Backed by wealthy philanthropists and embracing popular issues like medical marijuana, the drug-reform movement is stronger than it has been in years. Fox News reported Jan. 27 that groups like the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the Drug Policy Alliance have backers with deep pockets(billionaires Peter Lewis and George Soros, respectively), and both have succeeded despite taking different tacks on the drug issue. MPP has focused mainly on the medical-marijuana issue, while the Drug Policy Alliance tackles a broader range of issues, including supporting drug treatment over incarceration for drug offenders.
Despite their differences, the two groups have worked well together in recent years. “I think it’s a healthy sign in the drug-policy forum that there are different groups coming in with different backgrounds and point of view,” said MPP director Bruce Mirken.
Critics say the groups have focused on medical marijuana because most Americans don’t agree that pot should be legalized for recreational use.
“The fact they’ve been touting medical-marijuana initiatives shows what a failure they have had in the legalization movement,” said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The reason why they are still in business is they have these eccentric billionaires funding them. Or else they would dry up and float away.” One group that hasn’t shared the recent success in the drug-reform arena is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Once the spearhead of the legalization movement, NORML, launched in 1970, has struggled to get funding and recently lost its founder, Keith Stroup, to retirement. “The challenge we face, and I would have to say is the most frustrating failure, is we were never able to take that public support we know we enjoy and turn it into public policy,” said Stroup, 61. “This issue carries with it so much baggage and it would be foolish for us not to recognize that.” Still, NORML will remain a grassroots, consumer-based group representing the interests of marijuana users and legalization sympathizers. “They continue to play an important role in this struggle. NORML remains relevant — and if they are able to raise additional funds they will be even more relevant,” said Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann.