With many state legislative sessions coming to an end and the federal government beginning final budget negotiations, we’ve seen plenty of marijuana legislation move forward this week. Keep reading below to catch up on this week’s legislative action!
On the eve of Veterans Day members of the US Senate adopted language to permit Veterans access to medical marijuana in states that allow for its use. Senate members passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs APpropriations Bill, which for the first time includes language to allow Veteran’s Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. You can read more about this measure here.
New Jersey: Governor Chris Christie signed legislation into law on Monday, November 9, that allows for the administration of edible forms of cannabis for children attending school.
Additionally, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Monday, November 16th at 1:00PM in Committee Room 4 of the state capitol to discuss the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana in New Jersey. The informational hearing comes ahead of the anticipated introduction next session of legislation to legalize the plant’s production, sale, and use. To express your support for legalization in New Jersey, click here.
Vermont: Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee are discussing how best to implement a regulated marijuana industry in Vermont. Statewide polling reports that 57 percent of Vermont voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana production and sales. State lawmakers acknowledge that 2016 is the “time” to regulate cannabis in Vermont and they need to hear from their constituents that legalization is a priority. To contact your lawmakers and urge their support for legalization, click here.
North Carolina: Senate Bill 313, an act to establish a pilot program for hemp cultivation in North Carolina, has become law absent the Governor’s signature. The legislation declares, “The General Assembly finds and declares that it is in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina to promote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the State in order to expand employment, promote economic activity, and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production.”
New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that seeks to accelerate medical marijuana access to patients who are suffering from critical conditions and are in urgent need for medical cannabis. Assembly Bill 7060 & Senate Bill 5086 require the Commissioner of Health to establish emergency access to medical cannabis access for patients with conditions for whom a delay would pose a serious risk to the patient’s life or health.
Florida: The Broward County Commission approved a marijuana ordinance on Tuesday, that will give police officers the option of issuing a $150 civil citation to someone caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana instead of filing a misdemeanor criminal charge against that person. Similar ordinances have been passed in Miami-Dade County and Key West.
Palm Beach County will be voting on a similar measure, December 15th. Contact your County Commissioner today and urge their support for the option of issuing a civil citation for the nonviolent possession of marijuana! You can find out who your County Commissioner is here.
Texas: In Houston, District Attorney Devon Anderson announced last Thursday that starting January 1st, those who are caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program and released rather than receiving a criminal charge. The suspect must complete the program to avoid facing charges.
Anderson said, “It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record,” she said. “When we don’t offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program.”
Illinois: More than two years after lawmakers initially approved medical cannabis legislation in the state, patients are finally getting relief. This week, several of the state’s licensed dispensaries began serving patients for the first time. About 3,300 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards were able to purchase medical cannabis at one of five dispensaries opening Monday. Besides Canton, retail shops in Addison, Marion, Mundelein and Quincy were among the first to open. An estimated 25 facilities are anticipated to be operational by the end of the year.
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!
On Tuesday, Senate members passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill,which for the first time includes language to allow Veteran’s Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal.
The Daines/Merkley amendment had been previously approved by members of the US Senate Appropriations committee in May. By contrast, House members narrowly rejected a similar amendment this spring. House and Senate leaders will now need to reconcile the two versions of the FY2016 spending bill.
Under current regulations, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs prohibits doctors from issuing cannabis recommendations even where it is legal. If the Daines/Merkley amendment is ultimately included in the reconciled version of the FY2016 spending bill, the Justice Department will be barred from spending any money to limit VA doctors from recommending marijuana, or to penalize veterans who choose to use medical marijuana in states that allow it’s use.
The results are in from Washington, D.C. one year after 70% of the voters chose to end cannabis prohibition: A nearly 100% reduction in marijuana-related arrests!
According to the Washington City Paper, the number of annual arrests for marijuana dropped from 895 in 2014 to 7 so far in 2015 (a 99.4% reduction in arrests; an even greater percentage drop in marijuana-related arrests occurred between 2013 and now, when there were 1,215 arrests).
This dramatic reduction in marijuana arrests is consistent with the prior experience in the other states where voters have cast off unpopular cannabis prohibition laws. Post prohibition, arrest rates for marijuana-related offenses in Colorado and Washington State dropped from nearly 12,ooo annually to <200.
Washington, D.C.’s huge reduction in arrest rates is not a result of legalized marijuana (where such a policy allows for the legal cultivation and selling of marijuana, and that government regulates and taxes the production and sale of marijuana products). Instead, in the nation’s capital cannabis has been fully de-penalized where adults can cultivate a personal amount of marijuana and possess up to two ounces, but, there is no legal source to purchase marijuana and the government derives no taxes or fees (however, Washington, D.C. does have medical marijuana laws, where approximately 8,000 registered medical patients who’re qualified can legally purchase marijuana products at up to four retail locations).
Over twelve percent of federal drug prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana-related violations, according to data compiled by US Bureau of Prisons and the United State’s Sentencing Commission and published by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics
Of the 94,678 federal inmates incarcerated for a drug violation as their most serious offense, 12.4 percent (11,533 persons) are serving time for violating marijuana laws. Most marijuana offenders are imprisoned for trafficking violations. The average length of prison time for those incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses is 88 months.
Nearly half (44.3 percent) of federal marijuana inmates are offenders with minimal criminal histories who have not previously served time in prison. Eight-five percent of marijuana offenders did not possess a firearm.
Over a third (36.5 percent) of federal marijuana prisoners are age 40 or older. Thirty-five percent of federal marijuana prisoners are not US citizens.
The percentage of marijuana-related federal prisoners has remained virtually unchanged over the past decade.
Full text of the BJS report, “Drug offenders in federal prison: Estimates of characteristics based on linked data, is online here.
During an appearance in South Carolina over the weekend, Hillary Clinton endorsed amending marijuana from it’s current Schedule I classification, reserved for the most dangerous of drugs, to Schedule II, a lesser classification intended for drugs that have recognized medical applications but also have a high potential for abuse and severe psychological or physical dependence.
The presidential candidate said, “What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we’ve got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now. And the problem with medical marijuana is there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions, but we haven’t done any research. Why? Because it’s considered what’s called a Schedule I drug, and you can’t even do research on it.”
Let’s take a look at these statements a little more closely.
First, Clinton’s claim that “we haven’t done any research” on cannabis’ safety and potential efficacy is false. NORML documents hundreds of relevant trials here. Clinton’s allegation is further rebutted by the findings of a 2012 review of FDA-approved clinical trials involving the use of herbal cannabis in various patient populations, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
Second, while Clinton’s comments mark an evolution in her position on marijuana policy, she is late to the game among the presidential candidates proposing policy solutions to marijuana’s prohibition. Fellow democrat presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley previously pledged to use his executive authority, if elected, to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. And Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul is a sponsor of the CARERS Act, legislation that, among other things, would also move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.
Third, while all of these statements by presidential candidates is a step in the right direction, NORML has and will continue to advocate for marijuana’s removal from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Rescheduling marijuana from I to II would not limit the federal government’s authority to prosecute marijuana offenders, including those who are in compliance with state law, nor would it likely stimulate clinical trial research trials beyond those studies funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and reliant upon government-grown marijuana.
Fortunately, Vermont Senator and Democrat Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation to remove marijuana from the US Federal Controlled Substances Act. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 would deschedule cannabis from the CSA, similar to alcohol and tobacco. It would also allow states the power to establish their own marijuana policies and banking policies free from federal interference.
Reform advocates can contact their member of the US Senate in support of The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 by clicking here.