Becoming a cannabis activist
Loretta Nall remembers the first time she smoked marijuana. “I was about 12 years old at a Ratt/Queensreich concert at the BJCC (Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex),” Nall, who grew up in the east Alabama town of Ashland, said in an interview with AL.com. That was 30 years ago and since then Nall has become one of the most outspoken advocates for the legalization of pot in the nation.
She formed the U.S. Marijuana Party in 2002; ran for Alabama governor in 2006 on a platform to legalize pot; created the Alabama Compassionate Care group to fight for use of marijuana for treatment of disease; and in 2010 was named by the magazine Skunk as one of the top 100 most influential women in Cannabis. Nall says she wasn’t always an activist and there were periods when she didn’t smoke weed particularly when she was pregnant with her two children.
Until 2002, Nall had been a housewife and mother with only a few minor traffic violations, hadn’t thought about running for office, and wasn’t public in her outcry for the legalization of pot. But two things happened that year that would change that. It was in 2002 that she connected online with Marc Emery, dubbed Canada’s “Prince of Pot.”
Nall said that in 2002 Emery asked her to come up to Canada and meet. “Within a week of my returning I had helicopters buzzing my house and (police on) ATVs in my yard,” she said. Law enforcement told her they saw marijuana growing on her property, Nall said. But there wasn’t any, she said.
Nall believes that law enforcement converged on her property because she had visited Emery, who she said was near the top of federal drug agents’ watch list. At that time, however, police didn’t try to search her house at least not right away.
Soon after the raid, Nall sent a letter to the editor at The Birmingham News pushing for legalization of pot. It was titled: “Going to pot, and so what?” She wrote that not all marijuana users fit the “stereotypical stoner-without-a-clue image.”
The Rev. Joe Godfrey is Alabama’s point man when it comes to lobbying against sin.
“We are not criminals who rob, steal or otherwise cause harm to the fabric of society, and it is time to stop treating us as if we were,” Nall wrote in 2002, long before states began to break with federal prohibitions on recreational marijuana. “It is time to demand an end to cannabis prohibition and the harsh drug laws that do more harm to society than the drug itself will ever do. It is time for change.”
Six days after that letter to the editor appeared police returned with a search warrant, finding rolling papers, a scale and 0.87 grams of marijuana inside her mobile home.
“I think I was the first one to get the media’s attention (for pot legalization),” Nall said. “They (police) turned me into an activist by raiding my home and trying to take my children and violating my first amendment rights.”
A Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s investigator who had secured the search warrant for Nall’s home denied after the raid that the warrant was based on Nall’s letter to the editor. “Of course, it didn’t help her out any,” said the investigator, who would not say where the information for the search warrant did come from.
Nall was arrested and convicted of misdemeanor charges of possessing marijuana and paraphernalia. She appealed and in April 2007 a judge dismissed her conviction because prosecutors failed to respond to Nall’s motion to suppress evidence seized in the 2002 raid.
Police used her letter to the editor in The Birmingham News as reason for the search, Nall says.
She became a guest host for segments on Emery’s online Pot TV show for about 2 1/2 years. The role included making trips around the country to cover pot-related news. “She got all fired up,” Emery said of Nall in a recent interview with AL.com. “She has always been an advocate for legalization in a very inhospitable state.”
It’s always tough to advocate for legalization in a red state and particularly in the Bible Belt, Emery added. But, he said, “at no point does the Bible advocate against cannabis,” he said. In 2010, Emery pleaded guilty to federal charges in the United States. He was sentenced to five years for manufacturing marijuana. Among the allegations were that he shipped marijuana seeds over the border into the United States. He was released in 2014. And two months ago he was arrested by Montreal police after opening six illegal marijuana dispensaries around that city, according to the Toronto Sun newspaper. His trial is pending on that case.
“They turned me into an activist by raiding my home and trying to take my children .” Loretta Nall. Meanwhile, Canada this spring will likely consider legislation to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide.
In 2002, when Nall formed and became the first president of the U.S. Marijuana Party, recreational marijuana was banned in all states. Today eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. More than half the country has legalized marijuana for medical use and surveys show most Americans believe marijuana should be legal.
