Part of a year-long series, longtime cannabis law reform advocate and historian Allen St. Pierre examines monthly for Cannabis Business Executive the last fifty years of cannabis prohibition and the public advocacy efforts in America to bring about the ongoing and inescapable socio-political changes underway first at the state, and soon, federal level regarding cannabis policy.
Part Twelve (2012-2018)
Marijuana Law Reform Advocates
With the final chapters of cannabis legalization still to be experienced in the coming years, the epoch of 2012-2018 continued to spell the end for Marijuana Prohibition in the United States (and North America in general) with more voters in more states casting aside long failed and expensive anti-pot public policies in favor of more pragmatic tax-n-regulate policies.
After achieving long sought legalization ballot victories in 2012, in the states of Colorado and Washington, cannabis law reform organizations unsurprisingly picked up even more political momentum, donations (including from a nascent legalcannabis industry) and cultural mojo.
One of the only vexing questions for cannabis law reformers post the 2012 groundbreaking victories was whether or not to return to California—the honey pot of cannabis cultivation and consumption in America—or to continue racking up electoral victories in smaller, markedly less expensive-to-run-campaign states that polled sufficiently high enough in reformers’ non-public survey data to likely prevail on election day (In general, survey data for marijuana legalization indicating fifty six percent or more is likely to pass among state voters).
Ultimately, the reform organizations Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and the Peter Lewis-family funded New Approaches PAC (headed by law professor and former ACLU litigator Graham Boyd) focus on the states of Alaska and Oregon for legalization ballot measures in 2014.
Also in 2014, uber-trial lawyer and prolific TV advertiser John Morgan of Orlando Florida single-handedly placed a medical cannabis initiative on the ballot, providing millions of dollars of his personal wealth to change Florida law to allow medical patients like his brother to lawfully access cannabis for a serious medical condition. Because the voter initiative was directed at amending the state’s constitution, sixty percent or more of the state’s voters would have to approve the measure.
Continuing the electoral successes of 2012, cannabis law reformers in the fall of 2014 won fifty-three percent of the vote to end Cannabis Prohibition in Alaska (Measure 2), fifty-six percent support in Oregon (Measure 91) and nearly fifty-eight percent support for Florida’s Amendment 2 to legalize medical cannabis. (Despite garnering at the time the highest vote total in a popular statewide election for cannabis law reforms, unfortunately, for Florida voters and medical patients the 2014 vote fell just shy of the sixty percent threshold needed to be enacted into law)
The only major cannabis-related initiative question that made the 2015 ballot was the ill-conceived and ill-fated cannabis legalization measure in Ohio (see below under ‘Challenges for Reformers’). Unsurprisingly, Ohio’s Issue 5 lost big time at the polls, with voters rejecting the promoter’s (and their investors’) self-enriching scheme, nearly sixty-four to thirty-six percent.
Thankfully for cannabis law reformers, and the nascent cannabis industry they’ve sanctioned, the failure in Ohio in 2015 was little more than an outlier as demonstrated by sweeping reform victories in 2016 favoring substantive cannabis law reforms.
Likely considered the penultimate year politically for cannabis law reformers, in 2016 no less than nine pro-cannabis reform questions qualified for the ballot, with eight of the nine astonishingly passing:
In the only electoral loss for cannabis law reformers in 2016 voters in Arizona very narrowly defeated Proposition 205, which would have ended Cannabis Prohibition in the state, fifty-one to forty-nine percent.
After nearly twenty years of failed legislation and government-thwarted cannabis reform ballot initiatives the voters of Arkansas approved Issue 6, a medical cannabis initiative fifty-three to forty-seven percent.
After being the first state in the Union to seriously consider ending Cannabis Prohibition back in the early 1970s, and whose voters were the first in 1996 to effectively break the federal government’s blanket prohibition on cannabis by allowing for it’s medical use, and after coming oh-so-close in 2010 to legalizing ganja by initiative, the voters of California delivered the most significant blow-to-date to the wavering federal Cannabis Prohibition when they voted in 2016 to approve Proposition 64 fifty-seven to forty-three percent.
