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NORML Blog

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 23, 2014

    The Arizona Supreme Court this week rejected a 1990 state law that classified the presence of inert THC metabolites in blood or urine as a per se traffic safety violation.

    Carboxy-THC, the primary metabolite (breakdown product) of THC is not psychoactive. Because it is lipid soluble, the metabolite may remain detectable in blood or urine for periods of time that extend well beyond any suspected period of impairment. As a result, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges, “It is … currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.”

    Nonetheless, under Arizona law, the mere presence of carboxy THC — absent any evidence of behavioral impairment — was considered to be a criminal violation of the state’s traffic safety laws. (Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah impose similar statutes.) On Wednesday, the Court struck down the provision.

    Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Brutinel opined: “The State’s interpretation that ‘its metabolite’ includes any byproduct of a drug listed in § 13-3401 found in a driver’s system leads to absurd results. … Most notably, this interpretation would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect. For example, at oral argument the State acknowledged that, under its reading of the statute, if a metabolite could be detected five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted.”

    He added: “Additionally, this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct. In 2010, Arizona voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”), legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite the legality of such use, and because § 28-1381(A)(3) does not require the State to prove that the marijuana was illegally ingested, prosecutors can charge legal users under the (A)(3) provision. Because carboxy-THC can remain in the body for as many as twenty-eight to thirty days after ingestion, the State’s position suggests that a medical-marijuana user could face prosecution for driving any time nearly a month after they had legally ingested marijuana.”

    The Court concluded: “Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in § 28-1381(A)(3) is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment. Accordingly, … drivers cannot be convicted of the (A)(3) offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”

    The Court did not address provisions in the state’s per se DUI law outlawing the operation of a motor vehicle with any presence of THC in one’s blood even though, according to NHTSA, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 22, 2014

    The enactment of state laws legalizing the physician-recommended use of cannabis therapy is not associated with increased levels of marijuana use by young people, according to data published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University assessed the impact of medical cannabis laws by examining trends in reported drug use by high-schoolers in a cohort of states before and after legalization. Researchers compared these trends to geographically matched states that had not adopted medical marijuana laws.

    Authors reported overall “no statistically significant differences in marijuana use before and after policy change for any state pairing,” and acknowledged that some states that had adopted medical cannabis laws experienced a decrease in adolescent’s self-reported use of the plant. “In the regression analysis, we did not find an overall increased probability of marijuana use related to the policy change,” they stated.

    Investigators concluded, “This study did not find increases in adolescent marijuana use related to legalization of medical marijuana. … This suggests that concerns about ‘sending the wrong message’ may have been overblown. … Our study … may provide some reassurance to policy makers who wish to balance compassion for individuals who have been unable to find relief from conventional medical therapies with the safety and well-being of youth.”

    A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health similarly concluded that the passage of medical marijuana laws in various states has had no “statistically significant … effect on the prevalence of either lifetime or 30-day marijuana use” by adolescents residing in those states.

    A 2012 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal reported: “[P]assing MMLs (medical marijuana laws) decreased past-month use among adolescents … and had no discernible effect on the perceived riskiness of monthly use. … [These] estimates suggest that reported adolescent marijuana use may actually decrease following the passing of medical marijuana laws.”

    Read the abstract of this latest study, “The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Legislation on Adolescent Marijuana Use,” online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    Alaska voters will decide this November on a proposed initiative to regulate the production and retail sale of cannabis to adults.

    Although the measure was initially scheduled to go before voters during the state’s primary election in August, state officials this week decided to push back the vote to the November general election. The postponement was required because lawmakers failed to adjourn this year’s legislative session within 90 days, the standard time allotted under state rules. Under Alaska law, ballot initiatives must go to voters no less than 120 days after the end of that year’s legislative session.

    If enacted by voters this November, the ballot measure would legalize the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis as well as the cultivation of up to six-plants (three flowering) for personal consumption. It would also allow for the establishment of licensed, commercial cannabis production and retail sales of marijuana and marijuana-infused products to those over the age of 21. Commercial production and retail sales of cannabis would be subject to taxation, but no taxes would be imposed upon those who choose to engage in non-commercial activities (e.g., growing small quantities of marijuana for personal use and/or engaging in not-for-profit transfers of limited quantities of cannabis.) Public consumption of cannabis would be subject to a civil fine.

    The measure neither amends the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 1998, nor does it diminish any privacy rights established by the state’s Supreme Court in its 1975 ruling Ravin v State.

    Under present state law, the possession of marijuana not in one’s residence is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 90-days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

    According to the results of a statewide Public Policy Polling survey, released in February, 55 percent of registered voters “think (that) marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol.” Only 39 percent of respondents oppose the idea. The survey possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.

