David Sirota reports on the successful political strategy used by activist Mason Tvert to help decriminalize recreational marijuana use in Colorado. It demonstrates how a slight shift in the public discourse can lead to large and rapid changes in attitudes towards an issue, and hopefully this strategy will be used in other states and countries currently prohibiting recreational cannabis use. Excerpts from Pando Daily:
“Marijuana has been illegal because of the perception of harm surrounding it — that’s how they made it illegal, that’s how it is illegal currently,” Tvert tells me in the shop’s bustling lobby. “Our opponents’ goal has been to maintain a perception of harm. So our idea has been to get people to understand that marijuana is not as harmful as they’ve been led to believe, and not as harmful as a product like alcohol that is already legal.”
Despite increasingly absurd attempts by the government’s drug-war apparatus to obscure the obvious truth, decades of medical and social science research on everything from physiological toxicity, to domestic violence to addiction has proven Tvert’s point that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. But it was only a few years ago that Tvert’s colleague and future mentor at MPP, Steve Fox, happened upon a key political revelation in the reams of survey data about drug policy.
“He was looking at the polling and discovered that of those who think marijuana is safer than alcohol, 75 percent think it should be legal,” Tvert recounts as we wait behind a customer who is interrogating one of the shop’s staff members about THC and CBD content. “In other words, the number one indicator of whether or not you support marijuana being legal is whether you recognize it is safer than alcohol.”
From that revelation came the creation of the group headed by Tvert that was entirely focused on drawing the alcohol-marijuana comparison. Aptly named Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (aka SAFER), it was predicated on a two-step strategy.
“Rather than trying to increase the percentage of people who think marijuana should be legal, we simply tried to increase the percentage of people who understand marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, which would naturally produce an increase in the percentage of people who support legalization,” he says.
…In their view, this script-flipping tactic has worked better than any other strategy before it. Not only has it resulted in Colorado legalized weed, but national polls seem to support the larger theory. Indeed, as surveys show more Americans are now viewing marijuana as less harmful than alcohol, they are simultaneously showing a majority now support legalization across the country.
…But even beyond lessons about cannabis is an even larger lesson about how assumptions and frames of reference so often determine the difference between status quo and disruption.
In drug policy, the assumption had long been that prohibition is pro-safety and that legalization is a dangerous experiment. So instead of only amplifying old messages about legalization (it will raise tax revenue, it will end criminal justice iniquities, etc.) Tvert, SAFER and MPP creatively changed the fulcrum of the entire conversation. Rather than portray their fight as one for a brand new, wholly unknown and therefore frightening reality, they used alcohol – a product that most are already comfortable with – to recast their push as one designed to create a new version of current reality. And not just a new version, but a safer reality that doesn’t statutorily encourage people who want to use a mind-altering substance to only use one that is more harmful than cannabis.
…With the rise of social media and the slow-motion fall of a monopoly media that once had complete control over the public policy conversation, there is clearly more opportunity than ever to change the terms of the debate, even on issues that seem utterly intractable.
Read the full article here: http://pando.com/2014/01/07/how-colorado-disrupted-the-drug-war/
A must-see take down of cannabis legalization opponents/media pundits David Brooks and Ruth Marcus from The Colbert Report: