Be Vocal!

December 26, 2012

One thing that’s easily noticed when working in the cannabis reform movement is that there’s an embedded fear in many individuals when it comes to standing up for supporting legalization, and working publicly to get it done. On one hand, it’s hard to blame these people: Cannabis prohibition is a very real, very dangerous beast. The government has spent a lot of time, and resources, to put this fear into the public.

On the other hand, free speech is a constitutional right, and standing up for what we believe in should be a core principle of being an active citizen of our great, yet ever-progressing country. It’s easy to forget that in relative terms, we’re a young nation, and we have a lot to improve upon – we can’t let complacency be an enemy.

With the ever-expanding reform movement rapidly crushing the pillars of prohibition, prohibitionists are sure to up their game. This, of course, will include more of the usual: Fear-based propaganda, screams of “what about the children”, and more laughable rhetoric.

These efforts towards maintaining the status quo of a devastating prohibition are easily counteracted with facts, science and logical reasoning. The key to bringing this all together is a public that’s vocal and consistent in their support for reform. If you want legalization to happen, you’re in the majority. It’s well beyond time we stop acting like we’re not.

With the public shifting on an issue that already has a uniquely loyal and ever-expanding base of support, have no doubt that politicians are deeply re-examining how they handle the issue of cannabis and its prohibition. As a constituent of these politicians, now is the time to be forthright in your support. There’s no easier way for a prohibitionist elected official to change their stance, or for someone on the line to firm up their support,  than to be given the ability to stand behind a mass-call for change from their constituents.

One of the key actions you can take to show your support, which has a much greater impact than people realize, is to look up who your elected officials are, and let them know just how adamantly you support reform. Do this at all levels of elected office:

1). Ask your U.S. Senators and Congressmen/women to support a federal change, and legislation such as the Respect States’ And Citizens’ Rights Act, which would codify a state’s right to decide their own cannabis policy without federal interference.

Urge them to do research on the medical value of cannabis, making sure to point out that cannabis is only justified as a schedule 1 drug, according to our Federal Controlled Substances Act, if it has no known medical value.

Beyond this, point out that cannabis is easier for children to get than alcohol or tobacco, because they’re legally regulated rather than controlled by the black-market (drug dealers don’t typically check I.D). Also let them know your disdain over non-violent individuals filling our prisons, while serious offenders are let loose early.

You can find a list of further reasoning to legalize here.

2). E-mail, snail-mail or call your state reps. and senator, and ask them if they support legalization. Typically it won’t take long to either get a direct response, or an automated issue-specific reply – either will let you know their stance (a quick Google search may also give you your answer). As with any elected official, if they support legalizing cannabis, thank them profusely. Elected officials taking a stand is necessary for our movement’s success, and we must be sincerely grateful of the ones who do, and reaffirm in them that their stance has constituent backing. If they aren’t in support, urge them to change their mind, point out articulately why an end to adult cannabis prohibition is the proper step forward, and direct them towards any specific piece of legislation or initiative that’s being worked on, if applicable in your state.

Sometimes it can be quite clear that you aren’t communicating directly with your elected representative: It’s okay, keep pushing your point. Many times staff members will check and respond to e-mails; it’s typically one of their responsibilities to relay to the official what their constituents are chattering about. A consistent influx of cannabis-reform-friendly e-mails is likely to be relayed quite clearly.

If you’re in a state like Washington or Colorado where the public has taken a stand and the laws have been reformed, you must not grow complacent, and must continue a steady dialogue. It’ll take some time for an ideal or even workable legal system to take hold, and there is much to be improved upon. This will remain a challenge for quite some time, all the while others will be fighting to reverse back to full-blown prohibition.

3). Contact your city council members and city manager, and as with the elected officials mentioned above, express very clearly that you support the legalization of cannabis – which means safe access for patients and recreational consumers alike – and that you urge them to do the same. When it comes to legalization, city councils have very little legal authority to bring any meaningful alterations. However, they often control zoning regulations, which can directly effect safe access to legal cannabis within the city’s boundaries (this can be a major issue, as we’ve seen across the country with numerous city-wide moratoriums on medical access points in state’s where they’re allowed). A consistent call from constituents supporting reform may push them away from attempting to blockade a state change that allows cannabis retail outlets, and will make it more likely for them to support reasonable regulations.

When contacting these politicians, here are a few key points to take into consideration:

  • Be informative, but precise. As easy as it may be to write a 5,000 word essay on why ending cannabis prohibition is the only sensible and acceptable move forward, it simply won’t get read, and is likely to be tossed or overlooked. Try and stay below 500 words, making sure to consistently put spaces between lines and paragraphs – don’t send them one big block of text.
  • Be collegiate in your approach to writing your letter. In other words, write it as if you’re being graded, and edit it multiple times (preferably having someone else look it over as well). You want to assure that your letter is grammatically correct, flows smoothly, and has no glaring errors that may take away from the core message you’re trying to relay.
  • Be consistent, and maintain dialogue. If your elected official supports legalization, attempt to stay in contact with them: Thank them occasionally for their support, direct them towards relevant news articles and potential legislation that you support, etc.. Don’t overdo it to the point of annoyance, but elected officials like hearing from constituents that they agree with, and that dialogue may come in use in the future. If they don’t support reform, be consistent in urging them to do so, which includes continual letters, phone calls, etc.. If you can find an event that they’ll be attending, where you can question or talk with them about it in-person, go for it.
  • Be cordial, even with those who have the exact opposite view of your own. Telling your elected officials that they’re idiots for supporting prohibition (as hard as it is not to) isn’t going to win any minds. Make it clear that you respect their opinion, but feel strongly that prohibition has failed, and that the public wants a change. Use statistical evidence, scientific data, etc. to make your point.
  • Make it clear, in a polite fashion, that you won’t be voting for any elected official who supports the devastation that this prohibition has caused. Let them know that if they wish to continue their support of our current failures, you’ll have no choice but to vote for, and work towards a replacement. This is important, and one of the only ways we’ll get prohibitionist officials to consider taking a softer stance – putting fear in them that their job is on the line.

With all this in mind, it’s clear that contacting elected officials is only one aspect of working towards reform. Attending council and committee meetings, being at or running protests, working on initiatives or referendums, etc. are all solid methods of being actively involved. That stated, contacting your elected officials is vital, often overlooked, and not unreasonably time-consuming. If you support legalization, you should make it known.

If you have any questions, or want someone to look over a letter before it’s sent to check for errors or potentially advise on improvements, feel free to send an e-mail at anytime to info@sensiblewashington.org. We’ll quickly and happily respond.

*This article was originally published on Toke of the Town.

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