Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.
“Being a marijuana lobbyist is definitely the coolest job that you can have. It always makes for good conversation at a cocktail party and tends to be more interesting than the folks who work at any given corporate lobbying firm. I love every minute of what I do and really think it is the Lord’s work. Everyday, I work to keep people out of jail for a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, yet we still waste our nation’s blood and treasure waging a failed war on drugs.
“I got into this after working as a Democratic campaign operative in Colorado. During the 2002 election cycle, I was part of a winning campaign, but I didn’t care to work for candidates anymore. I wanted to work on issues that I really cared about, so I came to D.C. to work with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in March 2003. I had some personal experience with recreational marijuana use and also was around people who saw positive effects from medical marijuana, I just couldn’t get over the fact that it was illegal. It seemed so stupid to me.
“Before doing this, I never really talked with my buddies in politics about my thoughts on marijuana because I didn’t think that anyone agreed with me. Now, one of the remarkable things about being a marijuana lobbyist is like a priest, people come and confess their marijuana use to me. This job gives me such perspective into how many people have had experiences with marijuana and how much of a failure our laws really are.
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“When I started at MPP, it was the first day of the Iraq War and Bush seemed invincible. Sometimes, we were laughed at for advocating our issues even though polls showed that medical marijuana was supported by a majority of Americans. When Obama came into power, there was this tremendous sense of hope, and we were really encouraged that we could finally have an honest debate about medical marijuana.
“After his election, on four occasions, President Obama asked Americans what issues were important to them on his website and through Moveon.org. All four times, people replied that marijuana legalization was the number one priority. When the President realized he had people’s support, he issued guidelines to stop the Bush Administration’s policy of raiding medical marijuana patients and retail facilities.
“While I am pleased with our progress, we have so much more to do. Many people may just think that marijuana is about hippies or Cheech and Chong movies, but it is a very serious issue and people are dying and getting locked up every day over these failed laws. We can have academic debates about marijuana in Washington, but Mexico is headed towards being a failed state and over 50% of our federal prisoners are there for some form of drug related crime. The indicators are everywhere that what we have been doing in the past is not working and we need to try something else.
“Our opponents will tell you that ‘legalization’ has been tried and failed in places like Amsterdam. That is false because the Dutch don’t make things legal, they just decriminalize it. In my knowledge, I am not aware of any country that has tried a comprehensive regulation system for marijuana. Places like California and Colorado are trying to move things forward, and now D.C. is on the path. Congress finally lifted the prohibition on D.C. having a medical marijuana law after 12 years of blocking it. The City Council is looking into the regulation and distribution system. We are hopeful that the city will soon have non-profit retail locations to provide medical marijuana to D.C. residents.
“These things inspire me and give me hope. As the parent of three children, I always tell my kids that I am trying to change our drug laws because jail is much more harmful than marijuana. In this country, once every 37 seconds someone is arrested for marijuana. We can’t live like this anymore.”
Aaron Houston is the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.