"The war on drugs itself is a much greater attack onour youth and our citizens, than legal marijuana could ever be. NORML Canada wasalways arguing for moderation and responsibility in the marijuana issue," saysUmberto Iorfida, (pronounced EE-yor-FEE-dah) president of this federally charteredorganization which has been trying to legalize marijuana since the '70's . "Marijuanasmoking by adults can be done, and in fact is usually done, responsibly."
NORML Canada recently prevailed at thehighest levels against the Canadian government in winning a constitutional challengeto the criminal code section which banned "drug literature". This meansthat literature actually promoting drugs is legal again. This case began on April4, 1992 when Umberto's home, which serves as organization headquarters, wasraided as he and volunteers were in the process of mailing letters to all the 1500newspapers in Canada announcing that NORML Canada was back in operation ; 700 lettershad gone out, 800 were seized before being mailed. Umberto believes the raid wasprompted when police saw the article about NORML which ran in the local paper. NORMLwas essentially shut down by the raid which has drained financial and human resources,and scared new prospective members away.
At first, I was surprised that Umberto and NORML were notcelebrating 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 aretotally in favor of regulated access to marijuana. We have never distributed anyliterature which promoted drugs. Kids should not be able to easily obtain drugs.Our constitutional victory makes it appear that we want to publicize marijuana. Wedo want to publicize the absurd and expensive misuse of governmental powers directedagainst 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 governmenthas 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 kids in 1930 used to try and smokea cigarette out behind the wood pile. Now it's a joint. The current anti-drug hysteriaand sensationalism promoted by the "war on drugs" has effectively advertiseddrugs to our school children", he says. "Kids are smart. If you respecttheir intelligence, they will do the right thing. The drug war crusade does not respectthe intelligence of kids. It treats them like idiots".
"After over 10 years of relentless anti-drug propagandadirected at school kids in the U. S., over 48% of high school seniors there havetried marijuana. In the Netherlands, where almost anyone can obtain pot without penalty,only 12% of 18 year olds have tried it. The Dutch put their resources into responsibleproductive things like education ; not counterproductive hysteria and slogans."
Likewise, responsibility in fiscal matters is the thrustof a draft speech I was shown which Umberto had prepared to give before Parliamentin February of this year opposing Bill C-7, which was destined to die anyway. Inthis speech Umberto argues that current marijuana criminal policy has created a verylarge block of marginalized citizens who will never be able to contribute their propershare 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 possessionand, among other things, are not allowed to enter the United States. Even U. S. Presidentialcommissions, and Canada's own La Dain Commission do not consider these people tobe criminals.
The millions upon millions of Canadian marijuana smokerswho have not been arrested yet, feel threatened to such a degree that many of themdeliberately choose low profile lower paying careers which steer them away from higherpaying mainstream choices. The cumulative effect caused by millions of such decisionson all of Canada's collective future, is actually economically colossally damaging.Legalizing marijuna would divert these human resources back onto an economic fasttrack.
When counting the lost government revenue due to not beingable to tax marijuana sales, the economic damage of current policy begins to approachepic proportions. "Is current policy effective or responsible ?" Umbertoasks Parliament.
Does it make sense to talk of "family values"and "responsibility" when discussing marijuana users ? In the past withonly Cheech and Chong as role models, perhaps such an association seemed absurd.But perhaps we all need to perform a "reality check" in that departmentin 1996.
"I feel strongly that NORML's positions regarding marijuanalaws are far more pro-family and pro-child than the current mess created by totalprohibition," he confides. "How many PTA members, taxpayers, and otherresponsible people are enthusiastic about imprisoning our own children ?" heasks.
If marijuana is so evil, how has Umberto Iorfida, an admittedand convicted user, prevailed so effectively ? How is it that a practicing dad isnow involved in such a "radical" proposal as marijuana legalization ? Idiscovered gradually that Umberto was not a former Molotov cocktail tosser, nor washe opposed to the work ethic. Umberto is from a blue collar background, loves vegetablegardening, and enjoys evenings at home helping Lylah with her homework.
