|Drug War Chronicle:
Let's begin by looking back. MPP just celebrated its ten-year anniversary
a couple of weeks ago. How have things changed in the past decade?
Rob Kampia: That's
right, our ten-year anniversary was January 25th, and we'll celebrate it
with two galas in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, in May. Looking
back, it's been a very good decade for marijuana policy reform, and MPP
can take some of the credit for that. Things really started changing
soon after we started MPP, with changes in the federal sentencing guidelines
that released hundreds of federal marijuana prisoners early. Families
Against Mandatory Minimums was the primary engine behind that, but
MPP helped out. Then, for the first time in a decade, Congress started
looking at medical marijuana legislation again in 1995, and support for
that has been increasing steadily on the Hill for the last 10 years, and
we can take a lot of credit for that. We have the only full-time
marijuana lobbyist in Congress; Steve Fox is working everyday on this.
In the states, back in 1995,
medical marijuana was not legal anywhere; now it's legal in 10 states,
and we can take credit for getting it through in Montana and Vermont.
We also assisted in Hawaii, and we were instrumental in passing the Maryland
law. We don't include Maryland in the 10 states because it isn't
legal there, but we did get a medical marijuana defense bill passed.
With marijuana regulation, our Nevada initiative made the cover of Time
magazine in 2002, but it failed with 39% of the vote. Last year,
we were back in Nevada, and also invested in the Oregon and Alaska campaigns.
Nevada will be our flagship project; it will be the mother of all initiative
campaigns. Now that we're qualified again, we have 18 months to build
a majority. We're currently leading with 49% to 47%, with 4% undecided,
and our numbers will go upward.
But probably the biggest
development in the last decade has been the degree to which state legislatures
have begun debating medical marijuana legislation. When we were first
working with Pam Lichty and others in Hawaii in 1999 and 2000, people said
a state legislature would never pass the same kind of laws as we could
get with the initiatives. But we, Pam and MPP and others, succeeded
in enacting that law, and that opened up the floodgates. We got Vermont
last year, and there are five states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, New
York, Minnesota, and Illinois -- where we think we have a reasonably high
chance of success this year. I would not be surprised if we got at
least two of them this year.
I am also encouraged by the
trajectory of public opinion regarding regulating marijuana. In national
public opinion polls in 1995, we had 27% for legalization; by 2002, that
figure had climbed to 34%. It seems like it goes up a point or so
a year. We are about to do a new national poll next month, and we
hope to see a figure in the 38% range.
Chronicle: Still looking
back, 2004 seems to have been something of a mixed bag. There were
a number of victories -- medical marijuana in Montana and the votes in
the Massachusetts districts -- but there were also significant defeats,
such as the loss on the regulation vote in Alaska, the voting down of OMMA2
in Oregon, and the failures to get on the ballot in with medical marijuana
in Arkansas and marijuana regulation in Nevada. It's easy for critics
to say that you should have done this or that, but let me ask you instead
if, looking back, there is anything you would have done differently?
But I want to say first that with the local initiatives, those were an
unequivocally resounding victory. Of 18 local initiatives on the
ballot -- 17 on the November 2nd ballot and the Detroit initiative in August
-- we saw 17 pass. Local activists in those places deserve heaps
of credit, and the MPP grants program helped fund almost all of them.
Everyone should be very excited about the possibilities for local initiatives
passed on the track record so far. As for the state initiatives,
Montana in November scored the all-time record vote for medical marijuana,
62%. I think we have perfected how to run a medical marijuana campaign.
Of all the states we have been in, Montana should have gotten the lowest
vote, based on the nature of the electorate and the polling we did, yet
it came in with the highest ever because the campaign was focused and well-run.
In Nevada, where we got knocked
off the ballot, I don't think there is anything we could have done differently.
It is impossible to prevent the error that occurred -- an employee losing
a box of signatures for five days -- unless I was literally there looking
over his shoulder the whole time. We did, however, learn a lesson,
and that is that we should run our own signature drives from now on.
Most recently, in September and October we ran the signature drive ourselves;
we took Larry Sandel out of DC and moved him to Vegas, we hired our own
people and micromanaged the campaign, and we got signatures at the rate
of 3,000 a day and came in under budget.
In Arkansas, we could have
done things differently. We could have prevented a problem there
by doing a site visit and checking out the system we had in place.
We had an outside firm collecting signatures, and the process was a shambles.
If we ever use outside firms again, we will be doing site visits.
In Oregon and Alaska, where
the initiatives were defeated, people can complain, but we didn't draft
those initiatives, we didn't do the signature drives, we came in at the
end. We had a commitment to both states. In Oregon, we said
if they got on the ballot, we would run TV ads. We thought it was
morally incumbent on us to do so. In Alaska, we had no deal cut at
the beginning, but when we saw it was under-funded, we could either watch
them fail or try to help them succeed. I have no regrets about trying
to help the activists in those two states.
