A car rolls up into a parking lot and a couple gets out and strolls into a brick and mortar cannabis retail shop, I.D.s in hand. Once inside they peruse a smorgasbord of dank delicacies. Having their choice of pungent herb, viscous oils, and hash in various forms they make their purchase, hop back into their vehicle, and drive off with no concern to check the review mirror.
This is the scenario that plays out every day in multiple states, as close to the entire North American continent now has experienced some degree of substantive cannabis decriminalization. In these legal states, jobs are being created, tax revenues are being generated, and cultivators, processors, packagers, and retail pot shops are thriving. Crime and youth use has remained stable and the sky has remained perfectly intact. And the reforms are continuing.
During the 2020 presidential election voters in Montana, Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Mississippi approved marijuana ballot measures loosening legal restrictions on cannabis.
Arizona and New Jersey legalized the recreational use of cannabis.
Montana voters designated 21 as the legal age to legally purchase, possess, and imbibe cannabis, legalizing its recreational use in that state as well.
South Dakota voters simultaneously approved the legal use of medical cannabis as well as its recreational use, the first time a state has done both at the same time.
Mississippi became one of the first Southern states to legally sanction medical cannabis. Although Law Enforcement organizations are now suing, using taxpayer money, to defeat the Citizen’s initiative that passed at the ballot box.
Voters in 15 states have now legalized adult cannabis use and medical use has been approved in 36 states.
These historic reforms are the result of many thousands of community-based activists and national advocates putting in sweat equity and burning shoe leather to create the fertile soil for legalization efforts to take root in. It is notable that even traditionally red states are seeing opposition to legalization soundly defeated. What once was a partisan issue is slowly moving beyond party politics. Well, in the eyes of the general public, that is.
In the last weeks of 2020 the House of Representatives approved The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The historic landmark legislation, the first of its kind passed by the House, passed on a mostly party-line vote of 228-164. While only 6 Democrats voted against the bill only 4 Republicans voted to approve it. The GOP-controlled Senate, under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, declined to take up the legislation. The Republican Party is standing in the way of the destruction of the iron curtain of federal prohibition. So with all the momentum that exists to end federal prohibition, there remains a great need for advocacy and action.
And there is an urgency to change the laws. No federal law reforms have occurred and all the drug war laws and sentencing architecture are still in place; as well as funding for police forces everywhere to enforce drug laws and adversely impact communities of color.
“We need to dismantle the federal drug war machinery and discontinue the funding of local police forces to enforce state drug war laws that mimic federal laws. These destructive policies must end,” says Douglas Hiatt, criminal defense attorney and activist.
The MORE Act would if passed not only federally decriminalize cannabis but also expunge the records of Americans convicted of cannabis-related offenses.
Despite those historic advancements that have taken place in the states it is estimated that 40,000 Americans are currently incarcerated for cannabis and many of the seventy million people with criminal records have been convicted of a cannabis violation. These folks endure background checks on rental and job applications and other forms of cannabigotry based discrimination. Like Jack Cole, the founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (recently changed to The Law Enforcement Action Partnership) says, you can get over an addiction but you can’t get over a conviction. This is why the expungement of records is such a critical component of actual legalization.
Even people who go through bankruptcy get a chance to start over with a clean slate. Americans who have paid their dues to society (and who never should have been convicted of a victimless cannabis crime in the first place) should be afforded the same right. And the ravages of prohibition have wrought injustice to Americans in an uneven fashion, injustices that go far beyond just getting people busted for weed.
The street executions of black men in America that have spurred the essential Black Lives Matter movement are partially the byproduct of the drug war, giving wide latitude to law enforcement to racially profile. Prohibition has also produced plain-clothed, no-knock raids and stop and frisk policies, disproportionately targeting communities of color. The important police reform movements, attempting to address the murder of Breonna Taylor and others, will fail unless drug war policies and laws are changed. A no knock stale warrant for a drug investigation killed Ms. Taylor and will kill others next week unless we stop the war on drugs.
