Marijuana Policy Project
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is the largest organization working solely on marijuana policy reform in the United States in terms of its budget, number of members, and staff. Its stated aims are to: (1) increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (2) identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (3) change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana; and (4) gain influence in Congress. MPP advocates taxing and regulating the possession and sale of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, envisions a nation where marijuana education is honest and realistic, and believes treatment for problem marijuana users should be non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.
MPP co-founders Rob Kampia, Chuck Thomas, and Mike Kirshner originally worked at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In 1995, after months of in-fighting, NORML director Richard Cowan fired Kampia, Thomas, and another staffer who had been pressing Cowan for organizational change. Kirshner quit NORML at the same time. Kampia, Thomas, and Kirshner began creating their own organization, implementing the ideas they'd pushed at NORML. On January 25, 1995, the three activists incorporated the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) as a not-for-profit organization in the District of Columbia.
MPP has grown to over 32,000 dues-paying members and is the largest marijuana policy reform group in the United States. The organization has 25 staffers and an annual budget of about $2.85 million.
MPP, like many advocacy groups, is divided into two legal entities, one a lobbying group and the other an educational group. The public education branch can accept tax-deductible donations, while the lobbying group can use its funds to directly influence politicians. 100% of MPP’s funding comes from the individual contributions of their more than 36,000 members. MPP supporters come from every U.S. state, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.
The Marijuana Policy Project devotes a significant amount of its efforts to changing laws at the state level. MPP has been responsible for most of the major state-level marijuana policy reforms enacted in the past decade. MPP played a lead role in drafting the historic 2012 Amendment 64 initiative in Colorado, which made the state the first place in history to legalize marijuana possession and personal cultivation. MPP also provided most of the financial support for the campaign and helped coordinate the day-to-day operations. MPP and the campaign committees it funded also led successful efforts to pass nine of the 13 most recent state medical marijuana laws (in Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and four of the five most recent decriminalization laws (in Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont).
Currently, MPP is particularly active in advocating for medical marijuana bills in state legislatures in Minnesota, New York, and West Virginia, while supporting sensible legislation in every state where bills are introduced. MPP will also be devoting significant resources to measures to decriminalize marijuana possession in Delaware, Illinois, and New Hampshire and to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont. In addition, MPP monitors and analyzes all marijuana-related bills in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
State legislative victories
In May 2011, the Delaware Legislature passed and Gov. Jack Markell signed SB 17, which allows qualified, registered patients to obtain three ounces of marijuana every 14 days from state-regulated compassion centers. MPP led the two-year grassroots and lobbying efforts to pass the bill, which is based on MPP’s model bill. This made Delaware the sixteenth state, plus the District of Columbia, to adopt a medical marijuana law.
District of Columbia
In March 2014, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill removing all criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil fine of $25. Police will also no longer have grounds to search individuals simply based on the smell of marijuana. Before the bill can become law, however, it must undergo a 60-working-day review process in Congress. MPP, along with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was instrumental in passing this legislation — by assisting with bill drafting, meeting with members of the D.C. Council, participating in working groups, testifying at hearings, and generating constituent advocacy in support of the bill.
In August 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn signed medical marijuana legislation passed by the Illinois Legislature, making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. MPP lobbied for nearly 10 years in Springfield to bring about this state legislative victory. As many as 60 retail establishments will be licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses.
In April and May 2011, the Maryland General Assembly approved and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an affirmative defense bill, removing criminal penalties from qualifying patients who possess up to an ounce of marijuana and establishing a work group to study a more comprehensive law. The bill improves upon a sentencing mitigation bill the legislature enacted in 2003, following four years of lobbying by MPP. MPP also played a leading role in the 2011 victory, including in-person lobbying, working with patients, and testifying before legislative committees.
In May 2013, Gov. O'Malley signed a research-oriented medical marijuana bill to allow teaching hospitals to apply to an independent commission to run medical marijuana programs. Gov. O'Malley also signed a bill that allows patients' designated caregivers to raise an affirmative defense for possession of medical marijuana.
In April 2014, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation making Maryland the 21st medical marijuana state. MPP lobbied in support of medical marijuana legislation in Maryland for more than a decade. The legislation will allow state residents suffering from certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. It will also permit registered cultivators to grow medical marijuana and up to 15 licensed dispensaries to distribute the medicine to patients. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities will be determined by a state-sanctioned commission prior to implementation.
Also in April 2014, Gov. Martin O'Malley signs legislation making Maryland the 18th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The legislation makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. MPP is proud to be a member of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which led the charge for this sensible marijuana policy reform in Maryland.
In July 2013, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill approved by the New Hampshire Legislature to legalize medical marijuana, making New Hampshire the 19th medical marijuana state. MPP worked for several years to bring about this victory in the Granite State. The 2013 legislation will allow patients with serious illnesses to obtain marijuana from four nonprofit, state-licensed alternative treatment centers.
