The Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, is an organization in the United States whose stated aim is to minimize the harm associated with cannabis. MPP advocates taxing and regulating the possession and sale of cannabis, arguing that a regulated industry would separate purchasers from the street market for cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs.
MPP founders Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas originally worked at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. In 1995, after months of in-fighting, NORML director Richard Cowan fired Kampia, Thomas, and two other staffers who had been pressing Cowan for organizational change. Kampia and Thomas began creating their own organization, implementing the ideas they'd pushed at NORML. On January 25, 1995, the two activists incorporated the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) as a not-for-profit organization in the District of Columbia. MPP has grown to 29,000 members and is the largest cannabis policy reform group in the United States. The organization has 36 staffers and an annual budget of about $6 million, plus a separate $1.5 million grants program.
In August 2009, seven MPP staffers quit over an alleged incident of sexual misconduct by Kampia involving a female subordinate after an office happy hour. According to former employees, department heads at the organization unanimously asked Kampia to resign over the incident. Kampia was "encouraged" by the MPP Board of Directors to take a three-month leave of absence and his return is subject to "convincing the board he has dealt with his issues."
MPP, like many advocacy groups, is divided into two legal entities, one a lobbying group and the other an educational group. The public education branch can accept tax-deductible donations, while the lobbying group can use its funds to directly influence politicians. MPP receives substantial funding from Progressive Corporation executive Peter Lewis and technology entrepreneur/activist John Gilmore.
In 2002, the organization successfully challenged a decision by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics to bar Initiative 63, a medical cannabis petition, from the ballot. MPP was able to prove that it had, in fact, gathered enough signatures. However, a federal appeals court struck the measure from the ballot on unrelated grounds. Congress had already enacted a law, the Barr Amendment, that prohibited D.C. voters from decriminalizing cannabis, but a district court had ruled the law unconstitutional. The appeals court reversed the ruling, killing Initiative 63.
In May 2004, at the conclusion of MPP’s intensive, three-year lobbying campaign, Vermont became the ninth state to enact a medical cannabis law — and only the second state to do so through its legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative. In the same year, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling (issued one year before) that permits adults aged 18 and older to use and possess up to one ounce of cannabis in the privacy of the home — maintaining Alaska as the only state where the non-medical use of cannabis is legal in any context. The MPP grants program funded this litigation.
Later in 2004, MPP funded and ran the campaign that succeeded in passing a statewide medical cannabis initiative in Montana with 62% of the vote — the highest margin of victory for any of the medical cannabis initiatives that have passed in 10 states since 1996. MPP also provided the majority of funding for an initiative to regulate cannabis in Alaska, which failed with 44% of the vote (but still set the record for the largest vote to end cannabis prohibition in any state).
In November 2006, an MPP-supported medical cannabis initiative lost in South Dakota, with 52% voting "no"; This was the first time a medical cannabis ballot failed. MPP also funded three successfully enacted measures in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, that "make cannabis possession the lowest law enforcement priority." MPP also funded a similar initiative that passed in Missoula County, Montana.
Another one of MPP's major projects was Measure 9, a 2002 initiative in Nevada to decriminalize the possession of three ounces of cannabis by adults aged 21 or over and regulate cannabis sales through retail establishments. The proposed constitutional amendment would also have mandated penalties for underage smoking and smoking in motor vehicles, casinos, and other specified areas . Many cannabis advocates were not pleased with these clauses, which would have been difficult to change once engrafted in the state constitution. The measure failed, garnering only 39% of the vote. Previous legalization initiatives had failed by wider margins, but those campaigns were not as well-funded. MPP blamed the measure's failure on law enforcement officers illegally campaigning during working hours, and unlawful interference by the federal drug czar.
MPP tried again in 2004 to get a similar measure on the Nevada ballot, but the firm hired to coordinate the campaign lost a box of signatures required to get the measure on the ballot.
MPP went on to place the measure on the state's 2006 ballot, spending almost one million dollars of out-of-state money to enact the new law. Question 7 in Nevada, if passed, would have allowed adults 21 and older to purchase, possess, and privately use up to one ounce of cannabis; it would have also set up a legal framework for taxing and regulating cannabis in a way similar to that of alcohol and tobacco . However, the initiative failed to pass with 56% voting no and 44% voting yes . MPP intends to run a similar measure in November 2012.
Deciding that government propaganda was a major obstacle to its ballot initiatives, MPP launched its "War on Drug Czar," filing numerous complaints against Office of National Drug Control Policy chief John P. Walters. In a December 5, 2002 Reuters article, Rob Kampia proclaimed, "We want him out of the picture. We want him excommunicated from the federal government forever".
The complaints, filed with state officials, focused on ONDCP leaders' visits to Alaska, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. Director John Walters traveled to Nevada and Oregon and Deputy Director Scott Burns traveled to Alaska and Montana to speak against cannabis reform initiatives. However, they did not file any campaign expense reports, which laws in those states require for persons or organizations spending money to either support or oppose ballot measures.
In July 2006 MPP launched a radio advertising campaign that calls out prominent public officials, including President George W. Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Al Gore, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for using cannabis. The ad, which will run on 141 radio stations nationwide, asks: "Is it fair to arrest three quarters of a million people a year for doing what presidents and a Supreme Court justice have done?"