Higher Ground: Christeen Landino looks back on 13 years of fighting for marijuana legalization with Michigan NORML 

A change is gonna come

Christeen Landino remembers attending her first marijuana protest in downtown Detroit back in 1974. She still has a card from then that she paid $1 for in support of the Michigan Marijuana Initiative, an unsuccessful petition drive to get decriminalization on the ballot that year. It didn't happen then, but we know that a whole lot of water has passed under the Ambassador Bridge since then.

President Nixon had recently declared his war on drugs, and had marijuana designated a Schedule 1 drug, despite having been advised to decriminalize it. Today Nixon's drug war is pretty well considered a failure, and the majority of Americans support legalization of marijuana.

"I know there are a lot of people who are still scared, still worried about the stigma, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel," says Landino, who retired last week as assistant executive director of Michigan NORML after working there in one capacity or another since 2001. "If you would've asked me 10 years ago, I would've seen the tunnel was so dark. Now that Colorado and Washington have legalized, I see it all falling like dominos, just like alcohol prohibition."

The changes that we've seen in Michigan with the legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization in cities across the state happened because activists worked hard to make that proverbial light appear at the end of the tunnel, and Landino was among those who worked hardest to turn it on.

"I've had the pleasure of working with her on different projects with Americans for Safe Access, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and Repeal Today," says Brandy Zink, chair of Michigan for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "As a petition validator, no one worked harder than Christine. On petitions, accuracy is so important. She wanted to do it with integrity and honesty, to the letter of the law. That's something that's far from the established perception of what people who use pot are like; she's very meticulous with her work."

Petition initiatives have been the route to most of the change in Michigan's marijuana laws. As we've seen in numerous cases, municipal powers have gone over these petitions with a fine-tooth comb to find a reason to keep the question off the ballot. Making sure you get it right is vastly important. Politicians mostly don't want to see marijuana laws change, but every time Michiganders have had a chance to vote the laws have been lightened. And Landino has worked to allow people to make that choice.

"She's been a very hard worker, someone who is always willing to help out and lead," says attorney Matt Abel, executive director of the Michigan NORML. "She's had just about every position in the organization aside from being director, and she probably deserves that honor. ... Although she's leaving the board, I'm certain that she will not leave the movement. She'll work as hard as necessary to make sure that we finish the job of repealing marijuana prohibition."

Landino is a founding member of the Michigan Industrial Hemp Education and Marketing Project (MIHEMP), a group teaching about the many uses of hemp and in support of farmers who want to grow the fibrous plant.

"It's an easy crop to grow," says Landino. "Anything that crude oil can do, hemp can do better — and it's biodegradable."

Landino has been around this subject a long time, and she knows her stuff. Trying to educate people who grew up with a Reefer Madness mentality has motivated her to know her facts and be able to use them when needed.

"I hope I helped people understand that this isn't the killer drug that you've been told it is," she says.

And Landino holds herself up as an example to counter assumptions about marijuana users. Landino grew up on Detroit's east side and dropped out of Finney High School. However she got her General Education Diploma, and went on to study at Marygrove College, Wayne County Community College, and Macomb County Community College, with an interest in computers and programming. She's worked as a bookkeeper, bartender, and put in 23 years as a graphic artist at a Big Three global audit tax advisory company.

"I went from minimum wage to making over 60 grand a year," she says with pride, pointing out that marijuana doesn't make you a couch potato and a menace to society. Then, in a refreshing bit of honesty, says, "I smoked a joint every day before I went to work, 5:30 in the morning."

Landino still has her work cut out for her. Her husband has neck and back problems from a degenerative bone disease, along with severe nerve damage from surgery. He uses medical marijuana to help control the pain. And she's been working with Wounded Warriors and other veterans organizations around post traumatic stress disorder.

"She's knowledgeable and compassionate and an example for a lot of people to follow regarding how to conduct ourselves in spreading the truth about cannabis," says Zink.

Expect to see Landino out where she's needed most. She may be a retiree, but she's no lazy pothead.

Thanks to Rastafarians and reggae music, Jamaica has been a flagship state for stoners since the 1960s. I first went there in 1977 after getting an earful of Bob Marley and the Wailers. A friend and I got something like a quarter pound of ganja for $10 in Negril and spent the next four weeks traveling around that country and never having to cop again. I also went dread for the first time with the directive "Don't lay no razor on your head. Don't lay no comb in your hair. Soon come."

Anyhow, it looks like the Jamaican government is finally going to acknowledge one of the major drivers of tourism to the Caribbean island nation. Jamaica's cabinet has approved a marijuana decriminalization plan and spotlighted Rastafarianism by specifically noting religious purposes in the policy change.

Back in 2001 a National Commission on Ganja, the local term for marijuana, recommended decriminalization, but it never happened because of a fear of international sanctions. But things have changed since then; the nation of Uruguay and the states of Colorado and Washington have legalized it. Not to mention the business prospects. Earlier this year a Jamaican Cannabis Future Growers and Producers Association was established.

There's also hope that a regulated medical marijuana and scientific research industry can attract investment to the island. Last year, a company was formed there to support medical marijuana. Too bad Peter Tosh never got his chance to advertise it.

The very, very bad trip that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had from eating too much of a marijuana-infused chocolate bar during a trip to Colorado is serving a good purpose. The Marijuana Policy Project recently launched a "Consume Responsibly" campaign to teach tourists how to handle their edibles.

A billboard in Denver has the line, "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation." It's accompanied by a picture of a red-haired woman in a hotel room — a clear reference to Dowd's description of her experience. mt

More by Larry Gabriel

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