Mikki Norris has been an activist for drug policy reform since 1989 when she formed the American Hemp Council along with her husband Chris Conrad. Over the years, they have traveled extensively to educate the public on the many uses of hemp, and to network and strategize with activists and businesspeople on how to advance the movement. In 1993, the couple moved to Amsterdam to design exhibits for and curate the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum, which they updated in 2000. As community action co-coordinator for Californians for Medical Rights, she helped organize petitioners to qualify the medical marijuana initiative (Prop. 215) for the 1996 California ballot.
In 1995, shortly after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, Norris decided to take on broader Drug War issues and felt compelled to put a human face on its prisoners’ and their families’ plights, through the creation and development of the photo exhibit project, Human Rights and the Drug War (HRDW, originally known as Human Rights 95) with Chris Conrad and Virginia Resner. The exhibit debuted on the 50th anniversary of the UN to bring attention to US human rights violations in the name of the Drug War, and since has been shown in various forms at events, conferences, universities, government buildings and libraries throughout the US and Europe.
She has been a speaker/presenter on this topic at numerous events and before local governments. She has produced over 30 display sets, along with slide shows for organizations and individuals across the country. To make the powerful exhibit material even more accessible, the three co-authored two books, Shattered Lives: Portraits from America’s Drug War and Human Rights and the US Drug War and sponsor the website.
Their work has moved and inspired activists to take action and get involved with the drug policy reform movement everywhere, while influencing media (with subject matter used in local and national media, political ads, documentaries, etc.) and public perception of the negative impact of the Drug War on the American people. HRDW played a role in passing a resolution by Amnesty International USA at its annual convention in 2002. The exhibit project and Shattered Lives has given hope to many prisoners and their families by making “injustice visible” and played an important role in gaining clemency for a few. For this work, they were presented with the Robert C. Randall Award in the Field of Citizen Action at the Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation’s 2001 conference.
Norris’ latest project is the Cannabis Consumers Campaign. As director of this exciting project, she focuses on dispelling the negative myths and stereotypes associated with cannabis use, upgrading the image of marijuana users, ending discrimination, and advocating for their equal rights by encouraging people “to come out of the cannabis closet.” Via her website she is gathering surveys (over 1,000 so far) and posting profiles/photos completed by admitted cannabis consumers. Her research yields information related to various demographic and sociological topics about cannabis consumers (e.g. occupations, educational levels, interests, accomplishments, ethnic and religious backgrounds, political affiliation, frequency of use, age of first use, use patterns, how cannabis enhances their lives, discrimination they experience, etc. See website for survey form.).
In addition, she is involved in a video project, From the Soapbox (2003) where she is taping testimonials from people coming out of the closet. To compare the unequal, harsh treatment meted out to cannabis consumers and offenders versus people who use alcohol and tobacco, she has created a PowerPoint presentation entitled, No More Shattered Lives.
To bring her ideas from the idea phase to reality, Norris is a board member of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, which recently launched its signature gathering campaign to pass the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance. This initiative would put the City of Oakland on record as working towards implementing a system to tax and regulate cannabis sales to adults through licensed businesses as soon as possible under state law and make enforcement of private, adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement, effective immediately. It should be on the November 2004 ballot.
Norris obtained a BA degree in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1974 and a Master’s Degree in Special Education along with multiple subjects and communication-handicapped teaching credentials from the California State University, Los Angeles in 1979. She is a former teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College, and is now a full-time drug policy reformer, writer, and public speaker.