In the wake of the introduction of federal marijuana reform bills on February 5, the national media has started paying closer attention to the possibility of change in the coming years. One example is this interview with MPP’s director of government relations, Steve Fox:
Such bills have come before Congress in the past with less fanfare, but it seems like this time they are being taken more seriously. Perhaps the fact that voters in Colorado and Washington decided they were sick of marijuana prohibition had something to do with it:
MPP director of government relations Steve Fox was interviewed on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Wednesday about the implementation of Washington State’s new legal marijuana market regulations.
Here's the clip:
It is interesting that despite voters in two states making marijuana legal for adults, and with over 20 states considering marijuana reform legislation in the 2013 session, some folks in the mainstream media simply cannot stop making jokes about this serious policy issue. The time for puns is over. It is time for change.
Videos are now available of the town hall forum MPP hosted Sunday in Portland, Ore., where U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3) and MPP director of government relations Steve Fox discussed the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition and how it can be done in Oregon and in Congress. A great article about the event was featured on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian.
The videos of Rep. Bluemenauer and Steve Fox are below courtesy of the Russ Bellville Show, and a full rundown on the event can be found after the jump.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer:
Steve Fox of MPP:
November 8, 2016, may seem like calendars away, but in the world of lobbying and ballot initiatives, it’s right around the corner. Last Sunday, January 27, U.S. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR3) joined MPP’s Steve Fox in Portland, Oregon for a town hall forum on legalizing marijuana. Unlike Washington and Colorado, Oregon wasn’t a scene of celebration during election night 2012; Measure 80, which sought to repeal the state’s marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation, was defeated 53% to 47%.
No one said the path to regulation would be easy. Rather than sulking and dreaming about what could have been, Steve and Rep. Blumenauer used their time to advise Oregonians on what they could do now to ensure that the next time a reform initiative makes its way on to Oregon’s ballot, it’s met with sweeping approval.
Rep. Blumenauer opened the meeting by discussing his growing involvement in the fight to end prohibition. It began with a two-plant legalization bill in 1972. A 61-year-old Republican hog farmer from eastern Oregon named Stafford Hansell came onto the floor of the state legislature and gave a clean, systematic comparison of marijuana of other substances, including alcohol and tobacco. By the end of Mr. Hansell’s speech, Rep. Blumenauer decided that not only was the (defeated) bill worthy of his support, the entire issue of marijuana reform was a cause he should advocate. He left the assembly concluding, “Oregonians should be allowed this choice.”
When promoting reform, Rep. Blumenauer refers to the model “directly analogous” to marijuana-related policy: alcohol. “Prohibition, depending on your point of view, was either a failure or a disaster…The federal government and the states, the political system, and civic society worked out a system where the federal government would reflect individual states decisions.” It is a model, Rep. Blumenauer concluded, that makes sense for the federal government to look at going forward.
Steve followed Rep. Blumenauer’s question-and-answer session by addressing what lessons voters in Oregon could take away from Colorado. Success was predicated on cooperation, education, timing, drafting, organizing, and advertising, six categories those hoping to replicate Colorado’s victory in the Beaver State could easily incorporate into their campaign.
In 2012 there were multiple pro-reform initiatives put forward in Oregon, resulting in a division of money that, if merged, could have been used more efficiently. “You need to move forward together,” Steve told attendees. He also suggested that Oregonians form a 2016 roundtable so that everyone who wants to be part of this effort can “share their voice.”
Education, Steve believes “changed the dynamic” in Colorado. In 2005, MPP embarked on a public education campaign fully dedicated to the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol. The SAFER campaign combated the old and tired fear tactics oppositional groups mechanically to dismiss the idea of marijuana reform. Getting the message “marijuana is safer than alcohol” out to the public so early and so often made all the difference when it came time to vote.
The issue of timing was particularly touchy for some in the room. Years of experience have taught MPP that presidential election years make all the difference. Presidential elections give a seven to eight point bump, which can – and often do – make or break an initiative. Some attendees expressed their desire to push forward in 2014, seizing the momentum of 2012; however, Steve reminded the crowd, “You don’t know what the landscape will look like in 2014…It’s a roll of the dice.” If the 2014 initiative failed, the money put into that campaign would ultimately affect the quality of resources sponsors could put into 2016.
Drafting is another collaborative process. It requires compromise and listening to the opinions of various communities. It is not a one size fits all approach; each state needs to examine their voting bodies and decide whether or not sponsors should choose the statutory or constitutional initiative process.
