Madeline Martinez has dedicated much of her life to the legalization cause.
She is emeritus executive director for the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. During the near-decade Martinez spent at the helm of Oregon NORML, she created the largest state chapter dedicated to marijuana law reform in the country.
A one-time California corrections officer, Martinez became a crusader for cannabis rights after she retired for medical reasons at age 35 and raised her two kids.
In 1995 she moved to Oregon, where she created The World Famous Cannabis Cafe in Portland, which she ran from 2009 until last year, when The Cafe was shut down by authorities over smoking laws.
She was the first Latina nominated to the national board of directors of NORML, and one of the first medical marijuana patients in the state, approved under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, in November 1999.
“That’s when I stepped out of the closet. I began speaking publicly with NORML,” she said.
Martinez is outspoken about what she sees as misguided and dangerous drug policies in this country. She says U.S. laws prohibiting the use of marijuana represent “the new Jim Crow” (with a nod to the book of that title by Michelle Alexander). She maintains that the practice of locking up young people and denying them scholarships or grants simply for smoking a plant is indefensible. She echoes Alexander’s argument that the war on drugs unfairly targets young men of color, using mass incarceration as a new way to control entire populations.
“We, as Latinos, get stopped for DWB, driving while brown. Similarly, African-Americans get stopped for driving while black.” In both cases, Martinez said, the communities of color represent “low-hanging fruit” to law enforcement.
Now a grandmother, Martinez is clear in her belief that children should not smoke marijuana. But she believes the U.S. needs to rewrite the drug schedule. “Kids go to prison, they become felons. If you are a poor white, black or Latino, you’re going to go to prison. You may even die. It’s just disgusting.”
Her top priority?
I’m Mexican-Navajo. Friends say, “Why aren’t you working on immigration?” My biggest priority now is changing the drug laws. That’s my battle.
How would you describe yourself?
I am from east L.A., a grandma and mom, a person who is a mover and groover, I make change. I grew up in the turbulent ’60s, started smoking at 16 as a rite of passage.
Her greatest fear?
That we don’t change the (federal) law, or that our industry may become like big pharmaceuticals, greedy for money.
What would your mom say about your career?
My mother thought I was crazy. I promised her, “I won’t do anything unethical.”
Her greatest hope?
My best hope is we reschedule marijuana on that ridiculous list. I hope it goes down to $50 per ounce, and we give it away to patients.
A prediction for the future of industry?
It’s concerning to me as a pioneer in this business. They’re trying to destroy little by little the medical marijuana industry. Some of the growers are horrible parasites.
Her worst personal quality?
I don’t like that I’m driven. I can’t sleep because I’m thinking of a new project. I do have an aggressive nature. I have a chip on my shoulder about sexism and racism.
Worst quality in other people?
I don’t like greed in other people, or people so dogmatic about an idea they can’t see beyond it.
Her greatest extravagance?
My house, my grandkids, I like to have my nails done. BHO concentrate dabs — they call me the queen bee of dabs.
I was happiest when the cafe was open and it was like a dream came true, people laughing, enjoying a comedy show and the band. We’re going to battle this out at the legislature. We’re not allowed to smoke in public, public housing, hotels… Where exactly do we go?
If you could come back as something else?
An attorney or a teacher.
R&B Marvin Gaye, Pink, sexy sounds. I’m not a country girl.
“To stand in the face of injustice and be silent is to be a co-conspirator.”