The Arc of Marijuana Reform is Long, But it Bends Towards Legalization (Or: Missouri Stoners Against Legalization)


“How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’”

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I find myself contemplating how long it will take us to establish full marijuana legalization in America. Speaking on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama, about the struggle for black civil rights, Dr. King answered, “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Arc of the Moral UniverseIt was 103 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. King’s speech. It was 95 years between the 15th Amendment and Dr. King’s speech. It was four-and-a-half months later that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law and another 43 years before the election of Barack Obama as president. Indeed, it was 146 years between Emancipation and the first black president, and that’s a long moral arc.

Much happened in the intervening 146 years to lead up to Obama’s election. The South endured a bitter period of Reconstruction. The KKK was formed and vigilante lynchings of blacks happened twice a week from 1880-1930 and continued to as late as my birth year, 1968 (or, 1998, if dragging James Byrd to death with a pickup truck in Texas is counted as a lynching). Football, baseball, and the military were integrated shortly after World War II. Schools were integrated and Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts began in the 1950s. Then comes Dr. King and the Birmingham Jail, the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and “I Have a Dream”.

March on Edmund Pettis Bridge NewspaperIn other words, civil rights for African-Americans developed incrementally over time through many personal and political battles. Dr. King pressed for every advance possible, but he understood that he lived in a nation of white supremacy and had to work within the political structures of his time. While Dr. King spoke on the National Mall in 1963 of “the fierce urgency of now” and warned of embracing the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism”, he was never deluded enough to think he could run for president in 1964 and win and thereby enact his civil rights agenda. He knew he had to pressure President Johnson and the white majority for the civil rights victories that were possible in 1965.

Dr. King, while believing that a colorblind society was the ultimate goal, knew that it would take many compounding lesser successes to achieve it. On the day before his assassination in 1968, he explained how he had “seen the Promised Land,” but that he “may not get there with you.”

Today the promised land for our community of cannabis consumers is the day when marijuana is as legal and accepted as alcohol, when a bud is as non-controversial as a Bud Light. However, we don’t get to that mountaintop to see the promised land without our Emancipation (decriminalization), integration (medical marijuana), and Voting Rights Act (limited legalization).

Which is why I get so incensed at what I call the Stoners Against Legalization – those pot smokers who want to jump right from slavery to Barack Obama, and in doing so, forego the victories we can win and enable the prohibition status quo to continue.

Medical Marijuana – A Missouri Legalization Compromise

Today I was alerted to a blog in Missouri that is dead set against legalizing medical marijuana in the Show-Me State. No, it’s not the website of the state police, the local drug rehab, or some mega church. It’s another example of the Stoners Against Legalization cancer that has metastasized. What used to be limited to stoners in medical marijuana states fighting legalization to protect their status quo has become stoners in prohibition states fighting medical marijuana for a mirage of True Legalization™.

It’s a very long, meandering, poorly-written read, but the gist of it is that the medical marijuana proposal from New Approach Missouri, backed by Show-Me Cannabis, and Missouri NORML, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to enrich its backers, Big Pharma, “prohibition profiteers”, and the state; it’s laden with onerous and arbitrary rules and regulations stamped into the Constitution and only detracts from the all-volunteer-no-money-no-polling True Legalization™ that would treat marijuana like tomatoes.

It’s a trend that has held true since California’s Prop 19 in 2010 and throughout every campaign to legalize marijuana, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in effect for medical marijuana.

Civil Rights violenceThere will never be a legalization or medical marijuana plan that could make the ballot and pass that will satisfy these Stoners Against Legalization. There will always be some doom-and-gloom scenario they’ll paint where creating some measure of protection for cannabis consumers in the future is worse than the kick-in-the-doors-and-shoot-the-dogs prohibition they suffer now.

How can anyone take seriously an analysis that presumes “DHSS could potentially declare the penalty for having one single plant too many in a growing facility is $8,000,000,000,000”? Really?!? Eight trillion dollars? Why don’t they just declare that the penalty is 10 quadrillion dollars and bamboo shoots under the fingernails? And imprisonment in a cell surrounded by a moat guarded by sharks with friggin’ lasers on their heads?

The source of this infection is the deluded belief that marijuana should be treated like tomatoes. It’s that hippie-dippie, pie-in-the-sky, healing-of-the-nations fantasy that marijuana is perfect and all good and everybody else thinks of it that way. Instead of the cold, hard facts that even tax-and-regulate legalization doesn’t poll above 50% in Missouri, much less “treat it like tomatoes” legalization that would go down in flames from the minute the first attack ad airs proclaiming “New Approach Missouri wants to let your neighbor fill his back yard with stinky pot plants and pack his garage with drug-dealer-amounts of marijuana. Their proponents seriously think marijuana, a mind-altering drug that impairs the development of children’s brains, is like the tomatoes you grow in your backyard!”

And, of course, no infection of Stoners Against Legalization would be complete without the attendant NORML Supports Prohibition Delusion. Yeah, yeah, guys like Dan Viets, a winner of the Martin Luther King Association’s “Keeping the Dream Alive Award”, who have worked tirelessly over forty years for legalization for less money than most attorneys make, is secretly carving out a Goldman Sachs-like fortune by ending police harassment of medical marijuana patients and providing them safe access to medicine. That’s the ticket!

You know, just like how Greenpeace supports whale killing, NAACP supports black voter suppression, and ASPCA supports animal cruelty, because if any of those things were eliminated, those organizations would lose a lot of money.

“Nothing Less Than Total Legalization” = Continued Prohibition

What’s most pathetic about this is that finally, and ahead of most predictions, Missouri has the organization, funding, and language that could actually bring medicine to sick patients, but the Stoners Against Legalization would work with the cops, courts, rehabs, drug testers, and prison guards to maintain the status quo of prohibition, without having anything else to offer to defeat prohibition, except empty promises of all-volunteer signature efforts for treat-it-like-tomatoes “true 100% non-prohibitionist” legalization of “this amazing, non-toxic, miracle plant” that will never make the ballot and would go down in flames if it did.

Some of this is just jealousy. These people who so truly believe in marijuana really do want it legalized and are upset that they can’t get any support from successful organizations and deep-pocketed funders. They can’t accept that perhaps their failing strategy and tactics are the reasons why, so it must be some sort of elaborate conspiracy theory. You can see it in the “Why doesn’t NORML support our True Legalization™ plan?” wailing. They really think the only thing keeping them from electoral victory is that money and support, ignoring entirely that their plan for legalization doesn’t poll well and would lose in a landslide.

Colored PassengersThese people are the types who would have told their fellow slaves that the Emancipation Proclamation was bullshit, because it wasn’t “true 100% non-slavery” emancipation, since it didn’t guarantee voting rights, interracial marriage, and sitting anywhere on the bus (OK, stagecoach) immediately. That Abraham Lincoln is just a slavery-profiteer, they’d proclaim, and if he really supported black equality, he’d support True Emancipation that contains the Voting Rights Act, Loving v Virginia, and Rosa Parks all in 1862. They’d have mustered all the fellow slaves they could to fight for the Confederacy, promising that once the Civil War was over, they and their fellow slaves would convince all the plantation owners to sign their True Emancipation petition.

We all long for the day when we experience True Legalization™ of cannabis, but we don’t get there by denying the patients of Missouri the freedom to use medical marijuana. Every state that has legalized marijuana so far has legalized medical marijuana first, and the one prohibition state that tried to go straight to legalization suffered the worst defeat for legalization in 21st century.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s okay to have a dream of True Legalization™ for the future, as long as you’re awake enough to pursue the achievable legalization victories in the present.

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.