    If enacted, Alaska will be the third US state to regulate the legal retail production and sale of cannabis to adults.

    Also this November, voters in Florida will decide on a constitutional amendment to allow for the physician-approved use and retail distribution of cannabis for medical purposes.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 21, 2014

    African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession offenses in Minnesota at a rate that is more than six-times higher than that of Caucasians, according to an analysis of 2011 FBI arrest data released today by the nonpartisan think-tank Minnesota 2020 and commissioned in part by Minnesota NORML.

    Although African Americans comprise less than six percent of the state’s population, they represented over 27 percent of those persons arrested for violating marijuana possession laws in 2011. By comparison, whites comprise some 87 percent of the state’s population and constituted 69 percent of those arrested for violating marijuana possession laws. “Thus, the black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 687 and the white arrest rate was 107, making blacks 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites,” the study found.

    In 2010, blacks in Minnesota were arrested for cannabis possession at 7.8 times the rate of whites. Both African Americans and Caucasians consume cannabis at approximately similar rates.

    The racial disparity in Minnesota in marijuana possession arrests is significantly higher than the national average. According to a 2013 analysis of marijuana possession arrests by race in 945 counties nationwide, blacks are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

    “[This] kind of over-representation cannot be accounted for without racial bias,” Minnesota 2020 Executive Director Steve Fletcher said today at a press conference. “It means black Minnesotans are bearing a disproportionate share of the personal and collateral costs of our war on drugs.”

    A variety of factors contribute to the disparity in arrest rates, the study found. These include “over-policing in communities of color, cultural differences in where or how marijuana is used and purchased, and [the prevalence] of grants and seizure policies that incentivize volume over quality in drug arrests,” the think-tank acknowledged in a press release.

    The report estimated that the collateral costs of a low-level marijuana arrest may total as much as $76,000 over the course of a decade, including attorney fees, fines, costs associated with attending mandatory drug treatment, lost income and job prospects, and barriers to public assistance and federal aid.

    “In light of these human and financial costs, Minnesota lawmakers and law enforcement officials have a responsibility to consider whether marijuana possession laws in their current conception are actually contributing to public safety, or if they are instead producing undue hardship for individuals and growing inequities within society,” the study concludes.

    Full text of the study, entitled “Collateral Costs: Racial Disparities and Injustice in Minnesota’s Marijuana Laws,” is available online here.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director April 19, 2014

    Dear NORML members and supporters,

    420 NORML MembershipWe all find ourselves this weekend at the precipice of the year’s most propitious date on the calendar for cannabis consumers and freedom lovers: April 20th.

    As always, there will be large public gatherings all around America (and other countries too) to celebrate the responsible adult use of cannabis. The day is a cultural phenomenon, with both substantial media output (some entire cable networks broadcast cannabis-centric programming and entertainment–like Comedy Central) and coverage of public celebrations (cities like Denver expect downtown public pot celebrations drawing 80,000 or more Saturday and Sunday).

    The patchwork of cannabis law enforcement in this country is so disparate that in some locations the gatherings will celebrate their appreciation of the herb, but under harsh threat of arrest and criminal sanctions. Contrastingly, in other parts of the country, where I write this letter from, the city of Denver–where I’ve paid an effective 35% tax rate on the retail purchase of a small amount of a strain called ‘Tangie’, and where over 40,000 attendees are expected for High Times’ Cannabis Cup Awards–the events here are decidedly in celebration of the only place currently on earth where an adult can purchase and legally consume cannabis in a similar manner to that of alcohol products.

    By July of this year, the citizens and visitors to Washington State will enjoy the same freedoms and responsibilities when their cannabis retail market officially commences.

    Two down, forty-eight more states and territories to go…

    420 NORML MembershipDozens of NORML’s 150 state and local chapters will be very busy this weekend working to end cannabis prohibition in their region of the country. Check out your local NORML chapter event here.

    For over a dozen years NORML has had unique 4/20 fundraisers, promoting an annual membership* for as low as $4.20, and this year is no different. Hats off to legalization–upgrade your membership for $42 and get a limited edition hemp hat* from Grassroots California.

    With Alaska and Oregon voters likely propelling their states to join Colorado and Washington this election season via binding voter initiatives, we will all have even more to rejoice (and consumer choices for safe, affordable, legal and taxed cannabis) next April 20th.

    Thank you for supporting NORML’s long standing public advocacy efforts to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with a far more rational and responsible public policy that has sustained the organization to this day–when I’m reporting to you the first legal and taxed cannabis purchase in my lifetime.

    Cannabem Liberemus,

    Allen St. Pierre
    Executive Director
    NORML

    * NORML 420 membership offer is valid until 4/20/14 at 11:59pm EST. (Limited quantity of hemp hats)

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