Legalizing recreational marijuana is a battle that’s been raging in the courts around America in 2015 – and its sure to be hot throughout 2016. There have been some victories for the supporters of legalization but also some setbacks.
States, like California and Ohio, have rejected proposals for legalizing marijuana for economic reasons. Four states so far, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana.
The victories come with public relations reversing stigmas attached to the drug, a fair economic plan for distribution, and firm support from courts that passed bills for legalizing medical marijuana. So far there are twenty-three states who passed bills for the use of medical marijuana.
Reversing Stigma of Marijuana
Reversing stigma is one of public relation’s most difficult tasks and some of the ways supporters use PR to help their campaign include using personal narratives and highlighting economic opportunities. The most successful pitches challenge prior beliefs about the drug and highlight its potential benefits, depending on the audience.
As Cynthia Salarizadeh, director of public relations at CrowdFund Connect, Inc. points out:
“If I’m pitching something to Forbes, I’m talking about economics,” she said. “If I’m talking to an outlet that is more community or health-based, I’m talking about epilepsy [and how medical marijuana can help].”
Still, stigma and economy are a major factor when it comes to states like Ohio.
Legalization of Marijuana in Ohio
The most recent setback was the rejection of an amendment to legalize pot in Ohio. It was shot down 64% to 36% despite a 20 million dollar campaign by its supporters.
Its failure to pass is a failure in PR. Not for the drug itself, but for the companies that would control distribution.
The big buzzword killing the bill is “monopoly,” a word used to describe the business model. Some of the people advocating for the legalization of marijuana opposed the amendment because it could lead to a monopoly of the industry.
Another reason the Ohio bill failed to pass was going from straight prohibition to recreational legalization without installing passing programs for medical marijuana first. Every state passing bills for recreational marijuana passed bills legalizing medical marijuana.
Legal Weed in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the negative stigmas of pot exist despite the state legalizing marijuana for medical use in 2010..
New Jersey Governor and Presidential Candidate Chris Christie opposed its legalization on more than one occasion, calling it a “gateway drug” harmful to children. He even promises to challenge the states that already legalized it if he was President.
Despite the open opposition from the Governor, New Jersey supporters for legalization are gathering for a hearing. For the supporters this is the first of many steps towards potential legalization:
“A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first,” said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. “The first step was introducing the bill, and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had.”
The bill, if passed, would give local officials the authority to bar pot-related stores from opening. It would also dedicate sales tax and application fee revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund, drug enforcement, and prevention efforts, and women’s health programs. These are programs Christie cut since taking office in 2010.
Regardless, the fight for legalization is an uphill battle.