Police in Florida’s largest county will soon have the option to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders.
Commissioners for Miami-Dade county voted 10 to 3 this week in favor of a countywide ordinance to treat marijuana possession offenses involving 20 grams or less as a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine — no arrest, no criminal prosecution, no incarceration, and no criminal record. The new ordinance takes effect late next week.
Under state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to an analysis by the ACLU, an estimated 60,000 Floridians are arrested for cannabis possession violations annually — the third highest statewide total in the nation.
According to a countywide analysis by CBS, misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade criminal court system between the years 2010 and 2014. While African Americans comprise just 20 percent of the county’s population, they comprised over half of all of those arrested for marijuana possession offenses.
Senior county officials have not yet provided details in regard to how police will implement the new law or what criteria they will use to determine whether to issue a citation or make an arrest.
Legislation takes effect at midnight tonight permitting adults to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use.
Fifty-six percent of state voters approved Measure 91 in November, which allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). The law also permits adults to possess up to a pound of cannabis-infused edibles, 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquids, and/or one ounce of marijuana concentrates.
Separate regulations allowing for the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis have yet to be finalized by lawmakers. Legislation is under consideration to permit adults to temporarily purchase cannabis from state-licensed medical dispensaries as soon as the fall.
State-licensed retailers are not anticipated to be operational until mid-to-late 2016.
Oregon is the fourth state – joining Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – to permit adults to legally possess limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. The District of Columbia also allows adults to possess and grow marijuana legally.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation late yesterday significantly reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses.
House Bill 149, which took effect upon signing, amends the state’s toughest-in-the-nation repeat offender laws for marijuana possession offenses.
Under the previous law, second-time possession offenders faced up to five years of hard labor in prison. Third-time offenders faced up to 20 years hard labor in prison.
Under the revised law, two-time marijuana possession offenders face a maximum sentence of six-months in prison. Three-time offenders face a maximum sentence of two-years in prison. Those convicted of marijuana possession for a fourth time face up to eight years in prison.
First-time offenders found in the possession of 14 grams of cannabis or less now face a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail (reduced from six-months). House Bill 149 allows offenders to apply to have their record expunged if they aren’t convicted of a marijuana violation within two years of the first offense.
According to an analysis by the ACLU, Louisiana ranks #14 in the nation in per-capita marijuana possession arrests.
Gov. Jindal also signed separate legislation, SB 143, amending the state’s dormant Therapeutic Research Act. Specifically, the measure asks the state to adopt rules and regulations “relating to the dispensing of prescribed marijuana for therapeutic use” for patients with glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, or who are undergoing cancer chemotherapy. However, because this language directly conflicts with federal regulations prohibiting doctors from ‘prescribing’ schedule I controlled substances, it remains to be seen whether any licensed Louisiana physicians will agree to participate in the state’s proposed program.
Without doubt, it is important that we begin to move forward with the legalization of lounges and social clubs that permit marijuana smokers to gather and enjoy their favorite strains. Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and most smokers would like the option of dropping by a local marijuana-friendly venue, to relax with friends and like-minded colleagues.
Currently, none of the four states that have fully legalized marijuana allow for this option. Smoking in a public venue is prohibited, and the authorities have taken a needlessly restrictive view of what is a public place, refusing, for example, to permit someone to lease a private venue and operate a private, members-only club where marijuana could be enjoyed. There is no public-policy or public-health basis for being so restrictive
As we move forward, it is important that we not permit ourselves to get shoe-horned into some system that suggests we are second-class citizens, simply because we enjoy smoking marijuana, and that would effectively keep us in the closet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and there is no reason why we should not be permitted to enjoy marijuana in a lounge or social club with friends.
Smokers’ clubs have in fact surfaced in all of the legalization states, where those in the know can meet and share good weed, but they are forced to operate on the fringes, as part of a “gray market,” and several have already been closed by the authorities. I had the opportunity to visit a “smoke-easy” in Denver when I was in town for the 4/20 Cannabis Cup, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but was saddened to learn the club had been raided and closed the following day. Gray market clubs are clearly not the long-term answer to this problem.
In Seattle, City Attorney Pete Holmes, a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana, has recently given a boost to this issue by releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges. “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana,” Holmes said, “but others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options. You can enforce the law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand.” No action has yet resulted in Seattle to permit marijuana lounges, but the topic is now front and center for consideration by elected officials.
So I was pleased to learn a few days ago that an effort is underway to qualify an initiative for the Denver ballot this November to remove some of those barriers, and to legalize marijuana-friendly clubs and lounges. The proposal would permit existing alcohol bars and clubs to permit those 21 and older to consume marijuana in designated areas; vaporizing and edibles if indoors, and smoking if outdoors and out of public view.
Let’s Keep Our Distance from Alcohol
My concern with this specific proposal to legalize marijuana lounges is that it would allow marijuana smoking in venues that are also licensed to sell alcohol. I would urge a model that allows for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges, but keep those separate from existing alcohol bars and clubs. I am not making a moral judgement; I personally enjoy both drugs, and when I am home in the evenings, I frequently pour myself a glass of wine and roll a joint. But I am at home in a safe environment, and not putting anyone at any risk.
The two drugs, when used together, are synergistic, and the effect of combining the two causes far greater short-term impairment than either drug by itself, raising legitimate questions of public safety if alcohol bars and clubs were also marijuana-friendly. It would require the bar tender to be far more careful about “cutting-off” anyone who appeared to be getting drunk, and their track-record in that regard is not reassuring.
In addition, alcohol is a drug that causes many drinkers, at some point, to become aggressive and confrontational, resulting in bar fights and other unruly and repulsive behavior on a regular basis. Marijuana, on the other hand, causes most users to feel relaxed and peaceful, and certainly not confrontational. That distinction is one that is both relevant and helpful politically, and we should strive culturally to maintain that advantage. Were we to establish a system in which both drugs were sold in the same venues, we would likely end-up being judged (by the 84 percent of the public who do not currently smoke marijuana) by the worst behavior caused by alcohol, including it’s impact on safe driving skills, and that is a needless political burden to carry.
Interestingly, Colorado state Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), a strong supporter of legalized marijuana, has previously floated ideas involving cannabis-only clubs, such as those that operate in Amsterdam, but those would be alcohol-free venues, avoiding the public safety and political issues discussed above. The latest proposal being advanced for Denver fails to maintain that distinction.
I recognize that even if marijuana lounges were free of alcohol, there is nothing that would keep an individual from stopping at an alcohol bar, for example, for an hour, before then leaving for a marijuana lounge. No system can avoid all risks, and in the end we must rely on the common sense of most marijuana smokers to avoid dangerous and abusive practices. But we need not establish a system that creates those opportunities and invites those problems.
A recent poll released by a Washington, DC group called the Third Way found that roughly one-third of the public remain opposed to marijuana legalization; one third remain strongly in favor of legalization; and the remaining third – dubbed “the marijuana middle” – now oppose prohibition, and support full legalization, but they are not pro-pot. Rather they recognize that prohibition has caused more problems than the drug it attempts to prohibit. And important for this discussion, only 36 percent of the survey respondents viewed recreational marijuana smokers favorably; 54 percent have an unfavorable impression of those of us who smoke recreationally.
That underscores the fragile nature of the coalition that has made it possible for us to move legalization forward in this country, and the need to move cautiously as we ask for additional rights under these new laws. We must be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of non-smokers, in order to maintain our majority for full legalization, and I fear this latest proposal coming out of Denver puts a big political bulls-eye right on our backs.
I would urge those proposing this change to consider amending their initial proposal to allow for marijuana-only lounges and clubs in Denver, but take a lead from Amsterdam and do not permit marijuana to be smoked in alcohol clubs, or alcohol to be consumed in marijuana clubs. That would provide us smokers with what we need — the opportunity to socialize with other smokers — without the additional risks, both political and real, of mixing the two drugs.
Members of the US Senate at a hearing yesterday expressed skepticism in regard to federal policies limiting the ability of investigators to engage in clinical studies of marijuana’s health benefits.
Senators heard from representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), University of Mississippi Medical Center, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Project SAM on a variety of issues
The hearing’s most noteworthy moment came when Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, acknowledged that the monopoly on marijuana cultivation for research purposes ought to be amended. Currently, NIDA contracts strictly with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies. This has led to a cannabis supply that is often delayed significantly and lacking in quality.
Dr. Volkow was supported in her acknowledgement by Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research with the FDA who answered, “Yes, I think there are advantages to a broad supply of varied marijuana.”
When questioned on whether or not other drugs in the Schedule 1 classification experience this same monopoly, Dr. Volkow said no and there was no scientific reason to treat them differently.
This acknowledgement by Dr. Volkow falls in line with a previous ruling by a DEA administrative law judge in 2007 which was later set aside by former DEA Director, Michele Leonhart.
Other topics discussed at the hearing included expanded access programs which have currently authorized treatment for 400 patients in the U.S. using Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a formulated product containing cannabidiol (CBD) that possesses orphan drug status from the FDA to treat pediatric epilepsy.
While it is clear that Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Booker (D-NJ) are making strides to reform federal medical marijuana law, it remains to be seen if Senator Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) will also take action.