• by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director March 18, 2016

    MERRY JANE, a premiere cannabis and pop culture media platform, is investigating cannabis globally in their new original series, “Wide World of Cannabis,” which premiered Wednesday. The first episode, “Uruguay Part 1” travels to South America to explore the first country in the world to completely legalize recreational and medical marijuana. This is just the start of MERRY JANE’s deep dive into cannabis use around the world.

    MERRY JANE was recently launched by entertainment icon, Snoop Dogg, and media entrepreneur, Ted Chung. The website, including partners Seth Rogen, Guy Oseary and Miley Cyrus, features the latest news on cannabis, business and entertainment, as well as a location mapping service for dispensaries and an encyclopedia of all things cannabis.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director March 17, 2016

    Cropped SmigielThe NORML PAC has endorsed Mike Smigiel for U.S. House of Representatives in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

    Smigiel, a former delegate in Maryland’s House of Delegates serving from 2003-2015, is challenging incumbent and anti-marijuana Congressman Andy Harris in the Republican primary. Congressman Harris became infamous for stepping between Washington D.C. and marijuana legalization when he attached a rider to an annual spending bill barring the district from implementing a recreational market following the District’s approval of Initiative 71.

    Smigiel on the other hand is a strong marijuana advocate, having sponsored a bill in Maryland that passed in 2014 to decriminalize marijuana. He supports eliminating all criminal penalties for the responsible use of marijuana by adults and additionally, supports state’s rights to move forward with full legalization.

    “Mike is an ardent supporter of marijuana law reform and has worked across party lines to implement real policy change in Maryland. NORML is proud to support his bid for Congress and we are looking forward to having another ally on Capitol Hill.” says NORML Political Director Danielle Keane.

    Recent polling shows that 58% of the voters in the 1st District would not vote for Andy Harris if they knew he was opposed to the decriminalization of Marijuana. If Mike Smigiel can get that message out he can unseat Andy Harris. You can find out more about Mike and his campaign by visiting his website or Facebook and if you wish to join NORML in supporting his campaign click here.

    For more information on the NORML PAC click here.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 14, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xThis fall, we expected a voter initiative on Maine’s ballot that would legalize marijuana. Polling suggested a clear majority of Maine voters (65%) would approve full legalization if given the chance to vote on it.

    The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, the group running the initiative, were confident they had more than met the requirement of 61,123 valid signatures when they turned in a total of 99,229 signatures. Then came the bad news from the Secretary of State’s office.

    According to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, more than 47,686 signatures were rejected (48% disqualification rate!), including 17,000 signatures on the basis of the signature of a single notary. Despite attesting to the signatures, his own signature appeared “inconsistent” with the signature on file with the state. Without even notifying the proponents that the state had a question about whether those petitions had been properly notarized, on March 2nd the Secretary of State simply announced the initiative was rejected for failing to submit the required number of valid signatures.

    State Officials Frequently Oppose Voter Initiatives

    No one should be surprised that in most states, the elected officials who have to determine whether a voter initiative qualifies for the ballot are frequently hoping to find a legal basis to refuse to qualify the measure, especially if it seeks to legalize marijuana. Most elected officials remain committed to the war on marijuana smokers and are opposed to marijuana legalization. This is arguably why, to date, not a single state legislature has approved the legalization of marijuana despite majority support for such a change among the voters in those states.

    The proponents of a voter initiative have to frequently revise (sometimes more than once) the summary language describing the proposal that will appear on the ballot, overcoming technical and substantive objections by the state authorities who are obviously hoping to undermine the success of the initiative. The current situation in Maine appears to fall into this category.

    Proponents Now Seeking Judicial Review

    The proponents have now gone to court to seek judicial review of what they believe is an arbitrary and unfair decision to disqualify so many of the signatures. The suit was filed on March 10th, and the court must reach a decision within 40 days. If the suit is successful, and those 17,000 signatures that were initially rejected because of the state’s concern the notary’s signature was not consistent, the initiative could still qualify for the November ballot.

    Worth noting is that while all elected officials claim they embrace democracy and respect the will of the voters, the truth is they accept democracy and the will of the voters only when it coincides with their personal political views. When, as was the case in Maine, the initiative seeks to enact a public policy not favored by the state establishment, democracy and the will of the voters is seen as an inconvenience to be avoided.

    While we await the decision of the court, we might also ask the obvious question of how the Maine legalization initiative, after months of work and tens of thousands of dollars in costs associated with collecting the signatures, ended up in such a mess.

    What Went Wrong?

    In addition to the actions of an unfriendly secretary of state, it also appears the proponents may have brought this problem on themselves.

    First, a little recent history. Initially, two competing legalization initiatives were circulated in Maine this year. One was drafted by MPP and the other by a group of local grassroots activists calling themselves Legalize Maine. When it became clear the competing initiatives might well assure neither would be approved, a successful effort merged the two initiatives with an agreement to adopt the more progressive language drafted by Legalize Maine but turn the management of the initiative over to MPP and their local front-group, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine. MPP would agree to raise the necessary funding to qualify the proposal for the ballot and run a professional campaign.

    That sounded like a rational plan, since MPP has in the last several years successfully qualified several voter initiatives around the country. This time, though, something went terribly wrong.

    Specifically, they hired Olympic Consulting, a firm specializing in voter initiatives. Based in Lewiston, Maine, Olympic Consulting would actually hire the signature collectors and oversee the signature collection process. This may well have been the crucial mistake, as we now learn that this same company also failed to qualify a second voter initiative this year in Maine (to legalize casino gambling), in which there were also allegations of irregularities in the signature collection process.

    It turns out that the head of that same firm, Stavros Mendros, is the notary whose signature is now being challenged by the Secretary of State and the basis for disallowing at least 17,000 signatures.

    Mendros plead guilty in 2007 to three counts of improperly notarizing documents involving an effort to allow a casino in Washington County. Again in 2013, Mendros was the subject of an ethics investigation by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices regarding an allegation of unethical behavior during a 2011 attempt to bring casino gambling to Lewiston. There were plenty of warning signs that this consulting firm sometimes played it fast and loose with government regulations, and now that choice to use Olympic Consulting to gather and notarize signatures has apparently come home to roost.

    Perhaps the Court Will Save The Initiative

    Of course we all are hopeful that the courts will overrule the secretary of state and qualify the initiative for the ballot. However, it is rare for courts to second-guess state officials in these situations, and it is certainly not helpful that the group, and the specific individual, alleged to have incorrectly notarized so many signatures has a long track record of just such unethical conduct.

    Regardless of the outcome, someone surely made an incredibly poor choice when they chose to hire a firm with such a checkered past for such a crucial role in the campaign. We will learn by April 11 whether this proved fatal to the legalization campaign for 2016 in Maine.


    This column was first published on Marijuana.com



  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director March 11, 2016

    thumbs_upLegislative sessions around the country are moving quickly with several already coming to a close. It’s important to stay updated on pending measures in your state because NOW is the time to contact your elected officials using our #TakeAction Center urging their support for marijuana law reform. Keep reading to get this week’s latest legislative highlights!


    Florida: House and Senate lawmakers have approved legislation, House Bill 307, to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Florida law already permits for the production of strains of cannabis high in CBD to be dispensed to qualified patients with cancer, muscle spasms, and intractable seizures. However, to date, this program has yet to be operational. House Bill 307 seeks to expand state-licensed medical marijuana production to also include strains dominant in THC. The measure now awaits action from Florida Governor Rick Scott.

    Maine: The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a ballot initiative that is seeking to put the question of marijuana legalization before voters in the state this November, is suing the state of Maine for invalidating 26,779 signatures. The campaign had originally turned in 99,229 signatures from registered voters by the February 1st deadline in hopes of meeting the required number of 61,123 valid signatures to make the ballot. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap invalidated the signatures because the signature of the notary who signed the petitions allegedly did not match the signature on file with staff.

    Nebraska: Legislation remains pending, LD 643: the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act, to permit qualified patients to legally possess and cultivate cannabis. The measure permits patients permits patients to grow up to 12 plants and/or to possess up to six ounces of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The bill also establishes licensed compassion centers to provide cannabis to qualified patients. #TakeAction

    New York: Legislation has been introduced, A 9510, to expand the pool of medical professionals who can provide written recommendations for marijuana to qualifying patients. If passed, the legislation would allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners who are in good standing with the state to provide written certifications to qualifying patients. New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Patients may only use non-smokable forms of marijuana and many are struggling to find physicians who can certify them access to medical marijuana preparations. This pending legislation would increase the number of medical professionals eligible to participate in the program, thereby increasing access to those patients who so desperately need it. #TakeAction

    Oklahoma: House lawmakers have approved legislation, House Bill 2835, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. If passed, those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, chronic pain, neuropathic pain, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases, and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or bipolar affective disorder would be allowed access to CBD. The bill now awaits Senate action. #TakeAction

    Utah: Lawmakers have adjourned for 2016 without taking action to expand medical cannabis access to seriously ill patients. Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 on Monday, March 7, against the passage of Senate Bill 73, the Medical Cannabis Act. A separate measure, SB 89, was approved by members of a House committee however, lawmakers ultimately failed to back the measure, alleging that the law would be too expensive to implement.

