Taylor: "The public is way ahead of the policy makers."
Experts in industrial hemp, law enforcement and recreational cannabis weighed in on the evolving conversation of pot policy Saturday afternoon on the main stage at Isthmus Green Day at Monona Terrace. This year's eco fair coincided with 4/20 observations.
"One of the most important topics facing this busy world right now," is how Doug Fine, author of Too High to Fail, described the "trillion dollar, 40-year drug war" and its results.
Fine said despite public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans favoring some kind of legalization of marijuana for the first time ever, drones have been approved for fighting the drug war domestically.
In keeping with Green Day, Ken Anderson, owner of Original Green Distribution, talked about how the drug war has hindered the industrial hemp industry which grows cannabis never intended to be used as a drug.
"A war that affects a non-drug is beyond ridiculous," Anderson said. "If we are outlawing products because they look like drugs, why can I buy powdered sugar?"
Anderson said that industrial hemp has a lot to offer as a sustainable product. He said the wood cores harvested from one acre of hemp is asusable as four acres of trees and regenerates within a year. Also, using hemp to build houses is carbon negative. Although this is offset somewhat by the current need to import the hemp from other countries, Anderson said the best way to use hemp sustainably is to grow it locally.
Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) talked about the bill she is currently sponsoring to make medical marijuana a reality in Wisconsin (the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act. She called it an issue where "the public is way ahead of the policy makers," saying 77% of the population supports medical marijuana. She remains pessimistic about the bill's chances in the current state legislature, reminding the audience if they wanted to make a difference they might need to do it at the election booth.
"If you can't change their minds, you must change their faces," Taylor said.
A point the panel raised that seems unsustainable for Wisconsin is the change in prison spending, fueled in large part by the drug war. According to the panel, Wisconsin spent $200 million in 1990 on prisons compared to $1.2 billion this year. Wisconsin also has 23,000 inmates, three times the population of Minnesota prisons.
Lacking from the discussion was any sort of realistic next step.
"Email your representatives," urged Nate Peterman of Madison NORML. "Call them, and most importantly, go see them in person."