My wife Jodie Emery and I both receive thousands of letters and inquiries with impassioned pleas that read: "I want to do something to make a difference. I want to legalize marijuana. What can I do? Can you advise or help me start? Where do I begin?" This is a question, without rival, that we hear most often.
It comes mostly from Americans and Canadians, but I have received the same question from India, Australia, Europe, the Philippines, Japan, and all over the world. It is a universal desire shared by many people in the cannabis culture the planet over.
If all these millions of people, largely high school and college students, could be harnessed into productive purpose, it would be a huge political force indeed! But most people who consume cannabis and believe in its worth still do nothing to advance our cause in any meaningful way.
The sobering truth is that true political action that gains results is boring, largely frustrating, uninteresting, tiresome, hard work and requires great patience for a reward that may not ever materialize. It involves writing legible and intelligent short letters (spell check always on, and thoroughly edited). It requires gathering verifiable, validated signatures, with care that the signatory includes their full address and live in the jurisdiction required. It involves going to an elected official's office with a specific request, to get that 10 minute appointment may involve 3 or 4 letters, emails and phone calls. That requires perseverance. A rally will require you to have a specific political purpose, and will require intense advance promotion, and it will require the gathering of contact information from everyone who attends.
Useful political activism rarely ever feels like fun. It feels like work. Exhausting work. Most young people don't really know that much about hard, focused work. Most young people don't even vote – most of the cannabis culture doesn't vote! Most of the cannabis culture likes to party, but hard work for a political objective, they do not often do.
There are a dedicated few people out there that do know this experience of hard work for a political purpose. The great leaders in our movement know all about hard work. Vivian McPeak of Seattle, who for 20 years has put on Seattle's Hempfest, the massive annual gathering of 200,000+ people in Myrtle Edwards Park as a non-paid volunteer, knows about hard work. He was a leading activist to get the 2003 Seattle ballot initiative I-75 making marijuana possession the lowest possible police priority in Seattle.
Every year on Christmas Day, Vivian McPeak and a few other dedicated true activists spend the holiday with signs in front of a courthouse, federal building or jail protesting the incarceration of his fellow citizens under the US drug laws. He writes letters, meets with Congress people and state representatives, assists other festivals and rallies, guides and commits to numerous other political actions. He and others attended and helped organize rallies outside the Seattle courthouse where I was sentenced to 5 years in a US federal prison for my activist activities I did in Canada. And yet very few people might recognize him on the street. Many times his activity may appear to gain no political result. There may be no reward other than knowing he is doing the right thing.
HARD WORK & COMMITMENT IS REQUIRED
As an activist, it is hard to measure our impact on the movement and the political system by our contribution. Sometimes, often even, it seems like you might be toiling in obscurity, having no visible or discernable impact. You may never know though the great impact you can have, will have, and do have, by your example of dedication, hard work and focused energy on a political goal. Only weeks, months or years later will you meet someone, or receive an email from an activist doing some good work, or inspired to get involved, who says, "I saw you speak at the library rally two years ago and I went home and read more, and found you were right, and decided to get involved. So now I'm at this booth gathering signatures for the 2012 ballot initiative."
Or you’ll hear, "I saw you gathering signatures on a cold April day at a table outside the mall, you were getting medical marijuana on the ballot, and I wondered what would motivate someone to freeze in the cold, and you patiently explained why it was so important. That always stuck in my head, how dedicated you were. When I met a person later who said you were all a bunch of stoners who just wanted to get high, I remembered you and spoke up, 'That's not true,' and I found out I was a believer, and I don't even smoke pot, but I became an advocate that day." Or, "I read your letter in the daily paper. You know, it couldn't have been more than a hundred words you wrote, but what powerfully true words. I couldn't get the logic of what you said out of my head. That was the day I was convinced. That's why I'm here today, at this lecture (rally, signature gathering), with three friends I brought."
That is the ripple effect of our endeavors.
When you contemplate how to make a difference, there are some things that will not work and will not happen. You will not find anyone famous or a celebrity to contribute their time to your project, be it a fundraiser, rally, or whatever. Celebrities expect to be paid no matter what it’s for. And celebrities never do anything controversial that could endanger their reputation with their movie studios, record labels, their ability to travel internationally, or the IRS and other government agencies that keep an eye on us all. That's why celebrities lend their name to issues that few can find fault with, like starving children, world hunger/poverty, cancer, etc.
Few celebrities can be found to lend their name to campaigns against censorship, legalizing drugs, ending the prison-punishment complex, amnesty for illegal immigrants, etc. because there is blowback to putting your name and reputation on the line for anything controversial. Even celebrities like Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, who espoused the joys of marijuana at every Nickelback concert I ever went to, never advocates legalization in any public statement, nor does he lend his name to any political activity to that end. In fact, he chums around with Prime Minister Harper who would love to see all marijuana users in prison and stigmatized! Celebrities by and large use not only cannabis, but also a wide variety of illegal drugs, and virtually never get politically active. The more powerful a person is in society, the less likely they will do anything with their power to contribute to the political discourse that seeks to legalize marijuana and end the prohibition.
Marijuana growers and marijuana dealers, people with money who profit by prohibition, will only help you if it helps them. As we saw with Proposition 19 in California in 2010, where the counties with a large number of prohibition profiteers voted NO in larger numbers than those counties where marijuana was not so embedded in the culture, they are largely self-interested people concerned far more with their own ability to exploit our culture while it’s illegal than to use those funds to liberate us from the prohibition tyranny.
That is why a saint of a man like Richard Lee, who took over a million dollars of his prohibition profits (from dispensary sales to thousands of happy patients, and education seminars for activists, growers, and medical users), virtually financed the entire Proposition 19 campaign himself, because a large number of the growers in California are prohibition parasites and do not want to see cannabis legalized for all. A visionary and beautiful man like Richard Lee was a rare, rare person. He made a tremendous difference, yet was betrayed by the exploiters of our culture and their weak-minded acolytes who sabotaged our greatest hope for legalization in 2010.
The initiatives being circulated for 2012 in California will not be successful because there is no saint like Richard Lee giving a million plus dollars to gather those signatures. Those initiative attempts will fail miserably because money that could help the movement to end punishment for pot has instead corrupted part of the medical marijuana movement in California. The many vested interests want to keep it illegal, so it can be profitable for them: police, prosecutors, politicians, gangsters, and many marijuana growers.
So you are left with ordinary citizens like you to make a difference. So what can you do? Plenty!
WHY YOU’RE GETTING INVOLVED
What's at stake with continued prohibition? Here are themes that required activism to address and remedy:
1) The drug war brings civil war, violence, murder, genocide, defoliation, and narco-military and government corruption to nation states all over the planet, of which Mexico, Columbia, and Afghanistan are but current examples.
2) In the United States there are somewhat over one million Americans in county, state and federal prisons for drug offenses out of a prison population of 2,500,000. There are 50,000-100,000 foreign nationals in US jails for drug offenses. There are 50,000-100,000 people in prisons for being a felon in possession of a weapon, or a weapon in the proximity of a drug trade, offences that are related to the drug war. Drug offenses then account for about half of all prisoners in the US. This affects approximately 10,000,000 other Americans whose family members, heads of household, breadwinners, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers are in prison from drug offenses. Many of these families then become life-long dependants of the welfare-prison-punishment system.
3) Over 10,000 teenagers enter the drug trade every month. It starts out simply enough. Teenagers needing marijuana choose a close friend who "knows someone". That friend then quickly finds out that if he buys a quality ounce for $320, and has three friends who will front him $110 each for a quarter ounce, then he can have his own quarter ounce covered by his friends' contribution. This is how virtually every dealer in the illegal substance trades begins. But that novice dealer quickly learns about economy of scale, and word gets out to others and soon he is buying "QPs" (quarter-pounds) and having a wider network of "friends" who want the good stuff. Quickly he begins to make money, and his client base expands. Soon he has a lot of money, better clothes, girls who are impressed, a car, status, and other "bling". His lifestyle looks very enviable to other teenagers whose legal alternatives are part-time work at McDonalds or clerking at Target at $8 an hour. And so the materialist corruption of youth inevitably spreads rapidly as numerous teenagers in a social circle seek the material rewards of the being a dealer in the drug trade. The dealer then meets suppliers of other substances, and the corruption expands. The potential for abuse of more hazardous substances then becomes more likely. When one dealer is jailed or removed through gang violence, others, not just teenagers, take escalating measures to capture that aspect of the drug market now made available by the elimination of the previous supplier. Prohibition is terribly destructive to our young people, poor people, minorities, those whose English skills are poor, those who lack a good education, those who did not have two parents regularly at home, and those with children who cannot get a decent paying job. As I said in my 'drug abuse awareness classes' here at Yazoo prison, "Would any of us, guards or inmates, be here if these drugs were sold legally in stores under regular market controls and conditions? Why would anyone be dealing drugs? We wouldn't. Prohibition made it attractive, and inevitable, considering the circumstances of poverty, unemployment and life at home."