    Vermont: Members of various House Committee are anticipated to begin taking testimony next week with regard to Senate Bill 241, to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Members of the Senate previously voted 17 to 12 in favor of the legislation, which is backed by Gov. Shumlin. Now the measure faces a potentially uphill battle in the House, starting with the House Judiciary Committee. It is vital that House representatives hear from you in support of SB 241. #TakeAction

    Virginia: Members of the House of Delegates and the Senate have decided in favor of Senate Bill 701, which permits for the in-state production of therapeutic oils high in cannabdiol and/or THC-A (THC acid). The Governor has untilApril 11 to act on the bill. #TakeAction

    Washington: Governor Jay Inslee decided on Wednesday, March 9th, to veto legislation, Senate Bill 6206, which sought to establish licensed hemp production. House and Senate lawmakers had previously approved legislation, which would have authorized “The growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 7, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xAt NORML we were once again reminded this past week of the pervasive prejudice against marijuana, and marijuana smokers, that remains in the general American culture. Yes, a majority of Americans now oppose marijuana prohibition and favor the legalization and regulation of marijuana. But there remain numerous obstacles and penalties that continue to deny fair and equal treatment to marijuana smokers, and those who are associated with marijuana.

    I have previously written about the urgent need to protect responsible marijuana smokers from job discrimination (requiring a showing of impairment on the job before an employee can be terminated); from unfair child custody laws (requiring a showing of abuse or neglect before removing minor children from the custody of their marijuana smoking parents); and unfair DUID laws (requiring a showing of impairment before charging a marijuana smoker with driving under the influence of drugs). These are three areas of the law where we will continue to fight for fair and equal treatment for marijuana smokers.

    More Subtle Biases

    But today I want to discuss another, more subtle bias that can unfairly impact those of us who support full legalization. These involve the refusal of banks and credit card processing companies to offer their services to businesses and non-profits that are somehow connected to the newly emerging legal marijuana industry in several states.

    Initially I presumed these problems were unique to those who actually held licenses to commercially cultivate or sell marijuana. Most of us are familiar with the enormous challenges these banking and financial limitations cause for those who have invested their time and resources to start a new business legal under state law. Today, most are forced to operate on a cash-only basis; no bank accounts or credit cards allowed.

    The Obama administration has reassured the banking and related industries that they will not be penalized by the feds for providing necessary and usual business services to those businesses operating legally under state law. But the banking industry realizes this policy could be reversed under another, less marijuana-friendly president, and largely has refused to budge until particular provisions of federal law, which they feel put them in legal jeopardy, have been changed.

    Proposed Federal Reforms Pending

    There are serious efforts underway in Congress to fix these banking problems, and support is clearly growing among the members. HR 2076/S 1726, The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015, sponsored by a bi-partisan group of legislators, would fully protect financial institutions providing services to legitimate marijuana business. Many observers, myself included, expect this area of federal reform will be the first to be approved by the Congress, among the several federal marijuana proposals pending. (You can register your support for these measures from the NORML website.

    NORML has been supportive of these reforms, believing they are necessary for the newly legal marijuana industry, and because it is in the best interest of consumers that the legitimate industry operate in a transparent manner, as other industries do.

    Suddenly, NORML Loses Credit Card Services

    But now we have a more personal reason to fight for this change. NORML has abruptly lost our ability to accept credit or debit card donations on our website. Without advance notice, NORML was notified by registered mail this past week that the company that processes our debit and credit card donations, TransFirst, had decided, apparently based on their review of our website, that we no longer qualify as a client, and they immediately ceased processing our credit card traffic. As with many non-profits, we depend to a large degree on donations from our website to fund our organization, so this (hopefully temporary) glitch presents a serious threat to the organization.

    NORML is a not-for-profit public-interest lobby that represents the interests of responsible marijuana smokers. We do not grow or sell marijuana, nor do we have any financial interests in the marijuana industry. Nonetheless, when I asked TransFirst what rule we had violated, they said we were part of the “marijuana industry.”

    Our advocacy is First Amendment-protected activity; marijuana legalization is our policy goal, and we work every day to nudge the country a little closer to that policy.

    But now, when someone with the TransFirst financial services corporation decided to visit our website, and discovered that we are a pro-legalization lobby, we are suddenly found to be unsuitable as a client. We are denied the same business services routinely provided to tens of thousands of other non-profits, many of whom also focus on controversial social issues, simply because we have a website that promotes the legalization of marijuana!

    We are working now to identify another company that will not be frightened by our political views, that will step in to provide these necessary services. And unlike most of those in the legal marijuana industry, at NORML we have never had problems finding banks willing to handle our accounts. For that, I suppose, we should be grateful.

    But that is not what I am feeling right now. I am angry that some mid-level executive at TransFirst was able and willing to disrupt our work at NORML based on the content of the advocacy on our website. That represents a totally unnecessary act (there is no theory under federal law that would penalize a company for providing financial services to NORML), and one that smacks of an anti-marijuana prejudice that is reminiscent of the days of “reefer madness.” We are being penalized for our political views.

    It is time for all of us to stand-up and say, loudly and clearly, “Get over it. There is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and it’s time we began treating people who smoke, and corporations that work in and around the marijuana industry, in a fair manner.”

    It is time we, as a society, overcome our anti-marijuana prejudices, once and for all.

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