Struggle Against the Victorian Tide

From The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform. Thanks to Mariann W. for tipping us about this.

Lessons from Alaska’s Proposition 2
By Mariann Garner-Wizard


Those who fail to learn from the past must repeat it, we’re told, and in 40 years working for marijuana legalization (1) in four different states, I’ve seen certain problems over and over. A rapid turnover of entry-level activists often found in local work is perhaps due, not to the flighty nature of marijuana users, but to the unsatisfactory state of a movement which purports to represent them. Please, I’m not criticizing people who work selflessly to end prohibition – perhaps those most likely to read this journal! – so don’t take my remarks as unduly negative. There are important exceptions to my criticisms, but I don’t plan to describe them. I’ve been asked about lessons from Alaska’s 2004 legalization campaign, and since failure’s lessons are most costly, that’s where I’ll focus.

In mid-2004, largely due to misfortunes of other organizers, I went from Texas to Alaska to work on the final run-up to the vote on citizen-initiated Proposition 2 (Prop. 2), which would mandate regulating marijuana as Alaska regulates tobacco and alcohol, essentially legalizing cannabis commerce there. I knew the task would be challenging, not least because I would be a rank “Outsider” in a state where I had no experience and no strong movement contacts, but marijuana’s unique status there convinced me to take on what quickly became an untenable assignment. Prop. 2 drew 44.25% of the November vote, in which 60% of Alaskans supported George W. Bush’s re-election. We were lucky if we didn’t lose votes during the three month “official” campaign.

My inability to function within the seemingly jinxed campaign left me time to meet Alaskans of all ages and many walks of life, on an informal, “normal” footing. Asked what brought me to the Great State, I always said, “to help legalize marijuana for grown-ups.” While I occasionally met with some surprise, in the six months I eventually spent there, only three or four individuals disagreed with legalization; everyone else, perhaps after a few questions about the initiative, said they could support it. I formed the view that Alaska’s lengthy experience with semi-legal marijuana, protected by a strong constitution and Supreme Court, had shown that the herb is, at worst, “not as bad as alcohol”. I believe Prop. 2 could have passed, had support been consistent, principled, and self-disciplined. However, few campaigners thought it had much chance. This disconnection between the apparent support of a wide voter base, and a pessimistic campaign, was striking from the outset.

Read the rest here.

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