Statewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.
With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalization” measure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.
“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”
To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email email@example.com today!
Jordan Person, executive director of the Denver Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) submitted roughly 8,000 signatures this week to Denver’s Election Division with the hope of qualifying the Responsible Use Initiative for this November’s ballot. Relying on the hard work and dedication of more than twenty grassroots activists, the Denver NORML team worked tirelessly for more than three months educating voters on the issue and collecting signatures throughout the city. The campaign needs a total of 4,726 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“I could not be more proud of the grassroots movement Denver NORML has created. Our volunteers sacrificed every moment they could to work hard for this campaign.” Person said. “It was an easy choice for most because of how much they believe in the initiative they are fighting for. As we go through this interim period of waiting, hoping and preparing we look forward to the future with excitement.”
If certified for the ballot, Denver voters will be among the first in the nation to decide whether to regulate legal private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and over.
Officials with Denver Elections have 25 days to verify the campaign’s signatures. Regardless of the outcome, this has been a groundbreaking effort to normalize the consumption of marijuana in America.
In addition to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign, voters in the city might also have the opportunity to vote on a similar, yet more limited proposal that would restrict consumers to vaping in predesignated areas.
Like most Americans who follow the debate over marijuana legalization in this country, I was disappointed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week once again determined that marijuana has no medical use and left it in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Disappointed, but not surprised.
NORML first petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule back in 1973, and we have been involved in two subsequent attempts to accomplish the same result, without success. The DEA is a law enforcement agency. So they will continue to oppose any steps to loosen controls over marijuana until Congress forces them to change.
A Brief History of Rescheduling Attempts.
The initial petition NORML filed to reschedule marijuana in 1973 ended up being an endurance test. The agency refused to even acknowledge our petition or respond to it until we went to the court of appeals and forced them to respond. And this strategy of ignore and delay continued at every step, dragging the process out for 15 years until 1988, when DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, following days of testimony, finally ruled in our favor.
The ruling concluded that “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
Judge Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”
However, the DEA Administrator simply ignored the decision of his own hearing examiner and rejected our petition, claiming the hearing examiner had relied on anecdotal evidence. NORML again appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the court allowed the Administrator’s decision to stand, saying he had acted within his discretion.
And twice in the intervening decades NORML has been a party to subsequent attempts to require the DEA to reschedule marijuana; and both times, as they did in this most recent case, the DEA continued to insist that marijuana has no medical usefulness and should remain on Schedule I, along with heroin.
So I hope readers will understand when I say, “Enough is enough! Time to ignore the DEA altogether and focus our efforts on Congress.”
How Marijuana Ended Up on Schedule I in the First Place.
When the federal Controlled Substances Act was being considered by Congress in 1970 — after the prior federal anti-marijuana act had been held unconstitutional — various members of Congress debated the question of where to place marijuana under the new act. A separate provision of that new law established The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Marijuana Commission), which was charged with the responsibility of determining the appropriate policy regarding marijuana and reporting back to Congress. A compromise was reached to temporarily place marijuana in Schedule I until the commission came back with their report.
When the commission came back with its marijuana report in 1972, they recommended that minor marijuana offenses be decriminalized, which would have made it available (again) as a medicine. (Marijuana was on the U.S. Pharmacopeia from the mid-1850s until 1937, and it was available by prescription and widely prescribed for several conditions.)
However, those recommendations were not accepted by then-Presdient Nixon or Congress, and marijuana was left in Schedule I, where it remains today.
In fact, what Congress should really do, and what NORML has been arguing for some time, is to totally de-schedule marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and treat it as we do alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.
Bills Pending In Congress.
There are currently several bills pending in Congress that, if adopted, would resolve this matter. HR 1774, the Compassionate Access Act, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Rep. Dana Rorhabacher (R-Calif.), would require that marijuana be rescheduled and would prohibit federal officials from interfering in state-compliant activities specific to the physician-authorized use or distribution of medical cannabis.
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently introduced S.2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, that would de-schedule cannabis from the CSA and treat it like alcohol and tobacco.
Of course, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing or given a vote — even in committee. But those conditions may change following the upcoming election in November, and we may well have the opportunity to move a rescheduling proposal forward in the next Congress.
So instead of trying to convince the DEA that they should act responsibly and compassionately and lower marijuana to a more appropriate schedule under federal law, or remove it entirely, it is now time to put our efforts behind a push to convince the next Congress to solve this problem directly.
This column originally appeared on ATTN.com.
My name is Randy Quast and I am NORML’s new Acting Executive Director. Let me be the first to welcome you to a new era at NORML.
I’m from Minnesota. My background is in business. I worked my way up in trucking, starting with my family’s small 10-employee trucking company in the 1980s. I worked in various departments of the company and eventually became president and CEO in 1988. By the time I sold the company ten years later, it employed 700 people in 23 service centers in 10 Midwestern states and had revenues over $50 million a year.
After retiring, I turned my love of flying into 2,500 flight-hours. I volunteered myself and my airplane to AirLifeLine to fly patients who couldn’t afford commercial flights to receive medical treatments. I eventually became the president and CEO of that non-profit until we merged with another similar organization. The combined companies still operate today under the name Angel Flight.
Coming Out of the Closet
But throughout my previous careers, I had always been a regular marijuana consumer — a corporate stoner, if you will. But like many in similar positions, I kept that information private. It wasn’t until 2007 that I was forced out of the cannabis closet and into the arms of NORML.
While out for dinner one evening a thief broke in my home and dragged my safe, where I stored my marijuana, out the back door. When neighbors confronted the thief, he ran, leaving the safe in the middle of my back yard.
When I came home, there were cop cars all around my home. I’d left an aluminum one-hitter in the bathroom. That led to cops’ suspicions about what was in my safe. That led to a search warrant and a SWAT raid of my home. The three ounces in my safe led to a felony possession charge.
Because I was fortunate to be a white person and able to afford an attorney, I received a stay of adjudication with two years’ probation. When my probation ended in 2009, I attended my first NORML Conference in Portland, Oregon. I then returned home to start Minnesota NORML in 2010. Recently, I moved to Oregon in 2015 and co-founded Portland NORML.
Now, I’m in Washington, D.C., working to take National NORML into the next era, one that includes continuing the fight for legalization in places like Minnesota and includes expanding the rights of legal cannabis consumers in places like Oregon.
Positioning NORML For the Future
NORML has formed a search committee to find a new, permanent Executive Director. In the interim, we’re continuing our important work. We’re educating lawmakers and judges on the scientific truth about cannabis, public policy, and health.
We’re supporting our chapters and grassroots supporters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada as they push for legalization in 2016 and we are supporting our chapters and advocates in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, and Montana as they fight to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.
We’re are also working with congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill to pass legislation needed to secure banking and tax relief for our legal marijuana industries.
On the state level, we’re working with legislators to reduce marijuana penalties and to increase patients’ access, while also organizing municipal initiatives to permit social use and to mitigate criminal sanctions.
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed many successes on the state level. Three states have enacted legislation to permit medical marijuana access while many others have expanded access to greater numbers of patients. Many states have amended their laws to significantly reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana or cannabis paraphernalia, while other states have taken steps to authorize the growing of industrial hemp.
As we look forward to the future, specifically this November, we realize that our role is more important than ever. With voters deciding on nine marijuana-specific ballot measures, this election is the most important in recent memory. And the results of Election Day hold the potential to transform American public policy.
So, as I begin this new chapter at NORML I ask all of you to join me. Please help usher in this new era by making a donation today of $50.00 or more to NORML. Your donation will help assure that we continue to play a necessary role in shaping public opinion and policy in such a way that puts the needs of responsible marijuana consumers first. As the nation continues to engage in this ongoing narrative regarding legalization, there exists a greater need than ever for politicians, media, and policy analysts to seek guidance and expertise from NORML with regard to the benefits of regulation as well as the health and societal effects of responsible cannabis consumption.
I’m excited to do my part to make NORML the best organization it can be and I hope you’ll join me.
Among all the speeches and balloons and revelry of the recently completed Democratic National Convention — a convention that has already made history by nominating a woman for president – was a far less obvious, but important change in the Democratic Party platform. For the first time since marijuana was made illegal on the federal level in 1937, a major party platform has embraced a strategy they describe as a “reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
That’s right. While many mainstream elected officials remain skittish of endorsing or embracing potentially controversial social issues, the 2016 Democratic Party finally could no longer ignore the changing attitudes towards marijuana legalization reflected in the national polls, and evidenced by the growing number of states that have already moved in this direction.
The precise text of the history-making marijuana amendment was as follows:
“Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization”
In other words, the Democrats endorsed the strategy legalizers have been following since 2012, when we first legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington, despite the continuation of federal prohibition.
Now let’s be honest. We have all seen over the years that the national parties tend to adopt a platform favored by their candidate, which is then almost immediately ignored once the candidate is elected. The platform is a campaign tool, and it is malleable, so as not to box anyone into a position he/she is uncomfortable with.
Nonetheless, seeing the words “a reasoned pathway for future legalization” in the Democratic platform is truly empowering for those who have worked so long to try to get our state and national elected officials to embrace an end to marijuana prohibition. It provides political cover to any and all elected officials who have known all along that prohibition causes more harm than the marijuana it is intended to protect us from, but who have feared an honest position might endanger their political careers.
The Bernie Sanders Factor
We all recognize that Sen. Bernie Sanders had the strongest pro-legalization position; and that his publicizing that position during the hard-fought campaign, and fighting for those provisions during the platform debates, caused Sec. Hillary Clinton and her supporters to more to the left, first endorsing the medical use of marijuana, and most importantly, agreeing with Sanders that the states should be allowed to continue to experiment with full legalization, without interference from the federal government. That is a significant improvement over her earlier cautious statements calling for more research, and should assure us at least four more years to demonstrate to the public that legalization is an effective program with few if any unintended consequences. Thanks, Bernie, we are in your debt.
With social issues, occasionally progress comes in bold steps, especially if the courts get involved and determine that an existing policy is unconstitutional (e.g., Roe v Wade on abortion rights or Obergefell v. Hodges on gay marriages). Of course, each of these victories was preceded by decades of litigation, so they too were not exactly overnight successes. Change takes time in this country, and generally occurs in incremental steps, rather than by big steps.
But the courts have consistently refused to hold marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional (with the exception of a state decision out of Alaska back in 1975 (Ravin v State ) holding the marijuana laws were unconstitutional as applied to personal use amounts in the home). So we don’t have the luxury of designing a strategy to win this fight with one big, successful court decision. We will have to win legalization through a combination of voter initiatives in the states that offer that option, and passing legislation in the other states, a challenging task that almost assures those states will be among the last to change.
But prohibition has been in effect for 80 years, resulting in the arrest of more than 30 million Americans on marijuana charges, many serving time in prison, alienating generations of young people and severely limiting their ability to get an education and advance professionally in their chosen careers. If necessary, we can certainly spend a few more decades (and I believe it will require a decade or more to finally treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly, including ending job discrimination, unfair child care policies, and unfair DUID provisions) to repair the damage caused by prohibition.
For the first time in my lifetime, a major political party has suggested they too recognize the need to move towards legalization, and away from prohibition. It was certainly not the headline of a convention that nominated the first female candidate for president, but it surely was a wonderfully hopeful sign of things to come.
By the next quadrennial conventions, even the Republicans may have found the courage to state the obvious.