Nall’s party has also expanded with the changing attitudes. Today the group lists active chapters in 17 states. Yet Alabama isn’t one of them. Nall left the group in 2004 but she said she still acts as an adviser. She later entered the race for Governor of Alabama in 2006 with the Libertarian party. Her top platform issue was legalization of marijuana.
Nall ran a colorful campaign that got national attention. Campaign materials included a photo of the woman displaying her ample cleavage above the words “More of these boobs.” Below were photos of other candidates, including Gov. Bob Riley, and the words “And less of these boobs.”
Her campaign sold bosomed-themed T-shirts, “stash boxes,” and “anti-state” thong underwear. Nall, however, couldn’t get her name on Alabama ballots because the Libertarian Party couldn’t get the required 40,000 signatures. So she ran a write-in campaign. She said she got about 2,500 votes of the write-ins that were counted.
After the election Nall continued to write for Cannabis Culture magazine (a Marc Emery publication) and briefly branched her activism into another issue. In 2007, after Alabama outlawed the sale of sex toys, Nall started a “Sex Toys for Troy King” drive that included her sending an inflatable pig to the then Alabama attorney general’s office.
Nall also started the Alabamian Compassionate Care group and pushed the Alabama Legislature for the passage of the Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act in 2010. After that failed she pushed for it again in 2012. That act was designed to protect from arrest and prosecution physicians who recommend marijuana and patients who use marijuana as medicine, Nall wrote in a 2012 op-ed piece for The Birmingham News.
Nall noted that other laws allowing limited medical use of marijuana were approved by state legislators in recent years. Carly’s Law and Leni’s Law, approved in 2016, allow people with seizure disorders or other debilitating medical conditions to use cannabidiol, a product derived from marijuana plants. “Anything like that is progress,” Nall said. But, she said, “there are lots of people that doesn’t apply to that can’t get any help.”
Still, Nall hopes one day the state will legalize recreational use of marijuana in Alabama. “We’re still way behind,” Nall said. “I’m still in favor of the legalization of marijuana Retail sales. The whole nine yards, like has been done in (other states),” Nall said. “You ought to be able to grow at home like you do tomatoes.” Nall, however, agrees that there needs to be age limitations on it use.
Only when voters make state legislators change direction or the legislators see the tax money that’s to be had will Alabama ever get recreational pot, Nall said. “My money’s on the money,” she said. By legalizing pot, it might keep people from getting addicted to opiates and other harder drugs. “Going to drug dealers (for pot) exposes them to harder drugs,” she said.
Alabama also could see an increase in taxes from the legalized sale of pot, Nall said. That money could be spent by the state on issues such as prison reform and Medicaid funding, she said. Nall noted Colorado’s collection of millions of dollars in taxes on marijuana sales.
Licensed and regulated marijuana stores in Colorado sold nearly $1 billion worth of recreational and medical cannabis in 2015, according to a story from The Cannabist, an offshoot publication of The Denver Post. Colorado collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015, of which more than $35 million was earmarked for school construction projects, according to The Cannabist.
Right now people who are arrested in Alabama for marijuana possession are often placed in drug courts where they have to pay high court costs and fees and prevent people from keeping a job, Nall said.
Personal issues have kept her out of the spotlight over the past five or so years, Nall said. That has included shedding an opiate addiction, she said.
Her addiction began after she had a “pretty bad” broken foot in 2007, Nall said. After foot surgery, she was given the narcotic Percocet for pain. “All I can tell you it was a love affair from day one,” she said. Nall said she has been “clean” for two years now from the opiate addiction.
Nall wants the public to know that her use of marijuana wasn’t to blame for her opiate addiction. “I didn’t start opiates because I smoked weed. I started because I broke my foot,” Nall said. “Suboxone and marijuana helped me recover from opiate addiction,” Nall said.
Nall, 42, is currently working as a 24-hour a day care-giver in the small Coosa County town of Kellyton, which is near Alexander City. Asked if she was concerned that giving an interview might bring more trouble for her, she replied: “There’s no one on earth who doesn’t know I smoke weed.”