By Allen St. Pierre
Despite the remarkable strides made over the last decade toward cannabis legalization in the United States, some major challenges remain, and much hard work will be required before cannabis consumers achieve parity with our Dionysian brethren who responsibly imbibe (and pay taxes on) alcohol. And so, from the trenches of the cannabis-law reform movement (and in no specific order of importance), here’s the top five challenges that NORML sees ahead for total cannabis legalization in the next five years:
1) If the Democrats lose control of Congress in 2010, and/or President Obama loses to a social conservative in 2012, trouble will likely follow as, historically speaking, Democrats support cannabis-law reform far more than Republicans.
2) Save for NORML, organizations working for cannabis-law reform need to better diversify their funding base and not become reliant on non-stakeholder, hyper-partisan, elite billionaires for financial support. When an organization’s (or movement’s) funding basically comes from a billionaire who is also spending tens of millions annually trying to unseat a political party and its candidates, the side being opposed tends to see the organization as simply another partisan player, and so they are instinctively less inclined to support its cause – in this case, much-needed cannabis-law reforms.
Also, without a diverse funding base, organizations dependent on a single bankroller are subject to the whims and demands of often-mercurial individuals. And if scandal strikes the organization, the funder may withdraw his or her philanthropy. For example, the employee scandal at the Marijuana Policy Project this January led to cuts in a grants program that left numerous important and worthy MPP-dependent organizations and projects in jeopardy.
3) Amazingly, whether it’s a concerted strategy of the prohibitionists or a true indicator that the public no longer supports the untenable status quo of cannabis prohibition, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify opponents of marijuana-law reform to publicly debate. This “high-class problem” frustrates reformers on two levels, since both media outlets and university settings often require a debate format when it comes to airing views on supposedly controversial public-policy topics.
4) The good news is that more Americans than ever before support ending prohibition laws and finally re-legalizing cannabis, with most polls showing that 45 percent of citizens now support such a policy. The challenge will be chipping away at the 55 percent of the population that still supports prohibition. Polling from NORML indicates that the primary groups of citizens in opposition to cannabis-law reform self-identify as Republicans, Christians (notably “New Born,” Baptist and Methodist), Hispanics, Asian-Americans, the poorly educated and low-wage earners.
5) Sadly, less than 1 percent of cannabis consumers actively support their own liberation, often due to fears of the criminal-justice system, making political organizing a distinct challenge for groups like NORML. If the stakeholders for cannabis-law reform matched the level of involvement of past social-justice movements, such as women’s suffrage, civil rights, and gay/lesbian equality, cannabis prohibition would come to a screeching halt almost overnight.
Always remember that cannabis freedom is possible for those willing to work for it.
Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML in Washington, DC. You can contact NORML at www.norml.org or by calling 888-67-NORML.
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