As the the debate over the bounds of freedom of speech on social media and the “civility” in confronting Trump administration officials dining in public continues to grow, its easy to forget one our most civil, powerful and, quite frankly, under appreciated, forms of freedom of speech: “The right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The freedom to petition the United States is, along with freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly, is in the First Amendment, allowing the right to ask the government, at any level, to make a legislative change.
For Kevin Mahmalji, the outreach director for the cannabis advocacy organization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), that means advancing access to medicinal cannabis and removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs. Mahmalji aims to contact representatives to encourage them to support marijuana-related bills introduced at the beginning of the year through a grassroots campaign.
In anticipation of NORML’s 2018 Conference and Lobby Day, a conference running July 22-24, 2018, at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., Mahmalji announced a “Congressional Letter Writing” campaign, an effort to solicit the public to contact their House and Senate representatives to support less restrictive marijuana legislation.
In NORML’s blog, the campaign reasons that “letters from constituents make the most difference,” though it also encourages phone calls or emails. For constituents looking for validation, NORML further reasons that representatives “normally will respond back to the letter sender.”
The two legislative targets for the campaign are The Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that amends the Controlled Substance Act to remove marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols from Schedule I, and to eliminate criminal penalties from individuals who distribute marijuana, and The Veterans Equal Access Act, a bill that directs the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to authorize health care providers to recommend veterans to participate in their state’s medical marijuana program.
Along with letter-writing tips, NORML’s blog post provides interested constituents with letter templates and directs would-be letter writers to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate directories to find their congressional district, congress members, and their office’s address.
After the 2016 presidential election,, freelance writer and former congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth offered on Twitter advice on how best to get messages heard by Congress.
I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents.
— Emily Ellsworth (@editoremilye) November 12, 2016
Twitter user Jenna Amatulli took Ellsworth’s tweet advice and compiled it into a downloadable document titled “How to Contact Congress.”