NORML would like to wish you a Happy 4/20! In honor of the annual holiday we are pleased to release our 2016 Congressional Scorecard.
With 61 percent of American adults now advocating that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” and 67 percent of voters believing states, not the federal government, ought to be the ultimate arbiters of marijuana regulatory policy, it’s no longer acceptable for the federal government to continue to be an impediment to progress.
Do you know where your federally elected officials stand?
Our Congressional Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
Below are some key findings from the Scorecard:
- 312 members (58 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (258 Representatives and 54 Senators)
- Nineteen members (3.6 percent) received a grade of ‘A’ (17 Representatives and 2 Senators) and 37 members (6.9 percent) received failing grade (20 Representatives and 17 Senators)
- Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 208 members (89.3 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
- Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 102 members (33.8 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
You can access the complete 2016 Congressional Scorecard here.
You can read our Executive Summary here.
Projects like this are only possible because of the donations from NORML members. If you find our Congressional Scorecard useful and wish to support NORML’s efforts, please make a donation of at least $4.20 on this 4/20.
Thank you for your continued support and Happy 4/20,
-The NORML Team
P.S. Don’t forget to attend NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day, May 23-24 in Washington, DC.
We are at a tipping point in this country regarding the legalization of marijuana, and it is exhilarating to experience the ending of prohibition and the start of legalization. Even as the changes in marijuana policy evolve, however, I find it disturbing that many Americans and most elected officials are still not comfortable with the idea of adults smoking marijuana.
I have always been honest about my marijuana smoking, something relatively easy for me because for much of my adult life I have lived in a protective NORML bubble. We sometimes joke that at NORML we drug test employees, and if they don’t fail, they do not get hired!
In my world, people are not judged by their choice of intoxicants and whether or not they smoke themselves as marijuana smoking is simply no big deal. I realize that my world is atypical. Many Americans, perhaps most, are now willing to permit adults to smoke marijuana, but they would like for us to stay in the closet and keep our marijuana smoking to ourselves. It continues to carry a negative social stigma.
As we approach 4/20, the unofficial national holiday for marijuana smokers, I was asked how the public acceptance of marijuana smoking had changed since I first began smoking 50 years ago.
Enormous Gains in Acceptance
The easy answer, of course, is that we have seen enormous positive gains in the way the general public perceives marijuana smokers and marijuana smoking. The reality is actually more nuanced, and there are issues surrounding the use of marijuana that remain problematic and contribute to the prejudice we continue to experience.
The 1930s, 40s and 50s were the Dark Ages of marijuana prohibition, when marijuana was seen as a serious threat to the public health and safety, presumed to be evil, dangerous and capable of turning ordinary people into violent killers and rapists as well as ultimately leading to insanity. Marijuana smoking was seen as deviant behavior that reflected poorly on one’s character and morality.
Most Americans at the time had never smoked marijuana, knew almost nothing about it and had formed their opinions largely on the exaggerated anti-marijuana propaganda advanced by the government and reflected in major newspapers. While a few “reefer maniacs” remain, the country has moved beyond this ignorant phase of our drug policy history.
By the 1960s, marijuana smoking began to be popular among those on the cutting edge of the cultural revolution then taking place. Use was closely identified with those referred to as “long-haired hippies,” who were seen as lazy, rebellious and undisciplined, often involved in the growing anti-Vietnam War movement and therefore un-American.
The dominant culture feared the changes they were seeing among America’s youth and sometimes blamed marijuana as the cause. Young people were challenging traditional values and lifestyles, experimenting with “free sex” and communal living, trying hallucinogens (encouraged by Tim Leary’s call to “turn-on, tune-in and drop-out”), learning about eastern religions and generally seeking a “higher consciousness.” Marijuana was seen as a symbol for those who were challenging authority.
I first smoked marijuana in 1965 when I was a first year law student at Georgetown Law School in Washington, DC, and I can attest to the necessary fear and paranoia we all felt when we did get together with friends to smoke some weed. People were still being sent to jail for several years for the possession or use of even a little marijuana in many states, and those who took the risk to sell us marijuana were especially vulnerable to long prison sentences.
Naturally, everyone tried to be careful when deciding with whom and where they felt comfortable smoking. At that time, there was no public acceptance of marijuana smoking, and it was considered by most to be the first step towards a heroin habit, There was little tolerance for those who ignored the rules.
