I just returned last evening from the 26th annual Boston Freedom Rally on the historic Boston Common, a lovely event that has become more celebration than protest as Massachusetts moves ever closer to ending prohibition and fully legalizing marijuana.
The weather this year was fabulous, with bright blue autumn New England skies and comfortable fall temperatures, the crowds were huge, especially on Saturday (the largest crow I recall experiencing in my twenty-plus years attending), and the overwhelming feeling was one of confident optimism at this latest Freedom Rally, as Massachusetts looks forward to the opportunity to fully legalize marijuana by way of a voter initiative in November of 2016.
In fact, there are currently two competing initiatives starting to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2016, and both are great for consumers.
Two Competing Legalization Initiatives
One, an effort know as Bay State Repeal, is a project organized primarily by long-time in-state activists involved with MassCann/NORML, the NORML state affiliate in Massachusetts, led by attorney Steve Epstein from Georgetown, Mass. The other, The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is a project organized and funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, although the standard MPP model has been tailored somewhat by the input of a handful of long-time, in-state legalization activists, including especially Richard Evans and Michael Cutler from Northampton, Mass.
The major difference between the two approaches involves the degree of regulation for the proposed legal marijuana industry.
Bay State Repeal
Indeed, the Bay State Repeal proposal has no limitation on the amount of marijuana one can cultivate or possess for personal use, and the only restriction is a prohibition on the sale to minors. It is a version of what is frequently called the “tomato model,” and calls for marijuana to be treated like other legal commodities. Licensed retail stores may sell any amount of marijuana to those 21 and above. Retail sales of marijuana would be subject to the state’s regular sales tax rate of 6.25 percent.
The Bay State Repeal proposal would also authorize marijuana farms, locally licensed marijuana farmers’ markets and marijuana products producers to be licensed by the state. It would also permit municipalities to license cannabis cafes or private clubs where marijuana could be sold and consumed, but not alcohol. And it includes provisions protecting lawful marijuana users from being deemed guilty of abuse or neglect of their minor children, without other evidence; and provisions attempting to protect employees from being fired for their off-job marijuana use.
Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol places strict limits on the amount of marijuana an individual may possess or cultivate. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana out of the home, and up to 10 ounces in an enclosed, locked space within their home; and could cultivate up to six marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 per household.
The CRMLA proposal would license commercial growers, product manufacturing facilities and testing facilities, and would establish the Cannabis Control Commission to implement and enforce regulations controlling the legal marijuana industry. Retail marijuana sales would be subject to a special 3.7 percent excise tax, as well as the regular state sales tax of 6.25 percent. In addition, municipalities would be permitted to enact an additional 2 percent tax on retail sales within their jurisdiction. Localities under this proposal would have the authority to permit on-premise consumption at licensed venues, if approved by local initiative.
This proposal also seeks to protect marijuana-smoking parents from charges of child abuse or neglect, without specific evidence beyond their use of marijuana; but does not limit an employer’s right to fire an employee for off-the-job marijuana use.
Neither proposal would permit public smoking or change the current laws regarding driving while impaired from marijuana.
How Do We Choose?
Now that both proposals have been certified by the state Attorney General, supporters of each measure must collect 64,750 signatures from voters by November 2015 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. If one qualifies, and one does not, all proponents of legalization must get behind the one that’s on the ballot.
As a consumer, both proposals are attractive. Smokers in 46 states would dearly love to have either of these plans in place in their state. They both end the practice of treating marijuana smokers like criminals, both permit personal cultivation, and both establish a legal market where consumers can buy their marijuana.
Obviously, if both qualify for the ballot, it has the real potential to split the legalization vote and leave prohibition in place. So one could hope that the two sides will eventually get together behind one proposal or the other, based on what the polling demonstrates can realistically win. But that is far from certain, as early efforts to find common ground were unsuccessful.
So we need to let this process work itself out, and the result may come down to which of the two has the funding to collect the required signatures, and run a professional campaign. We should keep our powder dry until we see the results of this next phase.
Helpful State Supreme Court Ruling
One additional promising development occurred in Massachusetts over the last few days, leading up to the Freedom Rally. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, their highest court, handed down an important decision holding that because the possession of a small amount of marijuana in the state has, since 2008, been decriminalized, with the penalty reduced to a $100 civil fine, the police may no longer use suspicion that the occupant of an automobile may possess marijuana as legal justification to search the car or the occupants of the car, without a search warrant.
“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve objectives” of the new law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority, explaining that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” a stated goal of changing the law in 2008.
Botsford’s opinion followed earlier Supreme Judicial Court rulings in 2011, and again in 2014, holding the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.
Which makes Massachusetts an even more inviting place to live, or to visit, if one is a marijuana smoker. Now let’s finish the job and enact full legalization by voter initiative in 2016. It’s our breakout year, and Massachusetts should be a big part of that.
It’s been a year of preparation for those in the legalization movement. It’s a non-election year, with only one statewide measure on the ballot this November — Issue 3 in Ohio — which may answer the question of whether the lure of legalization will bring a surge of young voters to the polls in sufficient numbers to approve full legalization in an off-year election.
A victory in Ohio will challenge conventional wisdom that holds voter initiatives should never be scheduled in odd-numbered years; a defeat will reinforce the need to focus on even-numbered years.
2015 has also been a year of implementation of the legalization initiatives approved by the voters in Oregon and Alaska in 2014. Retail marijuana sales are scheduled to begin on October 1 this year in Oregon (the legislature enacted legislation permitting the existing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling to recreational users a year earlier than would have been the case under the terms of the voter initiative); while Alaska is still developing their regulations, hoping to have its retail stores up and running early in 2016.
2016 Should Be A Breakout Year
But the real focus for the legalization movement is 2016, a presidential-election year (when legalization initiatives generally do best) with full legalization initiatives expected to qualify for the ballot in several states, including Arizona, California, Maine. Massachusetts, Michigan, and Nevada. In addition, a coalition calling itself Show-Me Cannabis is mounting a serious effort in Missouri, although that seems less certain to qualify for the ballot; and voter initiative efforts have been announced in a handful of other states, including Wyoming (since withdrawn), Montana and Mississippi, that appear premature politically.
We have the real possibility of more than doubling the number of states with full legalization during 2016, which should boost the legalization movement into the political stratosphere and drive a stake through the heart of prohibition, once and for all. If we win four or five or even six more states next year, the game is over and we will have won. But none of that is certain, and each of these proposed initiatives faces serious challenges.
One fact of life for legalization proponents today is the likelihood that many of these efforts will be facing opposition from other legalization activists, who frequently favor less regulations and control, and in some states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan) offer competing legalization initiatives that, were they to qualify for the ballot, would likely split the pro-legalization vote and assure legalization would lose at the polls. It remains to be seen if any of the competing initiatives will find the funding or political support to qualify for the ballot, and recent experience suggests they may not.
When marijuana legalization was just a theory of where we wanted to go, there were only two sides to the debate: those who favored prohibition and those who favored legalization. But as legalization became a real possibility, it became clear that not everyone agrees on what they mean by legalization. Should it be a system similar to the one for alcohol; should it be the “tomato model”, with no controls or limits; or something in-between. Are we willing to compromise in order to end prohibition, or do we wish to hold out for that elusive perfect system?
It is these different definitions of what legalization should look like that now divides the pro-legalization supporters into different camps, and finds us frequently opposing each other, at least during the early stages of policy change. We should accept this reality and strive to give everyone a fair chance to have their views heard and considered, while working to build a consensus coalition around a version of legalization that has the support of a majority of the voters, and can attract adequate funding to run a successful campaign. Otherwise we are just making a political statement about what we might like in a perfect world, without actually impacting public policy. And the arrests will continue.
California, the Big Prize
California, which is the most politically significant state in play for 2016, actually has at least six competing legalization initiatives that have been filed with the state, creating a confusing and potentially destructive political environment. Thankfully a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, headed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, after holding public hearings around the state, released in July a helpful policy analysis outlining the policy options available for regulating marijuana, and appears to be finding a middle-ground around which the majority of legalization advocates in CA can coalesce.
But it is California, after all, a nation-state with nearly 39 million people, so no one should expect all stakeholders will reach common agreement, and we know going in that there will be vocal opposition from some legalization supporters who favor less regulation, or no regulation at all. The goal, of course, is to bring as many stakeholders as possible together, and to try to ignore those who insist that legalization must be done their way, or not at all.
The California legislature appears to have set the table for full legalization in 2016 by finally (20 years after medical marijuana was first legalized in CA) enacting legislation to license and regulate commercial growers and retail sellers of medical marijuana, ending the confusing, unregulated medical marijuana system that had developed in the state. At last they will have rules governing the business of medical marijuana – providing a more legitimate basis for a legal recreational system to come next.
Laboratories of Democracy
Marijuana legalization is a nation-wide movement (more accurately world-wide), with each succeeding state building on the experience of those states that came earlier, and, because of differing regional attitudes about marijuana and marijuana smoking, no two state legalization systems will be the same.
That’s a good thing, as it permits the states to serve as “laboratories of democracy,” as former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once described our system of permitting the various states to test novel social and economic experiments, without directly affecting the entire country. Over time we will see what works best, and what does not, and we can arrive at a national marijuana policy that accommodates regional cultural differences, and that works for smokers and non-smokers alike.
2016 is our best hope for a dramatic political leap forward that will settle the legalization question for good.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.
NORML Endorses the Ohio Legalization Initiative
The NORML board of directors voted to endorse Issue 3, the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot on November 3rd. The proposal would end marijuana prohibition in Ohio, legalizing both medical and recreational use, so NORML’s endorsement came as no surprise.
But our endorsement — made at a meeting recently in Portland, Ore. — came with a caveat: The board expressed concern over investor-driven initiatives where the investors will profit from the passage of the initiative. And because of that concern, the endorsement was less than unanimous; a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.
NORML is a single-issue, public-interest lobby. We focus on ending prohibition and the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals, and the establishment of a legally regulated market, so there was little doubt that we would endorse Issue 3 in Ohio once it had qualified for the ballot. But we also felt we should acknowledge that this specific version of legalization – in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal – is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.
Initiatives Intended to Benefit Ordinary Americans
Voter initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy (policy decided by an elected legislature), procedures first adopted during the Progressive Era intended to eliminate corruption in government by taking down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access to ordinary Americans in the political system. Yet in this instance, the initiative process is being used to try to make the rich and powerful even more rich and more powerful.
Using the cover of badly needed criminal justice reform, the investors, operating under the name of Responsible Ohio, are seeking what is clearly an unfair advantage in the “green rush” that is certain to follow marijuana legalization when it is adopted in Ohio. For these individuals, who have not previously been involved in the legalization movement, this exercise is only incidentally about ending prohibition and stopping the arrest of marijuana smokers; it is really about getting rich in a newly legal industry. Big money has now entered the picture, and this will not be the last time we have to deal with the issue of greed.
It’s The Only Current Option in Ohio
But currently Issue 3 is the only option available to stop the senseless and destructive practice of arresting marijuana smokers in Ohio. The state legislature is unwilling to seriously consider the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana, despite polling showing a slim majority of Ohioans support full legalization. Each year nearly 20,000 Ohio residents are arrested on marijuana charges. That’s an enormous price to pay when we have the ability to end prohibition now, albeit with some undesirable provisions.
So the NORML board felt obliged to hold our noses and endorse Issue 3 in Ohio. It was, as the saying goes, “a bitter pill to swallow,” and the board wanted to make it clear we do not consider the Ohio proposal the best model for other states to follow. There are far better ways to legalize marijuana.
Most of us would prefer to keep the focus on protecting personal freedom and ending marijuana arrests. Greed is a common motivator in our free-market system, but it would be preferable to keep it out of our public policy debates.
But in some states, where the elected officials are not responsive to the will of the voters, we may have to accept legalization that is profit-driven, as the most realistic way to end prohibition. That was the conclusion we reached regarding Ohio, and I believe it was the right decision.
But it surely does feel like the loss of innocence.
This column first appeared at Marijuana.com.
The embarrassing episode this week in Denver, when the sponsors of a city-wide initiative to legalize marijuana smoking in some bars and lounges withdrew their initiative, even after qualifying for the ballot, reminds us of the need to thoroughly vet these types of projects – especially those with the potential to set-back the legalization movement if they fail – before moving forward. This was an impulsive act that should never have seen the light of day – at least not in 2015.
While I am not privy to the actual discussions that led to the launch of this ill-fated campaign in Denver, one can imagine a couple of friends sitting around one night, smoking some good weed, and convincing themselves that now is the time to expand on the legalization plan in effect statewide in Colorado, by allowing for smoking in bars in Denver. It is a natural next-step for Colorado and the other legalization states.
Most smokers favor the option of bars or lounges where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize outside the home, so the intent of the initiative was admirable. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes. There is no valid reason for such a limitation, and it really reflects the remaining stigma many non-smoking Americans still associate with the use of marijuana – that it may be tolerated in the home, but is somehow an offense to society to permit smoking in a public venue.
But these public policy changes are always challenging, and generally before going public with their proposal, proponents fully consider both the electoral timing of the effort and the level of public support for the proposal. Did no one realize that 2015 is an off-year election, when all voter turnout is low, and especially the youth vote, where support for legalization is the strongest? Did no one undertake advance polling to determine whether a majority of the public would support such a proposal? Or was this initiative a reflection of the arrogance that sometimes comes with a big victory, such as A-64, that leave those sponsors believing they can do no wrong?
The official announcement from the Campaign for Limited Cannabis Social Use, a spin-off of the two groups, Sensible Colorado and SAFER, that were behind the successful Amendment 64 campaign approved by the Colorado voters in 2012, was one of the more creative attempts to try to turn an embarrassing defeat into a victory, but hardly convincing.
Claiming their decision to withdraw was based on a desire to work cooperatively with elected city officials to accomplish their goals “without a contentious ballot initiative fight,” the sponsors said they are now willing “to give the collaborative process a shot.”
“We are optimistic about these discussions, but also know that we can return to the ballot in November 2016 – when the electorate will be far more favorable to our case,” the group said.
In other words, they realized what other observers had seen from the start – this was the wrong time to be mounting this voter initiative. Truly amazing that this conclusion was only reached after squandering tens of thousands of dollars and enormous political credibility.
Their conclusion: “Today is not the end of a campaign; it is a transition from a ballot initiative process to a lobbying effort.”
Perhaps a lobbying effort in 2015 would have made sense all along, as some have been doing, and only if that effort were unsuccessful, and advance polling indicated a voter initiative would enjoy the support of a majority of the public in 2016, should the discussion have shifted to an initiative. The sponsors clearly had the cart before the horse, and we are now paying the price.
I appreciate the need to minimize the damage from withdrawing the initiative, and to attempt to salvage their political credibility, but somehow I doubt those who contributed either money or time to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot will consider this a victory. And if one were forced by the reality of the situation to pull the plug, even at this late date, it would have been refreshing to at least see the sponsors acknowledge the obvious – that this decision was based on low polling results indicating their proposal could not win at the polls in November.
Let’s hope this was a lesson well-learned, and we can now move forward in a more reasoned manner.
This column was originally posed on Marijuana.com.
Mainstream Media Highlights My Canary Performance App; Makers Offer Discounted Pricing For Labor Day
The mainstream media is abuzz about My Canary — the first-ever NORML-endorsed mobile app that quickly and accurately measures one’s personal performance to determine whether or not he/she may be under the influence of marijuana.
National and international media outlets have profiled the app in recent weeks, including Fast Company, CNN Money, The International Business Times, The Daily Mail, GQ Magazine (French edition), Philly.com, The Denver Channel and Business Insider, among others.
My Canary features four distinct mental and physical performance tests, designed to evaluate baseline performance, and then to compare subjects’ behavior against this established baseline. Potential deviation in baseline performance as a result of the use of cannabis, alcohol, prescription drugs, or even exhaustion, is readily identified by the app. Here is a video of Oregonian reporter Molly Harbarger engaging in a live demonstration of the My Canary application.
Since its launch in mid-July, over 10,000 people have downloaded the application. As we approach Labor Day weekend, the makers of My Canary are offering the app for download for the discounted price of 99 cents. This promotion will be in effect from Thursday, September 3 through Monday, September 7.
Canary is compatible with iOS 7.1 and iPhone versions 4S and newer.
For more information visit: http://www.mycanaryapp.com.
For more information regarding cannabis and psychomotor performance, please see: http://norml.org/library/driving-and-marijuana.