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GOVERNMENT

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 16, 2014

    Guest Post by Jason Miller, Houston NORML

    From left to right: Dr. Teryn Driver, Zoe Russell, Jason Miller Photo credit: Nick Zalud

    From left to right: Dr. Teryn Driver, Zoe Russell, Jason Miller
    Photo credit: Nicholas Zalud

    The 2014 Texas GOP Convention wrapped up Saturday, June 7th, after a long week of debate and testimony concerning medical marijuana. Supporters of marijuana reform, including several members of RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition) along with other medical marijuana advocates, including parents, veterans, and medical doctors, gave testimony in favor of an amendment to the platform in support of allowing Texans access to medical cannabis.

    It seemed like a short-lived victory when the Temporary Platform Committee passed the amendment after listening to emotional testimony from those whose loved ones could benefit or have benefited from medical cannabis. The Chairman of the committee broke the tie and the amendment passed by a 15-14 vote. In addition, a plank supporting Hemp Cultivation passed the committee and made it into the final platform.

    The following day, the Permanent Platform Committee met and voted on the medical marijuana amendment. This was the day I arrived at the convention after driving up to Fort Worth from Houston. My second time attending the Texas GOP Convention as a delegate, I was excited to hear about what was happening in the committees and was eager to help.

    Rewind to August 2013 when I first met Ann Lee. After being involved with NORML for the past 4 years as a corporate sponsor to the legal seminars in Aspen and Key West, I had heard of Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, but I didn’t know the full extent of his story until hearing it from his mother. Ann Lee was visiting a group in Houston that several of my friends help organize called Liberty on the Rocks. Along with a representative from Houston NORML, originally co-founded by Richard Lee, Ann Lee spoke to us and her words resonated.

    She told us about growing up in Louisiana during segregation (Ann Lee is in her mid-eighties, she’s even older than marijuana prohibition itself), and she spoke of how unfairly people were treated and how unfairly minorities are treated today due to the enforcement of marijuana prohibition. She told us about her 5 sons, including educator and entrepreneur Richard Lee, who was injured in a workplace accident, leaving him in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. She told us about being a Republican activist since the 1970s and how she co-founded the group “Women for Reagan” in 1983, the year I was born. She told us about her husband, Bob Lee, and how they had initially reacted when Richard told them he uses medical marijuana to help with his muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain.

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee with Liberty on the Rocks Houston, August 2013

    Photo credit: Sang Le

    Ann and Bob Lee founded RAMP in 2012. After much reflection, they had reached the conclusion that prohibition of marijuana is directly opposed to all of their Republican values. I was immediately intrigued upon learning about this. My interest in both party politics and marijuana policy were now being fused together by this idea. I immediately approached Ann and started asking her about RAMP. She handed me a little brochure with the Republican logo with three pot leaves instead of stars. My first thought was “OK, this organization really needs a new logo.”

    Fast-forward to 2014, new logo, website, social media, and a network of young people helping Ann Lee with RAMP. We’re ready to make an impact. We’ve formed a team, including John Baucum, President of Houston Young Republicans. We’d worked a great deal on networking and outreach, held our inaugural meeting, and conducted several interviews with news media. We knew a lot of people in Houston’s conservative scene and we knew many of them would be serving as GOP delegates.

    Upon my arrival to the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Thursday, I knew that I had a mission. The vote on the medical marijuana amendment was to take place later this day and the outcome was going to depend heavily upon how the Permanent Platform Committee was to shape up. Our strategy was to try to push anyone off the committee who voted against us and replace them with someone who is supportive.

    In my Senate District, our platform committee representative had voted against medical marijuana. So I started talking to people. I thought about who would make a good candidate and one person came to mind, a Military Veteran, an author, and a frequent lecturer on conservative issues. Although medical marijuana was not the primary issue, I knew this person would be supportive. At this point there’s a lot of whispering going on in the hallways, people pulling each other aside and talking under their breath. I knew that a good number of people would unite behind this candidate, and I was able to feel confident in my ability to “whip the votes.”

    Time was of the essence. I ran across the street to the Omni Hotel and printed up flyers, highlighting the candidate’s qualifications. After some trouble with the printer, I made it back to the convention just in time. I walked into our SD Caucus and handed everyone the flyers. There were two other candidates in the race for platform committee. Although my preferred candidate did not win, we pulled about 30% of the vote and made an impact on the outcome of the race.

    Immediately after the SD Caucus, the Permanent Platform Committee met and the moment of truth was upon us. There was a great deal of commotion outside the meeting room because it wasn’t big enough to seat everyone. People were outside the door yelling for them to relocate the meeting to a larger space. Some of the committee members had changed due the immigration plank of the platform, which was the most contentious issue up for debate. I tried to peer into the room to see who was on the committee. I was curious to find out any of our people were elected to the committee in other senate districts, but I assumed they didn’t have any better luck than I did.

