Friday, October 9, 2009

Campaign Update

Maryland ASA was instrumental in the introduction of HB1339 during this year's session of the Maryland Assembly.

This bill was not given a vote in the Judiciary Committee due to an existing agreement with the Governor regarding budget constraints. Basically the bill would have cost a few thousand dollars to set up a commission to study the existing law, and that was a deal-breaker.

The bill, however, did get a hearing, and several of us gave testimony before the Judiciary committee. This was a good result for lots of reasons. From the comments and questions, several Delegates revealed either a sympathetic or a hostile position vis a vis medical cannabis. This, and the meetings we had with delegates in Annapolis, whetted our appetite for future legislative battles in Annapolis, and provided us with valuable contacts and useful information.

Our group has undergone some changes this year. The Prince George's county group started weekly meetings in March, but the Montgomery County group folded about the same time so we were a single group in Maryland for most of the year.

WE continued to meet every week, and attendance swayed between six and three participants as we encountered the usual problems a group of self selected volunteers goes through. But we continued to meet every week and we participated in some events, distributing flyers and gathering signatures in the street.

In July we settled on the postcards idea.

We decided that it would be good to have a postcard that people could sign and we could mail to their Delegate. Since people have three Delegates and one Senator in the Maryland Assembly we decided to make four different postcards.

We kicked around ideas for images and slogans, and eventually decided to invite people to submit designs and we would pick the best design, and we would do this four times. We came up with four slogans that defined the themes we wanted to emphasize in our campaign.

We set up a web page.

When we got a bunch of images assembled we put them together with a soundtrack, added a few animations, and another kind of communication became available to us. Check the YouTube video on our site.

We have now extended our contest to include T-Shirts and banners. This way we have maximum participation and stimulate creativity. And we all look cool. Which matters.

We want to mail a few thousand postcards and we aim to cover the whole state.

Because we mail them, we have a record of which member received what mail, and when. This is helpful when setting up meetings with legislators.

Since July we have gathered almost a thousand signed postcards. Our biggest problem at the moment is keeping up with demand. We had a booth at a street festival in Takoma Park (Montgomery County) on Sunday, October 5. We got 500 more signed at that one event.

Some volunteers from elsewhere in the state contacted us through the website, and some people liked the postcards, and some people we met at the various events where we hand out literature and gather signatures. For whatever reason, our little group has blossomed – we regularly have double digit attendance, and this has allowed us to cover more ground.

We have restarted a group in Montgomery County, and there are active volunteers in St. Mary's and Howard Counties who attend our meetings in PG County. WE are confident in continued expansion across the state as we get better at figuring out how to do this.

We have distributed more than 1500 postcards – some volunteers take a stack home with them and enrol their friends in signing the cards. People seem happy to do this. We are confident that we will have a lot of postcards to send to the assembly.

We are now exploring ways that we can use the postcards as a fund-raising tool. It is often the case, that people will chip in a dollar for a postcard if you ask them to do so. We want to expand on this.

We have friendly relations with a whole lot of musicians, and we are hoping to create a fund-raising event/party, and maybe a regular social event for the state. Since each group meets every week, we could all get together once a month and just have a few announcements, maybe a presentation during a meal and a chat.

We plan to meet with lots of Delegates in the upcoming session, and we hope to identify people on the Judiciary Committee who will take up the cause of medical cannabis, and introduce a bill on our behalf. We are working to set up a process whereby this can happen, and we will soon be expanding this process to include other organizations who have an interest in this policy and this legislation.

The present law in Maryland provides very weak protections for patients, and does not even address the issues of safe supply, nor medical research. What it will do, is reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana, if the judge can be convinced of a medical necessity on the part of the patient. It is not much, but given that situation, we think it would be helpful if a lot more doctors and patients were informed about therapeutic cannabis, and the laws pertaining thereto.

We have made it a priority in our campaign to identify health professionals for special attention, whenever they show up, with a view to establishing one or more educational seminars and other resources for medical professionals in the state. We are also setting up an ID program whereby a patient can produce evidence of a doctor's recommendation for therapeutic use of cannabis in the event of an arrest. There is no guarantee, but faced with the possibility of a $100 fine, (and a harassment suit if this is a second arrest) for marijuana possession, we hope most cops would do the smart thing and ignore the cannabis.

Contact one of us.

Prince George's County Damien Nichols

Montgomery County Michael Rigby

St Mary's County David Larose

Howard County Dave Terk

If you are in the county listed email that person, anywhere else in Maryland- email Damien.

We keep a calendar on our website of the upcoming events where you can find us handing out literature and gathering supporters. We would be delighted for you to come by and meet us.