How To Legalize Marijuana In Louisiana (And Accomplish Other Progressive Goals)
Charles Metcalf Jr, 08/26/2018
“They will never legalize marijuana, not in a million years.”
I heard that a lot growing up. But despite those naysayers, I have been pleasantly surprised to watch as several states decriminalized marijuana, boosting their economies and putting to rest much of the stigma surrounding the plant and it’s use. This is progress long overdue, but still moving along much too slow.
Do you want to know why marijuana is unlikely to be legalized in Louisiana anytime soon? Because our elected officials in the state legislature are bought off. A vast majority of those serving in the Louisiana state house and senate receive contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. An industry that makes a lot of money off of medical marijuana. Most of the same elected officials who fight back against any attempts to legalize recreational marijuana, vote in favor of medical marijuana legislation. Because it helps their donors. And keeps our jail cells full of people who can’t afford to make bail, which puts their jobs and personal lives in danger.
So how do we get these officials to stop accepting corporate money from the pharmaceutical industry? Short answer, we can’t. But there is something we CAN do: Run for office and replace them.
In November 2019, we have the opportunity to flip the script, and take our state legislature away from corporate interests. If enough of us run for office, on a vow to not accept corporate contributions, and a promise to support marijuana decriminalization, I firmly believe we can win and change the social and economic landscape of our state for the next four years.
In February of 2018, Louisiana State Representative Edmond Jordan, a Democrat representing State House District 29 in Baton Rouge, introduced a bill (HB 274) which would have decriminalized marijuana in Louisiana. The bill went nowhere, because no one wanted it to go anywhere. It was effectively shelved. If enough pro-legalization candidates can win seats in 2019, we can not only bring this bill to the floor for a vote, but we can make sure it continues on to become law.
So what can YOU do to make a difference? YOU CAN RUN. Have you ever heard of people discouraged from running for office simply because someone told them they aren’t qualified. That they aren’t wealthy, or connected in very particular social circles? Well that is just ridiculous. Do you want to know the qualifications for running for Louisiana State Legislature?
The qualifications are pretty simple:
1. Are you 18 or older?
2. Have you lived at the same address (or within the same district) for at least a year? And have you lived in Louisiana at least two years?
That’s all. That is the entirety of qualifications for becoming a state legislator in Louisiana. So, why don’t more ordinary people run for office?
Part of the reason many people feel discouraged to run for state legislature is the low pay of the position. Louisiana state legislators receive an annual salary of $16,800 a year, plus a $6,000 a year expense allowance. They also receive $156 per day when traveling to the state capitol or elsewhere for legislative matters, or when traveling for official conferences or events. All in all, this amounts to the pay expected of a rather low paying job. Which is why the majority of lawmakers in our state are either older, retired individuals, people who are independently wealthy, or people with other careers as lawyers or doctors. This seemingly exclusive establishment benefits from common, everyday people deciding not to pursue a campaign for office. These people keep their positions of power, and pass laws to benefit themselves and their wealthy friends and supporters.
Another reason people feel discouraged is the overwhelming idea that you must be able to raise a ton of money to run a campaign for office. Many people will tell you that it takes big money to run for office. And for decades, that has been true. Politicians have become accustomed to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy donors seeking to influence laws in our state. The money gets spent on nice suits, fancy campaign signs, TV and radio commercials, etc. It usually becomes a race to see who can raise more money. And that sort of thinking needs to stop. Money doesn’t vote on election day. Candidate yard signs and t-shirts don’t vote on election day. PEOPLE vote on election day. And all you have to do is get your message, and your name, to those voters in your district. This will include spending a few hundred dollars on a voter list, and finding friends and family who will volunteer for your campaign. Spend several months prior to election day going to public events to meet people. Go to your local city council meetings, sporting events, art shows, concerts, carnivals. Anywhere there is sure to be a large number of people who live in your district. Print up some flyers, with your photo and a short biography explaining why you are running and what you stand for. Give those flyers to everyone you meet. Make a Facebook page for your campaign, and invite everyone to Like it and follow along on your journey. It may seem overwhelming at first, and many people will attempt to talk you out of it. They will say you aren’t the sort of person who runs for office. Not the sort of person who wins. Just smile, thank them for their opinion, and PROVE THEM WRONG.
There are some costs to running for office, however.
If you want to run for State Representative, you will be required to pay $225.00 to get your name on the ballot. If you want to run as a Democrat or Republican, there is a fee of $112.50 each to both the state and your local parish offices of whatever party you register as. In total, $450 will get you on the ballot. If you are running as an independent or third party, all you need is that initial $225.00. If you want to avoid that initial fee, then you can download a petition, and gather 400 signatures of registered voters in your district. Then all you have to pay are the fees to the party you choose.
If you want to run for State Senate, you will be required to pay $300.00 to get your name on the ballot. If you want to run as a Democrat or Republican, there is a fee of $150.00 each to both the state and your local parish offices of whatever party you register as. In total, $600 will get you on the ballot. If you are running as an independent or third party, all you need is that initial $300.00. If you want to avoid that initial fee, then you can download a petition, and gather 500 signatures of registered voters in your district. Then all you have to pay are the fees to the party you choose.
Of course if you have the desire to raise more money, to spend on bumper stickers, yard signs, or whatever you want to help your campaign, that is fine. Ask for donations from family and friends, raise money online, hold a BBQ fundraiser, whatever you want! Just please don’t accept anything from corporate entities. You don’t want to be tempted to sell out on your principles. You should want to run a campaign free from corruption. Otherwise, the sky is the limit, so do what feels most comfortable for you.
You CAN do this. We all can. Those in power know that, and want to stop us from taking all the control away from them. Look up your State Representative and State Senator. Look them all up, and you will notice a trend among many of them. The vast majority of our elected officials are older, wealthy, straight white men. The pay for serving in office if you win is pretty low. You will make about $20,000 a year. This low wage keeps the average citizen from considering to run, and allows the independently wealthy to stay in power. They don’t need that money. They have plenty. And get plenty more from their corporate friends. They think they have the whole game rigged. PROVE THEM WRONG.
Run for office. When you win, treat it as a second part-time job. You can still work your regular job, or continue going to school, or whatever it is you currently do, as long as you aren’t using the elected position to help your business. Being in office opens a lot of doors to a lot of opportunities. You will meet a lot of very interesting people. Some good, some not so much. And you will be working to make a real difference in our state. And setting a new standard that says that all of us are capable of running for office, winning, and serving the greater good.
And that includes legalizing marijuana. Or increasing funding for education and healthcare. Or supporting legislation to help the homeless. To help veterans. To fight for higher wages. To save our deteriorating coastline. To fix our roads. To make our criminal justice system truly fair.
Obviously, this is about more than just marijuana. It’s about real progress for everyone. There really is no excuse for so many people to sit on the sidelines, watching as a minority of wealthy individuals pass laws to benefit themselves and their even wealthier donors, all at our expense. I am asking you to take that bold step into a better future for us all.
To help get you started, first visit http://www.geauxvote.com and click on Voter Registration Information, then Search By Voter. Type in your name, zip code, and birth month/year, then under Quick Links click on My Districts. There you will find all the different districts you are registered to vote in. You will see Senate (mine is 27) and Representative (mine is 33). Write those down. You can find who currently holds those seats on the GeauxVote site, or you head over to house.louisiana.gov or senate.louisiana.gov to find out more about your current state legislators and whether or not they stand for the same principles as you.
So what are you waiting for? Get your name out there. Get your message out there. Let us all help each other take our state back from the wealthy, power-hungry corporations. Put Louisiana back into the hands of the people.
© 2018 Charles Metcalf Jr. All Rights Reserved. Apologies to Richard Linklater, Matthew McConaughey, and Rory Cochrane for the rather ridiculous meme. You just gotta keep livin, man. L-I-V-I-N.