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee testifying before the platform committee
    Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    The medical cannabis amendment failed. Some of the committee members, who supported the amendment the day before ended up changing their vote. This may have been due to our opposition whipping the votes against us. However, an additional amendment supporting “research into the medical efficacy of cannabis” was introduced by a member of the committee and passed. Unfortunately, our opposition filed a ‘minority report’ signed by 9 members of the committee in support of striking this language from the platform.

    Perhaps the most amazing revelation was that another ‘minority report’ was filed, signed by 8 members of the committee, in support of adding the original medical cannabis amendment back into the platform. This was huge. A clear message was sent that support for medical cannabis is alive and well in the Texas GOP. We considered this to be a major victory because the issue would be up for debate during the general session on Saturday when the platform is adopted by the entire delegation.

    On Friday morning, we arrived at the Fort Worth Convention Center at 6:00am, with 2000 RAMP newsletters in hand. Volunteers, including founders of the group MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) Thalia Michelle and Amy Lou Falwell, helped line seats with our literature. This day, we decided to forget about the platform and the stress, it’s time to network, educate people about medical cannabis, conduct interviews with media, and talk to as many elected officials as we can.

    Founders of MAMMA - Amy Lou Falwell and Thalia Michelle conducting a radio interview in the exhibitor area of the convention. Photo credit: Jason Miller

    Founders of MAMMA – Amy Lou Falwell and Thalia Michelle conducting a radio interview in the exhibitor area of the convention.
    Photo credit: Jason Miller

    On Saturday morning, several of us arrived early to get spots near each of the four microphones in the general convention arena. We wanted to make sure we were able to testify in support of medical cannabis. As the platform adoption process started, medical cannabis was the first topic up for debate. Our minority report in support of adding the amendment back in to the platform was introduced from the stage.

    Ann Lee spoke in favor of this amendment and told her story. She told the delegation about her son Richard and his injury. She used her entire 5 minutes of testimony and made a very clear point that garnered a great deal of applause, “Why should the federal government be able to prevent us from using a natural medicine that is clearly beneficial to sick people?”

    One person spoke in opposition to the amendment and tried to convince the delegation that Marinol and medical marijuana are the same thing, which is clearly false.

    Dr. Teryn Driver, a delegate from League City, made an emotional argument about children suffering from epilepsy and passionately educated the delegation about Cannibidiol (CBD).

    A motion was made to end debate and the crowd voted in favor of it. (The delegation will typically always vote in favor of anything that moves the process along faster). We then voted on adding the medical marijuana amendment back into the platform and it failed. We expected this to happen.

    The next item of business is the ‘minority report’ striking the support for research into the medical efficacy of cannabis from the platform. Zoe Russell, the assistant executive director for RAMP, spoke in opposition to striking this language; she testified that Texas prides itself on medical innovation and that getting our federal government out of the way of promising research will be a tremendous benefit to our medical community. She pointed out that Republicans don’t like federal interference in our healthcare choices and that should include the ability to conduct medical research. Her remarks were met with cheers and applause.

    Immediately following Zoe’s testimony, debate was cut off. A vote was taken, but it wasn’t clear. After a bit of demagoguery by the Chairman and a clarification that a no vote would leave the language in the platform, the vote was taken again. It was very close, but the yes votes won and the language supporting research of medical cannabis was stricken from the platform.

    Ann Lee speaking in favor of medical marijuana  Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Ann Lee speaking in favor of medical marijuana
    Photo credit: Zoe Russell

    Our opposition’s only real strategy was to cut off testimony as quickly as possible. They don’t want the delegation to hear our message. They don’t want any discussion about changing these laws. But we’re having the discussion. We’re winning over the hearts of minds of people, and we had been doing it all week. After the convention ended, I made my way down the road about 4 blocks to the Texas Regional NORML Conference. Exhausted, I dragged myself into the conference and took a seat.

    Overall, the Texas GOP Convention was a huge success. We’re furthering the discussion about marijuana reform among Republicans and we’re having fun in the process. My time spent in Fort Worth was well worth it. I learned a lot about politics and procedure, activism and how to communicate and network with people. We met supporters from all over the state and we expanded our network. We’re now gearing up for the 2015 legislative session and we’re determined to legalize marijuana in the great state of Texas.

    It ain’t gonna legalize itself.

    Stay up to date on NORML Houston’s activities by following them on Facebook here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 13, 2014

    The Jamaica government is poised to relax marijuana possession penalties.

    Justice Minister Mark Golding said yesterday in a statement that a majority of lawmakers are ready to endorse a proposal decriminalizing the possession of the plant.

    “[T]he criminalization of possession of a small quantity of ganja and of smoking ganja has caused significant hardships in Jamaica, particularly among young men,” he said. “A conviction for possession or use of ganja results in a criminal record, which often precludes the offender from engaging certain employment, impacts his ability to get visas to travel overseas, and generally limits his life prospects. This is a serious human rights issue, supporting the cry for reform to our laws in this area.”

