What MLK Would Tell Pot Activists

Submitted by Lory Kohn on Mon, 01/17/2011 - 01:00.

Martin Luther King Jr.
What if MLK took what he learned from civil rights and applied it to herbal rights?

The odd notion of ye olde dispensary sandwiched between the barbershop and the pizzeria took a hit this Election Day, when rural Loveland, Colorado voted to abolish its existing medical marijuana businesses. The ban is symptomatic of regulatory tussles playing out in every medical marijuana state. Yet advocacy groups accepted the result without a whimper. No candlelight vigils. Not one person carrying a sign.

The legalization “movement” cries out for someone to point the staff toward the Promised Land. Someone like Dr. Martin Luther King. But Dr. King didn’t invent nonviolent confrontation; Gandhi did. Dr. King simply took Gandhi’s formula for upgrading second-class citizenship and adapted it to the civil rights movement. If herbal rights proponents hope for legalization anytime soon, they would do well to replicate the tactics of individuals and movements that persevered through tremendous struggles to win their freedom.


Mahatma Gandhi, MLK's biggest influence, knew how to work a crowd.
Charismatic leaders tend to energize just movements, whether the cause is civil rights or herbal rights.

If you’re after sweeping changes, history tells us that first and foremost you have to put a face on a movement. Faces fit on buttons, banners, and bumper stickers – organizations don’t. Which isn’t to minimize their importance. A strong organization working toward common goals is vital – if you want prompt, conspicuous, and compelling response to valentines like the one Loveland sent its dispensaries. But once you have a face and an organization, it’s a mistake to compromise a just cause by accepting limitations. Demand what’s right from the start – so you don’t have to beg for it later.

Prophets are in short supply. But surely there’s a mediagenic personality out there who yearns to steer the legalization movement. Whoever takes the reins has to be an inspiring speaker and a persuasive writer, know the issues inside and out, and be willing to crisscross the country rallying support. Diplomacy is a valuable trait; forging an alliance of advocacy groups like Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) will be the first order of business. This is no simple task: at present, the legalization movement is divided on two major fronts.

The schism between patients’ rights groups campaigning for medicinal use and groups seeking rights for everyone – including recreational and industrial use – stands out. In a nutshell: should we settle for providing debilitated persons access to “meds,” or do we demand nothing less than full-on legalization for all? If the SCLC worked alongside militant factions, and Hindus and Moslems cooperated for Gandhi, this gap can be bridged. Dr. King might proclaim: “The hemp growers who autographed the Declaration of Independence didn't restrict life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the chronically ill.”

The other thorny issue is whether a marijuana alliance intends to effect legalization state by state . . . or get it done in one fell swoop by repealing Prohibition. The mission of securing civil rights for the state of Alabama alone is not one that would have satisfied Dr. King. When you have a day named after you, the worthwhile crusade is repealing Prohibition. MLK labeled the alternative – slogging it out state by state, locality by locality – as “taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” He would certainly caution against our doing the same.

There can be no doubt that in Dr. King’s mind, the cause consisted of individual liberty and economic opportunity. After all, the “I have a dream speech” was delivered at the March for Freedom . . . and Jobs. Supporters had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to achieve both goals, not to compromise.


I have a dream, too: when Loveland, CO boots its existing dispensaries out for the crime
of providing pain relief, hordes of protesters actually descend on the city.

What other limitations would give Dr. King pause? There’s a big price to pay for winning crippled medical marijuana initiatives: they’re a bitch to upgrade later.  While it’s true that winning such initiatives “gets your foot in the door” . . . there’s no guarantee it will open any wider in the future. Witness California Proposition 19; its defeat shut the door on expanded freedom.

Dr. King would preach that as long as “medical marijuana” has that crippling adjective, job creation is a fraction of what it would be if marijuana was fully legal and regulated. Cannabis commerce is condemned to a cottage industry. Potential tax revenue is a trickle compared to the funds that would “flow like the mighty Mississippi” in a fully legal landscape.

Fed up with medical marijuana's dampening effect on jobs, industry, and taxation, Dr. King might declare, “Now is the time . . . to stop throttling the golden goose.”

What would be the best way to get things moving forward right from the start? Marching on Washington worked out pretty well for Dr. King’s cause. Marijuanamarch would be ample indication that the 150 million strong pro-pot voting combine controls its own destiny – it just needs to realize it. The clarion call from a voice of the movement might reverberate forever.

Lory, you be glad to know about UCANX

Lory, you be glad to know about UCANX - United Cannabis Exchange - MLK Jr. will definitely approve from on high.

I'll post about that as soon as we work out a few more details.

Where I think MLK would be outraged, regarding pot, is with the racism of the drug war - the Cannabis Divide - and the lack of participation by minorities where the cannabis economy is developing - to be addressed in many ways by UCANX.

Disrupt IT

"Let [herbal] freedom ring

"Let [herbal] freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!"

"Let freedom ring as UCANX transforms Cleveland into a worldwide cultivation and distribution hub."

"Free at last, free at last, thank Jah almighty we are free at last."

There is one "minority-owned" dispensary, Colorado Wellness, down the block from me. It can happen. It will happen. Somebody or somebodies reading this of the "minority" persuasion will be cashing in when Grohio becomes the first state to come out of the gate with full-on legalization. Stay tuned . . .