was a lot of fresh new blood, new people who had never been to NORML before. Everyone [who's been involved long term] is just exhausted from fighting the fight. It wasn't so much of ranks, it was whoever was willing to step into the role. We have a brand new board of 6 people and only 2 of those have been long-term members. It's really just whoever was willing to step up to the plate and take care of business, so that's what we're doing.

What do you hope to accomplish with your new role?

The first thing we have to do is get official. We are actively filing paperwork with national NORML and we have to wait for them to OK it, and then we can file to be a 501c3 in North Carolina and federally. Right now it's a weird situation because we can't promote as the new NORML group yet, because we're not yet official. We kind of feel like we're in this holding pattern, which is unfortunate because you don't want the energy to fade.

My personal goal is to build this community because when we have community we feel safe and we feel like we're not standing alone. I want people to know out there that it's totally normal if you smoke pot, even if you don't know anyone else around you who smokes it, we are out here. For me personally, one thing that really bothers me is the fact that when I'm going out — I quit drinking 9 years ago — now when I go out I have to go and drive around to smoke and that really bothers me. I want to be safe to enjoy my substance of choice. I feel like these are just really backward rules. My true goal is, I want to expose people to the truth about marijuana.

What we're really starting to focus on as a group, from my goal of building the community, I want people to have reasons to get together. Part of that will be activism, going out and actively talking to people about it, or something as simple as walking around with t-shirts with a cannabis leaf on it so people start seeing it more out and about. That's a big part of it is just us being seen in the community. We'll also be working with NC CAN, the North Carolina Cannabis Action Network, we're going to be working with them to do roadside clean-ups called Honk for Cannabis which sounds pretty amazing. It's great because something I do around town is what I call litterbugging which is just me literally walking around picking up trash, so we're excited about picking up trash and finding a way to do it so people can see that we're not just marijuana users, we're community members who also happen to smoke cannabis — and that actually makes litter pick-up a whole hell of a lot more fun.

How is there not an official Charlotte chapter yet?

Before this, there was a new group that tried to get started up again, but it kind of fell apart right as we were coming in. Also, the NC NORML has been going through restructuring. We're all kind of working our way up now together. There was a lot of — as political movements go — you had a lot of people who were strong and excited about it and then they fade away and the new people come in and they have new opinions from the people who have already been there for so long. Sometimes you need new leadership, sometimes you need new support from beneath, so it's become a restructuring across the board.

Will you be advocating to city leaders for decriminalization of marijuana on a local level?

We do have a good interest in decriminalization, of course, but as for how we will move forward with that I don't know yet. But yes, that is a big part of our focus because that's a big part of why people are so afraid.

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