The rallying cry of the last three days, for myself and hundreds of other conference-goers, was emblazoned on a banner in the Grand Hyatt here in Denver: “Stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers.” Colorado had the privilege of hosting the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws40th annual conference this week.

It was a blast attending this pep rally for pot, as well as a great learning experience. Among the seminars held were panels on the politics of pot, cannabis commerce, and marijuana in the media. One thing that struck me throughout the conference–something I see over and over again at these kinds of events–is the genuine kindness of people. There’s more love and respect and kindness in this community than in any other I’ve been a part of–not just within the community, but extended outwards to others.

That is, of course, unless you mention the phrase “medical marijuana addiction.” Denver mayoral candidate Chris Romer made that mistake Thursday during a debate moderated by talk show host Montel Williams. Romer was booed and told he was “not welcome [at the conference]” by members of the audience.

And it’s that kind of disrespect, though it’s to be expected with such a heated topic, that makes us look like a bunch of angry stoners who just want our weed. Come on, people, we’re better than that. If we’re going to act like stoners, at least be the peaceful stoners like we were on Thursday night when Ziggy Marley performed. You know, “one love” kind of stuff.

But I’ve said all that before, and that attitude is rapidly declining in this movement, which I applaud. Still, those outside the movement continue to view us as, well, a bunch of lazy stoners. Friday, during a panel on cannabinoids, CBD was cited as a great counter-argument to that view. Why? Because CBD, unlike THC, does not cause the heady stoner high and in fact can neutralize the psychoactive effects of THC. So, CBD-rich strains–which are being bred and proliferated as more research is done–are perfect for patients who want treatment with cannabis, but don’t want to get high. (Yes, believe it or not, they’re out there, and they deserve this medicine just as much as everyone else.)

Panelists gather for Friday's "It's Not Just THC" seminar.

Of course, it’s not all about medicine. Some smokers dig recreational use, too. At the Cannabis Cup earlier this month, I learned of a 2012 initiative for the federal legalization of our favorite flower. Well, on Thursday, Doug Hiatt informed a jubilant crowd of a similar initiative happening this year in Washington state. Sensible Washington is gathering signatures to get a ballot initiative for the legal recreational use of cannabis in that state.

Almost everyone who spoke at the conference feels that cannabis use will be legal within the next few years. Each bill, each court case, is another chip out of the wall of prohibition. Even if Sensible Washington’s ballot initiative gets shut down, even if next year’s initiative fails, the fact remains that we are now closer than ever to ending marijuana prohibition.

Medical marijuana was the first step. As we discover more and more about the effects of this wonderful plant, we gain stronger arguments that make prohibition look like the terrible idea that it was and is. “We are on the cusp of winning legalization,” as Graham Boyd said on Thursday’s panel, “Pot-n-Politics.”

Why legalization? If you’re in the shrinking group who isn’t in favor of it, here are a few things that will decrease or disappear after cannabis is legalized:

Not only that, but legal cannabis will create even more jobs (medical laws have created thousands already) and pour additional tax revenue into our system. Unless you work for the DEA (or perhaps a pharmaceutical corporation,) these legalization initiatives can only work for your–and everyone’s–benefit.

Being this close to our goal doesn’t mean it’s 4:20 across the globe, though. We need to convince more people of cannabis’ efficacy as medicine and its harmlessness as recreation. We must educate children and teens to make smart decisions about pot and other drugs–“just say no” does not keep kids off drugs. We must put a stop to the demonization of smokers in the media. And, like it or not, we have to support lawmakers as they learn how to regulate this drug that has more uses than flies have eyes.

How can we do this? As myself and others have said, we can stop being stereotypes. But that’s not enough. If you smoke marijuana, for any reason, you must come out. Admit it to family, friends, coworkers, clergy. This movement needs new voices. Prohibitionists need to hear personal stories of how cannabis has helped people in their lives. They need to see that pot doesn’t ruin lives, but makes them better. If they won’t listen to science–and in many cases, they aren’t–they will listen to the voices of people they know, care about, and love.

And who are those people? All of us.