    The proposed change in law amends Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act by eliminating criminal penalties pertaining to the private possession of two ounces of cannabis by adults. Rather, such behavior will be reclassified under the law as a “non-arrestable, ticketable infraction … which does not give rise to a criminal record.”

    The proposed changes intend to provid broader protections for those using cannabis for religious or medicinal purposes. “[R]eligious use of ganja ought not to be criminalized, given Jamaica’s history and prevailing socio-cultural and economic environment,” the Justice Minister said. He added, “It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to possess ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes.”

    The Justice Minister said that a majority of Parliament are also backing separate legislation that seeks to expunge the criminal records of those with minor marijuana convictions. Additional legislative efforts are also “underway to develop a legal framework which will allow the emergence of medical ganja and industrial hemp industries in Jamaica,” Golding said.

    Various Jamaican national commissions have previously called on Parliament to enact similar reforms, but lawmakers in the past have largely ignored their recommendations.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director May 30, 2014

    After a long debate that had the US House of Representatives in session until after midnight, the lower chamber of Congress cast a historic 219 to 189 vote to restrict the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from using taxpayer funds to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs in the 20+ states that have enacted them.

    This measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Reps. Rohrabacher (R-Calf.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). You can read the full text of the amendment here.

    170 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, 172 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted against it. You can view the full vote breakdown here.

    “It would be hard to overstate the importance of tonight’s vote,” said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Approval of this amendment is a resounding victory for basic compassion and common sense.”

    Added NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, “This vote marks one of the first times since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that a majority of the members of a chamber Congress have acted in a manner that significantly alters federal marijuana policy.”

    “The conflicting nature of state and federal marijuana laws has created an untenable situation,” co-sponsor Rep. Blumenauer said just before the House debate. “It’s time we take the federal government out of the equation so medical marijuana business owners operating under state law aren’t living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night.”

    The House also approved amendments that prohibit the DOJ and DEA from using funds to interfere with state sanctioned industrial hemp cultivation.

    In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since then, five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation authorizing state-sponsored hemp cultivation. (Similar legislation is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.) In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop

    These amendments were made to the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill, which now must be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama.

    NORML will keep you updated on this evolving situation.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 21, 2014

    Legislation revamping Missouri’s criminal code became law last Tuesday, absent the signature of Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon.

    Lawmakers and advocates spent some eight years drafting the legislation, Senate Bill 491, which significantly revises the state’s criminal code for the first time in over 30 years. Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets served on the Missouri Bar Association Committee that authored many of the criminal code revisions.

    Provisions in the measure amend marijuana possession penalties. At present, the possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis is classified as a Class A criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a one-year incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Under SB 291, the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis will be reclassified as a Class D misdemeanor (the lowest criminal classification available), punishable by a fine, but not the possibility of jail time. However, the possession of greater quantities of cannabis will remain a Class A misdemeanor offense.

    In 2010, Missouri police made nearly 18,500 criminal arrests for marijuana possession offenses, one of the highest totals in the country.

    Separate provisions in the bill amend Missouri’s “prior and persistent drug offender” law. The changes eliminate the mandate that persons convicted of a drug felony offense for the third time are not eligible for probation or parole.

    Unfortunately, despite the passage of SB 491, Missouri residents ought not to expect legal relief any time soon. That is because the changes to the Missouri criminal code do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. Consequently, local activists are continuing their push for a potential 2016 legalization initiative.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    State lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 155, to fund observational and clinical research assessing the safety and therapeutic efficacy of cannabis. Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law today.

    The measure establishes a subaccount of up to $10 million within the state’s medical marijuana program fund to be utilized specifically for the purpose of conducting state-sponsored cannabis research. The intent of this new research program is to “gather objective scientific research regarding the efficacy of administering marijuana and its component parts as part of medical treatment.” The law also establishes a ‘scientific advisory council,’ which may include expert participants from around the nation, to evaluate research proposals and make recommendations in regards to funding requests.

    “SB 155 invests the dollars collected from medical marijuana fees into a meaningful effort to study the therapeutic and medical benefits of the drug,” stated Democrat Rep. Crisanta Duran, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Huffington Post. “Patients will benefit from this investment and Colorado will become a national leader in developing medical marijuana research.”

    In recent years, only one state — California — has previously earmarked state funding to explicitly sponsor clinical cannabis research. That program, established at various universities statewide, funded numerous clinical trials over the past decade evaluating the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. A review of these trials published in The Open Neurology Journal concluded, “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.”

    Earlier this month, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publicly announced in the Federal Register that it is increasing its marijuana production quota from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms (about 1,443 pounds) in order to meet increasing demand for the plant from clinical investigators.

    Federal regulations permit a farm at the University of Mississippi to cultivate set quantities of cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. Regulators at the DEA, the US Food and Drug Administration, PHS (Public Health Service), and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse must approve any clinical protocol seeking to study the plant’s effects in human subjects — including those trials that are either state or privately funded.

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