(Communications Director Morgan Fox at the MPP Office. Photo by Tanner Hackney)
By Tanner Hackney
Washington, D.C.— Local advocacy groups DCMJ and MPP are fighting for improved state and federal marijuana policies as the December renewal process for the Rohrabacher amendment approaches. Failure to renew would allow the federal government to use funds to interfere with state marijuana policies.
“We’re very concerned that if it doesn’t pass, the DOJ will start doing some sort of crackdown on medical marijuana in states where it’s legal,” MPP director of communications Morgan Fox said.
Marijuana Policy Project was founded in 1995 and has since been heavily involved in the legalization of recreational and medical cannabis in dozens of states, including Colorado. The exclusion of the Rohrabacher amendment from the 2018 fiscal year budget could jeopardize their state efforts.
To ensure the amendment’s renewal, MPP are starting advertising campaigns in the districts of Congress members. MPP hopes the campaign will encourage them to give the Rohrabacher amendment priority. This is in addition to MPP’s “standard” lobbying work, Fox said.
DCMJ co-founder Adam Eidinger is also worried about the amendment falling through, but sees potential benefit to the scenario as well.
“It’ll force Congress to revisit the issue of federal marijuana policy,” Eidinger said.
DCMJ is known for spearheading Initiative 71, a ballot that legalized possession, gifting, home cultivation, and recreational use of marijuana in D.C. in 2014.
Eidinger said things need to get “a little worse” before they get better. This mindset is evident in the political demonstrations DCMJ has performed at the U.S. Capitol, giving away cannabis to those walking by. Eidinger said although gifting cannabis is legal, it still attracts attention from the Capitol police, which DCMJ often expects. He said they use these situations to “test the patience of Capitol police.”
“Giving away cannabis on the Capitol is legal, but we force them to violate our rights because they don’t want to see it,” Eidinger said.
DCMJ will be holding a similar demonstration on Oct. 31 called “Haunted HUD House.” Members will be giving out free cannabis in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from a trailer. The demonstration is in protest of federal marijuana restrictions against residents who live in subsidized housing.
Subsidized housing residents may not bring, use or grow marijuana in their homes since HUD is an office of the federal government and adheres to the Controlled Substances Act, which lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance.
“That’s something they [subsidized housing residents] voluntarily enter into in the contract, but is it really voluntary?” Eidinger said. “I think you’re coerced to sign that contract because you need housing.”
DCMJ is also focusing on defending Initiative 71. Although it has been in place for three years, a majority vote from the D.C. Council and Mayor Bowser’s signature could repeal it. DCMJ has made custom filter tips with messages that say things like “legalized.” They distribute these filters to both cannabis users and dealers in order to spread their message.
Focusing more on state legislature, MPP is currently creating ballot initiatives in Utah and Michigan, where they aim to legalize adult use and medical use, respectively. Other states they are working on laws for include Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, and Connecticut.
MPP’s legislative efforts typically involve searching for bill sponsors by contacting potentially supportive lawmakers. They also work with grassroots activists to design language for the bill that would best fit that state’s demands.
MPP’s work is often undermined by state law enforcement, who face a lot to lose because of legalization, Fox said. The federal grants they received for marijuana arrests are a thing of the past in legal states.
“They also lose the ability to get a lot of money for asset forfeiture that’s pretty easy pickins for a local marijuana bust,” Fox said.
Both groups cite Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice as major obstacles to their efforts.
“Jeff Sessions is one of the worst drug warriors left in government, and he’s totally misguided on marijuana’s efficacy,” Eidinger said.
Sessions sent a letter to Congress in June requesting they repeal the Rohrabacher amendment so the DOJ could have more power over enforcement on the federal level. Fox worries the republican control of Congress will not work in MPP’s favor either.
“Even though this is a very bipartisan issue, it’s still not doing as well among republicans as it is among democrats,” Fox said. “There’s just a little bit of a lag time there, despite the fact that it’s very much an issue of fiscal responsibility and states rights and limited government, things that should appeal to real conservatives.”