NORML reviews the top news stories of 2014.
#1 Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day
Voters in Oregon and Alaska decided on Election Day in favor of statewide initiatives legalizing the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults, while voters in the nation’s capitol and in numerous other cities nationwide similarly decided on local measures to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.
#2 Colorado And Washington Begin Regulating Retail Marijuana Sales
Two states, Colorado and Washington, initiated retail marijuana sales in 2014. Colorado’s program began on January 1. In Washington, state-licensed retail outlets began legally selling cannabis to adults in July.
#3 Congress Enacts Measure Protecting State-Sponsored Medi-Pot Programs
President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law in December that included a provision limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The amendment states, “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
#4 Congress Moves To Permit State-Sanctioned Hemp Cultivation
Federal lawmakers approved legislation in February permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation to move forward despite the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.
#5 Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status
United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard five days of testimony in October in regard to the constitutionality of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law. Defense counsel and their experts argued that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. Judge Mueller is expected to make her ruling in early 2015.
#6 JAMA: Fewer Opiate-Related Deaths In Medical Marijuana States
The enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”
#7 President Acknowledges That Booze Is More Harmful Than Marijuana
Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged in January in an interview with The New Yorker. “I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” he stated. He added, [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time.”
#8 Study: Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Violent Crimes
Medicinal cannabis laws are not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, according to data published in April in the journal PLoS ONE. “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault,” authors concluded. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”
#9 NYT Editors Opine In Favor Of Legalizing Cannabis
The New York Times editorial board in July called upon federal lawmakers to end the criminalization of cannabis for those over the age of 21. The paper’s editors opined: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. … Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. … [W]e believe that on every level, … the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.”
#10 Americans Say Marijuana Is Less Harmful To Health Than Sugar
Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released in March. Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).
2014 was truly a watershed year for the movement to legalize marijuana in this country.Two states joined the list of jurisdiction to switch from prohibition to regulated sales, and the District of Columbia, as well as a number of cities, adopted complete decriminalization for minor offenses. And scores of additional states saw their first serious legalization proposals introduced in their state legislatures, a fact that holds great promise for more victories to come in the near future.
While far too many marijuana arrests continue to occur in this country, and hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens still have their lives and careers turned upside-down each year because of their use of marijuana, it is also true that the number of marijuana arrests dropped for the fourth straight year, reversing a pattern of increasing numbers of arrests that had been expanding for several decades. With additional states moving from prohibition towards decriminalization or full legalization, those numbers should continue to decline for years to come. We did not get into this mess called marijuana prohibition overnight, and it will require both persistence and patience to put it fully behind us.
A lot of the progress we have seen over the last year occurred in ways that reflect the increasing public acceptance of marijuana, a necessary precursor to political change. 2014 was truly another banner year for legalizers.
Here is my list of the most significant milestones of the last twelve months.
To Read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
Dear NORML members and supporters,
Thanks for providing this venerable 44-year old non-profit organization the support necessary–both financially and spiritually–in helping achieve its two stated public policy goals:
- End cannabis prohibition and replace with system of taxation and regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco products
- Help the victims of cannabis prohibition enforcement (from those busted for possession to workers being denied employment over drug testing to patients who need to access cannabis as a therapeutic)
To the former, the math is simple: four states down (AK, WA, OR and CO have legalized cannabis commerce and taxation), forty-six more to go.
To the latter, NORML and its 160 plus chapters are both sympathetic to and helpful outlets for the many hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers, cultivators and sellers arrested annually on criminal charges.
Attached is an end-of-year synopsis of many of the projects and efforts put forward by the organization in 2014 to advance cannabis law reforms.
Important issues going forward post legalization present a myriad of public policy concerns for groups like NORML to advocate for adult cannabis consumers:
- To be able to imbibe in a licensed establishment in the same manner alcohol consumers do (in other words, it is not sufficient or prudent to banish cannabis consumers to use the herbal drug only on private property, which does not even include most public accommodations like hotels. Americans want Dutch-like ‘coffeeshops’ to buy and use the product responsibly on-site);
- Employment protections for cannabis consumers not impaired in the workplace;
- Child custody rights;
- Second Amendment rights (under federal law, cannabis consumer and state-sanctioned patients can’t buy guns or ammunition);
- Reasonable taxes for consumers and businesses (so as not to encourage continuance of black market);
- Legal protections for cannabis consumers who currently fall under federal government’s specter (military personal, government contractors, university students, federal workers and contractors)
- Scientific based drugged driving testing
The public’s support since 1970 has aptly guided NORML thus far, looking into the political crystal ball for 2015, here are four items to be prepared for:
- There will be in excess of fifteen states that debate legalization bills in their 2015 legislative sessions (a state, likely in New England, will pass cannabis legalization legislation for the first time as all previous legalization successes have come about via voter ballot initiatives)
- The US Congress will have nearly twenty cannabis law reform bills introduced, ranging from legalization to rescheduling to sentencing to industrial hemp reforms.
