• by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel November 30, 2015

    LegalCommitteeIf you are a practicing criminal defense lawyer, or if you are representing newly legal marijuana businesses, this week presents a great opportunity to pick-up some of your mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) credits, required by most states, at the annual NORML legal seminar held in the fascinating venue of Key West, Florida.

    The Conch Republic

    The southern-most city in the continental US, Key West, the county seat of Monroe County, is an island located 129 miles southwest of Miami, FL, and 94 miles north-northwest of Cuba. It is accessible both via US 1, a two-lane highway completed in 1938, and via the Key West International Airport, with regularly scheduled flights to and from the mainland.

    Key West was the site of the winter White House selected by President Harry Truman (he spent a total of 175 days visiting during his presidency); and was the long-time home of writers Ernest Hemingway, who later moved to Cuba, and Tennessee Williams.

    The island has also long been known as a refuge for pirates and smugglers, with a culture that is tolerant of outlaws and others who live on the edges of society. Locals, known for their quirky sense of independence, refer to the island as “The Conch Republic,” a name first used in 1982 when Key West briefly declared its “independence” to protest a decision by the Border Patrol to stop every car leaving the Keys looking for illegal immigrants, which, for a time, nearly shutdown the tourism industry.

    With that background, one can easily understand why NORML has been holding a legal seminar in Key West for more than 35 years. As “outlaws” ourselves, we have always found the environment friendly and inviting to marijuana smokers.

    The NORML Legal Committee

    At NORML our overriding goal is to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, regardless of why one smokes. Until we achieve that ultimate goal, we also do our best to provide assistance and support to victims of the current laws. The NORML Legal Committee (NLC), comprised of more than 650 criminal defense attorneys from all across the country, plays a major role in providing that support.

    In addition tLegalCommitteeo their legal work, many of the NLC attorneys also play an active political role in the legalization movement in their states. These are committed defenders of freedom, regardless of the venue.

    Their primary motivation is seeking justice, not simply profits. Day after day they stand-up for the rights of those who have been arrested, seeking to force the authorities to respect our Constitutional protections, and seeking to minimize the harm caused to each individual who is dragged through the criminal justice system. They represent the individual against the awesome power of the government.

    At these NORML legal seminars, we spend our days together listening to experts lecture on new and exciting developments in the law, and refining our trial and appellate skills. And each evening we gather for social events where lawyers from different parts of the country can get to know their counterparts from other states and develop lasting relationships.

    While I certainly do not wish to undervalue the importance of what the lawyers learn from the lectures, I have come to the conclusion that the most valuable benefit to those who attend is the feeling of community they develop with other criminal defense attorneys, allowing them to return to battle the following week with new energy and resolve, and some new allies.

    Marijuana Smokers Still Being Targeted

    Sadly, marijuana smokers are still targeted by aggressive and misguided law enforcement efforts in most states today. Smokers in those states read about the newly won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state will become more tolerant; but they still have to worry that the next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their home and wreck their lives, looking for a little pot.

    The recent release of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report found a modest increase in marijuana arrests in 2014, following a three-year decline. The marijuana arrests for 2014 totaled 700,993, up from 693,481 arrests in 2013, but lower than the 749,825 arrests in 2012 and 757,969 in 2011. The total number of marijuana arrests for 2014 are some 20 percent lower than the totals for 2007, when police made an all-time high 872,721 cannabis-related arrests.

    Using the ACLU estimate of cost per arrest ($750), the cost to the states of making all those marijuana arrests totaled at least $525,744,750; but the real costs would need to factor-in the disrupted lives and careers, and the cost of saddling so many otherwise law-abiding citizens with permanent criminal records, limiting their ability to get good jobs and advance professionally. The real cost of marijuana prohibition would be far higher.

    The Al Horn Award Winner for 2015

    In Key West each year, we also present the Al Horn Award — our lifetime achievement award, named after an early NORML attorney, an outstanding criminal defense lawyer who ran a progressive law collective in Atlanta, GA — to an NLC lawyer who has demonstrated an extraordinary lifetime commitment to justice. Prior award winners have included an array of dedicated men and women from all around the country who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to representing individuals charged with a crime, and to ending marijuana prohibition.

    This year the award will be given to Calvin K. Williams from Colby, Kansas. A long-time NLC member and a regular at our legal seminars in both Aspen and Key West, both as an attendee and as a speaker, for many years Cal has been serving on the frontline of the war against marijuana smokers. His specialty has been representing those individuals stopped under the guise of a traffic violation on Interstate I-70, and subsequently arrested for possession of some weed, usually discovered only after the officer claimed he smelled marijuana.

    Where marijuana remains a crime, an officer who claims to have smelled marijuana has the legal right to search the passenger compartment of an automobile without a search warrant. It is “the big lie” that all police officers learn to utilize early; when the driver rolls down the window, claim you smell marijuana and you can avoid the 4th Amendment and search without a warrant.

    Cal Williams in his career has represented more than 1,200 drivers stopped along I-70 (they are so common he calls them “road cases”), many of the cars searched illegally based on the purported smell of marijuana. And over those many years, only one of those individuals (one who had some prior drug felonies on his record) ended up serving time in prison. “A few others,” he adds, “screwed-up on probation and ended up serving a portion of their sentence”.

    Were I in need of a good criminal defense attorney in Kansas, I would be delighted to be represented by Cal Williams, knowing I had a committed and experienced advocate arguing on my behalf.

