Cannabis / Marijuana, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Rob Kampia on Marijuana Legalization: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
By Anthony Wile - May 11, 2014

Introduction: Rob Kampia co-founded the Marijuana Policy Project in January 1995 and has been its executive director ever since. Rob co-authored most of the medical marijuana laws currently on the books in 16 states and the District of Columbia, with MPP taking a leading role in passing the laws in Hawaii (2000), Montana (2004), Vermont (2004), Rhode Island (2006), Michigan (2008), Maine (2009), Arizona (2010) and Delaware (2011). Rob also oversaw the campaign to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in Massachusetts, where voters passed MPP's ballot initiative in 2008. This is the only state to decriminalize marijuana via a vote of the people. Rob has testified before a U.S. House subcommittee twice (2001 and 2004), and has also testified before legislative committees in California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Vermont and Washington state. Rob has been quoted in almost every newspaper in the U.S., and has appeared on national TV dozens of times.

Anthony Wile: You founded the Marijuana Policy Project in 1995. How did that come about?

Rob Kampia: Three colleagues and I left NORML in January 1995, and three of us co-founded MPP one week later in the same month.

Anthony Wile: How have things changed since then?

Rob Kampia: In 1995, medical marijuana wasn't legal in any state. Now, medical marijuana is legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia, plus marijuana is regulated like alcohol in two states, plus marijuana has been decriminalized in more states. MPP doesn't take credit for all of these victories, but MPP takes credit for most.

Anthony Wile: MPP has been a coauthor of most of the medical marijuana laws currently on the books in 16 states and the District of Columbia. That's some accomplishment! Are you satisfied?

Rob Kampia: We've come a long way since we got started in 1995. I'll truly be satisfied once medical marijuana is available to those who need it in every state.

Anthony Wile: As you've testified before various federal subcommittees, what's been your message?

Rob Kampia: Marijuana prohibition has failed, and our nation needs to adopt a new approach. We cannot afford to maintain our current federal policies.

Anthony Wile: You've appeared on numerous TV programs, as well. Any different message there?

Rob Kampia: I want to get the message across that marijuana prohibition has been just as big of a failure as alcohol prohibition. Once people understand that, and once they realize that marijuana is actually less harmful than alcohol, they tend to agree it is time to make it legal for adults.

Anthony Wile: In 1989-90 you served three months in a county jail in central Pennsylvania for growing marijuana for personal use. What kind of impact did this have on you and your chosen profession?

Rob Kampia: Before I was arrested on 4/20 in 1989, I wasn't politically active. In fact, my reasons for voting for certain candidates in November 1988 were so immature that I'd be embarrassed to explain the reasons now. But after I was released from jail in February 1990, I was politically engaged on the first day. My 90-day jail sentence energized me, changed my life, and I met Chuck Thomas, who was the visionary who changed my life, because he knew more about politics than I at that time.

Anthony Wile: Give us a bit of background on marijuana prohibition. How and why did it occur?

Rob Kampia: Federal marijuana prohibition began in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act, which most legislators signed without reading or even knowing what marijuana was. The purpose of this bill was to disenfranchise and criminalize Mexican migrant workers and protect the lumber and chemical industries. The war on marijuana really took off during the Nixon Administration, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed and marijuana was classified under Schedule 1, which is a classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs. Ultimately, marijuana prohibition is based on a perception of harm surrounding the substance. Prohibitionists exaggerated the potential harm of marijuana to make it illegal, and they continue to do it in hopes of keeping it illegal.

Anthony Wile: The MPP vision statement says, in part, you "envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol…" Why not simply campaign to make it a free-market good for adults? What is the need for regulation?

Rob Kampia: The majority of Americans think it is time to end marijuana prohibition. Like any commercial product that is being produced for and sold to the public, it needs to be controlled. That is the benefit of regulation. Under prohibition, we have no control over marijuana. It's not packaged or labeled, it's not tested for contaminants, and it is being sold in an underground market. Regulating marijuana like alcohol will ensure it is produced and sold in a safe and responsible fashion.

Anthony Wile: It seems a lot of people have grave concern that legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults will make it more accessible to minors, who may then be harmed by their increased use. What is MPP's position on recreational marijuana use by minors and how would you address this concern?