When we founded NORML in late 1970, only 12% of the public supported the legalization of marijuana. To most of the other 88%, marijuana smoking was seen as something that would disqualify one from being taken seriously by the mainstream culture. No employer would hire someone who acknowledged their marijuana use, assuming they would be an unfit employee. Most would call the police if they somehow discovered a neighbor was a marijuana smoker, fearing they might present a threat to the neighborhood if left to their own devices.
I recall vividly the reaction from many of my friends and associates when, having graduated from a prestigious law school, I began to be publicly identified with NORML and with marijuana smoking. Most reflected disappointment that I would “waste my time” on such a frivolous issue and some presumed I had lost my moral compass and was advancing an agenda that was misguided and bound to fail. Why would someone who had the good fortune to achieve a good education throw it all away in an effort to legalize marijuana?
Compared to those years, we have indeed come a long distance, and the world today seems relatively more enlightened towards marijuana smoking. Even today the President of the United States can joke about his earlier marijuana use without the slightest harm to his standing or credibility. In fact, to some degree it adds to his cachet and makes him more relevant than he might otherwise seem to younger Americans.
Roughly 60% of the country today support full legalization, regardless of why one smokes. While that obviously reflects a higher level of acceptance of marijuana smoking, it does not mean the prejudice against marijuana smokers has ended.
When one digs deeper into the survey data, we find that many of the non-smokers who now support full marijuana legalization do so because they see prohibition as a failed public policy and not because they approve of marijuana smoking. Although they oppose prohibition and favor regulation and control, 64% of those non-smokers have an unfavorable opinion of those of us who smoke. To them, the fact that we choose to smoke marijuana does not justify treating us as criminals but nonetheless causes them to think poorly of us.
The Fight for Social Clubs
We see the continued bias against marijuana smoking as even the first states to legalize marijuana for all adults have made no provisions to permit smoking outside the home. I don’t mean public smoking but rather clubs or venues where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize with other marijuana smokers and share their marijuana with friends.
Led by Denver NORML, efforts are currently underway to pass an initiative that would authorize licenses for marijuana social clubs and special events (think 4/20 and Cannabis Cups), because the city council has balked at efforts to pass similar legislation. Remember, most elected officials in Colorado opposed Amendment 64 when it was on the ballot.
Even in a state that has now largely embraced legal marijuana, that has a thriving legal marijuana industry providing more than $100 million in tax revenue annually to the state, and that encourages marijuana tourism, elected officials are still reticent to do anything that might officially acknowledge that marijuana smoking is acceptable conduct. We are begrudgingly allowed to smoke marijuana, so long as we stay in our homes and out of sight. Permitting us to smoke in a social setting apparently threatens the established social order.
We clearly have more work ahead and need to consider why this anti-marijuana prejudice still exists and what we can do to move beyond it.
We will win this battle for totally fair treatment only when we improve the public perception of marijuana smokers. We have to overcome the “Cheech and Chong” stoner image of a pot smoker who sits on the sofa all day eating junk food.
Because marijuana remains illegal in most states and under federal law, most smokers who hold good jobs in business or industry or the professions simply cannot stand up and be counted, because they would lose their jobs and their ability to support their families. As a result, the majority of middle class smokers are largely invisible to the non-smoking public.
We have to find ways to let America know that marijuana smokers are just ordinary Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive way to our communities. We need to do a better job of letting our non-smoking friends and neighbors know that those of us who smoke are otherwise just like them, with varied interests and hobbies. Marijuana smoking is not the dominant facet of our lives. We are not slackers in any way, nor do we pose any threat to those in society who choose not to smoke.
For those smokers who are self-employed or who are otherwise not subject to drug testing, it is crucial that you come out of the closet and let your community and your professional colleagues see that you are good neighbors as well as responsible marijuana smokers. There should be no social stigma attached to the responsible use of marijuana.
I am confident that within a few years, marijuana smoking will be seen by most Americans as the equivalent of drinking alcohol but safer, and I look forward to that day.
We are not there yet.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.
There is long awaited news from Pennsylvania, as the Keystone State is poised to become the 24th state to permit medical cannabis access and separate legislative efforts continue to move forward around the country. Keep reading below to get this week’s latest in marijuana law reform!
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment today, for the second year in a row, to expand medical marijuana access to United States veterans.
