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The Challenge For The New Generation Of Marijuana Legalizers


legalize marijuana cannabis safe safetyBy Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

I was recently asked, following a lecture I had given, what the next generation of legalization advocates could do to move legalization forward, and to leave their mark on the legalization movement.

The question was intriguing, and caused me to revisit in my mind the areas of public policy in which marijuana smokers continue to be treated unfairly, even in states that have legalized marijuana, and to consider why these problems remain so difficult for us to correct.

I have discussed in previous columns the continuing problems we face as smokers dealing with employment discrimination, child custody and related issues, and charges of driving under the influence of marijuana. Simply put, marijuana smokers continue to be treated as people who, because of their marijuana smoking, can be fired from their job without the slightest indication they have ever gone to work in an impaired condition; continue to be presumed by the state child welfare agencies to be unfit parents, without any evidence to suggest that conclusion; and continue to face DUID charges without any showing of driving while impaired.

Most Americans are decent, fair-minded people who would generally want to treat their fellow citizens in a fair manner, just as they would want to be treated. But because of the impact of decades of “reefer madness” propaganda and widespread misinformation about marijuana and marijuana smokers, once the factor of marijuana smoking enters the equation, these same Americans are largely willing to allow – or even encourage – policies that needlessly and unfairly harm the families, careers and lives of people who are good, hard-working individuals who happen to enjoy marijuana smoking when they relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax in the evening.

Two out of Three Americans Have an Unfavorable Impression of Marijuana Smokers

This is true despite the fact that a majority of the American public now support full legalization. They have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-marijuana. This is an important distinction. These citizens were dubbed the “marijuana middle” by the Third Way, a Washington, DC think tank that recently released polling data showing, somewhat shockingly, that while a majority of the country now favor full legalization, 64 percent of those same people have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers!

They believe that those of us who smoke marijuana are doing something wrong, and harmful, regardless of the legal status of marijuana. Thus in every policy area that arises, including especially employment, child custody and driving, they continue to presume the worst-case scenario, and, in their minds, to “err on the side of caution” to protect the non-smoking public from the perceived dangers of marijuana smoking and marijuana smokers.

This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.

And that brings me back to the question I was asked regarding what the new generation of legalization advocates could do to leave their mark on the legalization movement. My answer is that the latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good, productive citizen.

It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are hard-working, middle class individuals who raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And until we overcome those stereotypes, we cannot achieve full equality with our fellow citizens. We will continue to be treated unfairly both legally and culturally.

In earlier decades, it took real courage to acknowledge your use of marijuana, as one might find yourself shunted by friends or colleagues, or even worse, targeted by law enforcement. And even today, the Third Way polling results clearly demonstrate there remains a stigma to marijuana smoking, and we must overcome that stigma if we are to avoid these unfair policies, even after legalization.

It is the younger generation of smokers who must face this final challenge. We have, after decades of effort, begun the long process of redefining the responsible use of marijuana as a legal activity. Over the next several years, we should succeed in ending the practice of arresting marijuana smokers all throughout the country.

But we will continue to be treated unfairly until we overcome this persistent cultural bias. So long as 65% of the public have an unfavorable view of those of us who smoke, we simply cannot achieve full equality. To do that we must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people -who just happen to enjoy smoking marijuana. We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke. This is a necessary cultural shift.

That is the challenge for our younger colleagues in the legalization movement.

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Johnny Green


  1. We really need a much safer alternative to killer alcohol and cannabis most certainly qualifies. That’s an important piece of our winning message.There’s plenty more, as you know, like how prohibition puts distribution in the hands of a black market willing to sell to and employ kids. Or the persistent heavy racial bias in enforcement with all its consequences. Or the violence and threat to national security from powerful criminal cartels.

  2. Kevin’s average is actually 3.5 stars (refer “sanity”. If you drill down on the reviews, you’ll see they’re not flattering. Adelson and Bennett are voices crying in the wilderness. What’s important is that we refute their claims consistently. The momentum is on our side. I don’t believe in the inevitability of anything. That’s why I blog, tweet, and engage in conversations both public and private.

  3. I think one of the major reasons 2/3 of Americans look down upon those who smoke is because of the culture behind it. Red, green and yellow clothing, flags, stickers, etc can make some people uneasy. Another thing being that when you walk in a dispensary, most of the employees are pierced, gauged, tattooed, and who knows what else. A large majority of Americans find that intimidating. I’m not saying any of those things are wrong, but a lot of people don’t like them. Many users are professional or “normal,” but those individuals usually hide their use. The only people who seem to be open about actually smoking are the people you see at the fair and you say “Holy hell what hole did they crawl out of?!” I know a lot of young professionals who smoke. They dress real nice, have good manners, and you would NEVER guess they partook of the cannabis filled good times just by looking at them. That’s how you need to act if you want to be more accepted. It’s also annoying how half of High Times magazine is most naked women “studying” or “analyzing” weed.

    All of this stuff put together is what helps make that bad image for cannabis users. I understand there are other factors in play, but in my experiences these are the largest.

  4. Oregonians certainly had a chance to hear Kevin Sabet. They also had a chance to read his book, which came out in August 2013. Oregon legalized 56-44.