Chronicle: Can you
tell us about MPP's strategic plan for 2005? What's in store for this year?
Kampia: Our plan is
really a two-year plan. Obviously, on medical marijuana, we are pushing
hard in those five states and we're also coordinating with activists in
other states to see how far they can get running their own shows and trying
to support them through our grants program. We'll see medical marijuana
bills introduced in about 20 states this year. We're working with
groups like Texans for
Medical Marijuana down in Austin to see how far they can push this
year, and similar people in a bunch of other states. If some of those
efforts begin to look promising, we would invest more heavily in future
legislative sessions. As I said, we're already pushing hard in five
states and working with activists in others, and in those states, the ones
that look like the best prospects will become target states in a year or
As for local medical marijuana
initiatives, our grant program is interested in supporting them to engender
statewide debates. If there are cities that have an initiative process,
activists there should apply. Those local initiatives should generate
media coverage, and they should pass, if history is any indicator.
We are also willing to support local initiatives on regulation or decriminalization
or making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, given the successes
last year in places like Oakland and Columbia, Missouri.
We are also trying to get
marijuana regulation bills introduced in a few states this year.
Maybe there will be states debating this year whether to regulate it like
alcohol. None will pass it this year, but just getting the theme
introduced and heard in committee would be a record. No state legislature
has ever considered regulating marijuana. But this year, the Nevada
initiative will be our flagship effort on marijuana regulation.
At the federal level, Congress
will be looking at Hinchey-Rohrabacher (a bill which would bar the DEA
from raiding seriously ill patients) for the third time this summer.
And we're already lobbying to get a record number of sponsors on Barney
Frank's states' rights medical marijuana bill.
Also part of our strategic
plan is our continuing "war on the drug czar" campaign. We are filing
campaign finance law complaints in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana because
Walters campaigned in those states and didn't file any campaign statements.
We will try our best to get him in trouble for that. We are also
suing the drug czar on constitutional grounds; we're trying to push a couple
of new legal theories on why it should be unconstitutional to spend taxpayer
money to convince taxpayers to believe certain things or vote a certain
way. I'm not sure if we'll go after his so-called educational ads,
but we think we have a strong argument for getting a court to rein him
Chronicle: Let's talk
about the federal level. What can be accomplished, given this overwhelmingly
conservative Congress we face? Or are we butting our heads against
a brick wall on Capitol Hill?
Kampia: I think we
can make progress. If you look at the 150 members of Congress who
have solidly supported medical marijuana, all of them won reelection.
There are also some members who have voted for us once and against us once,
and there are some good freshmen, too. When the vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher
comes down this summer, we will hit a new record in the number of representatives
who will vote to prohibit the DEA from harassing medical marijuana patients.
Will it pass? Probably not, but marijuana is not an issue that people
are being attacked on. It was not raised once in any race; there
is not one instance of a vote for medical marijuana being used against
There are also two new factors
that could make an impact. One is Montel Williams. We have
never had a high-profile, highly-respected, outspoken celebrity patient
before. He has agreed to lobby with MPP and he will make an impression
between now and the vote. Also, the Raich case decision is likely
to come down a month or two before the House votes. If the court
rules our way, then the federal war on medical marijuana is essentially
over and the whole world has changed. If the court rules against
us, as many think will be the case, then Congress has to provide a solution
to the problem. The news stories should be that the court has ruled
against medical marijuana and the ball is now in Congress' court.
That will increase the pressure on Congress. It's a public relations
challenge to make sure those stories come out right and Congress gets the
point, but if we do our job properly, it could provide a boost to the legislation
Chronicle: MPP has,
of course, supported both regulation efforts and medical marijuana.
But even if medical marijuana were available across the land, we would
still have millions of marijuana consumers criminalized. Why, aside
from human kindness, should recreational pot smokers get behind the medical
marijuana push? How is that going to lead to some respite for recreational
Kampia: Why should
recreational smokers get behind medical marijuana? For the same reasons
non-pot smokers get behind medical marijuana. Some 75% of the population
doesn't believe patients should be put in jail, and I would hope that recreational
users would actually work on this issue. But I don't really view
the medical marijuana issue through the lens of the recreational smoker,
I look at it through the lens of how many people can we keep out of prison
in the short run and let's not hurt our chances in the long run.
Medical marijuana is a worthwhile issue on its face, the lobbying is relatively
inexpensive, there is no downside.
It is also possible that
through educating legislators on medical marijuana, you get people who
are finally convinced they shouldn't put a seriously ill person in prison
and who will suddenly realize they shouldn't discriminate against healthy
people who use marijuana. Our foes have claimed that medical marijuana
will lead to all-around legalization, but that hasn't happened. I'm
not sure what the nexus is, but we are working on medical marijuana because
it's the right thing to do and because we can win. When you're trying
to build a social movement, you need to have occasional victories.
Chronicle: How are
your relations with activists on the ground in the various states?
