With the 2018 midterms fast approaching, I am often asked by those who are thinking about getting involved in the movement how they can help the cause of marijuana reform. There are many easy and effective ways to get involved; simple steps that can be taken to make your voice heard and known as an advocate of marijuana reform.
1. Join Your Local Marijuana Reform Organization
While it may seem like a no-brainer, many people are unaware that there are local chapters of national marijuana reform organizations in their state, and sometimes even in their city. These organizations can be instrumental for orienting yourself to how the legislative process works in your state, and who you need to be contacting at what time.
Organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) together have hundreds of chapters across the country which are invaluable resources for those just getting their footing in the marijuana movement.
Local organizations may not always be the best organized, or clearest on the message, but these chapters, groups, and organizations are fantastic sources of information to get you started. They will let you know what is going on and when you need to act, if nothing else.
2. Familiarize Yourself With The Issue And The Facts
Another very important step in becoming an effective marijuana reform advocate is to really take the time to familiarize yourself with the issues. While joining established organizations can be helpful for learning immediate information like what bill to support or who to call, they tend to be less useful for collecting important information about the subject itself.
Learning the ins and outs of marijuana-related issues is important because, as an advocate, you will need to explain and justify your position to your peers and elected officials. Nothing undercuts the message of reform more than an advocate who does not know the issue, or who makes wild and unsubstantiated claims about it. Make sure you know what research is saying, and avoid hyperbolic claims of miracle cures, conspiracy theories, or personal attacks against politicians or political affiliations.
When you come across research that supports you position, save the article and keep it for later so you have something to support your claims. This can also be a useful exercise as you will build a bank of reliable resources that you can use to support your position and provide justification to politicians you contact. Also, familiarize yourself with common prohibitionist talking points like gateway theory, and concerns of marijuana DUIs. The best way to be prepared to rebut these arguments is by knowing what they are before they are asked.
3. Bring Your Advocacy Into The Political Realm
Once you have learned how your legislative process works, what bills you need to support, and you have familiarized yourself with the issues related to marijuana reform, the next step is to take your knowledge into the political arena.
Many people are unaware of just how easy it is to make your voice heard in the political realm. This can be accomplished by simply joining the local, county, city, or state political party that aligns with your political ideology, and becoming a voice of reform in such organizations. Joining such organizations lends credit to your voice, and gives your advocacy a broader appeal. Once you have joined, try to integrate with the leadership of the organizations, or steer the agenda to include marijuana reform in whatever issue is important to said organization.
Depending on how your state political party works, you can also get involved in the precinct chair process, or take part in political caucuses to try and influence your state political party platform. Bringing your voice to such organizations is an important step in shifting the political forces away from prohibition.
4. Contact Your State/Federal Representative
I am often amazed at how apprehensive people are when I tell them to call or email their state representative to let them know you support reform. However, a simple phone call or email is a powerful and relatively easy way to advocate for reform in an effective and targeted way.
Once you have learned what bills you need to support and you know the issues thoroughly, that is the time to start contacting your state and federal representatives. State representatives and senators tend to be far more responsive than your federal representatives, so I suggest starting on the state level. Simply Google "who represents me" in your state, enter your address and find out who your representatives are. Once you have done that, use the contact information to reach out and let your voice be heard.
If you are anxious about calling, just write an email letting them know you support marijuana reform or a specific bill, and let them know why. Make your position personal and relatable. Avoid being judgmental, demanding, or abrasive, especially if your representative has a history of resisting marijuana reform. Be polite, be professional, and be persistent. Let them know when movement happens with a bill you support, provide them with evidence which supports a certain policy position, and offer to share all the information you can so the representative can make an informed decision.
While it is rare you will be able to talk the representative themselves, their staff are trained to record what their constituents are calling about and where they stand. They also note if certain issues persist over the years, so constant contact is key for highlighting marijuana reform as an important issue. If you have a representative who does support reform, take the time to thank them for their leadership. Politicians are humans just like the rest of us, and they respond well to positive encouragement. However, if your politician does not support reform, consistently ignores you, or just parrots back mindless Reefer Madness rhetoric in the face of contradicting evidence, then maintain your professional conduct and support their opponents during the primary and election.
5. Campaign for Politicians Who Support Reform
The last way to be an effective marijuana advocate is to actively support politicians who champion the issue of marijuana reform, and abstain from voting for those who do not. Nothing drives a politician’s support for an issue like votes. If a representative knows that they have picked up support because of an issue, they will continue to support it.
When it comes to the election, stop voting for those who do not support reform. Just because a politician may line up with your political identity does not mean you should give them a free pass for supporting marijuana prohibition. Refuse to vote for politicians who obstruct reform, and vote for their opponents. Every time you cast a vote for a politician who does not support reform just because they align with your political identity, you are effectively telling that politician that they do not need to change your mind because you do not care enough about the issue.
While advocating for reform may seem daunting for those who have just become involved, these five steps are relatively easy to accomplish. A five-minute phone call, a quick email, and maybe a monthly meeting or two is all it takes to make your voice heard. Only through engaging with the political process can we effectively bring about true marijuana reform.
Hunter J. White is the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, Hunter shares the challenges, experiences, and insights that he has gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.