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Two new studies helpful to those who are advocating for marijuana legalization came out over the past few weeks. One quantifies the enormous potential tax revenue generated from a legal marijuana system, which should encourage additional states to reconsider their marijuana policies; the second confirms that per se DUID laws are scientifically baseless, and concludes that no one should face conviction of a DUID charge without a showing of impairment.
Tax Revenue Left on the Table
The Tax Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think-tank, released a series of reports (on 4/20, no less) quantifying the potential state and federal tax revenue from a nationally legal marijuana market. Their conclusion: $28 billion annually!
That’s right. The states and the federal government are losing that much tax revenue annually as a result of their reticence to embrace a legal marijuana market. The states would raise an estimated $20.5 billion through the collection of excise, sales, income and payroll taxes. The federal government is losing another $7.5 billion from income, payroll, and excise taxes.
Tax experts reached figures from an estimate that a nationally legal marijuana market would generate $45 billion in annual sales. This is obviously relevant information for any elected officials who might be considering supporting marijuana legalization. We know from the experience with legal gambling in the US that initially only one state (Nevada) was willing to raise tax revenue by legalizing and regulating gambling, and then a second (New Jersey) elected to jump on board the gaming bandwagon. The other states knew this could be a helpful source of tax revenue, but so long as the issue was considered too controversial (or in some states, considered immoral conduct), they were unwilling to take advantage of the potential revenue stream.
But today, some form of gambling is available in almost every state. The aura of impropriety has gradually given way to the reality that people gamble regardless of whether it is legal and regulated or remains illegal. The primary difference is that with illegal gambling the government realizes no tax revenue.
That scenario is one that is almost certain to be repeated in state after state over the coming years, as marijuana smoking is increasingly seen as no big deal, and the enormous tax revenues are more and more crucial for states struggling to balance their budgets without cutting essential services. With every new state that adopts full legalization, there are a larger number of neighboring states that will be forced to reconsider their marijuana policies with a view towards keeping that tax revenue in their own states.
Fair DUID Policies
The second piece of good news came from the respected American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, a somewhat unexpected source. Following a thorough review of the scientific evidence, AAA concluded that motorists are being convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana based on arbitrary state standards – called “per se” laws — that have no connection to whether the driver was actually impaired.
Under these laws, if the driver is found to have a certain level of THC in their system, they are convicted of a DUID offense, without any showing of impairment.
Five states (Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington) presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood, while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards — meaning any THC in the system is sufficient for a conviction. In Colorado the presence of more than 5 nanograms per millimeter of THC in the blood gives rise to a permissible inference that the driver was impaired.
The problem with these laws is that residual levels of THC may be present in the blood for extended periods of time (days or even weeks) after the last use of marijuana, although the impairment from smoking generally lasts no more than 90-minutes.
The AAA finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Safety Administration that has previously found “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
This study confirms the position that NORML has taken for years, arguing for impairment testing, rather than per se THC standards. As NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano has written, “[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”
Information is Power
Information is power, and both of these new reports provide us with tools to better shape the debate over the advantages of marijuana legalization, and to assure that new legalization laws do not unfairly treat responsible marijuana smokers as dangerous drivers. Now if we can get our elected officials to focus on the facts, we can continue to refine the image of fair marijuana legalization.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.
Today marijuana activists, patients and business owners from around the country are gathering in our nation’s Capitol to officially kickoff NORML’s 2016 Conference and Lobby day in Washington DC. We’re extremely excited about our line up of speakers and panelists for our conference, followed by a busy day of meetings with members of the House and Senate.
To start off, NORML members and supporters will be meeting at George Washington University, for a full day of presentations and panel discussions with policy experts and seasoned lobbyists. I’m especially excited to hear from John Hudak with the Brookings Institute. He recently wrote an open letter to presidential candidates urging them to take the issue of marijuana law reform more seriously. You can read more, here!
Tomorrow morning, NORML members will gather at the Longworth building on Capitol Hill where they will be addressed by: Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Delbene (D-WA). They are expected to speak in detail about the various pieces of legislation that are highlighted below. With more than twenty pieces of federal legislation aimed at reforming America’s archaic marijuana and hemp laws, it is imperative that we do our part by educating them on the many benefits of embracing a new approach. The same applies to everyone who will not be able to attend, except the focus will be on making phone calls, writing letters and/or sending emails using our online action center.
To access the information below, simply click on any of the links and you’ll be directed to a three-page document that includes everything you and your fellow activists will need to assist us with our lobbying efforts (talking points, phone script, letter template etc.). Feel free to contact your representatives about each one, or pick a few that you’re most passionate about!
During last year’s congressional letter writing campaign, our network of affiliates and chapters generated more than 2000 letters and emails to congressional offices so I hope we can do the same or better this year!
Federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions have declined significantly since the passage of statewide laws regulating the plant’s production and retail sale to adults, according to data provided by the United States Sentencing Commission.
According to the new report, the number of marijuana trafficking offenders prosecuted at the federal level fell dramatically after 2012 — declining from over 6,000 annually to fewer than 4,000 in 2015.
“The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013 and the number continues to decrease,” the report concludes.
The period of decline overlaps with the passage and enactment of adult marijuana sales in various US states, including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Federal data also reports a similar decline in cocaine trafficking since 2012. By contrast, federal prosecutions for heroin and methamphetamine trafficking have slowly risen over the better part of the past ten years.
Those convicted of marijuana trafficking spend an average of 29 months in prison, the report found.
A copy of the USSC report is available for download here.
This was a huge week for marijuana law reform. Congress voted for the first time to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans, and Governors in numerous states signed cannabis legalization and depenalization measures into law. Keeping reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.
Members of the US House and Senate voted yesterday for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it. House members voted 233 to 189 last week in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. The amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients. Members of the US Senate Appropriations Committee previously voted in April in favor of a similar provision and the full Senate also signed off on their version of the bill yesterday. The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.
Colorado: House and Senate lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved legislation, House Bill 1373, to permit qualified patients access to the use formulations of medical cannabis while on school grounds. The measure now awaits action by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who indicated that he would sign the bill into law. Once enacted, a primary caregiver may administer non-inhalable formulations of medical cannabis to a qualifying patient while that patient is on the grounds of a pre-school, primary, or secondary school in which the student is enrolled. Medical marijuana patients may not be denied eligibility to attend school because of their cannabis use.
Connecticut: Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy this week signed legislation expanding patients’ access to the state’s medicinal cannabis program. House Bill 5450 permits qualifying patients under the age of 18 to possess and consume medical cannabis preparations. The proposal also expands the list of qualifying illnesses eligible for cannabis therapy to include: ”uncontrolled intractable seizure disorder,” ”irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity,” “cerebral palsy,” “cystic fibrosis,” or “terminal illness requiring end-of-life care.” Other provisions in the bill seek to establish a statewide clinical research program, and protect nurses from criminal, civil, or disciplinary sanction if they choose to administer marijuana to a qualifying patient in a hospital setting. The new law takes effect on October 1, 2016.
Illinois: Members of the House voted 64 to 50 on Wednesday, May 18, in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Members of the Senate had previously voted 44 to 12 in favor of the measure, which makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record.
Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law. Senate Bill 2228 now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Last year, the Governor issued an amendatory veto to a similar bill. However, this year’s language addresses the Governor’s past concerns.
Kansas: Governor Brownback recently signed House Bill 2462 into law to amend marijuana possession penalties. The law reduces criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. You can read the full summary of the engrossed bill here. The sentencing changes take effect imminently.
Louisiana: Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation yesterday amending the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Maine: Governor Paul LePage has signed legislation, LD 726, into law permitting qualified patients to use medical marijuana while admitted in Maine hospitals. This measure does not require hospital staff to administer medical marijuana to a patient and will only allow for patients to consume cannabis preparations in a smokeless form. The law also establishes licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities and the labeling of medical cannabis products.
New Hampshire: Members of the Senate on Thursday, May 19, sent House-backed decriminalization provisions to conference committee rather than engage in an up/down vote of the bill. Members of the House previously voted 298 to 58 to amend Senate Bill 498 to make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. In past years, the Senate has been consistently hostile to any House efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties.
The conference committee, consisting of members of the House and Senate, will now try to agree upon a finalized version of SB 498. It is important that Senate members hear from you and are urged to keep the House provisions in SB 498. #TakeAction
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation into law on Friday, May 13, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. House Bill 2835 extends existing legal protections to the following patients: those with “spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases.” The measure also removes the age requirement limitation from existing law so that adults with various forms of epilepsy are eligible for CBD therapy. The expanded law takes effect on November 1, 2016.
Rhode Island: On Thursday, May 19th members of the Senate approved legislation, Senate Bill 2115, to make post-traumatic stress patients eligible for medical cannabis treatment and to accelerate access to those patients in hospice care. The measure will now be sent to the House for consideration. #TakeAction
Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis.”
The bill does not amend language in the state’s Therapeutic Research Act limiting the preparation of medicinal cannabis products to non-herbal formulations, nor does it address provisions limiting state-licensed cannabis cultivation to a single provider, or the dispensing of cannabis products to no more than ten licensed pharmacies. Those restrictions were put in place by legislation signed into law last year. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Senate Bill 271 does include language requiring the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center to decide whether or not they wish to seek licensing to grow medical marijuana for the state’s program by September 2, 2016.
You can read the enrolled measure here.
Louisiana is set to become the 25th state to permit for the physician-supervised use of medical cannabis and/or cannabis-infused preparations for qualified patients.
Members of the US House of Representatives voted today for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it.
Members voted 233 to 189 in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, that prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients.
“We should not be limiting the treatment options available to our veterans,” Rep. Blumenauer opined on the House floor.
Under the provision, military veterans who reside in states with active medical marijuana programs would be able to obtain a recommendation from their V.A. physician rather than having to seek out a private doctor.
The vote is a marked change from last year, when House members defeated a similar amendment 213 to 210.
The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill will now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy yesterday signed legislation, HB 5450, to protect nurses who administer medical marijuana to qualified patients in hospital settings from any criminal, civil, or disciplinary action. Other provisions in the bill expand the pool of patients eligible for cannabis therapy to include those under the age of 18, and seek to establish a state-sponsored research program.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage recently signed LD 726 into law, which similarly protects hospital administrators and staff from criminal or civil liability if they permit qualified patients access to non-inhaled preparations of medical marijuana in hospitals. Under the law, patients would not necessarily be provided or administered medical marijuana by hospital staff, but could be provided cannabis products by third parties.
Separate provisions in LD 726 establish licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities and the labeling of medical cannabis products.
Connecticut and Maine are the first states to explicitly provide immunity to hospitals that permit patients to medicate with cannabis.
A summary of 2016 state legislation is online from NORML’s Take Action Center here.
Every state that has fully legalized marijuana to date has accomplished that change by voter initiative, which means a majority of the voting public in those states clearly favored ending marijuana prohibition. However most statewide elected officials in those states publicly opposed legalization prior to the vote; and even after the initiatives passed, many attempt to undermine the new laws.
These out-of-step public officials must be dismayed that their opposition to legalization appears to have had little impact on the voters, who no longer trust their elected officials to determine marijuana policy.
Which raises the question of why so many of our elected officials remain so dismissive of the public health and other advantages of a regulated marijuana market over a black market. When presented with a choice, they frequently exaggerate the potential dangers from marijuana and embrace the status quo, ignoring the massive costs of prohibition.
Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, first elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, who made his fortune as founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, was a leading opponent of Amendment 64 in 2012 when it was approved by 55% of the voters.
Still today, when asked whether pot legalization has been a good thing, or a bad thing, for Colorado, the governor can’t quite decide. The new law has created tens of thousands of new jobs in the state, is currently bringing in well over $120 million in taxes to the state treasury each year, and has reduced marijuana arrests in Colorado by 80%, but the governor continues to contradict himself from one day to the next – depending on what audience he is addressing.
