The old leadership of the Southern Arizona NORML chapter is up in smoke. A new batch of green leaders is stepping in. Will they grow into the role?
Earlier this August, Mike Robinette, director of both the greater Arizona and local Southern Arizona chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, announced his resignation.
"Right now is probably the best time for me to step down," Robinette said in an interview. "If I were to wait until December or January, when we're just starting into the legislative session, that would not be a good time to do so."
While Arizona NORML named interim co-directors — attorney and current state Political Director Jon Udell and attorney Allison Stein — the group is continuing to search for Robinette's permanent replacement.
The Southern Arizona chapter, on the other hand, moved quickly to name a replacement at their next board meeting.
Local cannabis advocate and owner of Kelly's Natural Aromatherapy Kelly Davis was tapped to head the organization, a role she said she was ready for, but a role that will be hard to fill after Robinette, who founded the chapter in Tucson in 2018.
"It's big shoes to fill, big shoes to fill," Davis said of following Robinette. "I told him that many times."
Davis said she was nearly overwhelmed with emotion when Robinette asked her to step into the role a few weeks earlier, but that she was excited and ready to take the chapter in new directions.
"We're all looking forward to moving forward and having a new face and bringing different energy in," she said. "We want to make sure that there is a new and energetic presence going forth."
Then at the August 22 Southern Arizona NORML meeting to announce Davis as Robinette's successor, both remaining SoAZ NORML board members, Phil Neier and Jason Hostens, decided to resign as well.
That was not in the script, according to Samba Jarju, a local cannabis entrepreneur, as well as the new treasurer, communications director and board member of SoAZ NORML.
"We thought it would've been just Mike who was gonna step down," Jarju said. "But we understand the change in leadership, those guys have been hard-charging for years to keep things going as smoothly as they have."
While no official reason was given for the departure of the remaining two board/leadership members, Udell — one of the current co-directors of the state chapter and an attorney with the Rose Law Group in Scottsdale — said he was very encouraged to work with Davis and her new leadership team
"My interactions with the new leadership has been good so far, and I'm certainly happy that they're stepping up the plate," Udell said. "Taking a swing at trying to keep Southern Arizona NORML functioning, like the effective community organization it's been for some years."
Udell also said he is excited to see where the new leadership decides to focus its advocacy and goals.
Davis said she sees SoAz NORML's mission as being a local advocacy and education organization and that she will focus her efforts at bringing in new groups and demographics that haven't been as widely represented in NORMLs rank-and-file membership.
"I would personally like to see a younger population get more interested in this," she said. "I know that the younger population, there's a good majority that don't see the need for marijuana reform, because they feel like 'it's passed and we're going forward.' Well, we still need to go forward and we still need to take that action to make improvements."
Davis knows that will take some time to hash out.
In the meantime, she said she plans to keep the organization's monthly meetings held at Harambe Cafe and Medusa Hookah Lounge going, along with the monthly highway clean up.
Both Davis and Jarju, who are life and business partners outside of their NORML lives, said they are ready to make the decisions and sacrifices needed to make sure their small businesses and the organization grow.
"I don't see us necessarily having issues with our personal businesses," Jarju said. "A lot of what we do is together anyways. So I see this as a smooth transition to be able to help more people, which is a big part of what we do."
For his part, Robinette said he believes he left SoAz NORML better than when he founded it in 2018, and that it will be in good hands with Davis and her leadership crew.
"We have created and maintained a very strong local chapter of NORML in Tucson and I have the utmost confidence in Kelly to lead the organization and that she will continue to build on its past successes," he said.