    So much for Kevin The Invincible.

  5. I’d also like to see drug testing abolished unless they are testing for alcohol too.

  6. I think that the continued testimonials of the success of medical Marijuana will gradually Sway these idiotic lawmakers in the right direction.I also think the continued success of the legal states tax revenue will eventually open some eyes. Unfortunately it wont be as soon as it should be.

  7. Kevin Sabet says smoked marijuana isnt medicine and all the state laws allowing it is snake oil.

  8. First of all, the false victories your talking about dont count. None of those voters ever got to hear Kevin Sabet’s message. They never heard of the studies linking marijuana to mental illness and loss of iq.

    The only thing that matters is, what the general public will think about marijuana after reading Kevin Sabets book (http://www.amazon.com/Reefer-Sanity-Seven-Great-Marijuana/dp/0825306981)………….. Or after going to a conference like this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K_SrTGJXrE)…… If there are people who used to be on our side (supported marijuana legalization) and dont now as a result of reading Kevin Sabets book or going to one of his conferences, then wer screwed. Were not going to have the support needed to win in future elections if he keeps it up. Eventually his message will reach everyone.

    Just cause hes not persuading you guys on the Weed Blog doesnt mean hes not persuading a lot of crucial voters you need in future elections when marijuana is going to be on the ballot. Daily to monthly pot smokers are no more than 10% of the population. If every pot smoker turned out and voted yes to marijuana legalization but everyone else voted no, you lose.

    Either Kevin Sabet has to die or marijuana advocates have to find a way to win the marijuana debate. If neither of those things happens, there wont be majority support for marijuana legalization much longer.. So far, the advocates for marijuana legalization are failing miserably. NORML, MPP, SSDP, LEAP, DPA are all acting as if Project Sam does not exist. None of them are prepared to debate Kevin Sabet. I watched every video of him in a debate, its the same every time.

  9. Plllt. Kevin Sabet is way overrated. If he’s so influential, why was 2014 such a good year for legalization? He’s on the losing side and he knows it.

    BTW, didn’t you also predict the Wichita decriminalization measure would lose? (it won 54-46)

  10. You’ve stated a fact that I’ve been attempting to get across to legalization supporters for years–a clearly stated message that offers some immediately understandable facts regarding the medicinal benefits of cannabis, with a strong emphasis on its lack of side effects that are essentially a built-in option for prescriptions medications as well as a lot of OTC meds.
    Surely, given enough clearly stated, irrefutable information about cannabis along with some factual data snippets regarding the annual alcohol-related death toll and DUI-related auto accidents across the country, even the anti-cannabis hard liners would have a problem refuting it. And yes, I understand there will always be some who don’t want to hear the facts or anything contrary to what they’ve likely heard since childhood. However, even these folks can’t be totally written off because at some point they may actually experience a weak moment and read or listen to some factual statements about the proven medicinal results gained by those using cannabis to treat their diagnosed medical issues.
    Thanks for continuing to push the logical approach for overcoming the legalization hurdle.

  11. Just Wondrin on

    The problem is how do those that work, and do all the things you’re “supposed” to do as an average American, are afraid to come out of the closet while the plant is still illegal by Federal law, and even in the few places that have legalized, there is still the problem of workplace drug testing. Also, there is another problem which can potentially affect hundreds of thousands. I contracted HCV 20 yrs ago by getting a mid-life crisis tattoo. I am currently being vetted for the new Hep C treatment, Harvoni. Express Scripts – the 3rd party gatekeeper, and BC/BS – require drug testing for all patients who are seeking treatment for this disease, regardless of the way you got it.
    I have been around long enough, and seen enough, to know that cannabis is by far the recreational enhancer with the least danger and fewer long term side effects when compared with all other libations, and as medicine far fewer side effects. As a whole plant when juiced, many medicines can be ditched. I have recently lost a 33 yr old friend by liver failure due to her over use of Tylenol, yet pot is illegal.
    It’s time for older people, who have by far had the most experience, to stand up. We’re the ones who have been there, done that, and regardless of propaganda by Project Sam, or Kevin Sabet’s book (never heard of it, btw, and many of those reviews of Amazon are fake or since they bought the book, it reaffirmed the position anyway) we know the real long term effects and challenges. In all my years, of the many people I’ve known who smoked pot, most were solid citizens. The worst side effect was always the fear or the reality of prison. That has to change.

  12. Keith Stroup seems like a smart guy. He knows so much details regarding marijuana, the history of it and its policies. He must be unaware of all the new threats like Project Sam, Shelden Adelson and Bill Bennett. Or he’s being dishonest when he says theyre not a threat.

    How are marijuana legalizers going to win if Kevin Sabet kills off all the support you need in future elections? Everyone who reads Kevin Sabets book turns against legalization. His book on amazon is getting nothing but 5 star reviews which means your side is losing the debate.

    You need a winnable message to win the political war. Its not working against Kevin Sabet (at least among the general public who doesnt smoke or care about pot).

  13. Cheech and Chong movies. But alcohol had a similar problem in the 50s. Stupid drunks. “Drunk” comedians were all over the place. It was considered funny.

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