It is a wonderful time to be a marijuana smoker. Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end, and with it, the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Prohibition is being replaced with a legally regulated market, where consumers can buy their marijuana in a safe environment and know the product they are buying is safe. We still have a lot of work to do, but the tide of public support is clearly on our side.
At NORML, we started working to legalize marijuana in late 1970, when only 12% of the public supported marijuana legalization. For several decades, as we gradually built public support for our position, the political progress was modest at best. We decriminalized minor marijuana offenses in 11 states in the mid-1970s, following the release of the report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. But then the mood of the country turned more conservative (think Nancy Reagan, “Just Say NO,’ and the emergence of the parents’ movement) and we made no further statewide progress for 18 years, when CA became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. A total of 25 states now enjoy a version of legal medical marijuana.
Our first dramatic breakthrough with full legalization for all adults, regardless of why they smoke, came in 2012 when Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana via voter initiative. Those initial successes were followed in 2014 by the approval of legalization initiatives in Alaska and Oregon (and the District of Columbia). And this fall, legalization initiatives are expected to qualify for the ballot, and be approved by the voters, in a number of states, including Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and California.
What Marijuana Consumers Want
NORML is a marijuana smokers’ lobby; we represent the interests of consumers. Marijuana smokers want a high quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. We want to know that the marijuana we buy legally has been tested by a state-certified lab for molds and pesticides, and is accurately labeled as to the THC and CBD content. And we don’t expect to pay black market prices for legal pot, or to drive half-way across the state to find a legal retail outlet.
And importantly, we need the option to grow our own marijuana. Most consumers will not likely exercise this option, just as most beer drinkers do not make beer in their basement, although they are legally permitted to do so. By keeping the option of growing our own marijuana, and boycotting those retailers who sell an inferior product or over-charge for their product, we can assure the industry remains responsive to the needs of consumers.
Majority Now Support Full Legalization – But They are Not Pro-Pot
After years of struggle with few victories, legalizers are now winning these political battles not because we have come up with better arguments, or a better strategy; but because we have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the American public. They realize prohibition is a failed public policy. But even this crucial point requires further clarification.
Roughly 14% of the American public are marijuana smokers, and of course most of us favor ending prohibition, which continues to result in the arrest of more than 600,000 of our fellow marijuana smokers each year in this country. But 86% of the public are not smokers. So the first point any effective advocate needs to understand is that those of us who smoke simply cannot achieve full legalization by ourselves; we must have the support of a majority of the non-smokers. We must be sensitive to their concerns as we move forward politically.
A recent survey by a DC-based group called the Third Way identified what they called “the marijuana middle.” That is, people who have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-pot. This is an important distinction. Even as they agree that we should legalize and regulate marijuana, they nonetheless still have a negative impression of those of us who smoke. Specifically, 64% of those non-smokers have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers.
This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.
In every policy area that arises, including especially employment discrimination, child custody issues and impaired driving, we need the support of the non-smokers to overcome discriminatory policies that continue to unfairly impact marijuana smokers, even under legalization.
It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And the best way to accomplish this is to come out of the closet.
The Challenge for the New Generation of Activists
This is the real challenge facing new activists who are just getting involved in the legalization movement. They must convince their non-smoking peers that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana.
The latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good neighbor and a productive citizen. We must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people – who happen to enjoy smoking marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day, when they relax.
We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke.
The 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day
And there is no better place to prepare to effectively make this argument than the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day on May 23rd and 24th. We will focus on the specific arguments that are most effective when dealing with non-smokers and elected officials, and on the most effective ways to respond to their principal areas of concern. We know from exit polling that those who vote against legalization are generally concerned about the potential danger of more impaired drivers on the road, and on the fear that legalization might result in elevated usage rates among adolescents. Neither concern is valid, but they are real concerns, and we must provide answers to those concerns. We will provide those answers during the lobby training sessions on Monday, May 23.
The following day we will meet on Capitol Hill and hear from a number of our strongest supporters in Congress, before spreading out across the Capitol to lobby our individual members of Congress. For those who may not have done this before, I can assure you it is an exhilarating experience. The act of exercising this most basic democratic right – to petition your elected officials to support your position on marijuana policy – reminds us all that democracies work best when average citizens get involved. And if you join us, it will almost certainly not be your last effort to lobby members of Congress.
The National Cannabis Festival
And I would encourage everyone in the DC area to come out to RFK and join us on Saturday for the National Cannabis Festival, a day-long celebration of all things cannabis, including live entertainment, an educational pavilion, representatives from the various marijuana law reform groups, and more. It’s an excellent opportunity for those new to the issue to meet those with more experience, and to identify those groups they feel comfortable working with in the future.
