Palm Beach Post Columnist
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
I'm standing in a Walgreens parking lot in suburban Lake Worth, chatting with a fidgety, fast-talking former housewife from Alabama, who keeps looking across the street at the high school.
"It's best if they don't know I'm out here," says Loretta Nall, 30, who has come a long way with her buttons, literature and camcorder. Too long to be run off in pursuit of her story.
I've never been in the presence of a marijuana journalist before, so I'm a bit surprised to find Nall, the anchor of the Internet-based Pot TV News and the president of the U.S. Marijuana Party to be so... caffeinated.
She's all business, in full salesman mode here, seeming more like she's about to close the deal on a car than chat to teenagers about getting involved in reforming America's drug laws.
In Nall's world of concerns, Palm Beach County became big news when undercover officers, infiltrating five local high schools by posing as students, conducted a drug investigation that led to the arrests of more than a dozen students last month.
So she's in the area this week, taping a segment for Pot TV News and trying to get kids to consider joining Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
"I don't want cops in schools with guns and dogs, dragging kids off to prison for a little youthful indiscretion," she says. "Basically, the pharmaceutical companies have worked it out that you'll always get your drugs from them, or you'll go to jail."
Objects to 'pipeline to prison'
For the record, Nall and her group don't approve of kids using and selling drugs in school. She thinks student drug users should be punished or sent to treatment programs. But she doesn't think they should be expelled and branded as criminals. Especially not for marijuana, which she equates to beer and cigarettes.
"Zero tolerance is a pipeline to prison for these kids," she said.
But this is not an easy subject to discuss, especially with a stranger in a drugstore parking lot.
"I am running for governor of Alabama," she tells a cluster of five kids from John I. Leonard High School, who take the news in stride, as if it were nothing to be told this on the corner of 10th Avenue North and Haverhill Road on a Tuesday afternoon.
Nall hands them drug-reform buttons and literature while asking them what they think about kids from their school getting arrested for drugs. The kids look at each other, unsure of what to say.
"It's none of my business," says Curtis Rivera, 15, a freshman. "The police can do whatever they want."
This isn't the kind of response she is looking for.
She scans the arriving herd of students, looking for likely interview subjects.
"She's a pot smoker," she says, eyeing an approaching teenage girl with a bare midriff.
"You're profiling," I tell Nall. "I wouldn't think you were a pot smoker if I just saw you."
"No?" she says, seeming mildly disappointed.
"What do you tell your kids?" I ask.
She's got two; the oldest is 12.
"I don't even drink beer in front of them," she says. "I tell them that drug use is not good for you, and you shouldn't do it."
She can't smoke marijuana in Alabama anymore, anyway, she says, because a second conviction would be a prison offense. And that would really put a crimp in her campaigning for governor.
"I suppose I could move to California," she says. "But Alabama needs me there. The people are good, but the politics ruin everything."
The John I. Leonard students outside the Walgreens are uniformly uninterested in being interviewed on camera for Pot TV.
Ivan Sanchez, 16, a sophomore, tells Nall he wasn't even aware of the recent drug arrests at his school. But Nall presses him for an opinion anyway.
Arresting kids for selling drugs in school is fine with him, he says.
"It prevents kids from bringing guns to school," he says.
OK, so it's not a good day of street reporting for Pot TV.
Time for Nall to call it a day, to kick back and... well, relax.
"No, thank you," I answer, touched, nevertheless, by the rare show of generosity from a fellow journalist.