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Time To Stop Complaining and Get Involved

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel April 4, 2016

    CongressWe receive a lot of inquiries (and some complaints) at NORML from those who favor legalization and wonder why we continue to focus on a state-based strategy instead of focusing on Congress. The belief is that Congress could legalize marijuana in one fell swoop if they wanted to do so.

    It’s a reasonable question, but there are valid reasons for the current strategy.

    Congress Is Not Yet In Play

    Congress is comprised of 535 members elected from all parts of the country, representing a wide range of political views. Congress never leads the way on social issues. Historically, it’s an institution that changes slowly by increments and generally only after a majority of the states have already adopted those changes. Congress is always slower to embrace policy change than the American public.

    Even if we wanted to convince Congress to legalize marijuana under federal law and take the issue out of the hands of the states (a strategy favored by only 34% of Americans; 60% favor allowing states to control marijuana policy), we simply do not yet have the political support in Congress to achieve that result. In addition, if we waited for majority support in Congress before we tried to move legalization forward, we would still have prohibition in effect in every state with no exceptions for medical use or full legalization. Without those experiments at the state level, we would have no real data regarding how legalization actually works, data that is driving the legalization movement forward.

    Historical Considerations

    There are also historical reasons justifying the state-based approach. When we finally ended alcohol prohibition in 1931, the Congress did not simply declare alcohol legal throughout the country. They removed federal laws that conflicted with legalization and allowed the states to adopt whatever alcohol policies they wanted. Those that wished to legalize alcohol were free to do so, but, similarly, those states that wanted to continue the criminal prohibition of alcohol were free to do that. Alcohol policy was treated as a states’ rights issue, and it remains the same today. In fact, there remain a few “dry” counties in several states today, remnants of that earlier failed policy.

    It is likely that when Congress does finally act, they too will respect the will of those states that may not yet be ready to adopt legal marijuana. They will almost certainly back the federal government out of the way and allow those states that wish to legalize to do so, free from federal interference. They will not attempt to ram legalization through as a federal policy that states have to follow, nor should they.

    The New “States’ Rights”

    For those of my generation and older, the term “states’ rights” is a loaded term that makes many of us nervous because, for many decades, it was used to justify racial segregation in the south. Only after the Supreme Court ended school segregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 did the states’ rights arguments begin to lose ground as a justification for the policy then called “separate but equal.” It is with some trepidation that those of us who support legalizing marijuana also find ourselves relying on the states’ rights argument to move the issue forward.

    Nonetheless, the reality of today’s political environment is that we can continue to make substantial progress towards marijuana legalization, one state at a time, by picking and choosing the states with the strongest public support for legalization. Even if our goal were to achieve legalization under federal law, it would take several more years for any of that progress.

    It’s Time To Get Serious With Congress

    As I acknowledged, we do not yet have the necessary support in Congress to legalize marijuana federally or even to remove those federal laws that are in conflict with the various state legalization laws. These federal laws hang over state laws like the proverbial sword of Damocles. President Obama showed the courage to hold the Department of Justice back and to allow the states to implement their new marijuana laws without federal interference. A future administration, not as willing to permit the states that freedom, might well use the current federal law to roll back state legalization. We therefore absolutely must change federal law to protect these states that are willing to experiment with alternatives to prohibition.

    Today, there are at least 14 marijuana-related bills pending in Congress, calling on Congress to reform or repeal different aspects of federal prohibition. These proposals would recognize the medical use of marijuana under federal law; allow legal marijuana businesses in the states to operate like other legal businesses, including the availability of banking and financial services; legalize industrial hemp, and remove marijuana altogether from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Here is a link to those pending bills, along with sample letters making it easy for you to contact your members of Congress to urge their support.

    NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day

    For those who are ready to get more personally involved in changing federal law, I would urge you to attend the two-day NORML Congressional Lobby Day scheduled for May 23 and 24 in Washington, DC. Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a marijuana smoker, or someone who opposes prohibition, this is an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from across the country and get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process. It is an exhilarating experience for anyone who has taken the time to come to DC to lobby their members of Congress.

    Changing federal law is never simple, and changing federal marijuana laws is especially challenging. But the necessary changes will not occur on their own, and you can make a real difference and help speed this process along by joining us in Washington, DC for the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day.

    Please register here and plan to join us in your nation’s capitol. It’s time to stop complaining and to roll-up your sleeves and get involved.

    Hope to see you in DC to help send a strong message to Congress: there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana, and it’s time we ended prohibition and stopped treating smokers like criminals.

    14 Responses to “Time To Stop Complaining and Get Involved”

    1. Joel: the other Joel says:

      A strong central government always needed conflicts and war overseas because they don’t do well during peacetime at home. Bring back States sovereignty and the original Federalist/Antifederalist two party system. The United States Constitution must stay.

      Now it seems that the increasing progressiveness of both parties wanted a two term ambitious dictator in control of the Federal government.

    2. Galileo Galilei says:

      I’m registered to vote in Maryland. I just changed my affiliation to Republican to vote against Andy Harris in the upcoming primary. I read on this NORML website about a pro-marijuana alternative candidate named Smigiel.

      It’s easy to be an activist of some kind these days.

      (This blog provided a very clear headed summary of the state of marijuana policy today–very well done.)

    3. Julian says:

      Citizen lobbying is the most rewarding, satisfying way to participate in our Democracy. And what greater way to do that than lobby for marijuana legalization?

      I concur with Keith’s sentiment to quit complaining and participate, with the exception of complaining to our Congressman. Although there are friendly ways to educate our representatives without complaining.

