Super-majorities of voters believe that medical cannabis should be legal, and most men additionally support legalizing marijuana for all adults, according to the results of a Quinnipiac University Swing State poll.
Pollsters gauged support for marijuana law reform in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Florida voters backed legalizing cannabis therapy by a margin of 87 percent to 12 percent. A majority of male voters (57 percent) also supported broader legalization, while only 49 percent of women agreed.
Reform advocates are presently gathering signatures for a pair of potential ballot drives in 2016. The first, backed by United For Care, seeks to permit the physician-authorized use of cannabis. The second effort, sponsored by Regulate Florida and NORML of Florida, seeks to regulate the plant’s production, consumption, and sales to adults.
A 2014 amendment that sought to permit cannabis therapy garnered 58 percent of vote — two percent shy of the threshold necessary for passage in Florida.
Ninety percent of Ohio voters say that marijuana should be legal for medicinal purposes. Fifty-nine percent of male voters additionally backed legalizing the plant for social use versus only 47 percent of female voters.
Ohio voters will decide this November on a proposed ballot measure (Issue 3, the Marijuana Legalization Amendment) to regulate the state-licensed production and sale of cannabis for both medical and retail purposes. The measure also permits adults to cultivate personal use quantities of cannabis (up to four plants yielding no more than 8 ounces of usable product at any one time) at home. State lawmakers opposed to the plan have placed a competing measure, Issue 2, on the November ballot that seeks to prohibit state regulators from permitting the limited production of “any Schedule I controlled substance.” If voters approved both measures, Issue 2 states that the “entire proposed constitutional [marijuana] amendment shall not take effect.”
In Pennsylvania, 90 percent of voters back medicalizing marijuana. Fifty-two percent of men also support legalization, versus 43 percent of women voters.
Senate lawmakers this year approved compromised medical marijuana legislation, but the measure remains stalled in the House. Separate senate legislation, Senate Bill 528, to permit the adult possession and retail sale of marijuana has not yet been heard by lawmakers.
In 46 states, marijuana smokers still have to worry about being arrested and jailed for their use of marijuana. The latest Uniform Crime Report released a few days ago found more than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges during 2014 — a marijuana arrest every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 88 percent were for simple possession for personal use – just average Americans who enjoy smoking a joint when they relax at the end of the day, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.
And when our personal freedom is at stake, ending arrests has to be the priority for all of us.
New Challenges with Legal Marijuana
But as we move forward to fully legalize marijuana in more and more states, a number of consumer protection issues come to the fore in those states to assure the marijuana and marijuana products we are offering to consumer are safe, free from potentially harmful molds, pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants, and are accurately labeled.
As with any plant, marijuana is prone to pests and disease, and pesticides and herbicides are routinely used to prevent bugs and mildew from destroying plants, which could cost the grower millions of dollars.
Because marijuana has for decades been considered illegal contraband, there is almost no research available dealing with the potential harm to the marijuana consumer from these potential additives. The closest body of relevant science involves the potential risks from food treated with additives, and from tobacco treated with additives.
And because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the agency charged with protecting Americans and our environment from potentially dangerous pesticides, has essentially rebuffed state authorities when they have approached the agency for advice and assistance in getting this right. The states are largely having to develop their own list of which additives are safe to use on marijuana, and which are not.
And not surprisingly, there have been some growing pains. As with other legal industries, some in the marijuana industry have used their increasing influence to delay and water-down potential regulations intended to protect consumers, and advocated for less stringent protections.
But that is just part of the usual give-and-take between those who represent the industry, and those of us who represent consumers. Over time these and other similar issues can be resolved in a manner that protects the health of the consumer, while still allowing a robust marijuana cultivation industry.
Problems in Oregon
A recent investigative piece in the Oregonian found that many of the marijuana products being sold to medical patients in Oregon, (they have only recently begun selling for recreational use) with the required lab certificate indicating they had been tested and were safe, in fact were adulterated, sometimes in far greater amounts than is allowed for those same additives on food or tobacco products. This was especially a problem with extracts and concentrates.
“A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market,” the Oregonian concluded, calling for far more detailed and stringent state regulations to regulate the testing facilities themselves, to assure reliable results. Those new, more comprehensive regulations are expected to be promulgated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state agency designated to regulate the new legal recreational marijuana industry, in 2016, as they officially roll-out the new recreational stores.
