A First Timer’s Account of Lobbying Congress
Originally published at blog.NORML.org
Working at NORML is kind of like going on a Tinder date; you have no idea what you’re getting into until it’s much too late. When I landed my job with NORML, I had pretty “high” expectations and, luckily, I was not let down (unlike ALL of my online dating experiences). I guess you could say that NORML was a love match for me… Here’s why–
My first big project involved lobbying for the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment to the House CJS Appropriations Bill. Essentially, the amendment defunds the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana in states where it has been legalized, be it for medical or adult-use. While it doesn’t resolve the federally illegal problem, it does give confidence to those in state-legal marijuana businesses that the Department of Justice won’t seize product, seize money, or make arrests. Currently, state-legal adult-use marijuana businesses are at constant risk of federal prosecution. This looming fear functioned to have a negative effect on marijuana business growth and the appetite for state legislatures to enact reforms.
The amendment was suddenly announced to be up for a vote only a few days in advance. Evidently, this is a normal practice on Capitol Hill. We had to work fast to ensure the amendment had broad support in the House. First, the Cannabis Caucus met, which is a group of Congressional members who support marijuana reform. The group planned “whip campaigns” to ensure that all members of Congress are notified of the upcoming vote and keeps a record of how members will vote. Second, NORML contacted hundreds of thousands of its members with an action alert to urge their member of Congress to vote “yes.” Next, NORML teamed with other marijuana advocacy groups to assemble 500 packets that we hand-delivered to every member of the House. Finally, we hit Capitol Hill and the real magic happened.
The short window of time before votes leaves legislators with very little time to conduct their own research and determine their position. That’s where the staffers (the aides to members of Congress) come in, as they review the proposed amendment then give the member of Congress a briefing and issue a recommendation on how to vote. It is so important to present the amendment to the staffer in a manner that will appeal to their boss so that they have the right talking points (and are motivated, of course) to convince the member of Congress that voting “yes” is the best option.
Our spell must have worked because on Thursday, June 20, 2019, the House voted to approve the amendment. Making this not only my first lobbying experience but my first success at doing so! The victory announcement is a moment in my life that I will never forget. The level of pride and excitement I felt is unmatchable. I still can’t believe that I was a part of this historic change. It fuels me to devote myself to moving the legalization ball further across the court and taught me not to be afraid of the unknown- even if the last few Bumble matches were a flop. While I’ve given up online dating, I am now in a committed relationship with marijuana reform.
With your continued support of NORML, nationwide legalization CAN and WILL happen. Please keep contacting your member of Congress urging them to support marijuana reform because, without your help, none of these marijuana victories would be possible.
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