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  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director December 16, 2015

    CongressMembers of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year.  While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.

    In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.  

    Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.

    While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.

    No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 15, 2015

    marijuana_gavelOver half of all people admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana-related issues over the past decade were referred there by a criminal justice source, according to a report published this month by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

    In the years 2003 through 2013, 52 percent of people in drug treatment for marijuana as their ‘primary substance of abuse’ were referred by the criminal justice system. Of those, almost half (44 percent) entered treatment as a component of their probation or parole.

    Only 18 percent of marijuana treatment admissions were based upon self-referrals. Primary marijuana admissions were less likely than all other drug-related admissions combined to have been self- or individually referred to treatment.

    The data mirrors those of previous federal reports finding that only a small percentage of those entering treatment for marijuana perceive that they are abusing cannabis or have even used the substance recently.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel December 14, 2015

    Like the majority of Americans, I have been dismayed and saddened by the current Republican presidential campaign, which seems totally out of touch with reality. We are all accustomed to politicians bending the truth to make themselves look good, but the current group of GOP candidates seems unhinged –paranoid and seeking to appeal to our worst instincts — totally disconnected to the world in which the rest of us live.

    Led by the Donald, this early election season has consisted mostly of demagoguery: unabashed fear mongering, xenophobia, racial prejudice, misinformation and pure fabrication, offered as a substitute for a political platform. And it is especially depressing is to learn that roughly one-third of the Republican voters apparently find this message appealing. This bilge is like fast-food to many who are disillusioned or out-of-work or otherwise feel they are losing out to minorities or immigrants or other segments of society. It is not a pretty site.

    His supporters seem to believe any absurd claim that Trump can find on some right-wing, conspiratorial website, or other similar unreliable sources, because it is also where many of them get their “news”; and because it reinforces their preconceived beliefs. Beliefs that President Obama was born outside the US and is therefore not eligible to be US President; that blacks in America are responsible for 81% of white homicide victims (the real number is closer to 15%, according to Factcheck.org); that Obama is Muslim and the Obama Administration has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood; that 911 was an inside, CIA job; and on and on. There appear to be no limits on their imaginations.

    In the end, I assume the political process will find a way to weed-out these candidates to whom truth has become irrelevant, and who are more than willing to use hatred and bigotry and total lies (remember Trump’s claim about those thousands of Muslims in New Jersey who were cheering the downing of the World Trade Center) to try to advance their campaign, regardless of the damage it does to our society.

    And if the Republican voters do not find a way to rid themselves of these crackpots – and cannot coalesce around a more mainstream candidate — the American public will have to finish-off Trump in the general election, which should be a cakewalk. While we surely do have some conspiracy-minded dingbats in this country, fortunately they do not comprise anywhere near a majority of the voters.

    But it reminds many of us that sometimes the public debate in this country does go off the tracks, as we learned from the study of how marijuana prohibition came about in the first place. We have heard (or more accurately read), this type of irrational blather from a public figure before, and we paid an incredibly heavy price for it. Listening to Trump is like a flash-back to Harry Anslinger: tell a big lie often enough, and it will be treated (by some) as the truth.

    The Absurd Justification for the Criminal Prohibition of Marijuana

    The first commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics was a man named Harry J. Anslinger, a former alcohol prohibition agent who had been appointed to head this new federal anti-drug agency, established in 1030, by his wife’s uncle, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. To build support in Congress to make marijuana illegal in 1937, Anslinger painted a picture of marijuana as a drug that led to death and insanity, caused white women to become sexual slaves to blacks and Mexican migrant workers, and generally led to depravity and crime. And the media at the time, especially the powerful, right-wing William Randolph Hearst chain of newspapers, were largely uncritical, reporting his most fanciful allegation as fact. It was the beginning of “yellow journalism.”

    Few Americans at the time had any familiarity with marijuana, and most marijuana smokers at that time were either Mexican migrant workers or jazz musicians coming out of New Orleans, and it is fair to say that neither group was held in high regard, or had the political power to resist, at the time.

    Here are some quotes from Anslinger when Congress, at his request, was considering the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, a bill that passed with only a brief hearing in the House, and none in the Senate. This measure was an attempt by Anslinger to justify a bigger budget for his agency, a pattern that continues even today, when law enforcement agencies continue to support marijuana prohibition, despite its acknowledged failure as a public policy, because it provides jobs for them.