During his re-election campaign in 2014 Hickenlooper called the legalization of marijuana in Colorado “reckless,” although he had no problem soliciting campaign donations from the marijuana industry behind closed doors.
And in 2015, he told CNBC “If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election (in 2012), I would’ve reversed the election and said, ‘This was a bad idea.’ You don’t want to be the first person to do something like this,” he said, advising other governors to “wait a couple of years” before moving forward with legalization.
This man, who became rich selling alcohol, just can’t seem to get comfortable with legal marijuana, despite the obvious benefits to his state, and the popularity of legalization with Colorado voters.
And in the states expected to have full legalization on the ballot this November, the most prominent state elected officials continue to bury their heads in the sand.
The most organized opposition to a pending legalization initiative this year can be found in Massachusetts. A bipartisan coalition of public officials, calling themselves “A Campaign for A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts,” has announced their commitment to maintaining marijuana prohibition in MA. The anti-marijuana coalition includes Republican Governor Charles Baker, along with State Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, all Democrats. It is truly a “who’s who” of Massachusetts state politics.
The basis for their opposition, they say, is that legalization poses a public health and safety threat, especially to young people.
Governor Baker explained his opposition to the legalization initiative in a statement warning against “legalizing a recreational marketplace for a drug that would put our children at risk and threaten to reverse our progress combating the growing opioid epidemic so this industry can rake in millions in profits.”
And Mayor Walsh recently explained his opposition. “I’ve met far too many families in Boston and elsewhere where kids have lost their way in school and been shut out of success in the workplace due to addiction and abuse of marijuana. Where marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and a vote against legalizing the commercial marijuana industry is a vote to protect our kids and communities.”
Of course, no one is suggesting that kids should be using marijuana, and American teens themselves tell us each year in federal surveys that under prohibition, marijuana is easier for them to obtain than alcohol, because of the age requirement for alcohol. A regulated marijuana market would provide a significant deterrence against the use of marijuana by minors whereas no one ever asks for an ID in the black market.
Despite this high-profile establishment opposition in MA, legalization advocates continue to anticipate a victory in November, expecting the voters to have grown disillusioned by these tired scare tactics.
In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey has been a vocal public opponent of the legalization initiative in his state, saying he believes the majority of problems the state faces can be linked back to drugs “from unemployment, to homelessness, to domestic violence, to child neglect, to our prison population”.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been silent regarding his position on the pending legalization initiative, although back in 2014 he expressed his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana, observing “if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation.”
I should note that current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy to study policy options, has endorsed the pending legalization initiative in CA (AUMA), and supported efforts to qualify the measure for the ballot. He is somewhat unique among statewide elected officials, and his public support has provided a needed boost to the legalization effort in that state.
In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage has long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana, despite polling showing majority public support, calling it a “gateway drug.” The governor actually called for the state to “bring back the guillotine” to publicly behead drug traffickers!
In Nevada, Republican Governor Brian Sandoval has indicated he too opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, but he does not appear to have made a big deal about his opposition. Nevada is a state that has long understood the benefits of regulating gambling, but the principle apparently does not extend to marijuana.
Victims of Their Own Propaganda
To some degree, what we see in all of these states reflects the cautious instincts of most elected officials. Their top priority is getting re-elected, and they see change, especially involving contentious social issues, as politically risky behavior. That underlying reality explains why not a single state legislature has yet approved full legalization.
But with current polling clearly showing a majority of the country now supporting legalization, fear of a political backlash should be abating. Perhaps this refusal by most elected officials to acknowledge the obvious benefits to legalization is based on an unwillingness to finally admit what the rest of us have known all along – their passionately-held anti-marijuana views were based on ignorance, prejudice and misinformation.
To some degree, they are the victims of their own propaganda. And they can’t let go of those dated views without acknowledging their complicity in the misguided and destructive war on marijuana smokers. The policy they support has resulted in the senseless arrest and prosecution of tens of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, simply because they smoke pot. And our elected officials do not wish to accept that responsibility.
Instead of moving forward with a fresh approach, these public officials prefer to assume the voters have been fooled, or they are stupid, or otherwise incapable of making these decisions for themselves.
That screeching we are hearing from the establishment politicians in these states is the sound of a dying breed, squarely on the wrong side of history. Where do they get these clowns?
Fortunately for the reform community, voters are way ahead of their elected representatives on our issue. And the time is coming for our elected officials to catch-up or be held accountable and replaced at the ballot box by these same voters.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.
This week we’ll give you updates on legislation in Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Ohio. Plus we have exciting ballot initiative news out of California and Missouri! Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform this week.
California: Proponents of the marijuana legalization ballot initiative, the AUMA (Adult Use of Marijuana Act), announced announced at a press conference that they have gathered more than 600,000 signatures from registered voters. This total is far more than the required number of 365,880 signatures needed in order to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The Board of Directors of NORML has endorsed the measure, which permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales.
Florida: Members of the Orlando City Council voted 4 to 3 this week in favor of a new municipal ordinance giving police the option to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana possession offenders. Under the ordinance, which takes effect on October 1, 2016, first-time and second-time possession offenses involving up to 20 grams of cannabis may be punished by a fine of no more than $200 – no arrest and no criminal record. Under state law, similar offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Similar local measures have been recently approved in several other Florida cities and counties, including Tampa, Miami-Dade county, Palm Beach county, and Volusia county.
Louisiana: Members of the House of Representatives have approved senate legislation, Senate Bill 271, to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Existing law only permits for the patients’ use of medical marijuana in instances where the plant is ‘prescribed.’ However, under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. Senate Bill 271 seeks to change the language of existing law so that physicians may ‘recommend’ rather than prescribe cannabis therapy. The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include Crohn’s disease, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders. The bill will now return to the Senate for concurrence. Governor John Bel Edwards has expressed support for the medical marijuana expansion measure, stating that he wants a ‘meaningful’ bill that will ‘actually work.’ #TakeAction
Missouri: Representatives of New Approach Missouri, the group pushing for a statewide medical marijuana ballot question this November, announced earlier this week they have turned in just under 250,000 signatures to the state for certification — well over the 167,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. The measure, which NORML has endorsed, would permit physicians to recommend cannabis therapy to patients at their discretion, and would also permit qualified patients to cultivate marijuana or obtain it from licensed dispensaries.
