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Advocacy

  • by David Holland, Executive Director of Empire State NORML May 17, 2018

    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

     

  • by Matthew Maulding, Executive Director, NORML of Catawba Valley May 14, 2018

    North Carolina NORML along with several other pro-cannabis organizations recently organized the Tar Heel State’s largest pro-cannabis march in recent memory. There were people from across the state, and even some long time residents that had to move to a state that allows them to medicate the way they want, despite having a majority of their families here.

    On April 20th, we saw the biggest push for reform at a federal level ever by North Carolinians. North Carolina NORML along with veterans, people with disabilities, and folks from all walks of life were able to come together and march in solidarity with one another.

    The cannabis movement has been stagnant in North Carolina, at best. There is a great divide in supporters who are ready for any small step, even if that means giving up their right to grow their own or even to medicate with “flower” or bud. Other supporters within the state have a sense that if they settle for “extract only” laws or laws that restrict growing rights, that they will not be able to get those rights added in later.

    To see fractions of the movement come together for this event is enormously satisfying. Under new leadership, North Carolina NORML has began turning up the heat and focused on getting people involved. We understand that people need to be constantly involved otherwise they get bored and move on. We need to make sure everyone is engaged, and informed , and that is what we have done, and will continue to do.

    In addition to the 4/20 march which focused on an end to marijuana prohibition federally, we also took part in the Global Marijuana March on May 5th and have held monthly public meetings across the state to increase visibility and to give people an opportunity to start their own chapter. To continue the fight, North Carolina NORML is hosting its first Lobby Day next Tuesday, May 22, 2018, where members will be focused on inviting supporters of marijuana law reform efforts to educate lawmakers (RSVP HERE).

    If you are a North Carolina voter, look forward to a voter guide on NC NORML’s website to help you choose candidates in the general election who favor (or not) and will sponsor bills if elected. Incumbents also have a chance to show supporters’ what they have sponsored or co-sponsored in the past. Reform is coming for North Carolina, and we refuse to be the last state to do so.

    For more info, please call 828-455-8203 or email commdirector@ncnorml.org. You can also follow North Carolina NORML on FaceBook and Twitter!

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML Political Associate May 11, 2018

    Welcome to the latest edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Roundup!

    Let’s talk about Congress. Earlier this week, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) cosponsored the Marijuana Justice Act! Sen. Harris announced in a video message that she will be joining Senators Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Ron Wyden in promoting this important legislation. This comes just a week and a half after California senior Senator Diane Feinstein (D) told reporters that she has dropped her opposition to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. And U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he is cosponsoring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) hemp legalization bill.

    Additionally, in a historical first, a Congressional committee has advanced marijuana law reform legislation; one that would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct more studies on cannabis’ medical benefits.

    At the state level, Michigan Senate Republicans are expected to discuss whether to enact marijuana legalization instead of allowing the question to appear on the November ballot, with the fear that a ballot question would turn out hundreds of thousands of democratic voters. The New Jersey Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee will hold a Saturday hearing on marijuana legalization, and county prosecutors across Vermont are looking at ways to expunge prior marijuana convictions.

    Also, Connecticut’s legislative leaders said marijuana legalization is off the table for this session. As more state legislatures are adjourning for this year, more and more bills are dying, and therefore there are not as many legislative updates as we’ve been seeing earlier in the year.

    At a more local level, The Allentown, Pennsylvania City Council gave initial approval to a proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance, and also adopted a resolution calling on state lawmakers to end cannabis criminalization. The Milwaukee County, Wisconsin County Board’s Judiciary Committee voted in favor of placing a nonbinding marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and Denver, Colorado is planning to use marijuana tax revenue to fund public housing.

    Following are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

    Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

    Your Highness,
    Carly

    Priority Alerts

    Federal

    End Prohibition: Representatives Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have introduced bipartisan legislation, HR 1227, to exclude marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thus leaving states the authority to regulate the plant how best they see fit.

    The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” eliminates federal criminal penalties for possessing and growing the plant. This legislation gives states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.

    Click here to e-mail your Representative and urge them to support this important legislation

    Louisiana

    House Bill 579 would expand the pool of patients eligible for medical cannabis by permitting physicians to authorize cannabis therapy to those suffering from chronic pain, post traumatic stress disorder, severe muscle spasms or glaucoma.

    Update: HB 579 was approved by the Senate 25-9 on 5/9. The bill now heads back to the House for review of Senate changes. A separate measure, HB 627, to permit patients with autism to be able to qualify for medical cannabis access, also passed the Senate and awaits reconsideration by the House.

    LA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of medical expansion

    California

    Assembly Bill 2069 seeks to strengthen employment rights for medical cannabis patients. The bill would explicitly bar employers from discriminating against workers solely because of their status as a medical cannabis patient, or due to testing positive for medical marijuana use on a workplace drug test.

    Update: AB 2069 will be heard by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on 5/16 at 9am in State Capitol, Room 4202.

