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Advocacy

  • by Tom McCain, Executive Director, Peachtree NORML May 25, 2018

    What’s A Straw Poll?

    For those that don’t know, a straw poll is an unofficial ballot conducted as a test of opinion.  On 5/22/2018 the question above appeared as the first local question on the Democratic ballot for Forsyth County, Georgia.  “Should Georgia amend the state Constitution to legalize the use of cannabis/marijuana for those 21 years old and older, allow a retail dispensary base, tax said products, and allocate revenue received equally to state education and transportation infrastructure?”

    The results are non-binding.  It was just a question to “test the opinion” of the voters.  Well, the voters spoke, and the results are pretty amazing, though not all that surprising.

    4996 (a whopping 77%) answered YES
    Only 1471 answered NO

    Did I mention that a whopping 77% answered YES?

    Marijuana On An Official Ballot in Georgia?

    How’d that happen?  I reached out to Melissa Clink, who currently chairs the Forsyth Democratic Party and asked that question.  She told me, “Our election board officials asked about a month ahead of elections if we wanted questions on our ballot. These questions take the temperature of voters and in my opinion alert elected officials how their constituents want them to vote on such matters.  I believed marijuana legalization was a high priority question in Georgia”.

    Clink said that there was some initial resistance from within the party, although support for medical usage was unequivocal.  As is the case with many citizens in Georgia, some believed Georgia had a viable medical marijuana program and were unaware of some of the hypocrisy in that program.  Clink explained that Georgia has a non-functioning medical use law that does not include in-state growth or access to medicine and that “we need to know how voters feel about outright legalization so that our elected officials can legislate according to the will of the people”.  The question was added to the ballot.

    Did I Mention That A Whopping 77% Answered YES?

    I bring that up because according to the latest Quinnipiac poll 63% of the Nation favors legalization.  The folks in Forsyth County, Georgia obviously favor it more than that.  Even the Republican Party there is saying they wish they’d asked that, and other, questions.

    Catherine Bernard, a liberty-loving criminal defense attorney said: “[this] matches up with my jury selection experience in Forsyth where almost everyone raised their hand when the prosecutor asked who thought it shouldn’t be against the law to have MJ!”

    The Heroin Triangle and Education

    Forsyth County is in Georgia’s “Heroin Triangle”, and this may have some bearing on why this county ranges 14% higher than the national percentage.  I’m sure they’ve been paying close attention to the growing evidence that marijuana is an exit from opiates, not the gateway.

    While the percentage of folks that want marijuana legalized in other Georgia counties may not be quite as high, we know that the majority of citizens want this.  We knew it in 2014 when we had a telephone poll done and over 50% of those polled were for full legalization.  That percentage has grown immensely over the past 4 years.

    Why Georgia, Why?

    So the questions become, “Why aren’t Georgia Legislators listening? Why aren’t more of them vocally supporting in-State cultivation for medical purposes?  Why aren’t they getting on board with decriminalizing possession of one ounce or less?  Why is it necessary to arrest more than 24,000 people a year for possession?”

    Take Action!!

    Contact your legislators during this recess.  Reach out to them on their home turf.  Call, write, email.  Express your support for more rational marijuana laws.

    Contact your Republican and Democratic Party Chairs.  Discuss a straw poll with them.

    “When we are talking, we are winning”.  Sooner now, than later, they will have to listen to us.  The tide is turning in Georgia.

    Tom McCain is the Executive Director of Peachtree NORML, fighting for the rights of Georgian cannabis consumers. You can visit their website at www.peachtreenorml.org, follow their work on Facebook and Twitter, and please make a contribution to support their work by clicking here. 

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director May 23, 2018

    Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today became the fourth Senator to cosponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, joining the bill’s author, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsors Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

    The Marijuana Justice Act is the first ever companion legislation that has been introduced in both chambers of Congress remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

    The bills, S. 1689 and HR 4815 would (1) remove marijuana from the US Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending the federal criminalization of cannabis; (2) incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level marijuana arrests; (3) expunge federal convictions specific to marijuana possession; (4) allow individuals currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related violations to petition the court for resentencing; (5) and create a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.

    The House companion legislation is being sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and has 37 additional cosponsors.

    Click here to send a message to your federal officials to tell them to follow suit and cosponsor the Marijuana Justice Act.

  • by NORML May 22, 2018

    2018 NORML Conference and Lobby DayNORML is pleased to formally announce the dates for our 2018 National NORML Conference and Lobby Day. The conference will run from July 22nd – 24th in Washington, DC at the Capital Hilton. This year, we are excited to add an additional day of activities in addition to our traditional programming. Click here to register now!

    July 22nd: NORML Activist Strategy Summit

    For 2018, we’ve going to do a deep dive into grassroots organizing with the NORML Activist Strategy Summit. Attendees will be able to choose from a number of important areas of interest and engage in free-flowing, peer to peer strategizing on issues including running an effective chapter, communications strategy, social media and online activism, and more. Each topic area will be moderated by outstanding NORML activists from across the country paired with a member of the National staff and provide an outlet for individuals to share stories based on their advocacy experiences, exchange tips for best practices, and come up with new concepts to put into play to help push us closer to the end of prohibition.

    Topics include: Organizing political candidate forums, “big organizing” for lobby days, personal narrative development, and more.

    July 23rd: NORML Conference & Benefit Party

    On Monday, July 23rd we will host our formal conference programming. There will be panels, debates, and individual speakers covering a wide range of topics including: marijuana and its impact on the opioid crisis, how to engage in local reform efforts, NORML’s role in the 2018 midterms, marijuana reform as a social justice issue, and updates current 2018 ballot initiative efforts.

    In the evening, attendees will gather for a NORML benefit party to enjoy live entertainment and networking.

    July 24th: Congressional Lobby Day

    For the final day, NORML supporters will once again descend upon Congress to advocate for federal reforms. The reason we chose to hold the conference and lobby day at this point in the calendar was because this week represents the final week of legislative session before lawmakers go home for the August recess when they will be explaining to voters why they should be reelected.

    Last year, we had activists from 24 different states attend over 150 scheduled meetings with Congressional offices and we aim to exceed that this year, with your help!

    REGISTER NOW TO RESERVE YOUR PLACE AT THIS IMPORTANT EVENT

    We are at a critical time for our nationwide movement to end marijuana prohibition. Join citizens from all across the country to learn new strategies, hear about the latest scientific and political advancements in the reform movement, and meet in person with your elected officials and their offices to advocate for legalization. With over 60 percent of the American people in support of ending prohibition and three-quarters of voters supporting the states that have done so, the time to act is now.

    Can’t wait to see all of you this summer!

    The NORML Team

    P.S. Can’t make it in July? Our efforts are supported by thousands of people throughout the country as we work to advance marijuana reform in all 50 states and the federal level. Can you kick in $5, $10, or $20 a month to help us keep going?

  • by NORML May 17, 2018

    Medical marijuanaToday, the House appropriations committee for the first time heard and passed language, known as the Joyce amendment, to restrict funding for the Department of Justice to prosecute state-legal medical marijuana programs.

    “Today marks a victory for medical marijuana programs and a loss for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Passage of this amendment through regular order in the appropriations committee represents another big step in the normalization of state level marijuana reform in the Congress of the United States,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal

    Previously, the amendment had not gone through the committee process and was inserted into the appropriations bill on the floor of the House, yet was blocked in 2017 by Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a militant marijuana prohibitionist. The amendment was offered by Representative David Joyce (R-OH).

    “States have clearly taken a lead on the access to medical marijuana for those suffering from severe pain looking for options other than opioids. I think it’s time we cut through the federal red tape for those 46 states, like Ohio, who have on some level legalized the medical use of cannabis. This gives the states more freedom to provide for their suffering citizens,” said Mr. Joyce upon the passage of his amendment.

    “We thank Representative Joyce for his leadership to protect the 46 states that have reformed their marijuana policies and the over 2 million patients that they serve,” said Strekal.

    Since 2014, members of Congress have passed annual spending bills that have included a provision protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, previously known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to Congressional leadership to remove these restrictions, writing: “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

    According to recently released nationwide survey data, the majority of Americans are on our side. A whopping 94 percent support the medical use of marijuana. Perhaps most importantly, 70 percent of voters — including strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — say that they “oppose the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana.”

    To send a message to your Representative in support of maintaining these protections, click here.

  • by David Holland, Executive Director of Empire State NORML

    In a surprise joint press conference, Cyrus Vance Jr. and Eric Gonzalez, the respective District Attorneys of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City, both announced that with limited exception low-level marijuana-related offenses would no longer be prosecuted.  Both cited a six-month-long study that revealed that there was no discernible impact upon issues of public health and safety by ending the prosecution of these minor cannabis offenses.  The positive side of this new policy is the discontinuance of the persecution of communities predominated by people of color who have been disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for these low-level cannabis offenses.  As such, both District Attorneys publicly vowed that as of August 1, 2018, they would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession and consumption cases.    The talismanic significance of that delayed date is unknown as New York City needs this program implemented now, not weeks from now.

    This new approach comes on the heels of past mayoral pledges that sought to relax enforcement policies.  Until recent years, an individual caught smoking marijuana was required to be arrested and processed through the system resulting in criminal misdemeanor charges. Often the amount of time elapsing between arrest and arraignment would be anywhere from 12-24 hours or more before a defendant would be produced before the court to answer the charges.  Many of those charged with a cannabis misdemeanor would nonetheless have their cases effectively dismissed by moving under the Penal Law for an “ACD” which meant that the defendant’s case would be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal provided that they not be rearrested during a 6-month post-arraignment period.  The costs for in man hours and salaries to pursue even a single soon to be dismissed arrest was staggering.

    Under Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio the process was significantly truncated where an individual would be arrested and processed at the police precinct and released with a “DAT” which was a desk appearance ticket advising the defendant to show up in court on a particular day in the future and answer the charges. Those DAT cases most often resulted in ACD status meaning that there was no criminal conviction for the defendant and the arrest would be stricken from their record after the probationary period of time.  But, it appears that prosecution approach was not equally applied to people of color who were still disproportionately arrested and given DATs even though the statistics show that marijuana use is relatively equal across all ethnicities.  It is this continued evident disparity that has prompted the pronouncement of the District Attorneys.

    In a subsequent interview with a reporter at NY-1 news station, Cyrus Vance Jr., the DA for Manhattan, stated in sum and substance that the criminal prosecution of cannabis was essentially futile because there was no further intervention by the legal system which would otherwise admonish or assist the criminal defendant who’s case would eventually be dismissed in any event.

    Under the new policy, the individual arrested would be issued a summons for a violation which is not a crime and the punishment being a monetary fine and/or a maximum of 15 days in jail rather than the 1 year period for a criminal misdemeanor conviction for cannabis.

    While this is definitely a positive development it still waits to be seen if this new policy is applied more fairly and equally regarding people of color.  As the goal of the violation is for the city to not to continue to incur the expenses of futile criminal prosecutions, it is the goal of the city by means of violations to fill its coffers with monies collected from fines.  These are monies that would not otherwise be collected during the course of a criminal prosecution resulting in an ACD.

    It will only be a matter of time to review the statistics to determine if people of color are finally be treated more fairly and equally in the newly proclaimed cannabis friendly administrations.

    David Holland, Esq is the Executive and Legal Director of Empire State NORML in New York. You can visit their website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter

     

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