4) The militarization and the establishment of the permanent police state and the use of violence by police forces in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the world over has occurred because of the war on drugs. The erosion and often elimination of constitutional safeguards to the privacy, safety and liberty of the citizen has occurred because of the drug war. Police powers of arrest, detention, surveillance, violence, force, forfeiture, have become dangerous to ordinary citizens as a result of prohibition.
5) Parents who use marijuana, even safely, even for medical reasons lose their children to 'child protective services' every day in Canada and the United States. Have you ever heard someone say, "I was taken from my parents by child protective services because my parents smoked marijuana, and I was separated from my Mom, Dad, and siblings and placed in foster care, and that made my life better"? You never hear it. Families are torn apart by the war on drugs.
6) Prohibition keeps the price of marijuana absurdly high. In a legal environment, marijuana would be $10-$20 an ounce, leaving the average marijuana consumer thousands of additional dollars each year to spend on education, their children, consumer goods, savings, rent, a home, their health. Ending prohibition would channel billions back into the productive economy and increase the standard of living of hundreds of millions of cannabis consumers on the planet.
7) While marijuana remains illegal and expensive, alcohol and prescription drugs get used more often by default because of their price and availability advantages. There is no more destructive substance on earth than alcohol. If marijuana were legal, it could be advertised and promoted, and the market comparisons of the effect of the two would be compelling advertising. Alcohol kills over a million people on the planet each year, marijuana kills absolutely zero. Alcohol causes staggering violence, barbarism, spousal abuse, aggression, traffic fatalities, gun abuse, fighting, riots, and destruction of property. Marijuana achieves a far more desirable state of intoxication without any of the negative aspects of alcohol intoxication. Alcohol destroys organs and brain cells in the body and advances cancer, while marijuana repairs brain cells and attacks cancers and tumors in the body. But until marijuana is legal, commercialized, and marketed without the current demonization by government, these comparisons are hard to get into the minds of citizens and consumers. Marijuana, once marketed, will steal billions of dollars in sales from former alcohol and prescription drug users. Alcohol consumption and abuse will decline precipitously once marijuana is legalized.
8) The expense to taxpayer of marijuana prohibition in the United States since 1970 is estimated to exceed one trillion dollars. In 2011 it was about $40 billion. And that's just the United States. And just marijuana prohibition.
9) Ending prohibition brings the role of government more in line with its proper purpose: to provide infrastructure and to protect our fundamental liberties. The purpose of government should never be to restrict or interfere in our peaceful lifestyle choices, or the market that seeks to serve our peaceful lifestyle choices.
All these aspects of the catastrophic effects of prohibition are inter-related too. Eliminating the cannabis prohibition and drug prohibition is the single greatest good that we could achieve in our lifetime. It would uplift all the people of the world, dramatically reduce violence and militarism, restore our fundamental civil rights and liberties, and improve the world's health. The improvements in our way of life are so great as to hardly be imaginable.
But I want you to closely examine your life and brainstorm about how much better life would be for 7 billion people on earth if we can eliminate prohibition.
An effective activist is an organized individual. You need to have a goal, and to that end you need a TO-DO LIST every day. This outlines what you need to achieve that morning, that day, and that week. You need to have a poster of chart or calendar clearly visible to you to remind yourself what you must get done to further your activist goals.
The other side of this coin is that you must eliminate or push aside time-wasting distractions, or at least indulge in these time-wasting vices only after you have accomplished the goals set out in your TO-DO list. Time wasting activities include getting high without working on activism, spending hours on Facebook, instant messaging, chatting with friends, gratuitous snacking, pornography, and any activity that takes your attention away from the work at hand. Work is work. It won't be fun like getting high or masturbating or tweeting pointless trivia about what sandwich you had for lunch. Work gets results, and that's what an activist does or attempts to do.
Most of you will have to conduct your activism around fundamental survival and primary obligations such as your schooling, your job, your children, buying and consuming food, keeping your home clean and tidy, etc. so a ruthlessly maintained TO-DO list is essential if you are to get anything of use to our cause done.
Most of the work you do as an activist has to do with POLITICS and the political system. Even though there are over 30 million regular marijuana consumers in Canada and the USA, most of these 30 million do no activism of any kind. They cannot, in the majority, even be bothered to vote. They are ignorant of the political system and how to effectively participate in it. They willfully stay ignorant even though they are persecuted and risk a criminal record, fines, jail, losing their job, their children, property, and drivers license. The prohibition laws established by three levels of government (Local, state/provincial & federal) pose a 24-hour threat to each person in the cannabis culture, as well as forcing us to buy on the black market and pay prohibition prices for marijuana costing thousands of dollars a year.