- Reform organizations, including NORML, will be increasingly focused on passing a voter initiative in California in 2016 legalizing cannabis
- Non-partisan advocacy of presidential candidates for 2016 to support ending cannabis prohibition
Going into the New Year, possibly the penultimate year for cannabis law reform in the United States, please consider in 2015 the remarkable contrast occurring in the few states that have ended cannabis prohibition with the nightmare scenarios our fellow cannabis consumers still face in a vast majority of states in America.
Bittersweetly, here at NORML we’re caught betwixt and between prohibition and legalization where we field as many daily inquiries from citizens still getting screwed by antiquated cannabis prohibition laws as we do now very eager entrepreneurs wanting to know how they can become a legitimate cannabis-related business.
Please help NORML continue to push forward with achieving our stated policy objectives with your continued financial support in 2015.**
Thanks in advance for both caring and sharing!
Allen St. Pierre
NORML and NORML Foundation
**Donations of cash, stocks, securities and property to The NORML Foundation are fully tax deductible.
The states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have asked the United States Supreme Court to issue a declaratory judgment finding that Colorado’s laws regulating the state-licensed production and sale of marijuana to adults violates the US Constitution.
The suit, filed today by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt, alleges that marijuana is being diverted into their states from Colorado, causing plaintiffs to suffer “irreparable injury.”
The Attorney Generals contend in their suit: “Plaintiff States are suffering a direct and significant detrimental impact – namely the diversion of limited manpower and resources to arrest and process suspected and convicted felons involved in the increased illegal marijuana trafficking or transportation.”
They are asking the Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s law on the basis that it is “fundamentally at odds” with the federal Controlled Substances Act. They allege, “The diversion of marijuana from Colorado contradicts the clear Congressional intent, frustrates the federal interest in eliminating commercial transactions in the interstate controlled-substances market, and is particularly burdensome for neighboring states like Plaintiff States where law enforcement agencies and the citizens have endured the substantial expansion of Colorado marijuana.”
They seek “a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.” The US Attorneys are also asking the State of Colorado “to pay the Plaintiff States’ costs and expenses associated with this legal action, including attorneys’ fees.”
The suit does not ask for the Supreme Court to enjoin any other states’ laws regulating the production or dispensing of cannabis for either social or therapeutic purposes, though it is possible that the Court’s actions may have implications for those laws going forward. To date, four states have approved measures allowing for the regulated production and sale of cannabis to adults. Twenty-three states have approved measures allowing for the use of the plant for therapeutic purposes.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers responded to the suit, stating: “[I]t appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado. We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Commenting on the suit, NORML Legal Counsel Keith Stroup said, “This suit is more political theater than a serious legal challenge. These two conservative state attorneys general know they are losing this fight in the court of public opinion, so they are hoping the Supreme Court will intercede.”
Stroup further noted that in recent days a majority of Congress approved language limiting the ability of the federal government to interfere in the implementation of state-sponsored marijuana regulatory schemes. He added: “The majority of Americans, including 55 percent of Colorado voters who endorsed this policy in 2012, support regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. The Attorney Generals pushing this lawsuit are not only out-of-step with existing public opinion and emerging political opinion, but they are also clearly on the wrong side of history.”
The results of a new poll recently released by Third Way, a Washington, D.C. think tank, confirms the country remains largely divided over marijuana policy, a fact also made clear from a number of previous polls, including Gallup, Pew and others. This is, of course, a positive situation for those of us who favor legalization. Only 12 percent of the public supported legalization in 1970, when NORML began challenging prohibition, and it has been a long, slow slog to win their support.
And we can reasonably anticipate even higher levels of support in the near future, as the public become comfortable with the results of full legalization in the first few states to head in that direction. Legalization is no longer just a legal theory that people can speculate about; we finally have the opportunity to measure and analyze the results of actual legalization systems in place in several states (four and counting).