Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell remains optimistic about cannabis reform

We’ve been following the work of Marijuana Majority and the writing of Tom Angell for a while now. Elevated Nation editor Dan Gross checked in with Angell the other day for a conversation about his time as a cannabis crusader and journalist.

What do you make of the pushback from marijuana activists who attack medical marijuana programs as not enough, and want total decriminalization and want it done yesterday?

On one hand, I’m sympathetic, on the other hand, I am kind of annoyed. We are changing laws and removing criminalization and bringing the market above ground where it can be regulated for consumers. And if you’re not on board with that, get out of my way. There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ This is politics, this is policy. This is how it works. You get incremental wins on the board and you work to improve them. You can’t just wait for the perfect bill to come because it’s never going to come.

I would imagine the reception from strangers upon learning about your work has changed drastically in the 15 years you’ve been working in marijuana reform. Is that right?

Absolutely. In the early days when I told people what I do people would simply laugh at me and say that’ll never happen, but guess what it is happening. I previously was a Congressional lobbyist for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and when I was working in that capacity we weren’t even working primarily on legalization we were working on much smaller incremental issues like trying to get rid of a federal law that takes away financial aid for students with drug convictions. Members of Congress and their staffers would take me aside and say, ‘I agree with you on this, it’s so stupid. But I can’t say that in public because I’ll be accused of being soft on drugs.’ Nowadays we have members of Congress knocking on our door and asking our industry associations to host fundraisers for them.

Do you consider yourself an activist or a journalist? Both?

I consider myself an advocate and a journalist. Under traditional views, that’s sort of a contradiction and journalists are supposed to be objective and not have a point of view. But every person has a point of view. I think it serves readers better if you acknowledge your point of view and you can tell them where you’re coming from so readers can know.

We’ve all been writing basically the same stories about the future of marijuana in America under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump. What is your sense of where it’s heading?

With both my advocacy and journalism hats on at the same time, I will say I am very optimistic about the movement passing new laws and advancing the existing ones. Even with the huge uncertainty that’s been playing out over Sessions and Trump, there are hundreds, literally hundreds, of bills that have been introduced around the country on marijuana just since January.

The momentum really is continuing on state levels whether its medical marijuana legislation in Texas or South Carolina or legalization efforts in Connecticut, Rhode Island or Vermont. It’s hard to keep track of it all because there is so much going on. I get a little annoyed by some colleagues saying, ‘Oh they’ve declared war and they’re coming after us.’

What they’ve done is float a trial balloon. And our best move is to pop the balloon and show that going in this direction would be a mistake politically and policy-wise.


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