Rob Kampia: Prohibition is the worst possible policy when it comes to protecting children. Illegal marijuana dealers do not ask for ID, and they have a financial incentive to sell it to anyone, anywhere. Licensed and regulated marijuana stores have a financial incentive to sell only to adults — they don't want to lose their licenses. For the past several years we've seen teen tobacco use plummet, yet we haven't had to arrest a single adult simply for possessing cigarettes. That's because regulation works.

Anthony Wile: Explain how the differences between decriminalization and legalization play out when it comes to marijuana.

Rob Kampia: Decriminalization is a step forward. It keeps marijuana users from being jailed and in some cases prevents them from being saddled with criminal records. But a more comprehensive solution is needed. Until we address how marijuana is being cultivated and sold, we will continue to see problems associated with prohibition. We will continue to see law enforcement officials waste their time arresting and prosecuting adults for marijuana offenses. We will continue to see marijuana sold in an oftentimes violent underground market. And we will continue to have no real control over the product.


Anthony Wile: How many states have decriminalized marijuana, which have legalized and how many states have legalized use of medical marijuana? What about regulation of marijuana production – how is that addressed in the US?

Rob Kampia: Colorado and Washington have made marijuana legal and are in the process of regulating it for adult use. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail for possession of marijuana. Twenty-one states (including CO and WA) and DC have effective medical marijuana laws. Regulation varies from state to state. See:

MPP's Map of State Marijuana Laws

MPP's Medical Marijuana Grid

Anthony Wile: What is MPP's goal at the federal level? Why the two-fold approach – federal and state – and how do you see that playing out long-term? What is the current state of affairs regarding federal policy enforcement at the state level and the issue of states' rights?

Rob Kampia: Our ultimate goal is to have marijuana removed from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference. There are several bills before Congress that would change marijuana laws at the federal level, from what was just described to allowing marijuana businesses to file for tax deductions and use banking or credit card services.

Anthony Wile: You plan to persuade a team of US senators to introduce a states' rights marijuana bill in the Senate and work to move it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Is this feasible? Where are you in the process?

Rob Kampia: We already know that a majority of senators on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee support the notion of not arresting cancer patients who need to use marijuana for medical purposes. As with anything in politics, we don't know the legislative vehicle for how we'll accomplish this change, but the change will occur.

Anthony Wile: Summarize where we are in terms of upcoming legislation. What are you most focused on … ticketing as opposed to incarceration? Medical versus recreational?

Rob Kampia: We have legislation advancing on all fronts. We are supporting a 2014 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Alaska, and we are just getting rolling with our 2016 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Nevada. We also plan to support similar initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine and Massachusetts in 2016. We are lobbying hard for similar "tax-and-regulate" measures in several states where we believe they can pass within the next few years, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. We are also supporting medical marijuana bills in several states, and we expect to see laws pass in Minnesota, New York and West Virginia within the next couple years.

Anthony Wile: MPP is one of the more longstanding pro-marijuana forces. How have things changed of late – and why? Why do you think this is suddenly marijuana's time?

Rob Kampia: We have finally reached the point at which supporting marijuana policy reform has become mainstream. A majority of Americans recognize that prohibition has failed, that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and that it should be treated that way.

Anthony Wile: For some reason marijuana seems to be at the center of legalization efforts not only in the US but around the world. You agree? How is this possible? What changed?

Rob Kampia: The U.S. has long influenced – and at times dictated – marijuana policy in other countries. Now that there is momentum for ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S., other countries are taking notice and discussing the possibility of following suit.

Anthony Wile: What about other drugs?

Rob Kampia: Our focus is on marijuana policy. Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations out there working on other drug policy issues.

Anthony Wile: There are so many people in jail – or with criminal records – for smoking dried bits of plant matter. As it increasingly becomes decriminalized or legal, what about those who are incarcerated? Should they go free? Should their records be expunged? Should they receive some sort of compensation?

Rob Kampia: Clemency is something that will have to be carefully considered. It certainly does not seem fair to keep people in jail for doing something that is now legal. It is a tricky issue, though, since granting clemency and the commutation of sentences are typically powers reserved for the president and governors.

Anthony Wile: Do drug users ever deserve incarceration? Is treatment a better idea generally than incarceration?

Rob Kampia: Drug use and abuse are health issues, not criminal justice issues.

