Cannabis users rise up, fight to keep it legal and battle Trump

Cannabis users rise up, fight to keep it legal and battle Trump

VicesMarch 09, 2017 By Reilly Capps

Outside the marble halls of the Colorado Senate chambers, paid lobbyists from the insurance industry stand like pillars — like there's rebar up their ass — wearing uniform haircuts and bland pantsuits. They look like if State Farm got its employees out of a cloning machine.

At the same time, in the basement, marijuana advocates — both professional lobbyists and unpaid citizens — gather. Some wear suits; others have nose rings and hair dyed aquamarine and fuchsia and purple, with "hakuna matata" tattooed on their metacarpals and "know love" forever inked on their knuckles.

They’re here from the Colorado chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — NORML — for their second annual lobbying day, to fight against a reduction in plant counts and for public pot clubs. The turnout is impressive, especially given that most of these people have never spoken to a politician before.

Like thousands of others across the country, marijuana enthusiasts and regular people are becoming lobbyists and advocates for marijuana. They're coming out in record numbers because right now is a terrifying and exciting time for weed rights in America. Weed rights are expanding and contracting at the exact same time; becoming more progressive and more restrictive in one fell swoop. In California, Florida and Nevada, which just voted to legalize it, pot laws are expanding. But, in places like Colorado, where weed has been legal for a few years now, they're shrinking. The state legislature just voted to limit plant counts and the governor is nixing a bill allowing pot clubs, which are the exact fights these NORML folks are here to fight. Colorado in particular is scaling things back because they're worried about a crackdown from the Trump administration, which is asserting its power on federally-controlled land, and whose top lawman and top spokesperson talk tough on pot.

“Given the uncertainty in Washington, this is not the time to be … trying to carve off new turf and expand markets and make dramatic statements about marijuana,” Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said.

The ground legal weed is built on feels like it's shifting under our feet. The country is a house divided. This is firing up the masses who fire up. Some vow a fight to the death.

So, smokers are storming the state houses from Texas to Florida. Regulators are leaving their jobs regulating marijuana and becoming industry lobbyists. People are signing petitions and calling their congress members. The weed-friendly corners of the net are more political than I've ever seen them. Vapers are reading up on the constitution to see how it protects them — or doesn't.

Exact figures are hard to come by, but lobbying groups have ramped up their spending. The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the largest pot lobbies, was decreasing its spending on lobbying during the early Obama years, but has ramped it up in the last few, according to Open Secrets. And more congress members are jumping on board, including a group of four western congress members who created the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, an unprecedented and bold move, in direct opposition to Trump's administration.

At NORML's Colorado lobbying day, people like Elyse Sundita, 30, felt her very livelihood as a budtender was at stake.

"Our president doesn't really care for what we're doing," Sundita said. "I'd really like to keep my job." Jimmy Smrz hoped to expand and streamline his stoned-yoga business, Yoga on the Green. And Alex Rubin, now a budtender, dreamed of opening a pot-and-sandwich shop.

They're some of the thousands whose lives will rise or fall depending on what happens in politics in the next few years. So to the capitol they came — some even came a little bit medicated. One guy may have been super-high — he never took off his sunglasses, even talking to the politicians.

Is all their fighting working, though? Seems so. The tide is rolling in favor of the smokers. Public support for legal marijuana is sky-high, and the vast majority of Americans, who just a decade ago opposed legalization, now support pot.

"We are seeing a lot more support from state and federal lawmakers as they start to catch up with public opinion," Morgan Fox, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project emailed me.

National trends are best illustrated by local examples. In the Colorado statehouse, Senate majority leader Chris Holbert, from conservative Douglas County, voted against medical and recreational weed, and he supports his county's decision to ban marijuana dispensaries. But the Republican has taken the unusual stand of fighting for the right of kids to use CBD oil in school, after a friend's kid's seizures were treated by them. As he told the kid's story in the statehouse, he started crying. And even though he voted against legal weed, he vowed to fight any crackdown from the Trump administration.

Someone will win in this new epic battle of the pot. Either the federal government will win, and assert its power, or the states will win, and keep their weed. But several politicians agreed that they've been impressed by the fighting — that it's working.

"Nowadays people fire off an email, post something on Facebook, and it's so much noise," said Dan Pabon, Democrat who supports marijuana rights. "It's so much more meaningful when you show up in person."

Expect the weed people to keep showing up, and cannabis to keep rising. And they need not be scared of the official marble halls. Alayna Adair, for example, a tour guide for Colorado Cannabis Tours, said no politicians said a word about her bright blue hair.