This week was a busy one for marijuana law reform around the country. There were several election day measures and a new bill was introduced in the Senate. Let’s take a closer look at this week’s marijuana happenings:
The controversial ResponsibleOhio measure failed to garner enough support in Ohio to become law. You can read more on what was learned from the campaign here. The measure was defeated 65 to 35 percent so it’s clear the initiative had some qualities that were less than desirable by Ohio residents. Those living in the city of Logan, OH also had the chance to vote on a local depenalization measure but voters rejected that measure 57 to 43 percent.
On the successful end of things, residents in two Michigan cities approved local measures to reduce the penalties associated with the possession, use, transfer and transportation of small amounts of marijuana.
Following election day, Vermont Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders introduced legislation, S 2237, to remove marijuana from the US Federal Controlled Substances Act. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 would deschedule cannabis from the CSA, as is alcohol and tobacco. This legislation provides states the power to establish their own marijuana policies and banking policies free from federal interference.
What’s notable about this legislation is that it is the first ever bill introduced in the Senate that has called for the end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level. And it’s only the fourth marijuana law reform bill to have ever been introduced in the Senate. You can take action on this legislation, here.
While not necessarily legislative news, a couple other important events took place this week:
Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision that the prohibition of marijuana is unconstitutional. The ruling declares that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use.
While this is definitely a step in the right direction for a country that is almost crippled with drug cartel problems, what happens next remains to be seen. The ruling does not strike down current drug laws and it only applies to the four plaintiffs involved in the case. It could however, pave the way for more substantive policy changes to be made later on.
Disappointingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chief, Chuck Rosenberg said this week he doesn’t believe smoking marijuana is actually medicinal and called the entire premise a “joke”.
He said, “What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it’s not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine. That is a joke.”
“There are pieces of marijuana — extracts or constituents or component parts — that have great promise” medicinally,” he said. “But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana, which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana, it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”
To have a top official, largely responsible for our country’s drug policy, refuse to acknowledge the therapeutic effects of the whole marijuana plant is disappointing and very misleading. To learn more about medical marijuana and it’s scientifically proven medical efficacy, click here.
Thanks for catching up on what happened in marijuana law reform this week and keep following our blog for more updates as they happen!
Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled in a 4-1 decision that the prohibition of marijuana is unconstitutional. The ruling declares that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use.
Mexico has increasingly considered reforming their marijuana policies in recent months following the well known case of 8 year old, Graciela Elizalde, whose parents launched a successful social media campaign to pressure the Mexican government to approve a CBD treatment for their daughter. This treatment however, was approved only for Graciela, leaving many other patients in the dark for medication.
This ruling comes in a country that has undoubtedly played a significant role in the drug war. It has been reported that Mexican drug cartels and the forces fighting them have resulted in the deaths of more than 83,000 people between 2007 and 2014.
While this Supreme Court decision is definitely a step in the right direction, what happens next remains to be seen. The ruling does not strike down current drug laws but it could pave the way for lawmakers to make more substantive policy changes in the future.
Issue 3, the marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in Ohio this past Tuesday, was surprisingly unpopular with the voters, and lost the vote by 65 percent to 35 percent. It was an old-fashioned ass kicking – a drubbing that came despite polls indicating a slim majority of the public in Ohio favored legalizing marijuana.
That dramatic difference between the generic support for the concept of marijuana legalization, and the far lower support for the provisions contained in Issue 3, lead to a number of conclusions.
First, it suggests that unlimited amounts of money may not be the magic bullet for enacting legalization in a traditionally conservative state. Obviously a fat wallet makes it possible to collect the signatures to qualify the proposal for the ballot, and to hire campaign workers to canvas eligible voters door-to-door, to encourage their support. But in the end, if specific provisions of the proposal are unpopular, money alone cannot overcome substantive weaknesses.
