I can't count the number of times I've been asked, "When do you think they'll legalize marijuana?"
There are two problems with this question.
First, the use of the word "they" is disempowering, as it implies that the future of marijuana policy reform is in someone else's hands. Who will be the ones leading the charge to end marijuana prohibition, anyway? Government officials? The silent majority? Anonymous citizens? The answer is “us,” meaning Marijuana Policy Project and our many allies across the U.S.
The second problem with the question is that the word "legalize" has no clearly defined meaning. Worse yet, MPP's polling shows that the word “legalization” is the worst possible word to use when describing the idea of reforming our nation's marijuana laws. This is because many people think "legalizing" marijuana means making it legally available with no controls, or possibly selling marijuana like cigarettes out of vending machines -- or possibly selling marijuana like tomatoes.
Rather than using unpopular, confusing code words like “legalization,” let’s just say what we mean: We want to tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol.
In any case, my response to the question in the first paragraph above is this: "I expect that we -- meaning you, me, and others who care about the future of this country -- will succeed at changing federal law with respect to medical marijuana in about five years. And we'll succeed at changing federal law to allow states to tax and regulate marijuana about five years after that."
Both parts of my answer surprise people. Inevitably, they respond by asking, "How could it be that soon? Have you been making a lot of progress on the marijuana issue that I'm not aware of?"
Clearly, the answer to that question is "yes." MPP and the marijuana policy reform movement at large consistently exceed people's expectations. Consider these perspectives:
- After a majority of voters in California and a handful of other states passed medical marijuana ballot initiatives from 1996 to 2000, many experienced activists and attorneys said we wouldn't be able to pass similar measures through state legislatures. Why not? “Because state legislators won't vote to legalize medical marijuana in contradiction of federal law," they said. Yet in June 2000, MPP and the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii persuaded the Hawaii Legislature to pass medical marijuana legislation, which the governor promptly signed into law. Since then, the Maryland, Vermont, and Rhode Island Legislatures have also passed medical marijuana laws in 2003, 2004, and 2006, respectively.
- On June 7th, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Angel Raich on her medical marijuana case, White House Drug Czar John Walters boldly proclaimed, "This is the end of medical marijuana as a political issue." Many reporters and pundits suspected he was correct. But, just the next day, the Rhode Island Senate voted 28-6 to overturn their governor's veto of MPP's medical marijuana bill, and the House followed suit by voting 59-13 on January 3, 2006. Once again, we exceeded expectations. And, better yet, we made history, as this is the first time that a state legislature has overridden a governor's veto in order to enact a medical marijuana law!
- The MPP grants program continues to fund local ballot initiative campaigns to reduce or eliminate penalties for the adult, non-medical use of marijuana, and the campaigns keep winning -- in Seattle in 2003 ... in Oakland and Columbia, Missouri in 2004 ... and in Denver in 2005.
In November 2006, MPP plans to pass its landmark ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana for the first time ever in any state -- Nevada. And the MPP grants program is funding local ballot initiatives similar to the Oakland initiative in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.
Who says we -- as a movement -- can't win all five?
Rob Kampia is Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Visit www.mpp.org/subscribe to receive MPP’s free e-mail alerts.