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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Georgia's first Southern Cannabis Reform Conference coming

The homegrown fight to legalize weed is getting fired up again.

Marijuana legalization advocates have announced Georgia's first Southern Cannabis Reform Conference, scheduled to take place March 15-16. Organized by Peachtree NORML, a local affiliate of the national organization, the conference will mix entertainment and education, with workshops and panels planned to discuss "the how's and why's of cannabis reform in Georgia," according to the press release.

In recent years, longtime state legalization advocates have jumped on the medical-marijuana bandwagon by pushing to activate the little-known Medical Marijuana Necessities Act passed by the Georgia Legislature in 1981 but long since buried under bureaucracy.

But since last November's election brought legalized marijuana usage to Colorado and Washington, Georgia advocates have felt empowered enough to push for complete legalization.

"The dam has been broken, so to speak, with Colorado and Washington," says Sharon Ravert, the executive director of Peachtree NORML and head of Georgia Moms For Marijuana. "We feel like it's coming this way, and as a parent I want to make sure it's done right."

Ravert and other like-minded advocates believe decriminalization and government regulation will allow consenting adults to partake without getting jailed for nonviolent offenses, while parents can more closely police their own children without the risk of kids being "taken away" by overzealous authorities.

"As a parent, I feel like prohibition hasn't worked," Ravert says. "Decriminalization and legalization are going to have to come about eventually, otherwise we'll just have the same problem with medical marijuana ... in terms of the black market getting a hold of it."

Legalization advocacy groups Georgia CARE, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and Law Enforcement Against Prohibtion (LEAP) have joined Peachtree NORML in recent Gold Dome lobbying efforts to reform laws they feel waste millions of taxpayer dollars annually enforcing "archaic and unnecessary laws" against minimal possession and marijuana usage.

Of course, the prospect of legalization also has an economic allure for states battling perennial budget deficits, like Georgia. Economic research firm IHS Global Insight estimates that marijuana legalization could boost the state of Washington's tax revenues 5 percent by the year 2017.

"We're hoping to get the people excited about talking about it in Georgia," says Ravert.

Chief Greenbud will serve as Friday night's musical headliner at next month's Southern Cannabis Reform Conference. With a sound described as "Cheech and Chong meets Jimmy Buffett," he's likely to perform such songs as "Puff Puff Pass," "It's Only a Weed," and "4:20." On his reggae-tinged number "Smoke As Much As You Like," he interpolates T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" with pro-weed lyrics.

But it's his "Legalization Song" that could easily be a theme for the movement. "Let's state our position and make it our mission/A change in the law is what we need," he twangs. "It's time we legalize weed."

Southern Cannabis Reform Conference. $25 each day. $65 VIP and All Access. Fri.-Sat., March 15-16. Center at Spring4th Complex, 728 Spring St. Advance tickets available at southerncannabisreformconference.eventbrite.com. For more information, visit PeachtreeNORML.org.

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