It's Time for Unity in the Marijuana Reform Movement

Marijuana users are an extremely diverse group. Whether it be medical or recreational use, they can be found in almost every demographic imaginable in America. As such, there are a wide variety of opinions on how marijuana should be treated by society at large, as well as how to achieve such goals. This shouldn't be surprising, and there is always room for debate on what the best models and methods for reform should be. Recently, however, a disturbing trend has emerged. 


It appears that there is a growing contingent of marijuana users and people associated with the industry, both legal and illicit, who are actively fighting against efforts to make marijuana legal for all adults. There are several arguments being thrown around to defend the status quo of marijuana prohibition. Some of those arguments are well intentioned but shortsighted. Some are downright malicious. The one commonality they have is their divisive effect on the movement at a time when unity is crucial to finally end the government's war on marijuana users. 

A common complaint is that, in a regulated marijuana market, big corporations will push out small businesses. This is an understandable fear, especially to someone who has spent his or her life, and risked imprisonment and persecution, trying to run a marijuana-related business. These people surely do not want to see a culture and industry that they love taken over by corporate interests and diluted. But corporations already control marijuana.  

They are the cartels that heavily influence the market and bring death to our borders and our inner cities. They are the prison-builders that lobby for harsher sentencing so they can keep the cells full and the cash flowing. They are the pharmaceutical companies that stonewall cannabinoid research so they can keep pushing expensive pills.

Of course some big businesses are going to see opportunity in a newly legal and regulated marijuana market and will try to take advantage of it. And surely some of their practices will be detestable. Marijuana consumers have a right to choose, though. Big businesses cannot "ruin marijuana" any more than Coors has ruined beer. As with alcohol, with its thriving microbrew industry, there will inevitably be a large market for higher-quality, locally grown marijuana.

Another popular attack against potential reforms is that they do not go far enough. There are many people who feel very strongly about securing certain protections, whether they be the right to grow at home, amnesty for marijuana prisoners, personal possession limits, and so on. The most vocal among them feel so strongly that they would rather see a decent bill fail than pass without their inclusion.  

While we can sit around dreaming about what the country would be like with "perfect" marijuana laws, the political reality is that we cannot get anywhere near there without taking incremental steps. We are fighting against more than seventy years of lies and propaganda, as well as entrenched corporate and government interests. By building on small victories, we can more easily pass improved laws and overturn bad portions of otherwise good laws. We cannot build on zero victories. While we sit around arguing about minor concessions and principles, people are going to jail or dying. We cannot afford to wait for the rest of the country to come around to the way of thinking of the more radical among us, even if we might agree with them.

The worst obstructionist arguments come from people who are doing just fine under prohibition. They come from the growers and dealers, who stand to lose a little bit of the tremendous amount of money they make in the illegal market. They come from the guys that think marijuana is only "cool" if it is unregulated, and don't want to lose their status. They come from the young adults who simply do not care if it is legal or not, because they are going to do it anyway.  

Never mind that their lifestyles come at the expense of others' freedom! In all seriousness, if you want to be a cool, wealthy outlaw, here is some advice: develop a personality, and buy a motorcycle. The rest of us are sick of living our lives on the lam for you. If you cannot support marijuana reform because of such selfish reasoning, please remove yourself from the debate.

The time has never been better for making real progress in marijuana reform. As we propose new changes and laws, everyone should get a chance to voice their opinions or concerns. When we have a chance to pass improved marijuana laws, however, we need to present a united front. As long as someone can be arrested for marijuana in the United States, we need to support each other -- even if we, as individuals, do not get exactly what we want. For registered voters in California, this means coming out to the polls on November 2 to vote yes on Proposition 19.  

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close