Meet Cannabis Activist and Caretaker Anna Diaz
Story & photo by Simone Fischer.
Before legalization, what was your involvement in the Cannabis industry?
I was raised in Alaska. It was a great place to grow up and one of the things I noticed when I moved was that people were not as open about their Cannabis consumption down here in the lower 48 like we were in Alaska. Alaska has a really strong state constitution and the law protects us. It would almost take an act of congress for someone to enter your home. They never messed with anybody who had four ounces or less of weed. In my thirty years in Alaska I never heard of anyone getting busted for weed, ever.
It was a non-issue in Alaska. I left Alaska in 1997 and moved to Spokane, because my sister was there and my son was struggling in school; I just felt like we needed to get out of Alaska. We went to Spokane and we were there for a few years but Spokane wasn’t the place for us either because it’s pretty conservative – and I am not at all. I found that we were visiting Oregon every weekend. We wanted to get out of Spokane, so we moved to Portland in 2001.
I didn’t know anybody in Portland, I didn’t know where to get any weed, and I didn’t know who to ask, so I went to a NORML meeting because I figured, well, either they’ll have weed there or they will know somebody who knows somebody who has weed, or somehow there will be weed. And honestly that’s why I went.
There was this big march coming and I figured I would help out. I went and Lee Burger was there and a few other guys were there. They had this big long table and they were making signs. There were Doritos and cheese dip spread out among the tables and it was this messy, boy-man cave thing.
They didn’t really have a structured meeting. They needed help registering voters for the Million Marijuana March back then and I volunteered. I loved to smoke weed and I wanted people to understand we should be relaxed about weed, not afraid of it.
I met Madeline Martinez at this march, and I asked if I could set up a way to collect other peoples’ information so we could send them info to encourage them to join Portland NORML. I ask Madeline if I could do that, and she was blown away – it seemed basic to me, but they didn’t have anybody that had those administrative/secretarial skills that I do have to even think of it.
So I went to the march and oh man it lit a fire under me! There was live music; it was a full rally with booths! More people marched back then for Cannabis. We registered maybe a little over 100 people who were interested in Portland NORML that day, and we actually got 25 new member interests, which was unheard of at that time.
I immediately became the official secretary for NORML. The original people who started Portland NORML weren’t even officially affiliated with NORML, and they didn’t want to be affiliated with NORML, although they wanted to call themselves NORML. I had a problem with that –and so did Madeline. So we kind of did a coup, and we created Oregon NORML because we wanted that affiliation and that back up.
There weren’t a bunch of women doing it, and especially no Mexican women, so we became “sisters in arms” back in 2001. It was us and our families basically. We got our five members and we sent the letter in and we formed Oregon NORML in 2001, and some of the guys from Portland were pretty pissed about it.
The state would not give you any information on where to find Cannabis or grow it. Oregon NORML took off and we started having meetings at the Belmont Library. Our meetings were so large they outgrew the library. So we started having meeting at the Mt. Tabor Theater (now the Alhambra Theater) on Hawthorne. People kept coming to find out what was going on because Madeline was keeping up with all of the bills in Salem. We checked with our lawyer and started giving away joints at our meetings. Then it exploded.
We were trying to help patients and Madeline was driving all over helping patients find Cannabis. People started arriving from all over the state because there was no place for medical patients to get anything, and a requirement get in our meeting was you had to be carded. People started camping outside! Some people would come to our meetings and what they took away would be the only medicine they’d have the entire month! It was truly heart breaking.
I was involved with outreach. We started collecting letters to support Senate Bill 1085 which increased the limits for what patients could have because of NORML’s letter writing campaigns. Prior to that bill, patients could have three ounces at home and an ounce on their caregiver.
You could only grow four plants I believe, so SB 1085 upped the limits to 24 ounces. SB 1085 helped us, and growers especially, stay in compliance. The people (medical growers) who are registering for this program want to do this legally. By making it harder for them, it turns them away from the legal market.
What can medical patients and advocates do to ensure the future of the OMMP Program?
My biggest advice for anybody is contact your personal representative in your district, and build a direct relationship with them. Call them, write them, set up appointments. Rallies and marches are important, but building human connections with your legislators is the most effective way to ensure our medical community is being heard.
Don’t get me wrong: I am a legalizer through-and-through, but the regulations put on growers are ridiculous! They are forced to make the moral choice of either entering the recreational market and deserting their patients, or sticking to medical and losing money. We must reduce the amount of regulation so growers can serve their patients and still provide Cannabis to the rest of the state. Talk to your local representatives, and go to the medical marijuana meetings.
What is your role now in the industry and how do you feel about Cannabis culture evolving from a movement into this massive industry?
Right now I am employed with Tozmoz, a company that specializes in concentrates. I am happily employed and treated with respect. I came into a bit of a boy’s club, but I’m like one of the guys and we all got along quickly.
I think the presence of a woman in a male dominated is better for everybody. I have a ton of experience with administrative and secretarial work to organize a business. They listen to what I say, and are happy I bring up ideas on how to build a better business. But, I think it’s important for the industry to know where we come from.
I also work with an organization called Parents 4 Pot, an organization for and by parents. The general misconception about P4P is they only work with parents to find Cannabis for their children. We do help link parents to resources, but our main goal is to remove the stigma from parents who use Cannabis. Many parents have had their children taken away from them and we specialize in situations like these.
We raise money for legal and medicals bills, and we just became a 501-C3 non-profit. Which means donors now get a tax write off! As the industry gets bigger, supporting grassroots causes like this respect our history. Support those who have risked their freedoms to have the industry we have today.
I proudly believe that my cannabis consumption makes me a better parent and mom, but the parent/Cannabis stigma still exists today even with the legal market.