Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law is a 501c3 nonprofit cannabis social justice portrait collection founded in Virginia in 2018 by photographer and medical cannabis patient, Tamara Netzel. She created a growing portrait exhibit of people criminalized for cannabis and invites others to take a closer look at how decades of propaganda influenced perceptions led to stigma influenced policies denying Americans life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Cruel Consequences has held discussions at community events, college classes, and events like the Virginia Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit in December 2019, the 2019 NORML Conference in D.C. and the 2020 Virginia NORML Conference. 

During the pandemic, Cruel Consequences Exhibits has been fortunate to have the ability to continue to display our portrait collection in cannabis dispensaries thanks to donations from dispensary owners. Our exhibits are now in 5 dispensaries! Dispensary owners have told us it has made a difference to their customers to see they support ending the human cost of marijuana criminalization.

Some of the notable events where Cruel Consequences has educated the community:

Virginia Cannabis Summit held by Attorney General Mark Herring

December 2019 Richmond, Va

December 2019

Our portrait exhibit was  present at an event Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, held to educate stakeholders about marijuana law reform in the state. The AG held the Virginia Cannabis Summit after writing an Op-ed published in several newspapers. Herring invited legislators and the community to discuss how legalization of marijuana in Virginia could affect the state in positive ways. We were proud to be part of this historic event.

Marijuana and the Impact on Communities event for Loudon County Commonwealth's Attorney, Buta Biberaj

August 31, 2019 Loudon County, Va.

Buta Biberaj, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudon County, Va. wanted to hold an event that would allow her constituents to talk about marijuana criminalization. She invited Attorney General, Mark Herring, after his Op-ed

Our portraits created a safe space for her constituents to talk about such a tough topic. We were able to educate the community that marijuana law reform through getting them to join the conversation.

"As a lawyer and a judge, I witnessed first hand possession of marijuana cases that were harshly prosecuted and resulted in doing greater damage to our community than warranted. It was my pleasure to have Cruel Consequences participate in our presentation 'Marijuana and the Impact on Communities.' Their art and case information was a great segue for our community members to learn how the criminal justice has been weaponized and destroyed lives in the name of “tough on crime”. Further, the conversations were respectful, thoughtful and engaging. Thank you Tamara and your team for highlighting this very important social issue."
Commonwealth's Attorney Loudon County, Va.

Sociology students at Mary Baldwin University learned about the criminal justice system and reforming marijuana laws through viewing our portraits. Many students expressed their gratitude for such a rich learning experience. One student wrote us a letter. See below.

In class, we had three visitors come and speak about Cannabis, or medical marijuana, and it was a life changing experience. Growing up, I have always assumed the marijuana is bad and nobody should use it at all. I have these thoughts because of the surroundings that I grew up in. I knew there was going to be a presentation on this subject and to be honest, I was not very excited. I had my presumptions going through my head about medical marijuana and I couldn’t wait for the class to be over.

However, the presentation completely changed my mind on this subject. Hearing the stories of our three visitors and how Cannabis helped them really hit me in the gut. They were such moving stories and I had no idea how much Cannabis could really help someone who is ill. So, at this point in the class, after they told their stories, I had started to understand the advantages of Cannabis being legalized. However, my mind wasn’t completely changed yet. Next, we did an exercise where we got to read about many other peoples stories and this is when I finally realized and was angered by the fact that Cannabis was not legal in Virginia yet. Also, I was infuriated by the story of a man getting more jail time for using marijuana than a man who shot another person. 

Another topic we discussed was the difference between legalization and decriminalization. I had never learned the difference between these two terms and it really helped me gain a better understanding of the situation as a whole. These ladies were inspiring and have truly inspired me to start standing up for what I believe regarding this topic and many others. I have realized that all it takes is for people to know the facts. For me, I was ignorant on 

the topic as a whole. I had no idea how it could help so many people. They have touched so many lives, including mine, so far and I know they will continue to touch others. The term sociological mindfulness kept coming to mind during the entire presentation. If only the world was able to look at someone and understand their need for medical marijuana instead of labeling them as a drug addict. Of course, there are people who misuse the drug, but there are so many people out there who would benefit immensely from Cannabis. I am grateful I got to experience this presentation for it was life changing for me.                                                                                                   

                                   Kayley T.

The Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law exhibit was founded by Tamara Netzel. Netzel has been a medical cannabis advocate for only 3 years after finding relief for her Multiple Sclerosis chronic pain symptoms. She was a middle school English and Civics teacher for 16 years before daily excruciating pain in her hands was triggered by liver failure caused by the medications she had to take for her MS. A friend suggested she try cannabis oil.

She found relief with the cannabis oil and decided to join the effort in her home state of Virginia to change the law in hopes of allowing safe medical cannabis access for herself and other patients. She connected with a group of moms whose children have Epilepsy and Virginia NORML who had been fighting for medical cannabis for the previous few years.

Netzel testified multiple times in the Virginia General Assembly for several medical cannabis bills which all became law. She was featured on NBC Dateline in May 2018 and interviewed by Harry Smith about her advocacy journey.

Tamara Netzel testifying for the expansion of the Virginia Medical Cannabis Program Let Doctor’s Decide state bill that was passed unanimously in 2018 . The original law only allowed CBD and limited only for Epilepsy patients. Several changes in the law since will mean more parts of the cannabis plant medicine like THC up to 10 mg per dose will be available to registered patients in Virginia when dispensaries open soon.

After July 1, 2019 Virginia pharmaceutical processors will open and patients will have access to medical cannabis without restriction to a list of conditions. Patients will have safe access to medical cannabis oil based products with Cannabis derived CBD, THCa, and 10mg of THC per dose medicine.

Since she has been a cannabis advocate, she has educated herself about the plight of people who have been arrested, charged, and incarcerated for possessing the plant she depends on for medicine. So, she started thinking about how she could help.

“It was shocking to me to find that marijuana could be medicine, but it worked better than anything my doctors offered me. Over and over again I am shocked by how I bought into the stigma and stereotyping for years. As a school teacher, I believed and took part in D.A.R.E. programs which support anti-marijuana propaganda. Not once had it occurred to me that the curriculum I was teaching kids was flawed.”

Netzel joined several marijuana law reform advocates at the General Assembly in Richmond, Va. in January 2018.

Netzel was featured on NBC Dateline for her medical cannabis advocacy in May 2018.

Virginia Senator Siobahn Dunnavant (R) and Tamara Netzel at a NORML event in D.C. July 2018

 Sure, there is evidence teens should not use marijuana, but not once in the lesson plan did it mention it could actually be medicine. I bought into the notion that anybody who said marijuana was medicine was lying so that they could abuse it and ‘get high.’ I am a mother of two grown boys who I’ve told in the past to steer clear from marijuana use. And..I can embarrassingly admit I probably bought into the notion that anybody who was arrested for marijuana probably deserved any punishment they received.”

“But, when I became an advocate for medical marijuana, it became unconscionable to me not only that people still are getting arrested for marijuana, but that even after they serve their sentencing requirements, we continue to punish them by denying eligibility of college loans, loss of employment, and denying housing. This I believe is the biggest underreported fact about what happens to people who are charged. I believe that if the public knew that our criminal justice system made it harder for people to recover their lives after a marijuana charge, there would be more action to change the laws. And I believe the best way to educate the public about this issue is through real personal stories of people who have suffered these cruel consequences,” says Netzel.

After a lot of hard work, phone calls, interviewing, writing, and coordinating together with other advocates and the support from Virginia NORML and its parent organization NORML, Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law was launched in January 2019 and the physical gallery exhibit has appeared at several events throughout Virginia.

Because part of Netzel’s disability from her MS is chronic pain in her hands, each of the stories are written primarily through voice to text software. “Writing as well as photography are some things I have always enjoyed since my time as a journalist before teaching.” Netzel’s Bachelor’s degree is in Journalism and she has a Master’s in teaching. 

“Cruel Consequences has allowed me to still use my brain for a cause I believe in since I’ve had to retire early from teaching because of my MS,” says Netzel. “I enjoy listening to people’s stories of their personal injustices and helping the public learn why ending Federal marijuana prohibition will change more lives than we imagine.”

© 2021 Cruel Consequences