You Down With MPP?

You Down With MPP?
Posted by CN Staff on February 11, 2003 at 20:54:22 PT
By Reverend Joe Bonni
Source: Boston Weekly Dig 
For 10 years or so I have had the privilege of being closely involved with the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCANN), the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML). I have volunteered as both producer of the Boston Common Freedom Rally and served as chair of the local chapter. Recently, I have had to curtail my involvement with MassCANN due to the demands of this paper and also due to a realization of the limitations that often plague non-profit, volunteer-based, grassroots organizations. 
Most anyone who has spent time involved with grassroots lobbying efforts is familiar with how a lack of funds, permanent management and full-time employees can hamper the efforts of dedicated people trying to affect local and national policy. It’s a shame that I have had to step back in these last few years, because there is currently more effort being put into changing drug policy in this country than there has been in the 33 years since NORML, the first national drug policy reform organization, set up camp in DC.This year alone, according to NORML, over a half-dozen states have filed medical marijuana legislation, with many activists claiming that at least three of these states have a good shot at passing them. The government’s high-profile anti-pot ads, some seen during the Superbowl last month, have become a laughingstock and have turned out to be a monstrously expensive, ineffective boondoggle. The arrest of Ed Rosenthal in Oakland, a medical marijuana grower licensed and sanctioned by California state law to grow pot for sick patients, and his conviction in federal court as a common drug dealer have generated such an outrage by compassionate California citizens that some activists believe this may be the spark that turns even the average American against the feds’ incredibly restrictive policies towards pot. Motivating the average American to react to the government’s current policy of total prohibition of marijuana is something that the awesome efforts of so many activists haven’t yet fully accomplished. Despite NORML’s tremendous work over the years keeping the fight to decriminalize marijuana alive, there has been little change in marijuana policy at the national level. As a result, over the last few years, a number of new organizations dedicated to marijuana legalization and reform of all US drug policy have been formed. “The founders of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) felt there was a need to have an organization based in DC that focused very specifically and narrowly on lobbying and advocacy around marijuana policy and didn’t do anything else," explained Bruce Mirken, communications director for MPP. “Not legal support, not dealing with other drugs, not dealing with many of the things that people may be sympathetic to. MPP was to, instead, just focus, very specifically, on lobbying and advocacy around changing marijuana policy; and to be frankly mainstream in our dealings with politicians and policy makers."MPP? Never heard of them? Well then it’s time you got down with MPP. In the Beginning, there was NORML… The founders of MPP, Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas, had worked for NORML until 1995 when they realized “there was a need to do more work along the lines of direct lobbying and advocacy," Mirken explained. “Initially MPP was a barebones operation that operated out of Rob’s apartment." According to Mirken, a small grant from one of George Soros’ philanthropic foundations (Soros is the international billionaire who helped fund the successful Proposition 215 campaign that legalized medical marijuana in California) along with aggressive membership drives helped get MPP off the ground. Their early efforts attracted the attention of Peter Lewis, an insurance magnate who, along with Soros, has funded several marijuana initiatives. “The largest single donor to MPP is Peter Lewis, and thank god for people like him, since we can’t use the taxpayers’ dollars," Mirken joked, referring to claims made by folks like Drug Czar John Walters, who have warned the American public against the “well-funded" marijuana movement. Mirken explains that even with the help of wealthy philanthropists like Lewis, MPP is hardly the fat cat that some have claimed. “Our annual budget for 2003 is going to be about $1.4 million," a budget that, according to Mirken, is generated through member donations. Some members pay the minimum annual dues of $25/year; other members like Lewis, donate far more. Regardless, explained Mirken, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the federal government spends opposing the message of MPP and organizations like them. “Unfortunately, MPP’s entire annual operating budget for salaries, rent, electricity, phone bills, etc. would about cover the Drug Czar’s advertising budget ($180 million annually) for about three days – maybe three and a half. I’ll make an offer to John Walters: anytime he wants, we’ll trade budgets." Eight years since their inception, MPP can now boast over 11,000 dues-paying members and manages to dole out about one million dollars a year beyond its operating budget in the form of grants to smaller local and other national (and international) reform organizations.At the time of Kampia’s and Thomas’ departure (Kampia was fired by Richard Cowan, former executive director of NORML who now runs -- -- a website devoted to updates on marijuana reform the world over), the creation of another national marijuana reform organization was not necessarily looked upon favorably by all activists, and MPP’s initial success with their fundraising efforts also created some conflict. “There tends to be competition for