Krissy Oechslin is assistant director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.
One of the biggest challenges facing the marijuana policy reform movement is that many people do not consider it to be a "mainstream" issue. It's easy to ignore the issue if you don't smoke marijuana or if you haven't used it since college in the ‘60s.
Yet regardless of whether you smoke marijuana, or know someone who does, or if you think prohibition is an utter failure, or if you are or know a medical marijuana patient, there's no denying this is an issue that affects a vast majority of Americans. And with an all-time record number of marijuana arrests in 2003 -- 755,186 -- marijuana laws continue to menace otherwise law-abiding citizens.
So how do you propel the issue into the mainstream? You put a face on it. Until fairly recently, the marijuana policy reform movement has worked with those directly affected by marijuana prohibition -- patients and otherwise -- as much as possible, yet the human victims of the war on marijuana were known only at the local and state level. For example, medical marijuana patients played a key role in the passage of Montana's medical marijuana initiative in November 2004, but how many of you can name one of them? Only a few exceptions -- medical marijuana patients Angel Raich and Peter McWilliams, and medical marijuana provider Ed Rosenthal -- have risen to national prominence.
What the movement needs is a household name associated with it. And over the past year, the Marijuana Policy Project has been working to garner high-profile supporters of marijuana policy reform to lend credence to the movement.
Our work has borne fruit. MPP's VIP Advisory Board, a project launched in April 2004, now counts former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson; former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, M.D.; former Minnesota governor and television host Jesse Ventura; alternative medicine expert and author Andrew Weil, M.D.; California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray; author Tom Robbins; television host Bill Maher; actor/musician Jack Black; singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco; and actress/singer Michelle Phillips, among many others.
MPP's VIP supporters have bolstered our work on numerous campaigns. Dr. Elders' endorsement of a citywide medical marijuana initiative in Detroit helped that measure pass in August 2004, and she also wrote op-eds in Rhode Island's Providence Journal and Connecticut's New Haven Register, urging state legislators to pass medical marijuana bills in both states, adding to the considerable progress both bills made last year.
Jesse Ventura featured MPP's Rob Kampia on an episode of his TV show, "Jesse Ventura's America," in late 2003, and Dr. Weil gave a lecture in support of medical marijuana at the University of California at Los Angeles' Neuropsychiatric Institute. And Judge Gray made marijuana policy reform one of the major planks of his platform when he ran for U.S. senator from California in 2004.
But perhaps the most well-known proponent of reform is Montel Williams. The television talk show host suffers from multiple sclerosis and has become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana since being fined for carrying his medicine in the Detroit airport in 2003.
Williams is not your stereotypical marijuana policy reformer. His credentials include a stint in the Marines, and he has even recorded public service announcements for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But after high doses of prescription painkillers failed to numb the excruciating pain associated with MS, Williams was considering suicide when he reluctantly tried marijuana -- and found it worked. It now allows him to lead a normal life. Because of his personal experience with medical marijuana, Williams has lobbied Congress and New York Governor George Pataki to pass medical marijuana bills. His work has been covered extensively by the media, from local papers to national networks.
Williams devoted a chapter of his recent book, Climbing Higher, and a September 2004 episode of his daytime talk show to medical marijuana. The show also featured Angel Raich and MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia; medical marijuana researcher Don Abrams, M.D., of the University of California at San Francisco; and former Republican state legislator Don Murphy, who was instrumental in passing Maryland's medical marijuana law.
Williams also serves as chair of the host committee for MPP's 10th anniversary galas. The galas -- to be held in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles in early May -- celebrate MPP's work to end marijuana prohibition. (More information on the galas is available at www.mpp.org/galas... where you can reserve tickets as well.)
MPP is continuing to work to bring high-profile, respected names in line with our efforts. With so many recent victories for marijuana policy reform, the addition of VIPs to our side can help push us over the edge in the battle to end marijuana prohibition once and for all.