In regards to organizing, it’s all about utilizing time. “Start now, find the people who are on your side,” and add their voices (and vote) to your campaign. At the grass-roots level, engage individuals across the state; build a strong emailing list; and, talk to friends and family – 12% of Colorado voters (1/8) polled post-election stated they heard positive things about the initiative from either relatives or friends.
Lastly, Steve spoke about advertising. It’s a two-part process. Early on, start with education. Inform voters about the CDC’s take on alcohol and tobacco, and let them know what doctors across the country are saying about marijuana. During the final months of a campaign, focus should be placed on the traditional argument, (i.e., crime and money). La enforcement agencies should direct their attention to combating serious crime tax revenue should benefit the state not cartels.
A new poll released on Tuesday concluded that the vast majority of Americans are not impressed with the results of the nation’s anti-drug efforts. A full 82% of respondents answered “no” to the question: “Is the United States winning the war on drugs?” This is a significant increase from a poll released in June of this year, in which 66% of respondents characterized the drug war as a failure. Only 7% answered “yes” to the most recent poll question, while 12% were undecided.
As the Huffington Post reports, several other marijuana-related questions were asked in the same poll. One of these found that 45% supported legalizing marijuana, with 45% opposed and the remaining 10% undecided. This is consistent with two earlier polls released this year on the same question. Asked which was more dangerous, alcohol or marijuana, 51% of the latest poll’s respondents answered “alcohol,” while only 24% said “marijuana,” and 24% were undecided. Contrary to the traditional image of marijuana’s legalization being an issue of interest only to its users, 88 % said that they had not smoked marijuana even once in the past year, which is similar to the national average.
Thirty-four percent of respondents agreed that the government spends too much money on the war on drugs, and only 23% of all respondents claimed that the government should be spending even more. According to the New York Times, the enforcement costs alone have been $20 to $25 billion per year over the past decade.
In the wake of the recent successful ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize the marijuana industry, as well as Massachusetts becoming the 18th state with an effective medical marijuana law, one more question from the poll is worth noting. A full 60% said that marijuana laws should be left to the states, while only 27% said that the federal government should determine the marijuana laws in any particular state. As MPP’s Steve Fox noted yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times, the federal government’s authority to prohibit marijuana has always been highly questionable on constitutional grounds.
The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide was conducted on November 9-10, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. The exact wording of all of the questions in the poll can be found here, and information on methodology can be found here.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a resolution today declaring illegal marijuana cultivation on federal lands to be an “unacceptable threat to the safety of law enforcement and the public,” and calling upon the nation’s drug czar “to work in conjunction with Federal and State agencies to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to permanently dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating on Federal lands.”
Speaking on the House floor yesterday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) agreed with the goals of H. Res. 1540, but said the only way to accomplish such objectives would be to eliminate “the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana and replac[e] it with regulation.”
“I have no doubt that marijuana plantations, as the resolution states, pose a threat to the environmental health of Federal lands, that drug traffickers spray unregulated chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers, but I submit that the best way to address that is to incorporate this into a meaningful and enforceable agricultural policy for the country with regard to the regulatory structure for the production of marijuana,” said Polis, whose home state of Colorado has emerged as a national leader in the regulation of medical marijuana. “… As long as [marijuana] remains illegal and as long as there is a market demand, the production will be driven underground. No matter how much we throw at enforcement, it will continue to be a threat not only to our Federal lands, but to our border security and to our safety within our country.”
Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, today joined Rep. Polis in endorsing the underlying rationale of the resolution and suggesting that accomplishing the goals detailed in legislation will require an entirely new strategy by the federal government.
“Passage of this resolution will send a clear message to the drug czar and others that our current strategies for combating illegal marijuana production are not working and that a new direction is needed,” Fox said. “There are two choices here: continue the failed prohibitionist policies that encourage Mexican drug cartels to keep growing marijuana on federal lands, or embrace a new path that would acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not going away, but its production and sale can be sensibly regulated in order to reduce the harm caused by its illicit production on federal lands.”
UPDATE: The bill passed overwhelmingly yesterday, with the only "no" votes being cast by Reps. Polis, Barney Frank, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko -- who, as we've discussed in a previous post, receives hundreds of thousands of federal dollars annually to pursue eradication efforts -- told the Redding Record-Searchlight that the vote "sends a very clear message that Congress recognizes the impact and the problems with illegal marijuana growing and dangers on public lands."