    Join Us In Key West

    Let me encourage any criminal defense attorney, or marijuana business attorney, reading this, who is not already a member of the NORML Legal Committee, to consider joining the NLC; and encourage any criminal defense attorneys who have not yet attended one of our two annual legal seminars, to take the plunge. You will be glad you did, and you will find a supportive and helpful legal community.

    And the next time you find yourself in need of a good criminal defense attorney because of a drug arrest, go to the NORML website and take a look at the NORML Legal Committee attorneys from your state. If I am a defendant in a marijuana case (and I have been), I want my lawyer to understand there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults. That’s not the only thing a smoker should look for when selecting an attorney, but that is the first thing. With NLC attorneys, that is not an issue.


    This column originally appeared on Marijuana.com.





  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director November 28, 2015

    Join NORML

    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.

    Join NORML - Vaporizer

    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).

    Join Us. It's Time. NORML

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director November 25, 2015

    ballot_box_leafWhile 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!

    A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bill approved this year is also available here.


    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!

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director November 13, 2015

    thumbs_upWith many state legislative sessions coming to an end and the federal government beginning final budget negotiations, we’ve seen plenty of marijuana legislation move forward this week. Keep reading below to catch up on this week’s legislative action!

    A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bills approved this year is also available here.


    On the eve of Veterans Day members of the US Senate adopted language to permit Veterans access to medical marijuana in states that allow for its use. Senate members passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs APpropriations Bill, which for the first time includes language to allow Veteran’s Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. You can read more about this measure here.


    New Jersey: Governor Chris Christie signed legislation into law on Monday, November 9, that allows for the administration of edible forms of cannabis for children attending school.

    A4587 and S3049 “require facilities providing services to persons with developmental disabilities and schools to adopt policies permitting administration of medical marijuana to qualifying patients.”

    Additionally, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Monday, November 16th at 1:00PM in Committee Room 4 of the state capitol to discuss the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana in New Jersey. The informational hearing comes ahead of the anticipated introduction next session of legislation to legalize the plant’s production, sale, and use. To express your support for legalization in New Jersey, click here.

    Vermont: Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee are discussing how best to implement a regulated marijuana industry in Vermont. Statewide polling reports that 57 percent of Vermont voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana production and sales. State lawmakers acknowledge that 2016 is the “time” to regulate cannabis in Vermont and they need to hear from their constituents that legalization is a priority. To contact your lawmakers and urge their support for legalization, click here.

    North Carolina: Senate Bill 313, an act to establish a pilot program for hemp cultivation in North Carolina, has become law absent the Governor’s signature. The legislation declares, “The General Assembly finds and declares that it is in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina to promote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the State in order to expand employment, promote economic activity, and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production.”

    New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that seeks to accelerate medical marijuana access to patients who are suffering from critical conditions and are in urgent need for medical cannabis. Assembly Bill 7060 & Senate Bill 5086 require the Commissioner of Health to establish emergency access to medical cannabis access for patients with conditions for whom a delay would pose a serious risk to the patient’s life or health.

    Florida: The Broward County Commission approved a marijuana ordinance on Tuesday, that will give police officers the option of issuing a $150 civil citation to someone caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana instead of filing a misdemeanor criminal charge against that person. Similar ordinances have been passed in Miami-Dade County and Key West.

    Palm Beach County will be voting on a similar measure, December 15th. Contact your County Commissioner today and urge their support for the option of issuing a civil citation for the nonviolent possession of marijuana! You can find out who your County Commissioner is here.

    Texas: In Houston, District Attorney Devon Anderson announced last Thursday that starting January 1st, those who are caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program and released rather than receiving a criminal charge. The suspect must complete the program to avoid facing charges.

    Anderson said, “It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record,” she said. “When we don’t offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program.”

    Illinois: More than two years after lawmakers initially approved medical cannabis legislation in the state, patients are finally getting relief. This week, several of the state’s licensed dispensaries began serving patients for the first time. About 3,300 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards were able to purchase medical cannabis at one of five dispensaries opening Monday. Besides Canton, retail shops in Addison, Marion, Mundelein and Quincy were among the first to open. An estimated 25 facilities are anticipated to be operational by the end of the year.

    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!


  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director November 11, 2015

    The results are in from Washington, D.C. one year after 70% of the voters chose to end cannabis prohibition: A nearly 100% reduction in marijuana-related arrests!

    According to the Washington City Paper, the number of annual arrests for marijuana dropped from 895 in 2014 to 7 so far in 2015 (a 99.4% reduction in arrests; an even greater percentage drop in marijuana-related arrests occurred between 2013 and now, when there were 1,215 arrests).arrested

    This dramatic reduction in marijuana arrests is consistent with the prior experience in the other states where voters have cast off unpopular cannabis prohibition laws. Post prohibition, arrest rates for marijuana-related offenses in Colorado and Washington State dropped from nearly 12,ooo annually to <200.

    Washington, D.C.’s huge reduction in arrest rates is not a result of legalized marijuana (where such a policy allows for the legal cultivation and selling of marijuana, and that government regulates and taxes the production and sale of marijuana products). Instead, in the nation’s capital cannabis has been fully de-penalized where adults can cultivate a personal amount of marijuana and possess up to two ounces, but, there is no legal source to purchase marijuana and the government derives no taxes or fees (however, Washington, D.C. does have medical marijuana laws, where approximately 8,000 registered medical patients who’re qualified can legally purchase marijuana products at up to four retail locations).

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