Introduction: Morgan Fox serves as Communications Manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, handling the day-to-day media needs of MPP's reform efforts on the state and federal levels. In addition to interviews and providing information to reporters, Morgan is a frequent contributor to the MPP blog and has authored articles that have been published in news outlets nationwide. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, he has been working at MPP since moving to the District of Columbia in 2008. He is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University.
Marijuana Policy Project was founded in 1995, when medical marijuana was not legal in a single state. Since then, MPP has made significant progress in reforming U.S. marijuana laws. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is prison and focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.
Anthony Wile: Thank you for speaking with us today, Morgan. We were fortunate to be able to interview MPP's executive director, Rob Kampia, in May and look forward to this update from you. Before we talk about the Marijuana Policy Project and recent news in the world of cannabis legalization, tell us a little about your self. When did you join MPP and what led you to activism in this particular area?
Morgan Fox: I have been with MPP since 2008. I originally got involved in this movement because I saw the negative effects of marijuana prohibition on my peers and my community, and I was tired of wasting our scarce resources going after otherwise law-abiding adults for using something that is far safer than alcohol.
Anthony Wile: What has been the most encouraging or satisfying aspect of your work with MPP?
Morgan Fox: When I get a call from someone who can now safely and legally access their medicine, and whose life has improved because of it, it makes everything worthwhile.
Anthony Wile: There have surely been frustrations, as well, although you persevere. Can you name some of those?
Morgan Fox: Hearing people repeat the same decades-old misinformation about marijuana and how prohibition is working perfectly, despite all evidence to the contrary, is quite frustrating. It is especially frustrating hearing it from people in positions of trust and authority who benefit from prohibition.
Anthony Wile: The elections in the US last week, being referred to as the "marijuana midterms," were surely satisfying for you and the crew at MPP. Give readers a summary of last week's most significant results.
Morgan Fox: Voters in Alaska and Oregon voted to make marijuana legal for adults and regulated like alcohol, and the cities of South Portland, Maine and the District of Columbia made possession of small amounts of marijuana legal for adults. A medical marijuana initiative in Florida narrowly failed, but was approved by more than 58% of voters. Unfortunately Florida law requires ballot initiatives to win by 60%, and now seriously ill patients will have to wait another year at least despite a majority of their neighbors being in favor of the measure. Overall, however, it was a very successful election and America is several steps closer to ending prohibition.
Anthony Wile: Of course, there's a difference between passing an amendment or ballot measure and implementation. What's next in Alaska, Florida and Oregon?
Morgan Fox: In Florida, supporters are already gearing up for legislative lobbying and potentially another ballot initiative in 2016. Alaska and Oregon will certify their laws soon, making adults age 21 and over safe from arrest for possession. Both states will also begin developing regulations to govern the operation and licensing of businesses to cultivate, process and sell marijuana for the adult retail market.
Anthony Wile: There's been news that DC may have a more difficult time with implementation of the initiative passed there. Do you have insight on why there's so much concern being expressed?
Morgan Fox: Because DC is not a state, any laws passed by its citizens must be approved by Congress. There are certain members of key committees, particularly Rep. Andy Harris from Maryland, who have said they will fight to veto the initiative. It does not seem, however, that there is much popular support for interfering with the will of the people in Congress and, in fact, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from several states recently petitioned Congress to allow DC's law to be implemented.
Anthony Wile: Guam passed a referendum that will allow patients with "debilitating medical conditions" to use marijuana, obtained from regulated providers. How narrowly defined are the conditions for which one would be allowed to use marijuana?
Morgan Fox: The referendum allows for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, admission into hospice, PTSD and rheumatoid arthritis.
Anthony Wile: And are there already regulated providers in place in Guam, as required by the measure?
Morgan Fox: No, but this holds true for every other state that has passed a medical marijuana law. Territory authorities will develop regulations for licensed providers in the coming months.
Anthony Wile: There were also numerous local initiatives and non-binding policy on the ballots in six states. Were these mainly related to medicinal cannabis, recreational use or both? Are any particularly notable, or expected to have a significant impact?
Morgan Fox: All of these were related to making marijuana legal for adults or removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts. The primary purpose of local initiatives is to get police accustomed to the idea of treating marijuana in a non-criminal paradigm, despite the fact that they are still able to use the authority of state law to arrest people for possession. Another key purpose they serve is public education and promoting conversations about flawed marijuana polices.
Anthony Wile: Several towns in Colorado passed measures that ban the establishment of retail marijuana shops or cultivation facilities in their town, even though marijuana is legal and regulated like alcohol in the state. What do you make of that?
Morgan Fox: Localities must determine the types of businesses that will benefit their residents individually. As long as adults are not being arrested for marijuana, it is up to each town and city to determine what will work best for them. The next few years will likely show that the localities that allow these legal businesses to operate within their borders are reaping tremendous benefits in terms of job creation and taxes, while the places that don't will be missing out.
Anthony Wile: We read this week that Colombia has taken a significant first step toward legalizing and regulating marijuana use in that country, as a Senate committee approved its use for medical purposes. Are you aware of similar legislative movement in other countries?
