Top of page.(KING CITY, ONTARIO, JANUARY 1996) "The war on drugs itself is a much greater attack on our youth and our citizens, than legal marijuana could ever be. NORML Canada was always arguing for moderation and responsibility in the marijuana issue," says Umberto Iorfida, (pronounced EE-yor-FEE-dah) president of this federally chartered organization which has been trying to legalize marijuana since the '70's . "Marijuana smoking by adults can be done, and in fact is usually done, responsibly."
Umberto Iorfida and NORML Canada recently prevailed in Ontario Provincial court in winning a constitutional challenge to the criminal code section (462.2 and 462.1) which banned "drug literature". This means that literature discussing illicit drug use, or illicit drug legalization, is legal again all over Canada. (NOTE : since early 1996, we have inadvertently reported this as an "all-Canada" court victory. This is not true technically. It was a provincial court win which changed a national law. There have been no prosecutions in Canada under this law since our win. Also, most lawyers have considered the 462.2 literature ban section to be "dead from the start" since its passage by Parliament. Feb. 2007 Note: I know I saw a reference to a 462.2 case and Marc Emery, Cannabis Culture, etc. There are other cases concerning 462.2 in B.C. and other provinces as well.)
(Early 2004) NOTE: reports filtering in indicate that Canadian immigration is "enforcing" 462.2 against foreign tourists visiting Canada. This means that those who carry copies of Cannabis Culture, High Times, or NORML reform oriented literature, are being denied entrance into Canada on the grounds that they are carrying "drug paraphanelia". Phones Screwed also. There are also reports coming in that telephone calls into and out of Canada are being harrassed in various bizzare ways.
This case began on April 4, 1992 when Umberto's home, which serves as organization headquarters, was raided as he and volunteers were in the process of mailing letters to all the 1500 newspapers in Canada announcing that NORML Canada was back in operation ; 700 letters had gone out, 800 were seized before being mailed. Umberto believes the raid was prompted when police saw the article about NORML Canada which ran in the local paper. NORML Canada was essentially shut down by the raid which has drained financial and human resources, and scared new prospective members away. (click here for Feb. '95 Highwitness news from High Times, (clipping.)) Details of the inaccurate warrant which preceded this raid are on the web today uncorrected. All 462.2 related charges were dropped due to warrant weaknesses ; Iorfida then initiated his own counter attack as a constitutional challenge to the "literature ban" portion of 462.2 which succeeded at provincial court. Umberto was awarded the High Times Freedom Fighter of the Month Award in September '97.
At first, I was surprised that Umberto and NORML Canada were not celebrating this victory. "The misapplication of the law is what we were fighting. We were illegally arrested. We were not violating the law, even the old law. We are totally in favor of regulated access to marijuana. We have never distributed any literature which promoted drugs. Kids should not be able to easily obtain drugs. Our constitutional victory makes it appear that we want to publicize marijuana. We do want to publicize the absurd and expensive misuse of governmental powers directed against the users of marijuana. This diverts police resources away from actual crime. But I do not want my kids corralled into the immature tug-of-war which the government has created with their "war on drugs". Kids need facts, not mindless slogans".
"There is nothing wrong with the kids today," says Umberto. "Some of the more adventurous, and perhaps misinformed, kids in the '30's used to try and smoke a cigarette out behind the wood pile. Now it's more likely a joint. The current anti-drug hysteria and sensationalism promoted by the "war on drugs" approach has effectively advertised drugs to our school children", he says. "Kids are smart. If you respect their intelligence, they will do the right thing. The drug war crusade does not respect the intelligence of kids. It treats them like idiots".
"After over 10 years of relentless anti-drug propaganda directed at school kids in the U. S., over 48% of high school seniors there have tried marijuana. In the Netherlands, where almost anyone can obtain pot without penalty, only 12% of 18 year olds have tried it. The Dutch put more of their resources into responsible productive things like education ; not counterproductive hysteria and slogans.
(Click here to read a short piece titled "observations of the Dutch")
Likewise, responsibility in fiscal matters is the thrust of a draft speech I was shown which Umberto had prepared to give before Parliament in February of this year opposing Bill C-7. (This "get tough" bill unfortunately reincarnated as Bill C-8, which passed both houses of Parliament only weeks ago in only marginjally watered down form on the marijuana issue. Bill C-8 will shortly become law (Sept. '96)) In this speech Umberto argues that current marijuana criminal policy has created a very large block of marginalized citizens who will never be able to contribute their proper share of taxes, nor provide the expected level of support to their children or families. At least 700,000 Canadians have a criminal record from mere marijuana possession and, among other things, are not allowed to enter the United States. Even Canada's own La Dain Commission and U. S. Presidential commissions, do not consider these people to be criminals.
The millions upon millions of Canadian marijuana smokers who have not been arrested yet, feel threatened to such a degree that many of them deliberately choose low profile lower paying careers which steer them away from higher paying mainstream choices. The cumulative effect caused by millions of such decisions on all of Canada's collective future, is actually economically colossally damaging. Legalizing marijuna would divert these human resources back onto an economic fast track. (This problem is much worse among Americans than Canadians. In fact, in Canada, marajuana usage is much more accepted among mainstream society. Drug testing was ruled unconstitutional in Canada.)
When counting the lost government revenue due to not being able to tax marijuana sales, the economic damage of current policy begins to approach epic proportions. "Is current policy effective or responsible ?" Umberto asks Parliament.
[Ed. note : whether Canada merely deregulates all marijuana production without taxing it, or allows the sale of marijuana from "cannabis coffeeshops", or follows a medical/pharmacy model either over-the-counter or by prescription, or follows a taxed alcohol/tobacco model ; either of these four possibilities would be preferable to the current "organized crime" playground/street sytem of marijuana distribution. NORML Canada believes that all conviction records for marijuana dealing should be purged/removed since the whole drug war has been a failure and error for society, producing the precise opposite of what the prohibitionists envisioned.]
Does it make sense to talk of "family values" and "responsibility" when discussing marijuana users ? In the past perhaps such an association seemed absurd. But perhaps we all need to perform a "reality check" in that department in 1996.
"I feel strongly that NORML Canada's positions regarding marijuana laws are far more pro-family and pro-child than the current mess created by total prohibition," he confides. "How many PTA members, taxpayers, and other responsible people are enthusiastic about imprisoning our own children ?" he asks.
His modest home is overflowing with shelves of books, computer equipment, a dog, cat, and the normal possessions of a middle class father and daughter. His office activities require more than 2 of the 5 rooms available. Shepherding NORML Canada is definitely a drain on his resources, and Umberto's sole income is from a disability pension. Since his divorce, Umberto has custody over his 12 year old daughter who exhibits talent as a budding artist, kitchen helper, and a good student.
His background is a good example of modern Canadian culture in the second half of the twentieth century ; his parents immigrated to Canada from Italy when Umberto was 4 years old in 1956. He finished high school, then moved to British Columbia where he worked for a couple of finance companies, concurrently obtaining certificates in industrial supervision and human relations through the Adult Education System of B.C. His next employer in B. C. was a garment manufacturing company. In 1974, he joined the local NORML Canada chapter during the period when Prime Minister Trudeau had explicitly promised that marijuana decriminalization would soon occur. Then he returned to the Toronto area where he obtained a job with a metal fabrication company, soon being promoted to foreman. By 1979, he had been elected National Director of NORML Canada.
(Ed. note : Don't forget to read more about Umberto's medical history on our Medical Page.)
Also in 1979 when having his wisdom teeth extracted by his dentist, an accident occurred. His jaw was fractured, and jaw joints, or "temporal mandibular joints" dislocated.
The damage turned out to be permanent, and severe. Umberto has lost the normal functioning of his jaw. After countless visits to dentists and 2 hospital stays, he has no teeth left , only elaborate dentures. Sometimes, if he sleeps in the wrong position, his jaw joints become displaced severely and protrude a half inch or so, like a broken bone threatening to tear through the flesh. When his entire lower mouth "goes out of socket" like that, he can't talk, eat , or open his mouth.
He doesn't sleep much anymore ; but he has learned to center himself, build his energy level, and stay busy with work most of the time. He tells me that he usually sleeps only 2 or 3 hours per night due to a sleep disorder caused by the jaw problem. During my interviews each evening, when quietness descended finally about 9:30 PM, I was ready to quit the interviews and go back to my motel, but Umberto was just warming up. He efficiently "multitasks" a large array of responsibilities throughout the day, such as dispersing advice and referrals to marijuana legal victims, vacuuming the rug, speaking with the press, government officials, lawyers, cooking lunch, cleaning up after the Labrador, shooing the cat off the stacks of diskettes, complaining about the leaking basement, answering my questions, giving his daughter medical attention for the flu she caught, entertaining visitors, etc., etc.
Due to his worsening jaw condition and the effects of prescription pain killers, he resigned as National Director of NORML Canada in 1981, also voluntarily giving up his driver's license (His prescriptions included Demorol, morphine, Percodans, Meprobate, Lorzepam, Chloropromazine, Stellizine, Diazapam, Talwin, and other). His medical history is described in such terms as severe depression, severe facial pain, impaired eating -sleeping -motor ability, spasmodic jaw, teeth breaking, nausea, allergic reaction to medications (dosages reduced). He has undergone Pain Management Therapy, Hypnotherapy and medically supervised withdrawal from addiction to Lorzepam and Talwin prescriptions.
During this period of pain and general dysfunction, Umberto did volunteer work for the Red Cross, local voting precinct, food bank, clothing exchange, fund-raiser for the PTA of the local Catholic School, group leader for single fathers support group specializing in grief counseling, as well as work for NORML Canada. He endured a divorce and child custody problems. He has proven to be an excellent father for his daughter and insists on attempting ever more difficult tasks despite his disability.
His relates that no amount of prescription pain killer is capable of stopping the pain or relaxing the muscles of his jaw. Although he says that marijuana helps his muscles relax, soothes the pain, and helps him remain functional ( more functional than without it), he is not an official medical marijuana user. At the moment, he is completely "drug free", having terminated all prescriptions in 1990 under the supervision of his doctor.
Umberto has been busted 3 times, but has tried the medical marijuana defense in his own behalf only once, without success. He does not have the income or resources to pursue legal cases at the moment. He feels strongly that the average citizen should be allowed the use of marijuana with or without a medical necessity.
Despite his severe jaw disability, Umberto speaks perfectly, forcefully. He tells me to notice that his jaw is hardly moving ; without the proper pivot points (tmj's), the muscles have to work differently. At first, after the accident, he could hardly talk at all. Umberto says he spontaneously figured out how to talk normally (no pun intended) after his jaw problem one day when he blurted out something without thinking. The words sounded perfectly correct ; as if he had never had the broken jaw.
He has appeared on Toronto metro TV programs, as well as national TV 4 or 5 times in the past few years, and there is no superficial evidence that I could detect, that he is a handicapped person. Incredibly, a truly disabled person is winning legal battles on behalf of millions of citizens against a government which has judged him "disabled" and "criminal".
In 1986 his health had improved to the extent that he decided to start a NORML Canada chapter in his local area. To his surprise, he discovered that NORML Canada headquarters had become legally inactive (and physically nonexistent) in the interval since he had resigned as National Director. He contacted as many previous members as possible, but found no one with the time or enthusiasm to pursue this project. With the approval of the outgoing president, he decided to attempt to reactivate NORML Canada himself.
NORML Canada has had numerous successes under his direction.
NOTE : This article was written before Terry Parker was most recently arrested. That event is covered by a feature article for Cannabis Canada (now Cannabis Culture magazine) written by Umberto Iorfida. Pot Superman .Parker won another major court victory in December '97. Medical Pot Approved .