Anthony Wile: Is marijuana a good market niche for an entrepreneur to examine?

Rob Kampia: Yes, but it is still a risky one. Despite the successful regulation we are seeing in places like Colorado and the huge advancements being made in quality and industry standards, there is still the possibility of federal prosecution to consider.

Anthony Wile: Can marijuana eventually rival alcohol as a legitimate business?

Rob Kampia: Our federal and state prohibition laws are the only thing keeping marijuana from being just as legitimate as alcohol. In those states that have implemented regulatory systems for marijuana, many do now view it as a very legitimate business. It's an industry just like any other.

Anthony Wile: How do you see the marijuana industry evolving? Will there be more and more public companies?

Rob Kampia: Once marijuana is a legal product for adults, it will generally be treated like other legal products for adults.

Anthony Wile: Once you achieve your goals with MPP – which may be soon, from the look of things – what's next for you?

Rob Kampia: I'll certainly work on another issue that would free people from arrest and prison. I'll announce this new project in approximately five years.

After Thoughts

Rob Kampia is not just a visionary. He's helped make things happen when it comes to marijuana legalization – and there seems to be more to come, as in this interview he tells us that he will only be satisfied once medical marijuana is available to those who need it in every state.

There will be further evolutions, as he points out:

"We have legislation advancing on all fronts. We are supporting a 2014 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Alaska, and we are just getting rolling with our 2016 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Nevada.

"We also plan to support similar initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts in 2016. We are lobbying hard for similar 'tax-and-regulate' measures in several states where we believe they can pass within the next few years, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont."

Medical marijuana is the first step. But the demise of cannabis prohibition will involve the availability of it recreationally. It will likely be regulated and the industry's profile will be similar to alcohol.

Those who disapprove of the legalization of marijuana in all of its forms are probably standing against an idea whose time has come.

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Posted in Cannabis / Marijuana, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
  • Tom Franseen

    You libertarians blow it on this point. Marijuana represents the dumbing down of America and especially our youth. It fits right in with the so-called progressives (leftists) and their efforts and agenda to control our population via big government. It also fits well into the paradigm of ‘more money into the coffers so it must be good’ just as does, yes, alcohol, casinos, and gambling. As our nation heads to edge of the brink of destruction, we continue to make it harder and harder for our youth to become productive members of society, and they are just giving up in larger and larger numbers (suicide and going on the dole). Who in their right mind would ever think that a nation should condone mind-altering addicting drugs for recreational use, or at the very least, for so-called ‘medical’ use? While we have narcotics right now that you can get by prescription, that whole concept and it’s subsequent abuse by our youth has now spawned a whole new wave of addictions and death in our beloved country – so you people argue for even more of this? I disagree that there has been any legitimate research that has proven the value of this plant thus far. Advocates of alcohol/wine consumption said the same thing in a large study about wine years ago, which is now quoted by all who are in favor of the #1 killer of people today, but if you look more closely, the study was funded by the very people who stood to benefit from it’s use. How ironic. We live in a society of lies, mistruths, and deception. And this drug doesn’t help to alleviate that problem; it exacerbates it.

    • And alternatively, we have the “war on drugs” that has put millions in jail for the “crime” of using plants as curatives or for recreation. Cannabis has surely been in use for thousands – perhaps tens of thousands of years. Who are you to decide what others can and cannot do? It is not a monetary issue but one of freedom.

      • Marten

        Right, Marijuana is the Messenger, not the Message……We live in Freedom or in Tyranny…This is the real issue

      • dfacts

        The bottom line is freedom, and whether you support it or oppose it. Anyone who endorses or facilitates the imposition of injustice and tyranny is, in fact, a collaborator and tool of tyrants who would deny your tight to live free of their clutches. Living with a boot on your neck is tantamount to accepting slavery and being ruled by force. Fundamentally, there is no difference between being bound with the “velvety” psychological chains of brainwashing techniques, “legal” (as opposed to lawful) chains, or chains of cold iron. Psychopaths who would rule you should be treated as pariahs and parasites whose true agenda is to suck your life-blood for their own sustenance.