Morgan Fox: Now that some places within the United States are doing away with prohibition, and the country as a whole is reconsidering its policies, many other nations that we have pressured to mimic US-style drug control are also reconsidering how they treat marijuana. Everywhere from Australia to Spain to countries throughout Latin America are exploring policy alternatives, particularly when it comes to the medical use of marijuana.
Anthony Wile: It does seem other countries are able to move legislation forward more efficiently, once it's introduced, than happens in the US. Why is that?
Morgan Fox: Making traction on the national level is more difficult in the United States due to federalism, but achieving reform at the state level is much more reachable. Given that no other countries have made marijuana legal for adults as we have in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and our nation's capital, we are ahead of the curve.
Anthony Wile: What needs to happen for federal legalization to move forward in the US?
Morgan Fox: Earlier this year, the House approved a measure that would prohibit the DEA from spending any funds interfering with state-legal medical marijuana providers. Unfortunately, this measure stalled due to budget issues in Congress, but there are continuous efforts to pass legislation related to medical marijuana, banking issues surrounding the marijuana industry and ending federal prohibition entirely so that states can determine their own policies. As more states end prohibition, and the majority of supporters nationally grows, we will see steadily increasing Congressional support.
Anthony Wile: What is the federal government's position now on cannabis cultivation, sales, banking and related issues in states that have approved its use?
Morgan Fox: They are all illegal according to federal law, but the Department of Justice has decided not to interfere with states as long as they are meeting a specific set of criteria. For the most part, they have lived up to their promise.
Anthony Wile: Do you perceive at this point a united position among the various federal agencies and branches, or is it fractured?
Morgan Fox: The DEA is certainly not happy with the instructions they've been given by their bosses at main Justice. In fact, the director of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, refused to admit that marijuana is safer than heroin or methamphetamine in a congressional hearing, so should provide some insight as to where they stand.
Anthony Wile: Is harassment, seizure of assets and arrest by the feds of individuals acting legally under their local jurisdiction's laws still happening? Can you give us some examples?
Morgan Fox: This has been largely limited to businesses and individuals that are not acting within the boundaries of state law.
Anthony Wile: Are there any court cases underway or coming up that will address this problem?
Morgan Fox: There are several cases related to medical marijuana currently underway, but it is uncertain whether they will have any applicable effect on state or federal law.
Anthony Wile: What do you make of the Sacramento Federal Court judge now considering the constitutionality of cannabis's Schedule I controlled substance classification? Any predictions of what will come about there, or what will come from it?
Morgan Fox: I'm not familiar enough with that case to comment, but it is good to see federal judges even considering the medical applications of marijuana in cases. Historically, even the mention of medical use was inadmissible in most cases.
Anthony Wile: After a brief, well-deserved rest following this election, what is MPP moving toward now?
Morgan Fox: We are already working towards ballot initiative campaigns to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada in 2016, and are lobbying for similar legislation in several states to pass sensible marijuana policy reform measures ranging from medical marijuana to decriminalization and legalization.
Anthony Wile: Any other issues you'd like to mention, publications, websites or upcoming events you want to tell our readers about?
Morgan Fox: Check out our website at www.mpp.org to find out how you can get involved. We are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Anthony Wile: Thanks again for your time today.
Thanks to Morgan Fox we are reminded again of the success of the "marijuana midterms," as the US congressional elections have come to be known.
It was certainly satisfying for anyone who believes that the surging availability of cannabis is both appropriate and fair. What is unfair, in fact, are the thousands who are behind bars throughout the US and abroad for using the stuff or have otherwise had their lives disrupted or destroyed.
Cannabis has been used for thousands of years and criminalized for about 50. We truly live in the dark ages when it comes to any one of a number of aspects of modern society. But thanks to what's going on politically and legally, the stranglehold of prohibition is starting to be broken.
As Mr. Fox points out: "Voters in Alaska and Oregon voted to make marijuana legal for adults and regulated like alcohol, and the cities of South Portland, Maine and the District of Columbia made possession of small amounts of marijuana legal for adults. A medical marijuana initiative in Florida narrowly failed, but was approved by more than 58% of voters. Unfortunately Florida law requires ballot initiatives to win by 60%, and now seriously ill patients will have to wait another year at least despite a majority of their neighbors being in favor of the measure. Overall, however, it was a very successful election and America is several steps closer to ending prohibition."
Importantly, he notes that "The DEA is certainly not happy with the instructions they've been given by their bosses at main Justice. In fact, the director of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, refused to admit that marijuana is safer than heroin or methamphetamine in a congressional hearing, so should provide some insight as to where they stand."
We've pointed this out on numerous occasions. The marijuana meme is rising and those in the law enforcement community are fighting a rump battle to harass and imprison users even though international elites have likely decided that cannabis, and other drugs as well, are going to be both legal and regulated.
Those associated with The Daily Bell saw the cannabis surge long ago, analyzed it via the VESTS methodology and began to visualize it in industrial terms. Nothing has changed since that long-ago analysis. The cannabis surge continues and increases. Thanks to Mr. Fox for the encouraging, positive update. MPP is as responsible as any for the outcomes we're seeing these days.