420: It’s Time To Get Involved in the Legalization Movement

It is a wonderful time to be a marijuana smoker. Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end, and with it, the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Prohibition is being replaced with a legally regulated market, where consumers can buy their marijuana in a safe environment and know the product they are buying is safe. We still have a lot of work to do, but the tide of public support is clearly on our side.

At NORML, we started working to legalize marijuana in late 1970, when only 12% of the public supported marijuana legalization. For several decades, as we gradually built public support for our position, the political progress was modest at best. We decriminalized minor marijuana offenses in 11 states in the mid-1970s, following the release of the report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. But then the mood of the country turned more conservative (think Nancy Reagan, “Just Say NO,’ and the emergence of the parents’ movement) and we made no further statewide progress for 18 years, when CA became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. A total of 25 states now enjoy a version of legal medical marijuana.

Our first dramatic breakthrough with full legalization for all adults, regardless of why they smoke, came in 2012 when Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana via voter initiative. Those initial successes were followed in 2014 by the approval of legalization initiatives in Alaska and Oregon (and the District of Columbia). And this fall, legalization initiatives are expected to qualify for the ballot, and be approved by the voters, in a number of states, including Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and California.

What Marijuana Consumers Want

NORML is a marijuana smokers’ lobby; we represent the interests of consumers. Marijuana smokers want a high quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. We want to know that the marijuana we buy legally has been tested by a state-certified lab for molds and pesticides, and is accurately labeled as to the THC and CBD content. And we don’t expect to pay black market prices for legal pot, or to drive half-way across the state to find a legal retail outlet.

And importantly, we need the option to grow our own marijuana. Most consumers will not likely exercise this option, just as most beer drinkers do not make beer in their basement, although they are legally permitted to do so. By keeping the option of growing our own marijuana, and boycotting those retailers who sell an inferior product or over-charge for their product, we can assure the industry remains responsive to the needs of consumers.

Majority Now Support Full Legalization – But They are Not Pro-Pot

After years of struggle with few victories, legalizers are now winning these political battles not because we have come up with better arguments, or a better strategy; but because we have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the American public. They realize prohibition is a failed public policy. But even this crucial point requires further clarification.

Roughly 14% of the American public are marijuana smokers, and of course most of us favor ending prohibition, which continues to result in the arrest of more than 600,000 of our fellow marijuana smokers each year in this country. But 86% of the public are not smokers. So the first point any effective advocate needs to understand is that those of us who smoke simply cannot achieve full legalization by ourselves; we must have the support of a majority of the non-smokers. We must be sensitive to their concerns as we move forward politically.

A recent survey by a DC-based group called the Third Way identified what they called “the marijuana middle.” That is, people who have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-pot. This is an important distinction. Even as they agree that we should legalize and regulate marijuana, they nonetheless still have a negative impression of those of us who smoke.  Specifically, 64% of those non-smokers have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers.

This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.

In every policy area that arises, including especially employment discrimination, child custody issues and impaired driving, we need the support of the non-smokers to overcome discriminatory policies that continue to unfairly impact marijuana smokers, even under legalization.

It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And the best way to accomplish this is to come out of the closet.

The Challenge for the New Generation of Activists

This is the real challenge facing new activists who are just getting involved in the legalization movement. They must convince their non-smoking peers that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana.

The latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good neighbor and a productive citizen. We must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people – who happen to enjoy smoking marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day, when they relax.

We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke.

The 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day

And there is no better place to prepare to effectively make this argument than the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day on May 23rd and 24th. We will focus on the specific arguments that are most effective when dealing with non-smokers and elected officials, and on the most effective ways to respond to their principal areas of concern. We know from exit polling that those who vote against legalization are generally concerned about the potential danger of more impaired drivers on the road, and on the fear that legalization might result in elevated usage rates among adolescents. Neither concern is valid, but they are real concerns, and we must provide answers to those concerns. We will provide those answers during the lobby training sessions on Monday, May 23.

The following day we will meet on Capitol Hill and hear from a number of our strongest supporters in Congress, before spreading out across the Capitol to lobby our individual members of Congress. For those who may not have done this before, I can assure you it is an exhilarating experience. The act of exercising this most basic democratic right – to petition your elected officials to support your position on marijuana policy – reminds us all that democracies work best when average citizens get involved. And if you join us, it will almost certainly not be your last effort to lobby members of Congress.

