While many are excited about the prospects for the cannabis industry if Senate Democrats’ legalization plan comes to fruition, for people like NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal, it’s about getting people out of cages.
And while Strekal hopes this bill is passed, he admits there will be plenty of work left to do in that regard.
“I’ve talked with 12 different Senate offices in the last week really trying to get a sense of how the hell we couldn’t have a shot to get this to a favorable vote,” Strekal told L.A. Weekly.
We asked Strekal how much input the nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization was able to contribute to the effort. Strekal said he’s been in touch with Senator Ron Wyden’s office on a weekly basis for nearly four years prior to him introducing the plan alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Cory Booker last week.
“Is it how I would have written it? No. Do I have concerns about potential overreach by the FDA? Yes. But I think largely this is going in the right direction,” Strekal said.
Despite the potential of decriminalization changing numerous lives for the better, some of the people that have watched the hiccups of state reforms over again and over again fear similar results at the federal level. This could permanently put the cannabis industry on a poor footing. Regardless of the little we know about what things will look like so far besides taxes, some are suggesting that any kind of federal move would collapse the industry. Strekal believes part of the problem is the defensive posture cannabis reforms had to take in the early going in order to be more palatable for lawmakers and voters.
As for being in a position to help NORML achieve this milestone 50 years after the organization was founded?
“It is simultaneously humbling, intimidating and exciting,” Strekal said. “I definitely am trying to stay focused and stay diligent, because I ask myself this a lot, ‘Am I going to regret this tactical decision 50 years from now?’ We are writing history right now, and I really want to make sure that we get it as close to right as possible, as quickly as possible. But doing what is right and doing what is quick is seldom the same.”
Strekal says time will tell if advocates can strike the balance needed to get legalization as polished as possible before the official bill hits the Senate floor.
We asked Strekal if the general ethos of NORML going into this new effort was to get everyone out of cages and figure the rest out?
“That in a perfect world? Yeah,” Strekal replied. “But you know, unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. There’s clearly a coupling of addressing the capitalism side along with the criminal justice side of things, and that’s just an unavoidable reality at this point.”
But that’s not always a bad thing. Strekal admitted he believed the coupling of industry and criminal justice reform has in fact helped move the chains in recent years.
“I think it brought more energy and more voices to the table,” Strekal said. “Nearly everybody in this country at least knows somebody who’s been arrested for marijuana. And I think leveraging that vantage point is how we continue to climb in public support and how we continue to gain more political support.”
Strekal went on to note that even if the bill passes, there will still be plenty of problems for cannabis enthusiasts because of the nature of our federalist republic. If we deschedule marijuana tomorrow, it would still be just as illegal in every single state where it’s prohibited.
“There’s still going to be plenty of work to do. There are still 16 states that use per se standards for DUID. They’re still going to have to be employment protections,” Strekal said. “There’s still going to be plenty of work for NORML to do in order to ensure that consumers are respected under the law.”
Strekal noted it’s really time for the rubber to meet the road from allied Republicans. He argued they need to bring some of their senators to the table to work with the majority leader. There are many avenues to count to 10 on the Republican side, but they are all very narrow avenues. NORML doesn’t want to see the debate become divided along party lines like so many other things on Capitol Hill.
“I’d hate to see it be a partisan issue when it is so broadly known that the majority of Republican voters support it,” Strekal said. “There’s no reason for the Republican Party to continue to be intransigent on this issue, it is time for them to evolve as men. Things that don’t evolve, we know what happens to that.”