Investor Driven Initiatives
Clearly the fact that this initiative was investor driven, and would have enriched those who put up the money for the initiative, raised serious issues that were likely fatal to this initiative. Even many who favored marijuana legalization were unwilling to support this version, because of the oligopoly of commercial growers that would have been established for the state, assuring financial rewards for decades to come for those who were rich enough be part of the investment team.
In the run-up to the election in Ohio, the opposition focused far less on an argument that legalization was bad public policy that would somehow harm residents of the state (the traditional arguments favored by opponents to legalization), and far more on the fact that the small group of investors were guaranteed to get rich. There was significant opposition to allowing this small group of people to use the voter initiative process for such obvious self-enrichment.
Voter initiatives were a creation of the Progressive era, a method for average citizens to adopt public policy change without the involvement of the elected legislature, and the public perceived this effort in Ohio as a perversion of the voter initiative process. And they refused to permit that to occur, even though a slim majority supported the basic change that was being proposed.
No one, except that small group of investors, liked the self-serving provisions contained in the language of the proposal, and even those of us who endorsed the proposal, because we felt it would stop the arrest of marijuana smokers years earlier that would likely happen if the change has to come through the state legislature, did so with strong reservations about that part of the proposal.
NORML begrudgingly endorsed the initiative, because we are a single-issue organization and the proposal did contain the basic changes we have been fighting for, for more than four decades. But we underscored our dislike for the self-enrichment terms in the language, and said we did not consider it a model that should be considered by other states.
But clearly a majority of the voters in Ohio put a higher priority on opposing those troublesome economic provisions, and were willing to continue prohibition rather than permit this attempt to pervert the initiative process to succeed. Whether this same conclusion will be shared by voters in other states is uncertain, but it surely should cause would-be investors hoping to cash-in in other states to proceed cautiously.
And frankly, some of the problems leading to this result had to do with the seemingly cluelessness of Ian James and the others at Responsible Ohio, who were in charge of the campaign. When opponents began to focus on the economic interests of the initiative funders, the sponsors attempted to sell what was an obvious liability as the price one had to pay to move the marijuana issue out of the hands of hippies and the counter-culture, and into the political mainstream. They insulted those who had worked long and hard to move public policy towards legalization for decades, and suggested they were doing us all a favor by agreeing to embrace our basic political goal of legalization, for a price.
Similarly, apparently unaware of the traditional low voter turnout by young voters in non-presidential election years – the strongest group of supporters for legalization — Responsible Ohio chose to run their initiative in 2015, rather than waiting for 2016 (as proponents have done in California, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Maine and Massachusetts). Again, instead of learning from the many marijuana initiatives that have occurred in this country going back to 1996, this gang who could not shoot straight claimed they preferred to run it in 2015, because of the usual low voter turnout, thinking their money could somehow invigorate the youth vote and they could sneak in a victory while the older voters were not paying attention. Talk about arrogance and hubris. These guys make Donald Trump seem humble!
A further example of their cluelessness was their use of a colorfully decorated bus and a silly mascot named “Buddy” – a sort of superhero with a big marijuana bud for the head – in a state-wide tour, as their primary tactic for getting the youth vote energized and excited about the upcoming chance to legalize marijuana.
Apparently they had never heard of “Joe Camel”, the cartoon camel that was used for years by big tobacco as a device to entice young Americans to try tobacco smoking, where once addicted, they would be tobacco customers for life, although that life would likely be cut short because of their use of tobacco. Following the discovery by Congressional investigators of documentation proving that was the intent of spending huge amounts of money to publicize Joe Camel, the tobacco companies were finally publicly shamed into ending the campaign and retiring Joe Camel.
But when confronted by NORML and others for their eerily similar use of “Buddy,” James and the Responsible Ohio campaign ignored our warnings that many Americans, even those who favor marijuana legalization, remain concerned about the risk that legalization might somehow lead to an increase in adolescent marijuana smoking, and that they were setting themselves up as an easy target by long-time opponents of legalization (which, of course, came almost instantly). James actually insisted that their “Buddy” campaign was popular, was gaining them great press exposure, and the campaign continued all across the state, right up to the election.