The amendment, sponsored by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a policy that prohibits the department’s physicians from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal. It will be attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
The bipartisan vote was 20 to 10, marking a slight improvement from last year’s 18-12 vote. Though a majority of the Senate passed the amendment in 2015, it was ultimately defeated in conference with the House.
Alabama: Legislation to protect qualified patients eligible for CBD therapy is gaining traction in the legislature. Both the House and Senate are considering similar proposals to expand patient access. While existing state law permits qualified patients to use CBD if they are part of state-sponsored clinical trial, these proposed measures would legally protect qualified patients who possess the substance outside of a clinical trial environment. #TakeAction
Florida: Another municipality in Florida is considering decriminalizing offenses involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana. On Monday, Orlando’s City Council will review an ordinance to make possession of 20 grams (about two-thirds of an ounce) or less a violation of city code, punishable by a fine of $50 for first-time offenders. Tampa and Volusia County both approved similar ordinances last month. NORML first reported this trend of Florida cities and counties adopting decriminalization policies last August.
If you live in Orlando, you can contact your City Council member to urge their support for this measure here.
Louisiana: House and Senate legislation is pending to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Existing law only permits for the patients’ use of medical marijuana in instances where the plant is ‘prescribed.’ However, under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. House Bill 1112 addresses these problems by: permitting physicians to recommend rather than ‘prescribe’ cannabis therapy; by licensing facilities to produce and dispense the product; and by expanding the pool of eligible patients to include ailments like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and intractable pain. Law enforcement groups have voiced disapproval of the proposed change, so it is important that lawmakers hear from you. #TakeAction
Maryland: Governor Larry Hogan has signed legislation to permit the Department of Agriculture to authorize institutions of higher education to cultivate industrial hemp for academic research purposes. Members of the Senate voted 45 to zero in favor of the bill. House members voted 136 to zero in favor of the measure. Maryland is the 26th state to enact legislation recognizing hemp as a agricultural commodity.
State lawmakers have also approved legislation to expand the pool of medical professionals who can provide written recommendations for marijuana to qualifying patients. Under the proposal, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, among other medical professionals, who are in good standing with the state will be permitted to provide written certifications to qualifying patients. The legislation awaits action from Governor Larry Hogan. #TakeAction
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown has signed legislation into law that seeks to encourage financial institutions to engage in financial relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses. The emergency legislation, House Bill 4094, “exempts financial institutions that provide financial services to marijuana related businesses, researchers and laboratories from any criminal law of this state.” The law took effect upon signing.
Pennsylvania: House and Senate lawmakers have given final approval to legislation, Senate Bill 3, to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients. Members of the Senate initially approved the measure in 2015. House leadership delayed acting on the bill for several months until finally passing an amended version of SB 3 in March. Senate and House members voted this week in favor of a concurrent version of the proposal. Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.
South Carolina: Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee have defeated SB 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. However, identical legislation, H. 4037, remains pending in the House. The legislation would allow the use of medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions; it also permits a registered patient or caregiver to possess up to, “two one-ounce packages of marijuana in leaf form, one ounce of cannabis oil concentrate, or eight ounces of diluted cannabis oil.” #TakeAction
Vermont: Members of the House Judiciary moved away from Senate-backed legislation, S. 241, to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. On Friday, April 8, members of the Committee voted 6 to 5 on an amended version of S. 241 to establish a study commission to evaluate the matter of legalization. The vote came after members of the committee narrowly rejected an effort to amend the bill in a manner that would expand the state’s existing decriminalization laws.
Members of the Senate previously voted 17 to 12 in favor of the legislation in its original form, and it continues to be backed by Gov. Shumlin, state Attorney General William Sorrell, and a majority of Vermonters. It is vital that members of both the House and Senate continue hear from you in support of S. 241 so that lawmakers will be persuaded to once again amend this bill in a manner that seeks to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. #TakeAction
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is pleased to announce our endorsement of the MI Legalize 2016 initiative to regulate the adult use, production and retail sale of marijuana in Michigan.
MI Legalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, has collected more than 270,000 signatures in its effort to legalize marijuana via the petitioning process. The grass-roots effort has been collecting signatures from registered voters since June, 2015, and represents the best opportunity to enact a regulatory system in Michigan, a state where it is highly unlikely the state legislature will take any similar action.