resources," explained current NORML executive director and co-founder, Keith Stroup. Bill Downing, president of MassCANN, added, “It seems MPP founders, who had worked for NORML, kick started MPP by using NORML member lists in an inappropriate manner." But, Downing was also quick to remark, “Their work since has won them respect. They have worked hard to develop a presence on Capitol Hill and in the media, with admirable success." Stroup also acknowledged that despite a bumpy start, animosity between the two organizations is water under the bridge. “There was some bad blood at first. Kampia was fired by a predecessor of mine – they were angry at each other, and for years it was difficult to cooperate, but I think we have moved beyond that."Despite MPP’s somewhat auspicious beginnings, they can claim an impressive array of accomplishments in the eight years they have been working on marijuana policy reform. “One of the very first things that MPP did was a campaign to persuade the US sentencing commission to change federal marijuana sentencing policies back in October of 1995, which resulted in the early release of hundreds of federal marijuana prisoners," Mirken said. This is better than releasing violent criminals, something that has had to be done in other states due to budget crunches. “It’s crazy," Mirken agreed. “I think Kentucky was one, releasing people who had been in on domestic violence charges – that makes me uneasy – that we have prison space for people who are smoking a joint, but not for violent criminals? Something’s wrong with this picture."Early MPP efforts also involved helping to pass asset forfeiture reform legislation in Congress, limiting the ability of the federal government to seize property in drug cases. The MPP also insured that the voices of patients and physicians were heard loud and clear when former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey called for a review of all known science on medical marijuana. “We put considerable effort into bringing patients’ and physicians’ perspective to the committee that was putting together that report. To make sure the committee heard their side of the story – the real world impact of sick people and the physicians who care for them."Another success MPP had came in Hawaii. “We played a big role in the Hawaii medical marijuana laws adopted in 2000," Mirken said proudly. “This was the first such law passed through a state legislature rather than a ballot initiative. The law that they passed was based on our model medical marijuana law. We assisted in the lobbying with local people who worked very hard on it." Sentencing reform, asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana efforts on federal and state levels are just some of the very important pieces of work being done by MPP to create a more rational drug policy in the US. But many readers are probably far more familiar with MPP’s recent efforts this past election cycle to outright legalize and regulate marijuana in the state of Nevada. One of the most controversial ballot initiatives ever proposed in any state called for state regulation of the sale of marijuana to adults in Nevada. High ranking police officials supported the measure despite official resistance. And tourism officials even commented that the state that legalized prostitution and gambling had little to fear from regulation of recreational marijuana sales. But Drug Czar John Walters waged a ferocious campaign against the legislation, traveling from DC to Nevada numerous times during last year’s election cycle. “We spent about $1.3 million including getting the initiative qualified and a pretty massive get out the vote effort. As far as what the other side spent, we really don’t know because it was done with your tax money," Mirken explained. “[Drug Czar] John Walters has absolutely refused to even admit that he was campaigning although he was doing it quite overtly and he refused to report his expenditures as required under Nevada campaign finance law." Walter’s tactics had impact. The ballot initiative failed by a 60/40 margin, but, as Mirken pointed out, “Obviously we were disappointed that we lost, nevertheless, four out of ten voters were willing to dispense with marijuana prohibition entirely despite the massive scare campaign." And the MPP hasn’t quit the fight. Walter’s refusal to disclose just how much of the taxpayers’ money he used in fighting the initiative was brought to the attention of Nevada’s secretary of state by the MPP. “The state responded by asking Mr. Walters and his office to explain their actions and they responded with this amazingly dismissive attitude: We don’t have to obey your laws – we’re the federal government!" Mirken, exasperated, told me. “Badges, we don’t need no stinking badges! The fact is that Walters is wrong. The Supreme Court has addressed the issue of when federal officials are subject to state regulations. What they’ve said is that the test is whether or not the regulations in question interfere with the official in doing his job. Apparently Walters believes that telling the public how much of our tax money he spent opposing this initiative would interfere with doing his job – that’s mind boggling." At this moment, Nevada’s attorney general is reviewing the situation. “To the best of my knowledge they are still looking at it. Unfortunately, the Nevada AG is a conservative republican, so some worry about whether or not he’ll want to cross a republican administration. I hope that his devotion to the law and the right of Nevada to have [the spending] info will transcend politics."Currently, according to Mirken, the MPP expects to place a great deal of effort in helping several states, including Maryland, Vermont, and New York, pass proposed medical marijuana legislation, adding to the eight states that currently have medical marijuana law in place.Hometown Heroes If the MPP represents aggressive legal and political work on the national level, then organizations like the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (DPF MA) represent a similar effort and zeal on the local level. Formed by former and current members of MassCANN, the DPF MA differs from the local NORML chapter in both structure and goals. Michael Cutler, a board member of the DPF MA, explained, “We felt that there needed to be another organization that would be more friendly to professionals who are involved in drug policy. While MassCANN has been keeping the issue alive over the past decade, it did not have a sufficient level of funding or the reputation to attract academic and other professionals." Part of DPF MA’s mission is to attract prominent advisors from the fields of law, academia and politics. Current advisors include former judges, college professors, city councilors, nurses and lawyers. While organizations like MassCANN work locally with volunteers and launch grassroots efforts to generate attention for marijuana policy reform, the DPF MA is not concerned with developing a vast membership base but instead focusing the efforts of experts on specific topics.The DPF MA’s first project was a report released last year analyzing what effect decriminalizing marijuana might have in Massachusetts. “The Effect of Marijuana Decriminalization on the Budgets of Massachusetts Governments, With a Discussion of Decriminalization’s Effect on Marijuana Use," is an 11-page report by BU economics professor Jeffrey Miron. In the report, Miron reaches the conclusion that decriminalization would save the State of Massachusetts some $24 million a year while likely creating no more crime or drug use in the state. The report cost the DPF MA somewhere between $3,000 and $6,000, and was funded in part by a grant the DPF MA received from the MPP last year.Cutler is proud of the report but also complained: “I would have been happier to have seen more publicity about the report. There has been a fair amount of publicity but not enough. The report answers the two most often raised concerns about marijuana prohibition: how much does it cost and how much of a threat to society does limiting the enforcement of prohibition create?" Cutler is no stranger to working on marijuana law reform. A career lawyer, he has worked as a staff attorney for the Department of Corrections and as a public defender. Early in his career he was an intern for the parole board and even while running his own private practice he spent time overseeing a DYS facility. “I’ve been in prison all my professional career," Cutler joked, but his breadth of first-hand experience in seeing the devastating effects the drug war has on citizens is no laughing matter. Cutler’s credentials also include a stint with national NORML as co-chair of their legal subcommittee on amicus brief writing (“I submitted court briefs in the Washington State Supreme Court case on medical marijuana and the US Supreme Court case involving the Oakland Cannabis Club.") and he was a board member of MassCANN for several years in the ‘90s. “We have two different roles," Cutler said, discussing his experiences with both local organizations. “MassCANN is a grassroots membership organization; DPF MA is more of a research and educational organization that is not membership controlled, although we invite volunteers to assist in our mission." Cutler also wanted to make sure it’s understood that he sees the necessity for both types of organizations to work together if policy is going to be changed. “MassCANN has been the primary fundamental organization that has carried this issue for the last 20 years in Massachusetts. Without MassCANN, there would have been no presence in the public media around this issue, and they continue to have a role in keeping this issue in public discourse."Unlike the grumbling between national NORML and the MPP when the MPP first hit the scene, MassCANN and the DPF MA have a far more cooperative relationship. MassCANN president, Bill Downing, agrees with Cutler. “The DPF MA is run by friends as well as former and one present board member of MassCANN/NORML. MassCANN/NORML has always depended on sister organizations, comprised largely of its own activists, to run purely political efforts."Nowhere has this been more evident than last November when a joint effort by MassCANN/NORML and the DPF MA, using some of that grant money from the MPP, placed non-binding public policy questions on the ballot in 21 different representative districts asking voters their opinion on decriminalization. Aggressive efforts by both organizations resulted in a 60/40 win for advocates of decriminalization in every district where the question appeared. “The DPF MA won a grant from MPP. Their application of some of those funds to our mutual initiative effort this past November was crucial to the success and subsequent impact those initiatives have had," Downing commented appreciatively. “In particular, their paid petitioners helped finish off some of the districts where volunteers had been petitioning, and the study they commissioned from Prof. Jeffrey Miron has helped tremendously."The MPP’s Bruce Mirken said of the joint effort, “That was one of the relatively few rays of light in the last election."A little money from the MPP seems to have gone a long way and Cutler insists that Miron’s report hasn’t even begun to be fully utilized. Despite Cutler’s disappointment with the initial reaction to the report by the press, he feels strongly that the state legislature, facing a potential $3 billion budget gap next year, will be hard pressed to ignore the $24 million savings decriminalization can provide. “The report has been, or will be shortly, distributed to the entire statehouse," Cutler said. The State House only named new committee members last week. “The report shows there is a savings. Common sense tells us that shifting police resources to more violent crime is bound to have a beneficial effect. Currently, the rule of thumb at the State House is that anything that costs money is doomed to oblivion and anything that saves money is going to be looked at twice."We’re a happy family, we’re a happy family… The joint efforts of MassCANN and the DPF MA are indicative of how the war against the war on drugs has heated up. New ideas and approaches are being used side by side with tried and true grassroots volunteerism, and the cumulative effect is being felt all over the country as more attention is now being placed on the issue of marijuana decriminalization than any other time since the demon weed was first prohibited in the 1930s.