Marijuana Policy Project

The Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, is the largest organization working solely on marijuana policy reform in the United States in terms of its budget, number of members, and staff. Its stated aims are to: (1) increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (2) identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (3) change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana; and (4) gain influence in Congress.[1] MPP advocates taxing and regulating the possession and sale of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, envisions a nation where marijuana education is honest and realistic, and believes treatment for problem marijuana users should be non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.[2]

Contents

History

MPP co-founders Rob Kampia, Chuck Thomas, and Mike Kirshner originally worked at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. In 1995, after months of in-fighting, NORML director Richard Cowan fired Kampia, Thomas, and another staffer who had been pressing Cowan for organizational change. Kirshner quit NORML at the same time. Kampia, Thomas, and Kirshner began creating their own organization, implementing the ideas they'd pushed at NORML.[3] On January 25, 1995, the three activists incorporated the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) as a not-for-profit organization in the District of Columbia.[4]

MPP has grown to over 32,000 dues-paying members and is the largest marijuana policy reform group in the United States. The organization has 21 staffers and an annual budget of about $2.85 million.

Organization

MPP, like many advocacy groups, is divided into two legal entities, one a lobbying group and the other an educational group. The public education branch can accept tax-deductible donations, while the lobbying group can use its funds to directly influence politicians. 100% of MPP’s funding comes from the individual contributions of their more than 32,000 members. MPP supporters come from every U.S. state, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.[5]

State-Level Advocacy

The Marijuana Policy Project devotes a significant amount of its efforts to changing laws at the state level. Its campaign committees spearheaded and provided the majority of funding for the six of the eight most recent state medical marijuana laws and one of only two decriminalization laws to pass in the last decade. MPP has also led efforts to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol by drafting and lobbying for state legislation and leading initiative campaigns.[6]

MPP supports marijuana policy reform in every state where sensible bills are introduced. Currently, it is particularly active in advocating for medical marijuana bills in the state legislatures of Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York. In addition, MPP will have paid lobbyists in support of legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Vermont and Rhode Island in 2012. Also in 2012, MPP is planning to support medical marijuana initiatives and to play a leading role in a ballot measure to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado.

State Legislative Victories

Delaware

In May 2011, the Delaware Legislature passed and Gov. Jack Markell signed SB 17, which allows qualified, registered patients to obtain three ounces of marijuana every 14 days from state-regulated compassion centers. MPP led the two-year grassroots and lobbying efforts to pass the bill, which is based on MPP’s model bill.[7] This made Delaware the sixteenth state, plus the District of Columbia, to adopt a medical marijuana law.

Maryland

In April and May 2011, the Maryland General Assembly approved and Gov. O’Malley signed an affirmative defense bill, removing criminal penalties from qualifying patients who possess up to an ounce of marijuana and establishing a work group to study a more comprehensive law.[8] The bill improves upon a sentencing mitigation bill the legislature enacted in 2003, following four years of lobbying by MPP. MPP also played a leading role in the 2011 victory, including in-person lobbying, working with patients, and testifying before legislative committees.

Rhode Island

In January 2006, the Rhode Island Legislature overwhelmingly overrode Governor Donald Carcieri’s veto of MPP’s bill to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest, making Rhode Island the 11th medical marijuana state. This was the first state medical marijuana law to be enacted over the veto of a governor. In June 2009, the Rhode Island legislature again overwhelmingly overrode Gov. Carcieri’s veto of MPP’s bill to create “compassion centers” to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients, making Rhode Island the second state (after New Mexico) to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensing.[9]

Vermont

In May 2004, at the conclusion of MPP’s intensive, three-year lobbying campaign, Vermont became the ninth state to enact a medical marijuana law — and only the second state (after Hawaii) to do so through its legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative. In May 2011, the Vermont Legislature approved S. 17, which added four non-profit dispensaries to the existing law. MPP played an instrumental role in passing this legislation, by funding a two-year lobbying effort and helping elect a governor who supports sensible marijuana policies.[10]

Ballot Initiatives

Arizona

In November 2010, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, a ballot initiative campaign backed by MPP, successfully passed a ballot initiative making the use and possession of medical marijuana legal and establishing approximately 120 non-profit dispensaries around the state. This made Arizona the 15th state to adopt a medical marijuana law.[11]

District of Columbia

In November 2009, MPP successfully lobbied for the removal of the so-called "Barr Amendment" from the D.C. appropriations bill. MPP led the fight to end Congressional interference, which, for over 10 years, blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana initiative that passed with nearly 70% of the vote in 1998. MPP even retained the amendment's namesake, former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, to lobby for the amendment’s removal after he reversed his position in 2007.[12] Following the removal of the amendment, MPP successfully lobbied the District Council to improve the language they were considering to implement the initiative and lobbied the executive branch for reasonable regulations.[13] The regulations went into effect on April 15, 2011.[14]

Massachusetts

In November 2008, MPP’s ballot initiative to remove the threat of arrest and jail for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana passed overwhelmingly in Massachusetts.[15] The successful initiative — the first statewide decriminalization initiative ever — replaced the threat of arrest and jail with a $100 fine. The measure also eliminated criminal offender (CORI) reports as they pertain to arrests for simple marijuana possession, which, prior to the initiative, could have resulted in individuals being denied housing, jobs, or loans for college.

