Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol: a First in the USA? - by Tim Beck
Approximately 75 cannabis reform activists were counted in the audience. They paid $250+ to have dinner, network and help fund a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Michigan in 2018.
The attendees represented of broad mix of donors from grass roots to grass tops. Members of powerful cannabis trade groups, business owners, and their lobbyists, mingled with members of grass roots organizations such as MI Legalize, Michigan NORML and the Safer Michigan Coalition among others.
What is peculiar to some observers, is the fact that practically every legalization initiative spearheaded or participated in by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has faced opposition, sometimes virulent, from grass roots cannabis reformers. These groups did not like the content of the MPP proposal and /or the groups management style. This was not the case in Michigan. As a result of super human effort and patience on the part of MPP and grass roots leaders, activist ranks have closed.
For better or worse, many long time activists across the USA believe the MPP corporate culture is obsessed with secrecy. They play their cards close to the vest and try to make their move(s) by stealth. However, the evening in Ann Arbor seemed different. Without giving away the store, CRMLA was very up front about what will be coming down the pike.
Chuck Ream, executive director of the Safer Michigan Coalition emceed the event. He introduced CRMLA leaders Josh Hovey, Jeff Irwin, and Robin Schneider, as well as former Fox News TV reporter Anqunette Sarfoh. Their words were real and to the point.
Campaign spokesperson Josh Hovey, from the powerhouse public relations firm "Truscott-Rossman" was first on deck.
"We communicate when we need to communicate" he said, citing the groups recent public announcement that CRMLA had crossed the 100,000 petition signature mark in under two months and progress was continuing rapidly.
"Our main job now, is getting the signatures we need in record time... the opposition is not going away" he asserted, suggesting there will be plenty of time to sell the proposal and go after enemies down the road. "It is going to be a hard fought campaign...we are polling roughly 60% in favor (of legalization) but we must stay on message"... using techniques proven to work in the past and being flexible in the face of new attacks in the future.
CRMLA Finance Directer Robin Schneider reported the evening's fundraiser a complete success. "We sold every ticket. Some could not make it but they sent checks." In addition she said CRMLA's overall fundraising targets were being met.
In a particularly touching moment, Ms Schneider asked the audience members to raise their hand if they knew anyone who was arrested for marijuana. Every hand in the room went up. When that happened, she stated to a wave of rousing applause: "well, I have been waiting for this moment all my life."
CRMLA political director State Representative Jeff Irwin (ret) cautioned the enthusiastic crowd not to get too over confident.
"Fear is easy to sell" he explained, as he showed the audience videos of opposition attack ads from other states. Some persons in the crowd laughed at the hit pieces.
Mr. Irwin then emphasized again, that poll numbers can quickly drop if the wrong thing happens. "We cannot let our guard down."
“There are two kinds of opposition" he continued. "Disorganized opposition" from cannabis reformers who will vote no "because the proposal is not perfect," and traditional enemies like big pharma, wealthy persons like billionaire Sheldon Adelson, law enforcement, the drug treatment industry, "Project SAM" (Smart Alternatives to Marijuana) and a shadowy Michigan specific group called "Keeping Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools" (KPONS) "Cannabis prohibition is the grand daddy of all failed big government programs" Mr. Irwin concluded.
Rounding out the evening was Anqunette Sarfoh, known as "Q" to her friends. Ms Sarfof left her position some months ago as a top Fox News Detroit TV reporter, due to her ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis. Q is now a full time warrior for cannabis policy reform.
"We are fighting 80 years of lies" she declared. "I was part of the machine but not anymore. Cannabis is my thing. My only thing. I have is MS and cannabis works. On the bright side, this has given me the opportunity to meet so many good people."
As the evening wound down, the networking continued. Some herb was smoked on the back balcony and guests sided up to the bar. Many of us could not stop commiserating. It was as if no one wanted the moment to go.
Tim Beck is Chairman of the Safer Michigan Coalition. The Coalition's goal is to fully legalize the use of cannabis by all adults in Michigan.