In 1986 he began formulating new objectives for NORML Canada. Also, at this time, he began helping Terry Parker obtain legal approval for medical marijuana use. Parker , an epileptic due to an early childhood accident, experienced grand mal seizures, and while conventional medications did not help, marijuana usually did. He had been arrested numerous times, winding up in jail, his marijuana confiscated, where he would have frequent uncontrollable seizures. With Umberto's help, Parker won at the provincial court level the right to use marijuana as medicine.
At this point, Judge Francis Young, the U.S. DEA Administrative Law Judge, was reviewing the available medical evidence in consideration of rescheduling marijuana to the category which would allow medical use in the U. S., and submissions from doctors and patients were being sought. Umberto sent a three page letter to Judge Young regarding Parker's epilepsy case and the provincial court victory. At this point in 1988 in Washington, Judge Young issued his famous recommendation that marijuana be reclassified as having valid medical use. Although the DEA bosses refused to reclassify it in the U.S., this communication from Judge Young helped Parker's case to achieve victory again at the Crown level here. Unfortunately, due to the raid and financial problems, NORML Canada has been unable to pursue this subject further on behalf of Terry and others.
(Return to Medical Page.)
By late 1991, NORML Canada was officially reactivated with Umberto as president. The raid would occur in only 4 months.
In 1991, Umberto began researching the legal code of Canada to see if there were any loopholes which would allow farmers to again grow hemp which had been banned there, as in the U.S., since the "reefer madness" marijuana prohibition in 1937. Umberto discovered that hemp could be grown under the current law with a proper license. He began looking for a farmer who was interested in cultivating Canada's first hemp crop in 57 years. NORML Canada had been among the organizers and participants in a number of public hemp and marijuana forums. One of the byproducts of these forums was an enthusiastic desire by all participants to "get the ball rolling" in terms of restarting industrial hemp production in Canada, again. In 1993, he found enthusiastic Joe Strobel, the son of Hungarian immigrants who had brought the knowledge of the virtues and advantages of hemp from the old country. Umberto introduced Strobel to Professor Alan Young of Osgood Hall School of Law at York University, Toronto. Young helped Strobel obtain the license needed to grow hemp. The first legal crop in Canada since before world war II was harvested in 1994. In 1995, there were 7 licenses issued, and for 1996, there are over 25 hemp growers licensed in Canada. Although progress has been made, Umberto cautions that since there is little industry presently capable of utilizing the hemp crop, it is premature to announce that the "hemp revolution" has arrived. Umberto hopes that in the near future, more Canadian grown hemp, and Canadian hemp industries will begin to flourish. "The hemp stores seem to be blossoming all over the place."
Despite his lack of a college degree, Umberto taught a one day seminar in July 1993 entitled "HEMP 101" at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia with SFU Professor of Criminology Neil Boyd. Boyd recently authored a well selling mainstream book (available in Canada and the U. S. at major book stores or libraries) entitled High Society: Legal and Illegal Drugs in Canada (Toronto: Key Porter, 1991) which discusses the promoting of dangerous drugs (i.e., "drug pushing") by the pharmaceutical industry. Boyd explains that the thousands and thousands of legal drugs promoted by large drug companies kill or damage far more people than the 4 or 5 illegal drugs, like pot, heroin, and cocaine, currently being frantically suppressed. Boyd and Umberto recently appeared on national TV in Canada arguing that if we really want to keep kids and adults from abusing drugs, we should implement the "harm reduction" methods currently (and sometimes partially) implemented by Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Columbia, and others. (Sometimes harm reduction techniques generally implemented in a whole region, may be nullified by local legal policy.)
Regarding NORML Canada's recent successful constitutional challenge to the "drug literature" ban mentioned at the beginning of this article, Umberto says the legal results are a mixed bag. Despite having won the constitutional challenge, the civil lawsuit phase has really not even begun. The fact that the "criminal" charges were dropped by the Ontario prosecution indicates that the government had no valid case to begin with. Thus, the lawsuit for punitive damages seems quite strong, but here in Canada, legal fees must be paid up front for such suits, and Umberto has practically no money and neither does NORML Canada. So, despite having been apparently maliciously targeted, attacked, and damaged with completely false charges, NORML Canada is still struggling along with virtually no funds.