    To make the case for the need to criminalize marijuana, Anslinger made the following “reefer madness” claims about the dangers of marijuana smoking:

    “By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….”

    And he frequently cited exploitive news reports of violent crimes allegedly committed by those who had been smoking marijuana, to support his call for prohibition:

    “An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze… He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crimes. The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles,” a childish name for marijuana.”

    Anslinger’s campaign was based on racial prejudice, as demonstrated by the the following:

    “Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with (white) female students, smoking [marijuana]and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy.”[

    “Two Negros took a girl fourteen years old and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis.”

    Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act by a voice vote, leading to the arrest of nearly 30 million Americans over the next seven decades, with roughly 90% of those arrests for simple possession for personal use. Anslinger and his reckless campaign of misinformation wrecked havoc on our society, that continues still today in many states.

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    So as we prepare for the 2016 election cycle, let’s focus our support on candidates who respect our right to decide for ourselves whether or not to smoke marijuana; and let’s reject those demagogues who wish to impose their version of morality on the rest of us, and who seek to demonize entire religions and ban immigrants from entering the country. They are no better than Harry Anslinger was in the 1930s, and we must not go down that path again.

    Let’s make sure we elect a president who will continue the Obama policy of allowing the states to adopt marijuana legalization, without federal interference. And let’s get behind those several legalization initiatives that are expected to appear on the ballot in a half-dozen states in November, and add an impressive new list of states that have discovered the advantages of taxing and regulating marijuana, instead of arresting smokers.

    Let’s reject demagoguery and racism, and embrace personal freedom and inclusiveness.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director December 11, 2015

    map_leafState legislators are pre-filing numerous marijuana reform bills in preparation for the start of the 2016 legislative season. Additionally, members of Congress are negotiating on federal funding measures that could have dramatic effects on national marijuana policy. Keep reading to below to find out what new legislative reforms are taking place in your state and what the federal budget could mean for you!

    A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bills approved this year is also available here.

    Federal: Congressional leadership is deciding on the inclusion of four marijuana-specific provisions in the FY 2016 spending bill. Passage of these measures will have an important effect on the role the federal government will play (or not) in 2016 federal marijuana policy. As previously reported on by Marijuana.com here they are:

    *Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

    -Similar language was enacted last year and is current law for Fiscal Year 2015. On June 3, the House approved the amendment by a vote of 242-186 and on June 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the amendment by a vote of 21-9.

    * Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs.

    -Similar language was enacted last year and is current law for Fiscal Year 2015. On June 3, the House approved the amendment by a vote of 289-132 and on June 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment by a voice vote.

    * Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are medical marijuana patients in accordance with state law.

    -On April 30, the House narrowly rejected the amendment by a vote of 210-213 but on May 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment by a vote of 18-12, and its language was included in a bill passed by the full Senate on November 10.

    * Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.

    -On July 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment to by a vote of 16-14

    Additionally, Congress will be weighing whether or not to include in the final spending package language that would bar Washington D.C. from implementing a recreational market for marijuana. Last year, Congress included language that prevented the district from taxing and selling marijuana, leading to the implementation of a grow and share program in the District.

    We are expecting to receive news of final budget negotiations next week so keep following the NORML blog for an update!

    Flag_of_Illinois.svgIllinois: House Bill 4357, legislation to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses in Illinois, is pending in the General Assembly.

    If approved, the legislation would make the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine only. Adults would no longer face criminal arrest or the threat of time in jail or a criminal record.

    Introduced by Representative Kelly Cassidy, this proposal largely mirrors legislation previously introduced in the spring of 2015 that was approved by members of both the House and Senate.

    320px-Flag_of_Missouri.svgMissouri: Senate Bill 762, which permits for the personal possession and retail sale of marijuana by those age 21 and over, has been prefiled for the 2016 legislative session. The measure permits adults to privately possess up to one ounce of cannabis without penalty. Senate Bill 762 also seeks to license the commercial production and to regulate the retail sale of marijuana for adults. To take action on this measure click here.

    House legislation has been prefiled —HB 1524 — to allow marijuana convictions to be expunged contingent upon the passage of a constitutional amendment or other statutory enactment legalizing marijuana. To take action on this measure click here.

    Senate Bill 761 has been prefiled in the Missouri legislature to exempt marijuana from certain forfeiture provisions relating to controlled substances.

    “Under current law, illegal controlled substances, anything of value exchanged for a controlled substance in violation of the law, money used to facilitate a violation of the controlled substances laws, money found in close proximity to an illegal controlled substance, and any other property used in relation to or derived from a violation of the controlled substances laws is subject to seizure and forfeiture.” This act exempts marijuana from these forfeiture provisions. To take action on this measure click here.

    Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may 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!

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director November 25, 2015

    ballot_box_leafWhile Thanksgiving is cutting the work week short for many, there is no shortage of legislative news in marijuana law reform. Keep reading below to find out what new developments have taken place in the past week related to marijuana!

    A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bill approved this year is also available here.

    Federal:

    The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was in the spotlight this past week for a couple reasons.

    First, organizers of a Change.org petition calling for President Obama to fire the agency’s acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg personally delivered over 100,000 printed signatures to DEA headquarters last Friday. The petition is still garnering support so make sure to sign it if you haven’t already!

    Second, a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) wrote a letter to House leadership this week urging them to include language in the final spending package for FY 2016, that would remove a significant portion of funding from the DEA that is currently being used to eradicate marijuana plants across the country and instead direct it to more worthy causes. The language is from an amendment that Lieu sponsored and was passed by the House in June.

    The letter reads, “The Cannabis Eradication Program’s sole mission is to eradicate marijuana plants and arrest growers. However, historical data indicates that the vast majority of plants seized under this program are wild plants descendant from industrial hemp. They are not intentionally grown, and they are not suitable for recreational or medical use. Therefore, the seizure of these plants has served neither an economic nor public-safety nor a health related purpose. Its sole impact has been to expend limited federal resources that are better spent elsewhere.”

    Other members that signed the letter are Reps. Jared Polis (CO), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Steve Cohen (TN), Eric Swalwell (CA), Mark Pocan (WI), Mike Honda (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Beto O’Rourke (TX) and Sam Farr (CA).

    State:

    Alaska: Last Friday, Alaska became the first state to allow residents age 21 or older to consume cannabis in retail facilities that sell it . Members of the Marijuana Control Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of permitting limited public use of cannabis. This lack of public use facilities has proven to be an obstacle elsewhere, most notably among tourists who wish to indulge while on vacation in states that regulate the plant’s social use.

    Florida: On Monday, following over a year of legal battles, state regulators finally approved five nurseries to cultivate high-CBD strains of marijuana. This decision marks the first real step forward in the implementation of a 2014 law to allow the use of CBD extracts by qualified patients with intractable epilepsy, muscle spasms and advanced forms of cancer. To qualify for the low-THC-based cannabis treatment, patients must obtain permission from a qualified doctor and be added to the state’s Compassionate Use Registry. The law establishes a number of steep requirements in order for nurseries to qualify for licensure. Applicants must have been in business for at least 30 years and possesses the ability to grow at least 400,000 plants. The selected applicants must post a $5 million performance bond before receiving a license from the state.

    Washington: Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor held a hearing on Friday in regards to SB 6083, legislation to allow adults to legally cultivate personal use amounts of marijuana in private. “This bill is about consistency, congruency and especially, freedom” said Rep. Brian Blake, who is sponsoring the measure in the House. “Adults in our state can brew their own beer and make their own wine for personal consumption. Just like alcohol, marijuana can be used safely and responsibly, so it makes sense to allow adults to home grow their own if they want to.”

    You can contact your lawmakers in Washington to urge their support for this legislation here.

    Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, November 18, members of the House Rules Committee passed Senate Bill 3, to allow for the production and distribution of non-herbal marijuana products to qualified patients. The bill will now awaits a floor vote by House lawmakers.

    While this measure is a step forward for Pennsylvania patients, SB 3, as presently written, contains several provisions opposed by NORML, specifically its restrictions on smoking and vaporization. House lawmakers are expected to amend the measure further when debating it on the floor.

    Please ask your House members to consider changes that would further expand patients’ access and choices by clicking here.

    Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may 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!

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