His modest home is overflowing with shelves of books, computerequipment, 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 NORMLis definitely a drain on his resources, and Umberto's sole income is from a disabilitypension. Since his divorce, Umberto has custody over Lylah, his 12 year old daughterwho exhibits talent as a budding artist, kitchen helper, and a good student.
He is a typical Canadian from the second half of the twentiethcentury ; his parents immigrated to Canada from Italy when Umberto was 4 years oldin 1956. He finished high school, then moved to British Columbia where he workedfor a couple of finance companies, concurrently obtaining certificates in industrialsupervision and human relations through the Adult Education System of B.C. In 1974,he joined the local NORML chapter during the period when Prime Minister Trudeau hadexplicitly promised that marijuana decriminalization would soon occur. Then he returnedto the Toronto area where he obtained a job with a metal fabrication company, soonbeing promoted to foreman. By 1979, he had been elected National Director of NORMLCanada.
Also in 1979 when having his wisdom teeth extracted, thedentist severely injured him. Umberto has lost the normal functioning of his jaw.After countless visits to dentists and 2 hospital stays, he has no real teeth left, only elaborate dentures . His lower jaw bone has been damaged and cracked. If heis unfortunate enough as to sleep in the wrong position, the jaw hinge joints (TMJ's)near his temples can become displaced severely and protrude a half inch or so, likea 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 centerhimself, build his energy level, and catapult himself into a virtual tornado of effectiveand organized energy. 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,I was usually well into the periodic yawning stage when Umberto was just warmingup. Like a super computer, he "multitasks" a plethora of responsibilitiesthroughout the day, such as dispersing advice and referrals to marijuana legal victims,vacuuming the rug, speaking with the press, government officials, lawyers, cookinglunch, cleaning up after the Labrador, shooing the cat off the stacks of diskettes,complaining about the leaking basement and the uncaring landlord, answering my questions,giving Lylah medical attention for the flu she caught, entertaining visitors, etc.,etc.
Due to his worsening jaw conditionand the effects of prescription pain killers, he resigned as National Directorof NORML in 1981, also voluntarily giving up his driver's license (His prescriptionsincluded Demorol, morphine, Percodans, Meprobate, Lorzepam, Chloropromazine, Stellizine,Diazapam, Talwin, and other). His medical history is described in such terms as severedepression, severe facial pain, impaired eating -sleeping -motor ability, spasmodicjaw, teeth breaking, nausea, allergic reaction to medications (dosages reduced).He has undergone Pain Management Therapy, Hypnotherapy and medically supervised withdrawalfrom addiction to Lorzepam and Talwin prescriptions.
During this period of pain and general dysfunction, Umbertodid volunteer work for the Red Cross, local voting precinct, food bank, clothingexchange, fund-raiser for the PTA of Garnier Catholic School, group leader for singlefathers support group specializing in grief counseling, as well as work for NORML.He endured a divorce and custody battle. He has proven to be an excellent fatherfor Lylah and insists on attempting ever more difficult tasks despite his disability.
His relates that no amount of prescription pain killer iscapable of stopping the pain or relaxing the muscles of his jaw. Although he saysthat 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 prescriptionsin 1990 under the supervision of his doctor.
Umberto has been busted 3 times, but has tried the medicalmarijuana defense in his own behalf only once (he lost). He feels strongly that theaverage citizen should be allowed the use of marijuana with or without a medicalnecessity.
Despite his severe jaw disability, Umberto speaks perfectly,forcefully. He tells me to notice that his jaw is hardly moving ; it's all the workof facial muscles. He has appeared on national TV 4 or 5 times in the past few years,and there is no superficial evidence whatsoever that he is a handicapped person.I marvel at this reality. A truly disabled person is winning battles on behalf ofmillions of citizens against a government which has judged him "disabled"and "criminal".
In 1986 his health had improved to the extent that he decidedto start a NORML chapter in his local area. To his surprise, he discovered that NORMLCanada had become legally inactive in the interval since he had resigned as NationalDirector. He contacted as many previous members as possible, but found no one withthe time or enthusiasm to pursue this project. With the approval of the outgoingpresident, he decided to attempt to reactivate NORML Canada himself.
NORML Canada has had numerous successes under his direction.
In 1986 he began formulating new objectives for NORML. Also,at this time, he began helping Terry Parker , an epileptic, obtain legal approvalfor medical marijuana use. Parker experienced grand mal seizures, and while conventionalmedications did not help, marijuana did. He had been arrested numerous times, windingup in jail, his marijuana confiscated, where he would have frequent uncontrollableseizures. With Umberto's help, Parker won at the provincial court level the rightto use marijuana as medicine. At this point, Judge Francis Young, the U.S. DEA AdministrativeLaw Judge, was reviewing the available medical evidence in consideration of reschedulingmarijuana to the category which would allow medical use in the U. S., and submissionsfrom doctors and patients were being sought. Umberto sent a three page letter toJudge Young regarding Parker's epilepsy case and the provincial court victory. TheOntario prosecution appealed to the Canadian Federal level. At this point in 1988in Washington, Judge Young issued his famous recommendation that marijuana be reclassifiedas having valid medical uses. Although the DEA bosses refused to reclassify it inthe U.S., this ruling helped Terry Parker's case to achieve victory again at theFederal court level here, and he currently is the only Canadian with the explicitlegal right to use marijuana as medicine. Unfortunately, due to the raid and financialproblems, NORML has been unable to pursue this subject on behalf of more citizens.
By late 1991, NORML Canada was officially reactivated withUmberto as president. The raid would occur in only 4 months.
In 1991, Umberto began researching the legal code of Canadato see if there were any loopholes which would allow farmers to again grow hempwhichhad been banned there, as in the U.S., since the "reefer madness" marijuanaprohibition in 1937. Umberto discovered that hemp could be grown under the currentlaw with a proper license. He began looking for a farmer who was interested in cultivatingCanada's first hemp crop in 57 years. In 1993, he found enthusiastic Joe Strobel,the son of Hungarian immigrants who had brought the knowledge of the virtues andadvantages of hemp from the old country. Umberto introduced Strobel to ProfessorAlan Young of Osgood Hall School of Law at York University, Toronto. Young helpedStrobel obtain the license needed to grow hemp. The first legal crop in Canada sincebefore 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 progresshas been made, Umberto cautions that since there is little industry presently capableof utilizing the hemp crop, it is premature to announce that the "hemp revolution"has arrived.
High Society which discusses the promoting of dangerous drugs (i.e., "drugpushing") by the pharmaceutical industry. Boyd explains that the thousands andthousands of legal drugs promoted by companies such as Merck and Eli Lilly (to nameonly two), 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 recentlyappeared on National TV in Canada arguing that if we really want to keep kids andadults from abusing drugs, we should implement the "harm reduction" methodscurrently used by Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Columbia, and others.
Regarding NORML's recent successful constitutional challengeto the "drug literature" ban mentioned at the beginning of this article,Umberto says the legal results are a mixed bag. Despite having won the constitutionalchallenge, 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 hadno 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 Umbertohas practically no money and neither does NORML. So, despite having been apparentlymaliciously targeted, attacked, and damaged with completely false charges, NORMLCanada is still struggling along with virtually no funds.
Now would be a good time to mention that NORML membershiptoday 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 "drugwar". Donations and memberships are appreciated. To become a member and givefinancial support to NORML Canada, send your name and address along with $60 certifiedcheck or money order for a one year membership to ; 14846 Jane Street ; King City,Ontario L7B1A3 ; tel 905 833-3167 ; fax 905 833 3682. If possible also, send youremail address and telephone number. Local independent NORML chapters are being organizedin all areas.
Umberto has hoped from the beginning of this case that itmight evolve into a full fledged fundamental attack on the laws prohibiting marijuanain Canada. He has the text of the United Nations Single Convention Treaty on Narcoticsand amendments which the U.S. utilizes as the "enabling legal environment"for the world-wide U.S. orchestrated "War on Drugs", and has discoveredthat "simple possession" is explicitly treated in this pivotal treaty notas a criminal act, but as a health problem. Umberto wants the treaty followed theway it was written..
Umberto says this existing U.N. treaty is actually in almostcomplete harmony with the "harm reduction" style drug policies being pursuedby the Netherlands, Germany, Columbia, Italy, Spain, and others. What this impliesis that many signatories to this treaty, especially the U.S., are illegally persecutingand prosecuting drug users. Umberto believes that due to this existing treaty, drugusers who have been arrested could conceivably walk free if a proper and effectivedefense were utilized. After all, this was the same treaty which enabled cancer patientTodd McCormick to import 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 inDecember '95 High Times ) .
A major overhaul of all Canadian drug laws is in the workswith Bill C-8, which is now in a Senate committee. This bill may contain specialprovisions to place marijuana in either a less criminal category, or hopefully, atotally decriminalized category while stepping up police powers in controlling drugtrafficking. The current version of the bill would treat simple possession of marijuanasimilarly to the way "public drunkenness" is currently treated : therewould be a court appearance and fine, but no criminal record would be created.
Umberto feels the bill does not go far enough in the directionof 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 havelost the God-given right to be with their kids due to inappropriate marijuana lawsthan due to physical abuse. That is INSANE. In divorce battles, judges routinelyignore a parent's moderate alcohol use. Why not ignore moderate marijuana use byresponsible people ? Marijuana use by non-criminal persons should have no criminalpenalties associated with it whatsoever ! NORML Canada will settle for nothing less.Any criminal penalties for marijuana possession open the door for all sorts of blackmailand dishonesty in many forms. Nobody deserves that !"
Throughout my interviews, Umberto is periodically requisitionedby Lylah to check her homework. I marvel at his kind, patient, and consistent parentalqualities. Umberto is keenly aware of the untold story of hundreds of thousands ofbasically innocent dads and moms suffering in shame behind bars for pot possession; 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 WHATif some screwed up parents with no business raising kids gets busted for pot ? Theseparents 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 isnot the right to be irresponsible, he says. "Parents have an obligation to guideand protect their children."
Lylah is a great kid. She cried for a week after her privateroom was turned upside down by the narco-SWAT brigade that stormed in against herdad and NORML. Umberto is embarrassed and somewhat ashamed that Lylah has seen andendured so much due to his involvement in NORML. But it hasn't been pot which hasthreatened her, it's been the absurd and misdirected "drug war crusaders"who have violated her home and her protective father. In fact, Umberto Iorfida, likethousands of other lawful, orderly, and productive citizens arrested for marijuana,has no criminal record in his lifetime other than the marijuana busts.
It may be of interest that Umberto successfully won custodyof Lylah with the judge fully aware of his marijuana legalization activities. Hisformer wife did attempt to portray him as an unfit father due to his NORML connectionsand marijuana arrests. It was also noted that Umberto was legally disabled, and unlikelyto ever have a regular job again.
"The attack on marijuana users is also a subverterof law and order since it diverts police resources from real crime. The propagandabarrage against marijuana has destroyed the credibility of the government, and tosome 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 arevery 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 marijuanais as bad as cocaine, they are as likely to try crack as marijuana. Kids need facts,not lies," he says.
It is obvious that there are many millions of persons usingpot in Canada on a regular basis. There is strength in numbers. "Come forward,start a local NORML chapter with your friends, and let's get the laws changed inthis democratic country", Umberto says. "It would also be wise to beginfrankly asking all Canadians to join us in this proper fight. All of Canada is atrisk when innocent persons are imprisoned here."
It seems very odd after interviewing Umberto, that marijuanais illegal. Rather than feeling that something bizarre might happen with legalizationof marijuana , I feel that something bizarre has already happened. Why was marijuanamade 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 paidany attention to it if it had not been so strongly attacked ?
Who would ever have thought that family values would becomethe main argument in favor of marijuana legalization ?