Editorial: Lessons Learned From State House Cannabis Advocacy Day

Lt. Governor Zuckerman poses with cannabis advocacy day participants - Heady Vermont
Eli Harrington 16 Apr 2017

EAST BURKE, Vt. — Last week, I witnessed a truly amazing sight in Montpelier as a few dozen ‘regular’ Vermonters congregated at the Vermont State House for a day of coordinated advocacy at what was our first attempt at using the Heady Vermont platform for direct political action. Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman addressed the group to start the day, advising advocates on how to best approach representatives to start a dialogue on the issue and Jay Diaz, Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shared his organization’s support for criminal justice reform.

For our Lieutenant Governor to share his time and not only meet with people, but to empower them with information about how to get involved was outstanding. If you’re in Burlington on Tuesday, April 25, check out the UVM Town Meeting Day with Lt. Governor Zuckerman and go voice your support for cannabis reform. If you’re in the northeast kingdom that Tuesday, April 25, join me at Parker Pie for a night of discussion about the politics of cannabis (Rep. Sam Young will be in attendance as well) and what’s happening with the medical program and the state’s fast-growing cannabis industry, including legal CBD products.

Despite the lack of mainstream media coverage and the ongoing political stagnation, Tuesday was a meaningful and powerful day for us at Heady Vermont, and for the people who were able to attend.

It’s only a matter of time … via The Pew Research Center

This year, as a media outlet we’ve taken a more active approach to encouraging political engagement on the issue of cannabis reform, but we do it in our own way. We don’t need to tell our readers the many reasons for legalization, regulation, and vast improvements to our medical marijuana program. We share factual information and real stories about the cannabis community, its members, organizations, and businesses with the understanding that for anyone who’s paying attention — or capable of challenging assumptions — the facts speak for themselves.

At the same time, part of our mission is to be a resource and platform for the people who know the most, and care the most, about cannabis in Vermont. So while it’s unusual to have a media outlet organizing political activities, part of the information we need to give our loyal and passionate readers is to answer the contemporary question of, ‘what can I do to get involved’?

Plus, as the pioneers in this field of Vermont cannabis media, we’re blazing our own trail and frankly, think it’d be a waste of our platform not to encourage people to get directly involved, whatever their individual cannabis reform priority.

The idea for hosting an advocacy day was born out of both frustration and a hope for the best. We know people have been calling and contacting their representatives and we know that the Speaker’s Office is getting calls in support of taking the issue to the floor for a vote. 

The only thing that hadn’t been tried yet, at least in 2017, was to get people out to Montpelier for a live event and into the State House itself. I wanted to wait until Vermont Cannabis Week, but thought that by next week, if anything hadn’t happened (floor vote) it’d be too late for this session to make a meaningful impact — which might or might not be true; it doesn’t look great.

Personally, I lean towards the old Winooski Spartan credo of ‘never say die’ and would rather go down swinging fighting the good fight, than spend another summer kicking myself and wondering what else could have been done. The representatives see Dave Silberman and myself in the State House on at least a weekly basis and know where we stand. New faces advocating for common sense cannabis reform (criminal justice reform, regulation, and medical) know an advocacy day could only help the cause.

We knew that without much lead time, any sponsorship for advertising, and having an event that involved asking people to take off a Tuesday in mid-April, we probably weren’t going to get much participation from the majority of Vermonters who don’t think they should be criminals for possession of an ounce and growing two cannabis plants at home. Stigma aside, most people who use cannabis and support common sense reform have ‘regular’ jobs and pretty regular lives and aren’t going to spend a sick day in the State House.

That being said, being a part of the discussions and activity on Tuesday morning was one of the most rewarding moments of the last year of publishing Heady Vermont. We got to meet people we had previously only communicated with online, visit with advocate friends, and watch people of all walks of life connect with each other through an interest in cannabis and a passion for improving our state’s legal framework. 

Politics can be confusing and intimidating, but on Tuesday, I personally watched cannabis bring together and empower ‘regular’ Vermonters who not only participated in their own democracy, but took an active role — that takes guts and courage, so thank you all again for living your truth.

In addition to the few dozen of us who congregated in Montpelier on Tuesday, there are literally thousands more of our Heady Vermont readers, friends, parents, co-workers, and community members who share a common vision for better cannabis laws in Vermont. We get private messages from private advocates all the time and know that we have the numbers and the facts on our side.

We’re not done advocating, the struggle to reverse 80 years of lies and fear is far from over, and as we learn lessons along the way and build our cannabis community, we’ll only become stronger along the way. For advocates, keep discussing cannabis reform with friends, family, co-workers and keep using us as a resource and sharing feedback with Heady Vermont.

As for your elected representatives, keep educating and engaging them, and remember that they work for you, not the other way around.

Eli Harrington is the Editor of Heady Vermont.

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