The 10 Things That Led to Legalized Marijuana in Colorado
1. Presidential Election: Given that no one had ever previously legalized marijuana in the history of the world, we assumed that the election in Colorado would be close -- win or lose. So we intentionally chose to place our initiative on the ballot during a presidential election, which always attracts a larger proportion of young voters, who are more supportive.
2. Inclusive Drafting Process: The team that drafted the initiative went out of its way to solicit feedback from key lawyers, medical-marijuana industry players, other organizational leaders, and unaffiliated activists. As a result, there was almost no infighting, which allowed us to build a strong coalition of support across the state.
3. Years of Groundwork: Officially, the Colorado campaign was two years long; unofficially, it was eight years long. In 2004, MPP's grants program helped launch two non-profit advocacy organizations in Colorado, SAFER and Sensible Colorado. The executive directors of these two organizations eventually became the co-proponents of Amendment 64. SAFER focused on educating the public about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol; it did so through citywide, marijuana-related ballot initiatives in Denver in 2005 and 2007, which each garnered support from a majority of Denver voters. In 2006, SAFER coordinated a statewide ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and generated substantial debate in Colorado (while garnering 41 percent of the vote). Meanwhile, Sensible Colorado helped expand access to medical marijuana for patients. Most significantly, in 2008, Sensible Colorado spearheaded a court challenge to expand the state's medical marijuana "caregiver" provision to allow for retail sales. All of this took planning and money.
4. Early Fundraising: The campaign cost approximately $2,300,000, more than half of which was raised prior to six months before Election Day. While we continued to receive important donations leading all the way up to November 6, the "Early Money Is Like Yeast" metaphor of EMILY's List really is true.
5. Early Ad Buys: Because we had early money, we were able to buy our October airtime at a cheaper rate than if we had been forced to write checks for the ads in October.
6. Targeted Ads: A couple years before Election Day, public opinion polling already indicated that a majority of Colorado men supported legalization. So we directed our ads mostly toward women between the ages of 30 and 60, with some additional ads that spoke to Hispanic or conservative voters.
7. Just Three Messages: There are dozens of reasons to end marijuana prohibition, but you have time to articulate only a few. The three winning messages in Colorado were (1) police should spend their time on more important things, (2) taxing marijuana would turn a money-losing prohibition into a money-generating system, and (3) veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder should be able to use marijuana legally.
8. Correct Spokespeople: The three spokespersons for the campaign -- Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, and Brian Vicente -- stayed on message, knew the facts, and spoke from the heart. In addition, the campaign was buoyed by the likes of former Congressman Tom Tancredo (R), Tony Ryan (former Denver cop), Sean Azzariti (a Marine Corps veteran), Manuel Tarango (Spanish-language radio DJ), Susan Sarandon, and Melissa Etheridge. We didn't allow just anyone to speak at the microphone.
9. Correct Campaign Intelligentsia: The campaign's inner circle was composed of people like Rick Ridder and Celinda Lake, who have actually won difficult campaigns. And -- given that my organization passed the medical marijuana laws in Montana (2004), Michigan (2008), and Arizona (2010) -- the nuances of these campaigns carried over as institutional memory, which was embodied by MPP's Steve Fox, who effectively served as the manager of the Colorado campaign.
10. Undercutting the Opposition: A relatively respectable consulting firm ran the opposing "No on 64" campaign and were able to generate a large number of endorsements. Because we couldn't compete in the endorsement game, we undercut their endorsements by appearing at their events, in order to ensure that both sides of the story appeared in whatever media coverage the opposition was trying to generate.
This raises a related lesson from the Colorado campaign: High-profile opposition doesn't matter that much. The "No on 64" campaign ran ads featuring the current governor and a pair of former governors -- two of three of whom are Democrats -- and the opposition received so many other endorsements that you couldn't even print them all out on one sheet of paper. In the end, however, the people rejected the opinions of the supposedly powerful.
It's possible that if we had skipped one or two of the above 10 steps, Colorado voters would have still passed the initiative. But if you intentionally skip one or two steps, you should have a good reason for why you're doing so.
To that point, there are already well-meaning activists in Oregon and other states who aren't remembering the efforts of well-meaning activists in California, who ignored the lesson of step #1 above and pushed a risky initiative during a non-presidential election in 2010, which I'm sure felt good but succeeded at failing.
The California folks spent a lot of money on Prop. 19 (which my organization supported politically but not financially), and that initiative dutifully failed in 2010. This was an initiative that would have almost surely passed on November 6 of this year, except for the problem of impatience.
So let's move forward in other states, but let's do so patiently and strategically. The path is there for us to follow, and I look forward to working with activists across the country to follow that path as we dismantle marijuana prohibition state by state.
Rasmussen Poll Shows Huge Majority Thinks U.S. Losing the Drug War
A new poll released on Tuesday concluded that the vast majority of Americans are not impressed with the results of the nation’s anti-drug efforts. A full 82% of respondents answered “no” to the question: “Is the United States winning the war on drugs?” This is a significant increase from a poll released in June of this year, in which 66% of respondents characterized the drug war as a failure. Only 7% answered “yes” to the most recent poll question, while 12% were undecided.
As the Huffington Post reports, several other marijuana-related questions were asked in the same poll. One of these found that 45% supported legalizing marijuana, with 45% opposed and the remaining 10% undecided. This is consistent with two earlier polls released this year on the same question. Asked which was more dangerous, alcohol or marijuana, 51% of the latest poll’s respondents answered “alcohol,” while only 24% said “marijuana,” and 24% were undecided. Contrary to the traditional image of marijuana’s legalization being an issue of interest only to its users, 88 % said that they had not smoked marijuana even once in the past year, which is similar to the national average.
Thirty-four percent of respondents agreed that the government spends too much money on the war on drugs, and only 23% of all respondents claimed that the government should be spending even more. According to the New York Times, the enforcement costs alone have been $20 to $25 billion per year over the past decade.
In the wake of the recent successful ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize the marijuana industry, as well as Massachusetts becoming the 18th state with an effective medical marijuana law, one more question from the poll is worth noting. A full 60% said that marijuana laws should be left to the states, while only 27% said that the federal government should determine the marijuana laws in any particular state. As MPP’s Steve Fox noted yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times, the federal government’s authority to prohibit marijuana has always been highly questionable on constitutional grounds.
The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide was conducted on November 9-10, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. The exact wording of all of the questions in the poll can be found here, and information on methodology can be found here. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/about_us/methodology
Could D.A.R.E. Quit Lying About Marijuana?
he infamous school drug-education program known as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) may be removing marijuana from its curriculum. D.A.R.E. officer Mike Meyer of Kennewick, Washington explains that program’s materials for December make no mention of the substance, though he says he does not know why.
If true, this is a welcome step, although eliminating D.A.R.E. altogether would be preferable. All credible studies of the program, including a report from the Government Accountability Office, have failed to find any decrease in drug use connected with participation in D.A.R.E. Officials with the organization have apparently been slow in admitting this, however. In a libel suit brought by D.A.R.E. against Rolling Stone magazine, Federal Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that allegations printed in the magazine, including that D.A.R.E. had actually tried to suppress scientific research critical of the program, were “substantially true.” D.A.R.E. appealed the decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the ruling.
Although D.A.R.E. officials admitted their failure in 2001 and proposed a new, less hysterical curriculum, research since then has still failed to demonstrate any success. The “new” curriculum, as it is described on the website, does not seem to involve any increased commitment to facts, but rather now involves “role-playing sessions” and “discussion groups.” The summary of the new program, revealingly, makes insinuations that drug use is connected to terrorism, and in place of facts, explains that officers will be using “stunning brain imagery” as “tangible proof of how substances diminish mental activity, emotions, coordination and movement.”
Although they have possibly abandoned the anti-marijuana crusade in their school curriculum, D.A.R.E. still disseminates dishonest information on their website. An ironically named “fact sheet” repeats claims that marijuana “has a high potential for abuse,” and although it is short on the details or prevalence of this abuse, it does claim that marijuana can weaken the immune system and cause insanity and lung disease. The “fact sheet” categorically denies the medical benefits of marijuana, suggesting that it causes only “inebriation.” At the same time, it admits that THC, which the page describes as “the psychoactive [in other words mind-altering or “inebriating”] ingredient in marijuana,” has medical benefits. It implicitly denies the countless cases of experiences of medical marijuana patients who tried conventional treatments without success, claiming simply that “existing legal drugs provide superior treatment for serious medical conditions,” and “the FDA has approved safe and effective medication for the treatment of glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.” The page even quotes the Institute of Medicine study, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” the very same study which confirms the medical usefulness of marijuana and refutes claims that it poses a major proven risk of addiction or lung cancer, or that it causes brain damage, amotivational syndrome, suppression of the immune system, use of other illicit drugs, or premature death from any cause. The study further points out the shortcomings of existing legal medications for the relevant medical conditions, including the slow and unreliable action of synthetic THC pills.