Kevin Cranford loves Baltimore, and he has some ideas about how cannabis can help turn it around. After spending most of the new millennium in Charm City, earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in television production from Morgan State University, Kevin decided to put his considerable talents toward ending marijuana prohibition. Now Deputy Director of Maryland NORML, Kevin is a passionate advocate and activist who is just as comfortable in a suit and tie addressing a room full of politicians as he is carrying a shovel around West Baltimore 12 hours after the Freddie Gray Uprising. We sat down with him recently to talk about how he got involved with Maryland NORML, the connection between cannabis stereotypes and police brutality, and what he thinks we can do to bring more people out for cannabis.
How did you come to be Deputy Director of Maryland NORML?
I reached out to the organization about two years ago and expressed interest in helping. At the time the organization was being passed from one group of folks to Judy Pentz. Judy had little help in organizing what would become Maryland’s people movement to legalize marijuana. I just made myself available to help where I could until we formally registered with the state and I got the title of Deputy Director.
What was your initial motivation for getting involved in the fight to end prohibition?
I’d always been interested in politics and after the 2012 election I thought I should be doing more to further the issues I care about. I’d been personally affected by marijuana prohibition like many of my friends. I saw cannabis legalization as an issue that could better many people’s lives and possibly the country as a whole.
Baltimore has been in the news a lot lately, and I know making Baltimore better is something we both care about. What are some ways the end of cannabis prohibition could benefit Baltimore (and, by extension, other urban areas across the country)?
The whole discussion about police brutality and urban policy has been front and center for over a year now. What’s missing from the conversation is examining the reasons cops are in these low income and urban communities. The war on drugs is the main reason for added police in those environments. When we can begin scaling back the war on drugs by legalizing cannabis there will be less interactions between cops and citizens over the trivial matter of simple cannabis possession. Less bothersome interactions with law enforcement can only better police-community relations.
Do you think the stigmas surrounding cannabis use play a role in those negative interactions between police and the community?
I do think that. The propaganda that made cannabis illegal is still being felt in a lot of the policies we have today. The laws haven’t kept up with the facts as it pertains to cannabis users. [People who consume cannabis] aren’t a menace to society in any way. The only people who really care about pot smokers are the cops. Once those laws change we can see that cannabis users weren’t the problem.
It’s like the anti-cannabis propaganda we were all raised with helped create this stigma, which led to negative interactions with the authorities, which helped reinforce what I think is one of the worst stereotypes of people who benefit from cannabis – medically or “recreationally”: that we don’t care about society, that using cannabis means you are somehow “counter-culture” and not interested in doing hard work that matters. Which isn’t the case. We all want a better Baltimore, we want to form coalitions and work together with people who want progress, which, we hope, includes the police. So then it really seems important to change the public’s mind about what a cannabis user looks like. How do you think we go about doing that?
They say the legalization movement is similar to the gay rights movement. If it is we’re going to need more people to come out and be honest about their cannabis use. When we start to change the face of cannabis user from “them” to my brother, friend, cousin, teacher, it’ll personalize the action and make it harder to demonize.
Obviously we agree on that. Still, even with all the change we’ve seen it’s hard to, as we say at WRK, come out of the basement, because there are still very real risks associated with being a cannabis user (getting fired from your job in a medical state, for example). What can people already involved in the cannabis movement do to make things more comfortable for the people who are using cannabis in private, or who want to try it, but maybe aren’t fully prepared to “come out cannabis”?
Those who are out of the basement should encourage those still in the basement to seek as much knowledge as they can about the politics and policies of pot where they live. Knowing your rights is important for all citizens but especially cannabis users. Also, just because you’re in the basement doesn’t mean you can’t register to vote and vote for candidates that agree with our issue. So it’s our responsibility to make sure they have that kind of information.
What will NORML be doing in the future to help end the cannabis stigma?
In the coming year I think we can really push the movement forward. I want to definitely have a bigger presence in the community. Maryland NORML will be hosting some rallies and we are also planning a few concerts with our name on them. The goal is to bring more people out. Give them as much knowledge as possible about the issues and the plant as well. We really want to let people know we’re here.
Yes, it’s time for the world to see the variety of cannabis consumers. One last question, just for fun: You and I have talked some in private about strain names, and how it can get especially confusing in a prohibition state. If you could name a strain of cannabis, what would it be?
I’d like to name something The Angry Anslinger, after Harry J. Anslinger. Because as the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he really started the campaign against cannabis and helped to create a lot of the misconceptions we’re still dealing with today. So I would love to have a strain dedicated to him, named by a black man. I think that’s what he deserves.