Excerpted from: How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High (Penguin / Random House – 2016)
When I first became involved in cannabis activism twenty years ago, people invariably asked: Why waste your time trying to legalize marijuana? It’s never going to happen. Well, it’s happening now, and the story of how an underfunded, widely-mocked, willfully disregarded movement came out on top should serve to inform and inspire any effort to take on the system and win.
So what lessons can other progressive political movements learn from pot?
1) First you shift public opinion, then you change the law or reform the system, because without broad based political support it’s impossible to make serious political change. Thirty years ago, marijuana legalization made just as much sense as it does now, but at that time immediate legislative progress was not possible—only public outreach and education.
2) Have patience, faith and perseverance when going up against the government, big business, and entrenched interests. The public responds not just to facts and effective messaging, but to consistency as well, which means it may take a long time of using the same tactics before your message starts to break through.
3) Don’t change your position to reach a consensus; just stay firm and bring the consensus to you through clear, consistent framing of the issue. For example, by focusing on the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and therefore should be treated the same, reformers in Colorado taught the public to view cannabis in a new way, and then form their own opinions.
4) Nurture the grassroots, so they can spread your message. That’s how the marijuana movement has managed to prevail in America without the support of either major political party. Remember, most people will listen to a politician, but they will believe a friend, relative or co-worker, provided that you have a real command of the facts and convey them effectively.
5) Activism works best when it’s fun; otherwise people burn out, or wander off. So the marijuana movement learned to use every political activity as a chance to socialize, and also to make sure every massive smoke-out has a political element.