Cannabis Culture magazine and website readers are asking for tips on how to write persuasive political letters and emails that help the cause of freedom.
This article is a guide for using the power of words to persuade and influence. I’ll be using real-life situations to demonstrate different types of writing useful for cannabis lobbyists.
The first letter is intended as a response to legislation introduced by anti-cannabis Republican member of the US House of Representatives Mark Souder; it’s called the “Safe and Effective Drug Act.”
The proposed law funds a biased study of marijuana designed to produce negative findings that can be used by Souder to criticize medical cannabis.
In most cases, when you are writing about legislation, it is useful to find out the official code number assigned to the legislation. If the legislation is titled, such as Souder’s, it is not as necessary to use the official code number.
Before you write to a politician or other official, study their website, professional biography, media coverage and achievements so you can discern their personality and political record. This information allows you to tailor your message so the recipient knows you are familiar with what they believe, and helps you establish common ground.
Most lawmaker’s websites contain huge amounts of information about their legislative actions. Souder’s site contains the following statement made by him about marijuana:
“I am strongly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is addictive, it adversely affects the immune system, and leads to the use of other drugs, such as cocaine. Marijuana also causes cancer, including cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, lips, and tongue; respiratory diseases and mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and other psychoses, depression, panic attacks, hallucinations, paranoia, hostility, depersonalization, flashbacks, decreased cognitive performance, disconnected thought, delusions and impaired memory. Since marijuana impairs coordination and judgment, it is a major cause of accidents. Babies born to women who smoke marijuana during pregnancy have an increased incidence of leukemia, low birth weight, and other abnormalities.
Despite these effects, legalization advocates often promote medical use as a legitimate reason for the legalization of marijuana. This argument, however, is simply a red herring for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Studies have continually rejected the notion that marijuana is suitable for medical use because it adversely impacts concentration and memory, the lungs, motor coordination and the immune system.”
Wow, Souder really seems like the reincarnation of America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger. You and I know Souder’s statement is full of hysterical reefer madness propaganda and outright lies, but when we write letters to Souder, we don’t want to offend him by directly attacking him. Instead, we want to co-opt him by repeating his mistaken beliefs back to him in such a way as to achieve our goals.
This brings up another key point: before you write, figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. What is your goal in communicating? What action do you want the person who receives your letter to do? What change in their thinking do you want to achieve?
In the case of Souder’s legislation, you would want him to withdraw his proposed law, or alter it so it mandates a fair, scientific review of all marijuana research, rather than a biased review, as he has currently configured it.
Approach politicians and other public officials with full realization that they have massive egos, lots of power, and very little sincere interest in your opinions. This might make it seem futile to even communicate; indeed some marijuana advocates refuse to communicate with politicians because they suspect that politicians will refer the letter to law enforcement.
If you are growing marijuana at home, it’s not safe to put the address of your grow house, or your real full name, in your letter. Write the letter and have somebody who is not growing marijuana sign it and send it for you with their address on it. The same applies to email forms that are on many websites. They usually ask for your home address and phone number. If you’re a pot grower, be careful what you reveal to anyone, especially what you reveal to public officials. It is true that writing a letter in favor of cannabis is a form of self-identification that could get you in trouble if you have something “troubling” in your life.
Politicians pay attention to the amount of mail they get on a subject, and to the prevailing opinions about their performance. They want to get re-elected, so they have to pay at least a little attention to public opinion. In rare cases, it’s possible you will find a legislator who actually reads what you say, considers your truth, changes his or her opinion, or at least initiates a dialogue with you. If this happens, consider it a miracle.
So, back to Souder. We know he’s a vicious drug warrior who thinks marijuana is evil. His website contains numerous statements indicating he believes our culture deserves to be eradicated by war.
“In the 1980s, we were making steady progress at reducing drug abuse,” Souder says. “That progress was reversed in the 1990s, when we relaxed our efforts. We cannot rest on our laurels. This is an ongoing battle. We have to eradicate the drugs at the source. We have to work to interdict them. We need to work to arrest and prosecute those who are dealing and using them?This is a war that for the well being of our country, we need to win.”
You might feel like writing an angry letter saying something like, “Souder, you fascist Nazi, marijuana is good for me and you are a jerk for trying to set up a fake study that will automatically create a bad report about marijuana.”
