Drug Lobbying: Talking Shop with Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance
Author – Max Richardson-Davis
Edited by Noah Persin & Jon Russell
We had a chance to sit down with Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). She works to develop DPA’s marijuana reform work as it relates to litigation, legislative and initiative drafting, campaign strategy, policy advocacy, media relations, fundraising, and public education in the local, state, federal, and international jurisdictions in which DPA is active. Reiman joined DPA in 2012 after working with Berkeley Patients Group, a renowned medical marijuana dispensary, as director of research and patient services.
Maxwell Davis: Amanda Reiman, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. For those who may be unfamiliar with you, would you briefly introduce yourself?
Amanda Reiman: Hi! I am a public health researcher who has been working with the cannabis industry for 15 years. I conduct research on the use of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, prescription and other drugs. I was previously the Director of Research and Patient Services for Berkeley Patients Group and I am currently the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. I also teach at UC Berkeley.
Maxwell Davis: Tell us a little bit about the Drug Alliance Policy (DPA) and its mission?
Amanda: DPA is a national nonprofit that focuses on drug policy reform across three main areas: Addressing mass incarceration, promoting harm reduction, and reforming marijuana laws. We have a national office in New York, one in DC, and state offices in New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico and 2 in California, one in LA and our Office of Legal Affairs in Oakland, which is where I work.
Maxwell Davis: That is quite the organization! What role do you play within the organization and, more importantly, what inspired you to become a part of the organization?
Amanda: I have been a fan of DPA for decades. When I was a student I often used their materials for papers I was writing. In 2012, Berkeley Patients Group was shut down by the federal government and DPA was hiring. I was excited that the timing was perfect to come on board and work on issues related to marijuana policy. At DPA, I oversee our marijuana reform work, including legislation, initiatives, media, outreach and educational opportunities.
Maxwell Davis: How do you feel about California’s Prop 64? Would you like to see any aspects of Prop 64 changed? If so, how? I know, originally, some California cannabis growers were opposed to Prop 64.
Amanda: Interestingly, Prop. 64 won the Emerald Triangle (Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Co.). I think there was a perception that a lot of growers were opposed to it, but that was not reality. Even the largest grower organization, California Grower’s Association remained neutral because 25% of their membership was in favor, 25% opposed and 50% undecided. I was very much in favor of Prop. 64 because it allows for the retroactive re-sentencing and expungement of marijuana crimes, something that has already started to have an impact. Moving forward, I want to ensure that patients are not burdened by the taxes of regulation and that cannabis consumers gain civil rights, such as employment rights, housing rights, etc.
Maxwell: In a recent interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, President Obama was quoted as saying cannabis should be treated as, “alcohol and tobacco.” I know you don’t necessarily agree with that stance, as you wrote an article entitled, “The Cannabis Industry Is Not the Tobacco Industry, and We’ll Prove It” for the Huffington Post. Personally, how would you like to see cannabis regulated?
Amanda: I think cannabis should be regulated like any other medicinal herb with the recognition that it is an age restricted product. Unfortunately because of prohibition and the market that created, we have to treat it as more dangerous than it really is. If cannabis were discovered today, it would be a whole other story.
Maxwell: Before the Rolling Stone interview with President Obama, 2016 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson made public statements urging the President to reschedule cannabis before leaving office. Johnson said he believes he will. Do you think President Obama will, or can, do anything to reclassify cannabis before leaving office?
Amanda: I do not think he will do anything before leaving office. During his administration he would often pass the buck when asked about rescheduling, claiming it was a job for Congress. I don’t see him making any moves on that front in the next month, other than possibly pardoning more non-violent drug offenders.
Maxwell: With President elect Trump presumably taking office Jan. 20th, 2016, and his newly appointed Attorney General Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) coming with him, are you fearful for the future of your cause?
Maxwell: What role do you foresee the new administration playing in the cannabis community? Do you think the Drug Enforcement Agency will resume federal raids on legal dispensaries once President Obama is no longer in office? Many in the industry are beginning to feel nervous in regards to the new administration’s stance on cannabis.
Amanda: Given the unpredictability of Trump and the moral views of Sessions, anything is possible. It will be hard to go after individual patients, not to mention unpopular, but they could put pressure on state officials not to follow through with licensing or vigorously enforce the Cole memorandum including shutting programs down if cannabis is diverted out of state.
Maxwell: GreenSea recently published an article regarding wholesale cannabis distribution across the West Coast, with distribution taking place between states that have legalized cannabis. Do you believe this will be possible in the next few years, or will this type of reciprocity have to wait for federal rescheduling before it can begin to take place?
Amanda: Pressing on the interstate issue might be dangerous with this administration given that diversion is part of the Cole memo. I think what is more likely to happen is that states will look the other way if cannabis is passing from legal state to legal state, but interstate licensing might be a ways off.
Maxwell: In your opinion, which of the states that have legalized cannabis have done it most successfully? Why?
Amanda: It’s tough to tell because we have not had enough time. It will be a good 10 years before we really see the impacts of legalization beyond the immediate impacts which often times do not represent the long term reality. Changes in behavior immediately following a policy shift often calm down with time.
Maxwell: What do you encourage supporters to do to further the cause of cannabis legalization and/or decriminalization?
Amanda: Get involved locally. These decisions are making their way from cities to counties to states. Find an ally on your local city council or in your state legislature and find out how/if they plan to move the issue forward and find out how you can help them do that. Join up with organizations like DPA, NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, they are already working on this issue, but they need your help.
Maxwell: Thank you for your time, Amanda. Your insight is truly appreciated. You’re a great wealth of knowledge and information in the field of drug reform and, even more specifically, the cannabis industry. I know because I’m an avid reader always looking forward to your next op-ed! I hope you’ve enjoyed speaking with us at GreenSea as we continue to do our best to inform and serve the international cannabis community. Again, thank for your time, and if you’re ever in our neighborhood please drop in!
Amanda: Thank you for the great questions! It’s time for us to band together as those who believe not only in the plant, but in the social justice message that surrounds her.
Editor’s Note: This was a written interview conducted over e-mail. None of the answers have been altered from the original response.