If recent trends detected by Gallup polling continue, a majority of Americans will support marijuana legalization in 2013. Utah's reform movement is in some disarray, however, so what does it mean for Utah?
Last year on 4/20, the international day to celebrate cannabis, I recounted several polls--including Gallup's--which show a clear and aggressive trend toward American support for marijuana legalization. At the time, Gallup found that 44 percent of Americans supported legalization of marijuana, 54 percent opposed (many other polls by other organizations support these findings). Gallup's latest poll finds that 46 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, and 50 percent oppose. If that trend of 2-percentage-point change per year continues, 50 percent will support marijuana legalization and 46 will oppose it in 2013. That would be the first year of Barack Obama's second term in office, should he be reelected.
The National Organizations for Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML, also celebrates it's 40th anniversary this year. Their executive director Allen St. Pierre tells Denver's Westword that outright federal legalization of marijuana is...
...not on the close horizon -- but in the forty years since our founding, we've gone from outright prohibition to a hodgepodge. Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana, and that covers 130 million Americans. We now have fifteen states and the District of Columbia that have legal protections for qualified medical-marijuana patients, and that covers 90 to 95 million Americans. So a very appreciable portion of the people in the U.S. live in states and municipalities where the law reforms have moved in a way that's beneficial to anyone who is not a partisan against drugs or who doesn't make money off prohibition. (italics mine)
So what's next, especially for Utahns who are so far behind in this race to legalize and regulate cannabis? SLC NORML dissolved
this year (more on that below) and the SSDP-sponsored Hempfest is not
happening this year either. I asked Valerie Doroux, president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Utah, why Hempfest isn't happening.
"I feel there are stronger ways of getting the point of drug policy reform across," she says. "What we find with Hempfest is a lot of people who come and enjoy the event, but we need more of a political strategy."
A member of SSDP since November 2008, Doroux says the movement the group is going to "start from the bottom up" in their political activities. In many states, reform came after a major city passed an ordinance making marijuana arrests the lowest enforcement priority for police. Doroux says they'll be targeting Salt Lake City.
"Drug policy reform needs to gather its energy and exert that into city and town hall meetings, as well as networking with people who can bring that message forward," Doroux says. "So we're meeting with city representatives and getting involved."
Doroux says her organization intends to interview candidates for city council before the election and volunteer and campaign on behalf of those who support drug reform.
Frankly, folks, that's the way it's done and there's little reason to reinvent the wheel because this one has been working. Compelling a major city to make marijuana the lowest enforcement priority--before launching into bigger political battles--is a tried-and-true blueprint that played out in most of the states that have made major reforms, most closely in Montana (Bozeman) and Colorado (Denver).
Members of SLC NORML, however, couldn't organize around a singular vision.
"The SLC chapter of NORML has been pretty mush dissolved," says former vice president Aaron Katz. "No one could stay on the same page with what they wanted done. Part wanted a bill purely on medical [marijuana], some wanted outright legalization, some wanted decriminalization. It lead to a lot of fighting and a complete disaster in my opinion."
Also, Katz says, the group had a hard time rallying enough support even to pay monthly and yearly dues. They never once paid national dues. "We weren't in existence for a full year," Katz says.
Gradi Jordan was, for awhile, a one-woman cannabis movement getting a lot of political groundwork done.(she jumped ship on the troubled NORML chapter very early and started Legalize Utah, a largely social-media activist effort. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts, once a din of drug policy reform news, have gone silent. I called Jordan and got her voice mail. I'll update this post with details if I hear back from her.
Happy 4/20 y'all.