On November 3rd, three days before the historic election that saw cannabis prohibition tumble down in two states and an 18th state join the growing list of medical marijuana states, activists convened in Columbia, Missouri, to attend the Missouri Cannabis Law Reform Conference. The National Cannabis Coalition was a co-sponsor of the event and I was honored to speak at this gathering of dedicated activists. As a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I co-authored measures that eventually decriminalized personal amounts of cannabis for all adults and legalized possession by qualified patients in 2004, so it was great to revisit the ol’ stomping grounds.
During the morning session on a beautiful Saturday, conference attendees heard updates from Show-Me Cannabis activists, including Dan Viets and Amber Langston, two great activists who were instrumental in the positive law reforms in Columbia Missouri. Dan and Amber were joined by John Payne and Maranda Reynolds, two great Missouri activists who are doing great work across the state. I provided an update about the activities of NCC across the country and my wife Sarah Duff, a founding member of Women Against Prohibition, also spoke at the conference, providing tips on how to gather the needed signatures to place marijuana law reform measures on local ballots. Attendees were provided an opportunity to ask questions, and there were plenty of great questions, particularly about the ongoing efforts to decriminalize cannabis in Springfield, Missouri, and the latest lawsuit seeking to reschedule marijuana at the federal level.
During the afternoon session, conference attendees were treated to several great presentations. First up, was Doug Fine, best-selling author of Farewell, My Subaru and Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. In Too High to Fail, Doug embedded himself with the medical cannabis community in Mendocino County, California, with extensive access into the lives of growers and local law enforcement. Mr. Fine weaves a great tale of his vision of a Drug Peace Era that replaces our current Drug War. Doug found a slice of the Drug Peace Era in Mendocino County with the implementation of a medical marijuana regulatory system that generated $600,000 for the county, saving the jobs of seven deputy sheriffs in 2011. Not only did the successful medical program generate revenue and create jobs, but also improved public safety as the local community was more inclined to trust local law enforcement, knowing that the public servants were there to protect the community and not bust them. Unfortunately, the federal government couldn’t let this successful program continue and threatened the Mendocino Board of Supervisors with racketeering charges if they didn’t disband the program. Doug, a farmer and father of two, is determined to share his vision of a new Drug Peace throughout Middle America. I definitely recommend his book and encourage groups across the country to invite Doug to town to give his great presentation.
After Doug Fine was Radley Balko, a former writer for Reason Magazine and current contributor to the Huffington Post. Radley has been conducting great research into SWAT raids and the unfortunate militarization of local law enforcement agencies across the nation. His presentation provided great insight into how the War on Drugs has led to an expansion of civil liberties violations and the unnecessary use of military tactics and weaponry by police agencies across the country. Mr. Balko’s presentation included footage of the Jonathan Whitworth raid in Columbia, Missouri. The Whitworth raid garnered national attention when only a small amount of marijuana was found in the house, yet armed officers shot two family dogs while a young child was present in the house. It was noted that Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton, who was in attendance, has done a good job of limiting the use of SWAT raids following the controversy caused by the Whitworth raid. Radley’s presentation is a great warning to everyone who is concerned about our loss of civil liberties and he should be sought out by activists across the country to give his presentation. Don’t forget to invite local law enforcement.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann. Mr. Nadelmann is one of, if not the, top drug policy expert in the country (if not the world). Columbia, Missouri, was lucky to snag Mr. Nadelmann and drug policy reformers across the country should seek him out and book him for events and conferences. Ethan, a former Princeton professor, has a great speaking style that educates his listeners, providing hope and inspiration, but without sugar-coating anything.
Nadelmann spoke about the three things he found most inspiring regarding drug law reform today. First, was that the popularity of locking people up and throwing away the key had subsided among the people. The rising cost of incarcerating over two million people had simply reached a tipping point in the United States. Secondly, reforms internationally are increasing across the globe. Uruguay has started the process to legalize marijuana and similar positions have been supported by several leaders in Central and South America. Many of these leaders had formerly been drug warriors and seeing them realize the harmful consequences of prohibition has started a serious movement to find alternatives to the devastating War on Drugs. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a panel consisting of several former world leaders and policy makers calling for an end to the Drug War. The commission includes former presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, Portugal and Switzerland and has added to the interational community looking for alternatives from the harmful consequences of the Drug War. Mr. Nadelmann is meeting with leaders across the globe as they seek advice on how to end prohibition and they could not be meeting with anyone better. Finally, Ethan was encouraged by the marijuana law reforms on the ballot this year and the election proved his optimism correct as both Colorado and Washington voted to end cannabis prohibition and Massachusetts overwhelmingly decided to become the 18th medical marijuana state. Ethan told the audience that the Obama Administration had whispered at fund raisers this election year that they were going to be more progressive on drug law reform in the 2nd term. (Here’s hoping that those whispers turn into actions and Colorado and Washington are allowed to implement their laws without federal interference.)
After the conference, all of the speakers and many attendees joined a fundraiser at the Grand Cru restaurant. Money was raised for the efforts to reform marijuana laws in the Show-Me State and a good time was had by all. Proceeds from the event were split between Missouri NORML and Show-Me Cannabis Regulation If you happen to be in Missouri or find yourself in Missouri when the next Missouri Cannabis Law Reform Conference is held, you will not be disappointed if you attend. It was a pleasure for NCC to co-sponsor the event and I was personally proud to speak. I can’t wait for the next one and hope to see you there.