James Bell, 1959-2017, !Presente!
After decades of stagnation of cannabis (“marijuana”) policy reform in Georgia, Bell decided to form a new organization, Georgia CARE, to focus on lobbying, research, and education around medical cannabis policy and decriminalization in Georgia.
Bell helped to mobilize many advocates–including the parents of many sick children who could benefit from cannabis oil–to testify at the Georgia Capitol, over the last few years.
The work of Bell and others was instrumental in the passage of Georgia’s CBD oil legislation and its subsequent amendments.
Bell also worked with the City of Clarkston, Georgia, when it became the first city to decriminalize cannabis in Georgia last year.
“He was instrumental in terms of the research, and coming in and speaking about the options that we have, and providing sort of a different perspective on this issue. His voice was really important in the decisionmaking process,” Mayor Ted Terry of Clarkston told Atlanta Progressive News.
Bell also worked with Councilman Andre Dickens of the Atlanta City Council and the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee in its consideration of decriminalization in Atlanta.
Incidentally, several Atlanta Mayoral candidates committed yesterday evening, September 14, 2017, to support cannabis decriminalization in Atlanta, at the Georgia STAND-UP Mayoral debate.
Council President Ceasar Mitchell said at the forum to expect the issue to be brought up on Monday’s Full Council Meeting.
James Bell’s work on cannabis reform goes back to the 1980’s, Paul Cornwell of CAMP (the Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition) tells APN.
At the time, Bell headed the Georgia Chapter of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
“We worked closely together in 1989 to 1992 or ‘93. We did an alternative convention during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta,” Cornwell said.
Bell and Cornwell worked together to produce several Great Atlanta Pot Festivals, which were originally called “Smoke-ins.”
“James was co-promoter. He was coordinating speakers, groups, and organizations. He spoke at several,” of the Festivals, Cornwell said, noting that Bell brought in NORML’s director Keith Stroup to speak in Atlanta.
“James was one of those warriors who worked all his life to cause change. I’m gonna miss him, he was a great guy,” Cornwell said.
One of Bell’s close associates was Sharon Ravert of Peachtree NORML.
“We’re all kind of sitting around in shock right now. It’s a tragic loss for humanity quite frankly. James was a mentor to me and a counsel and I’m just sick,” Ravert said.
“James was a warrior for freedom, liberty, peace, and this issue [cannabis reform] was very close to him. And he was a leader in Georgia,” Ravert said.
“He was integral in every aspect of everything that went on in the political realm in Georgia, his hand was on it,” Ravert said.
“I’m just devastated, not only for the movement and his family, but his personal friends who cared about him,” she said.
“We were not only comrades in arms, we were friends. And we consulted. If I had a question I could pick up the phone and it could be a one minute conversation or a two hour conversation,” she said.
“He made the issue and he made the strategies to make it happen,” she said.
“We’re going to carry out prohibition in his honor,” she said.
Bell worked odd jobs including camerawork and drywall when the Georgia Legislature was not in session, and he reinvested the proceeds into his lobbying efforts at the Capitol, according to Tracy Manning, board member and social media director for Georgia CARE.
“He was kind of teaching me the ropes of lobbying and I was doing his social media,” Manning said.
“We called him O.G. – one of the Original Gangsters,” she said.
“He lived and breathed it,” she said.
Bell had recently directed his focus into convincing the Georgia Legislature to allow a statewide referendum on a full medical cannabis program, not just immunity for CBD oil. “We have a seventy percent approval rating in Georgia,” Manning said.
Bell was also an advocate for the Libertarian Party.
He is survived by his sisters, Judy Bell Huff and Linda Turner; and a nephew, Jason Turner, who serves as Secretary/Treasurer of Georgia CARE.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2017)