Norma Sapp has been working to decriminalize cannabis for 30 years.
There is no one in the state of Oklahoma who has spent as much time trying to decriminalize, legalize and normalize cannabis as Norma Sapp.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Sapp moved to Oklahoma in 1979. She was married in 1980 and moved to a farm in Norman in 1984.
“When I discovered the truth about hemp, I started talking to my rural neighbors. And I started thinking ‘Whoa! I could change the world if we can tell everybody that, you know, hemp can do all these magical things.’ So I used to hold, like, a free breakfast for farmers if they would listen to my spiel about hemp. I would also show that Hemp for Victory movie,” she said. “I became a member of NORML, national NORML [National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws], and of course I ran under that moniker here because in the beginning, that’s the only game there was. Since then, of course, I’ve been a member of drug policy and criminal justice reform, any organization in Oklahoma that would approach that.”
Politics have been a mainstay of Sapp’s adult life. In 1989, she started working for her local election board and became a precinct inspector in the ’90s. Her political affiliations have shifted with whichever party has had the most cannabis-friendly candidate over the years.
“Got involved with the Democratic Party for a number of years and got something in their platform to recognize medical marijuana, and come to find out, candidates don’t even read the platform, so they didn’t even know that they were supposed to honor that. I also became a Republican when Ron Paul ran for president in 2012. And since then, this last time, I switched to being a Libertarian so I could vote for a local candidate for governor. His name was Chris Powell,” Sapp said. “I really liked Chris Powell, and I didn’t care for what had been happening in our country, for that matter, but especially in our state, when you stay with the same tags — you know, ‘I’m a Democrat. I’m a Republican.’ And Chris Powell was different. And I knew that we could run this state better if we had somebody who wasn’t really a politician. And it turns out that’s what we got for governor, and actually, Governor Stitt’s done a pretty good job.”
Sapp first became involved with state politics on Lincoln Boulevard in 1993, asking the chairman of the health committee for a medical cannabis bill.
“He actually introduced a medical marijuana bill that session, and when it was supposed to go to committee that day, I was so naive, I did not know that the public could walk in there and listen to a committee meeting. And so I went the next day. And I said, ‘How did it go?’ He said, ‘Where did you go? I needed you in that committee room,’” Sapp said. “And that was my first mistake in politics. But I learned a lot after that. I started hanging out in every committee room that had anything to do with the drug war. And I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to speak up in these committee rooms. But I would. If they said something or did something, I would stand right up and correct them.”
But the road to what eventually became State Question 788 did not get paved until this decade. After a few gatherings at the Capitol and failed signature drives, SQ788 was coming down to the wire on gathering voter signatures.
“We had to get the word out better. And there was an organization run by Bud Scott, who had put some money into it to buy signs. And so we all doubled down all across the state. We talked to people we didn’t care to talk to and we all worked together, and so we got it done. We put signs all over this state thanks to Bud Scott. And, well, you found out what happened last June 26th,” Sapp said. “The main thing I was thinking about for the day after the 26th was I was going to take a day off. And it didn’t happen. At 7:30 in the morning, I got a call from Sheriff Chris West in Canadian County, congratulating me.”
The 11 months since the cannabis vote have not slowed Sapp down.
“I’ve been doing patient drives, a lot of them,” she said. “And answering questions. I still do that constantly, all day long, on Messenger, directly on Facebook under posts, people wanting to know the answer to questions or — this is my favorite — ‘Can you show me in there where it says I can’t do something?’”