“MassCANN can't afford to view MPP, DPF MA or any other supporters of our cause as competitors," Bill Downing firmly stated. “We are, as our name states, a ‘coalition’. In fact, we are anxious to lend support to cooperative efforts and I know just about everyone in DPF MA is anxious to help MAassCANN in our efforts as well."The DPF MA, which hopes to hire, by year’s end, the first full-time drug policy reform advocate in the state, agrees. Cutler, through his involvements with national NORML and the MPP, is both optimistic about the future and complimentary to all involved in current reform efforts. “In much the same way that MassCANN has kept the light on in Massachusetts, NORML has done it nationally … and all of these organizations come back to Keith Stroup. None of us would be here today without Stroup."NORML’s executive director, Stroup, also assured that any negative energies in DC have long since been dispelled. “In the ‘70s when we first started NORML, almost all drug work was done under one banner and there was an advantage to that. People recognized and benefited from each other’s work. I think the goal now needs to be that we all learn to work in a more cooperative manner. I honestly think we’re beginning to do that. Recently we had a conference call of all the DC based groups and we are holding these on a regular basis. The purpose of these (started at my request) is that I felt the need to get over the problems. It’s silly when we’re working on the same stuff and we’re not sharing info. I am guardedly optimistic; there is more cooperation now and with luck it’s only going to increase."The MPP’s Bruce Mirken also acknowledges that previous competitive attitudes are now giving way to far more cooperative efforts as the potential for real reform looks to be an obtainable goal after decades of struggling. “We work with other orgs on a case-by-case basis. One example is working with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). We joined with a group here in DC that put together a couple of supportive actions back in last June when ASA did a day of actions all over the country to protest the DEA. I was arrested in front of the Justice Department along with Kevin Zeese from Common Sense Drug Policy (CSDP) -- -- someone from DRCNET (The Drug Reform Coordination Network) -- -- kids from the local Students for Sensible Drug Policy -- -- and others. So as situations come up we certainly want to be in communication and know what each other are doing and not inadvertently undermine each other. But also I think we accept and respect that every org will have its priorities and unique way of doing things."The MPP and DPF MA are hardly the only two new drug policy reform organizations to sprout up over the last few years. Organizations like the CSDP -- -- Green Aid -- -- ASA -- -- and other DPFs in states all over the country are part of a new wave of drug policy reform advocacy groups. They recognize the aforementioned limitations of grass-roots volunteerism and wish to add their resources to the fight against a federal government hell-bent on arresting more citizens for using marijuana each and every year, despite the fact that drug use has not been lowered with such a policy. The cost of the drug war is astronomical, (approximately $20 billion this year), ever growing, and seemingly a massive waste of resources particularly in these iffy economic times. These new organizations tend to specialize their efforts, focusing on one or a few very related issues rather than the broad efforts of NORML and its state chapters. But it could accurately be said that NORML, like any good weed, managed to set roots and grow tall in the infertile soil and climate of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Now, its seeds have spread and as the national mood has softened over the last decade or so – even if the political climate in DC is still harsh indeed – new organizations are budding, each with similarities to its progenitor, but each also with its own unique flavors.  For more information check out: http://www.mpp.orghttp://www.dpfma.orghttp://www.norml.orghttp://www.masscann.orgMassCANN will be holding its annual membership meeting on February 22. A new board will be elected. For more info on becoming a member or attending the annual meting check out MassCANN online or call 781-944-CANN Source: Boston Weekly Dig (MA)Author: Reverend Joe BonniPublished: February 12 - 19, 2003Copyright: 2003 Boston Weekly DigContact: letters weeklydig.comWebsite: Marijuana Awareness Week Rosenthal's Pictures & News Articles NORML Archives
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Comment #6 posted by p4me on February 13, 2003 at 10:39:04 PT
YellowTimes article
I believe the link to the article that I liked so much is It is the only article I ever printed to hand to someone so he might understand the cannabis situation. Yellowtimes will return under another server provider and that link should once again work. 
