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Freedom Leaf Interview: Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project

The Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project since its inception, Rob Kampia got his start with NORML before leaving to co-found the MPP in 1995. The organization boasts 32,000 members and has been responsible for many of the statewide legalization efforts around the nation. This year, they’ve placed their bets on measures in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. We asked Kampia to elaborate on these efforts, discuss the presidential candidates and explain the organization’s evolving role in a post-legalization world.

Once again, the MPP has taken the lead this year, helping to put four marijuana measures on the ballot. How does the MPP go about choosing states to focus on for potential adult-use and medical marijuana initiatives?

Several factors are taken into account when deciding where and when to sup-port state ballot initiatives. Most importantly, we gauge existing levels of sup-port among voters, opinion leaders, local activists and potential donors. And we review the nature of the election. For example, we know there tends to be more support shown for reform when voter turnout is highest, so we often back initiatives during presidential election years. If it appears that there’s a strong chance an initiative could pass given the right amount of resources, and if we’re confident we can put those resources together, there’s a good chance we’ll be interested in supporting it. Since resources are always limited, we’ll often take into account whether there are other activists or organizations who are interested in supporting a good initiative, in which case we might take a smaller role, or no role at all, depending on the situation.

Let’s talk about each of the states mentioned above. What have been the biggest challenges to overcome? For Prop 205 in Arizona?

The opposition campaign is very well funded, especially since it received $500,000 from a big pharmaceutical company, Insys. In addition to all that money from opioid profits, the opposition campaign has the governor out there doing everything he can to raise money, so it would not be surprising to see more money roll in for the opposition. They will spend this money spreading scary and inaccurate information via paid ads, so it’s critical that we raise money to combat those ads with the facts.

Question 1 in Maine?

Although the two competing initiative campaigns put aside their differences and joined forces to support one initiative, some individuals got very riled up and have yet to calm down. It’s unfortunate because it seems like most activists generally agree on the issue and on most of what the initiative would do.

Question 4 in Massachusetts?

The governor and the mayor of Boston are playing a significant role in the opposition effort, and they’re spreading a lot of misinformation, particularly about states like Colorado. They paint a very grim picture despite the fact that legalization has actually been very successful and most voters are still supportive.

Question 2 in Nevada?

Now that an opponent of marijuana pol-icy reform [Sheldon Adelson] owns the state’s primary newspaper of record [the Las Vegas Review Journal], we’re seeing a big shift in how they cover the issue. Whereas it had previously editorialized in support of regulating and taxing marijuana, they’re now opposing it and not dedicating much coverage to conveying our arguments.

Prop 64 in California is the big one. It’s supported by a coalition of reform groups, including the MPP. What do you think of its chances to win? If it loses, what will be the ramifications?

Prop 64 has a very good chance of pass-ing this year. Voters are ready to end marijuana prohibition in California, so it’s really just a matter of ensuring they understand and are comfortable with the specifics of the initiative. It would obviously be a huge disappointment if it lost, but it would really just be less of a step forward than it would be a step back-ward, especially if initiatives do pass in some or all of the other states.

How do you respond to anti-64 efforts, and other efforts against initiatives around the country, within the marijuana world—the so-called “Stoners Against Legalization?”

It’s impossible to write an initiative that everyone agrees is perfect. All you can do is put together the law that the most people possible believe is the best step forward at any given time, and that’s what Prop 64 is. It will effectively end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed like alcohol. There are a lot of personalities and a lot of history that have led to the variety of viewpoints among legalization supporters, but at the end of the day, we’re confident that the vast majority will support Prop. 64.

Is MPP supporting Amendment 2 in Florida?

Yes, MPP fully supports Amendment 2, and we’re encouraging our large contingent of Florida-based supporters to vote—and encourage their friends and relatives to vote—Yes on Amendment 2. We’re not as directly involved in support-ing the campaign as we are in several of the other states, but we have a great relationship with them and will do what we can to supplement their efforts.

MPP is also backing the Neighborhood Approved Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program in Denver. If it passes, how will that work?

Initiated Ordinance 300 in Denver would establish a pilot program in which private establishments can receive permits to create designated cannabis consumption areas. There will be rules to follow similar to those that establishments must follow when they allow the consumption of alcohol, and in order to receive a permit, the establishment must have the support of its officially recognized neighborhood organization or business-improvement district. Marijuana is now a legal product for adults in Denver, so adults who are visiting the city or are not able to consume it in their homes need private places where they can go to do it safely and legally with other adults. This will be the first time it’s voted on, so it’s an uphill battle, but the Denver Democratic Party and some state legislators recently endorsed the measure. The campaign has been picking up steam.

If all the states with reform initiatives this fall were to pass, which states will MPP target next?

MPP will continue to work to pass laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use through the state legislatures in Vermont and Rhode Island. We’ll also be ramping up our coalition efforts to pass such laws in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and Maryland. With the departure of a very hostile governor in New Hampshire, we’re hopeful that we will finally pass a bill decriminalizing personal possession there. We also plan to work with patients, organizations and elected officials to pass comprehensive medical marijuana laws in Nebraska, Utah, Louisiana and Georgia.

Most substantive reforms have happened via voter initiative or legislation. Do you see any reform strategies where litigation in the courts can advance reforms?

Litigation is a lengthy and costly process that often has little likelihood of success, so we always pick and choose our legal battles carefully. Generally, it’s not a strategy we employ for major policy reforms, but we do get involved in some cases. For example, we’re a party to a lawsuit in Alabama that challenges a law that has made it near impossible for us to work with state legislators who want help passing reform bills. And we recently filed an amicus brief in a federal court case that examines the way law enforcement conducts investigations and testing for marijuana.

Regarding the presidential election, which candidate would be better for marijuana policy reform?

Gary Johnson would be the best candidate for marijuana policy reform. In addition to stating his unequivocal support for ending marijuana prohibition, he pushed for sensible reform both while in office and since leaving office. For example, he’s traveled to states considering reform to speak out in support of it, and he’s reached out to other governors to make the case directly to them.

Some critics of Hillary Clinton consider her support of rescheduling over de-scheduling and her association with President Clinton’s crime bill deal-breakers. Others think she’s evolving positively on these issues. What is MPP’s position on Clinton?

MPP has created a voter guide to the presidential candidates, which gives Clinton a B+. She’s expressed support for legal access to medical marijuana and clearly stated her support for allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use. We would need to educate her more about why marijuana needs to be removed from the federal drug schedules rather than just rescheduled to II or III—but the same would be true if Trump won. What’s great is that for the first time in history, all four of the candidates—the Democrat, the Republican, the Libertarian and the Green—agree it’s time to start rolling back prohibition at the federal level, in addition to allowing it at the state level.

If Donald Trump were to win, would you expect him to start rolling back progress made in legal states or would he leave things as they are?

Trump has said he supports letting states create their own policies, and all the other candidates have said that, too. Given the trajectory of public support for legalization, I think it is highly unlikely that Trump would make it a priority to start causing problems with existing state marijuana laws.

Historically, most of the major reform money came from concerned billionaires (Peter Lewis, George Soros). This traditional source of money appears to be drying up. What does MPP see as the major source of reform money going forward?

Those billionaires are being replaced or supplemented by other philanthropists, and the marijuana industry is also now stepping up to the plate in states like Arizona and Nevada. So it could be that the pie is just growing overall.

What would be MPP’s role in a post-legalization world?

MPP’s role will depend on whether the National Cannabis Industry Association and 50 state trade associations are firmly in place to protect and improve current and future federal and state legalization laws. It’s too soon to tell which organizations will be playing what roles, because we don’t expect Congress to pass federal legalization legislation until 2019 or 2020.

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