Michigan

Also in November 2008, 63% of Michigan voters passed a medical marijuana ballot initiative spearheaded by MPP”s campaign committee. The initiative — which received a majority of the vote in each of Michigan’s 83 counties — permits terminally and seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with their doctors' approval. Its passage made Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state and the first in the Midwest.[16]

Montana

In November 2004, MPP funded and ran the campaign that succeeded in passing a statewide medical marijuana initiative in Montana with 62% of the vote.[17]

Alaska

In 2004, MPP provided the majority of funding for an initiative to regulate marijuana in Alaska, which failed with 44% of the vote (but still set what was at the time the record for the largest vote to end marijuana prohibition in any state).[18]

Nevada

In November 2006, MPP’s high-profile ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada received 44% of the vote, tying with Alaska for the then all-time largest vote ever to end marijuana prohibition in a state.[19] (That number was since surpassed in November 2010, when 46% of California voters supported Proposition 19, a ballot initiative to regulate, tax, and control marijuana in the state.)

Federal Lobbying

MPP not only works to reform marijuana policy state-by-state, but also on the federal level. Some of MPP’s key federal goals include: building support for legislation that would treat marijuana like alcohol under federal law, persuading members of Congress to introduce and support legislation designed to protect medical marijuana patients and providers, monitoring the Department of Justice to ensure that the department honors its pledge to not prosecute individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, generating media coverage to pressure the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to provide marijuana for an FDA-approved study related to PTSD, and lobbying for passage of an amendment to a congressional appropriations bill that would eliminate all funding for the drug czar’s office, among others.[20]

Since MPP’s founding, positive medical marijuana bills have been introduced in six consecutive Congresses. In addition, in the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, the U.S. House debated and voted on an appropriations amendment advocated for primarily by MPP.

In July 2003, 152 members of Congress voted in favor of the “Hinchey Amendment”[21] to the spending bill for the U.S. Justice Department. The legislation would have prevented the DEA from spending any money to raid or arrest medical marijuana patients and caregivers in states with medical marijuana laws.

In July 2007, following an intensive MPP lobbying campaign, MPP helped to garner 165 votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Hinchey Amendment — an all-time record of support for medical marijuana access.[citation needed]

In December 2009, MPP successfully lobbied for the removal of the “Barr Amendment” from the D.C. Appropriations bill.[22] MPP led the fight to end Congressional interference, which, for over 10 years, blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana initiative that passed with over 70% of the vote. MPP even retained the amendment’s namesake, former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, to lobby for the amendment’s removal after he reversed his position in 2007.[23] Following the removal of the amendment, MPP successfully lobbied the District Council to improve the language they were considering to implement the initiative and lobbied the executive branch for reasonable regulations. Those regulations went into effect on April 15, 2011.

MPP is currently lobbying the 112th Congress on behalf of several pending marijuana-related bills.[24] For the first time ever, a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced. H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2012, would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and would eliminate all federal penalties related to marijuana (except in cases where marijuana is transferred into another state in violation of that state’s laws).

MPP is also lobbying on behalf of medical marijuana on the federal level. In May 2011, three bills to benefit medical marijuana patients and their providers were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would modify federal law so that individuals acting in compliance with state law are immune from federal prosecution. The “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011” and the “Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011” address critical tax and banking issues faced by medical marijuana centers and dispensaries as they attempt to serve patients, comply with statewide regulations, and pay their fair share of taxes.

Finally, during the 112th session of Congress, U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ron Paul (R-TX) plan to introduce an amendment to the FY2012 (or FY2013) Financial Services Appropriations bill. This amendment would cut $23 million in duplicative and wasteful discretionary government spending by zero-funding the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), commonly known as the “Drug Czar’s Office.” MPP has been actively engaged in efforts to defund the ONDCP for nearly 10 years (see below).

Sex scandal

In August 2009, seven MPP staffers quit over an alleged incident of sexual misconduct[25] by executive director Rob Kampia involving a female subordinate after an office happy hour. According to former employees, department heads at the organization unanimously asked Kampia to move into a different position than executive director over the incident.[26] In January 2010, Kampia was "encouraged" by the MPP Board of Directors to take a three-month leave of absence, and his return was subject to "convincing the board he had dealt with his issues."[27] In April 2010, Kampia returned to the organization after the leave of absence.