Politics is a tough thing to participate in, especially if one regards himself or herself as an idealist and sees how disappointingly corrupt politics is. But the alternative (that is, not participating in politics) is far more dangerous to each one of us. Of course it’s not a perfect system – it’s not even a good one – but it’s the system that dictates many aspects of our lives, and we’ve got to get involved in it if we have any hope of changing it for the better.
Your objective is to change the laws, which exist with a political system. An important and secondary goal is to educate, motivate, inspire and recruit others into political activity to change or abolish the prohibition laws or aspects of prohibition.
There are basic first steps you must take. (Note: much of the following is written for Americans, but the same tactics and examples apply for Canada too.) The first step is to join the existing groups that have been established who have a track record of success or are useful in the information they distribute. I recommend you forward $25 by credit card or PayPal or money order to each:
These three organizations I highly recommend for their information value alone. $25 a year is the least you should give each one because the education and information they provide is valuable way beyond the $25. They will give you ideas of activity you can do locally. You will also have the opportunity of receiving alerts that instruct you to call your Congressman, legislator (that is your state representative) about specific bills before Congress, some good ones, like Ron Paul-Barney Frank's legalization bill in Congress, or bad ones, as most of them tend to be.
Marijuana Policy Project has been very effective in the past getting statewide ballot initiatives organized. They have a pull down menu on their website by state so you can see what important bills/activities that may affect your state are in progress. Norml.org is the best information source in the movement, and StopTheDrugWar.net is one of the best also. I urge you to support them by sending $25 to them right now.
If you say, "I don't have any money", then I can only say, "the only way to get money is to go out and work and earn the money. " You cannot be an effective activist if you are broke. Period. All activism requires effort, focus, a goal, and some of your own money that is necessary to be expended. I'm not asking you to spend a lot of money at all, but every one of us in the cannabis culture has a moral obligation to sacrifice some pleasure, luxury, time or whatever to provide some money to fight this grotesque injustice. GET TO WORK! Shovel snow, mow a lawn, work as a grocery clerk, get a job, earn an income. This is a war, for goodness sakes. Put off that gratuitous tattoo, go without that primo weed for a week or two, give up your weekend drinking budget – make sacrifices to make it happen. Activism should become a priority above all other non-essential survival and family obligations.
Most activities that people in the cannabis culture enjoy doing achieve no political purpose. For example, an April 20th rally has virtually no political value; it will not change any laws or politicians’ minds. Very few contacts are gained that are politically valid at an April 20th rally. It is a celebration of the culture, and a protest of sorts. But you should be trying to make a real difference in laws and policy.
Do not form your own group as your first step. You are not yet qualified to organize or lead others or risk squandering the energy, time and resources of others. This is about what YOU can do.
Don't form groups or committees unless there is a specific time-actualized goal that the committee is organizing manpower, financing and energy to achieve. Committees are slow, procedural, and accomplish very little. Someone needs to do the work. Someone needs to set a goal. Someone needs to make it happen or make sure it happens. That can be you. You don't need a committee. You need to be a good communicator to those who agree to work with you, and you need a specific goal and perhaps others who share that goal. But just get to work! If you are doing it right, others will volunteer to join you in what you are doing. Your dedication, if it inspires and seems to be working, will gather others to want to work with you or help you. Do not get bogged down with the meaningless cliche that "we all have to work together." It's not true. What "we" really need are individual people willing to do actual "work" to get political change. It can be done in a myriad of different ways, but what the movement lacks today are self-motivated foot soldiers who will do what's necessary with the talent, time, money and drive they now possess.
The movement absolutely does not need any more Facebook pages, websites, or social network sites with a non-specific purpose. A Facebook page called "Legalize marijuana" or any such similar sentiment often wastes the time and energy of anyone who bothers getting involved with it. Worse, it gives you a false sense of satisfaction you are doing something for the movement, and you are not. You may be doing something "fun" or "self-satisfying", but that is not useful political activism. A “like” is not activism.
Much of social media is anti-activism because it distracts people away from doing something really useful for the movement. Social media is a catalyst to activism, but it’s not activism. Tahir Square in Cairo, Egypt was filled by people who were using social media to get bodies to the square – but the people showing up in the square was the activism. People willing to get their head kicked in, roughed up, jailed, shot and killed, taking a risk with their lives – that was the activism. Social media, Twitter, and text messaging got them to the square, but didn't make a dictator fall. PEOPLE POWER did that. People willing to give something up. People willing to die.
What are YOU willing to give up to achieve liberty for yourself and our cause?
CONTACTING YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
The first thing all activists must do is begin a dialogue with your elected representatives. This means writing a cogent, BRIEF letter, by mail (not email) to your Congressperson in Washington. Your connection to MPP, NORML, and StopTheDrugWar, all with offices in Washington, DC, will keep you informed of bills and activities that deserve your notice and your input.