What good would this achieve? Do we want to piss Souder off, scare him, make him hate us? Souder already hates us, and he expects us to hate him. He thrives on hate and oppression. He wants us as a group of people he can feel superior to, that he can kick around. We’re it.
How do we respond to his persecution? With class, with strength, with calm logic. We use correct letter-writing format, make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors, properly spell Souder’s name, give his official title, etc. We want the letter to be professional, clear, concise, and persuasive. Our goal is to persuade, not offend.
Here’s a letter that embodies those features:
May 18, 2005
Congressman Mark Souder
U.S. House of Representatives
2231 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
I am writing about the Safe and Effective Drug Act that you are sponsoring.
I share your concerns about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. Prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, along with legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, are injuring and killing many Americans.
Yet, your legislation focuses only on marijuana, a plant used medically for thousands of years. It was used in the US as an effective medicine and industrial crop from the time of our Founding Fathers until it was criminalized in 1937.
I suggest you revise the scope and professionalism of your proposed law. Instead of just studying existing research about smoked marijuana, require that all drugs be subjected to an open-ended, peer-reviewed study that looks at all effects from all methods of administering the drug. Mandate that the medical experiences of people who use drugs be included in the study. Mandate that where there are controversies or confusion surrounding a drug’s effects, that new, unbiased research be conducted.
The current FDA drug approval process doesn’t work well. That’s why prescription drugs like Vioxx and Prozac are the subject of news stories about those drug’s hidden, often-deadly harms. Marijuana is not the only drug of abuse, and many people believe it is the best medicine for them. It should be studied extensively so we don’t miss out on any of its benefits or harms. The legislation you’ve proposed won’t find truth about marijuana- it will merely rehash old, methodologically flawed research.
Human suffering is a sad part of existence. If marijuana or any other plant or drug can safely alleviate human suffering, we need it available. I urge you to revise your Safe and Effective Drug Act so it objectively determines the benefits and harms of all drugs available to our citizens. If you don’t want to do a revision, I’d urge you to withdraw the legislation, because it won’t produce a scientifically valid data set, and it may well deprive people of a medicine that they need.
My friends and family, all of whom are registered voters, are very interested in your response to this issue.
Thank you for your concern about the health of Americans and for reading this letter.
Pleading with words
Another type of letter you might write is a “pleading” letter. This is when you are not referring to specific legislation or issues, but perhaps a situation wherein somebody has been convicted of a pot crime and you are trying to influence the sentencing judge.
A very timely case study that illustrates this type of letter involves American pot refugee Renee Boje. She was involved with medical cannabis in California when police started harassing her. The harassment included threats of imprisonment, which Renee knew would mean that she would be subject to sexual attack in US prisons notorious for Abu Ghraib-like conditions.
Renee chose to leave America and work with Marc Emery in Vancouver rather than be persecuted by the US drug war. She applied for Canadian asylum, married Canadian author/scholar Chris Bennett, and gave birth to a sweet Canadian son.
Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is the key official who will determine what happens to Renee, who is being sought for extradition by the US government. As you prepare to write your letter, you research Cotler to find out useful information that reveals his character. If he has already made comments about Renee’s case, it’s helpful to find them.
On Cotler’s website, we read that the man has an extraordinary record as a human rights advocate. This is obviously a very important feature of his persona as it relates to Renee’s case. Here’s part of what we find on Cotler’s website:
“A leading public advocate in and out of Parliament for the Human Rights Agenda, Minister Cotler recently headed the Canadian Delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on the Prevention of Genocide. He has served as Chair of the Parliamentarians for Global Action (Canada), and Member of its International Council; Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the first ever all-party joint House-Senate human rights caucus; Executive Member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; Honorary Member of the Women’s Caucus; and Special Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the International Criminal Court, where he shepherded the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act through Parliament.
Once described by Maclean’s magazine as “Counsel for the Oppressed,” Irwin Cotler is an international human rights lawyer who has served as counsel to former prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union (Andrei Sakharov), South Africa (Nelson Mandela), Latin America (Jacobo Timmerman), and Asia (Muchtar Pakpahan). He recently served as international legal counsel to imprisoned Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin; Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; the Chilean-Canadian group V?rit? et justice in the Pinochet case; Chinese-Canadian political prisoner, Professor KunLun Zhang; and, most recently, Professor Saad Edin Ibrahim, the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world.
As a constitutional and comparative law scholar, he has litigated every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including landmark cases in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights, minority rights, war crimes justice, prisoners’ rights, and peace law. He has testified as an expert witness on human rights before parliamentary committees in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Israel.
