A few days after returning from Europe, I embarked on my every-two-years barnstorming tour to help states end our country’s prohibition on marijuana. Four years ago, it was my state, Washington. Two years ago, it was Oregon. And this week, it was Maine and Massachusetts. I had a great time in those two beautiful states and raised a lot of awareness before this November’s election. Why me in those states? I went there to share a common-sense, European take on drug policy reform, and to share my state’s track record after our 2012 vote to legalize, tax, and regulate pot. You can review some of the press I earned in Maine and Massachusetts, and here are a few photos from my latest travels:
I spent a week in the two states, getting as much press as I could. It was pretty easy to get into the newspapers — like this one in the beautiful town of Northampton, in western Massachusetts. Everything they say about how glorious the foliage is in New England this time of year is true — so beautiful. But my focus was on an entirely different foliage…one that lands too many people (especially if they’re poor or black) in jail.
This year, five states are trying to join the four that have already legalized the adult use of marijuana: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts. Each state has a team whose mission is to get their initiative passed. Here’s the gang in Maine. They’re renting a dumpy office for a few months and fighting like mad to defend the local citizenry from the onslaught of misinformation from what I call “the PPP” — the pot prohibition profiteers. They are the organizations that make money because pot is illegal, and they fund the opposition to initiatives that aim to take crime out of the equation. In every campaign I’ve been involved with, we’ve been up against beer money, prison-industry money, and money from the pharmaceutical industry. These groups have one thing in common: They’ll lose money when we legalize pot.
It was interesting for me as a teacher to have to hone my delivery. On my first day, I gave two interviews from my car on the way to the airport…I was very rusty. But having to give about six interviews on radio, TV, and to newspapers every day (plus talks every night), I got my talking points down really well in a hurry. When doing interviews on the radio, I had this cheat sheet to ensure I made my points effectively.
It was quite a whirlwind. In Boston, I had Jorge and his great town car all day long — running me from my hotel to each gig. Marijuana is a pretty sexy topic, and I managed to get on just about all the media outlets we wanted.
I was a bit frustrated by how nervous various organizations in New England were to host a talk on drug policy reform. In Oregon and Washington we had no problem getting people to host us. But in Maine and Massachusetts, it was very tough. We managed to make presentations at a few universities, at a city club, and at an event hosted by the ACLU. But the real publicity value is not measured by the size of the audience at a talk, but by the “earned media” we got from newspapers, radio, and TV. Reporters were on hand at each talk.
I got on plenty of TV shows. Generally, the hosts were friendly to the issue. Our biggest challenge was the political establishment. They were spouting all the old “Reefer Madness” points. I kept saying, “Your politicians are talking like it’s 2010. It’s 2016 now and we have a track record. We know what happens when we legalize, tax, and regulate: Teen use does not go up, DUIs do not go up, crime does not go up…the only thing that goes up is tax revenue (and, in my state, we are raising $120 million a year by turning a thriving black market into a highly regulated and taxed industry).”
Radio interviews were the most fun. Talk-show hosts seem to be liberal or libertarian and love to celebrate common-sense laws and civil liberties. While you only get a couple of minutes on commercial TV, on radio you get upwards of half an hour.
I’ve read that the press contingent filling Hillary’s plane is composed mostly of “kids” in their 20s. Coincidentally, I learned that the hotshot reporters who’ve earned huge respect from my publicists are also millennials. These whiz kids are really smart and were fun to talk to. And, they wrote the most influential columns in Boston.
After a grueling day of interviews and a talk in the evening, it was fun to collapse onto my hotel bed, turn on the late news, and see myself talking not about travel…but about stopping the war on marijuana.