by Peter B. Gemma
In 1998, Legal Marijuana Now was organized as a grass roots movement to coordinate petition drives to place pro-cannabis candidates on Minnesota ballots. Legal Marijuana Now earned recognition as a political party in the state when its candidate, Dan Vacek, earned 57,604 votes (three percent) in the 2014 race for Minnesota Attorney General. For the 2016 election, the Legal Marijuana Now (LMN) ticket of Dan Vacek and Mark Elworth will be on the ballot in Iowa and Minnesota.
Vacek is a financial caseworker with Ramsey County (Minnesota) Human Services.
Peter B. Gemma: I appreciate your taking time for this interview. You have said that, “legalization of cannabis would enhance public safety.” Please explain that statement.
Gemma: Single-issue political parties have a history of influence in elections and impacting on public policy. Ironically, the Prohibition Party is a good example. Also, New York’s Right to Life Party has proven its clout by cross-endorsing candidates. Do you believe the Legal Marijuana Now Party can already claim some successes?
Vacek: I believe the average person is ready for legalization now. A hurdle today is the effort of learning civics in order to change the law. We know third parties are an important part of the way to do that.
Gemma: Before we get into the specifics of decriminalization, I’d like to ask you about your positions on some other issues. You are on record as supporting an increase in funding for homeless shelters, spending more on housing assistance for welfare recipients, and federal funding of elections. Where would this money come from?
Vacek: The money raised in a legal cannabis market and money saved by closing prisons will go a long way toward paying for the things that people really need.
Gemma: You have said that legalization of cannabis would “improve foreign relations.” You favor eliminating CIA appropriations and “greatly decreasing” funding for a National Missile Defense Program. What’s your take on the threat of terrorism?
Vacek: We should help our allies. America should not bully other countries. We should end our dependence on foreign oil by re-legalizing the plant cannabis, hemp, for biomass. And that is just the beginning.
Gemma: You support raising the minimum wage – how much of an increase? Wouldn’t that hurt small businesses?
Vacek: Small businesses are among the first to benefit from improvement in the economy when workers are paid living wages.
Gemma: Is there a need to enact federal as well as state statutes to decriminalize marijuana? Would there be a federal tax on legalized marijuana?
Vacek: Yes, I believe that people who consume cannabis have the same rights as anyone else. And I believe very strongly that prejudice and discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated. I do not believe that cannabis should be taxed because cannabis is food and medicine. Enough new taxes will be raised peripherally, in a legal market, with creation of new jobs.
Gemma: Referenda on decriminalization will appear on five state ballots this year – Maine, Nevada, California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. What do you think the prospects are for passage?
Vacek: Not all of them will pass. But some of the citizens’ initiatives for legalization will be successful this year. The struggle for freedom never ends.
Gemma: Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson is CEO of a publicly traded marijuana company and his party has long supported legalization of marijuana. The Green Party platform states, “Cannabis/Hemp is to be legalized, regulated, and controlled like cigarettes and alcohol.” The Libertarians are ballot qualified in 50 states and the Greens in 45 states – both are in good position to recruit new advocates and raise the profile of the issue. Is the LMN Party siphoning off votes from them? Wouldn’t your case be strengthened if the Greens and Libertarians make a good showing?
Vacek: I believe that we are stronger when we join together. The Legal Marijuana Now Party and the Libertarian Party of Minnesota have both endorsed Andrew Henderson, a candidate for Little Canada Council, in the November 8 election. Legal Marijuana Now has cross-endorsed candidates with the Green Party in the past. I hope we find more ways to unite in the future.
Gemma: The Marijuana Policy Project gave both Johnson and Stein “A+” ratings on its presidential scorecard. Where do you differ with them?
Vacek: A protest vote for a Legal Marijuana Now candidate is very clear. Every vote matters in any election. What is the message that a Green or Libertarian vote sends? Although I agree with many of the other things those parties represent, I want to shout a strong, clear message.
Gemma: Who is funding opposition to legalization – why?
Vacek: I know that opposition to the referendum that would allow medical cannabis in Florida is being funded primarily by a treatment industry shareholder. And in Minnesota, it was the police union that intimidated legislators who were considering a very weak medical law here. The prison industry, the pharmaceutical, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries- – in all cases, money is the underlying reason.
Gemma: Support for legalization, although growing more popular, is not as intense as those who are opposed. A Gallup poll survey revealed that 47 percent oppose legalization. A Pew Research poll found that 51 percent of Americans would “feel uncomfortable” in the presence of individuals using marijuana. How do you approach skeptics and opponents with the idea of decriminalizing marijuana?
Vacek: That is called “reeferphobia.” And that kind of hatred is wrong because people are hurt by it.
Gemma: Wouldn’t just concentrating on medical marijuana be an easy first step?
Vacek: We have taken that first step across much of the country, including to a limited degree my own state of Minnesota. Most people are ready for the next step.
Gemma: Tell me about your running mate, Mark Elworth.
Vacek: Mark Elworth, who comes from Nebraska, is a champion. Mark is a levelheaded, hard-working organizer. We would not be here without him.
Gemma: Finally, how would you define a victory for the Legal Marijuana Now Party in this year’s election?
Vacek: I consider it to be a victory every time that we register and bring to the polls even one more new voter. And thank you for giving me this opportunity