Can we win the war
without the troops?

An Analysis of the Americans for Medical Rights
Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative Strategies
in the 1998 General Election
By the Colorado Citizens for Compassionate Cannabis
and the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project
(with input from activists in Alaska, Maine, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.)
November 12, 1998

PART ONE – THE AMR STRATEGY
Ignoring and dividing grassroots support
I. Introduction
II. Background on AMR’s 1998 Campaign Strategy
III. Wasted Financial Resources (AMR vs. Grassroots Campaigns – Cost/Benefit Analysis)
IV. Wasted Human Resources
V. Failing to form a grassroots base of support
VI. Defeating and demoralizing the existing grassroots
VII. Introduction of competing initiatives
VIII. Creating division, not unity
IX. Poorly-written laws
X. Proposed laws had no grassroots support
XI. Only a restrictive initiative will win
XII. Initiatives were only "symbolic"
XIII. What will passage of these initiatives really accomplish?

PART TWO – AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY
Grassroots organizing and revolutionizing the electorate

I. Introduction
II. Voter Registration and Motivation
III.  Progressive Vote 2000


PART ONE – THE AMR STRATEGY
Ignoring and dividing grassroots support

I. Introduction

In the 1998 general election we saw 5 states (AK, AZ, OR, WA, NV) and the District of Columbia pass legislation allowing the use of cannabis as medicine by patients. A group called Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) from California, headed by Bill Zimmerman, funded and coordinated the campaigns in Alaska, Nevada, and Oregon. AMR tried to get initiatives on the ballot in Colorado, Maine, and the District of Columbia but failed to collect enough signatures. The Washington state initiative was funded in part by AMR, but it is our understanding that AMR did not coordinate the campaign strategy. The Arizona initiative encompassed medicinal use of all Schedule I drugs and was not coordinated by AMR. The D.C. initiative was the only medical marijuana initiative that was written, funded, and coordinated by grassroots proponents.

This paper is an analysis of the AMR campaigns in AK, CO, D.C., ME, NV, and OR. AMR used a strategy of dividing and demoralizing the grassroots supporters of cannabis reform in many of these places. Instead of trying to include the grassroots supporters of medical cannabis in their campaigns, they chose a strategy of ignoring this existing support base and even actively discouraging the support from grassroots volunteers. In Maine, Alaska, and D.C., AMR actively worked against grassroots patient advocates who were circulating their own medicinal cannabis ballot initiatives.

In contrast, Initiative 59 in D.C. was coordinated completely by local grassroots activists on a shoestring budget. I-59 organizers are running an extremely effective grassroots campaign, which has resulted in a strong coalition of support. The I-59 campaign, because of its strong coalition and cost-effectiveness, should be the model for all ballot initiative campaigns.

This paper needs refining and was done at the last minute to be presented by Wayne Turner at the NORML conference panel on ballot initiatives on November 12. We feel it is important to present a summary of our experiences, albeit incomplete, to the attendees of this panel discussion. We have appealed to the leadership in the drug policy reform movement for over a year for help in resolving the problems and dissent created by AMR, with little response. We have informed the leadership that there is a problem. Now we are fulfilling our final obligation by formally informing you that you have been informed. The divisions caused by the AMR strategy are destroying the movement, not setting it forward. We hope that you will see the truth in this.

When we asked to present this analysis at this panel discussion in person, we were told by NORML that only groups that had successfully passed legislation would be invited to speak. Since our volunteer group in Colorado was not successful in getting our own initiative to pass (one we had written as an alternative to AMR’s but never circulated because we thought circulating competing initiatives was poor strategy), we would not be invited to discuss initiative strategy at the conference. NORML did offer that the dissenters could "find a way" to express their opinions during the Q and A sessions of the panels.

We trust that Wayne Turner will be able to express our opinions eloquently in person, and this written analysis will have to suffice for the voice of other grassroots nationwide who have been affected by the AMR strategy.

II. Background on AMR’s 1998 Campaign Strategy

In 1996, after the passage of the California Compassionate Use Act, grassroots reformers in Colorado became aware of the fact that a group called Americans for Medical Rights was likely to fund a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Colorado in 1998. We thought this was wonderful news. We’d circulated two ballot initiatives in the past, but were unsuccessful because we didn’t have the $50,000 we estimated it would take. We thought it would be great to have AMR collect the signatures and run the central campaign, and we would complement that by doing grassroots organizing around the campaign (media events, speaking engagements, letters to the editor, voter registration drives, etc.) We based our plans in Colorado on this scenario and did not try to raise the funds to do a medical marijuana initiative of our own in 1998.

