Meet Loretta Nall

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At
twenty-eight years of age, Loretta Nall appears to be a typical
wife and mother, but there was nothing typical about what happened
to her on September 17. That day her quiet rural Alabama life was
invaded by agents of the Alexander City Police Department, the Tallapoosa
County Sheriff's Department, the Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task
Force, the Marijuana Eradication Project, the Drug Enforcement Administration,
and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. She had been puzzled by
the appearance of a helicopter that had hovered over her house for
nearly an hour, but the puzzle was solved when all of the police
vehicles began pulling onto her property.

You
see, exactly one week earlier, Loretta had taken a trip to Vancouver,
BC, to visit Marc Emery, a well-known Canadian marijuana-legalization
activist. She took the trip not to get high, but to learn the art
of political activism. Loretta had it in her head to start an Alabama
arm of the American Marijuana Party.

Upon
her arrival in Canada, she notified customs officials where she
was going and whom she was going to see, at which point all her
papers were seized and she was held in limbo for several hours while
the Canadian authorities checked her background to see if they had
any reason to stop her from entering the country. Then they returned
her passport and told her she was free to go. Loretta had no police
record. That is, she didn't have one, until last Wednesday.

Loretta
is convinced that the sudden appearance of the authorities at her
doorstep is a direct result of her trip to Canada. She claims that
no one would have had any reason to suspect her of anything. She
leads a quiet life rearing two children. Knowing her rights (something
the police probably assumed a high-school dropout in rural Alabama
would know nothing about), Loretta gave the authorities permission
to search outside her house, trying to spare herself a huge hassle,
but she insisted that if they wanted to come inside, they would
need to get a warrant. When Loretta brought out her video camera
to record what they were doing, they high-tailed it off her property.

Less
than a month later, Loretta formally founded the Alabama Marijuana
Party, and a little more than a month after that, on November 7,
she had her first letter to the editor published in the Birmingham
News calling for the legalization of marijuana. On November
13, Judge Kim Taylor of the Tallapoosa County District Court received
a request from the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Department to issue
a search warrant for Loretta's property on the basis of an alleged
anonymous phone-in tip that she was growing marijuana inside her
house. The search warrant was issued, and less than three hours
later, it was executed.

Loretta
returned home from a morning of job hunting to discover that the
police had broken into her home. What did the police find after
breaking in Loretta's front door? Well, they found a mess. Loretta,
by her own admission, is not the world's best housekeeper, but the
police did a fine job of making an even bigger mess by ransacking
her house, looking for a crop that didn't exist. Of course, one
wouldn't expect to find a marijuana crop in her diaries, which were
seized, or in the plates of catnip, also seized, or in her copy
of the November 7 Letter to the Editor, seized, or in the Salvia
leaves in the freezer, seized (Mr. Nall is a horticulturist), or
in the printed materials regarding marijuana and political action,
seized.

The
police did not even stop to think twice about sifting through the
ashes contained in an urn, the ashes of Loretta's son who had died
at the age of three months of SIDS.

So
what did the police get for all their efforts? One marijuana stem,
three seeds, which they claim to have found in an envelope on Loretta’s
printer, and a package of cigarette papers. Not content with harassing
Loretta by ransacking her house, the police called in the Alabama
Department of Human Resources, whose agents declared Loretta's home
unfit for her children. They informed her that if she did not have
a place to send the children to stay, then the state would take
them away.

Loretta
had not truly been afraid, until then. She had been certain the
police would find nothing but an unclean home when they searched.
It hadn't occurred to her how far the state would go to punish her
for her activism. She hadn't realized she might lose her children.
Her son and daughter were brought to her mother's house, some fifty
miles away, but only after the agents of the state questioned her
five-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son relentlessly. According
to Mr. Nall, the authorities repeatedly asked leading questions
of the little girl regarding how painful it was when Loretta brushed
her hair. According to Loretta's son, the social service agents
seemed quite interested in whether pornographic email was received
in the house. As any little longhaired girl can tell you, hair gets
tangled; as any Internet user can tell you, pornography is ubiquitous.

Loretta
was handcuffed and taken to jail, where she was formally booked
for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. She was held for
several hours while her husband was given the bureaucratic runaround
in his attempts to get her released. The police wanted to make sure
the Nalls knew they were helpless in the face of the state’s power.

The
irony is, Loretta doesn't feel helpless. She feels empowered by
what has happened to her. She is determined to continue the fight.
Her determination is all the more amazing because Loretta and her
husband are not well off. They have a modest livelihood, and this
fight could cost them thousands of dollars. Mr. Nall is employed
as a laborer in a nursery, and Loretta is currently unemployed.
She dreams of becoming a writer, a high aspiration for a woman with
a GED, who married at 16 and had her first child at 18.

Loretta
might not have an advanced education, but she does have intelligence,
and even more important, she has a conscience. She wasn't born an
activist; she was made into one. She watched as several friends
had their careers and families destroyed by marijuana convictions.
To her, such punishment was plain cruelty, and she couldn't – and
still cannot – understand how Americans can sit idly by and watch
as the government turns the lives of thousands upon thousands of
people upside down over something as innocuous as marijuana. After
all, as it says on her Alabama Marijuana Party website, not a single
person has ever been killed by cannabis.

Loretta
is like so many of the other John and Jane Does who have gone before
her, who have fought for what they believe to be right. For Loretta,
there is no sitting back and just accepting what the state decrees.
She wants everyone to know that disagreeing with an immoral public
policy doesn't make you un-American, it doesn't make you evil, and
it doesn't make you anti-social. She wants to know what kind of
country and what kind of people we have become when the police can
search our homes simply because we have exercised our First Amendment
rights. She wants to shout from the rooftops that we as Americans
have a responsibility to fight for justice and freedom. If that
isn't the American way, what is?

Meet
Loretta Nall: American.

November
18, 2002

Elizabeth
Bernard [send her mail],
mother, writer, and homeschooling advocate, resides in Covington,
Louisiana.

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