In the prior two weeks, two states said no to legalization with their legislators deciding to choose public health and safety over the false promises of tax revenue. Another state also shunned medical marijuana. Can you name the states? Without researching on the internet or reading last week’s Legislative Update, most people wouldn’t know that New Hampshire and New Mexico voted against recreational legalization and Tennessee voted against medical marijuana. Both were legislative efforts, as opposed to ballot initiatives, so there is a great deal of debate involved instead of slick political advertising. However, it didn’t get big headlines and the average citizen will probably never know.
It reminded me of a new issue that state government was first starting to talk about in 2009. At the time, I was at Job and Family Services and we gathered to talk about a trend that we were just starting to see in Scioto County and southern Ohio. Other state agencies were involved and there was talk about the number of pills being dispensed in that part of the state. Yet, it was not something that gained a lot of attention. It was the first time I had heard the term “opiate” and no one in that room would understand the wave that was hitting the state.
That is, until policy makers starting to hear from parents whose children were dying from these pills. United States Senator Sherrod Brown organized meetings in southern Ohio to begin discussing the issue based on stories he was hearing from those impacted by the opiate problem in 2009. Governor Kasich tells the story that he heard from parents when he was running for Governor for his first term – parents who had lost children to addiction. Senator Rob Portman regularly talks about parents that he has talked to whose children have addiction issues in his speeches on the floor of Congress.
We can’t rely on media to tell our story. Advocacy begins with community members who understand the seriousness of our issue and shares with all who hear. We can’t expect the media to share about states voting no on marijuana legalization in 2017 as we couldn’t expect the media to tell the story of the burgeoning opiate problem in southern Ohio. It is up to our communities to tell the story and to shine the light on the problems that we face and can only solve together. Just like those powerful families who could have remained quiet, in pain and defeat over the loss of their child, we too, must be the messengers to our communities. We must be the leaders in advocacy and the voice that is missing so often. Let us not treat advocacy as a job, but as an obligation so that we can be the leading voice on issues that impact our neighborhoods and our citizens.
DFAA Legislative Update March 24, 2017