War on Drug Czar

Deciding that government propaganda was a major obstacle to its ballot initiatives, MPP launched its "War on Drug Czar" campaign at the end of 2002, filing numerous complaints against Office of National Drug Control Policy chief John P. Walters. In a December 5, 2002 Reuters article, Rob Kampia proclaimed, "We want him out of the picture. We want him excommunicated from the federal government forever.”[28]

The complaints, filed with state officials, focused on ONDCP leaders' visits to Alaska, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. Director John Walters traveled to Nevada and Oregon and Deputy Director Scott Burns traveled to Alaska and Montana to speak against marijuana reform initiatives. However, they did not file any campaign expense reports, which laws in those states require for persons or organizations spending money to either support or oppose ballot measures.[29]

TV and radio ad campaigns

In July 2006, MPP launched a radio advertising campaign that called out prominent public officials, including former President George W. Bush, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Al Gore, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for using marijuana. The ad, which ran on 141 radio stations nationwide, asked: "Is it fair to arrest three quarters of a million people a year for doing what presidents and a Supreme Court justice have done?"

In early July 2009, MPP introduced a television ad spot advocating taxing and regulating marijuana as a sensible policy change for California, a state facing a huge budget deficit. The ad featured a California woman explaining that responsible marijuana consumers, like herself, want a taxed and regulated system of marijuana distribution so that they can pay their fair share of taxes, which could then be put back into California schools.[30] The ad was the first of its kind and was very controversial, with some California television stations refusing to air it. Nonetheless, the ad received a lot of press coverage, including an appearance on NBC's Today Show by MPP's former director of federal policies, Aaron Houston.[31]

See also

  • Decriminalization of marijuana in the United States

References

  1. ^ http://www.mpp.org/about/mission-statement.html
  2. ^ http://www.mpp.org/about/mission-statement.html
  3. ^ US MA: Column: You Down With MPP?
  4. ^ http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/oth1/drug_policy_organizations.htm
  5. ^ http://www.mpp.org/about/why-donate.html#donates
  6. ^ http://www.mpp.org/states/
  7. ^ Kim I. Hartman, “Delaware becomes 16th state to pass medical marijuana law,” Digital Journal, May 17, 2011.
  8. ^ Steve Elliott, “Maryland Removes Penalties For Medical Use of Marijuana,” Toke of the Town, May 10, 2011.
  9. ^ Donita Naylor and Cynthia Needham, “RI Assembly overrides veto on marijuana compassion centers,” The Providence Journal, June 17, 2009.
  10. ^ Kim I. Hartman, “Vermont legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries,” Digital Journal, June 6, 2011.
  11. ^ “Arizona voters approve medical marijuana measure,” CNN Politics, November 14, 2010.
  12. ^ David C. Lipscomb, “D.C. officials cautious on legal marijuana,” The Washington Times, December 10, 2009.
  13. ^ http://www.medicalmarijuanablog.com/state-laws/district-of-columbia-065.html
  14. ^ http://www.dcregs.org/Notice/NoticeListForPublic.aspx?type=Issue&CategoryName=Emergency%20and%20Proposed%20Rulemaking&IssueID=223
  15. ^ Lisa Stein, “Ballot Initiatives: States decriminalize pot, nix abortion limits,” Scientific American, November 5, 2008.
  16. ^ “Voters say yes to medical marijuana,” MLive.com, November 5, 2008.
  17. ^ “Montana votes for med-pot,” Cannabis Culture Magazine, May 2, 2005.
  18. ^ http://www.commondreams.org/news2004/1103-11.htm
  19. ^ Phillip Smith, “Election 2006: Initiatives Defeated in Colorado and Nevada, But Hundreds of Thousands Voted to Legalize Marijuana,” Drug War Chronicle, November 9, 2006.
  20. ^ http://www.mpp.org/our-work/federal-policy/
  21. ^ Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment
  22. ^ Phillip Smith, “Medical Marijuana: US House Overturns Barr Amendment, Removes Obstacle to Implementing 1998 DC Vote,” StoptheDrugWar.org, July 17, 2009.
  23. ^ Mike DeBonis, “Bob Barr Lauds Demise of Barr Amendment,” Washington City Paper, July 20, 2009.
  24. ^ http://www.mpp.org/our-work/federal-policy/
  25. ^ David Bienenstock and Richard Cusick, "Scandal at the Marijuana Policy Project," High Times, January 14, 2010.
  26. ^ "Sex scandal lights up the Marijuana Policy Project," Washington Examiner, January 14, 2010.
  27. ^ Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger (The Reliable Source), "Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia takes therapy leave after sexual misconduct," January 19, 2010.
  28. ^ http://www.mpp.org/campaigns/drug-czar/
  29. ^ http://www.mpp.org/campaigns/drug-czar/
  30. ^ http://www.mpp.org/states/california/we-want-to-pay-our-fair-share.html
  31. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gga7IZxBwbA

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