New Hampshire: Members of the House approved an amended, Senate-backed sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 498, in a 298-58 vote on Wednesday, May 11th. The amended language would make first-time marijuana possession offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. The legislation now returns to the Senate for concurrence. Members of the Senate have previously rejected decriminalization for several years running. #TakeAction
Ohio: House lawmakers approved revised legislation, House bill 523, to establish guidelines for those who may qualify to use medical marijuana and how it may legally be consumed, in a 71-26 vote on May 10th. The revisions outline 20 ailments for which cannabis may be recommended, including epilepsy, AIDS, and intractable pain. However, the revised language prohibits the consumption of medicinal cannabis via smoking. Such restrictions exist in three other states: Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania. The measure will now be considered by members of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday, May 17th. #TakeAction
A separate, more comprehensive medical marijuana measure is likely to appear on the 2016 ballot initiative. Proponents of the initiative, the Marijuana Policy Project, must collect 305,591 valid signatures of Ohio voters by early July to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The MPP-backed measure would permit qualified patients to cultivate their own medicine and/or obtain cannabis from licensed dispensaries. You can read a summary of the measure here.
We are ten days out from NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day and we are excited to share with you the full itinerary! Have you registered to attend? We have some fun events planned and it would be a shame for you to miss out!
We are ten days out from NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day and we are excited to share with you the full itinerary! Have you registered to attend? We have some fun events planned and it would be a shame for you to miss out!
Our ‘pre-registration’ social will be held at Eden Lounge the night of Sunday, May 22nd where we will have the place to ourselves for private mingling and relaxing. We’ll be welcoming those of you who are travelling from out of town and getting you checked into the event so you won’t have to worry about a thing on Monday morning. This party is free for those who pre-register for our Conference and Lobby Day but for those who wait till the last minute, you will have to pay a cover charge.
On Tuesday, May 24, during our morning reception on the Hill we have confirmed the participation of three prominent members of Congress: Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Suzan Delbene (D-WA). Each of them will take time to address NORML’s attendees. This is a unique chance to meet with and hear directly from some of our nation’s most important marijuana law reformers in an intimate setting. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and gain insight into the progress we are making at the federal level. Have you ever had the opportunity to speak directly with a member of Congress? Now is your chance!
We already know you care about marijuana law reform. But now it’s time to take your efforts to the next level! Join us in Washington, DC May 22-24 and tell Congress that it’s time to legalize the responsible adult use of marijuana.
Register now to attend NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day!
Solid majorities of voters in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania support the legalization of marijuana for adult use, and super-majorities in Florida and Ohio support efforts to medicalize the plant, according to polling data provided today by Quinnipiac University.
Fifty-six percent of Florida voters believe that state law ought to allow “adults to legally possess for personal use small amounts of marijuana.” Only majorities of self-identified Republicans and respondents over the age of 65 oppose legalization.
With regard to the question of permitting medical cannabis access, 80 percent of Floridians say that “they will vote for a constitutional amendment this November allowing for medical marijuana.” The 2016 ballot measure, entitled the “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Conditions,” will appear before voters as Amendment 2. Passage of the amendment would permit qualified patients to possess and obtain cannabis from state-licensed facilities. Support for the measure is over 70 percent among every party, gender, education, age and ethnic group measured, Quinnipiac reported.
In Ohio, 52 percent of voters endorse “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” and 90 percent support “legalizing the use of medical marijuana.” Legislation to permit the limited use of non-herbal cannabis formulations by qualified patients was recently passed by Ohio House lawmakers and awaits further action by the Senate. A separate, more comprehensive medical marijuana measure sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project may appear on the November 2016 Ohio ballot.
In Pennsylvania, voters support by a margin of 57 percent to 39 percent the notion of “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” As in Florida, only Republicans and voters over 65 years old expressed majority opposition to legalization. Quinnipiac pollsters did not ask voters to provide their opinions with regard to medicinal cannabis, which state lawmakers just legalized in April.
The Quinnipiac survey results are similar to those of other recent national polls, such as those by reported by CBS, Gallup, and Pew, finding that a majority of Americans now support ending marijuana prohibition.
Per se driving limits for the presence of THC are arbitrary and may improperly classify motorists who are not behaviorally impaired, according to the findings of a study published today by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Per se driving limits criminalize the act of operating a motor vehicle if the driver possesses detectable amounts of specific drugs or drug metabolites above a set threshold. Under these laws, drivers are guilty per se of violating the traffic safety laws even absent evidence of demonstrable behavioral impairment.
Five states – Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington – presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards. In Colorado, the presence of THC in blood above 5ng/ml “gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.” Legislation similar to Colorado’s law is presently pending in California.
However, the AAA report concludes, “[A] quantitative threshold for per se laws for THC following cannabis use cannot be scientifically reported.” This is because the body metabolizes THC in a manner that is significantly distinct from alcohol. In particular, acute effects of cannabinoids lag well behind the presence of maximum THC/blood levels. Additionally, residual levels of THC may be present in blood for extended periods of time, long after any psychomotor-related effects have ceased.
The Automobile Association’s finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which acknowledges: “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
NORML has long articulated a similar opposition to the imposition of per se driving thresholds for THC and/or its metabolites, stating, “[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus. … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when the most vocal supporters of prohibition did their best to explain why they felt the criminal prohibition of marijuana was justified, exaggerating the potential dangers of marijuana smoking and claiming the sky would fall if we stopped treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Adolescent marijuana use would skyrocket; millions of stoned drivers would suddenly be unleashed on the nation’s roads, putting all Americans at risk; and smokers would stay home all day getting stoned and eating junk food, instead of supporting their families.
But as more and more Americans experimented with marijuana, they, along with their family and friends, discovered those dire warnings were pure bunk and support for legalizing marijuana continued to increase. Today, close to 60% of the public supports full legalization, regardless of why one smokes.