(Update December 3, 1996. Umberto Iorfida has decided to drop the civil lawsuit.)
Now would be a good time to mention that NORML Canada membership today stands at an all time low, due mainly to the stifling effect of the '92 raid. People should realize that it is no longer illegal to speak out against the "drug war". Donations and memberships are appreciated. To become a member and give financial support to NORML Canada, send your name and address along with $60 certified check or money order for a one year membership to (click here for NORML Canada address). If possible also, send your email address and telephone number. Local independent NORML Canada chapters are being organized in all areas.
U. N. Treaty
Umberto has hoped from the beginning of this case that it might evolve into a full fledged fundamental attack on the laws prohibiting marijuana in Canada. He has the text of the United Nations Single Convention Treaty on Narcotics and amendments which the U.S. utilizes as the "enabling legal environment" for the world-wide U.S. orchestrated "War on Drugs", and has discovered that "simple possession" is explicitly treated in this pivotal treaty not as a criminal act, but as a health problem. Umberto wants the treaty followed the way it was written.
Umberto says this existing U.N. treaty is actually in almost complete harmony with the "harm reduction" style drug policies being pursued by the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and others. What this implies is that many signatories to this treaty, especially the U.S., are possibly illegally prosecuting drug users. Umberto believes that due to this existing treaty, drug users who have been arrested could conceivably walk free if a proper and effective defense were utilized. After all, this was the same treaty which enabled cancer patient Todd McCormick to import 2 kilo's of medical marijuana into the U.S. from Holland with full U.S. Customs approval, despite the fact that he was later arrested in Ohio (reported in December '95 High Times ). A little known provision of the U. N. treaty is that sick people may travel to foreign countries to obtain medicines which are otherwise illegal or unavailable in their home country, if medical authorities have approved. The provision was put there mainly to allow terminally ill persons to use experimental treatments not available in their home countries. The amount carried across borders is allowed to be up to a 6 month supply of the drug being used.
(It seems that after the publicity created by McCormick's success, the Canadian and U. S. authorities may have cracked down on this practice. Canadian Grant Krieger, accompanied by Joan Harnett, after traveling to Amsterdam was disallowed from returning to Canada with medical weed purchased from Dutch company Maripharm in May 1996. The Dutch arrested Krieger at Amsterdam Schipol Airport, confiscated his weed, and jailed him for 3 days, giving him only Valium which did nothing for his M.S. symptoms.)
A major overhaul of all Canadian drug laws is in the works with Bill C-8, which is now in a Senate committee. This bill may contain special provisions to place marijuana in either a less criminal category, or hopefully, a totally decriminalized category while stepping up police powers in controlling drug trafficking. The current version of the bill would treat simple possession of marijuana similarly to the way "public drunkenness" is currently treated : there would be a court appearance and fine, but no criminal record would be created.
Umberto feels the bill does not go far enough in the direction of decriminalization, despite his approval of some of its features. For one thing, the bill would allow police to randomly search anyone, anywhere, without a warrant. But the main problem is that responsible adult marijuana users would still be considered "criminals". Umberto continues, "More good fathers and mothers have lost the God-given right to be with their kids due to inappropriate marijuana laws than due to physical abuse. That is INSANE. In divorce battles, judges routinely ignore a parent's moderate alcohol use. Why not ignore moderate marijuana use by responsible people ? Marijuana use by non-criminal persons should have no criminal penalties associated with it whatsoever ! NORML Canada will settle for nothing less. Any criminal penalties for marijuana possession open the door for all sorts of smears, blackmail and dishonesty in many forms. Nobody deserves that !"
