A Monthly Update on NORML News from Around the Nation
Activists around the country began preparing for an expected 2017 escalation in the war on the war on drugs during NORML’s December national chapters conference call Dec. 17.
“We see huge opportunities with 8 new states on board, but the stakes have never been higher,”
national chapters coordinator, Kevin Mahmalji warned. Mahmalji used the year-end monthly chapters conference call to lay out strategy and introduce incoming NORML DC political director, Justin Skrekal, who set an ambitious agenda for the upcoming 2017 legislative season at both our nation’s capital and statehouses around the country.
After more than 45 years of battling for marijuana rights in Washington and at the state level in high-profile cannabis states like CA and CO, NORML has learned a thing or two about battling prohibitionists and is preparing to take their legislative agenda nationwide. Political director Justin Skrekal previously worked on state-level political campaigns and extensively as a statehouse legislative aide coordinating with Virginia NORML in lobbying their state legislature. “It’s time to launch our nationwide legislative push to end prohibition once and for all, though in the short term we may have to focus on guarding the gains we’ve made.”
Nationally cannabis politics have never been more volatile. At the same time eight states approved cannabis ballot measures, both the incoming Vice President, Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the incoming Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, are ardent prohibitionists, provoking growing concerns in the cannabis community that an ideologically driven administration could attempt to up-end the entire industry.
Skrekal used the conference call to promote a first step in national strategy and gave chapter leaders a look at NORML’s online petition-style “open letter” to Vice President-Elect Pence seeking “clarity and common sense from the incoming administration regarding marijuana policy.” The letter takes a measured approach: “On behalf of the millions of loyal Americans who use marijuana, we hope he will respect the right of states to determine their own marijuana policy, as you advocated in your campaign.”
“Only six states still reflect the federal prohibition of cannabis, composing just 11% of the U.S. population,” the petition reads. “However, recent cabinet appointments have sent shockwaves through patient communities, emerging industries, and responsible private citizens as many of the recent nominations that have been selected are historic opponents to cannabis law reform. In order to maintain economic stability in a rapidly growing market, the country would benefit from the Trump/Pence Administration articulating its priorities for future cannabis policy in a manner that respects state autonomy as guided by the 10th amendment of the US Constitution.”
The petition is signed by the national NORML administration and the majority of the 135 state and local NORML chapters around the country. A link posted on the national website invites the public to sign as well.
Additionally, NORML’s new year’s plan of attack includes blitzing statehouses around the country with calls for personal meetings with legislators to defend existing state marijuana programs and calls for new legislation in states like Texas, with huge populations of cannabis consumers, but no legal protections and no provisions for citizen-driven ballot measures.
Mahmalji and Skrekal began the process of coordinating state-level lobbying days and meet-n-greets among the various chapters. Numerous chapters already had plans under way. A master list of legislative advocacy activities is being developed by the national website to support local efforts and drive the public’s interest in activism. A NORML lobbying day guide for citizen activists is currently in production and should be available for groups to use in time for their state government’s upcoming legislative sessions. Mahmalji also offered a questionnaire template for members to use when evaluating their state representatives.
NORML Board member Dan Viets was also on-hand for the conference call and encouraged the NORML chapter leaders to work with the local cannabis activists when possible, but not too closely if necessary. “There have been occasions in the past where self-serving interest have pushed legislation by presenting their narrow bill (no consumer rights or home cultivation) as the pragmatic option. This strategy promotes fears among lawmakers that a more radical bill will be introduced by “wacktavist” so they should act immediately to prevent a more consumer focused bill from passing.,” Viets cautioned. “Sometimes someone in the industry is pushing one bill to block progress on a better bill.”
Mahmalji agrees activists can’t simply “assume that just because a bill has medical marijuana in the title, it’s intent is to serve the needs of medical marijuana patients in your state. As an advocacy group for marijuana consumers, we need to be mindful of things like home cultivation and access before we support state-level legislation.”
As always the conference call included updates from various chapters and a discussion of the latest in NORML merchandising and products. If you would like to know more about the NORML chapters in your area try the link below.