The National Cannabis Festival

And I would encourage everyone in the DC area to come out to RFK and join us on Saturday for the National Cannabis Festival, a day-long celebration of all things cannabis, including live entertainment, an educational pavilion, representatives from the various marijuana law reform groups, and more. It’s an excellent opportunity for those new to the issue to meet those with more experience, and to identify those groups they feel comfortable working with in the future.

It’s time to get involved in the legalization movement.


This blog post first appeared on the National Cannabis Festival website:


20 thoughts

  1. Yay! We are getting there. PA Pennsylvania just legalized medical marijuana 3 days ago. I have Paranoid-Schizophrenia. Is there any way I could get medical? how and how long might it take?

  2. Marijuana is a natural plant that heals and helps and should be available like alcohol or medicine. It has been scientifically proven to benefit certain health issues without sickening side effects.and empty prisons with nonviolent marijuana offenses

  3. I wish you would quit using the term marijuana smoker. I am in marijuana consumer that uses a vaporizer.

    I wish I could come out of the closet, without legal consequence, here in Virginia. If there are any rich marijuana legalization supporters out there who could guarantee that if I did, that I would not lose my ability to take care of my family if I got caught with it, then I would gladly come out of the proverbial closet. Sadly, short of that, I fear the government and law enforcement that is supposed to be taking care of all of us us.

    1. Way to put out the party joint Miles. C’mon brother, look who you’re talking to; You gotta keep it into context. Is the fact that Keith says “marijuana smokers” instead of “marijuana consumers really gonna jeopardize the legality of vaporizing? Not with Big Pharma reaching into the medical industry.
      But on the other hand, if Keith had said “smokers and vaporizers” do you think the rights of smokers would be trounced upon by special interests and Congress? You betcha.
      In fact, twist this one up and smoke it; it was only a few posts ago when Keith was arguing to DCMJ not to parade in front of the white house with a fifty-one-foot inflatable joint so as NOT to blow smoke in the face of our President, (or Congress for that matter, even though they are responsible for changing marijuana policy). DCMJ made no apologies. Well guess what? The DC city council just shot down public consumption for DC. DCMJ is writing a referendum, but Congress, as it should be made clear from NORML’s recent Congressional scorecard, has members that are going to use whatever ammunition they can get to stop public consumption.
      At least a Congressman can be invited to a private setting in DC and consume marijuana. How else are we to convince them what good is?
      The point is we all may get frustrated and politically correct, but have faith; Keith uses his words very consciously to defend our marijuana rights no matter how we choose to consume.
      In the words of Shakespeare, as we celebrate a fellow marijuana smoker on his 400th birthday;

      “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
      “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.”

      1. I could be wrong but smoking just seems like a negative thing to me. I consider it to be relatively unhealthy compared to using a vaporizer. Perhaps even more important is that some people who are not friendly to the legalization cause consider the thought of smoke to be offensive; my own brother is an example. He is against legalizing primarily because he doesn’t want to breathe/smell any cannabis smoke.

      2. And that’s precisely the image we have to deprogram from the minds of non-smokers, (primarily mothers). One day the fear of children being taken into state custody will be gone…
        Until then… at family barbecues and get-togethers I do advocate vaporizing in order to include mothers in the conversation and switch off the fear of the smell and smoke.
        But ultimately our ancestors have been smoking weed since we speciated from homo erectus 1.6 million years ago and started cooking with fire. The most common, Traditional human cannabis consumption is defined by bales of herb tossed into communal fires or smoking from a pipe (Throw some of that in the center of the UNGASS meeting and pass it around…). There is some ancient chemistry in our relationship with the combustion of the sacred Herb that is fused into the very fabric of our human identity, and perhaps even our sustainability.

        With that said, international presentation of marijuana advocates has been very suit and tie during the UNGASS meeting;


        The highlight of the event so far was Canada’s announcement they will legalize in the spring of 2017, and Mexico’s Peña Nieto gave a push for rescheduling marijuana for medical use. It aint just hippies talkin now. Godwilling, this could develop into a petition to amend international drug treaties in the near future, but we have to continue leading from within, starting locally with ourselves and our local communities.
        Vaporizing should be the option, not the mandate to continue arresting and punishing smokers. I know that’s not what you’re advocating, but we need to maintain a sense of context or risk allowing a bloodthirsty pharmaceutical industry usurp our legalization efforts into a quasi-vaporized privatized prohibition like they just did with Pennsylvania.