But unless Congress and the drug czar's office agree to consider regulating marijuana in order to shut down its illicit production, there's little chance all this chest-thumping will lead to any new, more effective strategies. In the perceptive words of Scott Morgan, "If you don't want Mexican gangsters growing marijuana in the woods, then it's time to allow people who aren't Mexican gangsters to grow marijuana somewhere that isn’t the woods."
In Steve Fox's third appearance on Fox & Friends, he discusses the passage of Arizona's Proposition 203. At the end of this "fair and balanced" debate, Mr. Fox is cut off before he can respond to some extremely dubious statements. Read Mr. Fox's rebuttal after the video.
From Steve Fox:
The closing argument by Paul Charlton about MPP's disinterest in seeing marijuana go through the FDA approval process was both inaccurate and uninformed. Since 2002, MPP has engaged in a wide range of lobbying efforts in an attempt to pressure the DEA into granting a license to the University of Massachusetts to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research. Currently, anyone who wants to conduct research on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana must seek permission from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to acquire marijuana from the only federally-approved marijuana farm in the country at the University of Mississippi. But no corporation or organization would be able to use this marijuana for testing purposes and then bring the product to market, since they would not have control of the substance nor would they be able to prove that they could reproduce it.
A separate marijuana cultivation facility, which could effectively work with a private company or organization to develop and test a specific strain of marijuana, is needed in order to navigate the FDA process and bring a marijuana-based product to market. Yet the DEA has intentionally blocked the University of Massachusetts application for eight years, despite the fact that an administrative law judge within the DEA ruled in 2007 that granting the license would be "in the public interest."
If Mr. Charlton is truly interested in allowing science to determine whether marijuana is a medicine, he should join MPP in calling on the DEA to award the cultivation license to the University of Massachusetts. If he isn't willing to do that, he needs to find a new -- and accurate -- talking point.
One of the most encouraging signs of change for the movement to end marijuana prohibition has been the vastly increased level of mainstream media coverage it has received in the last year or so. Last week was no exception. When U.S. officials released new data showing the number of Americans both using and being arrested for marijuana had increased, MPP was there to put those findings in context, and mainstream media outlets all over the world helped to spread our message about the failure of prohibition and the need for a regulated marijuana market.
Here's a look at some highlights:
CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer:
Mike Meno, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said the survey is more proof that the government's war on marijuana has failed in spite of decades of enforcement efforts and arrests.
"It's time we stop this charade and implement sensible laws that would tax and regulate marijuana the same way we do more harmful — but legal — drugs like alcohol and tobacco," Meno said.
(Note: This article was reprinted in literally hundreds of news outlets, and my quote was included among the AP's top quotations of the day.)
TOVIA SMITH (reporter): But advocates of legalizing marijuana insist the news that marijuana use is up only goes to show that cracking down on users doesn't work.
Mr. MIKE MENO (Marijuana Policy Project): The government's been sending the wrong message to people for decades by classifying marijuana alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. And they should just give it up.
SMITH: That's Mike Meno with the Marijuana Policy Project that supports making pot totally legal, as a ballot question in California this year would do. He says marijuana use isn't increasing because people see it as less harmful but rather because the sale of marijuana is uncontrolled and unregulated.
Mr. MENO: We need to apply the same type of sensible regulations that we do to alcohol and tobacco, two things that you need an ID to buy, that you need to be a licensed vendor to sell. Drug dealers who sell marijuana do not check IDs.
"What people are responding to is the realization that the government has been lying for decades and that marijuana is less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco," says Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favors legalization.
[...] Polls indicate the [Proposition 19] has roughly a 50-50 chance of passing. Both marijuana advocates and opponents agree that passage would have an enormous impact, with other states likely to follow suit and the drug becoming more readily available to young people.
"If California were to pass Proposition 19, it would be revolutionary," says Meno, the Marijuana Policy Project spokesman. "People would see that the sky doesn't fall, the police will have more resources to fight crimes and there will be more revenues for local budgets."
The other big story last week was how the California Beer and Beverage Distributors were helping to fund the campaign against Prop. 19, which would end marijuana prohibition in California. Steve Fox, MPP's resident alcohol vs. marijuana guru, said the motivation behind the donation was clear -- "the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition" -- and his comments were picked up by the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Oakland Tribune, among others.
As more and more mainstream media outlets help to shine a light on the failure of (and motivation behind) marijuana prohibition, it's going to be increasingly difficult for our opposition to continue denying reality and maintain the failed status quo.
Find out how you can help MPP keep up the pressure in the media by visiting here.