This scenario changed dramatically after we read the flawed constitutional amendment that AMR proposed to enact in Colorado. The original version of the Colorado initiative would have recriminalized cannabis in Colorado and put the burden of proof on the defendant in a criminal case. After we pointed these flaws out to AMR, they changed the language. But the final version of the initiative was still unacceptable to us. Among other things, we felt the law would endanger patients by failing to provide for legal acquisition of cannabis and would create the potential to increase penalties for cannabis possession in Colorado.

We began to have even bigger concerns about AMR when we saw them using the destructive strategy of introducing initiatives in competition with petitions being circulated by the local grassroots reformers in Washington D.C., Alaska and Maine. The introduction of competing initiatives is a well-tested strategy used by enemies of progressive reform. It divides support for an issue, thus causing both initiatives to fail.

We banded together with patients and patient advocates in Washington, D.C., Maine, and Alaska and tried to negotiate with AMR to introduce an initiative we could support in Colorado and to get them to withdraw their competing initiatives in Washington, D.C., Alaska, and Maine. AMR was completely unresponsive to our concerns. They never showed any good faith attempt to negotiate or compromise.

We saw AMR as causing serious problems that needed to be addressed or risk destroying our movement. After trying to get AMR to negotiate with us for over two months, we felt we had done all we could privately. On December 9, 1997, we sent a letter to AMR and Ethan Nadelmann, who controlled AMR’s funding, stating that we would go public with our concerns about AMR if we did not see a good faith attempt on their part to address our concerns. The letter was signed by 38 patients and patient advocates in seven states and D.C. We received no response. AMR made it clear that they did not want, nor in their minds need, the support of the grassroots.

Since then, we have made our criticisms of AMR’s ballot initiative language and their strategy public in a limited way, mostly on the Internet. We were told by most of the national drug policy leadership to keep our concerns quiet, don’t rock the boat and let the AMR professionals do the job of writing, circulating, and passing a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Colorado. With a few exceptions (Dan Baum, Eric Sterling, and Kevin Zeese), the drug policy leadership deserted the grassroots in this battle with AMR. They thought that AMR was best-suited to run campaigns in Colorado, D.C., Maine, and Alaska and that we should step aside and let the professionals show us how a campaign is run.

We disagreed (respectfully, we hope:) with the DPR leadership and continued to question AMR’s tactics. Now that the election is over, we hope that the DPR leadership will see that there is more than a little truth in what we have been saying and that it is time to move forward from the lessons we learned this year. We hope that the DPR leadership will work with the grassroots reformers around the country to prevent an AMR-style fiasco from ever happening to our movement again.
 
III. Wasted Financial Resources
(AMR vs. Grassroots Campaigns – Cost/Benefit Analysis)

AMR Initiatives that Failed to Achieve Ballot Status
 

Money spent *  Signatures needed   Result Cost per signature 
Maine $250,000 51,131  4,000 short  $5/sig.
Colorado $650,000 54,242  2,300 short $12 /sig.
Washington, D.C. $100,000 17,000 never circulated $100,000 / 0 sig.
Total spent on failed campaigns: $1,000,000 

*These are estimates based on newspaper articles. The actual figures might be higher.

Grassroots Initiative that Succeeded in Achieving Ballot Status
 

Money spent Signatures needed   Result Cost per signature 
Washington, D.C. $ 25,000 17,000 achieved ballot status $1.50/ sig.

IV. Wasted Human Resources

In addition to the waste of financial resources, we saw an unprecedented attack on human resources and the volunteers that have been involved in cannabis and hemp reform for years. Our biggest resource in the cannabis reform movement is the people involved and the passion they bring to the movement. There are many people who have worked as volunteers for many years to educate the public and the government about the benefits of cannabis as a medicine and as an industrial fiber crop. They have written and introduced legislation, lobbied elected officials and the media, rallied and organized other volunteers, and done many other things for many years. The election wins that we saw this year did not happen in a void with no historical precedence for the idea of cannabis reform. It is because of the groundwork laid by these dedicated volunteers that the time was ripe in 1998 for several states to enact medical marijuana legislation.

Yet in 1998, we saw this valuable resource, our volunteers, cast aside like Monday’s trash by AMR and many of the leaders in the drug policy reform movement. Dedicated grassroots volunteers were lied to and deceived. They were impugned in the media as "radical legalizers" and worse. They were threatened with unworkable and dangerous laws proposed in their states by outsiders. They were ridiculed for not believing that any medical marijuana law was a good medical marijuana law. They were told that their efforts for cannabis reform in the past and their previous experience in cannabis reform politics in their state were not important. They were told to step aside and let the "professionals" do the job. They were told that the "professionals" did not want or need the support of grassroots volunteers. When these dedicated volunteers appealed to the leadership in the drug policy movement, they were ignored and told to keep quiet.

In Maine, neither the grassroots initiative, sponsored by Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana nor the AMR initiative appeared on the November ballot. AMR spent $250,000 on their campaign, thereby completely overshadowing and disrupting the existing MCMM campaign. Despite this huge expenditure of resources, AMR fell about 4000 signatures short of the required amount.

In D.C., AMR spent at least an estimated $100,000 to fight against the local Initiative 59 and propose a competing initiative. Because of legal mistakes and challenges, AMR failed to get their initiative certified to circulate and thus never got to the signature-gathering phase. Fortunately, the local grassroots supporters of Initiative 59 were able to overcome all opposition to earn a spot on the November ballot.

In Colorado, AMR spent over $650,000 and failed to get their initiative qualified for the ballot. The Secretary of State ruled they fell only 2338 signatures short of the 54,242 signatures required. Grassroots reformers in Colorado can guarantee that, if the initiative would have had support in the local cannabis reform movement, that our volunteers would have collected at least 20,000 additional signatures, putting the AMR initiative decisively over the top. In 1992, the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project collected 54,000 signatures on an initiative that would have legalized cannabis and hemp for all uses on a budget of about $3000. In 1994, CO-HIP collected 22,000 signatures on a similar amendment with a budget of about $1500.

V. Failing to form a grassroots base of support

AMR relied on hired PR firms to run their campaigns. They did not try to build a coalition of local support or endorsements for medicinal cannabis. They could not even find a local physician to appear in their TV commercials in Alaska, Nevada, and Colorado. In California, AMR has provided virtually no support to the grassroots coalition fighting to implement the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Their strategy was to "buy" election wins through last-minute advertising and not to form the long-term coalition needed to support and enable future medicinal cannabis reform.

VI. Defeating and demoralizing the existing grassroots
The importance of a strong grassroots coalition to creating political change cannot be underestimated. Election day "wins" can surely be bought with the right amount of money, but an election win will not create the long-term organization and structure needed to create further reform and build off the election win.

In Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Washington, D.C., AMR used the strategy of antagonizing the grassroots supporters of medicinal cannabis reform. They did not negotiate with the locals on writing legislation that would have been acceptable to everyone. They did not try to empower the local organizations to help on the campaign. Indeed, there are many examples of AMR actively impugning, antagonizing, and deceiving the grassroots organizers in these places.

VII. Introduction of competing initiatives

In Alaska, Maine, and Washington D.C., AMR introduced their medical marijuana initiatives in competition with initiatives that were being circulated by the grassroots activists in those states. The introduction of competing initiatives is a well-tested strategy used by enemies of progressive reform. It divides support for an issue, thus causing both initiatives to fail.

VIII. Creating division, not unity

The goal of our movement should be to create a unified force for cannabis reform. The AMR tactics of dividing grassroots support and demoralizing activists defeats this goal. The reform movements in Colorado, Maine, Alaska and Oregon are in some ways worse off than they were before AMR came to their states. The activists are demoralized. There has been no alternative coalition formed to take their place. Real reform comes from movements of people, not mere election wins. AMR has set reform backwards by creating so much division nationwide.

IX. Poorly-written laws

In Colorado, the original AMR initiative would have recriminalized cannabis for non-patients and would have put the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the state, in a medical marijuana criminal case. These serious flaws in wording were changed only after they were pointed out to the authors by grassroots cannabis reformers. The final version of the law contained errors (ie, allowing patients to grow three "leaveless" plants, failing to exclude sterilized cannabis seeds from the definition of marijuana, and allowing primary caregivers to "use" marijuana) that should have been fixed by the proponents before filing the initiative. Similar flaws were included in AMR’s initiatives in other states.

