Pitt NORML discusses legalizing marijuana

By Gwenn Barney

Kevin Booth is fighting a war, and he’s doing it with a camera.

Booth, the director of… Kevin Booth is fighting a war, and he’s doing it with a camera.

Booth, the director of several documentaries, met with Pitt students Wednesday afternoon to discuss the legalization of marijuana.

“This is not about partying or drugs,” Booth, 50, said of legalization advocacy efforts. “It’s about whether you think the government has the right to tell people what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.”

Pitt NORML, a campus organization that advocates the legalization of marijuana, hosted the two-hour event in the O’Hara Student Center Ballroom. Pitt’s Student Government Board approved the student group’s request of $3,650 to bring the speaker to campus.

Much of the event centered on Booth’s upcoming film, a sequel to his 2009 documentary. In a continuation of themes explored in “American Drug War: The Last White Hope,” “American Drug War II: Fight for Your Life” will examine more of the U.S. government’s war on drugs.

The clips Booth showed to the small and supportive audience of 10 people focused on the negative effects of legal pharmaceutical drugs, the removal of medical marijuana dispensaries in California and the medical benefits of marijuana.

Booth discussed the growth of marijuana for cannabidiol (CBD), a molecule in the drug that research has shown can inhibit cancer-cell growth.

Booth said the U.S. government patented CBDs in 2003 but that research in the field of CBDs has lagged in this country because of the government’s anti-drug policies.

To extract the CBDs, marijuana must be grown.

“Other countries — China, Canada, Israel — are rushing ahead of America in CBD research and mass production,” he said.

In a lighter moment of the presentation, Booth showed a clip depicting his experiments in do-it-yourself marijuana growing.

“My wife referred to it as my mid-life crisis hobby,” Booth said.

He described the process as smelly, messy and space-consuming.

“The stuff you grow yourself is good,” Booth said. “But when you get the stuff at a dispensary it’s like, ‘Damn.’”

Booth often visits college campuses to promote activism for the legalization of marijuana.

“You guys are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. You’re the next wave,” he said.

Booth’s visit marked one of Pitt NORML’s first organized events since its inception as a SORC student group in 2009.

“[In past years] we were trying to find our footing. Now we have a good core group of people who actually put in the time to effect change,” said NORML vice president Michael Arkwright.

Arkwright said that about 15 students regularly attend NORML’s weekly Monday meetings in the Cathedral of Learning, where they discuss current events related to marijuana legalization.

“We’re not only working to change policies in our state, but to change perceptions about marijuana,” NORML president Julia Johnson said. “We’re doing that with one-on-one conversations.”

Pitt NORML works on campus to educate students about the efforts to legalize marijuana, often tabling in Litchfield Towers Lobby.

“Whenever someone comes up to us at Towers Lobby and sees the pot leaf, they ask us what we do. We really don’t want people to treat us as the pot club,” Arkwright said. “We really are about education. If you want a stoners’ club, don’t come to us. We want to effect change.”