Written By: Sam Chapman, Oregon SSDP State Coordinator
Politicians have continued to skirt conversations revolving around marijuana since what would seem to be the beginning of time, until now. A few weeks ago marked a major turning point in politics regarding the public stances on marijuana taken by politicians. Oregon’s Attorney General race in May proved itself to be a major tipping point in showing that the benefits of endorsing sensible marijuana (medical marijuana in this instance) policies will help the candidate much more than it could ever hurt the candidate. For those who don’t already know, the race was between Dwight Holton who has become notorious for calling the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) a train wreck, and Ellen Rosenblum who stated early that she would uphold the laws passed by the citizens of Oregon. Earlier on in the race it was not very clear whether or not Ellen’s stance in favor of medical marijuana would be an issue important enough to deliver a win, but it was.
Ellen received 64% of the vote, smashing Dwight Holton back into his place as an anti-medical marijuana advocate. In fact, one third of Ellen’s campaign contributions came from drug policy organizations that saw this as an opportunity to set the stage for reforming marijuana policy not only here in Oregon, but across the nation.
The media’s reaction to Rosenblum winning by a landslide was probably similar to Holton’s camp in that they both looked at the numbers while scratching their heads and asking themselves in disbelief, “did she really just win an election because of our positive stance on upholding the existing marijuana laws in Oregon?” After the election we heard a common theme in the media trying to downplay the the marijuana movements influence on the election here in Oregon by saying things like, “marijuana played a factor, but there is no way it was the deciding factor, because that just isn’t possible”. Not only did marijuana play a factor in the Oregon Attorney General race, but it was THE factor that resulted in a landslide win for Rosemblum.
In more recent news, Beto O’Rourke defeated the eight term incumbent U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the race for Texas’s 16th Congressional District seat. O’Rourke beat Reyes by 23,248 votes to 20,427, or 50.5 percent to 44.4 percent, which is not a landslide like Rosemblum’s campaign was, but it is a major victory considering the political atmosphere that comes with running for anything in the state of Texas. O’Rourke has been an active proponent of ending the war on drugs and in particular the war on marijuana. O’Rourke is an El Paso native, meaning he knows firsthand how detrimental the war on drugs has been, given that the death toll from cartel violence has risen well over 50,000 in the past decade.
So the question remains, how do we convince politicians who may be sitting on the fence as to whether or not they should come out in favor of legalization, or at least medical marijuana? Below is a five step process that any candidate can examine the issue in order to visualize how becoming a pro-legalization candidate will not only give them more credibility within the drug policy reform movement, but can play a central role in winning an election:
#1 Define- What is the problem/issue at hand?
You have a campaign coming up and the number one priority is to WIN! Is the war on drugs and/or a marijuana stance important in your state?
#2 Analyze- Why would a positive stance in support of marijuana legalization be a problem in your district or state?
As a political candidate, there are many issues that your constituents want you to address, but defining which issues are more important than others and translating them into actual votes is not an easy task. Chances are that marijuana (medical or legalization) is going to be near the top of this list. Twenty-eight states already have some sort of initiative in place for the next election. If you don’t believe me, do some polling and find out for yourself, or simply refer back to the elections that have recently won when politicians have taken a stance on progressive marijuana policies and law enforcement.
#3 Interpret- What does this mean?
This means you need to identify the key issues that could make or break your election into office, and do it fast. Identifying the ways in which you can craft a pro-marijuana stance is a delicate process, but is well worth the effort if it ends up putting you into office. This issue and your perspective on legalization is likely to attract supporters, and more importantly funders to your campaign.
#4 Strategize- What are you going to do? How are you going to frame your position?
-Once you have found the specifics of what your constituent base wants in terms of reforming existing marijuana laws, it’s time to lay out the game plan. What is the opposition going to use against you? This is one of if not the most important themes to acknowledge in laying out a winning strategy because it is often the case that you can win an election based off of the negative statements that your opponent will conjure up in trying to preemptively counter you progress stance of marijuana reform.
Get in contact with Ellen Rosenblum’s office and ask for a list of tactics she used to mobilize a constituent base of voters that may have otherwise not voted at all had the issue on marijuana not been at stake.
Contact me personally! I happen to run a social justice consulting group that focuses on these kinds of issues as they pertain to political elections. Our speciality is helping identify constituent basis and winning strategies for campaigns that favor progressive social justice issues. Simply shoot an email to me and I will be sure to get back to you ASAP. We are looking for up and coming ideas, projects, and consultants to join our team, so don’t hesitate to ask how you can get involved!
#5 Act- How are you going to do it?
Trying provides the option of failure, doing is the key to success. Make it happen and see the results on election day. A new era of politicians are making themselves known in America, it’s time to let them know that with our support, they can and will get elected by publicly endorsing sensible marijuana policies and laws.