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David Haseltine

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In the War on Drugs, Youths Are Educators

Posted: 06/09/11 04:05 PM ET

Two weeks ago we got the death notice for the decriminalization of marijuana bill from the largest newspaper in the state, The Hartford Courant. And while it was definitely disappointing news, it motivated our entire chapter and other chapters in our state to take action.

We lobbied Senators' aides at the capitol, and we got a meeting with the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Don Williams. We barraged his office with phone calls and e-mails in the days leading up to that meeting, and when the meeting came, he stated that he would vote in favor of decriminalization and that the bill would be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Just 7 months ago he stood on stage at a debate and declared his firm opposition to decriminalization.

What made him change his mind? There is no doubt in my mind that the deciding factor was the loud, unified, and persistent voice of his constituents.

We then turned our attention to Senators who were on the fence. We were successful in swinging one Senator, Edith Prague, with another barrage of calls and e-mails. That was enough to get us an 18-18 tie in the Senate, with Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman breaking the tie in favor.

We then focused our efforts on the House of Representatives. We didn't know if we had the votes there, if the leadership was with us, or whether the Governor would expend any further effort to get the legislature to pass the bill. We made contacts with professional lobbyists, journalists, and legislative aides. Through our conversations with them, we learned that we had more than enough votes to pass the bill. It was only a matter of getting the bill called to the House floor. Again, we inundated Speaker of the House Chris Donovan's office with phone calls and e-mails demanding that he bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Today, the bill was called first thing in the morning. After four hours of scaremongering from the opposition, the bill passed with a solid majority. The Governor has stated numerous times his intent to sign the bill into law. Connecticut will become the 14th U.S. state to decriminalize marijuana on July 1 of this year.

Throughout this whole process I have been continually surprised at the amazing returns you can get with just a small amount of effort. Phone calls DO matter. E-mails DO make a difference. I submit the passage of this bill as proof of that.

We were visible at every campaign event in our area when Dan Malloy was running for governor. We held a very positive rally at the capitol on Day 1 of the legislative session. We were loud, we were numerous, and we were consistent. And we were along the parade route for Governor Malloy's swearing-in ceremony. Show up to their public events. It makes a huge difference.

Never underestimate the power of conveying your opinions to a legislator. Though your views on the Drug War may be common among people you know, it is very likely that a given legislator has never heard the arguments against drug prohibition. We had one member of our chapter receive a response from his legislator saying that he intended to tell his personal story during debate on the bill.

The value of making contacts and friendships with political elites cannot be overstated. Rub elbows. Learn faces and names. Certain information (like what goes on in party caucuses) cannot be easily gotten. Having personal relationships with people inside the legislature helped a great deal in knowing where we stood.

In two weeks, we saved the decriminalization bill. And we did it with e-mails, phone calls, and face to face meetings. That's all. It's just that easy.

David Haseltine is a senior and president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Connecticut.