Dear friends in NORML and the drug policy reform community

This is an exciting time for marijuana activists all across the USA and I wanted to communicate my thoughts on where we are politically and where I see us heading in the immediate future.

As a long-time member of the NORML advisory board, a co-sponsor of I-502 in Washington State, and someone with lots of determination to build on the successes of this election, I am more committed to the work of NORML than ever.

In the wake of our victory in Washington State with I-502, and Colorado’s A-64 constitutional amendment victory, political pundits, representatives within the mainstream media, and elected officials in states all across this country now, for the first time, perceive full legalization as a realistic political goal not just some pipedream.

Just a couple of years ago, Keith Stroup and I were privately saying to each other that we would not likely see the legalization of marijuana for recreational use among adults in our lifetimes. As Keith has dedicated his entire career to this struggle, that saddened me.

Before I accepted a position on NORML’s advisory board over a decade ago, I had Keith over to my house to share with my family his passion for civil liberties and to show them first-hand how a talented and hardworking lawyer could dedicate his or her life to an ideal rather than to getting wealthy. I wanted my children to understand why we care so passionately about NORML’s mission to end the criminalization of cannabis. And I wanted them to understand the caliber of the people I would be working with. Keith helped me show my children how NORML’s work was about protecting civil liberties and about advocating for the truth.

I’ve spent the last decade working in careful coordination with Keith and Allen St. Pierre (and, more recently, working with Kevin Oliver and Washington NORML in my state). Together, we are a lobby defending the belief that the responsible adult use of marijuana is a civil liberty. Medical marijuana is an important and legitimate issue, but it is not fundamental to NORML’s mission. The protection of civil liberties is. The right to smoke pot is a civil liberty. Simply put, that’s why I’m committed to NORML’s mission. And that’s why I hope to be dedicating my money, celebrity, and hard work to the cause as a member of NORML in the future.

Now that we have broken the thought-to-be-impenetrable prohibition barrier and the citizenry of two states have voted to legalize, and regulate marijuana for adults, the work of NORML is even more important than ever. In coordination with the current executive director and those on the NORML staff who have helped get us to this point, I am ready to build on these triumphs and kick things into high gear. This is a time we need to be coordinated and smart as a movement.

While it is natural to want to light up on the capitol steps in celebration and it is understandable that people will jockey to set up their retail visions, as leaders in the marijuana legalization movement, I believe the role of NORML should be to responsibly consolidate our electoral triumphs and honor the trust of the non-smokers who voted with us, and to help manage a transition of marijuana out of the criminal mold and into the legal marketplace without over-reaching.

If we are wise, we will consolidate these victories in Washington and Colorado and then  move strategically  into other states. We will work in a way that the Federal government will not intervene. We will win the trust of a skeptical and wary public. We will make it easy for mainstream leaders and citizens in other states to follow our lead. That’s the message I plan to take to our state’s senators as I meet with them in the coming days.

Keith Stroup, Allen St. Pierre, and NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano have been inspirations to me over the last decade. They and other leaders in our organization have doggedly raised awareness that the truth is on our side in a way that takes the fear out of the issues for those inclined to think we’re dealing with an evil weed.

While I am so impressed by those in Colorado and in Washington State who motored us to victory in these states, I also want to thank NORML’s leaders for their on-the-ground support during these recent elections, and for literally decades of steady and diligent work in paving the way. In a few short years we have taken the fear out of the issue and raised much awareness of the harm caused by the Prohibition of our age.

I am so proud to have been a co-sponsor and a spokesperson for I-502 in Washington State. I did it as a representative of NORML. I hope in the near future to support and work with other states, with the leaders of NORML who (along with other marijuana reform activists) brought us to where we are today.

As we learned in Washington State, we can respect the legitimate fears of the non-smoking public and come up with a law that respects the civil liberties of adults when it comes to enjoying marijuana and help take the crime out of the equation.

Without the inspiration of Keith Stroup and the partnership of Allen St. Pierre, I wouldn’t be involved in this struggle as I have been. While I-502 was initiated and spearheaded by the ACLU, NORML was a key player from the start to the finish of this historic campaign.

Today, our political landscape is forever changed. As we step into this new and uncharted territory, I hope to partner with Allen, Keith, and my friends at NORML with a higher profile role (personally and financially) as we build upon our victories.

At the same time, I believe we must make our mission at NORML very clear. When NORML was founded there was no “medical marijuana” industry. Medical marijuana is an important crusade and a wonderful use of cannabis. Medical marijuana is also a growing industry with potential to help countless people and make a lot of money at the same time. This is good. And it needs its advocates.

And NORML needs to be explicit: its mission is to defend the civil liberties of recreational pot smokers. We are not a medical marijuana industry lobby. We don’t “medicate.” We get high. It is our civil liberty. It is our right. That’s why I am working so hard with NORML. And, unless the mission of NORML changes, I expect to continue to do so.

I am particularly excited to see state chapters of NORML energized by our victories in Colorado and Washington. Best wishes to all of us. Together we are normalizing the way our country thinks about, talks about, and legislates about marijuana. The results will ripple across our country, across the world, and long into the future.

Rick Steves

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