In January 2006, the Rhode Island Legislature overwhelmingly overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri’s veto of MPP’s bill to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest, making Rhode Island the 11th medical marijuana state. This was the first state medical marijuana law to be enacted over the veto of a governor.
In June 2009, the Rhode Island Legislature again overwhelmingly overrode Gov. Carcieri’s veto of MPP’s bill to create “compassion centers” to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients, making Rhode Island the second state (after New Mexico) to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensing.
In June 2012, the Rhode Island Legislature passed and Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed twin bills to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana. MPP led the three-year lobbying and grassroots effort for the bills, which reduce the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a $150 civil fine for most offenses.
In May 2004, at the conclusion of MPP’s intensive, three-year lobbying campaign, Vermont became the ninth state to enact a medical marijuana law — and only the second state (after Hawaii) to do so through its legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative. In May 2011, the Vermont Legislature approved S. 17, which added four non-profit dispensaries to the existing law. MPP played an instrumental role in passing this legislation, by funding a two-year lobbying effort and helping elect a governor who supports sensible marijuana policies.
In June 2013, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation passed by the Vermont Legislature to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana. MPP led the nearly four-year lobbying effort for the law, which reduces the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a civil fine for adults 21 and older. Minors will typically be required to complete diversion.
In February 2014, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, a ballot initiative campaign backed by MPP, received certification for the initiative to be placed on the ballot. On November 4, 2014, Alaskans will have the chance to vote on this initiative that will end the harmful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is taxed and regulated like alcohol.
In 2004, MPP provided the majority of funding for an initiative to regulate marijuana in Alaska, which failed with 44% of the vote (but still set what was at the time the record for the largest vote to end marijuana prohibition in any state).
In November 2012, MPP backed Issue 5, a medical marijuana initiative in Arkansas, which narrowly failed, receiving 48.5% of the vote.
In November 2010, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, a ballot initiative campaign backed by MPP, successfully passed a ballot initiative making the use and possession of medical marijuana legal and establishing approximately 120 non-profit dispensaries around the state. This made Arizona the 15th state to adopt a medical marijuana law. In September 2013, the Marijuana Policy Project initiated a campaign to legalize marijuana in Arizona for recreational use.
In November 2012, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a ballot initiative campaign backed by MPP, successfully passed Amendment 64, making legal in Colorado the possession, use, production, distribution, and personal cultivation of marijuana. MPP also played a lead role in drafting and campaigning for the historic initiative.
District of Columbia
In November 2009, MPP successfully lobbied for the removal of the so-called "Barr Amendment" from the D.C. appropriations bill. MPP led the fight to end Congressional interference, which, for over 10 years, blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana initiative that passed with nearly 70% of the vote in 1998. MPP even retained the amendment's namesake, former Georgia Representative Bob Barr, to lobby for the amendment’s removal after he reversed his position in 2007. Following the removal of the amendment, MPP successfully lobbied the District Council to improve the language they were considering to implement the initiative and lobbied the executive branch for reasonable regulations. The regulations went into effect on April 15, 2011.
In November 2008, MPP’s ballot initiative to remove the threat of arrest and jail for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana passed overwhelmingly in Massachusetts. The successful initiative — the first statewide decriminalization initiative ever — replaced the threat of arrest and jail with a $100 fine. The measure also eliminated criminal offender (CORI) reports as they pertain to arrests for simple marijuana possession, which, prior to the initiative, could have resulted in individuals being denied housing, jobs, or loans for college.
Also in November 2008, 63% of Michigan voters passed a medical marijuana ballot initiative spearheaded by MPP”s campaign committee. The initiative — which received a majority of the vote in each of Michigan’s 83 counties — permits terminally and seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with their doctors' approval. Its passage made Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state and the first in the Midwest.
In November 2004, MPP funded and ran the campaign that succeeded in passing a statewide medical marijuana initiative in Montana with 62% of the vote.
In November 2006, MPP’s high-profile ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada received 44% of the vote, tying with Alaska for the then all-time largest vote ever to end marijuana prohibition in a state. (That number was since surpassed in November 2010, when 46% of California voters supported Proposition 19, a ballot initiative to regulate, tax, and control marijuana in the state.)
MPP not only works to reform marijuana policy state-by-state, but also on the federal level. Some of MPP’s key federal goals include: building support for legislation that would treat marijuana like alcohol under federal law, persuading members of Congress to introduce and support legislation designed to protect medical marijuana patients and providers, monitoring the Department of Justice to ensure that the department honors its pledge to not prosecute individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, generating media coverage to pressure the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to provide marijuana for an FDA-approved study related to PTSD, and lobbying for passage of an amendment to a congressional appropriations bill that would eliminate all funding for the drug czar’s office, among others.
Since MPP’s founding, positive medical marijuana bills have been introduced in six consecutive Congresses. In addition, in the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, the U.S. House debated and voted on an appropriations amendment advocated for primarily by MPP.
In July 2003, 152 members of Congress voted in favor of the Hinchey amendment to the spending bill for the U.S. Justice Department. The legislation would have prevented the DEA from spending any money to raid or arrest medical marijuana patients and caregivers in states with medical marijuana laws.
In July 2007, following an intensive MPP lobbying campaign, MPP helped to garner 165 votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Hinchey Amendment — an all-time record of support for medical marijuana access.
In December 2009, MPP successfully lobbied for the removal of the “Barr Amendment” from the D.C. Appropriations bill. MPP led the fight to end Congressional interference, which, for over 10 years, blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana initiative that passed with over 70% of the vote. MPP even retained the amendment’s namesake, former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, to lobby for the amendment’s removal after he reversed his position in 2007. Following the removal of the amendment, MPP successfully lobbied the District Council to improve the language they were considering to implement the initiative and lobbied the executive branch for reasonable regulations. Those regulations went into effect on April 15, 2011.
During the 112th session of Congress, MPP lobbied on behalf of several pending marijuana-related bills. For the first time ever, a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition was introduced. H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2012, would have removed marijuana from the list of controlled substances and would have eliminated all federal penalties related to marijuana (except in cases where marijuana was transferred into another state in violation of that state’s laws).
MPP is also lobbied on behalf of medical marijuana on the federal level. In May 2011, three bills to benefit medical marijuana patients and their providers were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would have modified federal law so that individuals acting in compliance with state law were immune from federal prosecution. The “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011” and the “Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011” addressed critical tax and banking issues faced by medical marijuana centers and dispensaries as they attempt to serve patients, comply with statewide regulations, and pay their fair share of taxes.
During the 113th session of Congress (2013-2014), MPP is working to build support for legislation that would treat marijuana like alcohol under federal law, work with members of Congress on bills designed to protect and assist medical marijuana patients and providers, increase public pressure on the Department of Justice to eliminate prosecutions of individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, and generate media coverage about an FDA-approved study of marijuana use as a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to put pressure on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to provide marijuana for the study.
In August 2009, seven MPP staffers quit over an alleged incident of sexual misconduct by executive director Rob Kampia involving a female subordinate after an office happy hour. According to former employees, department heads at the organization unanimously asked Kampia to move into a different position than executive director over the incident. In January 2010, Kampia was "encouraged" by the MPP Board of Directors to take a three-month leave of absence, and his return was subject to "convincing the board he had dealt with his issues." In April 2010, Kampia returned to the organization after the leave of absence.
War on Drug Czar
Deciding that government propaganda was a major obstacle to its ballot initiatives, MPP launched its "War on Drug Czar" campaign at the end of 2002, filing numerous complaints against Office of National Drug Control Policy chief John P. Walters. In a December 5, 2002 Reuters article, Rob Kampia proclaimed, "We want him out of the picture. We want him excommunicated from the federal government forever.”
The complaints, filed with state officials, focused on ONDCP leaders' visits to Alaska, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. Director John Walters traveled to Nevada and Oregon and Deputy Director Scott Burns traveled to Alaska and Montana to speak against marijuana reform initiatives. However, they did not file any campaign expense reports, which laws in those states require for persons or organizations spending money to either support or oppose ballot measures.
TV and radio ad campaigns
In July 2006, MPP launched a radio advertising campaign that called out prominent public officials, including former President George W. Bush, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Al Gore, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for using marijuana. The ad, which ran on 141 radio stations nationwide, asked: "Is it fair to arrest three quarters of a million people a year for doing what presidents and a Supreme Court justice have done?"
In early July 2009, MPP introduced a television ad spot advocating taxing and regulating marijuana as a sensible policy change for California, a state facing a huge budget deficit. The ad featured a California woman explaining that responsible marijuana consumers, like herself, want a taxed and regulated system of marijuana distribution so that they can pay their fair share of taxes, which could then be put back into California schools. The ad was the first of its kind and was very controversial, with some California television stations refusing to air it. Nonetheless, the ad received a lot of press coverage, including an appearance on NBC's Today Show by MPP's former director of federal policies, Aaron Houston.
In July 2013, MPP aired a new ad at the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Race. In support of making marijuana legal for adults, the spoof beer ad highlighted the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol by characterizing marijuana as a "new 'beer'" with "no calories," "no hangovers," and "no violence" associated with its use. Although it was scheduled to air dozens of times on a jumbotron outside the entrance of the speedway, the ad ran for just a few hours before being pulled.