    • “I know [pornography] when I see it” ~ Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, 1964

      I see a shadow government stage setting, directing and profiting from human carnage, responsible for +200 million deaths in the 20th century. I see a PRIVATE Feral Reserve, in league with a corrupt Wall Street, directing a puppet congress in the theft of our rights and property. I see a Puppet POTUS directing illegal arms to support color revolutions, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands in Egypt, Libya and Syria. I see a death cult endorsing forced marriage, child brides, honor killings and stoning of rape victims. I know what is obscene in this false paradigm reality when i see it. Libertarians are correct in fighting draconian imposed prohibitions on a range of natural right freedom issues.

    • Steve Jones

      So whats your solution, Mr. Wise Guy Who Warns Us About Imminent Destruction? If you could press a button that would make all drugs, alcohol, and anything capable of inducing any form of intoxication illegal, would you press it? It seems, from your comments, that you probably would. The way you started your comment is a dead giveaway – “You libertarians”. Yes, how self-destructive of us libertarians to not want to throw people in jail for being in possession of a plant.

      Does it really bear repeating? Advocating legalization is not the same as advocating the use of the plant. Sure, plenty of people speak of marijuana in terms of purported medical benefits, but that is entirely beside the point. The point to be considered is this: What is in the best interest of furthering human liberty? You seem to come down solidly on the side of the DEA. How disappointing. But really, it isnt that surprising to hear coming from someone like you who is apparently consumed by the lust to make sure everyone spends every waking moment of their lives sober.

    • Actually, cannabis oil does reverse cancer.

      Now that a few states are allowing its use it shouldn’t be too long before there is a tidal wave of support for cannabis oil because as more people use it, it will become clear to anyone with half a brain that chemo and radiation are no match for cannabis.

      So don’t be surprised despite your present belief system that cannabis has no value, it’s going to happen. Most likely a celebrity with cancer will cure themselves and their stories will be all over the place.

      It’s also incredibly stupid to jail or fine people for using pot. We don’t jail people for getting drunk every night on beer or wine, nor do we fine them. We don’t jail 400 pound parents for buying Twinkies and feeding them to their obese children.

      I believe we should not use pot to get high because life should be lived sober. But to punish people for their mild bad habits makes no sense.

  • Marijuana was legal for personal cultivation and recreational use until the DEA directed mandate by the Alaska Supreme Court in Ravin v State in 1975 [1]. The current “time has come” status of this issue should be viewed in the wider context of the Nouveau Renaissance, induced by the modern Gutenberg press, against the current ruling false paradigm reality. We have many evil fables to expose and depose in science, history, current events and our underlying problem, the Ponzi monopolist monetary policy. Do not let a recreational BUZZ being granted by the ruling authoritarians to be THE VICTORY that humanity is in need of. Universal Freedom is the Idea Who’s Time has Come. Find and share Truth.

    [1] mahalo(.)com/alaska-marijuana-legalization/

    • grassroot

      If, we can just keep it out of the reach of four year old children,,, just like guns, and whatever
      else is dangerous for them who do not realize the danger for and to them.

  • Daily Bell Reader #2927283

    Should anyone be surprised that a co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Project would be so upbeat about the progress of legalization? He of course has good reason to be so optimistic, given that the situation has changed so much in the last few years. However, I still maintain that, in spite of what is going on in some of the more open minded parts of the country, there are some states which will not hop on the marijuana legalization bandwagon as long as the current officeholders (and those like-minded persons elected to replace them) retain their positions. Take my home state of Louisiana, for instance. I can only speak for this one state in particular because its where I was born and where I currently live. It should be borne in mind that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of
    any state in the country, and the current prohibitive law regarding marijuana is a
    major contributor towards that. Our senate recently killed a bill that would have stopped making felons of persons caught in possession of marijuana multiple times. Repeat offenders can be given extremely harsh sentences, even if the amount of time between when the prior offenses occurred spans decades. Take a look at this link for an example of that very thing: This man’s record showed he had been convicted of possession once 20 years ago, then 8 years ago, and then again just recently; so the judge felt it necessary to sentence him to 13 years in jail. The local news stations here make no effort to point out the ludicrousness of things of this nature; indeed, the topic of marijuana legalization has only surfaced once in recent memory, when KTBS (a local ABC affiliate) had a 5 minute long propaganda piece in which a representative in Congress from our district, John Fleming, was trotted out to say that he believes marijuana should not be made legal under any circumstances. This man is on record just within the past couple of weeks making a
    speech to congress about why medical marijuana should not be an option
    for veterans, and before that is on record making numerous other statements in favor of maintaining the status quo regarding its illegality. Before the report I refer to ended, the anchors of course brought out the “study” about the potential of even casual marijuana to cause brain abnormalities (they at least had the honestly to point out that the study authors noted that this is in no way conclusive.) I could go on with more examples of how the opinions of those in power here locally, and those sent to congress to supposedly represent Louisianans, is totally opposed to legalization, but this post is getting long-winded and so I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say, if legalization is to happen here, Louisiana will almost certainly be one of the last in line to make it happen, and it will take a sea change in the mentality of local officials to make it happen. In short, something of a miracle will be required. The Daily Bell should not take the spate of news about legalization/decriminalization going on in some states as evidence of it being the case everywhere. It most certainly isn’t the case where I am.

