On the morning of January 16, 2019 the Minnesota State Capitol Press Room was abuzz with expectation about the 2 press conferences scheduled for that day. One was the first public event organized by Smart Approaches to Marijuana – Minnesota (SAMMn) a new player in the effort to continue prohibition of cannabis in Minnesota. The MN chapter of the nationally organized SAM lobby group was lead by Kim Bemis, prohibitionist and CEO of an on-line teen drug treatment program. He was joined by Ken C. Winters, Chairman of the Gobi Support Board and apparently a forger of documents, Californian Dana Stevens, bereaved mother Sandy Melville, and the Dakota County Dynamic Duo, Sheriff Tim Leslie and Prosecutor James Backstrom. The second was organized by the Minnesotans Against Prohibition (MAP) coalition of long standing and newly formed cannabis legalization organizations and individuals. Organized by Marcus Harcus and his crew of tireless volunteers for full legalization of cannabis in Minnesota, the MAP speakers confronted and confounded the case made by SAMMn. Defense Attorney Tom Gallagher, out of work scientist Blythe Thea, veteran Tom Edwards, MN medical cannabis member Paul Johnson, activist Oliver Steinberg, cannabis worker Javier Arenado, and organizer Jessica Hanson, each told a story about how prohibition has hurt them or those they love.
New Hughes Video Feed, your source for social media for social justice, slow walked us through the point by point take down of SAMMn by MAP with a series of 10 short videos released over 2 weeks and shared widely with thousands of viewers around the world and in your neighborhood. A complete video link list is available here. Alternatively, continue to carefully investigate the hyperlinks and embedded videos throughout this article to view the series in context. Regardless of how you find them, I hope that you will use the video links to spread the information contained in each one. They can be sent by email, posted in social media, embedded on websites, and shared. They are a great way to start a discussion, especially with prohibitionists. Use them judiciously but not sparingly to promote the full legalization of cannabis in Minnesota or anywhere else these videos are useful.
At the press conference the prohibitionist argument was classic fear mongering. Built on a foundation of selective vision, questionable reasoning and warped logic, SAMMn told scary stories about an imaginary world where cannabis was the source of every terrible event and the sweet demon haunting every criminal. The speakers from SAMMn implied that the illicit drug market was a result of legalization, primarily because of over-production and over-taxation in the legal market. But, that was an inversion of reality. The illicit market already exists in Minnesota and every other state in the union. When prohibitionists suggest that legal cannabis will promote a crime ridden society of stoners careening around town in smoke-filled cars looking for more powerful drugs from an out of control illicit market, they do not understand that prohibition has already created a real life, well-established, illicit market. You know. Over on the other side of the tracks, across town, and out of sight. Down the dead end road, around the corner, and out of mind. Across the street, in your neighbor’s living room, and in your backyard. Any new legal or decriminalized market for cannabis will be in direct competition with an extensive illicit market. Legislation to legalize and commercialize cannabis in MN or any other state mired in prohibition must be designed and discussed on that basis, not the twisted notion that legal cannabis creates the illicit market.
Law enforcement was represented by Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie and Prosecutor James Backstrom speaking against cannabis and for SAMMn. They could not come right out and say that full legalization of cannabis would leave a sizeable hole in their profit stream and remove a useful tool from the probable cause tackle-box, so they told tall tales and spoke inanities with all the gravitas their costume and office could confer. The Sheriff set the pace and prompted robust laughter when he praised the MN Medical Cannabis Program. He kept the obvious jokes coming by emphatically informing us that the heaviest users of addictive materials use a lot of the stuff, and lent the gravity of his professional opinion to suggest that we take time and wait for a Minnesota Model of Cannabis Regulation, only to be reminded that the MN model legislation already exists. It would be presented by the pro- full legalization coalition Minnesotans Against Prohibition (MAP) at their press conference later that afternoon, but Sheriff Leslie and Prosecutor Backstrom were long gone by that time. At the podium, Backstrom played it loose with the facts and often offered contradictory analyses. He at once assured us that very few Minnesotans have been incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses, while complaining that marijuana was responsible for up to 40% of his workload as Prosecutor in Dakota County. Is he ineffectively prosecuting or effectively spinning? Attorney Backstrom was correct when he suggested that using cannabis under prohibition exposes people to the dark aisles of the broader illicit market, but he failed to draw the most obvious conclusion that legalizing the cannabis market would blunt the kind exposure he bemoaned. As for youngsters, few drug dealers ask for ID, but every legal dispensary must. Neither representative of the MN law enforcement community put up by SAMMn acknowledged that only gateway opened by cannabis is the one into the prison industrial complex, primarily for those ensnared by police patrolling through the lens of a slave catcher and serving as foot soldiers to wealth and white supremacy.
Also unacknowledged by Backstrom or Leslie were the racial biases, implicit or otherwise, in the enforcement of anti-cannabis statues in Minnesota that result in 800% more people of color incarcerated than white consumers of illicit cannabis in MN. Perhaps because to do so might evoke the overtly racist messaging of earlier prohibitionist campaigns? The very word “marijuana”was created to imbue the “Devil’s lettuce” with a vaguely south of the border feel and couple it to the dastardly influence of “criminals” crossing into the US. If that sounds familiar that is because it has been part of our culture for 60 some years of the war on drugs, but the racial roots go much deeper. Part and parcel of the white supremacist agenda is the criminalization of particular neighborhoods and communities by selective enforcement of anti-cannabis laws, statues, and ordinances that the culture of prohibition has promulgated. Neither Tim nor Jim mentioned the for-profit model of policing and how they use it to criminalize the poor, keep disenfranchising men of color, and revive slavery through mass reincarceration. If a member of law enforcement wants to seriously advocate for prohibition or any other cause, they have to address the racial biases in policing and how they have confronted that behavior in themselves and their colleagues. Otherwise, put your office and uniform aside when you speak in public.
Other speakers from SAMMn, particularly Dana Stevens, worked up the new tax revenue generated by the legal cannabis market into a mutant straw horse and attacked it for not being bigger or more effective. It is a strange sort of logic that decries a new regulatory regime for raising only a quarter billion additional dollars for the state balance sheets. The problems Stevens cites, uneven access across the state and the incursion of Big Agricannabis, are solvable by adjusting regulation within the framework of legal cannabis, not a return to, or extension of prohibition. That kind of seemingly intentional misrepresentation of data was the SAMMn flavor of the day. Sandy Melville and Kim Bemis blurred the distinction between DUI data and legal cannabis consumption and along with Dana Stevens tagged legal cannabis for emergency room visits and health care costs. None addressed the success of using cannabis to transition addicts away from lethal drugs and toward the exit from chemical dependency, despite their experience with opioids and meth in their jurisdiction. Such a strange oversight, especially for people involved with drug counseling programs and companies. It seems SAM favors decriminalization, but opposes commercialization. That is a peculiar position because it would effectively lock-in the current illicit market. It would set up an untenable situation where using cannabis is tolerated, but not purchasing it. Considering the the profit motives of some of those representing SAMMn, may help to understand why people would promote such policies.
Decriminalization offers little more than a longer leash and a less restricting harness. It solidifies the illicit market because it offers no legal means to acquire that which has been “decriminalized”. Legalizing and commercializing cannabis removes it from the illicit market for a large number of cannabis consumers. The Medical Marijuana Program in Minnesota created a legal market that competes with the existing illicit cannabis market for those few people that can be accepted into the program and afford it. Full legalization, including the right to home cultivation, that includes establishing a legal, regulated, cannabis retail marketplace in Minnesota can provide a viable alternative to the illicit economy. Despite the pleas from Dana Stevens and Sheriff Leslie that we take more time and go slowly, I suggest that Minnesota should not wait too long to get on-board with legal cannabis. We should get started now. While it is still relatively novel, Minnesota can get a head start building and promoting our cannabis tourism industry. As more and more places wise up and legalize it, the less bounce each gets from being ahead of the curve. Move now.
Whenever cannabis is finally legalized in MN it will be important to promote local, neighborhood based grow houses and head shops. If you want to keep Big Cannagrabis at bay, root the legal market in small towns and neighborhoods all across the state. Nurture small growers and retail outlets in every part of Minnesota. Think what tap rooms, dining clubs, and cocktail lounges might look like if they were attached to grow houses, kitchens, and bakeries. Take a lesson from the craft beer sector, ignited by law changes in 2012, make it possible for small growers to sell directly to customers and provide space for consumption, including food preparation. Keep it local. Take a lesson from the local food sector and promote connection of retail outlets in town to farms and greenhouses on nearby agricultural land and small towns. Use tax rates to promote smaller, locally-sourced, neighborhood-staffed, community-based, Minnesota grown businesses. Grow a cannabis industry that is unique and diverse. Invest a portion of the cannabis-derived tax dollars toward helping local cultivation, processing, and sale all across the state. Build for a future as a national cannabis destination.
Later that day, the Minnesotans Against Prohibition (MAP) coalition stood up to respond to case made by SAMMn and questions from the press and the people. New Hughes Video Feed, your source of unencumbered, comprehensive videos concerning the most pressing issues facing Minnesota right now, released a series of 10 clips that explicitly combined footage from both pressers to more clearly delineate the dialogue between two groups on opposite sides of the cannabis legalization issue. At every turn, the prohibitionists from SAMMn failed to make a coherent point that someone from the MAP coalition did not refute or refine.
The back-to-back press conferences covered here and on the Full Legalization MN video channel clearly define the major points of opposition to full legalization of cannabis in Minnesota or any other US state. The proponents of prohibition cannot prevail in a reasoned debate based on facts and in the pursuit of a more just society. Given the overwhelming positive case for cannabis legalization it is enticing to become giddy and smug, especially if you are one of the consumers that has not been targeted by police and the criminal injustice system for reincarceration, disenfranchisement, and enslavement. The struggle for legal cannabis in MN is moving forward. Support from the Governor and many legislators – from all parties – as well as other elected officials was clear during the 2018 election. Since then, Marcus Harcus, Jessica Hanson, and Emilio Medina, along with a strong grass roots legalization coalition, have brought Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka a long way on cannabis legislation in a relatively short period of time. Swipe on over to LegalizeItMN to find out more about this dynamic and effective movement to legalize cannabis in Minnesota.
For reasons that have been deliberately edited out of this article and 9 of the 10 videos of this critical moment in the quest to legalize cannabis in MN a few moments from the SAMMn press conference took it viral. Because I appreciate George Lakoff I chose to reframe the reporting on these pressers rather than simply refuting the narrative of division and disruption that was the fuel for the skyrocket attention of cannabis legalization in Minnesota. I’ll let you add to the hype by searching for what I am not telling you. Meanwhile, or instead, watch these clips from the man at the center of it all. At the close of the MAP coalition press conference, Tom Hauser asked Harcus if he thought the disruption helped or hurt his efforts to legalize cannabis in Minnesota. Later while breaking down the cameras I assured him that how the public views the events of that day was not up to Marcus, John, or anyone other than his own reporting and that of other media outlets. He made the choice to go negative and highlight a few moments in over 2 hours of combined press conference. I chose to show him how to view it differently. How to bring people and ideas forward, rather than using the shallow interpretations of the conflict to drive in wedges and pry people apart.