Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

From the new Executive Director

Hi, y’all.  My name is Tom McCain.  I want to introduce myself.  I want you to know me and why I am so passionate about the issue of cannabis.  I figure if I’m gonna drive this train in Georgia, the folks on it ought to know the engineer.

Early Life

I’m an old ‘Bama Boy, raised in a family of farmers.  Down to earth folks who believed in goodness, in being good to everyone.  My Granddad was a sod farmer.  I learned to milk a cow when I was about 7, I think.  I know I was plowing a mule by age 9.  His farm fed his family, and everybody pitched in in some fashion, from working the fields to canning and preserving.

We didn’t live on the farm, but my Dad loved his Dad, and he was a faithful son.  Dad worked in a Textile Mill, Russell Southern, in Alexander City, Alabama.  It was, back then, a textile town.  My mom and many of my Aunts and Uncles worked there, also.

Dad spent every minute of his free time that he could with his father, which meant his eldest son (me), did also.  I spent a lot of hours in the hot Alabama sun planting crops, feeding and watering stock, cutting firewood and trying to sneak away and play every chance I got.

My Dad and most of my Uncles served in the military.  Dad was in the 82nd Airborne, 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  He survived the horror of the Ardennes Forest in WWII then transferred to the Army Air Corp, which became the U.S. Air Force.  He served for a total of 13 years.

Dad was also a Southern Baptist preacher.  While I am a long way from what he believed and taught, I am still a very spiritual man.

The Air Force

I followed in Dad’s footsteps as far as military service.  I joined the Air Force and spent 20 years bouncing from assignment to assignment every few years.  I retired as a Master Sergeant, an often awarded, highly trained leader, and administrator.  In the second year of my service, I was introduced to marijuana (preacher’s kid, remember).  I LIKED IT!  So for 13 years, I smoked it.  I’ve smoked around the world.  I’ve been some places you couldn’t get “green”, so I smoked some mighty good hashish instead for a number of years.

I gave it up for my daughters.  I had 7 years left until I could draw a pension and I could no longer justify endangering them or that pension by getting popped with a drug-screen.  It was a responsible, adult decision.

A Career in Law Enforcement

Dad moved to Georgia to answer a call to a church here while I was gone for all those years.  After I retired, I moved to Georgia to be close to him and Mom.  I became a Georgia Peace Officer, a deputy Sheriff, specifically.  I began that career as a turnkey in the Common Jail of Laurens County, Dublin, Georgia and ended it as the Chief Deputy of Johnson County, Georgia.

When I was sent to the Police Academy I graduated at the top of the class.  I hold a specialized Senior Deputy Certification and I am considered by many to be a scholar on the Constitutional Office of Sheriff in Georgia.  I was also a Law Enforcement Instructor and Firearms Instructor.  My certification is still valid, and if I’d clean the weed out of my system and catch up on 20 hours of in-service training I could go back to work, assuming someone would hire a 66-year-old.  If I decided to clean up, I’d run for Sheriff, though.  I already ran once.


I’m sure some of you are asking, “How the hell did a retired cop wind up running a pro-marijuana outfit?”.  It’s a valid question, so I feel obligated to answer it.  Keep reading.

I was never an overbearing cop.  I realized from observing other turnkeys in confrontations with inmates that letting them blow off a little steam when you dealt with them de-escalated tensions, and that rushing into “the laying on of hands” was not only counter-productive, it increased your chances of getting hurt. I carried that attitude throughout my career.

I learned about officer discretion in Police Academy.  I took that to heart, also.  Since I was a chronic user in my 20s and early 30s, I was very lax on small amounts of weed and I’m proud to say I never made a misdemeanor case on my own.  I had a method I used when I ran into folks with misdemeanor marijuana.  I offered them two choices.  They could pour it out in front of me and grind it back into the good earth, then take their asses home .. OR .. they could go to jail.  Not one ever chose the second option.

Now I don’t want to come off as a “marijuana angel cop”.  I participated in my share of raids on dealers. It was my job.  BUT, I had a different view than most cops I knew, and as I advanced to supervisory positions, I began to observe the injustices in Georgia’s Draconian Marijuana Laws.  I recognized that the citizens we arrested for misdemeanor possession were mostly poor and mostly black.  Even the dealers that we raided were poor.  I can honestly say we never busted a rich pot dealer or grower.  They were all just poor folks, trying to get by the best way they knew how.  Hell, most of them were doing it simply so they could smoke for free.


I had a couple of heart attacks working for Johnson County.  It’s an economically depressed backwater and we took over a 12-man jail that housed an average of 32 inmates.  They slept on mats on the concrete floor.  We fed them Bo-Jangles chicken, morning and night.

My boss and friend (we’d worked in the LCSO jail together) Sheriff Rusty Oxford made a modern facility a priority issue and told me to make it happen.  So I did.  We got funding for and built a new jail, with room for 40 inmates, a full kitchen that provided 3 meals a day, and ample office space.  I was awarded as Officer of The Year after it opened, an award usually reserved for patrol deputies.

We didn’t get the funding without a lot of battles with the County Commission.  It came with a lot of stress.  Flying a desk leads to lack of exercise, which didn’t help, and the fact that I ate a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit almost every morning for 7 years added to the problem.  At 57 I had to have a triple by-pass.