Similar Experiences in Colorado
In Colorado, recognizing the problem of different labs coming up with conflicting test results from the same marijuana, the legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, legislation creating statewide marijuana lab standards for marijuana potency, homogeneity and contaminants. And the state Department of Agriculture recently proposed a draft list of about 75 pesticides deemed to be safe for use on marijuana, based on their previous approval for use on food intended for human consumption, down from the current list of 200 acceptable pesticides. The state is finally acting, prodded by the city of Denver that had begun adopting its own standards, and requiring a few growers and retailers to recall some contaminated products.
The Cannabist and the Denver Post report that the pesticide regulations were delayed by a year, and ended-up being less restrictive than originally proposed, because of pressure from the marijuana industry in CO, fearful some of the pesticides currently in common use would be prohibited, putting their crops at risk. The marijuana industry “was the biggest obstacle we had,” in devising pesticide regulations, according to former Colorado Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar.
Two growers based in Denver – Mahatma Concentrates and Treatments Unlimited – are now under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for excessive pesticide residue on their products, and in at least one case, the products have been recalled.
Washington Tries to be Proactive
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (recently renamed to include our favorite herb), the agency that has licensing, regulatory and enforcement authority over recreational cannabis growers, processors and retailers, seeking to be proactive, initially attempted to seek guidance from the EPA in 2014, but were advised the federal agency does not consider marijuana to be an herb, spice or vegetable, but rather a controlled substance, and would provide no guidance.
Eventually the state regulatory agency issued a comprehensive listing of 309 pesticides that are permitted to be used in the production, processing, and handling of marijuana. According to a statement issued by the Seattle and King County Public Health Department, “These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.” Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide that information to customers and regulators upon request.
The Washington State Department of Health is currently formulating quality assurance standards for marijuana products, including guidelines for pesticide testing. The Seattle Times reports that marijuana growers and processors in Washington state that meet new state standards for things like labeling, safe handling, and pesticide screening, can now apply to obtain an “enhanced seal of approval” from the state.
Washington does already require screening for mold and microbes, but the state isn’t mandating that companies also undertake the expensive process of screening for pesticides. Rather, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is hoping that the incentive of carrying that new label will be sufficient to make it worth their while.
Obviously there is a critical need for comprehensive new research on the safety of pesticides on marijuana, which could then inform revised regulations to further protect marijuana consumers from marijuana adulterated by dangerous pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants. And the newly legal marijuana industry emerging in a handful of states has a moral obligation to carefully adhere to current regulations, as well as those yet to come, to assure the products they produce are safe for human consumption.
Admittedly, we had no such protections from the marijuana we smoked for decades that was cultivated on the black market, and most of us came through that experience without any detectable harm. But with legalization, we now have the opportunity to bring this market under the same protections we provide for other legal substances that are deemed fit for human consumption, and to provide consumers with the assurance that the marijuana they are smoking is free from harmful contaminants.
The experience in this initial group of legalization states in dealing with pesticides and other contaminants will provide a base of scientific data that other states can adopt and build-on going forward.
Like any other industry, there will occasionally be a bad actor who intentionally flouts the rules and puts at risk the health of those who consume their products. But those will, over time, be identified and forced out of the legal industry; and they are surely the exception. Most industry players want to operate in a responsible manner to build their brand’s reputation for quality and safety.
As we move forward, there will continue to be new challenges, but it is wonderful to be at a place where we can begin to address these consumer protection issues, something that was simply not possible so long as marijuana was a prohibited substance, and marijuana smokers were considered criminals.
Due to a technical glitch, the earlier post of this column was not complete. This is the entire column. My apology for any confusion.
My continuing travels to some of the more interesting marijuana legalization events around the country (and one coming up in Jamaica) brought me this past weekend to Las Vegas to attend the 2nd Annual Las Vegas Hempfest on Saturday.
The Las Vegas Hempfest, which licensed the name from the original Seattle Hempfest, was held outside the city’s convention center with two stages, lots of good music, and scores of industry exhibitors. Tommy Chong was the star of the show, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Hempfest organizers.
Our friends at Freedom Leaf, who were co-sponsors of the event this year, were in charge of lining up speakers for the day-long series of policy panels that were held a short walk away, inside the convention center. Most attendees, of course, are there to party and enjoy the music, but some are also interested in learning more about the issue of legalizing marijuana, and how that change in policy will impact the culture.