“The drug war machinery can be turned on anyone, there is no justice in the war on drugs, none, and no public safety either. It is a racist construct and it always has been since inception, Hiatt says. “Ive been practicing criminal defense for thirty years and I’ve seen it up close and personal, turned on communities and individuals with equally destructive results,” he continues.
While these policies have often been targeted at minorities, anybody can find themselves ensnared by the driftnet of cannabis prohibition.
Since the very beginning prohibition has been a state-sanctioned campaign of disinformation and hate. But all over the world, people are waking up to an awareness that these laws need to change. Everybody deserves the right to make their own educated and informed choices about what they put into the sanctity of their own bodies. These important health and lifestyle choices should be made based upon truthful and accurate information. Educational and political public events play a vital role in counteracting the lies about cannabis that have been advanced by prohibitionists.
But education is not enough. Everybody needs to get active if we are to finish the job and get cannabis truly free from unreasonable and scientifically unsupported government restrictions. As long as weed is federally illegal even the reforms that have happened on the state level are vulnerable and not at all guaranteed. If you are reading this then you have a role to play in starting a grassfire of legalization that can take hold and burn prohibition down to the ground.
You can identify who to contact in your state by a simple search engine query of “find my federal representative.” You can call or email your rep, but the most effective way to lobby is to schedule an appointment to speak to them in person. Whichever way you choose to contact them there are some simple basic guidelines to observe if you want to be most effective. These same principles apply when contacting your state representatives, and if you live in a state that has not yet legalized cannabis your state representatives would be a good place to start.
If you choose to meet your lawmakers in person these are practical tips to help you with your mission:
- Make an appointment in advance. Be organized, introduce yourself, if you are in a group select one person to be the primary spokesperson for each issue.
- Do not assume that your legislator is familiar with your issue – recognize that legislators have many issues before them, and need to be briefed quickly on your subject or issue.
- Do your homework. Know your issue. Present the facts in an orderly manner. Do not present purely emotional arguments, but demonstrate the impact of your issue with examples, the stories of an inmate/patient/business owner, comparison numbers, Drugwar stats. Know your legislator’s voting record on your issue and other issues. Research your legislator’s peeve interests and core values.
- Determine the legislator’s position on your issue. Ask for some action or a commitment from your legislator. How will they vote? Will they take a stand for or against the proposal?
- Be persistent. This is our freedom we are fighting for not a pay raise. Ask repeatedly until you get an answer.
- Allow time for questions. Encourage questions and answer them thoroughly and factually. If you don’t have an answer, offer to get back to the legislator after you have found out.
- Always be very presentable, courteous, and informed on your subject.
8.Follow up with a thank-you call or card, in which you restate your position on your issue.
- Remember that your legislator has many constituents and many issues to consider. Very few are experts on all issues. They rely on us to give them good, accurate, scientifically-based information. They are interested in what the voters want. Let them know your stand.
Remind your lawmakers that cannabis is the most multifaceted and useful natural resource in the entire plant kingdom and can produce food, fuel, fiber, medicine, and more.
If we can convince others to join us in the struggle to end these failed policies we will stop this travesty of justice called prohibition. We must move quickly because too many Americans are languishing in jails and prisons, some over actions that others are performing legally every day in states that have already legalized. And that’s just wrong.
Vivian McPeak is a Seattle based social justice activist, media personality, and writer. Vivian is the president of Seattle Events, a Non-Profit Organization, producer of the Seattle HEMPFEST®, the world’s largest annual cannabis policy reform rally. The recipient of the High Times Magazine 2012 Lester Grinspoon Lifetime Achievement Award and DOPE Magazine 2016 Emery Award for lifetime achievement, and in 2016 he was named one of the “50 Most Influential People” by Seattle Magazine. Vivian has appeared on numerous television and cable news networks, including FOX News, CNN, & NBC. McPeak is the host of Hempresent, a weekly radio podcast on Cannabis Radio with listeners on multiple continents.