      But what I really want to discuss that’s missing in this conversation is the need to face our own fears about visiting or even contacting our Congressman. I have been citizen lobbying for a few years locally in Texas, (the next big opportunity for us to lobby here starts in January of next year). And I can tell you that I did feel nervous about writing my name and phone number down for the first time in the log each Congressman keeps (hopefully) at the entrance of their office. We feel intimidated by being investigated or reported. The presence of law enforcement in the capitol starkly reminds us in panic if we cleaned out any residue of marijuana from our clothing before we got high in the parking garage. Come to think of it, bringing my drug dealing little brother was probably not a good idea, which I discovered when I had to remind him to leave the joint in the car… (Sigh… Austinites… He chickened out at the door of our state representative but at least I got him to sign the log). Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a young man getting through college living in a high dollar city selling weed when it’s the big pharmaceutical companies that are the real, evil drug dealers that need regulating.
      But despite my advocacy, or devulging my address no one called me, no one broke my door down looking for drugs… (They do that with infared at night from small planes or the game warden’s helicopters during the day which will catch you anyway).

      • Julian says:

        Point is our Congressman work for us, and like rattlesnakes, are surprisingly more afraid of us than we are of them. (Ok, that was a stereotype, but if you ever locked eyes with my federal Congressman Lamar Smith you would know exactly what Im talking about… “Fight for our veterans” my @$$)
        Perhaps even more surprising, my state representative Jason Isaac is turning friendlier to our cause as we continue to heckle him into submission. (JK, no heckling, but do bring up that almost everyone in the room has both consumed marijuana recreationally and probably knows someone that suffers from seizures or PTSD).
        So that’s all I wanted to add. Real people work for the government. We have to break out of the “us and them” blame game and meet our Congressman in person if we ever hope to educate their (our) vote. And don’t be discouraged by talking to a staffer. Most offices are small enough to hear your Congressman talking (which means he or she can hear you) and if you command the room with a confident voice, your Congressman will probably overhear you anyway. Practice your script. Thats what this blog is for.

    4. TheOracle says:

      One state at a time is the way because the feds are too busy with inside the DC beltway stuff to act upon what the Zeitgeist is on the outside.

      Pennsylvania, I hope soon, will be the next state to legalize MMJ.

      Here’s the link to a nicely done article on Deb, the president of Lancaster NORML. Unfortunately, there have been people who take one look at her and decide that she doesn’t look like she would benefit from medical marijuana. I don’t know how they can tell just because they think she looks healthy enough. And, they pooh-pooh the notion that the whole family of 3 really need MMJ. Who are they? Why, they are the Lancaster County prohibitionists, the most visible of them being the state politicians who CLAIM to represent ALL the people of their districts.

      http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/meet-lancaster-county-residents-waiting-for-medical-marijuana/article_455a5e50-f804-11e5-be82-6b59b999281d.html

    5. TheOracle says:

      Everything that the prohibitionist Grassley committee does should be acquired on video, and then a potumentary made out of it that refutes every anti-legalization argument and testimony in it.

      https://www.mpp.org/news/press/mpp-slams-grassley-tone-deaf-marijuana-hearing-decision/

    6. Mark Mitcham says:

      Here’s my own personal philosophy on marijuana activism, for what it’s worth: Participate in your own liberation.

      Okay, that was Gandhi who said that, not me! But they are fine words to live by. You can wait around for others to come in and save you, or you can help them help you by participating.

      Yeah, you’re busy, you work… me too. I get that. But you don’t have to be the best or the greatest cannabis activist; just participate. Borrowing yet another expression, participation means only doing what you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are. (That’s a close paraphrase, anyway.)

      Yes, it’s volunteer work, but you do get bragging rights when the thing passes! That is very satisfying indeed. I collected a few signatures for A64 (Colorado legalization), and now I can rightly say I (and a hell of a lot of other people) legalized it!

    7. Tena says:

      If someone is unable to attend the event in Washington DV is there somewhere and someone specific that we should send testimonial letters to?

      [Editor’s note: For those who can’t attend the NORML Lobby Day Conference in Washington, DC this May, the ‘Get Active‘ section of NORML’s webpage to lobby elected members of Congress remotely.]

    8. Quenton McConnell says:

      I wrote a letter to my state senator in Louisiana to lessen the criminal penalties for possession. 3 possession charges could land you in jail for 20 years in Louisiana! My letter was well received and Louisiana not only lessened the penalties but possession is no longer subject to habitual offender penalties. Everyone write to your state senator/congressman/congresswoman! I was never harrassed by the cops for writing a letter. This is how we win by democracy.

    9. Chris says:

      How many years are they going to drag out the lies of of the government? The excuses shine all over this one here American people. Feast your eyes on a struggle to stay afloat. These are the leading pushers for the recreational law that deprives disabled and elderly of their medication. I do however like to see this type of post ongoing, they love to bury themselves in mud. When in it, don’t panic because you sink deeper. Michigan just lost all respect for your movement. You serve to children in school over medical patients.

    10. Mark I. says:

      Kansas is still stealing the children of cannabis consumers simply due to their possession of the medication needed to maintain among the confusion. Self medicating is not new nor is it a criminal activity unless you measure the profit taking from the medicine. Something the pharmacological and judicial industries are well versed in maintaining.

      • Chris says:

        They are vilifying Cannabis users as being intoxicated, every drug I’m prescribed is more intoxicating than MMJ. Most medications cause heavy side effects during initial use, the body adapts to overcome these side effects and the medical community deemed this as sober. MMJ may intoxicate new or interment users, however in therapeutic use one is capable of adapting, and can obtain clearly through symptoms elevation.

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