Since January 2005, Allen St. Pierre has been the Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an organization he joined in 1991. HIGH TIMES caught up with him at the 2014 Cannabis Cup in Denver, where 35,000 people exercised their recently established right to smoke marijuana recreationally. We were curious to hear what a longtime cannabis advocate had to say about the monumental changes that are happening today in regards to marijuana law.
HT: You just bought your first bag of legal marijuana. What was that like?
Allen St. Pierre: Exhilarating -- even though I’ve gone to the Netherlands many times, of course, where it’s tolerated, but to have a sales receipt in my hand indicating that I gave the state about a 35 percent tax rate is incredibly empowering. I loved it.
HT: You’ve been working towards marijuana legalization for 25 years. It seemed close in the '70s and then it seemed like it would never, ever happen in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Why are we seeing this sea change in 2014?
Allen St. Pierre: I think five basic reasons. One, the baby boomers have finally come to power. Two, the Internet now is so developed. I’ve been at NORML pre- and post- Internet, so the ability now to have a 1.5 million person opt-in social network where we can quickly and affordably communicate with people is a big advantage, let alone the fact that, now, people can no longer be lied to by the government about the health effects of marijuana. And also, there’s the fact that we now have tens of thousands of members and supporters a month who lobby their congresspeople through the Internet, as opposed to writing a letter or visiting their legislator. So that’s a big, big empowerment that the Internet has given us on several levels. The third thing is the economy, that we’re basically in a six or seven year recession at the state level and those baby boomers who are now running those state and county governments, they see marijuana as a revenue source. The fourth reason is medical marijuana. In 1996, when that little nation-state called California voted for medical marijuana with Proposition 215, it had a remarkable effect on peoples’ attitudes towards cannabis. In the Gallup Polling there was suddenly the first big up-tick of support for legalization from 20 percentile up to 35 percentile, and that was largely because of what happened in California. And the fifth, most subjective reason, is that we’re into our 77th year of marijuana prohibition in this country, so if alcohol prohibition was the great failed social experiment that lasted barely a dozen years, what is this disaster? So I think Americans at this point are just sick and tired of marijuana prohibition. A recent Brookings Institute paper indicates that across the board, Republicans, Democrats, old, young, educated and uneducated, support these reforms, so this seems to be baking the cake to me.
HT: In your opinion, which states will vote for legal, recreational use next?
Allen St. Pierre: In 2014, I suspect Oregon and Alaska will be joining Washington and Colorado. In 2016, the states of California, Maine and Massachusetts are at the top of the list for initiatives and the funding appears to be there, the human resources. I suspect other states could be in play, but those five states I think are going to move the balance. I cannot stress the importance of having California change its laws. We could run 10 or 15 successful initiatives in smaller states, which will not be as significant as just flipping California.
HT: What’s the most important project at the moment that you’re working on?
Allen St. Pierre: Well, I guess it’s pivoting away from being sort of a pugilistic advocate arguing that it is not a moral turpitude to use marijuana, it’s actually a pretty prudent thing, and that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, so why shouldn’t have that consumer choice? So me, today, I feel kind of like a Marco Polo, traveling around to states like Colorado and Washington and then meeting with legislators in Washington and other state governments and even, for that matter, representatives from other countries, and telling them -- and showing them in photos and videos -- what is happening here and how we’re now really looking forward to seeing the data. We’re just now starting to see the financial and other social data about what the consequences are, good, bad and indifferent, regarding marijuana law reform. If there’s one particular project to be dedicated to, I believe it’s California; that’s the big, big target that reformers should be focused on.
HT: What’s your favorite Cannabis Cup entry or your favorite Colorado strain that you’ve smoked this weekend?
Allen St. Pierre: Tangie [from DNA Genetics] was one. On the East Coast, I don’t think we’ve had any access to that particular strain, so for my pallet it stood out and is memorable, but I’m looking forward to trying more today.