Here's what you can do to get marijuana legalized in your state.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the realm of marijuana legalization over the past few years, but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
With cannabis becoming much less taboo and regulations starting to take effect, many people are wondering how they can get involved.
Of course getting involved could mean a lot of things. It could mean becoming a full-fledged activist or simply opening up to friends and family.
To get a few ideas, I talked to Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance – an organization dedicated to eradicating the war on drugs and all the social and racial injustices surrounding prohibition.
So without further ado, here is a methodical approach you can take for maximum impact:
#1) Know your state’s legislative set-up.
“Looking at the political landscape and understanding how laws get changed in your state is the first step in determining your attack,” Reiman says.
Some states allow for ballot initiatives and referendums, others require you to go straight to the legislature.
“In California for example, things that come through the ballot process are things that the legislature won’t act on such as medical marijuana back in 1996 and legalization now.”
But in other states – like Vermont, which doesn’t have the ballot initiative process – you have no choice but to go through the legislature, she explains.
For more info on the legislative nuances in your state, you can check out ballotpedia.org.
#2) Is there already a policy reform group in your state?
“You might not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel,” Reiman says. “Look at who’s already working on the issue. It could be an organization or a single person. Maybe even somebody who tried to get the ball rolling back in the 70s.”
In some states you might actually be surprised to find active policy reform groups in your area.
Look at Georgia for example, Reiman says. “You might assume there is not a whole lot of legalization activity going on there, but they have a strong NORML chapter. In fact, NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – has chapters in most states throughout the country.”
Learn the history of your state and who is working or has worked on policy change and connect with these people, see what their strategy is, Reiman advises.
And of course not every strategy is going to be to your liking. You may connect with the people in your state and find differing values or visions as to what legalization ought to look like.
At that point you have to negotiate with yourself. Would it be better to start your own thing or has this other group achieved enough that you might want to refrain from launching a competing effort?
By the way, cultivating a synergy between old school activism groups and newcomers could lead to potent results.
“It’s a very different ball game than it was 30 years ago. Long-time activists deserve respect, but we also have to embrace these new folks coming in,” Reiman says. “Entirely different conversations need to take place when the plant is being regulated as opposed to prohibited.”
#3) Any legislators already working on cannabis in your area?
State assembly members, senators, city council members – has anybody in your area been friendly on this issue before? Has cannabis ever come up for a vote before and if it did who voted yes? Who voted no?
Reiman encourages people to find out who the key players are and connect with their staff, see if they’d be willing to meet with you.
Give their offices a call. Introduce yourself and say something like:
“I noticed that the representative you work for voted yes on all of these bills to reduce criminal penalties for drug use in this state, and I am just wondering if he/she has any interest in the marijuana issue. Is this something he/she would like more information on?”
#4) Determine the necessary education to move things forward.
Where are the roadblocks?
Were there previous legislative attempts that didn’t move forward? If so, what was the hold up?
And if nobody has tried this in your state before – why not?
In either case, the potential barriers can come from any number of directions.
“Think about the beliefs held by law enforcement and citizens in your area that may prevent this issue from moving forward,” Reiman says. “Identify which people or groups might be standing in the way and why.”
Maybe the resistance to change has to do with misinformation about marijuana and kids. Or maybe the local law enforcement is getting money from the federal government to fight marijuana, and they don’t want to lose that funding. Or is it because there’s a private prison nearby and people are afraid of losing all those jobs?
Once you get an idea of those roadblocks, you can start to determine and figure out how to educate.
Some of the possible channels include:
- public forum
- town hall meeting
- an op-ed in the local newspaper
- organizing a rally outside of the courthouse (especially if somebody’s being tried for a marijuana-related crime)
a.) Tailor your message just right.
“There are all kinds of ways to get the information out, but it’s important to target that information because you really want to speak to the specific concerns of your community,” Reiman explains.
“For example, tonight I’m going to speak at a town hall meeting put on by the NAACP. So my approach in talking to them about why marijuana should be legal is going to be very different than if I were to visit, say, a group of white women who are parents in Southern California.”
Each group, Reiman says, has their own reasoning and their own belief system about prohibition and why it’s a good or bad thing.
“If you want to change those minds and light fires under people you really have to tap into that belief system.”
There are a lot of nuances involved in the messaging, Reiman says. “And that’s why I think each individual state and jurisdiction is going to require its own personal approach.”
b.) Arm yourself with information.
You cannot be armed with enough information.
This includes science-based information on the plant and its therapeutic potential, which you can get at sites like Green Flower Media, but you also want info that illustrates just how damaging prohibition continues to be. You can find all sorts of useful fact sheets on the latter over at the DPA website.
“You have to understand everything that’s gone on in the past several decades around trying to keep marijuana prohibited and how all of that leads into the work that’s going on today,” Reiman says.
“If you don’t understand that history it will be very difficult for you to successfully advocate for the changing of the laws.”
c.) Talk to the people close to you.
This is something that anybody can do without necessarily getting involved in the political arena or even coming out of the cannabis closet.
“Don’t underestimate the power of sitting down with a neighbor or a sibling or parent and having that conversation, a one-on-one dialogue about your beliefs,” Reiman says.
“This is extremely powerful because once the person sees that somebody they care about falls this way on the issue then it becomes inherently easier for them to be open-minded about it.”
Talking about cannabis in private can also be a great lead-up to talking about it in public. You’ll be able to better anticipate people’s reactions or objections and sharpen your response.
Are you ready to end prohibition?
Not everybody has the time or inclination to become so heavily involved in a movement like this. But if you support marijuana legalization then you need to do something about it because prohibition is still hurting a lot of people.
So whether you’re out there organizing public forums and rallies or engaging friends and family in stigma-busting conversations, we all have a part to play.
If you agree, share this article with all of your networks. Let’s pour gasoline onto the fire of cannabis reform.