Musicians and marijuana users are often stereotyped similarly by society: unmotivated, uneducated and unreliable.
However, since February, a group of local marijuana advocates has set out to debunk these misconceptions with a focused effort and series of upcoming events designed to show the area just how much noise a motivated bunch of musicians and pot supporters can make.
“People look at me and they see a long-haired hippie, but when you talk to me it’s a different story. It’s all about rapport and professionalism combatting the way some people see us,” said Brandon Plumley, executive director of the newly-formed local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Plumley, a 24-year-old veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He is currently studying at Horry Georgetown Technical College with plans to transfer to Coastal Carolina and get a Master’s degree in Psychiatry in order to help treat veterans with the disorder.
“I want to work with veterans with PTSD, because I truly believe that empathy is such that you can’t really feel what I feel unless you’ve been there and done that as well,” he says.
Growing from five board members to more than 30 registered supporters in just over two months Plumley and crew have quickly gained support for NORML’s mission to see marijuana legalized — both for medical and responsible recreational use — across the U.S.
But before they can run, they must walk and thus the group remains focused, in the short term, on establishing itself within the Myrtle Beach community and growing its numbers.
“Our short-term goal is to get membership, because what that is to us is names on a petition. Everybody that says ‘Hey I’ll support you,’ is another signature for us,” said Plumley.
Capitalizing on strong interest within the local music community, NORML has already organized two live music events that have doubled as membership drives for the group.
Myrtle Beach Music: Josh Strickland of Flick-It performs at Suck Bang Blow. (Photo by Matt Black Photography)The first featured jam band Lunar Fizz, Reggae act Jah Harvest, longtime local rockers Flick-It and hip-hop group Prophet & The Fam at Suck Bang Blow in March. Though this inaugural event saw its fair share of hang-ups, group members believe they’re on the right track and hope to build on what they’ve learned.
“Music spreads the word. Everybody listens to music in some genre,” said Plumley. “That’s why at our first benefit we had four completely different genres to bring four completely different parts of this city together. The whole point is to bring a community of like-minded individuals together because we all have the same thought about [legalization] and something needs to be done.”
Moving forward the group will host a Metal Night event with locals Creepshow Mofo, Florence’s Shed This Burden, N.C.-based Nothing and Columbia’s Johnny Quest & The Hajis on April 28 and a Reggae Night featuring Jah Harvest — whose members have all joined NORML — on May 12.
Both events will be hosted at newly-opened Before 20 Head Shop & Emporium, 4761 U.S. 501 (Behind Dick’s Pawn Shop), which also serves as the homebase office for NORML.
“They’ve been great to let us set up shop here and the cool thing about this place is that in addition to all the head shop stuff, they also sell a ton of local merchandise. There’s local art here, we’ve got locally-made clothing, local bands can come in here and sell their CDs and merch with no commission. It’s awesome,” says Plumley.
In addition, NORML will also sponsor two events Friday to help celebrate 4/20, a counterculture holiday known as National Smoker’s Day in reference to 420, the California penal code for possession of marijuana. These events include Borgata Bar’s eight-band 420 Fest in Surfside and Purple Haze 4/20 Fest, a seven-band affair at Purple Haze Smoke Shop on Seaboard Street.
“Though we’re not part of the 4/20 Movement which is just to legalize it for every pothead who wants to go get high — I really just want to see it legalized for medicinal use — we still take this day to gather support because this is a day when our crowd is out in full force and it’s one day when we can get the word out,” said Plumley.
The bigger picture
Though building support locally is important to NORML’s success, the group has also made sure that from day one they keep an eye on the bigger picture.
“One of my good friends from West Virginia is the communications director up there and so I’ve stayed up on everything going on for awhile,” said Plumley. “He came down and helped us get set up and get all the paperwork and everything we needed to get this thing moving.”
To start the chapter, the group had to become a nonprofit organization functioning as 501(c)(4) public-interest lobby. By doing so, they became one of the more than 150 local affiliates of the D.C.-based NORML corporation — the third in South Carolina after chapters in Greenville and Columbia.
According to Plumley, all three S.C. groups have already drawn support at the state level, with officials such as State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) backing their efforts. However the quest to gain widespread support has been less than fruitful.
In 2009, a contingent of SLED agents, police chiefs and county sheriffs who support legalizing and taxing marijuana met with state lawmakers to discuss its potential financial benefits. At that time Dorchester County Sheriff B.D. Squire — a spokesman for the law enforcement contingent — was quoted as saying “Weed is good. Weed is right. Weed works.”
But despite the financial intrigue, S.C. efforts to legalize marijuana, even for medical use, are still far from a reality.
Plumley says he hopes that laws passed in surrounding states will help boost acceptance of the idea to legalize medical marijuana in the Palmetto state.
“We’re getting trapped in here. North Carolina is already a medicinal state, Tennessee is processing it right now and so is Georgia and so we’re about to be completely surrounded by states who support the use of medicinal marijuana,” he said.
But regardless of what’s happening across S.C., the group believes they’ve chosen a great venue for a local chapter in Myrtle Beach.
“We grow from 27,000 to 1.5 million every Sunday, so Myrtle Beach is a great place to get the word out to a lot of different people about the benefits of medical marijuana,” said Plumley. “It’s the logical thing to do. Money-wise, health-wise, and otherwise, I haven’t found a reason the state shouldn’t legalize it.”