On July 2, HeadCount.org, an organization that registers voters at concerts and other events, launched the Cannabis Voter Project, which is specifically geared toward helping people use the power of their vote to impact cannabis legislation.
Along with recruiting people to vote at events and working with the media to promote voter registration, the project introduces the website CannabisVoter.info, which registers people to vote, tells them where different politicians stand on cannabis and gives advice on making an impact on cannabis legislation.
PRØHBTD spoke with Andy Bernstein, Executive Director of HeadCount and the Cannabis Voter Project, about the new initiative and why it’s more important than ever to vote on cannabis issues.
What led you to start the Cannabis Voter Project?
I realized I did not know what my members of Congress and elected officials’ stances were on legalization. I’m a professional, and I don’t even know. And I really want to know this. I don’t want to vote for someone who I'm not necessarily aligned with on key issues. That was sort of the genesis: There was an opportunity to register new voters and inform existing voters around this issue.
Why aren't enough people voting on cannabis-related issues?
I think in part there just hasn't been a good resource, so we tried to fill that gap. With probably almost any issue, you may know where your elected officials stand on abortion or gun control—you can almost predict it by party—but with cannabis, it’s an interesting issue because you have Democrats landing on both sides and you have Republicans landing on both sides, so you really need an informative resource like cannabisvoter.info to tell you this. Unless you do the research on your own, you’re not going to find this. If you have a Democrat or Republican congressperson, chances are you can predict where they stand on abortion, guns [and] environmental regulations—but you can’t predict where they stand on cannabis reform.
Do you see any pattern at all regarding people’s political parties and their views on cannabis?
I think that what we do know is that many people—regardless of how they vote [or] what party they vote for—feel strongly about cannabis regulation for obvious reasons: less government intrusion, more personal freedom, [ideas] you hear a lot of Republicans talking about. At the same time, liberal social policy is something a lot of Democrats support. So this is an issue that can unite rather than divide.
What are some of the most common responses you’ve been getting from people at events?
When we talk to them about the cannabis voter website and cannabis project, the response is, “Dude, awesome.” It’s gotten a really good reaction.
What bills are under consideration now that people should be voting on?
I think the most high-profile one is that recreational weed is going to be on the ballot in Michigan. That’s the one that people are really watching.
What issue related to cannabis is not getting enough attention at the government level?
On the federal side, you are seeing multiple bills that are addressing cannabis, so at least it's getting some attention. But I think that one of the things you see more people talking about is the social justice and equality element: There are many people in jail on marijuana charges that are disproportionately black. And we know that marijuana usage is [proportionate] across all races, so more black people are in jail for a “crime” that is committed equally by blacks and whites. So that is an issue that I think is starting to get more attention and is very important.
What can we do to help solve that problem?
What can be done is vote. That's the solution here. When elected officials and candidates feel that voters are coming out to the polls based on what they do or don't do around cannabis, they're going to get motivated. That's how the system works, and that's how the system is supposed to work. The reason that the NRA is so powerful is that their members vote. When people who care about the issues of cannabis vote, elected officials will care, too.
There's probably a lot of people who maybe haven't registered to vote because they maybe don't feel that either political party is meeting their needs. But when you present to them that cannabis is an issue that their votes can make an impact on, suddenly they’re a lot more motivated. They may find our site, and it may speak to them in a way that other resources may have never spoken to them.
What led you to choose concerts as the place to do this work?
You find a lot of voters there. That’s our heritage. Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead is on our board of directors, so we’ve worked with a lot of those bands for many years. We were born out of the idea, “Let’s go where the people are, where you have large gatherings of young people, and let’s make it really easy to register to vote.”
Anything else you want people to know?
One of the things that we do on the website is sell shirts that say, “I smoke pot and I vote,” and they’re a big hit. You can register to vote and find out where your officials stand, and we have a couple shirts that make that statement. That's something we want the world to know.
Photo credit: Josh Johnson.