After Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, National NORML held a conference call with its chapters across the country. The discussion recapped the outcome of the elections (regarding marijuana law), narratives that worked, state and local strategies, generating media effectively, targeting specific demographics and social media points to ponder.
The following blog post is a summary of that conference call with National NORML and its affiliates.
- Recap of Marijuana Related Election Results
- General Messaging and Narratives
- State and Local Strategies to End Marijuana Prohibition
- Coordinating Local Events
- How to Create Own Media (as opposed to “earned media”)
- Who Does Not Support the End of Marijuana Prohibition?
RECAP OF MARIJUANA RELATED ELECTION RESULTS
Six states had marijuana measures on their ballot: Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Montana, Massachusetts and Arkansas.
Oregon’s measure did not pass. It was a broad measure for personal use and distribution of marijuana. There was no campaign to promote the measure. All the money went to get the measure worded correctly on the ballot. The lack of media exposure and advertising is attributed to why the measure failed.
Arkansas’s medical marijuana measure also did not pass – but just barely (49% for, 51% against).
Montana had a referendum on the previous measure to restrict marijuana. It is suspected that many voters were unclear about what they were voting on.
Massachusetts approved state licensed medical marijuana dispensaries with 61% of the vote.
Colorado approved private cultivation of 6 plants and full legalization. It is legal to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if you are 21 years old or more.
Washington also legalized marijuana with regulations regarding commercial production.
GENERAL MESSAGING AND NARRATIVES
Regarding the narrative to legalize marijuana at the state level there are several talking points. The following three are recommended as being the focus when engaging the public and legislators regarding the legal nuances of marijuana reform:
1) Make sure people understand the difference between legalization and decriminalization.
The media has often confused the terms legalization and decriminalization. It is important for anyone who is participating in the push to end marijuana prohibition to know the difference.
Legalization means that marijuana is no longer considered contraband.
Decriminalization means that marijuana is still illegal and will be taken if you are caught with it. With decriminalization you may not be arrested for it by the police.
2) Federal Government can not compel a state to define cannabis as contraband
The federal government has no legal authority to force a state to consider marijuana (or any substance) to be contraband. There is nothing the federal government can do in Colorado to force the state to arrest private cultivators.
Comparisons to Alcohol Prohibition
Federal policy is dependent on state law enforcement. With alcohol prohibition 10 states turned their backs on the constitutional amendment. That was the beginning of the end of alcohol prohibition nationwide.
The same has begun with Colorado and Washington’s decision to legalize marijuana. These states have turned their backs on the federal government. They know the feds don’t have the time, resources, public support or political will to do much about these laws to end marijuana prohibition.
As a further note, 99% of all marijuana arrests happen at the local, county or state level. Few cannabis cultivators and traffickers are arrested by the federal government. The DEA’s “rule of thumb” is that 1000 pounds or 1000 plants constitute a federal case.
STATE AND LOCAL STRATEGIES TO END MARIJUANA PROHIBITION
Focus on the local area.
Determine the paths to getting marijuana friendly local ordinances. Initiate a vote on it, or persuade the City Council to vote on it.
Learn the specifics in your region
Get in touch with the city council or an attorney to determine the details on pursuing a lowest law enforcement priority for the local police department.
Lowest Law Enforcement Priorities are non-binding, but they generate a public discussion. They are opportunities get a conversation started with local media and focuses a spotlight on the need for marijuana law reform.
Texas NORML developed a Legislators Education Packet. This packet is a few pages long and includes information for legislators to better understand the reasons for changing marijuana laws. The packet can be put together as a chapter event, then delivered to legislators. Ideally NORML members who live in that district will be the ones who hand deliver the packets. This is a great way to shake hands and get to know your representatives.
Best Time for Statewide Initiatives will be 2016
Presidential Elections may be our next opportunity to pass statewide marijuana laws. During these elections younger voters come out to vote, and there is larger turnout overall due to increased interest and funding.
COORDINATING LOCAL EVENTS
Local events are mostly about educating the various demographics of the community. We have the public’s attention with marijuana, so there’s little value in holding “shock protests”. It’s more important for marijuana advocates to put energy into the 50% of the public that doesn’t yet agree.
There are many ways to hold local events such as musical support, rallies and marches. Regardless of the event, it is important to keep several principles in mind as we represent the marijuana community.
Keep a clean image
Avoid smoke-out sessions as a planned event. They have no political value. No minds will be changed as a result and no valuable contacts will be made. Video clips of teenagers and hippies smoking a joint in public simply do not help the cause.
Instead we should keep our audience in mind. We should present ourselves well. Business attire is best, but not always necessary. Just be dressed a little better than the average person. Also it’s important to be well spoken. Don’t get angry or upset if someone doesn’t share your perspective. Know your talking points and stick to them.
Click the following link for a guide on Dos and Don’ts for persuasive speaking when engaging the public on the value of ending the drug war.
Create Earned Media Exposure
Local events are an opportunity to create earned media exposure. If a local chapter is holding a rally or fundraising event, let the local media know. Learn how to write Press Releases. Let the local radio stations and newspapers know what is happening. With this wave of marijuana awareness washing over the country, these media outlets will be eager to publicize and comment on well-planned events.
There are many groups that we can benefit from partnering with. Particularly effective groups (that have numerous reasons for supporting the marijuana legalization cause) are Veterans groups, mothers groups, seniors groups and the NORML Women’s Alliance.
Community Service and Relief Efforts
NORML can help do clothing swaps and collect toys. We can also do fund raising for causes such as hurricane relief and avoiding cancer. If there is a local charity event that’s going on, help out and do so under the NORML moniker. They’ll be happy for the support and realize that supporters of marijuana law reform are actually motivated to support the community.
Challenge the DARE Program
DARE is an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Marijuana has traditionally been the main focus on these programs. There has been a lot of misinformation about marijuana spread in schools when children are in the formative years. It is important that we engage the people who are coordinating these programs and ensure they are transparent and objective.
HOW TO CREATE OUR OWN MEDIA
As opposed to earned media events, we have opportunities to write letters to the editor and participate in talk radio. The idea is create a public discussion about the benefits of legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs. We have access to many free media outlets where we can create and distribute our own message.
One especially effective way to create our own media is to support and fund a poll in your local community and in your state. The reason politicians and media no longer snicker when marijuana is brought up is due to the fact that it’s no longer a fringe issue. A solid majority of Americans support marijuana law reform to some degree.
A local or state poll will show our community that Colorado and Washington are no longer an anomaly. There is strong support for the re-legalization of marijuana.
As an example, Indiana did a poll on decriminalization. Politicians who are skeptical of full legalization were given confidence to support decriminalization once the state poll results showed tremendous support of decriminalization.
World is Watching – Advice for the Cannabis Community
Now that Colorado and Washington have passed laws legalizing marijuana for any use for adults over 21, the entire world is watching to see what cultural and criminal changes take place.
The cannabis community needs to actually value personal responsibility if we want a cascading effect of the end of marijuana prohibition. Along those lines, as activists and advocates we need to make sure laws are passed in a responsible manner. People also need to continue to act responsibly after these laws are passed. If irresponsible behavior starts to become the norm, there’s going to be a backlash and we will lose much of the ground we’ve gained.
Keep the Narrative Going
We need to keep the narrative going. The sky is not going to fall if people to continue to engage in the responsible use of cannabis. When engaging in those narratives, we need to proactively court the local media through letters to the editor, op-eds (opposite the editorial page), hold meet and greets with editors of the local newspapers.
Letters should be sent NOW. Media is interested in the topic of marijuana now. We are riding the crest of a large wave. Even if letters are rejected, editors will learn who we are. As the media stays engaged with the marijuana issue, they will know to contact us.
We have a unique opportunity during the holidays as this is a traditionally slow media cycle. Write letters to the media now.
Click the following link to read NORML’s guide to writing Op-eds
NORML chapters should continue to use internet based outlets like Facebook and Twitter to grow their network. National NORML gained 7000 Facebook followers and 5000 Twitter followers on election night.
There is hunger in the online audience for content. Social media can be used to share new articles as they are released. These same article can be repackaged on the NORML chapter’s own online blog, then sharing the new blog post and re-Tweeting it.
There is a lot of demand, but not a lot of places that dedicate themselves to sharing this material with trustworthiness. It is important that we understand that if NORML is to be an effective brand, we must continue finding, creating and sharing quality content.
Once a NORML chapter has its social media presence set, one strategy is to Google “marijuana” every day. Find out what the big stories are. Make sure our online followers have every opportunity to stay tuned in, and tuned in to OUR channel.
Images are the most viral content on Facebook. Find a pertinent (and reputable) quote, turn it into an image with a flattering picture of the author’s face to create unique content that has the greatest likelihood of being seen by thousands.
Advertisements for upcoming events and fundraisers should be converted to shareable Facebook images. Promoting the ad for $10 can be an effective way of reaching twice as many people as we normally would.
WHO DOES NOT SUPPORT THE END OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION?
Demographically there are several groups who do not support the legalization of marijuana. Generally those who feel marijuana possession should remain a crime are
- self-described republicans
- religious fundamentalists
- Asian Americans
- senior citizens
These are the groups we should focus on when creating a public discussion. For instance, support for marijuana re-legalization plummets for Americans over 65 years of age. This demographic also votes in high percentages.
Our job is to make the points that cater to each of these demographics. Republics often care about less government and tax expenditures. Latinos may respond to the fact that marijuana arrests disproportionately affect Latinos and other minorities. Religious fundamentalists may respond to the idea the cannabis is a naturally occurring plant. Senior citizens are often surprised at the many uses of marijuana medicinally. Know your audience. Stay on topic. Don’t argue. And keep a clean image.
BRING STRATEGY HOME TO WHERE YOU LIVE
So what should we do with all this information? There are almost 200 chapters of NORML across the country. These chapters affect the local and state direction. To ensure NORML’s grass-roots approach to legalization remains effective, strategies should be formed that apply to local activities and roll up to the state legislature.
This strategy should include ways to draw in new members and volunteers, raise funds, increase awareness and discussions across the state, partner with like minded businesses and charities, pass local anti-prohibition measures, conduct public opinion polls, educate legislators of the benefits of marijuana, persuade legislators to introduce and pass marijuana bills, and constantly find ways to improve the NORML organization.
To download an MP3 recording of this conference call