Undeterred (and mad) from losing—after handily winning—in 2014 for medical cannabis, trial lawyer John Morgan once again largely placed a medical cannabis ballot initiative on his back, and this time Mr. Morgan and the cannabis reform community in the state of Florida delivered a convincing and constitutional amending electoral win, seventy-one to twenty-nine percent (well passed the sixty percent needed to amend the state’s constitution…and the highest percentage vote total favoring substantive cannabis law reforms to date in the US).
Unfailingly the voters of Maine when asked to reform their cannabis laws have obliged at the polls and 2016 was no different with the passage of Question 1, narrowly approving, even after a statewide recount, cannabis legalization fifty-one to forty-nine percent.
Bay State voters, like those in Maine, when asked at the voting booth to cast votes ‘for’ or ‘against’ cannabis law reforms historically have favored reforms over continued Cannabis Prohibition enforcement. Voters in 2008 approved decriminalizing cannabis possession, in 2012 medical cannabis was voter approved and in 2016 voters approved Question 4, ending Cannabis Prohibition in the Commonwealth, fifty-four to forty-six percent
After years of confusion and conflict, mostly caused by anti-medical cannabis policymakers, law enforcement industry and social conservative funders, voters in Montana in 2016 approved Initiative 182, which repealed a government-imposed three patient limit for medical cannabis caregivers, fifty-seven to forty-two percent.
Following a common trend amongst the first states to end Cannabis Prohibition where decriminalization and medical access precede outright legalization, in 2016 Nevada voters gave their approval to Question 2, fifty-four to forty-five percent.
After previous reform efforts from cannabis law advocates barely failed to legalize medical access to cannabis products, in 2016 North Dakota voters resoundingly approved Measure 5, sixty-three to thirty-six percent.
Cannabis law reform organizations wisely sat on their powder in the off election year of 2017, marshaling their resources for another active initiative season in 2018. Cannabis law reformers won four of the five major voter initiatives in 2018, cementing even more upward political pressure on the federal government to finally end Cannabis Prohibition:
After previously approving medical access to marijuana in Michigan a decade earlier in 2008, voters in 2018 were in no mood to carry on with Cannabis Prohibition going forward and approved the ‘Marijuana Legalization Initiative’ fifty-six to forty-four percent, making Michigan the ninth state in America to replace an unpopular public policy, Cannabis Prohibition, with tax-n-regulate policies.
After an unprecedented (and confusing) placement of three separate and competing medical marijuana ballot initiatives before Show Me State voters, resulting in one of the initiatives (Amendment 2) readily passing sixty-six to thirty-four percent.
Voters in North Dakota in 2016 were not yet ready to go beyond the just voter-approved medical cannabis measures passed in 2014 by clearly defeating Measure 3, which would have legalized marijuana and expunged prior marijuana convictions, sixty to forty percent.
In a Spring 2018 election, incredibly, Oklahoma voters surprised the political establishment and mainstream media by approving Question 788, which legalized medical access to marijuana for qualifying patients, fifty-seven to forty-three percent.
Maybe more astounding than voters in a dyed-in-the-wool conservative state like Oklahoma so strongly approving medical marijuana access is the fact that by year’s end, over two thousand medical cannabis business licenses had already been issued by the state government.
Continuing a trend of politically conservative state voters bucking the federal government’s failed Cannabis Prohibition, Utah voters in 2018 approved Proposition 2, a medical cannabis initiative, fifty-three to forty-seven percent.
By the close of 2018, nine states had legalized cannabis, Vermont and the District of Columbia de-penalized marijuana possession and personal cultivation, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical cannabis and seventeen states had sanctioned limited CBD use for medicinal purposes.
Opposition to Legalization
As stated in previous entries in this legalization series, half way through this new century’s first decade, notably with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the massive, multi billion dollar a year, decades-long, government-fostered public anti-marijuana campaign(s) largely ceased any longer to broker impactful cultural, business or political sway to dampen down cannabis law reformers’ success at the ballot box, ability to raise continuously greater amounts of funding or increasing public opinion disfavoring continued Cannabis Prohibition in America.