    CA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of employment rights for patients

     

    Additional Actions to Take

    Arizona

    Senate Bill 1098 seeks to establish an industrial hemp agricultural pilot program.

    The program is designed to research the “growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp” by licensed providers. Lawmakers acknowledge that “developing and using industrial hemp can improve the economy and agricultural vitality” of Arizona.

    Update: SB 1098 passed the Senate on 2/15 and passed the House on 5/3. It now awaits action from Governor Ducey.

    AZ resident? Click here to email Gov. Ducey in support of an industrial hemp pilot program

    Illinois

    Senate Bill 2298 seeks to expand the state’s hemp law.

    The bill provides for the ability of individuals to cultivate hemp with a state license even if they are not part of the state’s Agriculture Department pilot program. That program only permits hemp cultivation as part of a state-sponsored research program.

    Update: SB 2298 was heard by the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee, and then approved by the committee on 5/8.

    IL resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of industrial hemp expansion

    California

    Banking
    Senate Bill 930 seeks to assist financial institutions in safely conducting transactions with licensed cannabis businesses.

    Update: SB 930 will be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 5/22.

    CA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of banking access for cannabis businesses

    Taxes
    Assembly Bill 3157 seeks to temporarily reduce tax rates imposed on the retail sale and commercial cultivation of cannabis.

    Update: AB 3157 was heard by the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions on 5/8, and then approved by the committee on 5/9. The bill will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on 5/16.

    CA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of temporarily lowering taxes

    That’s all for this week, check back next Friday for more legislative updates!

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director May 10, 2018

    Today, California’s junior Senator Kamala Harris announced in a video message that she will be joining Senators Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Ron Wyden on the Marijuana Justice Act.

    This comes just a week and a half after California senior Senator Diane Feinstein told reporters that she has dropped her opposition to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana, however, did not elaborate on how to do so.

    The Marijuana Justice Act (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.

    Senator Harris has come a long way on her position of this issue, most known for her response to a question in 2014 on legalizing marijuana when she laughed in the face of a reporter at the thought.

    Journalist Tom Angell noted last year that Senator Harris would oddly talk about the drug war in the past-tense when making public statements or on social media. By co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act, she is making it crystal clear that the Drug War rages on and that it is the responsibility of the Congress to do something about it.

    Have your federal officials co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act? Have you asked them to? Click here to send a message right now. 

  • by NORML May 8, 2018

    Police in the Pennsylvania cities of Allentown and Bethlehem continue to arrest hundreds of residents for less than 30 grams of cannabis while opiate and cocaine arrests seem to be going down.

    Last year Allentown put 315 people into handcuffs and the courts over marijuana possession, while the city reported just 31 other drug possession arrests during 2017, according to data from the Pa. Uniform Crime Reporting System.

    Bethlehem police also favor arresting cannabis consumers, between 130 and 160 per year are caught up in the criminal justice system over a few joints. Data from Bethlehem is also showing some odd trends, with zero opiate or cocaine arrests logged in 2016 or 2017.

    “Decriminalization would seem a simple and effective option anywhere,” said Lehigh Valley NORML Director Jeff Riedy, “When you consider the human cost to those convicted of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

    A RAND Corp. study commissioned for Vermont found that each marijuana arrest is estimated to cost taxpayers $1,266 to perform. Prosecuting each person spends another $1,000 according to some estimates.

    That means Allentown and Bethlehem spent over $1 million last year treating otherwise law abiding cannabis consumers like criminals. Thankfully the city councils in both communities have introduced ordinances to address this expensive injustice.

    “The decrim ordinances, like that in Philadelphia, have helped to remove stigma, freed up the courts and allowed law enforcement to focus on more pressing issues. We should stop ruining lives over a joint,” said Riedy.

    Lehigh Valley NORML encourages members of the press and elected officials to review the marijuana possession arrest data included with this release.

    According to Pa. State Representative Michael Schlossberg (D., Lehigh), cosponsor of two statewide decriminalization bills in Harrisburg, “It’s time to put an end to senseless mass incarceration brought on by the prohibition of marijuana. I have added my name to legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana and bring commonsense back to our criminal justice system.  Pennsylvanian’s cannot afford to continue to follow the path of failed policies which hurt individuals and communities.”

    Allentown introduced their ordinance at Council last week, and it has been moved to a Committee of the Whole, scheduled for Tuesday, May 8 at 6pm in Council Chambers. If it passes the Committee with a majority vote, the ordinance will move to the full City Council for a vote next Wednesday, May 16 at 7pm. Public opinion is encouraged both dates.

    Allentown’s proposed ordinance: http://allentownpa.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=6212844&GUID=F77277E0-5440-436B-B430-9CAC4AFFB0BD

    For more info, please contact Jeff Riedy at 610-533-0906 or via email at lehighvnorml@gmail.com. You can also follow Lehigh Valley NORML on FaceBook and Twitter!

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