It’s time to get involved in the legalization movement.
This blog post first appeared on the National Cannabis Festival website:
NORML would like to wish you a Happy 4/20! In honor of the annual holiday we are pleased to release our 2016 Congressional Scorecard.
With 61 percent of American adults now advocating that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” and 67 percent of voters believing states, not the federal government, ought to be the ultimate arbiters of marijuana regulatory policy, it’s no longer acceptable for the federal government to continue to be an impediment to progress.
Do you know where your federally elected officials stand?
Our Congressional Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
Below are some key findings from the Scorecard:
- 312 members (58 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (258 Representatives and 54 Senators)
- Nineteen members (3.6 percent) received a grade of ‘A’ (17 Representatives and 2 Senators) and 37 members (6.9 percent) received failing grade (20 Representatives and 17 Senators)
- Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 208 members (89.3 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
- Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 102 members (33.8 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
You can access the complete 2016 Congressional Scorecard here.
You can read our Executive Summary here.
Projects like this are only possible because of the donations from NORML members. If you find our Congressional Scorecard useful and wish to support NORML’s efforts, please make a donation of at least $4.20 on this 4/20.
Thank you for your continued support and Happy 4/20,
-The NORML Team
P.S. Don’t forget to attend NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day, May 23-24 in Washington, DC.
We are at a tipping point in this country regarding the legalization of marijuana, and it is exhilarating to experience the ending of prohibition and the start of legalization. Even as the changes in marijuana policy evolve, however, I find it disturbing that many Americans and most elected officials are still not comfortable with the idea of adults smoking marijuana.
I have always been honest about my marijuana smoking, something relatively easy for me because for much of my adult life I have lived in a protective NORML bubble. We sometimes joke that at NORML we drug test employees, and if they don’t fail, they do not get hired!
In my world, people are not judged by their choice of intoxicants and whether or not they smoke themselves as marijuana smoking is simply no big deal. I realize that my world is atypical. Many Americans, perhaps most, are now willing to permit adults to smoke marijuana, but they would like for us to stay in the closet and keep our marijuana smoking to ourselves. It continues to carry a negative social stigma.
As we approach 4/20, the unofficial national holiday for marijuana smokers, I was asked how the public acceptance of marijuana smoking had changed since I first began smoking 50 years ago.
Enormous Gains in Acceptance
The easy answer, of course, is that we have seen enormous positive gains in the way the general public perceives marijuana smokers and marijuana smoking. The reality is actually more nuanced, and there are issues surrounding the use of marijuana that remain problematic and contribute to the prejudice we continue to experience.
The 1930s, 40s and 50s were the Dark Ages of marijuana prohibition, when marijuana was seen as a serious threat to the public health and safety, presumed to be evil, dangerous and capable of turning ordinary people into violent killers and rapists as well as ultimately leading to insanity. Marijuana smoking was seen as deviant behavior that reflected poorly on one’s character and morality.
Most Americans at the time had never smoked marijuana, knew almost nothing about it and had formed their opinions largely on the exaggerated anti-marijuana propaganda advanced by the government and reflected in major newspapers. While a few “reefer maniacs” remain, the country has moved beyond this ignorant phase of our drug policy history.
By the 1960s, marijuana smoking began to be popular among those on the cutting edge of the cultural revolution then taking place. Use was closely identified with those referred to as “long-haired hippies,” who were seen as lazy, rebellious and undisciplined, often involved in the growing anti-Vietnam War movement and therefore un-American.
The dominant culture feared the changes they were seeing among America’s youth and sometimes blamed marijuana as the cause. Young people were challenging traditional values and lifestyles, experimenting with “free sex” and communal living, trying hallucinogens (encouraged by Tim Leary’s call to “turn-on, tune-in and drop-out”), learning about eastern religions and generally seeking a “higher consciousness.” Marijuana was seen as a symbol for those who were challenging authority.
I first smoked marijuana in 1965 when I was a first year law student at Georgetown Law School in Washington, DC, and I can attest to the necessary fear and paranoia we all felt when we did get together with friends to smoke some weed. People were still being sent to jail for several years for the possession or use of even a little marijuana in many states, and those who took the risk to sell us marijuana were especially vulnerable to long prison sentences.
Naturally, everyone tried to be careful when deciding with whom and where they felt comfortable smoking. At that time, there was no public acceptance of marijuana smoking, and it was considered by most to be the first step towards a heroin habit, There was little tolerance for those who ignored the rules.