Again, the arrogance of this group was amazing, and their failure to understand the caution that is required when dealing with the marijuana issue, as contrasted to many other issues of public policy, was astounding.
It is impossible, without exit polling (and I doubt Responsible Ohio will share their exit polling, assuming they even made the effort to find out why opponents voted the way they did) to know which of these several tactical and strategic blunders was primarily accountable for their embarrassing defeat. My personal belief is the economic self-enrichment was the major flaw in the campaign, but the decision to mount the effort in an off-year election clearly contributed to their defeat (the youth vote turnout was low), as did their use of “Buddy” with a tin ear to the likelihood it would appear they were appealing to adolescents.
Responsible Ohio had this plan to legalize marijuana and get rich at the same time, and they were simply not interested in learning from the past, or even consulting with others who had far more experience in running marijuana-related initiatives.
As a result, only James came out ahead, as he was allegedly paid more than $4 million dollars to run the ill-fated campaign. And even James may well learn to rue the day he took on this badly conceived campaign, as he is a professional who has made his reputation running more traditional campaigns, and it is difficult to imagine that his reputation will not suffer from this unnecessary debacle. Issue 3 will forever be a case study for how NOT to run a marijuana initiative.
But the real losers are the marijuana smokers in Ohio, who will continue to be arrested for years to come – nearly 20,000 each year — when a better drafted and more professionally run campaign could have ended prohibition and stopped the marijuana arrests.
Issue 3, ResponsibleOhio failed to pass. (34.8%-65.1%)
Most notably was the controversial ResponsibleOhio measure that sought to permit the limited commercial production, retail sale, and personal use of cannabis for those 21 years or older in the state. The measure would have initially established 10 state-licensed commercial growing sites, allowed for 1,000 retail dispensaries, five regional testing facilities and also a non-profit medical marijuana dispensary system to provide access to those patients with a recommendation from a physician.
This proposal received a significant amount of backlash from Ohio residents who believed awarding the 10 growing licenses to private investors, who fronted the costs of the campaign, was overly restrictive in nature.
NORML Deputy Director, Paul Armentano said: “We are disappointed though not entirely surprised by the outcome of this vote. While it remains clear that a majority of Ohioans support ending criminal marijuana prohibition for adults, and patients in particular, the majority of the debate surrounding Issue 3 focused on provisions regarding the limited number of entities who would financially profit from this proposed market model. It has been clear for some time now that Americans want legal marijuana; it is also abundantly clear that most voters want the free market, not an artificially restricted one dictated by special interests, to govern this emerging marketplace. It is our hope that Ohio lawmakers will listen to the will of the people in Ohio and work toward crafting sensible legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of marijuana in a manner that comports with the free-market values of Ohioans.”
Nonetheless, voter sentiment remains in favor of legalizing marijuana. Next November, voters are expected to decide on ballot measures regulating marijuana in a number of states including California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Arizona. These measures will not contain the restrictive provisions similar to those proposed in Ohio.
At the local level, residents in Keego Harbor and Portage, Michigan were also faced with a ballot decision today on whether or not to remove the criminal penalties associated with the possession, use, transfer and transportation of small amounts of marijuana. At this time, it has been confirmed that Keego Harbor has approved their ballot measure (55.3%-44.7%). Portage voters also narrowly approved their measure (50.6%-49.4%). Residents in Logan, Ohio voted on a similar depenalization measure that was defeated (56.9%-43%).
The results of two candidate races boded well tonight for marijuana law reform. In Kentucky, Republican candidate for Governor, Matt Bevin defeated Attorney General of Kentucky, Jack Conway. The Kentucky Governor in waiting has made supportive statements in the past for legalizing medical marijuana, while his opponent called marijuana a dangerous gateway to addiction.
Additionally, former city councilmen Jim Kenney won the race to become Philadelphia’s next mayor. Kenney championed the city’s now successfully implemented marijuana decriminalization measure and has expressed interest in reducing fines and enforcement even further.
Everyday NORML affiliates and chapters around the country pour countless hours into contacting representatives, hosting events, and talking to voters, all with the hope of passing meaningful marijuana reforms on the local, state and federal level! In an effort to highlight their hard work and accomplishments, we will feature their stories on NORML.org and promote the content through our social media channels.
State and Local
Without a citizen initiative process, Virginia NORML is forced to rely on their state legislature to change state law; therefore, volunteers have been working hard over the past few months to unseat Virginia’s most anti-marijuana politician this November!
Action Alert: Help Virginia NORML Oust A Marijuana Prohibitionist
Days before the 2015 General Election, marijuana advocates In North Carolina held a rally to remind candidates that marijuana is, and will continue to be an important issue for voters. The group is also asking law enforcement agencies to make marijuana arrests their lowest priority.
Charlotte NORML Supports Marijuana Reform
Sharon Ravert, executive director of Peachtree NORML shared her thoughts about law enforcement getting involved in health-related matters such as medical marijuana.
Commission Hears Sheriff’s Objections to Medical Cannabis in Georgia
Wyoming NORML remains determined after Campbell County representatives announced their opposition of an effort to put medical marijuana on the ballot in 2016.
County Commissioners Back Anti-Pot Campaign
Close to 1,000 marijuana advocates took to the streets of Texas to educate community leaders about the need for a more comprehensive medical marijuana bill for suffering Texans!
Hundreds Join ‘Marijuana March’ in Dallas
Now that Mr. Mizanskey has been released from prison, he has found his calling as the Show Me State’s most vocal opponent against the federal government’s War on Drugs and the negative impact it has had on American families.
Jeff Mizanskey Spent Over a Third of His Life in Prison
Josh Chittum, executive director of Mid-Missouri NORML continues his work to change local laws regarding marijuana. He’s focused on changing the penalties associated with the cultivation of marijuana in Columbia, Missouri from 15 years in jail to a municipal fine.
Local Groups Asking for Signatures on Marijuana Legislation
Northwest Ohio NORML recently endorsed Mike Ferner for Toledo Mayor citing his support for a voter-approved ordinance that aimed to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana crimes.
Northwest Ohio NORML endorses Ferner for Toledo mayor
Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML shares his thoughts on Operation Golden Flow, a drug test aimed at finding heroin users among returning Vietnam veterans and the profits that help fuel the failed War on Drugs.
Operation Golden Flow: America’s Urine is Liquid Gold for Drug War Profiteers
Pittsburgh NORML recently avoided a long court battle with the NFL over a dispute related to the pro-marijuana group’s popular logo and one used by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers Threaten NORML Chapter
Members of Virginia NORML met to discuss their strategy to expand on HB 1445, a severely limited medical marijuana bill that was passed by the state legislature earlier this year.
Proponents of Legalized Pot Plot Strategy
With plenty of snowy months ahead, Wyoming NORML remains optimistic as they continue their work to gather roughly 25,000 signatures to put medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot.
Signatures Still Needed to Get Medical Marijuana Up for Wyoming Vote
Pamela Novy, executive director of Virginia NORML recently met with community leaders to discuss an effort to decriminalize marijuana in the city of Roanoke, Virginia.
VA NORML Works With Local Lawmakers on Decriminalizing Marijuana
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML pushed back against claims that marijuana is more harmful and dangerous than alcohol by citing a government-funded study that took place between 2012 and 2013.
Americans’ Marijuana Use Has Doubled in the Past 10 Years, Report Finds
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML shared his concerns about major GOP candidates not taking a more definite position on the issue of legalizing marijuana on the federal level.
Marijuana Industry Advocates Find GOP’s Lack of Pot Talk a Major Bummer
Missouri NORML Fall Conference, November 7, St. Louis
Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, November 11-13, Las Vegas
High Times Cannabis Cup, November 12-15, Jamaica
Denver NORML Holiday Potluck & Silent Auction, November 21, Denver
NORML’s Legal Seminar, December 3-5, Key West