The road to marijuana legalization is long, hard, and paved with obstacles from the ignorant, the greedy, and the avaricious. At the time of writing, nine states plus D.C. have legalized weed for recreational use, and 29 states have legalized it for medicinal purposes. Excitingly, the state of Vermont recently became the first to permit cannabis for recreational use via legislature.
Despite thousands of positive studies that illustrate the usefulness of medical marijuana, it is still classified as a Schedule I substance as Congress determined that it had “no currently accepted use.” Here’s the thing, this classification was added via the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)… in 1970!!! There has been an enormous amount of research ever since which completely contradicts Congress’ assertion.
Infuriatingly, cannabis has the same classification as heroin. Meanwhile, tobacco and alcohol, which both have the potential for abuse and have no medicinal value, are exempt from the CSA. Every year since 1981 there have been bills drafted to remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, or at least have it moved to Schedule II. But alas, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in concert with the FDA, has rejected every petition to date.
Matters have not been helped recently by the actions of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a man who resembles ‘the brain’ from Pinky and the Brain in appearance but is akin to Pinky in terms of mental acuity. Sessions probably watches Reefer Madness every night and believes it is based on a true story. In any case, he recently announced that he would be unleashing federal law enforcement to crack down on states where marijuana is legalized.
This move is in stark contrast to the ‘soft’, some would say ‘common sense’ approach used by the Obama Administration. It is a move of wanton stupidity and will only cause further confusion in an industry already worth tens of billions of dollars, and one that is set to expand exponentially in the near future.
Thankfully, though, intelligent marijuana advocates are pushing the case for legalization on both the state and federal level. If we are to see marijuana become legalized nationally (as will be the case in Canada from July 2018), it is imperative that the work of these people be recognized and supported. Without further ado, here is a brief list of some of the top organizations that are currently out there fighting the good fight for marijuana reform and legalization.
The International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS)
The ICRS acts as an impartial source for cannabis and cannabinoid news, and it aims to provide an open forum for marijuana researchers to meet and discuss their projects. As it is non-political, non-religious, and unbiased, the ICRS isn’t afraid to mention any negative aspects of cannabis.
It became incorporated as a scientific research society in 1992, and since then the Society’s membership has swelled to over 500 members, with Heather Bradshaw currently as the acting President and Melanie E. M. Kelly as Executive Director. Every member of the ICRS’ Board of Directors is highly qualified, and the group holds an annual symposium every summer where the world’s leading cannabinoid researchers can get together to share data and new ideas. The 2018 symposium will be taking place from July 1-4 in Leiden, Netherlands, and will be covering the following topics:
- The role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in health and disease.
- Results from current human cannabinoid studies.
- The actions and effects of drugs that target the ECS.
- The therapeutic potential of cannabis-derived chemicals for the treatment of various conditions.
We need the ICRS to continue its great work so that one day, the world will know that marijuana is a genuine medical treatment. If and when that happens, legalization can’t be too far away.
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
This New York City-based NPO was formed in 2000 after a merger between the Lindesmith Center and the Drug Policy Foundation, and it currently has offices in five states. Its mission? To ensure that marijuana is legalized, plain and simple.
The group envisions a ‘just’ society where the regulation and usage of drugs is grounded in science – they point out the idiocy of punishing people for the ‘crime’ of putting things into their body, and they are adamant that the War on Drugs has failed.
Additionally, the DPA claims that it has played a crucial role in about 50% of the campaigns that led to legalized medical marijuana in the United States. It is also the only organization that was involved in broader legalization efforts including its work in Uruguay, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Colorado.
Perhaps more impressively, though, the DPA has been involved in pivotal drug sentencing reforms over the last 20 years. These include Proposition 36 in California, the reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York, and the approval of Bail Reform in New Jersey. The DPA is unquestionably one of the most important pro-marijuana groups in America, and if weed is ever legalized on a broad scale, they will most certainly be at the forefront.
Other important cannabis legalization groups in the U.S. include ENCOD, NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, Stop the Drug War, and Common Sense for Drug Policy, among many others.