This degrading of established and well-funded federal anti-marijuana bureaucracies (such as the so-called Drug Czar Office, Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the DARE program in public schools) began not under a ‘liberal’ Democrat such as Obama. Instead, the anti-marijuana establishment funded by the federal government, whose messages were readily parroted by a ‘mainstream’ media, started to lose political and cultural influence almost immediately after the unprecedented September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Choice-less regarding genuine national safety concerns and prioritizing federal personnel to help deter future domestic terrorist attacks, the conservative Republican administration of George W. Bush began the de-emphasis of a federal government seemingly obsessed with perpetually propagating Reefer Madness-like propaganda and biased science. Indeed, the federal government at this time, 2001-2008, still was arresting and selectively prosecuting medical cannabis legal cases and that the national arrest rate for marijuana-related charges hit a zenith. However, unlike in previous decades, public support for cannabis legalization continued to grow in both public surveys and more importantly with cannabis law reformers winning at the ballot box.
In almost every state ballot initiative campaign a rote list of opponents was present and accounted for: police chiefs’ association, sheriffs’ association, local drug rehab and drug testing company representatives along with barely Hatch Act compliant lobbying and public advocacy by federal, state and local anti-marijuana law enforcement agencies.
Starting in the mid 1990s with California voters rejecting mass anti-marijuana propaganda put forward by the government and its agents, the ‘narcocracy’ increasingly lost it’s ability to continue perpetuating Cannabis Prohibition to an unwilling American public.
However, and if only as a creature for the media’s need to try to provide ‘fair and balanced’ news coverage (as ironically it was too for cannabis law reform organizations like NORML in the 1970s-80s, who was regularly juxtaposed against then popular, pro-prohibition entities such as the
DEA, ONDCP, NIDA, DARE, PRIDE, CADCA, etc…) a near singular voice against ending Cannabis Prohibition had manifest itself by 2013 in the form of Project SAM.
Headed up by a former ONDCP junior staffer and life-long opponent to any cannabis law reforms Kevin Sabet, former Congressman (and multi drug abuser) Patrick Kennedy and sometimes conservative commentator David Frum, Smart Approaches to Marijuana has become the media’s and anti-marijuana politicians’ go-to anti-cannabis zealots for pithy anti-pot quotes and often mangled data in support of continued Cannabis Prohibition policies.
Unfortunately for Kevin Sabet and Project SAM, despite their best efforts at raising money and whipping up public foment against the obvious tide of cannabis reforms sweeping the nation (and hemisphere), their drug rehab industry-backed efforts to date have produced no election victories, meaningful anti-pot legislation or prevailed in the courts with their numerous, multi-faceted attempts to thwart Cannabis Prohibition’s inevitable failure.
In future, rather than piss up a hemp rope in vain effort to stop actual cannabis legalization at the state level, drug rehab industry-supported efforts such as Project SAM’s will instead shift toward 1) trying to negatively influence adult consumer access to cannabis products, 2) seeking to reduce the scope of consumer choices for cannabis products, 3) advocating for capped THC amounts (<10%), 4) banning edibles, 5) prohibiting ‘public use’ of cannabis at licensed facilities, 6) agitating elected policy makers and safety officials to a) increase employment drug testing and b) greatly enhance police’s drugged driving enforcement and 7) focus their efforts inside the Beltway on politicians who still support Cannabis Prohibition and federal agencies historically tasked with anti-cannabis enforcement and propaganda.
Challenges For Reformers
Though cannabis law reformers are in the catbird seat regarding legalization efforts they’re not without challenges, concerns and conflicts.
Ohio Goes For The Green Gold…And Fails
The 2015 cannabis legalization ballot initiative in Ohio became a source of division and dissolution within the otherwise cohesive cannabis law reform movement.
The source of the division was, for the first time, a cannabis legalization voter initiative qualifying for the ballot was proffered not by a non-profit, public advocacy organization historically associated with criminal justice reforms in general or cannabis specifically. Instead, the organizer’s stated motivation for the ballot was to pass laws that economically benefited a small pool of investors, not donors.
