The DC City Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hold public hearings on legislation introduced earlier this year by Councilman Tommy Wells, B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013. The measure will receive two public hearings, one on Wednesday evening from 6:30pm until 9:00pm at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library located at 1800 Good Hope Road SE. The hearing will reconvene Thursday at 11:30am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building located at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW.
NORML will be testifying along with other allied groups in favor of this legislation. The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act would make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by those 18 years of age or older a civil violation, punishable by a $100 fine. Currently, the possession of any amount of marijuana in the District of Columbia is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months incarceration or a maximum $1,000 fine. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this year found that 75% of DC residents support this reform.
A live stream of the hearings should be available here, the video will also be archived on the City Council website for viewing at a later date.
If you live in DC and can’t attend the hearing, you can quickly and easily contact your City Council member in support of this measure by clicking here.
You can read NORML’s testimony below:
Written Testimony Regarding B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013, Before the DC City Council, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
By Erik Altieri, Communications Director
NORML | NORML Foundation
October 24, 2013
NORML applauds the members of the City Council for holding this hearing regarding the decriminalization of personal use amounts of marijuana.
B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013 reduces minor marijuana possession penalties (those involving the possession of 1 ounce or less) from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $1000 fine, to a civil infraction punishable by a fine only. This common sense, fiscally responsible proposal will cut costs, improve public safety, and have a positive impact on the quality of life of thousands of adults in the District of Columbia.
This Measure Will Improve The Quality Of Life For DC Citizens
In 2011, about 4,300 District citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana at the estimated cost of over 20 million dollars. These arrests disproportionately effect people of color, with African American residents being arrested at 8 times the rate of their white counterparts despite similar use rates. This statistic makes the District 2nd in the nation when it comes to racial disparities, falling just behind Iowa. While only accounting for 51.6% of the population, people of color account for more than 90% of all marijuana arrests. Passage of this measure would spare many of these citizens from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow — including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights.
Most adult marijuana users act responsibly. They are not part of the crime problem and they should not be treated like serious criminals. This legislation would maintain monetary sanctions for marijuana possession violations, but would spare offenders from being saddled with lifelong criminal records. This change would continue to discourage marijuana abuse, while halting the practice of permanently criminalizing thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
B20-0409 Will Cut Costs And Improve Public Safety
Law enforcement resource allocation is a zero-sum gain. The time that a police officer spends arresting and processing minor marijuana offenders is time when he or she is not out on the streets protecting the public from more significant criminal activity. Passage of this bill would allow law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts to re-allocate their existing resources toward activities that will more effectively target serious criminal behavior and keep the public safe. In recent years, lawmakers in California (2010), Connecticut (2011) and Vermont (2013) have enacted similar legislation for these reasons. To date, these laws are working as lawmakers intended.
District Residents Strongly Support Decriminalization
Public opinion strongly favors such a reprioritization of law enforcement resources. Marijuana ‘decriminalization,’ as proposed under The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act, presently enjoys support from the majority of Americans. According to a DC poll conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this year, 75 percent of D.C. residents support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
Contrary to the concerns of some, the passage of this legislation would not negatively impact marijuana use patterns or attitudes. Passage of similar legislation in other states has not led to increased marijuana use or altered adolescents’ perceptions regarding the potential harms of drug use. In fact, the only United States government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, “Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people.”
Support Public Safety: Vote ‘Yes’ On The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act
The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act seeks to reduce government expenditures and promote public safety. These are goals that lawmakers should support. It makes no sense to continue to treat responsible adult cannabis consumers as criminals. While NORML encourages the Council to approve this measure, we hope that you will also continue to pursue further marijuana law reforms. Amending this legislation to include limited personal cultivation of several marijuana plants would allow consumers to have an alternative source instead of continuing to funnel money into the black market. Ultimately, we urge the Council to consider moving further, to a system that regulates marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, which would put marijuana commerce in the hands of regulated businesses and away from criminal elements. Thank you for your time and consideration of this measure.
Gallup released new polling data today that shows an overwhelming majority of Americans want marijuana to be legalized. According to their survey, 58% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, while only 39% are opposed. This is up significantly from the last time Gallup polled the question in 2012, when only 48% of Americans were in favor and 50% were opposed. For historical perspective, the first time they surveyed this question in 1969 a paltry 12% of Americans were in favor of legalization.
The support for marijuana legalization has seen unprecedented momentum in the past several years. Gallup observes, “Whatever the reasons for Americans’ greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide.”
“The American people have opened their eyes to the failure that is marijuana prohibition and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Following the successful passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the people of this country see that a new approach to marijuana policy is both required and possible,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “The majority of Americans now agree that it is time to legalize and regulate. The issue can no longer be ignored or sidelined. Legalization is now the mainstream position and supporters of perpetuating our war on marijuana will continue to be further relegated to the fringe.”
The strongest support was coming from those ages 18-29 (67%), ages 30-49 (62%), Democrats (65%), and Independents (62%). The only major demographic groups lacking majority support are those 65+ (45%) and Republicans (35%).
Full poll results can be viewed here.