Reefer Madness 2.0
Our opponents could see the writing on the wall. Their continued support for prohibition was falling on deaf ears, so these self-appointed “experts” decided on a policy of acknowledging prohibition has been a failed public policy, even while raising new concerns to slow down the inevitable.
Today we find our political opponents raising “big marijuana,” a term they coined to demonize this new industry, as the new boogeyman from which they want to protect the helpless and misguided American public. Marijuana itself now is not so bad after all, but apparently the need to protect the young, and those who, left to their own devices, might smoke more frequently than these moral referees would like, justify regulating the industry as if we were dealing with nuclear waste, not marijuana.
According to this new version of “reefer madness,” legal marijuana must be highly taxed to discourage use and maintain high black-market prices. It must only be marketed by small, non-profit producers, or state-licensed stores, who presumably would not seek to maximize the potential profits from selling marijuana to the extent that “big marijuana” would do.
These “reefer madness 2.0” folks want regulations (legal marijuana at the state level is already one of the most heavily regulated industries in America) banning advertising (ignoring the Constitutionally protected commercial free-speech rights); limiting the frequency that consumers can purchase marijuana and the amount they can buy; imposing excessive taxes based on the level of THC; and otherwise using every option short of criminal penalties to discourage marijuana smoking by adults.
In other words, they want to create a “nanny state” for marijuana regulation. Opponents to legalization apparently believe they can convince a majority of Americans that the economic system we have always enjoyed in this country should not apply to the marijuana market.
Just a Stalling Tactic
Of course, none of this is an honest, straightforward position. These are the same people who praised prohibition, and claimed it was working, until that opinion became massively unpopular. It is a strategy intended to slow the inevitable progress towards legalization across the country, and to further extend prohibition, despite the public opposition to it, while these “experts” tell us how the marijuana market should be regulated.
It is simply a stalling maneuver.
The leader of this new opposition is Kevin Sabet, a former staffer at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), who, along with former Congressman (and self-acknowledged prescription drug abuser) Patrick Kennedy, formed Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in response to the legalization initiatives adopted in Colorado and Washington in 2012. Their stated purpose is to protect all of us from the dangers presented by this new industry.
According to Saber, “We’re opening the doors to allowing a new, powerful industry to downplay the effects of a substance they will be profiting off of and to downplay the effects of addiction … Big Tobacco was a disaster for our country in terms of the marketing machine that was activated while the government looked the other way for a century,” he says. “Do we want to repeat that with yet another substance? And one that in fact, unlike tobacco, produces intoxication and therefore leads to car crashes, workplace accidents, school dropouts and mental illness?”
“This is deep in my veins,” says Sabet, acknowledging his zealotry. “I feel like it is my calling.” Perhaps more accurately, it is his attempt to continue to get rich off the backs of marijuana smokers.
Another supposed new convert to ending prohibition (“At some point you have to say, a law that people don’t obey is a bad law.”) but who wants to treat marijuana like some contagious disease that threatens the public health, is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, who has argued for the “grudging tolerance” of marijuana. Like Sabet, Kleiman is another consultant who gets rich warning of the dangers of marijuana and advocating for extraordinary regulations for the industry, even as he concedes prohibition has been a failure.
According to Kleiman, this would be his perfect system: “If you want to buy (marijuana), you should sign up as a buyer, you should probably take some kind of minimal test like a driving test to make sure you know what you’re talking about and then you should be asked to set for yourself a purchase quota on, say, a monthly basis. How many joint-equivalents a month do you want to use? Give us a number. Every time you make a purchase, that purchase will be recorded against that quota. And if you bought as much this month as you said you wanted to be able to buy this month, the clerk will say “I’m sorry the order was refused.”
Somewhat ironic that these individuals who make their living from marijuana prohibition would themselves complain that others might make their living off of legal marijuana. And at a time when most Americans complain about “big government” interfering with the rights of the individual in all manner of ways, it is strange indeed to hear this discord from those who look to “big government” to protect us from ourselves.
Sometimes it is those who claim they oppose marijuana prohibition who pose the biggest threat to the establishment of a legalized market that meets the needs of consumers, who want a high-quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. It is time for these “do-gooders” to step aside and allow marijuana legalization to flourish in America.
Those of us who smoke marijuana can manage for ourselves; we do not need their “help”.
Read more http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/05/reefer-madness-2-0-over-regulation/
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With the most recent Gallup polling indicating a strong majority of Americans now supporting marijuana legalization (a whopping 58%), there has never been a better or more productive time in our country’s history to be a cannabis law reform advocate.
With help from our friends at FreedomLeaf, NORML is in the midst of our annual spring fundraising drive, with a slew of new NORML premiums and incentives for new and returning members.
NORML’s Spring Fundraising Drive concludes at month’s end, so please don’t engage in any dillydally!
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2016 is already the busiest year for cannabis law reformers, with half a dozen states with legalization ballot initiatives, two states with medical marijuana initiatives and ten states with legalization legislation pending.
Four states down…forty-six more to go!
Alabama: Governor Robert Bentley has signed legislation, House Bill 61, to protect qualified patients eligible for CBD therapy under a physician’s authorization from criminal prosecution. The measure, known as ‘Leni’s Law’, allows qualified patients to possess CBD preparations containing up to three percent THC. The new law takes effect June 1st, 2016.
Colorado: House and Senate lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved legislation, House Bill 1373, to permit qualified patients access to the use formulations of medical cannabis while on school grounds.The measure now awaits action by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who indicated that he would sign the measure into law. “My son, if he needed medical marijuana and he needed it during the day while he was in school, I’d want him to have that opportunity,” Hickenlooper said.
