People Behind the Plant: Ellen Komp's 25-Year Drive for Normalization

The Deputy Director of CA NORML is all about progress.

Ellen Komp's actions and ideas were stoking discussion and action around normalizing cannabis long before you could ever have conceived of seeing medical marijuana legalized and somewhat rational in Ohio. 

According to the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) , where Komp is now Deputy Director, her career began in 1991 Los Angeles, before weed became legal anywhere:

"[Komp] helped plan quarterly hemp rallies, and volunteered for LA NORML after being elected to the California NORML board of directors in 1992. She edited the 9th edition of The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer, and was a volunteer petitioner for the California Hemp Initiative (1993, 1994) and Proposition 215 (1995). She worked as an advertising salesperson and editor at HempWorld magazine, the first trade journal for the hemp industry."

The KIND, reached out to Komp from L.A.––a city that 25 years after she began her work enjoys a robust and somewhat regulated cannabis industry. 

The KIND: What are the three biggest problems facing the cannabis industry? 

Ellen Komp: Federal interference, both direct and indirect. Law enforcement officials protecting their own interests at the state and local levels. NIMBYism.

The KIND: What does a legal California look like? What will change about the current medical marijuana landscape?

Ellen Komp: That remains to be seen. My hope was state licensing would make cities and counties more likely to allow establishments in their borders; the immediate effect has been the opposite. Hopefully it will shake out, and locals will see, one by one, that regulation and licensing is the best way to protect public safety, as well as recoup tax dollars.

KIND: How can the industry be held accountable to ensure an inclusive future, where women and minorities hold executive and leadership roles at every level of the weed world?

Ellen Komp:  We can include clauses like those in the new Pennsylvania law, or Oakland’s new ordinance, requiring outreach to under represented communities and participation by them. Tax incentives are one method of assuring inclusion. In general, we know that small businesses are more inclusive of minorities; so any effort to encourage a “craft beer” type model should be encouraged. I personally think that the reason California marijuana is the best on the planet is because of the strength of the cottage industry that produces it. The smartest thing to do is to make licensing work for existing operators.

The KIND: What is the most underreported aspect of the cannabis legalization movement? What should be the media be covering, but isn't?

Ellen Komp: The ancillary issues around being quasi legal: Loss of employment rights, parental rights, and housing rights by marijuana users.

The KIND: If you weren't working in drug policy reform, what do you see yourself doing?

Ellen Komp: More writing. I have about five books I’ve been researching for years, just published the first: Tokin’ Women: A 4000-Year Herstory