Historically, drug policy reform groups like NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and the Americans for Civil Liberties Union possessed reams of social science data and public surveys indicating strongly that one of the least compelling reasons for the general public to support legalizing cannabis was to create for-profit corporations rather than for other well established reasons such as focusing limited police resources on other crimes of much greater concern to the public; respect for personal adult choices; racial equity and compassion for sick, dying and sense-threatened medical patients who benefit therapeutically from physician-recommended cannabis.
Some cannabis law reform organizations such as NORML and Drug Policy Alliance tepidly supported the initiative’s passage, while Americans for Safe Access openly opposed the measure and the Marijuana Policy Project took a neutral stance.
The measure in Ohio failed in 2015 because it was launched in a state where surveys simply did not support legalization, unlike other states that had recently legalized cannabis (CO, WA, OR and AK), Ohio had no medical cannabis laws on the books, the reform narrative advanced by the initiatives proponents was largely devoid of civil justice motivations and most acutely the organizers’ nakedly were seeking to have many of the economic benefits of ending Cannabis Prohibition redound largely to themselves.
Confronting an overt failure for the first time in many years the question for cannabis law reformers going into 2016 was whether or not the resounding election loss in Ohio was a bump on the legalization super highway or the beginning of the end for state cannabis legalization ballot initiatives?
Thankfully for reformers and the nascent cannabis industry the 2016 election victories in California, Massachusetts and Nevada demonstrated that Cannabis Prohibition is in fact a genuinely unpopular public policy.
Pot Philanthropist Passes
Speaking of Ohio…another major challenge confronted the marijuana reform community in 2013 when one of its most generous benefactors, billionaire Peter Lewis from Ohio (former CEO of Progressive Insurance Company) passed away. Thankfully, his family members, working through Graham Boyd of New Strategies PAC, continued to support legalization efforts post Lewis’ passing.
Another and somewhat anticipated challenge for cannabis law reformers started to arise in 2013-14 when a number of politicians from conservative, largely southern states, feeling public pressure from their constituents to, at a minimum, pass medical cannabis access legislation if cannabis decriminalization or legalization itself was still out of the question. [After all, public polling in the United States, in all fifty states, by 2012, had support for medical access for cannabis in excess of seventy percent or more (or, looked at differently by tuned in politicians, medical cannabis being far more popular than most any elected policy maker)].
Instead of adopting medical access laws similar to the ones that regulated the cultivation and sale of medical cannabis in states like Colorado, New Mexico or Rhode Island (where patients with a physician’s recommendation can legally purchase cannabis products that range from flower to edibles to concentrates) a second wave of medical cannabis reform took hold, however, largely only to access non-THC products (i.e., cannabidiol (CBD) products only; often vape only access).
Nearly twenty states to date have passed CBD-only medical cannabis laws, where, for the most part, medical patients are not well served and still largely rely on accessing cannabis products from the black market illegally.
Banking and 280E
With success inherently comes challenges too and the nascent cannabis industry continuously is vexed by the federal government’s Cannabis Prohibition era legislation and rules that severely impact thousands of state-licensed cannabis businesses to both 1) engage regular corporate banking services and 2) take standard deductions from their federal taxes (incredibly, despite cannabis being illegal at the federal level, the federal government still requires state-sanctioned cannabusinesses to pay federal-related taxes).
While ongoing efforts to lobby federal policy makers continue vigorously for anti-prohibitionists, the cannabis industry is logically focused on what has become known as ‘280E’ reform (applicable part of the US tax code regarding illegal businesses inability to take standard business deductions) and banking law reform (to allow full range, cross state banking services for thousands of cannabis business license holders).
The Trump Card
A great and still largely unknown potential source for disruption and challenge for the nascent cannabis industry and future reforms was created in the fall of 2016 with the election of Donald Trump as US President. Having said numerous and conflicting policy statements on the campaign trail—sometimes supporting cannabis law reform, other times opposing it—as well as hiring (and then firing) as US Attorney General an anti-marijuana zealot of historical proportions in former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R).