The topics this year included medical/nutritional issues, a nursing panel, cultivation techniques, an industry/finance panel, a media panel and an activism panel. I was pleased to be on a legal penal with Freedom Leaf co-founder Richard Cowan (also a NORML board member and a former NORML national director); and San Diego attorney Ken Sobel.
The event showcased all things marijuana, and provided those in the soon-to-be-legal marijuana market in Nevada (medical use is already legal, and the first few dispensaries have recently opened) an opportunity to introduce their newest products and services, and to begin to build, or extend the reach of their brand to yet another state in a growing list of pot-friendly venues.
Las Vegas, the destination with the nickname of “Sin City” and the slogan of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” suggesting that tourists can enjoy more personal freedom here than in their home town, including gambling and other sometimes naughty options, seems like a natural environment for marijuana legalization. And with a good voter turnout in November of 2016, the state will finally live-up to its reputation.
Tithing To Benefiting NORML
And I would be remiss not to thank the event’s sponsors for generously donating to NORML a dollar from each ticket sold to this event. It was their way of thanking NORML for the decades of hard work that made it possible to finally achieve these recent political successes, an example of tithing that one would hope will be adopted by many more players in the new Green Rush over the coming months and years.
It requires resources to end prohibition, and to enact new laws, either by voter initiative (in those states that offer that option) or legislatively, and these new businesses that are profiting from legalization have a moral obligation to invest a little of those profits back into the movement, and the groups, that have made these changes possible.
So as we head into 2016, the year that should be the breakout year for legalization, let’s continue the strategy that has brought us to where we are today – a state-based strategy that with each new legalization state brings additional support in Congress – and that will, within a few years, permit us to repeal federal prohibition as well, leaving the states free to enact whatever marijuana policy they want, without federal interference.
Full Legalization On the Nevada Ballot in 2016
The sponsors of the Nevada legalization initiative, the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada, have already gathered the required number of signatures and have been assured of a place on the 2016 November ballot.
Under the proposal, effective January 1, 2017, it would be legal for an adult to possess one ounce of marijuana and, if they live further than 25 miles from a licensed retail outlet, to cultivate up to six plants in the home. And starting in 2018, there would be retail outlets where consumers could legally purchase their marijuana and marijuana products.
Unnecessary Restrictions on Home Cultivation
This unfortunate 25-miles requirement before one is allowed to grow their own marijuana shows the influence the newly legal marijuana industry is beginning to have in the legalization movement. Of course retail sellers would prefer that all marijuana users purchase their marijuana from one of the licensed stores, but unless polling shows the inclusion of home-cultivation would cause the proposal to fail, personal cultivation is a right that adult consumers should have. Most will not elect to spend the time and resources required to grow their own pot, but having that option will keep the industry responsive to the legitimate needs of consumers for a product that is high quality, safe and affordable.
Commercial Licensing Starting in 2018
Other provisions of the initiative would, beginning in 2018, license commercial growers, kitchens, testing facilities, distributors and retailers. Those currently holding medical marijuana retail licensees would for 18 months be the only parties eligible to apply for a retail recreational license; and, in a new twist not seen before, those holding a current alcohol distribution license would have a similar 18-month period during which only they would be eligible for a marijuana distribution license!
The initiative would impose a 15 percent excise tax, on top of the existing 6.5 percent sales tax (and the possibility of up to an 1.25 local tax), and local governments would retain their right to impose zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses.
So obviously this is another example of the growing influence of the newly legal marijuana industry. It is fair to say the pending legalization proposal in Nevada is slanted more to please the industry, than it is to please the consumer.
Not Perfect, But A Big Step Forward
But as NORML has done with previous legalization initiatives, all of which include some disappointing provisions, so long as the initiative ends marijuana prohibition and stops the practice of arresting marijuana smokers, and establishes a legal market where consumers can buy their marijuana, we will almost certainly support the Nevada proposal, warts and all.
And we will be back, once it has passed, to try to make further improvements to assure that marijuana consumers are treated fairly in all areas of their lives, including ending job discrimination, resolving child custody issues and requiring a showing of impairment for a DUID conviction. Policy change occurs incrementally, and it requires commitment and persistence.
If we should hold-out for the perfect law (and we would differ on what a perfect law would look like), the criminal prohibition of marijuana would continue for many more years, along with the continued arrests of hundreds of thousands of marijuana smokers each year.
This column originally was posted on Marijuana.com.
Excitement filled the air at this year’s Boston Freedom Rally as Massachusetts voters consider two initiatives aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and Bay State Repeal are both working to collect the signatures needed to qualify for next November’s ballot.
California NORML’s partnership with ReformCA will guarantee responsible marijuana consumers an opportunity to have their voices heard as stakeholders continue to weigh in on the various initiatives currently being proposed.
With legalization on this November’s ballot, Ohioans will have a chance to not just end the arrest of thousands of marijuana consumers, they’ll be able to bring relief to people seeking the medicinal benefits of marijuana to treat their ailments.
Since July, Florida NORML has seen a lot of success with marijuana decriminalization efforts. From Miami-Dade County, to municipalities such as Hallandale Beach and Miami Beach, local governments have embraced this current trend. Several other cities are looking to take action in the months ahead.
Dan Viets, executive director of Missouri NORML and member of NORML’s National Board of Directors, fought hard to bring justice to Jeff Mizanskey and his family. Mr. Mizanskey is scheduled to speak at Springfield NORML’s next meeting on Wednesday, October 7, 2015. Click here for more details!
Activists with Northwest Ohio NORML earned the support of each of Toledo’s 24 wards to pass an ordinance aimed at eliminating penalties for possessing up to 200 grams of marijuana. Lawmakers are currently meeting to discuss the implementation of the new law.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, took a minute to share his thoughts on the peculiar progression of America’s marijuana laws. From the early acceptance of medical marijuana in the west and the legalization of recreational marijuana in four states, to a pending ballot initiative in Ohio, it’s obvious American’s are ready to end the the government’s senseless war against marijuana consumers.
In a recent interview, Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, commended the State of Oregon for their rollout of their new recreational marijuana program. He attributes the success to state regulators paying close attention to the implementation of similar laws in other states.
New Chapter Spotlight
Denver NORML recently held their first public meeting to discuss the need for consumer advocacy in a post-legalization environment. Close to twenty-five marijuana consumers packed the room to show their support and share a few concerns about pesticides, social use and high taxes.
Marijuana law reform is a growing topic of discussion at the state and federal level. Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — a new post we’ll be sharing regularly where we spotlight pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.
To support the measures below, please use our #TakeAction Center to contact your state and federal elected officials! A full list and summary of pending legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bills approved this year is also available here.
New Federal Bills Introduced:
Congressmen Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) have introduced HR 3518, to eliminate the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. The DEA program distributes funds to state and local law enforcement agencies for the purpose of locating and destroying marijuana cultivation sites. In 2014, the federal government spent an estimated $18 million on the program to destroy 4.3 million plants, mostly in California.
Congresswoman Diana Degette (D-CO) has reintroduced legislation, H.R. 3629, the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2015, to amend the Controlled Substances Act in a manner that allows marijuana-related businesses and consumers in states that have legalized marijuana to be safe from federal interference. Fifty-nine percent of Americans agree that the government “should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow [its] use,” yet the federal government continues to prosecute businesses and individuals in states that regulate marijuana for medical and personal use.
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced the Fair Access to Education Act of 2015 to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to restore federal financial aid eligibility to minor marijuana offenders. This measure would “exclude marijuana-related offenses from the drug-related offenses that result in students being barred from receiving Federal educational loans, grants, and work assistance, and for other purposes.”
State Legislative Developments:
South Carolina: Members of the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee have unanimously passed SB 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. Senators Tom Davis (R-46) and Brad Hutto (D-40) introduced SB 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, earlier this year after lawmakers tabled previous medical marijuana legislation. The Medical Marijuana Program Act allows the use of medical marijuana for an extensive list of conditions and “any other medical condition…that the department determines, upon the written request of a provider who furnishes a medical recommendation to the department, is severely debilitating or terminal.” SB 672 will be considered by the full Senate Medical Affairs committee early next year.
Florida: House Bill 4021 was introduced by Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda. This bill removes cannabis from the Florida state schedule of controlled substances and removes all state criminal and civil penalties associated with the substance. Such a change is supported by Florida voters, 55 percent of whom support allowing adults “to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” according to 2015 survey data published by Quinnipiac University. And in recent months, numerous cities and counties, like Miami-Dade County, have amended their local laws to stop arresting minor marijuana offenders.
Additional information for all of these measures and more can 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!