  • Hugo

    Hi DB

    OT but maybe interesting for the elves. Totally hidden in a piece what title does not describe what is going on. Is Turkey next in some colour mess?

    ”Elsewhere, we are keeping a close eye on Turkey, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is busy convincing foreign investors that the unexpected victory of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in March local elections, spells certain stability.

    However authoritarian his moves have been—and make no mistake, they are—there may possibly be an element of stability to be found in this. It may not last forever, but for now, Erdogan has cemented his authority. It is unfortunate that he has had to do this by removing personal freedoms.”

    ”The country’s current-account deficit has risen to almost 8 percent of gross domestic product — bad enough to earn Turkey a place among Morgan Stanley’s Fragile Five, the bank’s moniker for the emerging-markets countries whose economies are most vulnerable to higher world interest rates.”

    ”From an energy perspective, however, investors should be attracted at least by the countries potential to become the key oil and gas hub linking Europe and the Middle East, for which getting their first—when things aren’t in place yet—is key to getting their at all. The only question is whether Erdogan means stability or instability. Western investors need some more assurances and a clear demonstration of legitimate longevity.”

    That from a piece called ”what does Russia really want”, seems the writer of that piece wanted to convey another message then what Russia wants… Remember the failed square protests that mr Endorgan put down…

  • HHMMMM, what a spin. We know the legalizing of mj is not the answer. Freeing it is. He seems to believe it needs to be controlled. No need to control something when it is freed. The whole decriminalization program is bunk too. Freeing mj frees the ones in jail. All of the rest of everything he talks about is based entirely on heresy where they have been arguing controversy of mj for aeons. Nothing will get resolved this way as we well are aware. It just lines the pockets of the rich. I guess thats why the Germans have gotten rid of many traffic signs and intersections, because the traffic lights have caused the accidents. People have come together to realize that controlling is not the answer but to free the mind and become responsible for ones actions is imperative if we are to become free of this construct. Anyways the Germans are having less deaths and accidents and are truly enjoying their freedom to travel. Less traffic jams and less insurance claims and so forth. The community is growing tighter and more harmonious because the people have no way of blaming their mistakes on anybody but themselves, they are experiencing the truth for what it is and becoming responsible for what they do. When we realize this fact we will become rewarded of our own doing. The next step is to de-license and de-register and take back our inherent gifts from the creator.

  • Myron Goodrum

    A few things disturb me, mainly “tax”, “regulate” and the word “reform”, all of which supported previous failed prohibitions. Now, like a seasoned politician campaigning to pass marijuana legislation, we are again being treated to a new round of “tax”, “regulate” and “reform” language. Why I admire Rob’s drive and noble cause, I’m concerned about the high involvement of federal and State run reforms vs. letting the free market take the lead. Here is a classic example of using government reform (a failure) to correct failed government initiatives in the first place. Whatever happened to just DECRIMINALIZING marijuana and letting that be that? And what about those of us who just want to enjoy marijuana but don’t have a medical reason for it? Whether its alcohol or weed, If we don’t educate or supervise our children about these substances they will find the information on their own and in their own way. No amount of government can protect the children of the world from abuse because we institute government controlled tax, regulate and reform measures. We need to become responsible for our own children and our marijuana use, tell the tax and regulate promoters to take a hike, just decriminalize, and let the market repair the failed prohibitions.

  • Just a crazy temporary glitch to be sorted ……