      3. I am someone who likes the smell of second-hand or side-stream cannabis smoke (but find the tobackgo equivalent disgusting) but I agree with you, that Keith was right on that one point about “blowing smoke” at others (metaphor for the big Joint). I also agree with you Keith was wrong about habitual obsessive repeating “marijuana smoker”, 82% of public identifies as “non-smoking” (at least as refers to tobackgo), increasing numbers are getting over initial fear of the cost of a vaporizer (saves money long term).

        At this point may I urge Clarification– especially in laws, codes, statutes, policies– of the status of cheap handmade personal flexdrawtube oneheaters. Yes you can $moke with a oneheater!– like big bowl and Joint $mokers do– i.e. light it up the very first second, suck hard and raise the burning temperature to 700C/1200F, decarboloozing off much ex$pendsive cannabinoid in exchange for MMD mellow-out monoxide drug, turning into a stereotypical stonerzombie, or

        1. Hold flametip an inch below
        Suck smooth slow
        Don’t start glow
        Till after 19
        Seconds or so.

        2. Breathe 30 Warm Wet W’s in and out of a Luftspielhaus (breadthbag) in Honour of the Dawgwagner.

        3. On a doublestem oneheater two can share a 25-mg single toke, each gets half the heat making it twice as mild.

        I.e. true vaporizing– but admittedly I then let it burn off the taste leftover cellulose too. In other words a hybrid thing, can we get our Representative to Recognize the complexity? Vape Toke a Sacred Right– even if like me you’re a lefty.

    2. I got caught growing my own. You are wise to be careful. Ultimately it ended my career and forced my early retirement at 62.

  4. “…this fall, legalization initiatives are expected to qualify for the ballot, and be approved by the voters, in a number of states, including Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and California.”

    If you live in one of those states be sure to vote this fall. It often seems futile, but in the long run it makes a difference.

    Sometimes the ‘long run’ is very long indeed.

  5. I do agree that, as stoners who are only 14 percent of the population, it behooves us to “be sensitive to the concerns” of the remaining non-smokers. Point taken.

    But here’s the dilemna, as I see it:

    Those who “oppose” marijuana have always tried to justify marijuana prohibition with an endless array of bogus “facts” about marijuana (like saying it causes cancer, or date rape, etc, etc). But we have discounted all of these bogus “facts.” Yet marijuana remained illegal; and so these people were reduced to circular logic: Marijuana is illegal because it is bad, and it is bad because it is illegal.

    Then we legalized it in certain places. Now you could no longer say “it is bad because it is illegal” because it is no longer illegal. So NOW why is marijuana “bad” and prohibition justified? Well, the answer is, of course, “it ain’t.”

    To me that should be the end of the argument! But now we have a “marijuana middle” who oppose marijuana prohibition rightly enough, but still refuse to let go of their prejudices about people who smoke it!

    My question: How can one “be sensitive to the concerns” of these types when their only concern appears to be maintaining an unfounded prejudice against marijuana users? Should we now, on the cusp of full legalization, all cut our hair and swap tye-dye for neck-tie? Should we pander to their prejudices? I think not. But what then?

    We’re about coming out these days, not going back into the closet. Thus, the dilemna.

    1. What you describe is the reason why we need active NORML chapters to allow individuals from state to counties to access their Democratic rights and create rules that work for them. As activisits we have to bend the ears of our Congressman by adapting to what parts of legalization motivate them. Does that make me disingenuous? No. Does it make me a chameleon? Guilty as charged. (And if you watch me talking to the sherriff during elections I think you can see me changing colors while I ask questions and respond to answers… BTW, NORML, we really need to amp up the donations to add local Sherriff’s to the scorecard!)

      Some more good quotes from Shakespeare, the inspired pot-smoking genius of juxtaposition after his 400th birthday yesterday;

      “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent.”

      “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

      “And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tounges in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.”

      “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”

      “How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done.”

      And my personal favorite Shakespearean stoner quote:

      Richard III: Act II, Scene IV:

      YORK: Grandam, one night, as we did sit at supper,
      My uncle Rivers talk’d how I did grow
      More than my brother: ‘Ay,’ quoth my uncle Gloucester,
      ‘Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace’

      1. 1. The invention of Shakespeare: chimpanzees whose territory was invaded were seen to pick up a branch or stick and wave it menacingly in the air! (However hadn’t learned how to put the weighted arrowpoint on the front end yet.)

