Are we doing okay? Could we be better?

Step back from the inner workings of the weed culture and environment for a minute. Let’s look at the issue from a more abstract and less involved point of view. If we were looking at the weed movement and industry as an arbitrary third party, simply judging whether or not we are doing an okay job at making weed legal, what would we think? Are we doing okay? Could we be better?

The numbers are not great for us….it was over 75 years ago that the Marihuana Tax Act was signed into law, virtually outlawing weed. It was turned overturned in 1969 by Timothy Leary’s case. Shortly there after Nixon signed into law the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 which contained the Controlled Substances Act as Title II, outlawing weed for reals. That was 43 years ago. Since that time the amount of Americans incarcerated at any given moment has increased eight fold from roughly 300,000 people to nearly 2.5 MILLION PEOPLE IN PRISON.

Those are beyond staggering numbers really. The only way to explain carrying out a policy that has incarcerated millions of non-violent drug offenders, destroyed the lives and communities of mostly minority populations, and has resulted in one of the biggest wastes of resources in our nation’s history, is that it is PURE EVIL. There is no other valid explanation.

The drug war is a bag of shit we have been sold by evil people who have cashed in on the misery of those who are incapable of defending themselves against injustice. We have created a culture where law enforcement is seen as the enemy of many because we have pitted them against their neighbors in some holier than thou mission to rid the world of people using drugs. The results have been nothing short of DISASTER.

Not by coincidence, NORML was also founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup. You will be happy to know that not much has changed there in 43 years. Stroup is still running the place, and weed is still highly illegal. More people are being arrested than ever before for weed and an alarming amount of our population knows very little about it. I was reminded yesterday by NORML’s new Board Chair that “the philosophical foundations of NORML are that responsible adult use of cannabis needs no apology, excuses, or medical justifications.”

While these platitudes were a welcome diversion from more recent ignorant statements made by the organization’s Director, Allen St. Pierre,  it seemed hollow and empty. That somewhere along the line the structure had been removed from its foundation, and what was left was a very unstable and not very well respected organization that was willing to apologize, make excuses, and medically justify the shit out of weed. The fact that they have really failed to change leadership or direction in over four decades is a little creepy, and very disturbing to me. Add to that the appointment of WeedMaps founder Justin Hartfield to their Board, and one has to wonder WTF is really going on over there?

I look at NORML because they have worked to position themselves as the leading organization for the legalization movement, and because they are often the face of the movement in the national spotlight….so spare me the “if you don’t like it start your own organization” speech. As long as you are in that position, you also take on that responsibility.

But NORML is far from alone either. They just happened to have been at it the longest. But if we look at Marijuana Policy Project, they were formed in 1995. The organization was founded by three former employees of NORML, Rob Kampia, Chuck Thomas, and Mike Kirshner . Nearly 20 years later. Rob Kampia is still the Executive Director of the organization, even after a highly-publicized sex scandal forced him into therapy for being “hyper-sexualized” after reports of his abusing his power with female staff emerged. MPP is the largest pro-cannabis organization by budget. To their credit, MPP has done a good job of fundraising for the cause, and have had some decent accomplishments over the years, including the historic passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado this year, though you might not have known it throughout the campaign, as Kampia was noticeably absent from the public eye until it was passed. Then he came out for his victory lap, of course.

Medical marijuana was passed in California in 1996, over 16 years ago. The industry has grown slowly but surely over that decade and a half period and currently 18 states and D.C. have medical cannabis laws on the books. Unfortunately, only a couple of those states allow for real access to cannabis in any way through dispensaries, and most programs have turned out to be more restrictive and burdensome than need be. The quasi-legal industry that has developed has left a bad taste in the mouth of many who are outside of the weed bubble.

Perceived abuses in the system have been a turn off, as many in the states where cannabis is most prolific (CA, CO, WA, OR) believe they have been duped by weedheads pretending to be sick. It has been a delicate dance over the past years to expose the community at large to a more open weed culture through medical acceptance; and in the process, we have heavily weighted our time, energy, and resources into convincing people that every stoner is seriously ill. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily producing the results desired, as we still see alarming rates of people going to jail 16 years after the passage of Prop. 215 and waining support for medical cannabis programs. We still see law enforcement invading the privacy of good citizens because they say they smell weed. We still see families being torn apart and draconian mandatory minimum sentences being handed down for marijuana arrests.

In 2002, Americans for Safe Access was founded by medical patient Steph Sherer to be a voice for patients in need of cannabis therapies. This organization has been effective in lobbying for patients rights in many areas, and being an active part in litigating medical cannabis cases and policies. But the organizations limited vision and unwillingness to embrace adult use legalization has led some to question their motives and intention. Their support of restrictive permitting practices has come under fire, and I personally question their strategies these days.

The bottom line is that ASA has made its way through quasi-legalization funding from growers, dispensaries, and weedheads. Recent large donor contributions and changes in the legal landscape have certainly changed the look of the organization, and their mission and vision. I certainly do not see them as a grassroots effort to support the legalization of weed, in any manner. I see them as a force working to limit the access to weed and to carry on the status quo of just not taking seriously ill people to jail for weed. Their rescheduling efforts would serve no interests but those of large companies who wish to compete in a pharmaceutical cannabis industry.

So we have this hodgepodge of question marks that make up the major fabric of the public face of weed reform at this time. We have a dramatically shifting social and legal landscape where weed is concerned, with AMAZING acceptance happening at incredible rates. There is a large conversation happening in our society right now about marijuana and the wisdom of continuing to take people to jail for weed, yet it is very difficult to make sense of what our movement is doing to forward our position in this conversation.

There are so many strategies, directions and philosophies being thrown at the wall right now that it is virtually impossible to hear ourselves think. I read articles where two or three different people from two or three different organizations are interviewed, and sometimes it does not sound like these people live on the same planet, much less are in the same “unified” movement. We have got to get on the same page and set some clear messaging and boundaries in place for our movement. Right now our public presence is borderline ridiculous. It is tough to know who is who, what is what, and what the fuck we are talking about anymore.

From an outsider looking in, I am sure it seems disorganized, fractured, and somewhat incapable. The phenomena that has become more prevalent is the willingness of non-cannabis reform persons who are in positions of celebrity or power to be more  aggressive and better spokespersons for the cause than our own self-appointed deities. The needle is moving on legalization because more folks are coming out of the weed closet, and are having the courage to ask why we are taking people to jail for weed. The ongoing “budget crisis” in America has resulted in some very real discussions about the resources used to enforce our drug laws. The reality is that the world is changing quick.

So are we doing okay? As a movement, do we feel we are putting our best foot forward, have the best folks in positions of leadership and public relations, and are giving our 100% best effort to ending cannabis prohibition?

I would say “okay” is probably about right, and probably a little generous. I would much rather be doing great, or even good. I would love to see us, as a community, find a more cohesive and well-oiled effort to put forward. I am just skeptical it can be done under the current framework and tired ideas of yesterday. There is a great deal of talent in this community, and I feel it is not being harnessed in a manner that will produce real and meaningful results. We have allowed for decades of history and personal rivalry interfere with the mission of ending prohibition. Too much focus has been wasted on pet projects and limited efforts.

We must begin to find more strength, courage and a more powerful voice. The extremely limited chorus of confusion is not working. We have become a monster of sorts, that is fed with money and that shits out incompetency on the regular. We can do better than this, and we should. Okay is just not good enough any more.

And honestly, we are actually pretty fucking far from okay….just ask the 1 out of every 100 adults in prison right now, or the 1 out of 30 that are in jail, on parole or probation. This shit has got to stop. Quit taking people to jail for weed….