As important as the work of the ICRS and similar organizations is, nothing can happen if the men and women in power do nothing with the information they get. In mid-2017, a bipartisan group of six senators came together to introduce legislation that would allow medical marijuana laws in the 29 states where they are extant to supersede the federal ban on weed.
The provisional legislation is called the CARERS Act, and it would provide access to medical cannabis and allow research into the medicinal properties of the plant. However, not much has been happening with the bill as of late, and it joins three other marijuana Senate bills that are currently on the long finger in the upper chamber:
- The Marijuana Justice Act: Sponsored by Cory Booker.
- The SAFE Banking Act: Sponsored by Jeff Merkley.
- The Small Business Tax Equity Act: Sponsored by Ron Wyden.
Booker is one of the biggest marijuana legalization advocates in politics, and while he continues to fight the good fight, he needs support that is not materializing at present. In California, a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use and where the industry is worth up to $5 billion, its senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, is notoriously anti-weed. One would hope that Senator Kamala Harris would step up to the plate and safeguard an industry with 47,000 jobs in California alone, yet she continues to do nothing. To date, Harris has yet to co-sponsor any reform bills.
While a number of senators have spoken out against Sessions, they have refused to sponsor any of the four marijuana-related bills. We’re looking at you Patrick Leahy, Chuck Schumer, Dan Sullivan, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King. However, since this article is looking at people who are trying to get marijuana legalized, here is a ‘sadly short’ list of men and women from the Senate who are doing their best for the cannabis industry, in addition to the three we mentioned above:
- Lisa Murkowski (R): Co-sponsored the SAFE Banking Act and CARERS Act.
- Rand Paul (R): Paul serves the state of Kentucky where weed is illegal, yet he believes it should be legalized.
- Michael Bennet (D): The Colorado senator is keen to keep his state’s cannabis jobs.
- Cory Gardner (D): Bennet’s compatriot co-sponsored several bills and is one of the most vocal opponents of Sessions’ war on marijuana.
- Mazie Hirono (D): The Hawaiian senator is a newcomer to the pro-cannabis cause but has already co-sponsored the SAFE Banking and CARERS Acts.
As important as it is to have groups and politicians on the pro-marijuana side of the fence, the cause also needs influential individuals and popular figureheads to “rally the troops,” so to speak. As there are too many to mention, we’ll stick with these five for the time being:
- Morgan Freeman: As well as being one of the finest actors of all-time, Freeman is a staunch advocate of weed legalization. His ‘eureka’ moment came when he discovered how useful marijuana was when treating his fibromyalgia pain.
- Jack Nicholson: If one Hollywood heavyweight isn’t enough, cannabis legalization also has the support of the legendary Jack Nicholson. His reasoning is something that is often overlooked: The cost of incarceration. He pointed out that it costs $40,000 a year per prisoner and 85% of them are in jail because of a drug-related offense. He believes that marijuana is a ‘curative thing’ and legalization would also be a boon to the economy.
- Jesse Ventura: The former Governor of Minnesota and pro-wrestling legend is one of America’s biggest weed proponents. He believes that marijuana should be available for recreational use and notes that the legalization movement has had a positive effect on society.
- Woody Harrelson: Harrelson is a versatile actor, household name, and a BIG fan of Mary Jane. So much so in fact that he is on NORML’s advisory board! He was also one of the first people to apply to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the state of Hawaii.
- Snoop Dogg: The highly respected rap star practices what he preaches, as he is an avid weed smoker. Snoop recently partnered with Canopy Growth in Canada to sell three varieties of cannabis called ‘Leafs by Snoop.’
Final Thoughts on The Fight to Legalize Marijuana in the United States
It is said that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, and the struggle to legalize marijuana in America definitely falls into this category. While thinkers such as Jeff Sessions will do everything they can to ensure weed remains illegal, we can thankfully rely on more enlightened people to ensure cannabis legality is guaranteed. We are confident that one day, weed will be completely legal for recreational use all over the U.S. Until then, however, opponents won’t give up easily so proponents must be prepared to fight their corner until that wonderful day finally arrives.