NORML national outreach coordinator Kevin Mahmalji: Image:  Eye and Eye Photography.
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These are historic times for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  For years after its founding in 1970, the organization was derided as primarily catering to a fringe group of outlaw stoners. 
 
But now, with some forms of cannabis use legal in nearly half of the United States and a multi-million-dollar legal marijuana industry that’s rapidly expanding, NORML is part of the mainstream political landscape. And in terms of politics, Kevin Mahmalji says 2016 could be a pivotal year for the cannabis legalization movement -- but only if a number of factors play out as expected.
 
As NORML’s national outreach coordinator, Mahmalji says what happens next is going to be in the hands of the states, and not the federal government.
 
“We have six to eight states looking at legalization (next year),” he tells WeedWorthy. “Right now I think there’s a total of 25 ballot initiatives, a combination of hemp, medical marijuana and legalization measures, across 17 states.”
 
Mahmalji compares the cultural and political positioning of cannabis legalization in the U.S. with where the gay marriage movement was several years ago.
 
“There were 13 states that legalized gay marriage before the federal government decided to even take a position and started weighing in on some of the court cases,” he notes. “We’ll have to have the same thing with marijuana.”
 
But that all depends, he adds, on how many states end up voting for legalization or decriminalization of cannabis next year.
 
“If it’s only three or four states in 2016,” he says, “I think it’s going to be another few years before we’ll see any action or major changes in policy by the federal government.”
 
In the meantime, ahead of next year’s elections, Mahmalji says NORML is focusing on federal measures like the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act in the Senate, a bill with bipartisan support that would, among other measures, protect state medical marijuana programs and policies from federal prosecution.

But NORML also helping its 150 or chapters in 42 states, in their efforts to get the word out to voters. “So wherever the 2016 ballots qualify, we’re there,” he says, “to lead the conversation on the state level, on the reform efforts.”

 

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