Steve Fox, a true titan of the legalisation movement and a father of the cannabis industry, died far too soon at the age of 53, just a few days ago.
The Cannabis Industry Pays Tribut Steve Fox is a well-known figure
Steve may be familiar to some readers, as he has been involved with practically every major legalisation development in the last two decades.
Many others, on the other hand, may not know his name since he was the unusual person who never sought acclaim or the spotlight, preferring to elevate people around him in public while being more at ease plotting, organising, and coordinating behind the scenes.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that Steve has done more for our movement than anyone else on the earth in the last two decades.
Steve became the first full-time marijuana lobbyist on Capitol Hill in 2002, after transitioning from Democratic politics to the Marijuana Policy Project at a time when most in the political elite thought such a move to be career-ending.
He was the chief strategist for practically every federal and state marijuana policy development during his time at MPP.
He would go on to co-found Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, the National Cannabis Industry Association, and the Cannabis Trade Federation, join the pioneering law firm Vicente Sederberg as a partner, and serve as a marijuana policy advisor to countless local, state, and national governments.
Steve’s work in Colorado, however, is probably his most well-known.
He was the principal architect of Amendment 64, the ballot initiative that made Colorado the first state in the country to legalise marijuana, and he also served as the successful campaign’s campaign manager and top strategist.
Few people appreciate, however, how much thinking, preparation, and effort went into getting Colorado to the position where it could accept legalisation.
When Steve was still with the Marijuana Policy Project in the mid-2000s, he dug into some polling data to assist him craft legalisation messaging.
What caught his eye was tucked away in the cross tabs. That if someone thought marijuana was safer than alcohol, they would be a firm supporter of legalisation.
Only about a quarter of the country believed it at the time, so Steve was determined that if we could just persuade another 26% of Americans that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol, legalisation would be over.
As a result, he and Mason Tvert founded SAFER, or Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, as a vehicle to spread the word.
He co-authored Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink with Mason and NORML’s Paul Armentano, a book that countless young activists have told me was their inspiration for getting involved in the reform campaign.
And Steve and his colleagues chose Colorado as the target state for hammering home this message and proving their political theory.
Steve handled university ballot initiatives for over eight years, urging Colorado colleges to equalise marijuana and alcohol penalties in order to garner earned media for the SAFER message.
In locations like Denver, he organised local ballot campaigns to instil the SAFER message in voters’ heads.
Steve and SAFER used purposely controversial billboards and political stunts to gain attention and spread the word.
Mason Tvert once held a press conference on the steps of Denver City Hall, challenging then-Denver mayor and beer industry entrepreneur John Hicklooper to a drink/smoke off, in which Mason pledged to take a bong rip every time Hickenlooper took a sip of beer and see who was left standing last, in order to demonstrate to the world which substance was the more dangerous. As you can expect, the storey dominated the local news.
In 2006, Steve and the SAFER team even ran a ballot campaign in Colorado to completely legalise marijuana, defying the traditional belief that you shouldn’t run an initiative if you don’t think you can win (spoiler: they lost with just over 41 percent of the vote).
But Steve was sure that a statewide initiative was the best way to get the message out and lay the groundwork for a future successful initiative.
Six years later, Coloradans chose to pass Amendment 64, making them the first state in the US to do so, and setting in motion the chain reaction that has resulted in eighteen legal states today.
Following that, Steve went on to develop, co-author, or consult on practically every successful state ballot issue.
He worked extensively with state legislatures, especially in Illinois, where the state legislature became the first to legalise marijuana.
He even gave advice to governments considering changing their own cannabis laws around the world.
He was constantly thinking three steps ahead, just like he was when Colorado legalised marijuana.
He co-founded the National Cannabis Business Association in 2011, when the industry was still in its infancy in a handful of medical-only states, recognising the need for a voice in Washington, DC.
Steve has spent a lot of time in recent years working on FDA and federal regulatory policy, knowing that whenever legalisation occurs at the federal level, we’ll need to know how these regulatory agencies work, cultivate relationships with the bureaucrats who run them, and have a plan in place to present when the time comes.
All of this was accomplished without Steve ever seeking credit or personal recognition.
He was more at ease as a member of the audience behind the speaker at the news conference podium than as the speaker himself.
In a movement and business rife with egotistical leaders, Steve was able to work with almost everyone because he had no need to inflate his own.
When history is written, Steve Fox’s name will be one of the most well-known figures for abolishing marijuana prohibition and ushering in the age of legalisation.
If you work in the cannabis industry, you owe your position to Steve and his efforts.
You may thank Steve Fox if you’ve ever purchased marijuana lawfully or smoked a joint made by a legally licenced firm.
Because Steve may not have sought the recognition he so richly earned, those of us remaining working on this subject have a responsibility to tell his storey and carry on his legacy.
So, after you’ve finished reading this, light up some legal pot and thank Steve Fox for making it possible.
While you’re at it, check out Steve’s GoFundMe page and donate to his family to help them get through this tough time.
Thank you, Steve, for everything you’ve done for the cause of cannabis legalisation. I feel privileged to have you as a colleague and friend. May your remembrance bring you joy.