Daniel Hernandez: Marijuana Rights Groups Prepared for Serious Highs and Lows

Medical marijuana is so over. Talk to the activists, doctors and lawyers, they’ll tell you as much. Look closely at how it’s being implemented in New Jersey and you’ll agree. Despite the fact that Arizona just became the 15th state to pass legislation permitting the use of medicinal marijuana, supporters say their movement “peaked” in California and Colorado and is moving toward a model of extreme regulation, perhaps even a takeover by Big Pharma as marijuana-imitating pills, arm patches, and eye drops enter the market and alter the politics.

Needless to say, NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, isn’t too stoked about that. Pharmaceutical companies are getting through the FDA by saying they’re taking the high out of the drug. “Politicians don’t like passing medical marijuana laws because, it’s true, people get high,” Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s Executive Director, said. “In the comings years patients who cant afford pharmaceutical drugs will have to get access through full legalization.”

That seems to be the plan.

NORML has always thought of medical marijuana merely as a strategy: a means to a full-legalization end. As long ago as 1979 they described the medical movement as a “red herring to give marijuana a good name,” and their research suggests that it already served that purpose. St. Pierre claims that 8 – 9 states poll over with over 50% approval. Fellow advocate Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance also recently opined that a once strong headwind is blowing at their back. Washington activists are mulling a 2011 ballot measure, and Colorado and Oregon are looking toward 2012. These three are still long shots, but California organizers are righteously optimistic. St. Pierre gave me five reasons why marijuana may be legalized there in 2012:

It’s the economy, bro
Many argue that the prohibition of alcohol would have continued for decades longer than the 13-plus years it lasted, had it not been for the Great Depression. Acute economic times sharpen the attitudes of politicians; Prohibition starts to look like a luxury. As Governor Schwarzenegger recently demonstrated, governments “cannot afford to expend limited resources” enforcing what some call unenforceable laws. They also reexamine the prohibition of taxable goods, a drastic measure in good times that suddenly becomes politically safe, if not savvy.

“It’s bittersweet considering most of us have to suffer these economic times,” St Pierre said. But as Rahm Emanuel quipped, you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.

Baby Boomers bring new attitudes
The Greatest Generation has passed the torch of government, media, education, entertainment and law to Baby Boomers, who bring with them a much different experience with marijuana. Grandma is still locked into that “reefer madness” era, St. Pierre said, and even if she doesn’t work anymore, she still votes with those hardened values. “Sad as it will be for the family,” he said, “as she passes, God bless her, largely goes that ideology.” Baby boomers and their children have more tolerant attitudes towards cannabis.

Medical marijuana has changed perceptions
One in eight Americans live in California, and over 50% of the counties in that state allow for the retail sale of medical marijuana on Main Street. Add them to the citizens of Colorado, Nevada and Washington, which permit retail sales as well, and that means tens of millions of Americans live in communities where they can walk by a medical marijuana dispensary on their way to 7-11, the bank, or the dry cleaner. “It’s right there,” St. Pierre said, “and there’s no real issue with it being there, except for zoning and land use if anything.

“Many people just don’t see the problem with legalizing marijuana, considering the medical dispensaries haven’t been that big a deal.”

The Internet is allowing them to organize and educate
NORML has 1.3 million people in its opt-in network, but if it had to sent each of them a 1 once mailing tomorrow it’d be bankrupt. The Internet allows them to communicate rapidly, and at little cost, in a way that would never work conventionally.

Before the internet, if people wanted information about marijuana, they had to go to a library and dig through dewy decimal system. They might have to ask a librarian for embarrassing and potentially problematic information. Now they can just download a gazillion pages to their computers.

“The dissemination of information that is verifiable and credible is important,” St. Pierre said. “One of the biggest criticisms we have, as to why prohibition has lasted so long, is that mainstream American media has largely been a lapdog, not a watchdog, in regards to the government’s failed marijuana policies. Right up to the mid-90s, for a group of people who disagreed with something the government was doing, it was harder and more expensive to communicate with each other. Today in 20 minutes you can get a Facebook page up about something you like or don’t like. You can start to organize around a concept immediately.”

Prop 19 was also a victory
The media delighted in calling the Prop 19 — California’s recent measure to legalize marijuana — a “pipe dream” that didn’t so much fall short as go “up in smoke”. It’s most seasoned backers however, NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance, never intended 2010 to be their year. Initially, they advised its organizers in Oakland to save their energy for 2012, when the presidential elections would draw a larger youth vote. Oaksterdam, the school that organized the petition, went ahead anyway. And it turned into a rather productive dress rehearsal. First off, their coalition building was unprecedented. Never before have so many minority groups, large unions, and law enforcement organizations rallied behind this cause. Secondly, the initiative drew some very affluent twenty-somethings out of their smoke-filled closets. Dustin Moskowitz, co-creator of Facebook, Sean Parker, former-Facebook president and co-founder of Napster, and Paul Buchheit, the founder of Gmail, each plunked down generous donations. “We’ve been around and they could have contacted us in advance,” St. Pierre said. “But it was the initiative that got them off the sidelines.” Third, a significant portion of Prop 19’s opponents came out against the bill’s structure, rather than it’s. The editorial boards of the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee, for example, generally agreed that while Prop 19 was flawed, the war on drugs has been an “abject failure“, legalization is “valid subject for discussion“, and “it might even be time for a ballot initiative to change the law.

Finally, Prop 19 was voted down by a vote of 54%-to-46%, but for a flawed bill on a midterm ballot, that turnout kind of turnout is nothing to scoff at. “It’s a pretty remarkable base to build upon for 2012,” St. Pierre said.

Until then …
In the coming years, NORML will join other local and national organizations in challenging the pharmaceutical remodeling of medical marijuana, a looming political trend that they call “anti-pleasure seeking, hypocritical” policy toward intoxicating drugs. Meanwhile, they’ll insist that California, as the American vanguard of marijuana policy, is the greatest hope medical marijuana users have.

From The Huffington Post


  1. right...

    Total Hypocrits. Of course people want legalization. But thats not on the table. Then NORML et al. put forward half measures. Under 21 still illegal (ie prison time), controls, only one ounce, restrictions on use, cultivation etc. All designed to redirect the revenue flow from the average person to big gubment. Then you guys claim that medical is being over regulated. Idiots. Fools with way too much money. With legalization advocates like this, who need prohibitionists.

  2. Mark

    Ok, so we know, despite 100 years of lies and repression, that the whole “danger” of marijuana is a falsehood. Since then we’ve seen hemp as a “Billion Dollar Crop” – in 1938 (back when a $Billion was a lot of money),the government has made cannabis preparations illegal for medicinal use, yet states have had to fight for legal medical cannabis, which has been proven effective as medicine, and science has shown marijuana to be a relatively harmless inebriant, considerably safer than legal alcohol.

    Marijuana/hemp/cannabis is also a significant part of American history, the past and future economy, and our shared, American culture. Great politicians, scientists, athletes, waitresses and fast food workers have and are smoking marijuana. It’s been here a long, long time.

    It’s part of America. OUR America. And, as some have been saying for a while now, “Love it or leave it.” Legalization IS coming. I think everyone will probably stay.

    btw, if you look at figures and estimates from the DOJ and DEA, compare seizures, estimated production, and their own value for marijuana, you will (not quickly, but eventually) discover that the “average” marijuana user in the US is spending approximately $5500 per year on marijuana alone.

  3. jsknow

    The Constitutional right to freedom of religion, free speech, a free press, to keep and bear arms, to be secure in your person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, to life, liberty and property, to be protected from having your property taken by the government without due process of law and without just compensation, to confront the witnesses against you, to be protected from excessive bail, excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, to vote and others have been unjustly denied to tens of millions of Americans in the name of the drug war.

    The more voters that learn the truth the better! After they learn the truth about marijuana and the drug war 80% support rationally regulating marijuana instead of prohibiting it. Virtually all the drug war propaganda is nothing but pure lies. Marijuana does not cause aggressive behavior. Marijuana does not cause dangerous driving, Google: MARIJUANA DRIVING STUDY. Marijuana does not cause cancer, brain damage or any serious health problems. Marijuana prohibition does not keep kids away from marijuana, illegal dealers don’t ask for ID.

    Anyone that wants marijuana is already getting it. Legalizing and rationally regulating marijuana is not adding another harmful intoxicant to society, legalizing gives people the legal opportunity to make the SAFER CHOICE! Alcohol and tobacco are both deadly, marijuana is not: http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/

    The laws prohibiting marijuana are NOT a result of any harm from marijuana. They are the result of racism, lies and greed. Read the well documented proof of that and a lot more marijuana TRUTH in these two articles: “WHY IS MARIJUANA ILLEGAL, Pete Guither” and “MARIJUANA AND HEMP THE UNTOLD STORY, Thomas J. Bouril”, click the links to those articles on this webpage:
    Internet Explorer web browser: http://jsknow.angelfire.com/home
    All Other Browsers: http://jsknow.angelfire.com/index.html

  4. malcolm kyle

    If you support prohibition then you’re either a black market profiteer, a terrorist, a corrupt politician, a sadomoralist, a socialist or a fake-conservative.

    If you support prohibition then you’ve helped trigger the worst crime wave in history, raising gang warfare to a level not seen since the days of alcohol bootlegging.

    If you support prohibition you’ve a helped create a black market with massive incentives to hook both adults and children alike.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped to make these dangerous substances available in schools and prisons.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped put previously unknown and contaminated drugs on the streets.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped to escalate Murder, Theft, Muggings and Burglaries.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped to divert scarce law-enforcement resources away from protecting your fellow citizens from the ever escalating violence against their person or property.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped to prevent the sick and dying from obtaining safe and effective medication.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped remove many important civil liberties from those citizens you falsely claim to represent.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped create the prison-for-profit synergy with drug lords.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped escalate the number of people on welfare who can’t find employment due to their felony status.

    If you support prohibition you’re responsible for the horrific racial disparities which have breed generations of incarcerated and disenfranchised Afro Americans.

    If you support prohibition you’ve helped evolve local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, controlling vast swaths of territory with significant social and military resources at their disposal.

    If you support prohibition you’re promoting a policy which kills our children, endangers our troops, counteracts our foreign policy and reduces much of the developing world to anarchy.

    Neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them; the concept of a “Drug-Free Society” is a neurotic fantasy and Prohibition’s ills are a product of this psychotic delusion.

    Prohibition is nothing less than a grotesque dystopian nightmare; if you support it you must be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, corrupt or criminally insane.

    If you support prohibition then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    • BillG

      I support the prohibition of drugs like meth and heroin. I don’t think it ought to be a felony to possess a small amount of any drug, but I’m glad these drugs aren’t sold at stores in my town. Heroin is pretty much nonexistent where I live. I know, back in my wild partying days when I was experimenting with all sorts of drugs I looked for it, and now I work in the legal system and while we see all sorts of drug cases coming through we’ll almost never see a heroin possession case. If it was legal and being sold at shops some people would try it, and before long we’d have a bunch of heroin addicts in my town when we pretty much have none now. Heroin addicts are most definitely a burden on society, like meth or cocaine addicts.

      Prohibition does not work well, but it works better for drugs that are not popular and for which there is little demand than it does for drugs for which there is high demand. Marijuana is a popular drug. There is plenty of demand for it and consequently it’s everywhere. It’s extremely easy to find. It couldn’t be much more available if we sold it from licensed shops than it is now. And it might actually be less available to children because there would be age limits. Teens could still get it like they get beer today, but look at how they get their beer. They use fake identification or they have an older friend or relative buy it for them. They don’t buy it from drug dealers who will often sell meth or cocaine or LSD or whatever else they come across.