Connecticut: House and Senate lawmakers have approved legislation expanding patients’ access to the state’s medicinal cannabis program. House Bill 5450 permits qualifying patients under the age of 18 to possess and consume medical cannabis preparations and it also expands the list of qualifying illnesses eligible for cannabis therapy. Other provisions in the bill seek to establish a statewide clinical research program, and protect nurses from criminal, civil, or disciplinary sanction if they choose to administer marijuana to a qualifying patient in a hospital setting. The measure now awaits action by Governor Dannel Malloy. #TakeAction
Hawaii: Legislation is pending before Governor David Ige to expand medical cannabis access and dispensing. The measure expands the pool of practitioners who may legally recommend cannabis therapy to include advanced nurse practitioners. Separate provisions in the bill remove the prohibition on Sunday dispensary sales and on the possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia by qualified patients.It also permits the transportation of medical marijuana across islands for the purposes of laboratory testing. #TakeAction
Kansas: House and Senate lawmakers have signed off on sentencing reform legislation, House Bill 2049, that reduces criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. The bill now heads to Gov. Brownback’s desk, and will become law if he does not veto it within 10 days. #TakeAction
Louisiana: Senate legislation to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law received a boost this week after a House Committee amended and passed the measure. Senate Bill 271 seeks to change the language of existing law so that physicians may ‘recommend’ rather than prescribe cannabis therapy. Under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. It also expands the pool of patients eligible to receive marijuana therapy. The legislation is scheduled to be heard by members of the House Health and Welfare Committee next week. #TakeAction
New Hampshire: Members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12 to 7 this week to amend Senate-backed sentencing reform legislation, Senate Bill 498, to also include provisions decriminalizing minor, first-time marijuana possession offenses. The amended language would make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. #TakeAction
Oklahoma: House and Senate lawmakers have approved legislation, HB 2835, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol under a physician’s authorization. As amended, House Bill 2835 would include legal protections to the following patient groups: those with “spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases.” The measure also removes the age requirement limitation from existing law so that adults with various forms of epilepsy are eligible for CBD therapy. The measure now awaits action from Gov. Mary Fallin. #TakeAction
Pennsylvania: Representative Ed Gainey is seeking co-sponsors for soon-to-be introduced legislation that would amend minor marijuana possession offenses to a non-criminal offense. Despite both local and nationwide progress on the issue of cannabis prohibition, Pennsylvania continues to charge over 18,000 individuals each year with minor possessory offenses. Please urge your House member to sign on as a co-sponsor to this important legislation. #TakeAction
Rhode Island: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to consider SB 2420, legislation to regulate the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to those over the age of 21, on Tuesday, May 10th. Adults would be permitted to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also permits adults to cultivate up to two marijuana plants (no more than 1 mature) at home for non-commercial purposes. You can read the full text of this proposal here. #TakeAction
Tennessee: Two marijuana related measures became law recently in Tennessee. The first permits for the licensed cultivation of industrial hemp when “grown by an institution of higher education in this state that offers a baccalaureate or post-graduate level program of study in agricultural sciences.” The second, amends third-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, to a misdemeanor offense, punishable by no more than one year in jail. The new sentencing penalties take effect on July 1, 2016.
For a summary of all pending marijuana legislation, be sure to check out our full #TakeAction center!
And don’t forget to register to attend NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day in Washington D.C. May 23rd and 24th! We have just recently confirmedthree members of Congress’ ability to address our group on Capitol Hill so you won’t want to miss it!
A new CBS poll released on 4/20 is the first to show majority female support for marijuana legalization in the US. Though still trailing the 59% of men who are in favor of legalization, 54% of women now say they support it too.
Last year’s CBS poll found that only 43% of women were pro-legalization, versus 54% of men, an 11-point gap. This year’s poll narrows the gap to 5 points and represents an 11% jump in support from women in only one year’s time.
National polls in recent years have shown women’s support for legalization as high as 48%, but always trailing men’s approval by 8-13 points. Women are also around 15% less likely to admit that they have tried marijuana.
The same is true regionally: in Florida a 2015 Quinnipac poll found again 57% of men supported legalization and only 46% of women did. And if marijuana were to be legalized for recreational use in the state, 70 percent of women said they would ‘definitely not use’ it, compared to 59 percent of men.
Similarly in Ohio, there was a 12% differential between men at 59% support and women at 47%; and 71 percent of women, and only 57 percent of men, said they would ‘definitely not use’ legal marijuana.
But now perhaps we have reached a tipping point on women coming over to seeing the light of legalization. When I checked in January of this year, Cal NORML’s Twitter followers were 75% male, down from 85% a few months earlier; they’re now down to 66% male, a 20% drop in less than 6 months.
One reason for the shift, I think, is the increased number of female leaders at NORML chapters across the country, changing the perception of what a marijuana enthusiast looks like and giving women voters a greater comfort zone to voice their own support. A quick list of those leaders compiled by NORML Outreach Coordinator Kevin Mahmalji are:
Women everywhere are getting the message. “It is not as harmful as alcohol … It also helps medical conditions as a more natural substitute to pharmaceuticals,” one 46-year-old woman told Pew pollsters in 2015. “I think crime would be lower if they legalized marijuana,” said another woman, aged 62. “It would put the drug dealers out of business.”
Campaigns directed at women in states with legalization measures seem to have had an effect. Only 49 percent of women polled in favor of Colorado’s 2012 legalization measure, but 53 percent of them voted for it. The majority of women voters in Washington State also voted in favor of that state’s measure to legalize.
Many people are aware that women helped bring about alcohol prohibition in 1919. What many don’t know is that women were also instrumental in repealing prohibition, notably Pauline Sabin, the Republican socialite for whom NORML’s award recognizing women’s leadership is named. It seems that women are now also key in bringing about marijuana legalization.
Members of the Vermont House spent over six hours today debating various amendments to reform marijuana policy, but ultimately decided against enacting any significant changes in law.
House lawmakers voted 121 to 28 to reject Senate-approved language that sought to regulate the adult use, commercial production, and retail sale of marijuana. Although Gov. Peter Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell publicly supported the effort, House members expressed little interest in seriously considering the measure.
House members also rejected an alternative measure that sought to expand the state’s existing decriminalization law to also include the personal cultivation of marijuana. Representatives voted 77 to 70 to reject the ammendment.
Representatives also debated whether or not to put forward the question, “Should Vermont legalize marijuana for recreational purposes?” before voters as a non-binding initiative during the upcoming August primary election. Lawmakers decided against the proposal by a vote of 97 to 51.
House lawmakers narrowly voted 77 to 68 in favor of provisions establishing an advisory commission to make recommendations to the legislature with regard to future marijuana policy. Specifically, the commission would be tasked with “propos[ing] a comprehensive regulatory and revenue structure that establishes controlled access to marijuana in a manner that, when compared to the current illegal marijuana market, increases public safety and reduces harm to public health.” Those recommendations would be due by December 15, 2016.
House and Senate lawmakers previously approved a study commission in 2014. That commission’s report summarized various alternative regulatory schemes but made no recommendations with regard to if and how lawmakers should ultimately amend state law.
The amended measure now awaits a concurrence vote by the Senate.
As we continue the march towards ending marijuana prohibition and legalizing the responsible use of marijuana, there remains a moral imperative that we must confront head-on: we must not forget those whose lives have been destroyed by prohibition — the POWs of the war on marijuana.
I’m specifically talking about the thousands of state and federal prisoners who were convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses – frequently involving large-scale cultivation or smuggling efforts – and who were sentenced to long prison sentences, frequently longer sentences than those given to violent criminals, and the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are no longer incarcerated, but who bear the unfair burden of a criminal record for conduct that is now becoming legal in more and more states.
A Fresh Look at Smugglers, Dealers and Large Scale Cultivators
For decades, the anti-marijuana propaganda machine in this country demonized those who smuggled, grew or sold marijuana. They were not seen just as citizens willing to ignore the dominant social norms and attendant legal risks of providing a product that millions of Americans wanted, and were willing to pay a premium price to obtain. Rather they were portrayed as evil individuals whose purpose in life was to corrupt and addict our youth and undermine our nation’s strength.
After all, if marijuana caused otherwise ordinary citizens to become depraved animals, leading to unthinkable acts of brutality, and eventually ending with insanity, as was the official party line, then of course those who allowed this threat to continue, and who enabled it by their actions, were perceived as worse than those who committed acts of violence. And routinely they were given harsher sentences than those who were committing violent crimes.
Today, as the country has become more familiar with and accepting of marijuana smoking, those earlier assumptions about the dangers of marijuana seem absurd and fanciful, and it is difficult to imagine they were ever accepted as fact. But they were, and the result was more than 30 million marijuana arrests.
The Perspective of Those of Us Who Smoke
First, let me make the obvious point that if no one would have had the courage to risk arrest and jail for smuggling, growing or selling marijuana, we smokers would have had no marijuana to smoke for all these years.
But even more importantly, without a thriving underground marijuana market in America, there would have been no serious marijuana legalization movement, and we would not have four states and the District of Columbia with legal marijuana, and more to come in November.
Ending prohibition might never have occurred if this were simply a theoretical argument about the wisdom of criminalizing marijuana. It is occurring because there are tens of millions of Americans who very much enjoy their marijuana, regardless of its legal status, and who were passionate about the need to bring it above ground and end prohibition.
Without a reasonably steady supply of black-market marijuana, this topic would be of interest to political science and sociology professors, but it would not be an enormous social movement with the political power to change laws and policy for the better.
So instead of demonizing these brave adventurers who were willing to provide us with marijuana, despite the enormous personal risk, we should be recognizing their role in getting us to where we are today, and taking whatever steps we can to minimize the harm so many of them have suffered. That means those who remain in jail or prison should be released, if what they were convicted of is now being legalized; and those who remain unable to vote or are otherwise limited professionally because of a marijuana conviction should have their records expunged.
I know that some are even calling for those who have been victimized by prohibition to be paid reparations for the damages they suffered, just as people who are proven innocent after years of imprisonment are frequently reimbursed for their suffering. While I see the innate justice in that suggestion, I recognize that is simply not a politically realistic option, at least for now.
But we should, and must, do what we can to restore to health those many lives we have unfairly damaged and destroyed, and we need to begin the public debate now. Once one acknowledges that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or tobacco, and a large majority of Americans now understand this basic fact, then there is simply no rational basis to leave non-violent marijuana offenders in jail or prison, or to limit their ability to succeed and enjoy a full and rewarding life, because of a past non-violent marijuana conviction on their record. A failure to help those previously convicted under prohibition would leave a moral stain on the legalization movement.
The Gentlemen Smugglers
I was reminded of this aspect of ending marijuana prohibition by a visit recently with Barry Foy, an old marijuana smuggler who was featured in the Wall Street Journal best-selling book by Jason Ryan titled Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs. This is a real-life adventure by a group of fun-loving southern gentlemen based in South Carolina who successfully smuggled tons of marijuana into the US during the Ronald Reagan years, before eventually being caught and serving substantial prison sentences. These were middle-class adventurers who eschewed violence but thoroughly enjoyed the excitement, glamor, and pleasures available to those willing to live on the edge — the lifestyle celebrated in many Jimmy Buffett ballads.
These smugglers eventually married and had families, and when they were not smuggling marijuana, were indistinguishable from their more-ordinary friends and neighbors. Following a 13-year run, they were eventually taken down, not on smuggling charges, but like Al Capone, on tax-evasion charges, with Barry receiving an 18-year sentence (he served 11) and his partner receiving a 25-year sentence (he served 17 years). Yet today, both former smugglers say they have no regrets and remain unrepentant.
I am fully aware that we have much work to accomplish before marijuana smokers are treated in a totally fair manner. I have written frequently about the need to fix the laws that currently permit smokers to lose their jobs for testing positive for THC, without any showing of impairment on the job; the morally offensive policy of assuming parents who smoke marijuana are unfit parents, who must fight to retain custody of their minor children; and the factually unfair policy of treating those with THC in their system as presumed guilty of a DUID offense, without any showing they were driving in an impaired condition. Each of these areas must be revisited to protect the rights of responsible marijuana smokers.
But even as we move more and more states into the legalization column, we must not forget the need to reach back and minimize the harm we have caused to tens of thousands of our fellow citizens by labeling them as criminals for smuggling, growing or selling marijuana to those of us who wanted it. Like marijuana smokers, they too are largely ordinary folks, perhaps with a flair for living an adventurous life, with families and friends who very much care about them, and they should never have been treated with such contempt simply for ignoring the dictates of a failed policy called marijuana prohibition.
