Happy New Year!
The new year is dawning and many use that anniversary to make resolutions to improve their lives in the new year. In keeping with that tradition, I would like to offer some resolutions for drug law reformers to consider adopting this year.
Amend the federal statues in 2013. This once unreachable goal now looks possible. The polls overwhelmingly favor medical marijuana and have moved to a bare majority favoring legalization. Remarkably, no congressional leader has spoken against the recent state votes for marijuana legalization.
Think baby steps, not giant leaps. The pole star of drug reform remains repeal of the Controlled Substances Act, but that large move is probably too daring for a cripplingly cowardly congress to undertake all at once. The old adage says that a voyage of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Congress may be willing to dare to take some minimal efforts like finding some way for the federal government to recognize, or at least live with, state laws allowing medical marijuana or decriminalization (local legalization). Another possibility would be for congress to take some action to establish and develop the medical value of marijuana. Enough baby steps will soon reach the destination.
Think globally; act locally. Pressure from the bottom up works. Today over thirty per cent of the population lives in states with medical marijuana laws, and the rate of state enactments seems to be growing. State legalization has grown from roots in city “lowest law enforcement” ordinances and civil, not penal, punishment of possession. One result has been a dramatic change in popular attitudes as shown by polls now showing over seventy per cent favoring medical marijuana laws and a majority favoring legalization on national polls.
Speak up. Speaking up not only puts pressure on politicians, but it also educates fellow citizens. The available fora are myriad. Letters to the Editor and OpEds really spread the word; and even if not published, may enlighten the editor who reads them before rejecting them. An elected representative’s job includes reading (and maybe even thinking about) letters, emails, and tweets from voters. Many city councils have “open mike” sessions where any citizen has two or three minutes to talk about local issues. Call-in radio and tv shows take calls – if you can take the abuse from the host. Civic clubs, PTAs, and church groups are always looking for speakers. Especially talk to your family, friends, and neighbors. However you do it, spread the word.
‘Fess up. The old courthouse joke is that we don’t know how smart the average crook is because only the dumb ones get caught. The same logic applies to drug users: no one knows what the average drug user looks like because only the failures at using drugs get caught. The myths of the speed-crazed violent killer and the couch-locked stoner will control until people get used to the idea of normal folk who also just happen to use drugs. Some examples have surfaced: Dr. William Halsted, Carl Sagen, Willie Nelson; but most people are not outstanding physicians, leading scientists, or entertainment superstars. The examples needed are the folks next door – insurance agents, accountants, engineers, cooks. Many can’t come out: openness would put their jobs or professional licenses at risk, but most people can casually let people know that they partake without making a big deal out of it. Retirees especially can reveal that normal, successful people use. Perhaps retired Air Force pilots could talk about using amphetamines to fly combat missions or some of that 15% of working scientists who admitted in a poll to using stimulants to help in their work could explain why. Medical marijuana patients and returning veterans, who conversely may have more to lose by not stepping up, can serve as examples to those who are uncomfortable about coming out.
Act up. Get the public involved by involving the public. Something is needed to spark a wider public awareness and discussion. Drug reformers may not be the 99%, but they are numerous enough to get their message out. Freedom of choice about drugs is a human rights issue, and major lessons can be learned from the Civil Rights and antiwar activists of the fifties and sixties. A dozen wheelchair-borne demonstrators in front of a local cancer center (preferably white-haired grandmothers) with medical marijuana signs WILL make the local news that night.
Keep up the effort. Much progress has been made since the dark days of the 1980s. Keep up the good work, keep the pressure on, and it will truly be a …
Happy New Year!