A noted peace activist, Minister Cotler has been a leader in the movement for arms control, and helped develop “Peace Law” as an area of both academic inquiry and legal advocacy; as well, he has been engaged ? both as scholar and participant observer ? in the search for peace in the Middle East. He has lectured in Arab countries and in Israel for over twenty years, and has been an active participant in rapprochement dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.
A leader in the struggle against impunity and the development of international humanitarian law, Irwin Cotler served as counsel to the Desch?nes Commission of Inquiry in the matter of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice; filed amicus briefs before the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; and testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding humanitarian intervention and the application of humanitarian law in Kosovo.”
This information about Cotler is a gold mine when it comes to pleading for him to grant Renee protected status in Canada. If Cotler is the human rights saint that his record makes him out to be, there’s no way he could send Renee back to the US. Here’s a sample letter that uses this information to argue for Renee:
May 18, 2005
The Honourable Irwin Cotler
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Canada? K1A 0H8
I am writing to you on behalf of American marijuana refugee Renee Boje.
She left the US for Canada because she was facing government-sponsored harm due to her involvement with legal medical marijuana in California.
She’s a gentle, honorable woman who has married a Canadian man and given birth to a much-loved Canadian son. I’ve heard that the US is trying to steal her away from her husband and son. I believe you should reject the US extradition request and allow Renee to stay in Canada.
I admire your courageous commitment to human rights. In every area of concern to you, Renee’s case cries out for your advocacy. She is a victim of a patriarchal war against nature and women carried out by a country that violates international law and trashes people’s human rights in the Middle East and elsewhere. She is a prisoner of conscience just like the other prisoners of conscience you have defended. She is a woman who faces sexual torture and Abu Ghraib conditions in US prisons.
I admire your work against war and war crimes. Renee is a victim of war crimes. It’s immoral for a government to declare war on a plant that has been helping humans for thousands of years. It’s immoral for a government to put people in prison because those people are involved with a plant.
Just as the US invaded Iraq under false pretenses and committed unspeakable atrocities there, the US declared war on marijuana based on false pretenses, and has committed atrocities in its racist, sexist, classist war on drugs. Sending Renee back to the US would be equivalent to sending a concentration camp escapee back to Germany in 1941.
If your professional credentials are an accurate indicator of your heartfelt beliefs, your conscience will haunt you if you comply with US demands and send Renee back to the US.
I urge you, in respect of human rights and the furtherance of peace and justice- use your power to help Renee Boje stay in Canada with her family and friends.
Los Angeles, California
Letters to the editor
The daily newspaper used to be a very influential part of local communities. Many newspapers today are little more than advertising and shallow news articles, but it’s still possible to participate in public debate via a newspaper’s letters section. Writing letters to editors is also good practice for writing blogs and other essays designed for wide distribution.
Letters to the editor are in most cases more generic than letters to legislators, judges or other decision-makers. You are arguing in the “court of public opinion” on behalf of cannabis; in that venue, it’s extremely important not to present yourself in a way that fits the stereotype of cannabis users as being losers, criminals, angerheads, and illiterate. Half the battle is won by how you say it, not just what you say.
Let’s consider a hypothetical example. A newspaper’s main editorial opposes a medical marijuana club in your town. The editorial says marijuana is not medicine, marijuana clubs are magnets for crime, and societal acceptance of medical marijuana will lead to increased use by children. Most newspapers severely restrict the length of letters to the editor, and they often edit longer letters in ways that dilute the power of your words. How do you effectively counter the editorial? Here’s a sample letter:
To the editor of the Daily Prohibitionist:
Thank you for discussing medical marijuana clubs in your recent editorial.
Medical marijuana was legalized by our voters after comprehensive debate and campaigning. Sick and dying people often cannot grow their own marijuana, nor can they buy it retail, as they can do with deadly drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and prescriptions.
Medical marijuana clubs provide medicine for people who are unable to grow marijuana or don’t want to interact with street dealers. Properly regulated clubs located in appropriate places, managed by professionals with adequate security and infrastructure, benefit many patients.
Children do not use drugs just because drugs are medicine. Medical marijuana patients and clubs do not provide marijuana to children.
Marijuana has been used medically for thousands of years, and some patients find it gives them relief no other medicine can provide. I urge the Daily Prohibitionist’s editorial board and all readers to support the city’s attempts to allow medical marijuana clubs. It’s the compassionate thing to do.
Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. You can’t always be conciliatory. Sometimes it’s useful to tell your opponents that you consider their behavior unacceptable.
Our case study for a protest letter involves Abbotsford, British Columbia. Abbotsford is a rapidly-growing, backwards community located near Vancouver. It is dominated by religious conservatives and elderly folk. Abbotsford is home to lots of poverty and lots of indoor marijuana growing operations.
Abbotsford’s mayor is Mary Reeves, who vehemently opposes marijuana. She and other officials have apparently targeted marijuana politicians sponsored by the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP).
BCMP candidate Tim Felger, campaigning in Abbotsford, complained that city employees illegally removed BCMP election signs that were posted publicly.
Here’s a protest letter that puts Abbotsford on notice about such actions:
May 23, 2005
Mayor Mary Reeves
32315 South Fraser Way
Dear Mayor Reeves:
I am writing to protest the City of Abbotsford’s treatment of political candidate Tim Felger in recent elections.
According to Tim, election signs he had legally posted were selectively removed. This violates Tim’s free speech rights and amounts to tampering with the election.
I agree with BCMP President Marc Emery, who said, “The targeting of BCMP Signs, while leaving those of other political parties in place, is an affront to the core principles underlying our democracy. Abbotsford is a hotbed of prohibitionist thinking and they seem to be targeting us because they do not agree with our message. The right to express political opinions is of paramount importance to anyone that values freedom ? we are greatly disappointed that our candidate’s ability to participate in the electoral process has been hindered.”
I am requesting that you investigate the situation and tell me what you find out. Tim says city officials removed the signs. If that’s true, what will you do to hold them accountable, and how will you make sure that this interference in elections does not happen again?
From listening to your statements, I know you believe marijuana growers and users are stupid people who have no money, sense, or political clout. I have a wake-up call for you: the marijuana culture is tired of being treated like second-class citizens, and we will organize and vote en masse to remove politicians such as yourself who so blatantly violate our rights and emulate the US in seeking to create a society that looks down on people because of their private, personal choices.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. If I do not get a response, I will contact the media and provide funding for BCMP to sue the City of Abbotsford regarding these anti-democratic actions.
When you’re part of a persecuted minority, it’s hard to be upbeat and grateful, hard to focus on the good in life. And yet, marijuana proponents have made amazing progress in the US, with medical cannabis laws passing in 11 states, national polls showing less support for the drug war, and more politicians willing to back marijuana.
When somebody does something that benefits the cause, it’s good to thank them for it. One federal US politician who has consistently helped the cannabis culture is Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank. Year after year he tries to get Congress to pass pro-marijuana legislation. How many of us have thanked him? A recent Cannabis Culture online article outlines Frank’s tireless work, and gives his address. Here’s a sample thank-you letter that is a good model for letters you could write to judges, probation officers, politicians, doctors- anybody who has done something that helps you as a marijuana advocate.
May 20, 2005
Congressman Barney Frank
2252 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515-2104
Dear Congressman Frank:
I recently read an article about you at www.cannabisculture.com. The article tells how you’ve introduced legislation to protect medical marijuana users in the past, and in the current session of Congress.
I am a medical cannabis patient who lives every day in fear of the police. I cannot understand why the federal government continues to persecute us even though our neighbors legalized our medicine here in California.
I wanted you to know I appreciate your courage and efforts very much. You are one of few members of Congress who has compassion and wisdom. Many patients across the country are grateful to you for your efforts.
If you need anyone to write letters, or even come to Washington, DC to testify on behalf of your legislation, please contact me. Anything I can do to help your legislation pass, I am happy to do it.
In these days of corrupt politicians who wage illegal wars in other countries and against their own citizens, I commend you for being a friend of freedom and the marijuana community.
Sinsemilla Acres, California
Tips for writers
Writing persuasively is an art and a science. It’s important to remember that your goal is to change hearts and minds, leading to a change in laws and attitudes. Too many people use letters and other communications only as a method for venting frustration and criticizing people who disagree with them. Cannabis advocates need to be careful about the tone of their communications. People are already prejudiced against us, and if we sound like scary, pissed off folks, their prejudices will be reinforced.
Writing is a form of expression. It empowers you, and opens channels of dialogue. Try writing one letter per week in favor of marijuana, and you’ll help end the drug war- one word at a time.
Here are some writing ideas to consider: