Weedists: Meet Mason Tvert
“Weedists are the people who are out there fighting the good fight and these are their stories.”
Mason Tvert is largely credited with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. In 2005, he founded SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation), which brought widespread focus and discussion to the fact that marijuana is safer (for the user and the community) than alcohol, and should be regulated in a similar way. SAFER focused first on college campuses, helping students draft and even pass measures to make penalties for marijuana use similar to alcohol use, and then focused on the broader community of Denver, legalizing (if it had been properly implemented) possession of less than an ounce in the city.
In 2006, a measure very similar to the newly-adopted Amendment 64, Amendment 44, captured over 41% of the vote. Amendment 44 failed to pass, but succeeded in driving the discussion about marijuana as a safer choice than alcohol. This discussion, and the media coverage surrounding the campaign, quickly changed many people’s minds and has remained a hot topic even to this day.
Mason Tvert also co-directed the campaign for Amendment 64, which finally won the support of the majority of Coloradans, passing last November. Since then, Mason has taken the position of Director of Communications for Marijuana Policy Project, where he plans on bringing this discussion across the country, particularly Washington, DC.
I was fortunate enough to talk with him about his new role and new goals:
You’re currently the Director of Communications for the MPP, where you oversee the organizations media strategies and online outreach, right?
That is correct.
And when exactly did you take that position?
I took on this new role in the beginning of December, following the end of the campaign in support of Amendment 64 in Colorado, which I co-directed.
Was it pretty easy for you to jump on over to the MPP?
It’s certainly a new role and the scope of my work is much greater now, or wider. But it has been a pretty smooth transition and things are going very well.
So it’s basically the same thing you were doing for Amendment 64, but you’re just doing it on more of a national level now?
Somewhat. I’m not organizing volunteers at this point, or coalition building. There’s certainly some differences, but I’m doing a lot of similar work.
You work out of the Denver office for the MPP, where else does MPP have offices?
Marijuana Policy Project is based in Washington, DC, but there are staff members who are working from various places around the country. California, Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire. So there’s folks really working out of a number of different places, but the headquarters is in the nation’s capital.
So almost every place we’ve seen new reform legislation coming out of lately?
Well, there’s bills being brought forward in 20 or more states, so not quite. But we definitely have a lot of folks working on these issues.
Prior to the MPP you co-founded SAFER, is it true that SAFER was founded because of campus alcohol overdose deaths?
Yes, SAFER was established in 2005, shortly after alcohol abuse deaths on the campuses of Colorado and Colorado State in the fall of 2004, and the goal was to inspire public discussion about marijuana and the fact that it’s safer than alcohol. That has been a discussion Coloradan’s have been having ever since.
That’s definitely a big part of the reason Amendment 64 was able to pass, I know that.
Yeah, right on. It’s definitely been incredibly beneficial to be having this ongoing discussion about marijuana and the facts surrounding it.
You’re only 31, do you think your age will inspire younger people to start getting involved and realize that they can make a difference even though they’re young?
I certainly encourage anyone who is younger and interested in the issue to start pursuing it and get involved in whatever is going on in their area, or start an effort in their area to begin moving the ball forward. I hope that a lot of younger people have been inspired by the victory in Colorado and are interested in taking action in their states.
In the push to pass A64, are you the one who should be credited with gathering support from some celebrities? I know I saw you on Bill Maher’s show.
No, I shouldn’t be credited. It was a very large campaign, with a number of organizations involved. Marijuana Policy Project was by far the largest contributor to the overall campaign, and has built a great deal of support among celebrities and among the public over the past several years, which was incredibly beneficial.
Speaking of Bill Maher, were you already a part of the MPP before you were on his show? I know he asked you to come take a crack at legalization in California.
Yeah, I was an MPP staff member for the past year prior to that. During the Amendment 64 campaign, I was on MPP’s staff. Bill Maher’s suggestion was more figurative than anything else.
With Amendment 64, the first $40 million in tax revenue is supposed to go to CO schools. Was that your idea?
We spent 6 months drafting the initiative. The process involved dozens of organizations, individuals, businesses and activists. So that was an idea that came out of that process, and an idea that we ultimately chose to include.
Now that Amendment 64 is passed, what are your main focuses? Are you involved in any of the Task Force regulation recommendations or anything like that?
I’m still keeping an eye on what’s going on in Colorado, but fortunately I work with a lot of great people who are very heavily involved in that process, doing a great job of keeping up on it and taking part. I’m really focused right now on helping to build support and pass legislation in other states around the country, as well as at the federal level.
The MPP is working to reach the 218 votes on the amendment in the US house to end federal raids on MMJ businesses in states that have made them legal. What are your main plans to get that done?
For one thing, MPP has a Political Action Committee that has been supportive of candidates that favor marijuana policy reform. So we’ve seen a growing number of folks getting elected around the country who are supportive of changing marijuana laws for medical purposes or more broadly. This is an issue that has been discussed publicly and in the media more than ever before in the past 6 months. As that continues to happen, we’ll continue to see support grow. More states will be adopting medical marijuana laws and broader marijuana reform laws, and that will certainly inspire lawmakers to take a more proactive approach as well.
Proposition 19 in Cali was definitely affected by the non-presidential election year. Are you going to try to push for reform in the next election or wait for 2016?
Both. We hope to see an initiative on the ballot in Alaska in 2014 to regulate marijuana like alcohol, similar to the initiative that passed in Colorado. We’re committed to supporting that effort. We’re hoping that there are others, and supporters and activists will be involved and really get the ball rolling there. Otherwise, we do intend to work on state-wide initiatives to regulate marijuana like alcohol in a number of other states, particularly Oregon, Maine and California, unless the legislatures in those states take action prior to that. But there’s also support growing and potential for initiatives in Montana, Massachusetts and Nevada.
Are those all set for 2014 or 2016?
Everything will be 2016, except for Alaska, which has to be in an off-year.
There have been several things going through Congress lately like the Truth in Trials and Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition. If a bunch of states get it legalized in 2016, we can see a bottom-up reform. Is there anything we can do to help with the top-down side?
Recently, there were bills introduced by Rep. Jared Polis from Colorado and Rep Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, to regulate marijuana like alcohol and tax it at the federal level, respectively. There’s clearly momentum building behind change at both the state and federal levels. People should certainly be contacting their elected representatives in Congress and encouraging them to support, particularly support the bill to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and encouraging them to, of course, support marijuana policy reform in any form it comes to them, generally speaking.
About California’s situation, the federal Justice system has been cracking down a lot in California for several years now. What do you expect the federal reaction to be from the legalization in Colorado and Washington?
Thus far, the states are moving forward with implementing the laws adopted by the voters. The governor and attorney general of the state of WA met with Attorney General Holder and came away confident that they could move forward with implementing the regulation of marijuana sales in their state. President Obama has publicly called for a conversation in Congress about reconciling state and federal marijuana laws, and that’s a conversation that we’re starting to see play out. In the meanwhile, these states are moving forward with implementing the initiatives as intended by the voters.
Do you think we’ll see too many crackdowns like we did in California? I know that President Obama said when he first got elected that he was going to make them low priority, but they still saw several crackdown’s.
The federal government has largely refrained from interfering in Colorado’s medical marijuana system, which is regulated by the state and its localities. The only significant action they’ve taken was sending letters to several dozen businesses and letting them know that they need to relocate or shut down because they were within 1,000 feet of a school. Otherwise, over the last few years, there have been state-regulated marijuana stores operating in Colorado, and there’s no reason to expect that this will change any time soon.
So what do you think was responsible for the crackdowns in California, was it just the differences in the way it was regulated that kind of irked everybody in the government?
Well, yeah. It’s the difference between being regulated and not regulated. In Colorado, we have a system in which cultivation and sales are tightly controlled and regulated by the state and localities, so the government has taken a relatively hands-off approach. Whereas, in states where it’s not regulated, it’s been a different story. There are efforts to establish regulations in California, and other states, for medical marijuana.
Well, we at Weedist would like to thank you for your time and insight! We are definite supporters of your work, and will continue to be going forward.