Missouri NORML Conference Speech, 2010

I am not here to talk about the SWAT raid, and I am not here to tell you about the medical benefits of marijuana, how racist, immoral and un-American the drug war is, or how benign a substance cannabis is. We know this already.

I want to tell you instead about the lessons that can be learned from this Tuesday’s historic legalization initiative in California, Proposition 19, which failed by a 46-54% margin.

The media firestorm that descended on California created a mostly-mature dialogue about the future of our state’s (and our nation’s) largest cash crop. In this sense, the initiative was victorious, because it is no longer a question of whether California will legalize marijuana, but of when we will legalize it.

The NO on 19 campaign predictably began a fear-mongering drive through the conservative Central Valley. They told California voters that our highways and freeways would run amok with dangerous, stoned drivers, that doctors and nurses would be operating on patients while high on dope, and of course, that every child in California would have a joint in their mouths and a needle in their arm.

But that is not why the proposition didn’t pass.

Almost 60% of Californians support legalization—the legitimization of our state’s largest cash crop. When you think about California industries, most people think of the Pinot Noirs of my home region (Santa Barbara County), Napa County Chardonnays, Southern California avocados, Central Valley strawberries and the cultural exports from Hollywood. The marijuana industry in California is now larger than the wine, agriculture and the television and movie industries combined.

Proposition 19 failed because the marijuana community was divided.

There was outspoken opposition to Prop 19 from within the industry—from dealers and dispensary owners who didn’t want to take a pay cut, from the mom and pop growers in the Emerald Triangle who were afraid they would be pushed out of the market, and from those who were afraid that this bill was not legalization of marijuana, but the “wal-martization” of marijuana.

While I understood where some of these fears came from, I was appalled to see prominent activists allying with anti-drug propagandists who use extremist rhetoric to keep people fearful—the very same people who campaigned against Proposition 215 which legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

On that same token, the Yes on 19 Campaign failed because they isolated and excluded whole sectors of the community. The hierarchical nature of the campaign only allowed the myths against it to perpetuate.

Regardless, the bill’s creator and founder of Oaksterdam University, Richard Lee, was the first person in California, or the United States, to put his money where his mouth is. He wanted legalization, so he put up $1 million of his own money to gather the signatures necessary to get a legalization initiative on the ballot.

ONE MILLION DOLLARS. That is approximately 300 lbs of retail marijuana sales, less than a year’s worth of sales at a typical California dispensary.

It is disheartening to see all the money that our community donates to national organizations for the limited return they see in marijuana policy reform. In business, we call this a BAD INVESTMENT.

Local NORML chapters have succeeded where the national organizations have failed. These people, whose efforts go unpaid, are efficient and effective. Imagine what these people (present company included) could do with a million dollars?

Columbia has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in marijuana policy. Here we are in a city in the middle of a state that is in the dead middle of the country. It is a city where marijuana policy has taken center stage and garnered national attention for the gross misconduct of its policy officers. Columbia has a wealth of people willing to sacrifice their free time for the cause.

The events in Columbia have the potential to change marijuana policy nationally. Missouri is one of only 24 states with ballot initiative. If Missouri legalizes medical marijuana, consider this the true beginning of the end of the United States War on Drugs. You have the ability to craft a bill here that takes the mistakes of other medical states into account in its drafting. You have a state full of republicans who are angry about record spending and feel that our government regularly oversteps its bounds in the personal lives of free Americans.

You will fail, like we did in California, if you don’t work together. You will fail if you neglect to not only frame marijuana as a medicine but also a personal liberty and you will fail if you put your money in a national organization whose job it is to keep themselves in a job.

Tell your friends to work together. Force the national organizations that claim to represent you to put their money where their mouth is. Put medical marijuana on the 2012 ballot, you will not only have a large-well connected group of Californians behind you, you will have a network of national local NORML chapters pulling for your victory. A win for medical marijuana in Missouri is a win for the entire nation.

Don’t let politics get in the way of activism, work together, legalize Missouri. Feel free to contact myself or Ed for any help you need.

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