Throughout my interviews, Umberto is periodically requisitioned by his daughter to check her homework. I marvel at his kind, patient, and consistent parental qualities. Umberto is keenly aware of the untold story of thousands of basically innocent dads and moms suffering in shame behind bars (or on probation) for pot possession or small time dealing or home marijuana cultivation ; government aborted families. "The war on drugs is a war against children, against families ! The war on drugs is a war against decent, honest people ! SO WHAT if some screwed up parents with no business raising kids gets busted for pot ? These parents should have their kids taken away from them, but NOT for using pot (for Christsakes !), for being CRIMINALS who neglect their kids !" The right to smoke pot is not the right to be irresponsible, he says. "Parents have an obligation to guide and protect their children."
His daughter is a great kid. She cried for a week after her private room was turned upside down by the narco-SWAT brigade that stormed in against her dad and NORML Canada. Umberto is embarrassed and somewhat ashamed that his daughter has seen and endured so much due to his involvement in NORML Canada. But it hasn't been pot which has threatened her. It's been the sudden and frightening entrances by "drug war crusaders" into her home, and their harrassment of her non-criminal father that has disturbed her. In fact, Umberto Iorfida, like thousands of other lawful, orderly, and productive citizens arrested for marijuana in Canada has no criminal record in his lifetime other than the marijuana busts.
It may be of interest that Umberto successfully won custody of his daughter with the judge fully aware of his marijuana legalization activities. During his divorce, the judge became fully aware of Umberto's association with NORML Canada, as well as his permanent jaw disability.
"The attack on marijuana users, most of the time, subverts law and order since it diverts police resources from real crime. The propaganda barrage against marijuana has destroyed the credibility of the government, and to some extent, all authority. Kids think, "If they are lying about marijuana, they are lying about a lot of other things as well." Such confused kids are very liable to experiment with cocaine or heroin since the whole "war on drugs" message is perceived to be full of lies. Besides, if the government says marijuana is as bad as cocaine, kids are as likely to try crack or cocaine as marijuana. Kids need facts, not exaggerations, " he says.
It is obvious that there are many millions of persons using pot in Canada on a regular basis. "Start a local NORML Canada chapter with your friends, and let's get the laws changed in this democratic country", Umberto says.
It seems very odd after interviewing Umberto, that marijuana is illegal. Rather than feeling that something bizarre might happen with legalization of marijuana , I feel that something bizarre has already happened. Why was marijuana made illegal in the first place ? Why the intense propaganda campaign against it ? Is it so much more important than coffee or cough syrup ? Would anybody have paid any attention to it if it had not been so strongly attacked ?
Who would ever have thought that family values would become the main argument in favor of marijuana legalization ?
Top of Page.
Early History of NORML Canada.
Major Accomplishments for NORML Canada which have benefitted all Canadians :
- 1987 : Successfully won the right in Ontario Provincial court for Terry Parker, an epileptic, to use marijuana as medicine (Canada's only "legal" med. marijuana user). Parker was arrested again for cultivating his own marijuana this October. NORML Canada is assisting.
- 1993 : With Prof. Allen Young, helped farmer Joe Strobel obtain first hemp cultivation license in Canada since the 1930's.
- 1992-1995 : Waged successful legal battle in Ontario provincial court which overturned that portion of section 462.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada which banned literature promoting illicit drug use. All Canadians can now write about using or legalizing marijuana and illicit drugs without fear of prosecution.
- 1996-2000 : Continued to influence the public opinions of Canadians (and Americans, and others) regarding government marijuana policies, both through direct contact with the general public, through media interviews, and by using the world wide web and internet. (NORML Canada was on the internet, prior to the invention of the WWW, in the early 90's) NORML Canada's President Umberto Iorfida was one of the first legalization reformers to encourage a more discriminating and restrictive policy in drug policy, specifically warning against the casual use of "hard" or dangerous drugs. NORML Canada early on pointed out that marijuana is not a true narcotic like Heroin, Seconal, or other absolute sleep producers. The relaxation which often accompanies marijuana usage is a byproduct of ordinary relaxation, and is not directly caused by any ingredient in marijuana.