Weedists: Meet Diane Fornbacher
“Weedists are the people who are out there fighting the good fight and these are their stories.”
Diane Fornbacher has been a cannabis activist for over fifteen years. Her unique combination of warrior spirit, passion and kindness make her a hero to anyone who works with her. She was a High Times’ Freedom Fighter in 1999. Through the years, she has worked with a variety of marijuana law reform groups, both nationally and in her home state of New Jersey.
I met Diane at the NORML Conference in Portland in September 2010. Our friendship has grown, and I am honored to call her a sister-in arms. She is currently the co-chair of the NORML Women’s Alliance and works to bring women’s perspectives to the forefront. She is the recipient of NORML’s 2012 Pauline Sabin Award, which is given each year to recognize female leaders in the cannabis movement.
In addition to her work to reform marijuana laws, Diane is a mother of two and a wife, an author, photographer and poet. She has also jumped in to help her Jersey neighbors after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. This is the second time she has honored me with an interview. I hope that readers will see Diane through my eyes and understand why I chose her to be the first in a series I call “Weedist Women.” She is a truly remarkable woman.
For those who don’t know, will you please recap what brought you to the cannabis movement?
I got busted for cannabis possession when I was eighteen. For some naive American reason, I really thought I would have the right to use what I felt was appropriate for my mind and body. At the time, I was battling major depression from PTSD. I’d been abused as a child. My mother committed suicide after she shot my stepfather, and I watched him bleed to death. I think what happened the day my mother and stepfather died is enough reason for law enforcement to mind their own damn business and let me be.
I was in college at Penn State University and most of my peers were smoking pot because it was fun. That’s definitely true, I’ll admit. But for me, cannabis was an excellent way to process and manage the profound sadness and loss in a very productive way.
When the arresting officer went through all of my things at the dorm, I was mortified, terrified and abjectly disappointed. He was rapid-fire interrogating my friends and me when all we were doing prior to him being there was listening to Pink Floyd, being philosophical and bonding.
As a result of my arrest and being charged in central Pennsylvania where Harry Anslinger was born and buried, I had the book thrown at me. Barring a governor’s pardon, I cannot work in healthcare or education. I lost my federal student funding. The drivers’ license I didn’t even have was suspended. When I went to get my license, I had to pay a reinstatement fee and got two points automatically added to it.
A year or so later, I moved to the main campus at PSU and was writing for a Knight-Ridder weekly entertainment paper called Buzz. But it didn’t have an honest drug education column. After what I’d been through and with the passage of Proposition 215, I saw an opportunity to show podunk USA and impressionable college students a whole new world. Soon after I started with Buzz, Libertarian and jury nullification advocate, Dr. Julian Heicklen, started doing weekly Smoke-Outs at the main gates. I covered the first one and immediately signed myself up to help, eventually becoming media liaison and organizer.
The upcoming election has three states with marijuana legalization on the ballot. How do you think their passage or failure will affect other states like yours?
Hopefully, they all pass and inspire every state to enact similar reasonable policies. I currently reside in New Jersey with a lame ass medical marijuana law. So anything is an improvement over our state’s fiasco.
If some of the legalization attempts do not succeed, I have no doubt that there will be double the number of attempts to legalize the next few years. We’ll get there someday soon, without a doubt.
As vice chair of the NORML Women’s Alliance, you have seen us become more involved in marijuana reform. Overall, how do you think this has changed the face of cannabis prohibition?
Well, there are definitely a lot more women coming out and speaking for our families. In Colorado, women support Amendment 64 by a margin of 50% to 46%. Those are great numbers. They reflect where I truly feel the rest of the country is moving, especially regarding women coming out in support of cannabis regulation. Traditionally, it was not always this way. It is a wonderful time in our movement to see realized what we’ve always known – women support an end to the war on cannabis and want to embrace productive, compassionate and intelligent policies.
What has been your best achievement so far within the scope of the Alliance?
My best achievement has not been anything for which I can take credit. Quite organically, the NORML Women’s Alliance has really grown exponentially in many directions. I am just proud to contribute.
How did it feel to win the Pauline Sabin Award at the national NORML Conference this year?
I was honored to receive the award, especially because my close friend Paul Armentano delivered such a thoughtful and rousing speech filled with milestones from my career. I didn’t even remember some of the things he mentioned. But there they were, so it was amusing. But then I felt, you know, old. Ha-ha.
In all seriousness, I feel grateful. It’s not the award itself, but more because of having this wonderful opportunity to be recognized by my peers and be among my heroes. It is important to me to thank them. We have all been through so much at the heart of humanitarian and political issues because of the Drug War. We learn about ourselves in the process. I’m grateful for their help and for finding purpose to help change our world for the better.
I know that the war on drugs is a family issue for you. How do you incorporate it into raising your children? What will you tell them when it is time to have “The Talk?”
I am blunt with my children. My oldest, who is almost ten years’ old, knows cannabis is a non-toxic and versatile plant that many people use for thousands of reasons. He has been with me to vigils for fallen warriors like Cheryl Miller at the New Jersey state house, protests from Philadelphia to Oakland and helps out with the Hemp History Week table at our local green festival each spring. His brother, who is three, has been with me to events, but he’s more interested in playing with Transformers and matchbox cars. He’ll learn when he’s able to process more complex subjects like drug policy.
As far as other drugs, my 4th grader knows that many people rely on prescription drugs to manage their conditions or illnesses. He is also aware that sometimes people unfortunately abuse pain medications and can become addicted or even die. He knows that this has happened in many families, including our own. My husband and I make sure he knows about the positives and negatives about drugs and drug laws. We never really had a designated time for “The Talk” because I feel that most people who wait to talk to their kids about drugs have already let others do it for them.
One day, prohibition will be over. Aside from the obvious, how will that affect your life? Will you go on to another cause? What are your dreams post-prohibition?
As much as I’d like to think that one day prohibition will be over, I believe that we will always have to protect the gains we’ve made. There will always be people out there who believe they have dominion over our bodies.
Cannabis was once legal and was then made illegal. The people who think that cannabis is dangerous and that our citizens should be locked up for consuming it will not simply recede into darkness. Certainly, with continued education, outreach and better laws, there will be fewer people who are against reasonable and compassionate policies. We will always have work to do. I’m here for the long haul.