How True Legalization Squanders Actual Legalization


An Open Letter to True Legalizers™,

All across the Internet, I often find myself in comments battles with you. We’re not so different, you and I. I smoke pot every day and want to see it legalized across the country. I have friends with medical needs that would be alleviated by cannabis. I have other friends who’ve been busted and served time for marijuana law violations. We have a lot in common.

Where we butt heads is over how we get legalization nationwide. I’m of the opinion that winning the War on Drugs will take many battles where we take whatever ground we can take, defend it, and move on to take more ground. I believe that the war requires both generals and privates and a whole lot of funding.

You, on the other hand, are a True Legalizer™. You seem to think the War on Drugs can be ended in one fell swoop with nothing but an unfunded volunteer militia. Then you set your militia up to fight the professional army on your side rather than the enemy’s army that still wants to imprison you.

Your efforts usually take the form of an all-volunteer grassroots effort to get what you consider True Legalization™ on the ballot. If your all-volunteer grassroots efforts succeed, it would be one of the few times in history such an effort has succeeded in legalizing anything, much less marijuana. Don’t believe me; believe the National Conference on State Legislatures:

“Today, the vast majority of petition campaigns use paid circulators, who are paid between $1 and $3 per signature. Very few campaigns attempt to qualify an initiative petition with volunteer circulators, and even fewer do so successfully. Paid drives, on the other hand, are much more successful. A campaign that has adequate funds to pay circulators has a nearly 100 percent chance of qualifying for the ballot in many states.”

So when you come at me in the comments with how terrible the tax-and-regulate legalization plan is compared to your True Legalization™, I can’t even muster the interest to debate those points until you answer me these questions three:

1) How well does your language poll?

2) How much money have you raised?

3) How many signatures have you gathered?

I personally would like to see marijuana legalized for everyone 18 and older, with no limits on personal possession or non-commercial plant counts and commercial regulations less onerous than those for beer. The problem is I don’t have a few million dollars, a few thousand signatures, and over 55 percent polling to make it actually happen.

This isn’t 1999, where no state in recent memory had tried to pass marijuana legalization. It’s 2016, where marijuana legalization has been on the ballot statewide 13 times since 2000 and succeeded five times (Alaska 2000; Nevada 2002; Alaska 2004; Nevada & Colorado 2006; California 2010; WashingtonColorado, & Oregon 2012; OregonAlaska, & Washington DC 2014; Ohio 2015). Not one of those times was a grassroots, volunteer effort. The blueprint exists now – you poll, you get money, you get signatures, you get on the ballot, and maybe you win.

The closest on the list to being a grassroots, volunteer effort was Oregon 2012, which was backed by a guy who could throw a few hundred thousand dollars at it for professional signature gatherers in the last weeks to make the ballot, only for it to wither on the vine because he had no money left for the campaign. It was far closer to True Legalization™ than anything offered to date: age limit 21, unlimited personal possession and cultivation, marijuana business largely regulated by itself. And while Colorado and Washington were celebrating being the first states to legalize marijuana with 10-point electoral victories in 2012, we were left crying over our bongs with a 7-point loss.

How’d we get legalization in 2014? The grassroots guy who tried in 2012 tried again in 2014 as well and got nowhere, while New Approach Oregon wrote language that polled at over 55 percent, hired professional campaigners and professional signature gatherers, had the money to run a campaign, and won with a 12-point victory, the greatest win margin to date for marketplace marijuana legalization (Washington DC won by 40 points, but has no commercial marijuana).

You clearly don’t get that and live in a stoner fantasy world where weed wishes and fairy dust are going to get your True Legalization™ on the ballot and magically compel over half the voters to make it law.

The problem is that every person you manage to bamboozle with your fantasy of volunteer-led True Legalization™ succeeding is someone not putting time, money, and effort into working on limited legalization that actually has the polling, money, and signatures necessary to win. Every person you manage to enrage into hating the professional legalization campaign is someone who is now doing the campaign work for the cops, prison guards, rehabs, drug testers, and pharmaceutical companies that want to keep marijuana illegal.

The latest example of this is in Missouri, where New Approach Missouri has abandoned legalization for now in favor of working on a medical marijuana initiative that has a better chance of passing. You and your pals in the grassroots, all-volunteer True Legalization™ campaign are trying to tear them down and keep sick people in want of medicine for reasons I can’t quite fathom.

I don’t support New Approach Missouri or any recent marijuana initiative because it’s the legalization I want. I do so because it is the legalization I can get, because it will actually make the ballot and has a chance of passing. Missouri requires 98,618 sigs for a statute (you’ll need 165,000) and 157,788 for an amendment (you’ll need 260,000). You’re trying for the 2016 ballot, right? Your deadline is May 8, so you have less than sixteen weeks to accomplish that. In other words, assuming you have no signatures, you need about 10,000 signatures a week to get a statute on the ballot and 17,000 a week for an amendment.

This is where your “if only” thinking comes in, as in “if only 100 volunteers join us and if only they collect 100 signatures per week, we’ll make the ballot!” You may even have a few volunteers that can actually produce 100 signatures for a week or two. But you won’t find 100 of them consistently turning in 100 every week.

What you’ll get is people eagerly volunteering and asking for sheets, who then get their friends and family to sign them, and then maybe spend a few hours in the weather gathering some strangers’ signatures, and then maybe some of them turn in two or three sheets of ten signatures each. You’ll also have higher-than-average signature rejection rates at the Secretary of State’s office, because your volunteers will be folks who frequent the same places and know the same people, so you’ll get duplicates that invalidate a whole sheet of signatures.

In other words, you won’t make the ballot.

I think part of what motivates you is a paranoid fear of anything professional. If there’s money involved, you reason, there’s corruption and hidden agendas involved. You’ve been so abused by the institutions of government and capital that you can’t see mainstream, professional legalization as anything but a trick to somehow benefit someone other than you while keeping you under some measure of oppression.

However, the biggest motivator, I think, is that you’re like me and you know the truth about cannabis. You know it is an industrial marvel, a medical miracle, and the safest choice of recreational substance. Treating marijuana like alcohol reminds us of Timothy Leary’s quote that “women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”; marijuana ain’t alcohol and shouldn’t be treated so strictly.

We will get the nation to agree with us, but only by incrementally succeeding at medical marijuana and marijuana legalization when and where we can. As legalization happens and the sky remains in place, more Americans will agree with us and we will refine and improve legalization.

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