By John Payne
Every January 1, we are presented with the opportunity to begin anew --- to build and improve upon years past. We are encouraged to reflect upon where we have been in life and where we are going.
This time of year reminds me of when I first joined the Show-Me Cannabis team full-time in December 2011. We had just launched our 2012 initiative campaign in earnest, and I jumped headlong into the job.
We still operate on an extremely lean budget, but our financial resources in those days were practically non-existent. The core group was committed and enthusiastic, but we were few in number, as we were still in the process of finding and training the people who formed (and remain) the backbone of the group.
I think we all knew that we faced long odds of success in 2012, and many days it seemed that we were the only people who believed legalization was possible in Missouri, no matter what the year.
Of course, the doubters were correct --- at least temporarily. We could not overcome the lack of resources to place the initiative on the ballot, and even if we had, we would have faced an even steeper uphill battle to pass it on Election Day. In the immediate analysis, the campaign was a strategic blunder.
But the immediate analysis is not the most important one. We all face adversity, but what determines the final outcome is how we respond to that adversity.
We responded with resilience. People were energized. They believed things could change. They had hope.
So, instead of falling apart, we launched a new offensive with a local initiative campaign to decriminalize cannabis possession in Springfield. We supported local advocates in their successful signature drive. Then, the City Council, in their infinite wisdom, delivered reformers another apparent setback by passing the measure and immediately repealing it to keep the city's residents from voting on the question.
Again, the prohibitionists had won the battle, but they were clearly losing the war. The council's illegal and unethical tactics brought far more media attention to the issue of cannabis policy in the city and statewide (and ultimately forced us to join a lawsuit against the council, which is ongoing).
Despite the frustration from that incident, our sense of hope and potential only expanded last fall when legalization initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado. What had only been theoretical for the past 75 years quickly transformed into reality, and suddenly the idea that legalization could happen in Missouri turned from fantasy to the new conventional wisdom.
In 2013, the seeds Show-Me Cannabis planted in 2011 and 2012 began to bear substantial fruit. Starting in January, we worked with Saint Louis Alderman Shane Cohn on a local decriminalization ordinance. In large part because our input, he modeled the final version after Columbia's decriminalization ordinance, which Show-Me Cannabis board members Amber Langston, Dan Viets, and especially Anthony Johnson played large roles in writing and passing.
Around the same time, I began a dialogue with Saint Louis police sergeant and Tea Party activist Gary Wiegert that, in March, resulted in him signing on as a lobbyist and spokesperson for Show-Me Cannabis. That story generated tremendous media attention, and I believe it also imparted a greater legitimacy upon our group and our goals in the eyes of politicians, the media, and --- most importantly --- the general public.
With members of law enforcement speaking out for reform, people were forced to deal with the idea as a serious matter of public policy instead of merely an opportunity to make cliche Cheech and Chong jokes. Gary also played an instrumental role in securing a hearing for a statewide decriminalization bill before the Downsizing State Government Committee. Granted, it was on the last day of the session, but the legislators gave the idea serious and sympathetic consideration. That bodes well for potential legislative reforms in the future.
Over the summer, we launched a series of town hall meetings. Since June, we have held 14 meetings across the state, presenting our message in a professional, informed way, mostly in cities and towns that are considered hostile to reform. Nonetheless, we have attracted large, sympathetic crowds and tremendous local media attention at nearly every turn.
The meetings also forced our opponents to deal with us seriously and finally participate in a public dialogue that has been sorely lacking on this issue. That culminated in my debate with Jason Grellner earlier this month (which you can now view in higher quality online here).
We have come a long way in a short time --- much farther than most people believed possible in 2011. In the near future, we will find out exactly how much progress we have made.
We are awaiting ballot language from the Secretary of State's Office for the initiatives we submitted near the beginning of December. Then, we will conduct polling to determine if one or more of those initiatives have enough public support to pass at the ballot box next fall.
I am optimistic that the polling will show support for legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis at or above 60 percent among likely 2014 voters. However, I cannot guarantee that cannabis will be legalized in Missouri next year, that we will vote on the subject, or even that we will circulate an initiative petition.
What I can guarantee is that Show-Me Cannabis will press forward with every resource at our disposal. That may mean a full-blown initiative campaign. It may mean lobbying in Jefferson City with continued public education campaigns. It could mean a combination of all three.
Regardless of the route we take, Show-Me Cannabis's work is only possible with support from people like you. We are entirely funded by supporter contributions, and those contributions are spent in a very cost-effective manner. The organization has essentially no overhead --- no office space, phone lines, internet connections, electric bills, etc. --- and only one full-time employee (i.e. me).
I would love to expand the group's operations, but with our current finances, that is not possible. As a new year begins, please consider a monthly contribution of $10 or $20 --- or more. Even a relatively small amount given regularly can make a big difference over time. Of course, one-time contributions are welcome and particularly important now as we prepare our plans for 2014.
And, with any one-time contribution of $50 or more or a recurring contribution $20 or more, I will send you a Show-Me Cannabis T-shirt, wristband, and personal note of thanks!
I believe the new year holds tremendous potential for cannabis law reform in Missouri. I hope you will be a part of it.