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Comment #5 posted by kb on February 13, 2003 at 09:13:24 PT:
Finding old web content : 
p4me: You made reference to your "favorite" article from no longer being available. There are a few ways to track down old information on the web. One is and their WayBack Machine. I plugged in, and found many archives in their database. Another resource is : if you can remember specifics (such as Title) or other keywords, you may be able to get the content to come up in search results and view it from Google's "Cache" ... I'd love to help further, if I can please let me know. I am a content provider myself... -kb
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Comment #4 posted by Gary Storck on February 12, 2003 at 12:58:56 PT
MPP doesn't have to make a 30 minute video about MMJ.Peter Christopher and Next Play Video already made a great 29 minute video, Cheryl Miller: The Case for Medical Necessity, and you can view it online here: This is a very moving video that brings home the realities of serious illness, and the need for mmj.If you are interested in airing the video on local cable, etc. you can get a copy of the video from Pete at:
Is My Medicine Legal YET?
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Comment #3 posted by p4me on February 12, 2003 at 11:01:29 PT
The failure of the Reform Movement
I first would like to say that the cannabis reform movement should be regarded as an international effort. The conference in Merida, Mexico that starts today is proof of that. NarcoNews is doing a wonderful job at telling us of the things happening in Latin America and I would hope some people would read the story that is up now that talks of the reform efforts in Mexico titled, "The Mexican Legalization Movement: Drug Policy Reform Goes Mainstream South of the Border"- I admire Richard Cowan's BJ expression as an explanation of the reason for continued cannabis prohibition, it does not strike the nail that speaks to a controlled media that yesterday produced 7 articles at Cnews. Preston Peet at has written some excellent pieces and even Dr. Zombie at has slammed cannabis prohibition. You could add Dan Forbes and Richard Cowan and a few individual stabs that have made the lies and half-truths bleed. I wish I could put up my favorite article of all time that appeared at but they got kicked off by their server provider.While I applauded the Bloomberg ads, the time has passed to support the very people that perpetuate this prohibition. Of course the big problem in two words is "Controlled Media." The answer lies in using the public access channels as explained at Anyone in a cable providers network can get public access jsut like the people that inspired Wayne's World on Saturday Night Live. The means is there to break the deadlock and get our message to the television screens of America. We have the Internet to gather information. What we really need is content. MPP should have a 30 minute video that people could have the cable companies put on public access telling about their ads and their story. Of course the need is for content and they should be working on something that could be presented on cable access. Another million dollars to tell people Bloomberg smokes pot should not be handed over to the yellow parrots.We have to become the media and reverse the course of the corporate takeover of America. Please bookmark this website if you do not have time to read it now because they have the plan to break the media's stonewall- Jack Herer Story should be seen by everyone as an example of what a true patriot is. And MPP should recognize him with an award because he deserves it and it would create a media event that would help the movement. I wonder if it is illegal to present an award on the federal property that lead to his imprisonment for registering people to vote.
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on February 11, 2003 at 21:55:29 PT
Thanks puff_tuff
I have it posted now!
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Comment #1 posted by puff_tuff on February 11, 2003 at 21:33:53 PT
The Conviction of Ed Rosenthal for Growing Medicinal Marijuana: 
Why It Was Wrong to Prosecute
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003
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