This column originally ran in Marijuana.com
A legalization initiative has officially qualified the ballot this November and separate legislative measures around the country continue to advance. Keep reading below to learn the latest legislative developments.
Alabama: Members of both chambers approved legislation this week, House Bill 61, to protect qualified patients eligible for CBD therapy under a physician’s authorization from criminal prosecution. The measure, known as ‘Leni’s Law’, seeks to allow qualified patients to possess CBD preparations containing up to three percent THC. The measure passed in the Senate by a vote of 29 to 3 and in the House in a 95 to 4 vote. The measure now awaits action from Gov. Robert Bentley. #TakeAction
California: A prominent GOP Congressman has endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which seeks to regulate the adult use, production, and retail sale of cannabis. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) announced, “As a Republican who believes in individual freedom, limited government and states’ rights, I believe that it’s time for California to lead the nation and create a safe, legal system for the responsible adult use of marijuana.” He added: “I endorse the Adult Use of Marijuana Act for the November 2016 ballot. It is a necessary reform which will end the failed system of marijuana prohibition in our state, provide California law enforcement the resources it needs to redouble its focus on serious crimes while providing a policy blueprint for other states to follow.” You can learn more about the initiative here.
Florida: Another Florida municipality has given preliminary approval to a proposed ordinance permitting police to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders. Members of St. Petersburg’s Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee voted in favor of the policy that would create a system of fines that would begin at $75 for those caught holding 20 grams or less of cannabis. Two versions of the plan, one that one that would mandate police issue a citation and another that gives the officer the option to do so, will head to the full city council for a final vote in early May. Under state law, possessing any amount of marijuana is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine.
Maine: Maine voters will decide on election day on a statewide ballot measure seeking to regulate the adult use, retail sale, and commercial production of cannabis. The Secretary of State determined this week that initiative proponents, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, gathered a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The office had previously attempted to invalidate a significant portion of proponents’ signatures, but that effort was rejected by the courts earlier this month.
If enacted by voters in November, the measure would allow adults to legally possess up to two and one-half ounces of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana (up to six mature plants and the entire yields of said plants) for their own personal use.
North Carolina: House legislation was introduced this week to permit the limited use of medical marijuana. House Bill 983 exempts patients engaging in the physicians-recommended use of cannabis to treat a chronic or terminal illness from criminal prosecution under state law. Qualifying patients must possess a tax stamp issued by the state department of Revenue, and may possess no more than three ounces of cannabis at any one time. The proposal does not permit patients to cultivate their own cannabis, nor does it establish a state-licensed supply source. #TakeAction
Don’t forget, NORML’s 2016 National Conference and Lobby Day is being held May 23rd and 24th! We’ll hold an informational seminar where activists from around the country hear from the leaders of the movement, we’ll keep the party going at the Mansion on O St. with our annual award ceremony and finally, we’ll conclude on the Hill where attendees w
ill hear from and meet leaders in Congress who are doing their best to reform our federal marijuana laws! You can register here.
News out of Anchorage and Denver this week was good for marijuana smokers, as both the city of Denver and the state of Alaska moved closer to the legalization of marijuana social clubs. Smokers could thus socialize in a venue with other adults where marijuana smoking would be legal.
Until now, in the states that have legalized recreational use (and in the District of Columbia), marijuana smokers are only permitted to exercise their newly won freedom in their home or as a guest in someone else’s home. Holland-style coffee shops or marijuana lounges were not legalized by those early voter initiatives.
That is about to change.
Denver NORML and The Committee for the Responsible Use Initiative in Denver have announced the final language for their municipal initiative. They expect to be cleared this week by the city to begin circulating petitions seeking the signature of registered voters, putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in November.
The proposal would license and regulate private marijuana social clubs and special events where adult marijuana smoking would be legal. The state legislature had earlier indicated some interest in amending state law to permit marijuana social clubs, but when that stalled, Denver NORML began to move forward with their municipal voter initiative. Clubs could not sell or distribute marijuana, and bars, nightclubs and restaurants could not become private marijuana clubs or host special events.
The most current polling suggests the proposal is favored by a clear majority (56%) of voters in Denver.
Denver NORML executive director Jordon Person offered this appraisal of the proposed initiative. “Passage of this ordinance would be a historic first step in moving towards the ultimate goal of normalizing the consumption of marijuana in our country. The initiative would provide responsible adults a legally defined space where marijuana could be consumed and shared with other like-minded adults — a simple, yet necessary accommodation for states that have passed some form of legalization. This is a pragmatic approach that focuses on the basics and provides the city of Denver a solution to an issue that is not going away.”
Proponents have until August 15 to collect 5,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
In Alaska, the decision to license some version of marijuana lounges was made by the Alaska Marijuana Control Board last November, and this week the board issued draft regulations to define when and where “on-site consumption” would be permitted.
The proposed regulations are now open for public comment before the board finalizes them.
While the outline is still tentative, marijuana cafes would be permitted only in conjunction with an existing marijuana retail store, on the same premises, either indoor or outdoor, but with a separate entrance and separate serving area. A separate license would be required for on-site consumption.
Customers could purchase small amounts of marijuana ( 1 gram of marijuana, edibles with up to 10 milligrams of THC, or .25 grams of marijuana concentrates) to consume on-site and would not be permitted to bring their own marijuana to smoke on-site. Strangely, they would be required to leave any unfinished marijuana behind to be destroyed, and “happy hours” would not be permitted. Marijuana lounges would be permitted to sell food and non-alcohol beverages.
Marijuana Control Board chair Bruce Schulte explained the board was proceeding with a degree of caution, because this is new territory for state legalization regulatory agencies. One of the more difficult issues the board had to deal with, according to board member Brandon Emmett, was whether to permit dabbing.
Laboratories of Democracy
As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Denver and Alaska are exercising that important role as we move forward with better and better versions of legalization. What we learn from these initial experiments with marijuana social clubs will inform subsequent states in the coming years.
This column first ran on Marijuana.com.