        2. Great Weeds grown apace: mark these words, within 18 months (a) some Racehorser in Calif will have a Rieferstalk growing 40 feet high in a summer, and (b) it won’t be much longer before huge perennial cannabis Trees bear seeds 40 years and more.

      2. Julian,

        Methinks I shall have to do a “J”
        and read some more “Shake.”

        Or to quote Shake in the alternate-state universe:

        Richard III: “A joint! A joint! My kingdom for a joint!”

        Hamlet: “To be stoned, or not to be: that is the question.”

        Hamlet: “Get thee to a coffee shop.”

        The Merchant of Venice: “All that glisters is not Panama Gold.”

        Romeo and Juliet: “What light through yonder window breaks. Hark! Tis a flower in full flame!”

      3. LMAO! THAT shit was HILARIOUS.

        Hamlet to Ophelia:

        “Take thee to a dispensary!”

        Juliet to Romeo:

        “What’s in a name? That which we call a bud by any other name would still smell as sweet.”

        Sonnet 18 in the 1609 Quarto of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”
        (Only what is in quotes has replaced the original)

        Shall I compare “marijuana” to a Summers day?
        “Weed” art more lovely and more temperate:
        Rough windes do fhake the darling buds of Maie,
        And Sommers leafe hath all too short a date:
        Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
        And often is “Colombian” gold complexion dimm’d,
        And every “shake” from “bud” declines,
        By chance, or natures changing “mother plant” trimmed,
        But thy eternall “crystals” shall not fade,
        Nor loose possession of that faire “sack” thou ow’ft
        Nor shall death brag though wandr’st in “Hemp’s” shade,
        When in eternall lines to “weed” thou grow’st,
        So long as “weed” can breath or eyes can see,
        So long lies “weed,” and “weed” gives life to thee…

  6. I am as my user name states, a Kansas resident. I’m also a father of three (twins girls and a new baby boy), and have been employed with the same company for 10 years. I use cannabis though only sparingly a couple times a month. It seems to me that coming out of the closet about my support of cannabis legalization puts my entire livelihood in danger. Twice last year my state made national headlines for removing childern from the homes basically because their parents were unapologetic cannabis consumers. Then editorials like this one, which by the way I throughly enjoyed, asking me to come out of the closet about my use and I just can’t be a martyr despite my belief in the cause. Maybe because I feel too alone, I ask that NORML find a way to connect people like myself to others who live near me. I also would like to see an article on why employers drug screen for THC, and what needs to happen to remove it from tox screens in the workplace. Ya, I ramble and nobody is likely to read all the way to this point but if you did I thank you.

    1. Hello Kansan,

      Fortunately, I was checking back on my Shakespearean Weed Sonnets, so I saw your post.
      There has been some interesting movement in Kansas; None the least of which is your recent former US Attorney, Barry Grissom who earned a recent blog here:


      And will be attending the Aspen Legal Seminar June 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

      That’s really a get-together for lawyers. My best advice to you is be honest with your children that they can’t mention marijuana at school because authorities there will try and split your family apart for the mere mention of marijuana in your home. It’s a sad fact of reality, but it’s better to be honest with children, as they react better in public when armed with the truth, especially if some fucked up DARE program shows up and takes custody of a child like they did with Shona Banda for treating her Chrone’s Disease.
      Do not be afraid of contacting your representatives. They are more afraid of us, and with good reason. The days of prohibition are numbered. There may be a real chance that marijuana is rescheduled by the DEA to schedule II as early as this July, meaning that even states like Kansas will have to accept marijuana as medicine.
      In the event you have trouble with authorities, there are links on this webpage to a variety of NORML lawyers that can help defend you. DON’T SIGN ANYTHING. CPS and law enforcement will use tactics of intimidation and bullying to get you to sign your rights away, including custody of your children. Few people appeal and call their bluff, but if necessary, you can appeal a case to a Federal court to get out of the collusion that local judges have with asset forfeitures and corrupt local prosecutors.
      I hope this has been of some encouragement to you. Know your rights. Get involved and read state law. You may be surprised by how much power we really have as citizens and consumers.

      1. know your rights, and be sure to get out and vote. It is by far the ONLY way to voice your opinion. Juist hope it becomes legal in Florida. That dum fool in Nevada is putting up 10 million to attempt defeat. Prohibition did not work in the 30’s and it won’t work in the teens!!

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