America’s oldest and largest marijuana law reform group turns 45 years old this month, and there is much to be grateful for in the way of substantive, sustained and forward-looking marijuana law reforms in America.
NORML is over-the-moon grateful to a loyal base of cannabis consumers, patients, ganjapreneurs and civil liberty-minded citizens to see the organization through to this day, when, 4 states have legalized marijuana (the nation’s capital, District of Columbia, has de-penalized possession and personal cultivation), 15 states (and dozens of cities) have decriminalized possession, 36 states and District of Columbia have medical access for cannabis-related products and a few states (example: Kentucky) are for the first time since World War II legally cultivating industrial hemp.
Much more marijuana legalization is on the near horizon in 2016 in over a half dozen states!
To both celebrate these long-sought socio-political changes in law and to keep NORML’s reform efforts rolling along into the new year, please consider making a donation of $50 or more to the organization, in return, we’ll send you a cool vape pen that have very kindly been provided to NORML by VapeWorld.
These vape pens are only going to be available through an online donation to NORML for one week–so please don’t procrastinate or space as these are unique donor premiums.
Again, many thanks to supportive companies like VapeWorld and NORML’s broad and colorful array of individual supporters for empowering the organization for over five decades to help end cannabis prohibition once and for all in America (and around the world).
While Thanksgiving is cutting the work week short for many, there is no shortage of legislative news in marijuana law reform. Keep reading below to find out what new developments have taken place in the past week related to marijuana!
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was in the spotlight this past week for a couple reasons.
First, organizers of a Change.org petition calling for President Obama to fire the agency’s acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg personally delivered over 100,000 printed signatures to DEA headquarters last Friday. The petition is still garnering support so make sure to sign it if you haven’t already!
Second, a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) wrote a letter to House leadership this week urging them to include language in the final spending package for FY 2016, that would remove a significant portion of funding from the DEA that is currently being used to eradicate marijuana plants across the country and instead direct it to more worthy causes. The language is from an amendment that Lieu sponsored and was passed by the House in June.
The letter reads, “The Cannabis Eradication Program’s sole mission is to eradicate marijuana plants and arrest growers. However, historical data indicates that the vast majority of plants seized under this program are wild plants descendant from industrial hemp. They are not intentionally grown, and they are not suitable for recreational or medical use. Therefore, the seizure of these plants has served neither an economic nor public-safety nor a health related purpose. Its sole impact has been to expend limited federal resources that are better spent elsewhere.”
Other members that signed the letter are Reps. Jared Polis (CO), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Steve Cohen (TN), Eric Swalwell (CA), Mark Pocan (WI), Mike Honda (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Beto O’Rourke (TX) and Sam Farr (CA).
Alaska: Last Friday, Alaska became the first state to allow residents age 21 or older to consume cannabis in retail facilities that sell it . Members of the Marijuana Control Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of permitting limited public use of cannabis. This lack of public use facilities has proven to be an obstacle elsewhere, most notably among tourists who wish to indulge while on vacation in states that regulate the plant’s social use.
Florida: On Monday, following over a year of legal battles, state regulators finally approved five nurseries to cultivate high-CBD strains of marijuana. This decision marks the first real step forward in the implementation of a 2014 law to allow the use of CBD extracts by qualified patients with intractable epilepsy, muscle spasms and advanced forms of cancer. To qualify for the low-THC-based cannabis treatment, patients must obtain permission from a qualified doctor and be added to the state’s Compassionate Use Registry. The law establishes a number of steep requirements in order for nurseries to qualify for licensure. Applicants must have been in business for at least 30 years and possesses the ability to grow at least 400,000 plants. The selected applicants must post a $5 million performance bond before receiving a license from the state.
Washington: Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor held a hearing on Friday in regards to SB 6083, legislation to allow adults to legally cultivate personal use amounts of marijuana in private. “This bill is about consistency, congruency and especially, freedom” said Rep. Brian Blake, who is sponsoring the measure in the House. “Adults in our state can brew their own beer and make their own wine for personal consumption. Just like alcohol, marijuana can be used safely and responsibly, so it makes sense to allow adults to home grow their own if they want to.”
You can contact your lawmakers in Washington to urge their support for this legislation here.
Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, November 18, members of the House Rules Committee passed Senate Bill 3, to allow for the production and distribution of non-herbal marijuana products to qualified patients. The bill will now awaits a floor vote by House lawmakers.
While this measure is a step forward for Pennsylvania patients, SB 3, as presently written, contains several provisions opposed by NORML, specifically its restrictions on smoking and vaporization. House lawmakers are expected to amend the measure further when debating it on the floor.
Please ask your House members to consider changes that would further expand patients’ access and choices by clicking here.
Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!
Celebrating a day of thanksgiving has a long history in this country, dating back to the first year of George Washington’s first term as president, when he proclaimed Nov. 28, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
The tradition continued, although on different dates in different states, until President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, proclaimed the final Thursday in November as Thanksgiving nationwide. Of course the Confederate States refused to recognize Lincoln’s authority, and it was not until after the war ended, during reconstruction in the mid-1870s, that all states participated in the national Thanksgiving celebration.
The date for Thanksgiving was then changed from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November by a Joint Resolution of Congress signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Dec. 26, 1941, during the early days of our involvement in World War II.
And we will continue that tradition this Thursday, when most of us pause for a day to consider and give thanks for the people who enrich our lives, and the freedoms we enjoy in our everyday lives. We have much for which to be thankful, regardless of our individual stories. As a member of the American family, we have been privileged in many ways by birth.
The Threat of Terrorism in the Background
It would be foolish not to acknowledge the uncertainties and fears caused by the threat of terrorism in our world today.
None of us will ever be quite the same once our sense of innocence and well-being has been dashed by the reality of a terrorist act, such as we all witnessed in horror on September 11, 2001. When we see the frightening and horrendous death and destruction caused over the last few days by a few evil terrorists in Paris, or in Mali, we can but wonder how long it will be before we experience another 9/11 in our own country.
The innocence of the victims in these attacks appears to be the purpose — to shock and terrorize — and the irrationality and unpredictability of when and where these attacks occur only serves to make all of us fearful.
And that, of course, is the purpose of these heinous acts. And it is why we must not allow the despicable, uncivilized acts of a few extremists to distract us from our regular lives, filled with family and friends and meaning and purpose. Yes, life involves some risks, and lots of uncertainties, but as the Parisians have demonstrated, living life to the fullest, and getting back to one’s regular life, is the best revenge.
Which finally brings me to the topic I am supposed to be writing about – legalizing marijuana. The marijuana legalization movement, at least from my perspective, is only incidentally about marijuana. It is really about personal freedom.
The freedom to decide for oneself whether to smoke marijuana, free from governmental interference. The government has no business coming into my home to find out what books I read; what music I listen to; how I conduct myself in the privacy of the bedroom; or whether or not I smoke marijuana or drink alcohol when I relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.
The freedom to be free from government searches, absent the issuance of a search warrant, based on probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, is a most important freedom that we win back for the individual, once marijuana is legalized. The sight or smell of marijuana no longer gives the police the ability to ignore our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. When marijuana is no longer a crime, neither is it the basis to obtain a search warrant.
So this Thanksgiving, I will be giving thanks that as a country we are moving away from the war on marijuana smokers, and moving ever so cautiously towards the legalization and regulation of the responsible use of marijuana by adults. And in doing that, we are returning a measure of personal freedom, once lost, to the tens of millions of marijuana smokers in America.
Cannabinoids are safe and effective for the treatment of chronic pain, according to the results of a systematic review of randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
Investigators from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and McGill University in Montreal evaluated the results of 11 placebo-controlled trials conducted between the years 2010 and 2014. Trials assessed the use of various types of cannabinoid preparations, including herbal cannabis, liquid and oral cannabis extracts, and nabilone (a synthetic analog of THC), in pain treatment.
Cannabinoids possessed “significant analgesic effects” and were “well tolerated” in the majority of studies reviewed.
Authors concluded, “The current systematic review provides further support that cannabinoids are safe, demonstrate a modest analgesic effect and provide a reasonable treatment option for treatment chronic non-cancer pain.”
A 2011 review of 18 separate randomized trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids for pain management similarly reported, “[C]annabinoids are a modestly effective and safe treatment option for chronic non-cancer (predominantly neuropathic) pain.”
In September, Canadian researchers reported that pain patients who consumed herbal cannabis daily for one-year experienced decreased analgesia and no increase in serious adverse side effects compared to matched controls.
An abstract of the study, “Cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain: An updated systematic review of randomized controlled trials,” appears online here.
The flight out of Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., to catch my connecting flight to Jamaica, looked like most flights when I am leaving D.C.: A lot of suits and ties and business people on board heading to or returning from a business meeting or a meeting with their members of Congress, or their office in the nation’s capital.
But the flight from Charlotte to Jamaica left no doubt that this was no longer a business trip for most on the plane. They were dressed casually, and some were obviously dressed for the beach. Something about Jamaica that suggests relaxing on the beach with a nice rum drink and some good ganga — the term generally used for marijuana in Jamaica.
I realized I might well be one of the only people on my flight who were actually going to Jamaica on a business trip – albeit heading to the first High Times Jamaica Cannabis Cup in Negril. I know; it’s tough work, but someone has to do it!
Jamaica – Yeah, Mon!
The flights from DC to Montego Bay, the closest airport to Negril, take about five hours, and once one is on the island and through customs, it is then another 90-minute drive to Negril. That travel time allows one to slow down a bit, to begin the necessary emotional process of getting in sync with the Jamaican pace of life, and to begin to enjoy the island culture.
In Jamaica, one really has no choice but to leave the hard-charging lifestyle aside. The Caribbean island nation operates on its own take-life-easy pace – it is called “Jamaica time” — which is one of the appealing aspects for those coming to Jamaica on vacation, along with the endless sandy beaches and beautiful blue Caribbean water.
The first thing one notices is that Jamaicans drive on the “wrong” side of the road, an unsettling practice for us Americans, a reminder that Jamaica was a long-time British colony, before finally gaining their independence in 1962. That also explains their decidedly British accent, which sometimes is difficult for Americans to understand.
The Jamaican High Times Cannabis Cup
High Times, as many readers will know, has been holding an annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam for 28 years, on Thanksgiving weekend. And with the advance of legalization in the U.S., they now hold a number of domestic Cannabis Cup events each year. But this event in Negril is their only other event held outside the U.S. And because of the long relationship between ganga and Jamaica, the decision to schedule a Cup in Jamaica seemed only appropriate.
In late February of this year, the Jamaican Parliament enacted new laws governing ganja, which took effect on July 15, removing criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, substituting a $5 civil fine with no arrest or criminal record. In addition, households are now permitted to cultivate up to five marijuana plants. The legislation also authorized officials to enact regulations licensing the cultivation and dispensing of medical and industrial cannabis, as well as recognizing the right of the Rastafarians to use ganja as a religious sacrament.
Already they have invited U.S. marijuana tourism by announcing that those from the U.S. who hold medical recommendations will also qualify to obtain up to 2 ounces of medical ganja while they are in Jamaica. Justice Minister Mark Golding described the reforms as “long overdue.”
But still planning the Jamaican Cup was not easy. Before the required government permits could be obtained, High Times was advised it would be necessary to win the approval and cooperation of the Rastafarians. Under the new Jamaican marijuana law, only the Rastafarians are legally permitted to hold public demonstrations using ganga, and that is because it is now their legally recognized religious sacrament.
The ancestors of present day Rastafarians arrived in Jamaica as African slaves destined to work in the Jamaican sugar cane fields during the early 1800s. Thought slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, by edict of the British Parliament (some three decades before it was ended by the Civil War in the U.S.), Rastafarians remained the underclass of Jamaica society.
As with other communities, there are several factions and different leaders who speak for and represent the four different tribes of Rastas in Jamaica. The task of building a coalition with the Rastas fell to the Associate Publisher Rick Cusick and Board Chair Michael Kennedy from High Times, and to Harvard Law Professor Ron Nesson, a man with a long relationship with Jamaica and the Rastafarians. And Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding was an active participant in that process, which might not have been possible otherwise.
The negotiations leading-up to the permit for the event were challenging for all the parties, with several deadlines missed and new deadlines set, but somehow in the end common sense prevailed and the event was approved by all the stakeholders.
The government saw this event as an appropriate way (at last) to show respect to the Rastafarians, a culture with a long history of discrimination, and the Rastafarians astutely saw this as an opportunity to showcase their religion, and their culture, in a more favorable light.
So this latest event – the High Times 2015 Jamaica Cannabis Cup – a four-day Cup, held at a public park on the beach in Negril, with lots of exhibitors and Jamaican live music and the annual awards ceremony judging the finest ganga in Jamaica on the final evening — was officially sponsored by the Rastafari Rootzfest. And the Rastafarian culture and religion were common themes throughout the four days, with drum circles and Rastafarian chants prominently featured in the opening ceremonies, and Rasta speakers featured daily at the seminar tent. And the Rastas maintained a food-court next door to the Cup, with traditional Rastafarian offerings.
The most significant thing I gleaned from this brief Jamaican visit was a far greater appreciation of the Rastarian culture and the importance they attach to the legalization of marijuana in Jamaica. It was clear that these Rastafarian leaders perceive the recent changes legalizing ganga in Jamaica as a significant step towards recognizing the legitimacy of their entire culture – not just their use of ganga – and to them this moment has the feeling of freedom and dignity, after a long period of disrespect and discrimination.
For most Americans, I suspect Rastas are seen as colorful people, with their bright orange, yellow and green clothing, and their distinctive dreadlocks, but aspects of the Rastafarian religion may seem strange; e.g., the worship of the late Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie as their savior. I am not here to try to convince anyone that they should worship Haile Selassie, or that they should become a practicing Rastafarian.
But I recognize now that those who truly hold this religion in their hearts and their lives deserve the same respect we show other religions; such as those who believe the Pope is infallible and is a direct descendant of St. Peter; or those who believe one must be baptized in the blood of Christ to have ever-lasting life. All religions require a giant leap of faith, but most of them also appear to play an important cohesive role in the disparate cultures. And the specific beliefs of the Rastafarians do not seem to me more difficult to abide, than do the beliefs of many of the more prominent religions.
As they see the full legalization of ganga looming in the near future in Jamaica, the Rastas want to assure that their culture will at last benefit financially from the legalization of their sacred herb, and that they will not be shoved aside and exploited by outside interests.
Legalizing marijuana in Jamaica is a change that has brought a measure of freedom, and promise of a brighter future, economically and culturally, to the Rastafarians. That is a milestone we can all celebrate.
The fight to legalize marijuana was never limited to the U.S., and while we continue to lead the way, legalization is alive and well and moving forward in many other countries, including Jamaica. It’s a lovely thing to see.