Kampia: I think the
story is that we generally work well with local activists. We hear
complaints sometimes, but it might be interesting to actually talk to the
activists that we do work with. In Minnesota, we've been working
with Billie Young and her team; in Rhode Island, we're working closely
with the SSDP crowd in pushing medical marijuana; in Illinois, we're working
with Matt Atwood and his group Ideal
Reform not only on passing a medical marijuana bill, but also on thwarting
Recently, the only black eye has been in Arkansas. In Arkansas, the reason we pulled out was because of local activists, or, actually, one local activist. It only took one bad egg to ruin the statewide campaign. We were two-thirds of the way through the signature gathering process, and we could have finished if we so chose. It could have gotten on the ballot; in fact, local activists very nearly did it on their own. One Arkansas activist was impossible to work with, and she gets the blame for the failure of the initiative. She actually wanted us there, and we worked with her on campaign strategy and what the initiative should say. We wouldn't have gone in if they had said don't come. After we pulled out, she was so indiscreet as to even say nasty things about MPP and the consulting firm to local newspapers. All the fight was coming from her. In an initiative campaign like that, it only takes one to tango. By late summer, we had to give up on one state campaign because, like other drug reform groups in that presidential election year, our fundraising wasn't going so well. We had a choice of giving up Arkansas, where we were experiencing those problems with our local partner, or Montana, where things were going smoothly, or Alaska, where they wanted us there. We chose to pull out of Arkansas.
Chronicle: You're sitting
on a pot of money thanks to Peter Lewis. What do you do with it besides
running campaigns? What sorts of activities is MPP interested in
funding? And how much money each year?
Kampia: Peter Lewis
gives his money on two tracks. In the past it came in four ways:
through the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project,
MPP's core work, and the MPP grants program, but Peter hasn't made any
final decision about any of this for this year. In the past, Lewis
paid for about 60% of the MPP budget, and our 17,000 members paid for the
rest. This year we expect Lewis's share to be closer to 50%.
For the grants program, he started with a million dollars a year.
I was able to get him to increase it to $2 million last year, but what
it will be this year, I don't know yet. I think it is just as important
to fund the grants program as it is to fund MPP, because we can't do it
all. We're lobbying in five states, we're working the Nevada initiative,
we're pushing in Vermont, and we're helping to defend legal marijuana in
one's home in Alaska, so we're involved in eight states. From a management
perspective, there is no way we could run campaigns for initiatives or
bills in 15 or 20 states. That requires the ingenuity, energy, and
autonomy of activists on the ground; we just act as a conduit from Peter
to the best activists. The Lewis money does not go 90% to MPP; it's
actually more like 50-50 between the MPP core budget and the grants program.
Chronicle: Does DRCNet
get any money from the MPP grants program?
Kampia: We gave money
to DRCNet that was earmarked for the HEA anti-drug provision repeal campaign.
It was 501(c)(4) money (not tax-deductible), and that is hard to find.
The HEA grant helps demonstrate that while grantees have to show that their
work is going to somehow help end marijuana prohibition, there is not just
one path to that end. We believe that changing the law so that hundreds
of thousands of students aren't getting shafted will keep marijuana users
in school and keep them productive citizens, and that will help build the
movement in the long term.
Chronicle: In the Washington
Post's farewell piece on NORML's Keith Stroup, you were quoted as saying
some pretty harsh things. Would you care to throw sand on the flames,
fuel on the flames, or just stand by the article?
Thanks for asking. The total number of quotes I had in that piece
was two sentences -- that's what they took out of a 45 minute interview
with me for the story. In the context of a much larger conversation,
I was asked to explain my view of what NORML did right and what it did
wrong. The reporter asked me if NORML is doing anything useful, and
I explained that they are playing a role. I explained about the 1970s,
about what Keith had done right, and I talked about what NORML does now,
which is providing information on drug testing and helping people in trouble
find the right lawyers and giving them advice and information on how the
marijuana laws work. Those are two things no one else is doing.
I didn't say those were the only things they were doing. In fact,
the only part of the article that explained what they were doing now came
For me, when I'm being interviewed,
the number one rule is not to lie. I gave a pretty balanced view
of NORML, but it would have been ridiculous to say that everything was
peachy keen. I was slightly misquoted -- I said some people view
NORML as a small and shrinking dinosaur, but the Post had me saying I thought
that -- but I won't complain about that because the point was still on
the mark. In that sense, it was an accurate quote, but it was one
quote from a 45-minute interview.
There is a lesson to be learned,
though. Some folks at NORML, including Keith, have actually bad-mouthed
MPP repeatedly and gratuitously, specifically regarding the 2002 initiatives.
The lesson is if you are indiscreet and say bad things about us in the
newspapers, maybe we'll say something back sometime.
Chronicle: Does this
mean we won't see you at the annual NORML conference in San Francisco in
Kampia: No, I'll be
there. I go every year.