During his short and turbulent tenure at the Department of Justice Sessions made numerous (and bizarre) comments about cannabis and its consumers, half-hearted policy pronouncements that entirely missed their mark of having any effective impact at all on cannabis legalization efforts, changing public opinion in favor of ending Cannabis Prohibition or even retarding the cannabis industry an inch (recognizing, frustratingly for Sessions, that every cannabis plant grown, transported and sold in the US is a violation of federal law).
Will Will Barr Bar Buds?
In late 2018 President Trump nominated well-established 1990s drug warrior and former US Attorney General William Barr to succeed a feeble Jeff Sessions.
The major question going forward for cannabis industry’s thousands of businesses, hundreds of thousands of employees in the sector, tens of millions of cannabis consumers and state/local tax collectors is whether or not Trump’s AG pick defers to his boss’s proclivity to leave the cannabis industry alone or, instead, start making arrests and prosecutions of otherwise licensed, lawful and state-sanctioned marijuana-related businesses?
The End Of International Cannabis Prohibition?
Even if, for whatever reasons, regrettable as it maybe, the federal government of the United States decides to re-commit all out war against cannabis producers, sellers and the states that sanction legal cannabis commerce and taxation, there is little-to-nothing that the US can do to impede or outright stop the governments of Uruguay (2013), Canada (2018), Mexico (2018), Jamaica (2017) and others in the North and South American Hemispheres from them choosing to end Cannabis Prohibition in favor of cannabis commerce.
Because of the US federal government’s continuing recalcitrance to finally end Cannabis Prohibition the nation of Canada—with dozens of publicly traded cannabis-related companies taking in billions of investment dollars from around the world— has become the default capital market for a fast expanding, multi-hundred billion dollar globalcannabis industry.
Changes In Cannabis Law Reform Leadership
In 2016 and 2017 nearly one hundred years of collective work departed the cannabis law reform/criminal justice movement after leading public advocacy efforts in pursuit of dismantling Cannabis Prohibition. After more than twenty-five years heading up the NORML Foundation and NORML in 2016 Allen St. Pierre retired from public advocacy in pursuit of starting a family at fifty. A leading sentencing reform advocate, Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) retired in 2016 after achieving landmark criminal justice reforms under the Obama/Holder-led Department of Justice. Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann, the architect and chief fundraiser for many of the major and successful cannabis law reform initiatives retired in early 2017 (frustrated by the policy-political environment he’d helped foster as the DPA’s traditional civil justice donors suggested that the nascent cannabis industry—the clear economic beneficiaries of the non-profit advocacy organizations multi-decade efforts to end Cannabis Prohibition they’d been controversially funding—should now be the self-interested funders of future cannabis law reform efforts). Lastly, the marijuana law reform’s most controversial public figure, Rob Kampia, in a new political climate strongly influenced by the ‘Me Too’ Movement against workplace sexual harassment was forced by MPP’s board to resign late in 2017 (Embarrassingly, an internet search engine of ‘Rob Kampia’, ‘Marijuana Policy Project’ or ‘Breast Message’ brought back prominent search results highlighting previous and serious workplace problems at MPP with Kampia and female employees).
Cannabis Arrests and Enforcement
After decades of steady increase, peaking at over 800,000 annual cannabis arrests in 2008, during the eight years of Obama’s presidency there was distinct downturn in cannabis-related offenses, that generally reached a plateau of approximately 670,000 arrests annually: 693,000 arrests in 2013, 700,000 arrests in 2014, 643,000 arrests in 2015, 653,000 arrests in 2016 and 659,000 in 2017.
As has been the case since the criminal justice system tracked drug arrests going back to the late 1960s, approximately ninety percent of all cannabis-related offenses are for possession only; the vast amount of cases prosecuted at the local/state level.
One notable and emblematic arrest for cannabis occurred in 2014 when the DEA raided Oaksterdam University and a number of medical cannabis dispensaries that were owned by uber-activist Richard Lee (the funder of California’s 2010 legalization ballot measure). Despite possibly facing a huge criminal indictment and decades in federal prison (after all, every nanogram of cannabis sold by Lee was a separate indictment. Lee’s dispensaries made thousands of sales a week of otherwise federally illegal cannabis sales), the federal attorneys largely asked Lee to step aside as the owner of Oaksterdam and the dispensaries, and he was allowed to serve no prison time and return home to Texas).
If Richard Lee had been caught in previous decades selling large amounts of cannabis in a retail setting, he most certainly would have been successfully prosecuted and incarcerated for a long period of time. However, fearing political backlash and possible jury nullification, the federal arrest-and-release of Richard Lee demonstrated a lack of institutional conviction to uphold existing albeit unpopular laws, foretelling a coming end of the government’s ability to perpetuate Cannabis Prohibition much longer in America (and the globe).
Public Opinion on Pot
Many sociologists and political scientists have recently opined that the two most discernible and successful social justice movements of the last forty years are gay rights and cannabis legalization. Both public policies according to long running public surveys were wildly unpopular, with seemingly no hope for reforms.
However, for a multitude of reasons, public attitudes regarding marijuana law reform (and gay rights) have radically changed from culturally and politically verboten to socially acceptable and legally transformative.
In less than ten years, public support for cannabis legalization doubled from around thirty percent in 2005 to sixty percent in 2016 (current public surveys from both Gallup and Pew indicate a continued rise in public support for ending Cannabis Prohibition, sixty-four and sixty-three percent respectively).
After choosing to survey on public attitudes about marijuana legalization, often in intervals of six to ten years, after cannabis legalization support breeched the fifty percent mark in 2012 major pollsters have started to poll every six months to a year to capture the quick pace of change: Gallup tracked support for legalization in 2014 from fifty-eight percent to sixty percent in 2016 to sixty-four percent in late 2018.
Can the federal government ignore changing a failed policy that seventy percent of the population wants reformed?
The clear pattern of electoral wins for marijuana law reformers coupled with ever-increasing support in public surveys for legalization should disabuse most elected officials from continuing to espouse Reefer Madness and/or opposing the public’s will and desire to end Cannabis Prohibition.
Bridging the great political divide between Democrats who strongly support legalizing cannabis to the same degree as the general public (around sixty percent) and the sixty-five percent of Republicans who’re currently running against public opinion favoring legalization is key to expediting national cannabis law reforms.
Along with the prolific socio-political changes wrought primarily by two decades of cannabis law reform victories at the ballot box in binding state initiatives, and the concurring changes in public attitude in mass surveys favoring legalization over prohibition, so too came a fascinating degree of mainstream media capitulation that a public policy of taxing-n-regulating cannabis (as well as allowing physician recommended/prescribed medical access to cannabis) has far more societal benefits than continuing the long failed and unpopular policy of Cannabis Prohibition.
Between 2012-2014 noted TV physicians Sanjay Gupta of CNN, Mehmet Oz (Dr. Oz Show), Andrew Weil (PBS) and Deepak Chopra (PBS) all came out publicly encouraging that cannabis be made available in the American pharmacopeia.
Just before he passed away in 2013 mega-marijuana law reform donor Peter Lewis made one last and extremely important donation in support of ending Cannabis Prohibition. After much internal debate and deliberation the prestigious, non-partisan policy think tank The Brookings Institute of Washington, DC decided to accept a large grant from Lewis to review, publish and promote a series of serious-minded public policy papers, symposiums and round tables on the pros and cons of the United States effectively ending Cannabis Prohibition after eighty years.
Because of it’s reputation as a non-partisan, sober, thoughtful and forward-looking think tank, The Brookings Institute’s cannabis law review series brought together a broad spectrum of series’ participants, largely recognizing the policy fate accompli before everyone that logically beg the questions: Cannabis Prohibition is coming to and end, what are the policy outcomes going to be and how can they be designed for best societal outcomes.
For everyone in attendance at the austere Brookings events—cannabis law reformers, law enforcement, politicos, banking industry, insurance industry, tax collectors, anti-marijuana advocates and elected policy makers—the base understanding from a policy making perspective ‘is not if, but when will Cannabis Prohibition collapse entirely in America, and around the globe.’
With Cannabis Prohibition’s wane, so too the dominance of the purveyors of pot culture during the depths of Prohibition. The uncontested lodestar for cannabis culture for forty years was the outlaw-inspired High Times Magazine. In good times (the 1970s) and bad times (late 1980s) High Times was the principal flagship, notably in a pre-Internet world, for all the news and culture around cannabis that concerned consumers of the noble herb.
