(The following is an interview featuring responses by Legal Marijuana Now Party of Minnesota co-founders Oliver Steinberg and Dan Vacek, conducted by Jim Brash, North Star editorial board member and Green Party of New Jersey, Media Committee chairperson.)
TNS: Why did you split from the Grassroots Party in 1996?
The Legal Marijuana Now Party began as an experiment in 1998 by Dan Vacek, who had previously been the Grassroots Party congressional candidate three times but wanted to try putting the principle itself onto the ballot.
TNS: From photo on your website it seems that all your members are white. How has that affected your work with communities of color in Minnesota? Are you actively recruiting from communities of color? How has that recruitment effort been going?
We’d like to engage more Spanish speaking people, in order to reach a cross-section that is representative of Minnesota.
And currently, the Legal Marijuana Now Party is seeking more women to become involved.
Please look at the photo album of Legal Marijuana Now supporters who came to our booth at the Minnesota State Fair last year. They’re representative of typical Minnesotans, young and old, single people and families, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds:
TNS: How has the criminalization of marijuana contributed to mass incarceration and the bottom line of the prison industrial complex?
Arrests for cannabis offenses constitute a large majority of all narcotics arrests; draconian mandatory sentencing funnels prisoners into long terms of confinement; the for-profit prison industry that did not exist in modern times until the escalation of the “drug war” clearly depends on narcotics prisoners for its existence. [M. Alexander: “ … drug offenses, not violent crime, have propelled mass incarceration.”] Note that actual narcotics convictions aren’t the only way the drug laws fill the prisons. Parole or probation revocations are triggered by drug testing results, and those tests chiefly reveal cannabis use because its metabolites are detectable far longer than other drugs.
TNS: What would decriminalization and legalization do for Minnesota and the nation?
Legalization of cannabis would enhance public safety; reduce expenses for law enforcement and courts; create new sources of tax revenue; generate multitudes of new businesses and new job opportunities; provide therapeutic treatment to millions of patients now denied it; probably reduce alcohol and hard drug abuse; improve foreign relations; and if we’re lucky, it would help restore personal privacy and civil liberties which have been violated and abrogated by prohibition.
Furthermore, it would give minority communities—disproportionately and deliberately targeted by repressive enforcement—a chance to try to recover from “the new Jim Crow.” [M. Alexander: “Prior drug wars were ancillary to the prevailing caste system. This time the drug war is the system of control.”]
TNS: Are there economic reasons for marijuana and hemp not being legal?
Yes. Prohibition directly benefits a large range of special economic interests.
First, the bloated law enforcement apparatus—police, courts, so-called correctional institutions and associated bureaucracies, the for-profit prison industry, ancillary industries supplying weapons and other tools to the enforcers; also the related “drug treatment” industry which is something of a racket.
Second, actual racketeers and organized criminals, who profit from the black market.
Third, those industries threatened by potential competition from cannabis, especially the liquor and pharmaceutical interests, who have furnished the big bucks behind Partnership for Drug-Free America and similar scams.
Fourth, those interests threatened by potential competition from industrial hemp (pulp paper, cotton & synthetic fiber, construction supplies, petrochemicals, etc.)
TNS: What would hemp cultivation, the processing of it into various goods do for Minnesota’s economy? What would it do for our national economy?
Industrial hemp would provide a more diversified agricultural production in Minnesota, where we grew tens of thousands of acres of hemp and ran eleven hemp mills during World War II. The industrial possibilities for food, fuel, fiber, paper, and other products are tremendous. Hemp had declined to niche crop status by the 1930s but new processing techniques and new uses promise a more robust future, once marijuana prohibition is removed. Nationally, hemp cultivation and processing would help our balance of trade and economic self-sufficiency.
TNS: What type of battles did you fight to gain status as an officially recognized political party in Minnesota?
A number of steps are required. And it isn’t easy. The petition period for candidates, in Minnesota, is just two short weeks at the end of May. Getting thousands of signatures in that period of time is a monumental accomplishment!
Please understand, then, Legal Marijuana Now Party took it personally when DFL and GOP suspended public financing we had earned, during the following legislative session.
TNS: How has the fight been shaping up for ballot access and legalization in Nebraska?
In Nebraska, the Legal Marijuana Now ballot access petition drive needed about 6,000 signatures in order to become an officially recognized major party. It’s not an easy task because 2,000 of the signatures must come from each of the three congressional districts. Fewer than 1,000 signatures are needed at this time. And the deadline is August, so Nebraska is ahead of schedule.
Iowa has begun petitioning but isn’t so far along. Some of the Omaha volunteers are working overtime to finish in Nebraska in order to lend a hand in Iowa next.
TNS: What lessons were learned from the Dan Vacek campaign 1998? How did it inform what the Dan Vacek campaign did in 2014?
The 1998 effort demonstrated that placing the phrase “Legal Marijuana Now” on the ballot could attract a noticeable protest vote even without the resources for an organized, more conventional type of campaign. This precedent proved prescient, and as circumstances in 2014 were the same: no money, no name recognition, no organization, ignored by media, squeezed by other and better-positioned minor party competition, nevertheless the basic strategy succeeded: securing the greatest share of the protest votes.
TNS: What were the successes of Dan Vacek’s 2014 campaign beyond ballot access and official recognition?
The 2014 campaign’s greatest success was simply putting the taboo proposition “Legal Marijuana” onto the ballot despite Minnesota’s not having the ballot initiative option. We put the message there anyway. Another important result was reflected in the fact that the higher-profile, better-funded, better-qualified, better-organized minor party candidates all received fewer votes than Mr. Vacek did.
TNS: What were lessons learned from the Zach Phelps campaign for Minnesota state senate back in February of this year?
One lesson above all: on Election Day, contact your voters and get them to vote. Advertising, social media, other campaign activity is wasted without turning out the votes. In a district campaign, door-to-door or other personal contact is crucial. A third lesson is that we can expect extraordinary and antagonistic opposition—such as the pressure applied to a businessman who let us petition at his store. Also, we learned that reliable volunteers are hard to come by, for our party, and we need to find more of them within the district. Finally, we learned that there are no short cuts.
TNS: Would you consider being part of an electoral coalition with the greens and/or libertarians? If so or if not, why?
Legal Marijuana Now Party enjoys working together with both the Green Party of Minnesota and the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.
During the 2015 municipal elections, last November, Golden Valley Council candidate Andy Schuler was co-endorsed by Green Party, Ecology Democracy Party, and Legal Marijuana Now. And a candidate for Saint Paul Council had the endorsement of both Legal Marijuana Now Party and the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.
Municipal elections are non-partisan, so the party designations of those candidates didn’t appear on ballots. However, in coming elections, a candidate who is co-endorsed could choose a ballot designation combining the names, such as Green-Libertarian-Cannabis.
TNS: What are the plans for this party beyond 2016?
Time will tell.
TNS: What would you say to young people just getting involved with legalization and decriminalization advocacy?
In the words of Thomas Paine: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” and in the words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will. … The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress … ”
In the words of Lord Byron: “”Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.”
And in the words of Bob Marley, “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul; Wisdom is better than silver or gold … ”
TNS: Thank you for your time and good luck with building the movement for marijuana legalization in Minnesota?
Thank you for your support and for giving us this opportunity.
[ The above post originally appeared on the North Star website]