X. Proposed laws had no grassroots support

In Alaska, Maine, Colorado, and D.C., the AMR initiatives did not have support of grassroots patients and patient advocates who had been working on reform for many years. The limits on cultivation, possession, and diseases were viewed as harmful and unnecessary. The provision to require registration with the state for patients to receive the protection of the law was also viewed as dangerous, especially to AIDS activists who had fought in the past against names-reporting schemes proposed by the government for AIDS sufferers.

XI. Only a restrictive initiative will win

AMR explained that the reason they wrote initiatives that included registration with the state, and limits on possession, cultivation, and eligible illnesses was that only a very restrictive initiative would win. Since the election, this argument has been proven wrong. AMR’s least restrictive initiative (Nevada – no limits on possession or cultivation; allowed for distribution) passed by one of the widest majorities in perhaps the most conservative state of all. AMR’s most restrictive initiative (Oregon – low limits on possession and cultivation; prohibited sales of medicine) passed by the slimmest majority.

In addition, the initiatives in Washington state and Washington, D.C., (which were even less restrictive than AMR’s Nevada initiative) also passed by wide margins.

XII. Initiatives were only "symbolic"

A representative for AMR’s funders told us in the Fall of 1997 that the AMR initiatives were only "symbolic" and were not really designed to ever be enacted. When it is possible to write and enact laws that will actually accomplish something, it is foolish to write laws that are merely "symbolic." It is also another way to divide grassroots support for a law.

XIII. What will passage of these initiatives really accomplish?

The success of a movement is dependent on the strength of its base of support. Election wins may achieve short-term "symbolic" victories, but they do not create the organization needed to sustain a movement and progress forward to achieve future goals. Our attention needs to be focused on working together for reform. We need to pledge to enable and empower grassroots support for cannabis reform and reject the strategy of dividing grassroots support. We can’t win the war without the troops!!!
 


PART TWO – AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY
Grassroots organizing and revolutionizing the electorate

I. Introduction

The public is clearly ready for change, and progressives nationwide have the opportunity to enable this change in the Year 2000 Election. In the 1998 election, we saw the passage of 6 medical marijuana initiatives and the election of third-party pro-cannabis candidate Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota. We saw the Democrats gain 5 seats in the House, even while our current Democratic president is facing impeachment hearings. We saw the resignation of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House in the face of the Republicans’ failure to gain more seats in Congress due to poor election strategy. The times are changing.

II. Voter Registration and Motivation

Voter turnout in elections is usually less than 50% of the registered voters. And only about 50% of eligible voters are registered to vote. That means that elections are decided by a mere 25% of the eligible voters. Many, if not a majority, of non-voters would vote in favor of progressive reform. They don’t vote now because they are often given the choice of the lesser of two evil candidates. They feel their vote will not change anything and feel disenfranchised from the political process.

The election in Minnesota in which Jesse Ventura was elected had the highest voter turnout in the country this year, at 60% of the voters. Most of these new voters were young, progressive, and came to the polls only to vote for Jesse Ventura.

III.  Progressive Vote 2000
This is the campaign that we in Colorado have begun for the Year 2000 to revolutionize the electorate. The goal is a 5% increase in progressive voter turnout. Given traditionally low voter turnout, a mere 5% increase in progressive voters would be enough to sway elections. It would make progressives a real political force.

The way to motivate these voters, in lieu of a charismatic candidate like Ventura, is by providing them with progressive ballot initiatives, such as cannabis reform, to attract them to the polls. People will vote on issues when they won’t vote on candidates.

The way to reach these voters is through concerts and other events that attract young people. We need to have voter registration booths at every major concert nationwide.

We have the power, in our non-voting population, to write the platform for the next election. We need to empower and enable the grassroots across the nation to make this the central theme for the Year 2000. We need to build strong coalitions locally to write and fund progressive ballot initiatives. We need leadership training in grassroots organizing to help groups to become self-sufficient. We need to oppose strategies and tactics that divide and demoralize grassroots reformers.

We need to work together, not against each other. The 1998 election has shown us that voters are ready for a change. Let’s give them that change. Let’s learn from the 1998 election and the mistakes of the AMR strategies to achieve real reform in the Year 2000.


For more information, contact:
Colorado Hemp Initiative Project
P.O. Box 729
Nederland, CO 80466
Vmail: (303) 448-5640
Email: cohip@levellers.org
Web: http://www.levellers.org/cannabis.html


Yes on 59 Campaign
409 H Street N.E. - Suite #1
Washington, D.C. 20002-4335
Phone: (202) 547-9404
Email: dcsign59@aol.com
Web: http://www.actupdc.org

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