THE BLOG

MPP's Rob Kampia Warns Oregon Not to Try Marijuana Legalization in 2014

11/29/2012 06:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2013
  • Russ Belville Host of The Russ Belville Show on CannabisRadio.com

Through my sources I have learned that Rob Kampia, the head of Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), has told numerous leaders of marijuana reform organizations in Oregon in person to not attempt to craft a marijuana legalization initiative for the 2014 election.  The clear message is that any efforts that form for 2014 will get zero help from MPP and, more importantly, zero financial support from MPP's prime billionaire funder.

Kampia follows through on the private threat with a not-so-veiled public threat in his latest piece on The Huffington Post.  His overall lessons to be learned from Colorado legalization are valid, including point #1, which is to run marijuana legalization initiatives in a presidential election year when there is more young voter turnout. However, by the closing, it seems clear to me the article was meant to dissuade eager reformers in Oregon (and to a lesser extent, California) from working for legalization in 2014:

It's possible that if we had skipped one or two of the above 10 steps, Colorado voters would have still passed the initiative. But if you intentionally skip one or two steps, you should have a good reason for why you're doing so.

To that point, there are already well-meaning activists in Oregon and other states who aren't remembering the efforts of well-meaning activists in California, who ignored the lesson of step #1 above and pushed a risky initiative during a non-presidential election in 2010, which I'm sure felt good but succeeded at failing.

The California folks spent a lot of money on Prop. 19 (which my organization supported politically but not financially), and that initiative dutifully failed in 2010. This was an initiative that would have almost surely passed on November 6 of this year, except for the problem of impatience.

So let's move forward in other states, but let's do so patiently and strategically. The path is there for us to follow, and I look forward to working with activists across the country to follow that path as we dismantle marijuana prohibition state by state.

That path would be "the highway", as in "it's my way or..."  Is it also possible that had MPP supported Prop 19 financially, it could have won?  Remember, it was polling in the high-50s up to shortly before the election -- maybe a few six-figure donations that come in late August instead of late October pushes Prop 19 up from 46.5 percent to over 50 percent?  As one of the "well-meaning activists in Oregon", I'd note that the work of the "well-meaning activists in California" with Prop 19 succeeded in two ways:

1) The leverage of legalization gaining traction sped through a decriminalization bill to Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk, which reports show reduced juvenile arrests by 20 percent in one year.

2) The discussion around Prop 19 got the public more ready for legalization debates in 2012 in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, and the exit polling from Prop 19 helped Colorado and Washington campaigns target their ads and write their language more effectively.

Oregon 2014 is not California 2010. We need far fewer signatures. Our ad buys cost far less. Most of our population and all our largest city will be within an hour's drive of legal marijuana in Washington for nearly two years. We vote by mail. We'll have a high-profile gubernatorial race to generate media coverage. Legalization is no longer a pipe dream, but a valid policy choice.

It is never a mistake to run a legalization initiative (see: Colorado's 2006 effort, or others run in both presidential and non-presidential years), it is only a mistake to run one badly (see: Oregon 2012). Oregon activists can't wait four years and thousands of marijuana arrests later to legalize and there are now more deep pockets than just Peter Lewis who want in on the legal marijuana game.