• 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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 17, 2015

    The federal government ought not to interfere with state laws legalizing and regulating the use and distribution of marijuana, according to several Republican Presidential candidates who spoke on the issue during tonight’s Presidential debate.

    Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and business executive Carly Fiorina weighed in the issue. Consistent with previous statements, candidates Bush, Fiorina, and Paul expressed support for allowing states to move forward with marijuana policies that are divergent from federal prohibition — with Sen. Paul speaking most strongly in support of states’ authority to explore legalization alternatives. Senator Paul also spoke of the need for Congress to enact the The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act to strengthen statewide medical marijuana protections and impose various changes to federal law.

    By contrast, Gov. Christie reaffirmed his desire to use the power of the federal government to override state-approved laws legalizing the retail production and sale of cannabis, which he called a “gateway drug.” Governor Christie implied that he would not take such action in states that have regulated the use of medicinal cannabis, such as in his home state of New Jersey.

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who shares Gov. Christie’s position, did not comment.

    The fact that the majority of candidates who spoke on the issue expressed support for the sanctity of state marijuana laws is hardly surprising. According to the most recent Pew poll, an estimated 60 percent of Americans agree that the government “should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use.” State-specific surveys from early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, report even greater voter sentiment in favor of this position.

    But while it is encouraging to see some, though not all, Republican candidates deferring to the principles of federalism in regard to the rising tide of public support in favor of marijuana law reform, far too many politicians in both parties continue to deny the reality that public and scientific opinion are in direct conflict with federal marijuana policy. In the 2016 Presidential race, it is inherent that the candidates from both political parties recognize that advocating for marijuana law reform is a political opportunity, not a political liability.

    National polls now consistently show that majorities of voters — particularly male voters, Democrat voters, and younger (Millennial) voters — embrace ending cannabis criminalization altogether, and replacing it with a system of legalization and regulation. Yet, to date, no leading candidate from either political party has embraced this broader position. That is unfortunate. In the past Presidential election, marijuana legalization ballot measures in Colorado and Washington proved to be more popular at the polls than either Presidential candidate. The 2016 Presidential hopefuls ought to be more concerned with positioning themselves to be on the right side of history than on trying to appease a vocal minority that is woefully out of touch with both changing public and scientific opinion.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director September 16, 2015

    At nearly the two and half hour mark in tonight’s marathon Republican debate on CNN Jake Tapper directed a question from the online audience, indicating it was very popular, to Senator Rand Paul regarding Colorado and other states having recently legalized marijuana by popular vote on binding initiatives, that if elected president of the US Governor Chris Christie recently said ‘the people of Colorado should enjoy their pot now because if elected by 2017 I’ll be going after them to shut down’, imploring Senator Paul to respond to Christie’s clear threat to state autonomy in states like Colorado (along with Alaska, Oregon and Washington too).vote

    Senator Paul indicated that he supports the 10th Amendment and states rights, that the drug war has racist outcomes, that rehabilitation is preferable to incarceration, expanding drug courts, indicated the war on drugs is a failure, and that individuals on the stage are hypocrites for their youthful marijuana use. Governor Jeb Bush apparently took that to mean him…where he extolled the virtues of Florida’s drug courts. Paul retorted that Bush didn’t support medical access to marijuana. Bush claimed that he did, but only the way the legislature in Florida recently passed restrictive laws (‘Not Colorado-like laws’), that he didn’t support the 2014 effort to pass medical marijuana laws via a ballot initiative and that he voted against it.

    Senator Paul drilled Bush that he didn’t really support medical marijuana or states’ rights.

    Bush claimed that if voters in Colorado wanted different marijuana laws he wouldn’t necessarily interfere.

    The next two candidates took the opportunity to try to have it both ways, first with Christie extolling New Jersey’s recently passed ‘rehabilitation over incarceration’ legislation and that the “war on drugs is largely a failure”, but, non-sensibly, then goes on to bluster and re-affirm his virulent opposition to marijuana legalization, claiming marijuana is a gateway drug (which simply is not supported by science or data). He exclaimed to Paul ‘if you want marijuana legalized, pass a law in Congress’.

    Then former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina took the unsolicited opportunity to gratuitously mention her son’s addiction and death from drug overdose (self-evidently not from marijuana), that marijuana is a gateway drug, is way more potent (‘Then when Jeb Bush smoked it”)…but, then, incongruously, she insisted that the war on drugs is a failure, prisons are overcrowded and that “what we’re doing is not working”.