      We don’t need to legalize all drugs. We should legalize marijuana though. It’s not that bad, doesn’t cause huge social problems like meth or heroin or even alcohol, and it’s already easily available everywhere. Prohibiting legal sales of marijuana does nothing at all to stop the trade or decrease availability. It just enriches organized crime and makes it easier for them to get their other far more dangerous drugs out to the public. If we’d just legalize pot, we’d deprive them of a huge portion of their income and we’d cut them off from all the people who try these other drugs because their pot dealer offers them these drugs. That, and we won’t have hundreds of thousands of people (if not more) who sell a little pot who can be tapped to sell the other stuff too. These are the people who become meth or heroin dealers. They’re already selling an illegal drug, so it’s not that big of a deal for them to sell another. They already have customers who like to party. The other drugs often come from the same source anyway, and if not hard drug dealers who know these people sell pot will hit them up to sell other drugs too because it’s safe to do so because these people won’t tell on them. Why would they? They’re drug dealers too. If we legalize pot we’ll have far fewer illegal drug dealers which means far fewer easy recruits to sell the hard stuff. We’d deprive organized crime of a huge chunk of their income that they now get from pot sales, and we’d make it harder for them to sell the hard stuff.

      We’re not going to legalize all drugs. It just won’t happen. Pot will be legalized eventually, maybe in just a few years. We’ll never see a day though when there is enough support to have “meth shops” selling meth to any adult who wants to buy it. Hopefully though we will change the laws somewhat to minimize the inevitable harms that prohibition causes. We’ll see that while it may be good that drugs like heroin and meth aren’t sold from shops all over town, we quickly reach a point of diminishing returns with our efforts to stop drug sales and use, and a lot of our policies actually cause a lot more harm than good. What good does it do for instance to leave some kid caught with an unapproved party substance with a felony record? Are we really deterring a lot more people by having simple possession be a felony rather than a misdemeanor, or even some kind of s civil infraction or something? People that would try a drug like meth aren’t exactly thinking much about the very slight risk of getting caught if they aren’t thinking about the risk of getting addicted and ruining their lives. Most are young and reckless and they know the chance of getting caught is slight, but a small percentage do get caught and that adds up to an awful lot of people with felony records who can’t make a living and better themselves and thus are more likely to just give up and be useless burdens on society. And the fact is that most of them would have just grown out of their wild party phase and hopefully become productive members of society. Only a small fraction become hopeless drug addicts.

      I grew up in the Seventies when drugs were more popular than ever and most everyone I new did a fair amount of “experimenting” even with the hard stuff, but most all of us grew out of that and we’re law abiding productive citizens today. We’re doctors, lawyers, business owners, etc. I’m a short haired fresh faced suit wearing attorney and if you met me you’d never think I was the type who smoked piles of pot and played around with the hard stuff when I was younger. 🙂 I sure am glad I never got caught or I would not be where I am today, and I hate to see young people saddled with life ruining felony records for doing nothing but a little wild partying like I did when I was younger.

      But should we legalize meth and heroin and cocaine and have these substances being sold cheap at the corner store? Hell no. Shoot, I kind of liked cocaine. If they sold it for $10 a gram at the EZ Mart down the street, and it could easily be that cheap if legal, I’d probably turn into a raving coke fiend. 🙂 Legalize weed. It’s already cheap compared to alcohol on a buzz for buzz basis and it’s just about as easily available. Keep sales of the other stuff prohibited as it does reduce availability some, especially for less popular drugs, and it does keep prices up such that most who fool around with a drug like cocaine will only be able to do it on special occasions.

      The downside is that addicts often steal a lot to maintain their expensive habits, but they’d steal anyway even if their drug of choice was much cheaper because they tend to be unproductive low to non earners and they have to live and supply their habits. So, we need to identify problem addicts in the legal system and do what we can to get them off of drugs and keep them on the straight and narrow, monitor and modify their behavior. And we should punish people for theft crimes much harder than we punish them for most drug crimes. I’d much rather a doper sell a little dope to another doper than steal my stuff. Lock a thief up and all the thefts he would have committed if he was on the street will not be committed. A lot of people who would have been victimized won’t be victimized. Lock a guy up for several years for selling a gram of cocaine to some drug addict snitch who is just setting people up to keep himself out of prison, and not one single drug transaction will have been prevented because those who would have bought from him will just buy from someone else. We need to stop trying to be so tough on drug crimes and start trying to have smart drug policies instead. We’ll never stop the illegal drug trade. It’s a nuisance that we’re just going to have to deal with and hopefully we’ll learn to do it in ways that don’t cause a lot more harm than good.