Letters by postal mail are far more influential than email. Firstly, mostly older people who actually get out to vote write letters by mail, and politicians consider older people as more valuable. Secondly, letters exist physically. Physical things are harder to deny. An email may or may not be seen and read, may or may not be answered or considered.
A physical letter has a psychological advantage. The Congressperson and his secretaries and mail readers know that anyone who would, in this day and age, type up a thoughtful letter, put a stamp on it, walk to a post office box, and patiently wait for a response after making a physical effort, is probably going to put a similar effort into voting. A person who does all that may get politically active if disappointed, or may volunteer for the Congressperson's re-election campaign if satisfied. A Congressperson gets hundreds, perhaps thousands of emails, but they take little effort to send, and letters are much more rare and far more precious politically.
You will get a physical reply by postal mail, unlike an email. This is a record of your dialogue with your elected representative. Know in advance you are likely to be unsatisfied by your exchange. Your Congressperson will likely admit to a bias that you find ridiculous and irrational. But this gives you an opportunity to understand where the Congressperson is coming from. You look at his presentation of his point of view, you analyze it, and then you identify an area where you can send a BRIEF medical or scientific rebuttal to his main point – preferably a rebuttal that comes from a source that Congressperson would respect (that is, someone from his religious order, or political party, or colleague from the university he attended).
Name-calling and insults are absolutely forbidden in any exercise of effective activism. You shouldn't even use negative terminology in your letters to elected officials. You should thank them for their response of your previous letter. You should express interest in their next town hall meeting in the state or district. You should emphasize your family has lived in that district for many generations, if that is true. You should find the Congressperson's last election material, and seize on values he has expressed that you can point to and explain how ending prohibition, would, in fact, lead to the kind of America and the values the Congressperson claims to aspire to.
You must select your topics of discussion within a narrow range. You can't be trying to cover several topics in one letter or dialogue. Stick to one main point, and try to find areas of agreement, where your suggestions dovetail into the Congressperson's stated value system.
Writing politicians requires patience because it’s likely you will be unsatisfied and frustrated. But you want them to assess your point of view, and you also want to become a known quantity – that is, someone who has a rational intelligent point of view.
If you have a legislator or Congressperson who advocates a rational point of view, then a letter endorsing that point of view is a good idea. Ask what you, as a citizen, can do to draw support to the proposal by that representative.
Once you have engaged dialogues with your elected officials, your next avenue of activism is writing letters to local print media, especially the daily and weekly newspapers in your community. These should be no more than 200 words and should be a response to some news item you have seen in the paper about prohibition, police behavior, harsh sentencing, the impact on the community, etc. Depending on the volume of mail/email a paper receives, you may have a 1 in 4 chance of getting published, so perseverance is key.
For a great article about Letter Writing As Activism from sold-out “Activism Special” Cannabis Culture Magazine #65, see here.
RADIO TALK SHOWS
Most communities have radio talk shows. These, too, are useful avenues to advocate an end to prohibition whenever subjects like crime, prisons, reducing budgets, drugs, inner cities, etc. are discussed. Again, there will be times you are put on hold and the host does not get to you by the end of the show, and many times the phone lines are full up and you can't even get in the queue to speak on the air, but eventually you will get on the radio. Have your ideas written down in point form, be VERY brief, and get what you want to say done in 30 seconds. Usually radio talk shows allow you one statement, the host or guest gets a rejoinder, and then it’s on to the next caller, or a commercial. Don't waste any time saying "I love your show," or "I'd like to say hello to your guest," – you are wasting your precious airtime with meaningless pleasantries. Go immediately to your points(s).
This is also a great way for people to get active and educate others when they’re forced to keep a relatively low profile because of their job, kids, or any other risk factor. That’s because you only need to give your name to be on air, and you can simply use your middle name if you’ve got reason to be cautious where you live. As long as your message is powerful, informative and understandable, you’re having a positive impact.
At some point you may want to organize a protest or a rally. This could be at the office of an elected official, in front of City Hall, or the Statehouse if you live near it. Here are three excellent articles about "How To Hold a Rally" and "Rally Tools" from Cannabis Culture Magazine “Activism Special” #65, plus a Hempfest article from the same issue:
It’s surprisingly difficult to get more than a few dozen people to appear at a protest or rally. You can promote on Facebook (because it’s a specific event with a specific purpose) and put posters up, but turnout is considered good if you get only 25-50 people to come. The protest should be at a time when passersby will see your signs and hear your chants. The chants should never be rude, they should be brief and to the point – “No More Drug War”, “Cannabis Saves Lives”, “Prohibition Doesn’t Work”, or anything that can be easily understood by the people who will hear it.
Signs should be legible, most importantly. I prefer computer and machine made signs, using solid, thick, bold fonts. Hand painted signs are too amateur appearing for my tastes, and are often hard to read when passing by, but can look good if very big, solid lettering is used.
If the media chooses to cover the rally or protest, the signs will convey your message to thousands who see you on TV or in the newspaper, so those signs should be very succinct and very readable. See photos of a December 2011 anti-prohibition protest held in Vancouver here and a similar protest in 2009 here.
April 20th rallies are popular now, but do not contain much of a political message and are largely attended by many teenagers. Young counter-culture teenagers being shown surreptitiously smoking marijuana makes a dubious political statement.
For rallies that have a political purpose, participants should dress respectably in office-suitable apparel, with clear legible signs, and be well groomed. Appearance is important – the message needs to be appealing to the most people possible. You need to convert the people who read newspapers and watch the TV news, mostly people over 45, conservative, older people.
The hippies and the counter culture agree with you already, but they don't vote generally. People who read newspapers (real paper ones, not online) and people who watch the local TV news or listen to talk radio generally vote. If you want to change minds, not only do your ideas need to be carefully chosen, but your clothes, your appearance, your demeanor, your language and your signs need to appeal to the conservative, older people who see you while driving by in their cars, or on the TV news, or in a newspaper.
STUDENT & CAMPUS ACTIVISM
If you are attending high school, college or university, motivating your fellow students to political awareness and political action should be part of your activism. However, it should only be a part of it. You want to influence the greater world beyond your school.
You can however, start an "Anti-Prohibition League" or Anti-Prohibition Club on campus, such as a Students For Sensible Drug Policy groups (www.ssdp.org and www.cssdp.org). A "Legalize Cannabis" club is too narrow and will appeal to greatly to a stoner mentality, and doesn't challenge the problem in a philosophically consistent way. Legalizing marijuana is a goal, true, but it isn't the heart of the problem. The problem is prohibition, and no prohibition is ever effective, just or rational. I believe for example that all prohibitions on personal choice are wrong and indefensible. Prohibitions on guns, sex, drugs, plants, property, abortion, gambling, sexual orientation, dancing, music, media and communication, manufacturing anything, are all wrong. Personal choice is limited to the non-violence principle, personal bodily and mental autonomy, and property rights.
But for the sake of your school club or association, prohibition refers to the government policy of banning or criminalizing certain consumed substances.
A club would do several activities. It would invite speakers to come lecture and educate your group and the larger student body about the issues surrounding prohibition. It would have a booth during clubs week. It would advocate for any anti-prohibition politicians (like Ron Paul) running for office in the school year, and club members would be encouraged to volunteer for these political campaigns. It would seek to have student leadership resist rules or regulations that require the expulsion of students who use or advocate marijuana. It would seek to address the laws that restrict or prohibit student aid to people with drug convictions.
It is important that this club not degenerate into a pot-smoking club. All the indulging, if desired, should occur after serious work has been expended to get necessary political activism done that day.
All schools have newspapers. You should be writing anti-prohibition articles and attempting to get them published in the school paper. Many colleges and universities house a community radio station. Try to get an Anti-Prohibition Radio show. This could be a one or two hour show where you read articles and news items from Norml.org or StopTheDrugWar.org and play anti-prohibition songs, of which there are many. ("Bush Doctor", "Legalize It", newer marijuana music – there are dozens and dozens of songs if you check around.)
GET INVOLVED WITH POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS
For the first five months of 2012, the most vital political activity for those who want to end the drug war has to be, without any exception, supporting Congressman Ron Paul in his bid for the Republican nomination for President. If you do not know about the greatest man ever to advocate for an end to the drug war in the history of US politics, please read my previous blogs here and here for video and details about Ron Paul and his views on abolishing the office of drug czar, abolishing the DEA, ending all federal drug laws, and pardoning all non-violent drug offenders in US prisons, including me.
Joining the Ron Paul campaign in your state will give you experience working on phone banks, holding up signs, handing out literature, working on an honorable, principled campaign with the ideal of our cause firmly part of the campaign. Plus, you will meet many other highly motivated activists. Ron Paul never hides his belief the drug war is wrong; the Constitution, he says, makes no allowance for a federal drug war or federal drug laws or federal drug agencies or people in federal prisons for drug use. He believes all state medical marijuana laws should never experience obstruction or contradiction from the federal government.
The Republican race for the Presidential nomination will get down to Mitt Romney vs. Ron Paul by Super Tuesday in March (March 6th). The Republicans cannot win without the Ron Paul voters, and the Republicans cannot beat continued-and-expanded-war Obama without Ron Paul as their nominee. If Ron Paul is not the nominee for the Republicans, I will urge you to support the Libertarian Party candidate, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, a fine principled man who repudiates the drug war and would certainly legalize marijuana if elected President.
If you decide to do one thing to end this terrible prohibition, joining the Ron Paul Revolution RIGHT NOW is the most urgent need.
Other options include gathering signatures. Several states in 2012 have signature gathering drives to put medical marijuana or a legalization of marijuana on the ballot. They will need your help immediately. Read about the states that have drives currently underway at NORML.org or here: http://capwiz.com/norml2/issues/ and contact their organizers so you can get out on the streets, on your campus, or in your neighborhood to gather signatures.
Are there any anti-prohibition candidates in your community or your state? It may require you to do some research but you will find some candidates who have some aspect of pro-choice on cannabis in them. Medical marijuana, or legalization, or some aspect of their positions you can find favor with in regards the drug war. They may be small-party candidates who have no realistic chance of victory, but they deserve our support if no major party candidates emerge upholding some of our anti-prohibition values.
Find out about the Libertarian, Constitutionalist or Green Party candidates in the your district or community if the Democrat and Republicans have nothing to offer. These smaller parties value your contributions in money and manpower even more than the major parties. These smaller parties will give you insight into how to run (or not run) a modest budget campaign with limited goals. Since the small party candidates aren't expecting to be elected, their job is to educate the public on their issues, critique the Democrat and Republican candidates, and recruit volunteers and members for future growth and campaigns. Your job is to learn all you can about the political process.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE
There will come a time when you are fired up, fed up, and have no one to vote for that represents your views on prohibition. It might be all your city councilors or county supervisors have let the local police trample over the rights and privacy of the people. It might be police brutality as a result of prohibition. It might be a sheriff who is a crazed drug warrior. It might be a judge who gives pot people long sentences. It might be a position in the statehouse legislature where both the Republican and Democrat demagogue on who is toughest on crime, while neither is smart on crime. It might be your Congressman is a hopeless drug warrior and his opponent is little better.
You might just decide to run for an elected office yourself. If you do, set realistic goals. Your odds of getting elected with major party support, or being part of well-moneyed slate with substantial backing, are candidly very long odds indeed. Your first time out, you simply won't get many votes and you won't get elected. You'll be running as an Independent, a Green, a Libertarian, or other small party. You won't have many volunteers and most money you spend will be your own. You'll need someone to do your paperwork. There are forms to fill out, nominating signatures to gather, and bank accounts to manage. You need to keep track of all your donations and all your campaign expenditures.
Most of your friends will be useless in helping you, but you should try to get $10 and $25 donations from them. Ask people to volunteer and, if they get on board, assign them specific tasks essential to your campaign. Develop a Facebook page and website touting your candidacy. Make them both easily navigable and easy to understand. Look at other candidate templates on the net to find a style or approach you like (Jodie’s 2009 BC Green Party provincial election campaign website design is simple but informative: http://www.jodieformla.ca/).
Generous advance planning is recommended. Good planning saves money, time, effort and error. If you are the candidate, ultimately you are in charge but you need to find one very passionate, committed, reasonable, easy-to-get along-with person who can be your campaign manager. A good campaign manager is your most valuable asset. They need to have time, the organizing skills and a belief in you as the candidate. They need to be good with people, have a calm managerial style, and be good with and knowledgeable about the media.
You need some signs. Get quotes on a 100 corroplast (corrugated plastic signs) measured about 18" x 24" (larger signs, like 24" x 36" or 24" x 48", are better to hold up on busy roads, printed both sides in one color plus black on white). Election supplies can be found at websites online; simply Google "Election sign manufacture".
The best way to efficiently, at no or low cost (your time and the signs cost), get your name out there is to stand on busy roadsides at rush hours or busy traffic periods with your name, the office you are seeking, and your website on a very legible sign. It would pay off if you can get yourself or volunteers to go to main intersections anywhere from 7am to nightfall with your (hopefully easy-to-read, attractive) waterproof signs being held proudly in the air. You'll get thousands of eyes on your signs each hour. Some will check out your website and read your issues. If they like your views, your website will have contact information for them to reach you, and ways for them to leave comments. Respond to those potential supporters immediately, and ask for a small donation or their time as a volunteer.
Even though you probably won't get elected, you will learn a great deal about the political process, voters, campaigning, what the people you meet in your community think about your ideas. The experience will help improve your work on future campaigns, whether for yourself or as a campaign manager or worker in other campaigns. I have run for office on twelve occasions from 1980 to 2008, and Jodie has run as a candidate three times (2005, 2008, 2009), and we did not get elected, but enjoyed the experience very much. It really was hard, grueling work to try to do it right. You have to put yourself out there and take criticism, get feedback, and get ignored by big media, the other candidates, and most voters.
When you are an independent or small party candidate, a refrain you will here often is "I like your ideas, but you can't win, so I'm voting for Mr. Lesser-of-Two-Evils". It will be frustrating to hear that, but elections are a package deal and voters rarely vote on principle. They tend to vote for the candidate who they see as most likely to defeat the candidate they really hate. Tell those voters to take your shared position on the issue to the candidate that they plan to vote for instead, and make it an issue with them.
Eventually you will get experience, develop a good reputation, and move up from an unknown candidate electioneering in obscurity, to running as a small party (say Green, Libertarian) candidate, to running as a Democrat in a heavily Republican neighborhood – or conversely, an opportunity to run as a Republican in, say, San Francisco or a heavily Democratic neighborhood. Maintaining your principles as you get closer to an actual opportunity to get elected will be the big challenge, but let’s hope you get that challenge!
Participating in an election is a very rewarding experience. To do it right is very draining, very exhausting, and very satisfying. It’s nice to get out there and listen to voters, tell people your ideas, and do the campaigning. But it takes a huge amount of time and energy. Decide if it’s really worth it for you before biting off more than you can chew!
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Finally, everyone has a creative gift or ability of some useful kind. What is your talent?
If you can sing or are musical, do a music video for your favorite candidate, or if you have a band, contribute a performance night’s funds towards a drug policy reform group. If you are good at developing websites, let activist groups or politicians know you are available free or very cheap to build them a website. If you have organizing skills, offer your expertise to the rally organizers. If you are a graphic artist or graphic designer, offer your skills to design election signs, rally posters, graphic images for a website, website design.
Think of a skill you have and offer it to those in your community who are doing good work. If you are good at earning money but have little time to volunteer, give money to those who are doing the activist work you admire. If you have a car and are a safe driver, offer your driving skills to the rally organizers or election campaigns to drive voters, or to pick up rally supplies.
Everyone who believes in the cause of liberty and an end to prohibition has something valuable to offer. All you need to do is commit.
Now get to work!
Marc Emery #40252-086
FCI Yazoo City – Medium E-1
P.O. Box 5888
Yazoo City, MS
ADDENDUM #1 – Current Political Campaigns to Support
For activists looking to get involved in the most important campaigns in Canada and the USA, here are my recommendations for campaigns that require your immediate attention.
#1 Most Important – Joining the Ron Paul For President campaign. Register Republican to vote in the primary in your state. Paul as President will end the federal drug war, abolish the DEA, pardon all non-violent federal drug offenders, and end the world-wide Drug War. Plus much more to help save America. Never before has our cause had a presidential candidate champion our issue so powerfully. He deserves your support; the president and other candidates certainly don't.
#2 Urgently IMPORTANT – Gather signatures for California's REGULATE MARIJUANA LIKE WINE initiative. This effort is in urgent need of signature gatherers to put a legalization initiative on the ballot in California this November. Go to http://regulatemarijuanalikewine.com to volunteer immediately!!!!
#3 Urgently important for Canadians – In Canada, the federal Liberal Party of Canada has, at their convention only days ago, voted to make LEGALIZING MARIJUANA part of the Liberal Party platform. Now the elected Members of Parliament, Senators and others who make up the Liberal caucus in Ottawa will formulate a policy that reflects this. You should mail the Liberal MP's and Senators and the Liberal Party leader BOB RAE with your advice and suggestions for a safe, regulated but largely free-market regime in marijuana distribution. Visit http://www.Liberal.ca
#4 Important – Colorado activists are gathering signatures to put legalization on the ballot in Colorado this November. To volunteer go to http://legalize2012.com/ to get involved immediately.
#5 In British Columbia, there will be an announcement in February by Dana Larsen that a massive, province-wide signature gathering campaign will be launched to put marijuana legalization to the voters of British Columbia on a ballot in September 2013 or 2014. Organizing will begin shortly and signatures must be gathered in a 90-day period beginning late this fall or early next year. Announcements will be made in about 4-5 weeks. Stay tuned to http://www.CannabisCulture.com for news.
Marc would like to see this article as a 'living document', continually growing with more valuable information. If you have any suggested activism or comments you feel should be added to this piece, please send your suggestions to Jodie@cannabisculture.com or Jeremiah@cannabisculture.com