    Senator Paul attacked Christie for not truly supporting the 1oth Amendment allowing states autonomy from the federal government, that, further, if president Christie would enforce federal laws against state medical cannabis patients, including children who’re recommended medical marijuana use by physicians.

    Distilled: Three of the Republican candidates indicated the war on drugs is a failure (Paul, Fiorina and Christie), one candidate (Bush) indicated that the federal government has an important role to play against drug use.

    One candidate supported medical access to marijuana and states rights (Paul); one candidate claimed to support states rights and limited access to medical marijuana (Bush); one candidate supported medical access to marijuana, but would use federal law to stop states from deviating from federal policies they no longer support (Christie) and a candidate will use the death of their child to advance inaccurate and unscientific claims–while at the same time wanting credit for identifying the problems that contributed to their son’s plight, while making no indication how if at all they’d allow states autonomy to make policy decisions independent of the centralized federal government (Fiorina).

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 11, 2015

    Teen Marijuana Use FlatCurrent use of marijuana by those between the ages of 12 to 17 has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, while young people’s self-reported consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has fallen to record lows, according to federal data compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

    According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of respondents ages 12 to 17 who reported past-month use of marijuana remained steady from 7.6 percent in 2004 to 7.4 percent in 2014. By contrast, teens’ use of tobacco, cigarettes, and alcohol fell dramatically during this same period. Over the past ten years, adolescents’ use of tobacco fell from 14.4 percent to 7 percent, their use of cigarettes fell from 11.9 percent to 4.9 percent, and their use of alcohol fell from 17.6 percent to 11.5 percent. Binge drinking by young people fell from 11.1 percent in 2004 to 6.1 percent in 2014.

    Self-reported marijuana use by older respondents, particularly among those age 26 and older has increased in recent years. By contrast, since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington decided to permit the commercial production and sale of cannabis to adults, youth marijuana use in the past 30 days is virtually unchanged (7.2 percent in 2012, 7.4 percent in 2014).

    Of all estimated past-month illicit drug consumers, 82 percent are users of marijuana, the survey reported.

    The data once again undermines the concern that liberalizing marijuana laws for adults will inherently increase youth marijuana use and indicates that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults but restricts its use among young people — coupled with a legal environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and children about cannabis’ potential harms — best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse.

    Nonetheless, marijuana law reform opponents are refusing to acknowledge these positive trends, instead falsely stating that marijuana use is “continuing to rise among youth.”

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director September 2, 2015

    News reports out of Vermont indicate that a major political shift has just occurred that well positions the state legislature to become the first in the nation to end cannabis prohibition and replace with tax-n-regulate policies.

    The four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) that have chucked cannabis prohibition have done so by popular vote on binding ballot initiatives passed by citizens, not legislators. Historically, circa 1996, most all substantive cannabis law reforms at the state level have happened because of ballot initiatives, not legislation.Vote marijuana

    With national surveys and the vote totals in favor of legalizing cannabis in the four vanguard states equaling similar levels of support–54%–some elected officials have finally ‘got it’ about the need to end cannabis prohibition, if only because it is no longer politically popular.

    A state legislature voting in the majority for cannabis legalization, with a supportive governor awaiting passed legislation to sign, has yet to happen in America. Arguably, once a state legislature passes cannabis legalization legislation, this action more so than voter initiatives placed on the ballot by stakeholders in reform (be them civil justice groups or business interests) will likely spark a ‘reefer revolution’ among states that want the revenue and public policy controls that the long-failed federal prohibition does not provide them.

    With a largely supportive and anti-prohibtion legislature and governor (in Democrat Peter Shumlin) already in place in the Green Mountain state, the only political impediment was the Speaker of the House Shap Smith, who, in his run up to try to become the state’s next governor, has reversed his public stance on cannabis legalization from undecided to publicly endorsing Vermont legalizing cannabis:

    “It’s clear to me in my discussions with Vermonters that in general, the people in this state probably favor legalization. And I certainly believe that we can legalize marijuana if we do it right.” – House Speaker Shap Smith

    Will the Vermont legislature be the first one to officially legalize cannabis?

    Yesterday’s policy reversal from Speaker Smith almost certainly places Vermont in the lead to do so.

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