As Keith Straup, founder of the national cannabis consumer advocacy group NORML, ascended the stage to begin his keynote address of the 1st Annual NYC NORML Awards, he spoke passionately about the decades-long struggle to transform the national conversation around cannabis use. Founded 50 years ago, NORML, which stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuanna Laws, has worked tirelessly to lobby Congress and state legislatures for more sensible laws around cannabis production, distribution, and consumption. It has also been a key advocate for successfully swinging the pendulum of public opinion towards the legalization of cannabis use in the United States. According to a recent poll, only 12% of Americans supported such a legal change in 1969; in 2019, however, that number has climbed to a remarkable 66%.
Within this steadily changing social and political climate, the New York City cannabis industry has flourished— so much so that it now demands its own awards ceremony. Enter the 1st Annual NYC NORML Awards, held at the trendy and plush Hudson Terrace on October 23, 2019. With over 120 cannabis industry professionals in attendance, as well as 18 community sponsors, including the presenting sponsor Buddy’s Bodega, the Last Prisoner Project, Women Grow, Chef for Higher, CannaClusive, the Cannabis Cultural Association, and even our very own Honeysuckle and HoneyPot, the event served as proof that the NYC cannabis community is as vibrant and dynamic as ever.
It is also, unsurprisingly, a community that maintains its political edge, all the while throwing the sexiest of parties. The purple and blue hazy lighting of the event space complimented the DJ’s sultry mix of R&B, house, and hip-hop, while the oversized crystal chandelier was only half as dazzling as the event’s effortlessly cool guests. The enticing aroma of food prepared by the cannabis cuisine connoisseurs of The Medibilist also contributed to the lux aesthetic of the night’s festivities.
Importantly, this ambience only served as the backdrop to conversations about voter registration campaigns, ending racialized criminalization of cannabis use, and the necessity for women and people of color to reap the financial rewards of this budding industry. As Saki Fenderson, the night’s winner for Cannabis Educator, reminded the audience in her acceptance speech: “If you’re in this room and you’re not doing anything to make sure legalization is done right, you actually should go.” Even the artistic talent featured carried its own political message: musicians Baba Israel and Grace Galu performed original music about the equitable decriminalization of cannabis, while comedian Courtney Reynolds tickled the audience about the simple pleasures of smoking amongst community.
After these performances, NYC NORML directors Benjamin Leiner and Ryan Lepore, as well as other prominent figures in the cannabis community, presented awards to those individuals and companies that have made a successful home within the cannabis industry while actively working towards making the space an equitable one. Some of the awardees included: Steven Phan and Waseem Ghattas, co-founders of Come Back Daily, for CBD Company; Baba Israel of Soul Inscribed, for Artist Activist; Hudson Hemp, for Green Sustainable Cannabis Company; and Chef Joshua Tepperberg of The Mediblist, for the NORML MVP Award. Happy Munkey also received notable recognition for simultaneously pushing the bounds of social interaction in cannabis culture whilst supporting advocacy.
Indeed, many of the night’s other awardees possess long standing legacies of cannabis advocacy and legalization efforts. As aforementioned, Saki Fenderson, founder of Tainted Love, received the award for Cannabis Educator. Michael O’Malley, founder Curved Papers (proceeds from which benefit NORML), received the award for Champion of Corporate Responsibility. He has been the pioneer behind NORML’s gala fundraising efforts, spearheading the inaugural NORML FORML with the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition. For their work with The Cannabis Parade, legendary cannabis activists Noah Potter, Troy Smith, Dana Beal, and Steve Bloom received the award for Activist Organization. It is important to note, however, that The Cannabis Parade represents the culmination of decades of advocacy and organization for each of these men: Potter and Smith have done amazing work with legalization advocacy; Beal was one of the major organizers of the first Global Million Marijuana March (the founding chapter of which is the NYC Cannabis Parade); and Bloom, founder of CelebStoner.com, has been a figure in cannabis media for decades.
The last award of the evening, the inaugural Doug Greene Award for Activism, honored the enduring legacy of Douglas Greene, Legislative Director, Board Member and Lifetime Member of Empire State NORML, who tragically passed away this June. Presented to Kassandra Frederique and Melissa Moore of Start Smart NY/Drug Policy Alliance for their tireless conviction, sacrifice, and devotion to ending cannabis prohibition, the award served as a sobering reminder of the weight that that his memory continues to hold for NORML and the NY cannabis community.
Honeysuckle and HoneyPot sends warm congratulations to all the awardees, and we eagerly await to see the ways in which they push our cannabis community forward for the better.
The community sponsors for the NYC NORML Awards included:
Buddy’s Bodega NYC
Chef for Higher
Twenty Past Four NYC
Chef Rob Segers
The Law Offices of Joseph A. Bondy
Saucey Farms and Extracts
Flintts Mouthwatering Mints
MCA Accounting Solutions
Hawkins, Parnell & Young, LLC
Garden State NORML
Cannabis Cultural Association
Cannabis Voter Project
Empire State NORML
High Mi Madre
Long Island NORML
Last Prisoner Project
New York Cannabis United
Keyanah Nurse is a femme intellectual queen on a mission to change the way we think about love, intimacy, and connection. Follow her on Twitter @KeyanahNurse.