When we founded NORML in late 1970, only 12% of the public supported the legalization of marijuana. To most of the other 88%, marijuana smoking was seen as something that would disqualify one from being taken seriously by the mainstream culture. No employer would hire someone who acknowledged their marijuana use, assuming they would be an unfit employee. Most would call the police if they somehow discovered a neighbor was a marijuana smoker, fearing they might present a threat to the neighborhood if left to their own devices.
I recall vividly the reaction from many of my friends and associates when, having graduated from a prestigious law school, I began to be publicly identified with NORML and with marijuana smoking. Most reflected disappointment that I would “waste my time” on such a frivolous issue and some presumed I had lost my moral compass and was advancing an agenda that was misguided and bound to fail. Why would someone who had the good fortune to achieve a good education throw it all away in an effort to legalize marijuana?
Compared to those years, we have indeed come a long distance, and the world today seems relatively more enlightened towards marijuana smoking. Even today the President of the United States can joke about his earlier marijuana use without the slightest harm to his standing or credibility. In fact, to some degree it adds to his cachet and makes him more relevant than he might otherwise seem to younger Americans.
Roughly 60% of the country today support full legalization, regardless of why one smokes. While that obviously reflects a higher level of acceptance of marijuana smoking, it does not mean the prejudice against marijuana smokers has ended.
When one digs deeper into the survey data, we find that many of the non-smokers who now support full marijuana legalization do so because they see prohibition as a failed public policy and not because they approve of marijuana smoking. Although they oppose prohibition and favor regulation and control, 64% of those non-smokers have an unfavorable opinion of those of us who smoke. To them, the fact that we choose to smoke marijuana does not justify treating us as criminals but nonetheless causes them to think poorly of us.
The Fight for Social Clubs
We see the continued bias against marijuana smoking as even the first states to legalize marijuana for all adults have made no provisions to permit smoking outside the home. I don’t mean public smoking but rather clubs or venues where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize with other marijuana smokers and share their marijuana with friends.
Led by Denver NORML, efforts are currently underway to pass an initiative that would authorize licenses for marijuana social clubs and special events (think 4/20 and Cannabis Cups), because the city council has balked at efforts to pass similar legislation. Remember, most elected officials in Colorado opposed Amendment 64 when it was on the ballot.
Even in a state that has now largely embraced legal marijuana, that has a thriving legal marijuana industry providing more than $100 million in tax revenue annually to the state, and that encourages marijuana tourism, elected officials are still reticent to do anything that might officially acknowledge that marijuana smoking is acceptable conduct. We are begrudgingly allowed to smoke marijuana, so long as we stay in our homes and out of sight. Permitting us to smoke in a social setting apparently threatens the established social order.
We clearly have more work ahead and need to consider why this anti-marijuana prejudice still exists and what we can do to move beyond it.
We will win this battle for totally fair treatment only when we improve the public perception of marijuana smokers. We have to overcome the “Cheech and Chong” stoner image of a pot smoker who sits on the sofa all day eating junk food.
Because marijuana remains illegal in most states and under federal law, most smokers who hold good jobs in business or industry or the professions simply cannot stand up and be counted, because they would lose their jobs and their ability to support their families. As a result, the majority of middle class smokers are largely invisible to the non-smoking public.
We have to find ways to let America know that marijuana smokers are just ordinary Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive way to our communities. We need to do a better job of letting our non-smoking friends and neighbors know that those of us who smoke are otherwise just like them, with varied interests and hobbies. Marijuana smoking is not the dominant facet of our lives. We are not slackers in any way, nor do we pose any threat to those in society who choose not to smoke.
For those smokers who are self-employed or who are otherwise not subject to drug testing, it is crucial that you come out of the closet and let your community and your professional colleagues see that you are good neighbors as well as responsible marijuana smokers. There should be no social stigma attached to the responsible use of marijuana.
I am confident that within a few years, marijuana smoking will be seen by most Americans as the equivalent of drinking alcohol but safer, and I look forward to that day.
We are not there yet.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.
There is long awaited news from Pennsylvania, as the Keystone State is poised to become the 24th state to permit medical cannabis access and separate legislative efforts continue to move forward around the country. Keep reading below to get this week’s latest in marijuana law reform!
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment today, for the second year in a row, to expand medical marijuana access to United States veterans.
The amendment, sponsored by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a policy that prohibits the department’s physicians from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal. It will be attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
The bipartisan vote was 20 to 10, marking a slight improvement from last year’s 18-12 vote. Though a majority of the Senate passed the amendment in 2015, it was ultimately defeated in conference with the House.
