“If anybody asks you to sign or vote for any law that keeps putting people in prison, you vote no! That’s not legalization, that’s regulation!”

It’s a sentiment I heard expressed onstage at the Boise Hempfest on Saturday. It’s safe to say that in a prohibition-oppressed red state like Idaho, that rallying cry got a far less enthusiastic response than in states where marijuana has been medically accepted for almost two decades.

One of the biggest impediments to our movement has been our own zeal for the righteousness of ending cannabis prohibition. It’s not just that the prohibition is so wrong, we understand, but also that the promotion of cannabis is so right! It’s the medicine that cures cancers and epilepsy, and the textile that replaces oil and plastic, and the relaxant that’s safer than alcohol and tobacco!

All those points are absolutely true, so the most dedicated on our side tend to think that if only the people knew about the wonders of weed, they’d line up in droves to vote in supermajorities for absolute deregulation of cannabis in all forms for all people in any amount anywhere anytime.

But that’s not how politics work. Voters hold silly, irrational beliefs that sometimes never change. Politicians hold calculated, poll-tested beliefs that reap them campaign dollars. Corporations hold sociopathic, self-serving beliefs that produce quarterly profits.

We need their support, at least two out of three of them.

Others on our side become beholden to a particular tactic in fighting prohibition, like working solely for medical marijuana, industrial hemp, children’s CBD oil or decriminalization. All of these are noble pursuits, to be sure.

But in politics, only two things matter: winning elections and passing laws.

Yes, of course, nobody should ever go to jail for a plant and cannabis should immediately be removed from the Controlled Substances Act to be taxed and regulated no more so than any common agricultural product.

Now, how do you win an election and pass laws to do that in Idaho, where the Senate in 2013 voted that marijuana shall never be legal in any way, where the governor in 2015 vetoed a CBD oil bill for epileptic kids and where an Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that 53 percent of Idahoans “strongly oppose” marijuana legalization, with another 11 percent who “somewhat oppose” the idea?

You don’t, and the time and effort you spend on that pie in the sky is that which you could have put toward working on something that could pass.

What we want as marijuana activists should guide our path, but what voters and legislatures will pass should determine how big our steps can be.

This incrementalism gets put down as “baby steps” by some activists, whose act of walking, if they’re able, makes that a hypocritical metaphor. It’s an empty insult, because even the babiest baby step out of prohibition beats staying in prohibition!

Take Virginia.

Activists there have worked hard to get one of those CBD oil bills in place. Yes, they believe in medical marijuana for much broader use, including THC, but that’s not what they could pass in Virginia. That didn’t make things any worse for the cancer patients who need cannabis oil, but it did help a bunch of epileptic kids. And now those positive results have enabled them to improve the law this past session.

If the people who are already suffering will continue to suffer, but you can help a few of them, you do it. Just because the ship’s lifeboats are too small doesn’t mean everybody stays on the sinking ship. You get the most deserving people on those lifeboats you can.

Virginia activists also want to legalize marijuana for adult use. But, knowing they could not pass that, they tried to get some form of decriminalization through the legislature. That stalled out, so they lowered their goal to ending the automatic administrative suspension of somebody’s driver’s license when they’re busted for weed possession. By the time it got through the legislature and the governor signed the bill into law, it only applied to first-time offenders who aren’t juveniles who aren’t busted in their car if a judge decides they shouldn’t have their licenses suspended.

It’s literally the tiniest baby step in marijuana reform I can recall recently. But it is progress!

There will be many Virginians, disproportionately young and from minority neighborhoods, who will still be able to drive their car to work and not lose a job that pays the rent that keeps their children from homelessness because of this baby step of activism.

Even if it is an initiative that makes marijuana legal only for overweight Pakistani-Americans named Phil vaporizing it on odd-numbered Tuesdays, you vote for it. Any progress is progress and you’ll make Phil’s day every couple of weeks.

Previously in Radical Rant: The Evil Gay Sea Mammal of Mordor, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter
Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns

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