However, as Cannabis Prohibition started to falter so too did High Times do to a diverse group of new competitors at every turn cutting into publication, event and branding opportunity revenues. Also, after remarkably holding the company that published High Times together for forty years, in early 2016 High Times’ CEO Michael Kennedy, Esq. passed away. Not long after an internal family ownership dispute erupted, the Kennedy family dislodged as the primary overseers of the company, resulting in the company greatly shrinking in size and scope, moving from the historic home base of New York City to Los Angeles.
Dozens of cannabis-related companies have created a dynamic and competitive sub-industry of cannabis influencers and purveyors of pot culture. Many of these companies are markedly more profitable and enjoy a higher profile among cannabis consumers and cannabusinesses than High Times: Weedmaps, Leafly, Marijuana.com, Marijuana Business Daily, MaryJane, Marijuana Venture, etc…
After the political writing was on the wall after the states of Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis in 2012 a remarkable mainstream media ‘about face’ that spoke to both the obvious societal changes that the country was confronting regarding the—state-by-state—ending of Cannabis Prohibition (and massive swing in public opinion surveys) and the necessary generational change that some of marijuana law reforms are predicated.
Throughout most of the 1980s and 90s, one of the most prolific anti-cannabis columnists was no less than the former New York Times editor A. M. Rosenthal. High from his top-of-the-pile media perch Rosenthal became a prime re-publisher of the federal government’s anti-pot propaganda and bias science. With an air of arrogance and elitism, Rosenthal, otherwise a political and social ‘liberal’, dismissed any and all public advocacy concerns regarding the excesses, ineffectiveness and harm of Cannabis Prohibition (he particularly was hyper critical of advocacy efforts to make cannabis available as a therapeutic agent).
All good things come to an end, including life.
After his passing in 2006, A. M. Rosenthal’s son Andy, rose in the ranks at the New York Times, becoming the editorial page editor in 2007. Observing firstly what had been happening in New York City regarding Cannabis Prohibition enforcement (with sky-high arrest rates, some of the highest per capita arrest rates in the United States; alarming racial disparity in cannabis-related arrests and prosecutions in New York City, with ninety percent of all arrests directed at minorities) and with dozens of states breaking away from federal Cannabis Prohibition laws, in 2014 the New York Times published a rare front page series of editorials strongly favoring an end to Cannabis Prohibition in the United States.
Many thanks to Rob Meagher for inviting me to write this twelve part series over the past year on the modern history of cannabis law reform for CannabisBusinessExecutive.com.
Despite the existence of nearly ten thousand cannabis business licenses issued by dozens of states, hundreds of millions in local/state taxes banked from the nascent cannabis industry, over two hundred thousand employees in the cannabis space and public surveys indicating over sixty percent support for ending Cannabis Prohibition the future for a fully legal and socially acceptable cannabis industry is fraught without selfless commitment from individuals, non-profit organizations, trade associations and individual businesses to continue the cannabis law reform work performed by previous generations such that cannabis is purchased and culturally embraced to the same degree wine, beer and distilled spirits have become post their failed prohibition nearly one hundred years ago.
In the coming year or so, rather than through binding voter initiatives, the next round of cannabis legalization in America is very likely going to happen in state legislatures, escalating future conflict with the federal government. Currently, the state legislatures of Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Illinois is where the fight for legalizing cannabis will next be waged.
Allen St. Pierre is the vice president of communications for Freedom Leaf, a partner in the investment firm Sensible Alternative Investments and a NORML board member. In 1997, St. Pierre founded the NORML Foundation and was executive director for both NORML and NORML Foundation from 2006-2016.
Editor’s Note: In 2013, Business Insider listed Allen St. Pierre as the number one and most visible cannabis law reform advocate in the United States. Allen was one of CBE’s first advisors when we were considering launching our electronic cannabis business to business media company, CBE Press back in 2012. He has since become a good friend, mentor and trusted advisor. Thanks for all that you have done for the movement and cannabis Industry my friend!
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