Recent polling in Michigan indicates growing public support for marijuana law reform, including the plant’s full legalization. An EPIC-MRA poll conducted in March found 53% support for legalization, up from 50% in 2015. That poll was commissioned by Michigan NORML.
Michigan NORML’s goal is to make Michigan the first Midwestern state to legalize the adult use of marijuana. If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by the voters in the November general election, the MI Legalize proposal will be the most liberal marijuana legalization law in the United States.
We invite marijuana law reform advocates across America to contribute to the MI Legalize campaign via the organization’s website, www.milegalize.com. A Michigan angel donor has made a matching funds pledge, and for a limited time all contributions received by the MI Legalize campaign up to $100,000 will be matched, and your contribution will have twice the impact.
Please support the MI Legalize marijuana legalization campaign in Michigan.
I cringed last weekend when I saw news photos of a protest and demonstration in front of the White House in which the most notable image was a 51-foot inflatable “joint.”
That’s right. Here we are in 2016 on the verge of finally ending marijuana prohibition, and some activists seem caught in a time warp, using tactics more suitable for the 1960s and 70s. I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.
This latest example of street theater came courtesy of DCMJ, the local group in DC who led the successful voter initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia in 2014. They deserve our appreciation for helping move reform forward in DC, where adults are permitted to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants for their personal use, and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult for no remuneration.
This latest protest, though, was both misguided and counter-productive.
The Wrong Target
First, the stated purpose of the protest was to put pressure on President Obama, whom the group claimed had done nothing to legalize marijuana. “The Obama administration has been a big ZERO on cannabis reform,” the organizers of the event alleged in their press release announcing the White House protest.
Apparently they are unaware of the extraordinary action taken by President Obama to instruct his Department of Justice to step aside and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference. That unprecedented action was an enormous gift to the legalization movement and permitted us to demonstrate that marijuana can be successfully legalized and regulated with no significant unintended consequences.
Under any prior administration, the DOJ would have filed for an injunction in federal court, seeking to use federal law to enjoin the provisions in these new state laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Most legal observers agree they would have been successful, based on the “supremacy clause” of the US Constitution.
It is the experience of these first few states that allows us to argue with authority that legalization is a legitimate option to prohibition. Ignoring the significance of this decision by President Obama, in order to justify some street theater, suggests a lack of political sophistication.
Also, President Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 200 federal drug prisoners, including a number of people serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, and promises additional non-violent offenders will be pardoned or otherwise released from prison over the remaining months of his administration. It is difficult to imagine a public protest intended to embarrass the president would be a helpful tactic at this juncture.
The Wrong Time
Public protests have at times played a powerful role in our country’s history, most notably in building public opposition to unpopular wars, including especially the Vietnam war. However, those demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, and demonstrated mass support for ending the war.
The latest protest at the White House involved perhaps 100 protesters, and rather than demonstrating mass opposition to President Obama and his marijuana policies, showed a handful of activists more concerned with seeing themselves on the evening news than engaging in the hard work of actually changing public policy. The utilization of the 51-foot inflatable “joint” left the impression this was more about fun in the park and less about serious political change.
Keep in mind that the City Council in the District of Columbia has been actively discussing the need to license commercial growers and retail sellers of marijuana. They would have done this earlier but for a provision attached by Congress on the District’s budget (Congress retains the right to review and possibly reject actions of our elected City Council).
Under the terms of a recent court case in DC (Council of the District of Columbia v DeWitt) , it now appears the Council may adopt a legally regulated market for marijuana, if they use only money raised from DC residents, excluding money provided to the District by Congress. The Council members understand they need to tread carefully in this area to avoid a backlash from the more conservative members of Congress, but a clear majority want to move forward.
Witnessing the juvenile demonstration at the White House could only complicate this delicate dance the DC City Council is trying to take regarding marijuana policy in the District. Instead of (symbolically) blowing smoke in their faces, these local activists could have been meeting with our supporters on the City Council to discuss how best to move forward with the least resistance from Congress.
Apparently, that would not have been nearly as much fun, nor would it have resulted in their being covered in the local news. All of us who engage in public advocacy for legalization need to be sure we are taking actions that move the legalization movement forward and not confusing media coverage with political progress. All news is not good news, and some news coverage definitely sets us back.
This latest street theater at the White House was one of those times. Though few of us were involved (none of the national reform organizations), it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization in the District, or to encourage President Obama to push marijuana law reform further under federal law.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com: