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

    map_leafWhile the Presidential candidates clarify their marijuana-centric positions and voters in one state (Ohio) prepare to decide on legalizing the plant, state and federal lawmakers continue to move forward with legislative reforms. Here’s a look at some recent, pending legislative developments.

    To support the measures below, please use our #TakeAction Center to contact your state and federal elected officials! 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.

    New Federal Bill Introduced:

    Washington Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is sponsoring H.R. 3746, the State Marijuana and Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act, to protect medical patients, recreational consumers, and licensed businesses in states that regulate marijuana. Under this proposal, the US federal Controlled Substances Act would no longer be inapplicable in states that have legalized and regulated marijuana in a manner that addresses key federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors and drug-induced impaired driving.

    State Legislative Developments:

    California:  Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a legislative package of bills that seek to provide statewide regulations for California’s medical cannabis industry.

    The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which consists of three separate bills (Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643), creates a new state agency within the Department of Consumer Affairs to develop rules and licensing procedures for authorized medical cannabis dispensaries. Dispensaries must be compliant with local guidelines prior to receiving a state license. State-licensed dispensaries will be permitted to operate on a ‘for profit’ basis. However, the new regulations will not override existing municipal moratoriums, nor will they prohibit the collection of local sales taxes on marijuana purchases in communities that presently impose them.

    Separate language in the Act seeks to regulate the licensed production of cannabis and imposes rules in regard to growing, testing, and labeling cannabis like other agricultural products. The Act also seeks to provide additional oversight to physicians who recommend cannabis therapy. However, it does not limit physicians from recommending cannabis at their own discretion – activity that is codified under Proposition 215/the Compassionate Use Act.

    The new law takes effect on January 1, 2016. However, regulations imposed by the new law are not expected until early 2017.State licensing is anticipated to begin in early 2018.

    Illinois: House members are considering House Bill 4276, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, to permit those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and/or to engage in the home cultivation of marijuana for non-commercial purposes (up to eight plants at any one time.) Adults would be permitted to possess the full harvest from their plants and would not be subject to any taxation or commercial fees for engaging in home cultivation. Existing criminal penalties involving the possession or cultivation of marijuana above these limits would also be significantly reduced under this measure.

    Michigan: House members recently amended and passed legislation to expand Michigan’s existing medical marijuana law.

    House Bill 4209 would license and regulate above-ground, safe access facilities for state-qualified patients seeking medical marijuana. Previously, lawmakers wanted to impose a special 8 percent excise tax on dispensary-related income; however, following the objections of advocates who argued that the imposition of additional fees would drive many patients to the black market, this proposed tax now been lowered to 3 percent.

    House Bill 4210  would provide qualified patients legal protections for their use of non-smoked cannabis derived topicals and edibles, as well as cannabis-based extract products. Lawmakers also passed a third bill, HB 4827, which seeks to establish regulations tracking the production and sale of medical marijuana products.

    This package of bills now goes before the Senate Judiciary committee for consideration.

    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 Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director October 13, 2015

    Teased out by CNN host Anderson Cooper’s comment about ‘everyone in the room having probably smoked pot before’, American voters were informed by a question from CNN el Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders about the state’s pending cannabis legalization initiative that will be on the 2016 ballot in Nevada (the state where the debate was being held), and whether or not if he were a Nevadan that he’d vote to support legalization.

    Senator Sanders indicated that he ‘suspected he would vote for the measure’ and went on to enumerate numerous problems with America’s so-called ‘war on drugs’ and the criminal justice system in general.vote

    Mr. Lopez did a follow up question with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, referencing an earlier CNN interview, where she indicated that she never tried marijuana and was not about to do so now. She further said in the previous CNN interview recorded one year earlier that she was still waiting to formulate a policy position based on the pro-reform actions of the four states and the District of Columbia in favor of legalization, Mr. Lopez pressed her if she was yet going to take a position ‘for’ or ‘against’ what she called ‘state experiments’. Mrs. Clinton’s reply, ‘No.’

    However, Mrs. Clinton indicated that she supports states’ ability to create cannabis law reforms, that much can be learned from these states’ efforts; she supports medical access to cannabis; that she agreed with Senator Sanders that cannabis consumers should not be incarcerated in America’s over wrought criminal justice system.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 30, 2015

    Oregon: Retail Marijuana Sales To BeginRegulations permitting state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries to also engage in retail sales to those ages 21 or older take effect on Thursday, October 1. An estimated 200 facilities are anticipated to begin providing cannabis to adults.

    Customers will be permitted to purchase up to a quarter ounce of herbal cannabis daily, as well as up to four non-flowering plants, but they will not be allowed to obtain cannabis-infused products until early next year.

    Legislation approved by voters in November and enacted on July 1 allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). Separate provisions in the law license, regulate, and tax retail sales of cannabis beginning next year. However, separate legislation (Senate Bill 460) signed into law in August permits licensed medical dispensaries the option to engage in provisional, tax-free retail sales of cannabis until January 4, 2016.

    Colorado and Washington presently permit retail sales of cannabis, while similar regulations are forthcoming in Alaska. (A voter-initiated law in the District of Columbia permits adults to possess and grow marijuana legally, but does not provide for a regulated commercial cannabis market.)

    Tax revenue derived from retail cannabis sales in Washington have total $90 million in the first 15 months, while taxes derived from sales in Colorado have totaled $70 million in the past year.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 28, 2015

    The total number of marijuana-related arrests nationwide rose in 2014, despite the implementation of legalization laws in two states, according to data released today by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    According to the 2014 Uniform Crime Report, police made 700,993 arrests for marijuana-related offenses, some 7,500 more arrests than were reported in 2013. Of those arrested, 619,808 (over 88 percent) were charged with possession only — a two percent increase since 2013.

    Annual Arrests in the US 1965-2014

    Marijuana arrests comprised nearly half (45 percent) of all drug-related arrests nationwide, at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars.

    In the two states (Colorado and Washington) that have legalized marijuana-related activities, cannabis-related arrests plummeted in 2014 — indicating that that other jurisdictions are prioritizing arrests at a time when the majority of the public is opposed to criminalization. (Recent changes in marijuana laws in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC are not reflected in the 2014 arrest data, but will be reflected in 2015 data.)

    As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were most likely to occur in the midwest and in the southeastern regions of the United States. Far fewer marijuana arrests were reported in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized.

    The total number of marijuana arrests for 2014 are some 20 percent lower than the totals for 2007, when police made an all-time high 872,721 cannabis-related arrests.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director September 18, 2015

    ballot_box_leafFormer Maryland Governor and current democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley yesterday held a marijuana legalization listening session in Denver, Colorado. Hoping to ignite progressive voters and to differentiate himself from the two leading democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, O’Malley is emphasizing marijuana law reform as a key plank of his campaign.

    O’Malley met in Denver with leading marijuana law reform activists, and cannabis industry leaders, acknowledging, “If you talk to young Americans under 30 there is a growing consensus that marijuana should be treated more akin to alcohol than to other substances.” He pledged, if elected President, to use his executive authority to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.

    “While O’Malley’s pledge is a step in the right direction, NORML believes in descheduling cannabis, not rescheduling cannabis. Cocaine, for instance, is a Schedule II controlled substance under federal law, as is methamphetamine. NORML is not of the belief that an ideal public policy is to cease treating marijuana like heroin (Schedule I) but rather to treat it like cocaine (Schedule II).” As NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano recently told the Associated Press, “Rather, we would prefer to see cannabis classified and regulated in a manner that more closely resembles alcohol or tobacco, neither substance of which is classified in any category under the CSA.”

    O’Malley’s announcement yesterday came on the heels of recent, marijuana-specific comments by Clinton and Sanders.

    On Monday, at a campaign stop in Luther College, Clinton responded to a question on whether or not she would support marijuana legalization as President. She answered, “I would support states and localities that are experimenting with this.”

    In an interview with Little Village, a public affairs program on PATV in Iowa City, Sanders also pledged non-governmental interference in state marijuana laws, commenting, “What the federal government can do is say to the state of Colorado that if you choose to vote to legalize marijuana, we will allow you to do that without restrictions.”

    Sanders also pledged to amend federal banking laws to permit state-licensed business to operate like any other legal entity, “In Colorado people who run marijuana shops can’t put their money in banks,” he said. “That’s a violation of federal law. So I think there are things that the federal government can do that would make it easier for states that want to go in that direction to be able to do so.” In addition, he reiterated his position in favor of medical marijuana and decriminalization, a policy he supported in his home state of Vermont.

    However, when asked about full legalization, Sanders continues to be noncommittal, responding, “We’re exploring the pluses and minuses — of which there are both — of moving more aggressively on that issue. It is a very important issue. We’re watching what Colorado is doing, and we’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks and months.”

    The comments made by all three Democratic candidates for president, coupled with the marijuana related question aimed at the Republican candidates in the most recent Republican primary debate, highlight the new, elevated role marijuana law reform is playing in the election of our next President of the United States. In previous years, candidates’ largely ignored or belittled the issue. But this election that won’t suffice. Voters are demanding clear answers from candidates on what the federal government should do in relation to marijuana policy and they are demanding a change from business as usual.

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