Mar 072011

The Drug Policy Alliance gets top billing today in our belated video coverage of CalNORML’s marijuana reform conference in Berkeley. Ethan Nadelmann, DPA’s founder and executive director, and California director Stephen Gutwillig both possess a keen understanding of the political process, and their thoughts on legalization in 2012 deserve special attention.

First and foremost is understanding that political compromises will be necessary to craft a winning initiative. Politics is a contact sport, after all, and purists can only watch from the sidelines.

“It’s what’s winnable that goes as far as possible,” Nadelmann told the CalNORML conference attendees in late January. “To put our dream thing out there, knowing it’s going to go down (on Election Day) … why bother? On the other hand, to sell ourselves so short that (the fact) we’re actually going to win isn’t all that meaningful, why bother?”

Nadelmann took special note of employment protections for cannabis users, which drew the ire of business interests during the Prop. 19 campaign. “People shouldn’t be punished for what they put in their bodies. It’s a core principle,” Nadelmann said. “But Dale (Gieringer) makes a legitimate point: It has to be on the table.” Other key issues include the age of majority, 18 vs. 21, and personal cultivation of non-medical cannabis.

“The average California non-consumer doesn’t like personal cultivation. That feels a bit out of control for them. But that is a fundamental principle we’re talking about, people’s ability to grow their own while finding some secure access.”

Nadelmann drew his biggest applause after taking note of the “Humboldt phenomenon,” where people profit from the benign enforcement of cannabis prohibition. “We cannot, as Drug Policy Alliance or as a movement, be solely here to represent, to defend the vested interests of people who have benefited either from prohibition or, quite frankly, from its violation. That can’t be our major priority,” he said.

Gutwillig said the conventional political wisdom in California argues against floating ballot measures in consecutive elections, a buzzkill for any discussion about a 2012 follow-up to Proposition 19. Even so, Gutwillig said, Prop. 19 was a “game-changer” that will pay dividends in 2012 and beyond.

“The enormous media that it generated by being the first out of the gate, on the scale that Proposition 19 represented, meant that it normalized this discussion nationally. You can’t put a price tag on what that has meant for the movement nationally…. Politically, Prop. 19 is arguably responsible for placing the legalization of marijuana in the mainstream of American politics where it belongs.”

Should a follow-up to Prop. 19 emerge for the 2012 ballot, Gutwillig said, it should aim for the “sweet spot” between principle and viability. Beyond reaching out to progressive allies, such as the labor unions and the California NAACP that supported Prop. 19, “we have work to do to get our own house in order,” Gutwillig said.

“Everything needs to be on the table now,” Gutwillig said, a theme echoed by CalNORML director Dale Gieringer and several other conference speakers.

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