To shorten this story, I retired shortly after.

My Reintroduction To Weed

How I was reintroduced is a long story that I’ll tell at another time.  Suffice it to say that I was, and one of the first things I noticed was a reduction in the chronic back pain that occurs with getting older and a life of service.  Once again, I LIKED IT!!!

As I continued to use it I was able to wean myself off numerous nasty pharmaceuticals the VA had me on, to include a daily diet of hydrocodone.  My quality of life improved and I am a much healthier, fitter man than I was 4 years ago.

Into The Furnace

Through a series of events, I met Sharon Ravert.  Sharon didn’t much trust me at first.  I was, after all, a cop, and if you know her story you know she no longer trusts cops at all.  I know how devastating that is to her because she didn’t always feel that way and really doesn’t want to feel that way now.

Regardless, she was civil to me, as we were both advocating against a No-Knock Warrant law that had been proposed and saw each other at the Gold Dome often.  After a hearing one day we sat down outside on a bench and she was talking about “raids” in relation to weed cases.  She broke down in tears and broke my heart in the process.  So I got actively involved in her cause.  Since that day we have become family, and when she told me she needed to step down, I stepped up.

What I Bring To The Table

I am a highly trained leader and I am highly motivated when I set my sights on a goal.  I have never lost a battle that I endeavored to win.  I am in it to win it, and I will use all my knowledge of the Criminal Justice System, the Laws of Georgia, and the way cops think to advance this cause as far as I can.  In my mind, at its very foundation, it is an issue of Basic Human Rights.  I spent 20 years protecting your rights and the principles of our Constitution.  I spent another 15 years learning how the Criminal JustUs System in Georgia violates many of those rights on a daily basis.  I tried to make a difference when I was a cop, and I shall do no differently in this cause.

What About The Signs, Tom?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a very spiritual man.  I may not walk my Dad’s walk, but I walk with God as I understand Him, and I love the teachings of Jesus.  I don’t preach my beliefs.  Rather, I try to live them, and I have discovered that when I’m on the right path, I am presented with signs.

A part of my daily ministry here where I live has become helping those who have been exposed to the Criminal JustUs System and are still feeling its effects.

Today one of them who lives in the backwoods called me and asked if I could bring him a pack of cigarettes.  I obliged him.  As I looked at the total on the register, I grinned.  I know I’m on the right path.

So that’s me, or at least a part of me.  I am not anti-cop.  As a matter of fact, I’m about as Law and Order as they come.  I just don’t think we need to be locking folks up for something that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place, and I’m doing all I can to change that here in Georgia.

22 thoughts on “Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign”

  1. Michelle Travis

    Enjoyed reading this again this morning. It was a pleasure meeting you on 420 at the Liberty Plaza Rally in downtown Atlanta. I see great things in the future for NORML under your leadership!

    1. I remember you. You were with Connie. Thanks for the words of encouragement, for that, is what they are.

  2. Thank you for fighting for those who can’t or won’t fight for themselves. I look forward to meeting you someday.

  3. Congratulations! You are a breath of fresh air. I would love to have a conversation with you. I live here in West Point. I have self-medicated for years. I have a condition call hypoparathyroidism, this condition has already been approved in Florida but not here in GA.

    1. Thank you, and I’d be happy to converse with ya!! Send me your contact info.

  4. Susie R Tompkins

    Wow, your story sounds as if you’ve been reading my mail! I, too, am a retired Peace Officer, and I, too, enjoy the many benefits brought by marijuana. Thank you for taking the lead, I’m glad to be on this team.

  5. I live in Bama but have blood ties to the Atlanta area- what a refreshing attitude to see in you sir! This is a fight all of us who can benefit from cannabis must fight-I am only a regular person with health problems that cannot be addressed that way because of disability help from the govt. I fiercely believe all Americans should have the choice to medicate naturally & not have big pharma shoved down our throats..literally! Carry on with your bad self.. you have our respect & support..

    1. Thank you!! We have some activists in ‘Bama that follow what we do here in GA closely. My intention is to help get a NORML affiliate formed in Alabama. I still have familial ties in The Heart of Dixie. “Carry on with your bad self” … I love it. It’s the ‘Bama in me!

  6. Congratulations Tom!

    Welcome to the movement in motion. The first demonstration in Atlanta for change was the CAMP SMOKE-IN April 7th, 1978. 28 fabulous citizens and students busted by the APD in the first five minutes. Since then the Smoke-ins turned into ‘The Great Atlanta Pot Festival’ in 1989 after the last Atlanta Smoke-In in Woodruff park during the DNC 1988.1992 brought the Third Annual and the Black Crowes with over 50,000 attendees. 30,000 at the following three year’s event The struggle continues and it has been a long costly war on the cannabis users of the world, Hate to see Sharon go but glad to see someone with practical experience with the powers that be at the Peachtree NORML helm. Good to have a ‘coalition’ of groups around Georgia seeking change. See ya at the next meeting.

    Paul Cornwell
    Atlanta CAMP / Natl. Coordinator
    Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition
    Since 1978

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