Alabama: Legislation to protect qualified patients eligible for CBD therapy is gaining traction in the legislature. Both the House and Senate are considering similar proposals to expand patient access. While existing state law permits qualified patients to use CBD if they are part of state-sponsored clinical trial, these proposed measures would legally protect qualified patients who possess the substance outside of a clinical trial environment. #TakeAction
Florida: Another municipality in Florida is considering decriminalizing offenses involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana. On Monday, Orlando’s City Council will review an ordinance to make possession of 20 grams (about two-thirds of an ounce) or less a violation of city code, punishable by a fine of $50 for first-time offenders. Tampa and Volusia County both approved similar ordinances last month. NORML first reported this trend of Florida cities and counties adopting decriminalization policies last August.
If you live in Orlando, you can contact your City Council member to urge their support for this measure here.
Louisiana: House and Senate legislation is pending to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Existing law only permits for the patients’ use of medical marijuana in instances where the plant is ‘prescribed.’ However, under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. House Bill 1112 addresses these problems by: permitting physicians to recommend rather than ‘prescribe’ cannabis therapy; by licensing facilities to produce and dispense the product; and by expanding the pool of eligible patients to include ailments like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and intractable pain. Law enforcement groups have voiced disapproval of the proposed change, so it is important that lawmakers hear from you. #TakeAction
Maryland: Governor Larry Hogan has signed legislation to permit the Department of Agriculture to authorize institutions of higher education to cultivate industrial hemp for academic research purposes. Members of the Senate voted 45 to zero in favor of the bill. House members voted 136 to zero in favor of the measure. Maryland is the 26th state to enact legislation recognizing hemp as a agricultural commodity.
State lawmakers have also approved legislation to expand the pool of medical professionals who can provide written recommendations for marijuana to qualifying patients. Under the proposal, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, among other medical professionals, who are in good standing with the state will be permitted to provide written certifications to qualifying patients. The legislation awaits action from Governor Larry Hogan. #TakeAction
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown has signed legislation into law that seeks to encourage financial institutions to engage in financial relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses. The emergency legislation, House Bill 4094, “exempts financial institutions that provide financial services to marijuana related businesses, researchers and laboratories from any criminal law of this state.” The law took effect upon signing.
Pennsylvania: House and Senate lawmakers have given final approval to legislation, Senate Bill 3, to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients. Members of the Senate initially approved the measure in 2015. House leadership delayed acting on the bill for several months until finally passing an amended version of SB 3 in March. Senate and House members voted this week in favor of a concurrent version of the proposal. Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.
South Carolina: Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee have defeated SB 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. However, identical legislation, H. 4037, remains pending in the House. The legislation would allow the use of medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions; it also permits a registered patient or caregiver to possess up to, “two one-ounce packages of marijuana in leaf form, one ounce of cannabis oil concentrate, or eight ounces of diluted cannabis oil.” #TakeAction
Vermont: Members of the House Judiciary moved away from Senate-backed legislation, S. 241, to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. On Friday, April 8, members of the Committee voted 6 to 5 on an amended version of S. 241 to establish a study commission to evaluate the matter of legalization. The vote came after members of the committee narrowly rejected an effort to amend the bill in a manner that would expand the state’s existing decriminalization laws.
Members of the Senate previously voted 17 to 12 in favor of the legislation in its original form, and it continues to be backed by Gov. Shumlin, state Attorney General William Sorrell, and a majority of Vermonters. It is vital that members of both the House and Senate continue hear from you in support of S. 241 so that lawmakers will be persuaded to once again amend this bill in a manner that seeks to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. #TakeAction
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is pleased to announce our endorsement of the MI Legalize 2016 initiative to regulate the adult use, production and retail sale of marijuana in Michigan.
MI Legalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, has collected more than 270,000 signatures in its effort to legalize marijuana via the petitioning process. The grass-roots effort has been collecting signatures from registered voters since June, 2015, and represents the best opportunity to enact a regulatory system in Michigan, a state where it is highly unlikely the state legislature will take any similar action.
Recent polling in Michigan indicates growing public support for marijuana law reform, including the plant’s full legalization. An EPIC-MRA poll conducted in March found 53% support for legalization, up from 50% in 2015. That poll was commissioned by Michigan NORML.
Michigan NORML’s goal is to make Michigan the first Midwestern state to legalize the adult use of marijuana. If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by the voters in the November general election, the MI Legalize proposal will be the most liberal marijuana legalization law in the United States.
We invite marijuana law reform advocates across America to contribute to the MI Legalize campaign via the organization’s website, www.milegalize.com. A Michigan angel donor has made a matching funds pledge, and for a limited time all contributions received by the MI Legalize campaign up to $100,000 will be matched, and your contribution will have twice the impact.
Please support the MI Legalize marijuana legalization campaign in Michigan.