By John Payne
The poll we commissioned to assess the viability of a legalization campaign in 2014 has been completed, and it indicates that we would be wise to wait for the presidential election in 2016 to launch an initiative campaign. Among likely 2014 voters, 45 percent said that they would vote in favor of our proposal, and 51 percent said they would vote against it.
The 2014 election in Missouri is expected to have a very low turnout because not only is there no presidential race, but there are no contests for governor or U.S. Senator. In fact, the only statewide office up for a vote this November is state auditor, which will not drive many people to vote. Consequently, the electorate this year will be comprised almost entirely by people who vote in every election.
And, unfortunately, many of the demographic groups who tend to support cannabis law reform --- such as voters under 35 and political independents --- are less likely to vote than demographics who tend to oppose reform, especially voters over 65. It appears that phenomenon has a large impact on the level of support we can expect on Election Day, because when we re-weight the results for the expected turnout in 2016, the numbers basically flip, with 52 percent favoring a legalization proposal.
That is, of course, a majority, which is encouraging. However, it's not a strong majority, which means that we must continue building public support for reform, so that when we start preparing for a 2016 initiative campaign early next year, we will have support at least in the mid to high 50-s.
I will be working with our board of directors, financial contributors, and volunteers over the next few weeks to formulate a strategy to reach that goal, and once it is approved, I will share the specifics in this newsletter. But, broadly speaking, I believe we will be focusing our efforts in three areas:
Greater push for reform in Jefferson City. We have a larger presence than ever at the Capitol, and I believe there is a good chance that the legislature will vote to reduce penalties on cannabis possession this year. Industrial hemp and medical cannabis are also garnering more legislative interest than in years past, and we could see some progress on those fronts, but passing either will be an uphill battle.
We will continue to engage the public and build our base of supporters through our town hall meetings across the state. To that end, we have our meeting in Kirksville this Thursday and a newly confirmed meeting in Union on Tuesday, March 18. (More details on both in the events section.)
Targeted media with tested messaging. Part of the polling looked at what messages have the broadest appeal and which demographic groups find them the most compelling. We can use that information to create editorials, flyers, and advertisements that will most efficiently raise public support for our cause.
I know that many of you were eager to end cannabis prohibition in Missouri this year, and it's disappointing to find out that we will have to --- again --- practice patience and wait for another election cycle. Trust me, I understand the feeling.
But I think we should always keep the bigger picture in mind. The struggle to end cannabis prohibition has been fought for over 40 years, and until very recently most people viewed cannabis law reformers as quixotic at best and, far more often, as downright malicious.
I first got heavily involved in this movement when I was in college in the very early part of this millennium, and I distinctly remember the 2002 campaign to legalize cannabis in Nevada. It was the first political campaign that I ever contributed to financially. Even though I was making $7.00 an hour, I gave several hundred dollars to the effort that summer. I really thought the good guys might win.
On Election Day, the measure was defeated by over 20 points, 61 percent to 39. It was devastating. I knew that the odds were stacked against us, but the magnitude of the loss was hard to contemplate.
Just about a week later, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy held its national conference in Anaheim, and I attended as part of the delegation from Washington University in Saint Louis. The first day seemed to be almost nothing but discussion of how and why voters rejected legalization in Nevada --- one dispiriting panel after another.
Then, during the lunch session on Saturday, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance took the stage, and I don't think he said a word about the election results. Instead, he launched into an explanation of all the evils of prohibition and the drug war: The people serving years in prison for non-violent offenses, the Constitutional rights trampled every day in service of a totally ineffectual policy, the patients being denied medicine by a politically driven medical policy.
A dozen years later, and that speech still sticks with me, because he reminded us why we were all there in the first place. We were fighting against the drug war because it was the right thing to do. It didn't matter if we were doomed to fail for all eternity, because it was better to stand up and fight such a tremendous moral evil than to acquiesce to it.
None of us had any real idea of when or if we would be successful in ending cannabis prohibition anywhere. The finish line not only wasn't in sight, it actually seemed to be disappearing completely as the federal government argued that cannabis users supported terrorism.
But we weren't going to back down. We knew what was right, and we would fight for it, win or lose.
And that is what I am asking you to do now: Keep fighting even though the finish line is a little farther away than we had hoped. You can ensure that we are able to sustain the fight for freedom by signing up as a monthly contributor now!
Even a relatively modest contribution of $20 a month will have a major impact over the course of the next two years. The fight is far from over, but if people like you do not take a stand now, it could go on indefinitely. Will you do your part to change Missouri and the world by pledging $20 a month now?
The road ahead of us is long and arduous, but so it is with any worthwhile endeavor. As one of my favorite American revolutionaries wrote (and which I am sure I have quoted here before): "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."