Earlier this year, we came within just 4 votes on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives on legislation that would have put marijuana legalization before state voters this fall. While that effort fell short, voters in the city of Portland will still have the chance to vote on marijuana legalization this November. Question 1 will be on the Portland ballot and would legalize the adult possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. With just two weeks left, we can use all the help we can get to pass this initiative. If you live in Portland and want to find out how you can assist, please contact David Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WGME CBS 13 will air a special internet broadcast of a Town Hall Forum on Thursday, October 24, from 7:30-8:30pm, concerning the issue of legalizing small amounts of marijuana in Portland. If you wish to attend in person, apply in advance to be in the audience at wgme.com. Audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions in person and online via social media, using www.facebook.com/wgme13 and on Twitter using #YourVoiceYourFuture. The forum will air live on wgme.com and be broadcast on WGME CBS 13 on Sunday, October 27th at 11:35 PM.
In further news, it is our distinct pleasure to announce we will once again be pursuing statewide legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana in Maine. NORML and Representative Diane Russell have drafted and prepared legislation for introduction that would legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and the personal cultivation of up to 6 plants. Retail outlets would be licensed by the Alcoholic Beverages, Cannabis and Lottery Operation within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. We will be releasing final bill language as we get closer to its introduction, but we want to make sure this effort is on your radar, as it was the outpouring of grassroots support that helped us get so close to victory this year. If you would be interested in helping with this future statewide effort in Maine, please contact NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri at email@example.com. You can also click here to sign on to pledge your support for the legislation here.
Together, we WILL legalize marijuana in Portland this year and across Maine in 2014.
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, will chair a blue ribbon committee tasked with studying marijuana legalization in the state. This was announced at a joint press conference held this morning with the ACLU of California.
The panel will “engage in a multi-year research effort to help voters and policy makers as they consider proposals to enact a strict tax and regulation scheme that will enable California to benefit from billions of dollars of potential revenue annually while protecting the health and safety of our children and communities.”
Joining Newsom on the panel will be “leading legal, academic and policy experts from across the state and nation.”
The ACLU also released new polling data which revealed that 65% of Californians support legalizing and regulating marijuana, while only 32% were opposed and 3% undecided. You can view the full poll results here.
“This development is just a further illustration of how the debate over marijuana legalization has moved from the fringe into the mainstream,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “An overwhelming majority of Californians are ready to legalize and regulate marijuana and it is encouraging to see key figures within the state move to address the issue in a forward thinking and serious manner. With a voter initiative likely in 2016, this new survey data also confirms that the people of California are ready to move forward to end their state’s marijuana prohibition, with or without state legislators.”
NORML will keep you updated as this effort moves forward.
[UPDATE: October 30, the family of the young man entrapped by police in this case have filed a lawsuit. Read more here.]
In late 2012, a Riverside County, California police officer infiltrated a local high school, befriended a vulnerable, special needs student and then proceeded to send more than 60 text messages begging the student to buy him weed. The student, who had been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourettes, and several anxiety disorders (and noticeably handicapped) became overwhelmed by the pressure, and the desire to keep his only friend. He finally agreed to buy pot for “Dan” (the undercover cop). It took the teenager weeks to find anything, eventually buying half of a joint from from a homeless man downtown.
Then, as reported by Reason Magazine, “On December 11, 2012 armed police officers walked into [the student’s] classroom and arrested him in front of his peers. He was taken to the juvenile detention center, along with the 21 other arrestees, where he was kept for 48 hours. First hand reports claim that the juvenile center was caught off guard by the large number of arrests and that some youths had to sleep on the floor, using toilet paper as pillows.” The child was also expelled from school.
This story is a grotesque example of how our nation’s marijuana policies continue to encourage the use of barbaric and predatory tactics by law enforcement officials. They are financially incentivised to not only target otherwise law abiding citizens, but actively work to manipulate innocent children. Aside from the gross misappropriation of limited police resources, this incident clearly highlights many of the tragic implications marijuana prohibition continues to have on our nation’s youth. Further, zero tolerance policies in schools have proven to be ineffective in the very purpose for which they were originally designed. The practice of engaging in high school undercover drug stings has proven to do nothing to curb teen drug use. It does however, leave the student body traumatized and resentful of law enforcement, making them less likely to report legitimate crimes in the future. It is an egregiously unfair and punitive practice by educational institutions to expel students as punishment for any infraction of a rule, a significant portion of which are for non-violent low level drug violations. How does removing a minor from what is intended to be a stable, nurturing environment do anything to help prepare these individuals to lead responsible productive lives? They are now forced to sit at home with nothing to do but hang out with other expelled peers, or in a juvenile detention center.
One can argue that this all leads back to the financial incentives driving police officers to arrest as many individuals on drug charges as possible. Every year, law enforcement jurisdictions are given federal grants, swat gear, overtime pay and assets based solely on their number of drug arrests. Perhaps it is a result of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s passage of SB 1449 in 2010, which reduced the crime of possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction for adults 18 and over. Now, the only way to keep up their arrest rates is by targeting minors – whose charges remain misdemeanors. It is time to stop the madness and put an end to these insane zero-tolerance policies. Our children’s future depends on it.
**The family of the student framed by an undercover officer have set up a fundraiser to support their lawsuit against the school district. Click here for more information.