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LEGISLATION

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel April 4, 2016

    CongressWe receive a lot of inquiries (and some complaints) at NORML from those who favor legalization and wonder why we continue to focus on a state-based strategy instead of focusing on Congress. The belief is that Congress could legalize marijuana in one fell swoop if they wanted to do so.

    It’s a reasonable question, but there are valid reasons for the current strategy.

    Congress Is Not Yet In Play

    Congress is comprised of 535 members elected from all parts of the country, representing a wide range of political views. Congress never leads the way on social issues. Historically, it’s an institution that changes slowly by increments and generally only after a majority of the states have already adopted those changes. Congress is always slower to embrace policy change than the American public.

    Even if we wanted to convince Congress to legalize marijuana under federal law and take the issue out of the hands of the states (a strategy favored by only 34% of Americans; 60% favor allowing states to control marijuana policy), we simply do not yet have the political support in Congress to achieve that result. In addition, if we waited for majority support in Congress before we tried to move legalization forward, we would still have prohibition in effect in every state with no exceptions for medical use or full legalization. Without those experiments at the state level, we would have no real data regarding how legalization actually works, data that is driving the legalization movement forward.

    Historical Considerations

    There are also historical reasons justifying the state-based approach. When we finally ended alcohol prohibition in 1931, the Congress did not simply declare alcohol legal throughout the country. They removed federal laws that conflicted with legalization and allowed the states to adopt whatever alcohol policies they wanted. Those that wished to legalize alcohol were free to do so, but, similarly, those states that wanted to continue the criminal prohibition of alcohol were free to do that. Alcohol policy was treated as a states’ rights issue, and it remains the same today. In fact, there remain a few “dry” counties in several states today, remnants of that earlier failed policy.

    It is likely that when Congress does finally act, they too will respect the will of those states that may not yet be ready to adopt legal marijuana. They will almost certainly back the federal government out of the way and allow those states that wish to legalize to do so, free from federal interference. They will not attempt to ram legalization through as a federal policy that states have to follow, nor should they.

    The New “States’ Rights”

    For those of my generation and older, the term “states’ rights” is a loaded term that makes many of us nervous because, for many decades, it was used to justify racial segregation in the south. Only after the Supreme Court ended school segregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 did the states’ rights arguments begin to lose ground as a justification for the policy then called “separate but equal.” It is with some trepidation that those of us who support legalizing marijuana also find ourselves relying on the states’ rights argument to move the issue forward.

    Nonetheless, the reality of today’s political environment is that we can continue to make substantial progress towards marijuana legalization, one state at a time, by picking and choosing the states with the strongest public support for legalization. Even if our goal were to achieve legalization under federal law, it would take several more years for any of that progress.

    It’s Time To Get Serious With Congress

    As I acknowledged, we do not yet have the necessary support in Congress to legalize marijuana federally or even to remove those federal laws that are in conflict with the various state legalization laws. These federal laws hang over state laws like the proverbial sword of Damocles. President Obama showed the courage to hold the Department of Justice back and to allow the states to implement their new marijuana laws without federal interference. A future administration, not as willing to permit the states that freedom, might well use the current federal law to roll back state legalization. We therefore absolutely must change federal law to protect these states that are willing to experiment with alternatives to prohibition.

    Today, there are at least 14 marijuana-related bills pending in Congress, calling on Congress to reform or repeal different aspects of federal prohibition. These proposals would recognize the medical use of marijuana under federal law; allow legal marijuana businesses in the states to operate like other legal businesses, including the availability of banking and financial services; legalize industrial hemp, and remove marijuana altogether from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Here is a link to those pending bills, along with sample letters making it easy for you to contact your members of Congress to urge their support.

    NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day

    For those who are ready to get more personally involved in changing federal law, I would urge you to attend the two-day NORML Congressional Lobby Day scheduled for May 23 and 24 in Washington, DC. Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a marijuana smoker, or someone who opposes prohibition, this is an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from across the country and get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process. It is an exhilarating experience for anyone who has taken the time to come to DC to lobby their members of Congress.

    Changing federal law is never simple, and changing federal marijuana laws is especially challenging. But the necessary changes will not occur on their own, and you can make a real difference and help speed this process along by joining us in Washington, DC for the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day.

    Please register here and plan to join us in your nation’s capitol. It’s time to stop complaining and to roll-up your sleeves and get involved.

    Hope to see you in DC to help send a strong message to Congress: there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana, and it’s time we ended prohibition and stopped treating smokers like criminals.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director April 1, 2016

    thumbs_upSeveral marijuana law reform bills were signed into law this week. Keep reading below for the latest updates!

    State:

    California: NORML is opposing pending legislation in the Senate that seeks to impose retail sales taxes on the purchase of medical cannabis. Senate Bill 987 imposes a special 15 percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales, in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.

    While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Laws enacted by the legislature last year to regulate medical marijuana explicitly did not include additional taxation, and lawmakers should not try to impose such taxes now.

    The legislation is scheduled to be considered by members of the Governance and Finance Committee on April 6th. If you live in California, please #TakeAction and contact your lawmakers to urge them to reject this unnecessary measure!

    Connecticut: Members of the House Public Health Committee have approved legislation to allow qualified patients under 18 years old to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating illnesses. Patients who’ve met the necessary requirements would need the consent of a parent or guardian to receive the drug. Presently, Connecticut is the only medical marijuana state that explicitly prohibits use by minors.

    Also, on Tuesday, April 5, Reps. Toni Walker and Juan Candelaria will hold an informational hearing on the merits of legalizing the adult use of marijuana. The hearing is open to the public and will take place at 10:00AM in hearing room 2E of the Legislative Office Bldg, 300 Capitol Ave, Hartford, CT 06106.

    Florida: Governor Rick Scott  signed legislation, House Bill 307, into law to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. House Bill 307 expands the state’s so-called ‘Right to Try Act’ – legislation that permits terminally ill patients to experiment with non-FDA approved remedies – to include the use of medicinal cannabis. Under the new law, which takes immediate effect, qualifying patients are eligible to access both low-THC and high-THC strains of cannabis. The measure also seeks to expand a 2014 state law intended to provide low-THC varieties of cannabis to patients with pediatric epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, or cancer. However, this law is not yet operational.

    marijuana_gavelIllinois: Senate bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of personal use quantities of marijuana, was approved by members of the Senate Criminal Law Committee. If passed, Senate Bill 2228 would amend state law so that the possession of up to ten grams of marijuana is no longer classified as a criminal offense.  Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. Under the proposal, offenders would instead be issued a civil citation and have to pay a fine of $100 to $200.  The marijuana would be confiscated at the time of offense. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.

    The legislation is anticipated to be voted on by the full Senate in early April. You can #TakeAction to contact your state Senator and urge their support for this legislation!

    Maine: House lawmakers voted ‘ought not to pass’ on legislation, LD 1628, to impose presumptive impairment standards in cases where low levels of THC is detected in the blood. NORML is actively opposing this measure, which states that the detection of 5 ng/ml or more of THC in a driver’s blood “gives rise to a permissible inference … that [a] person is under the influence of intoxicants.” NORML would like to thank those House lawmakers that recognized this legislation as an unscientific and disproportionate response to behavior that is already sufficiently addressed by present traffic safety laws.

    Massachusetts: Legislation to regulate the cultivation and promotion of industrial hemp received attention this week when lawmakers hosted celebrity Tim Gunn at the Massachusetts State House so he could express his support for regulating the crop. If passed, the measure would establish policies and procedures to allow for the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp if/when federal law permits such activity. You can #TakeAction and contact your state lawmakers to urge their support for this common sense legislation.

    New York: New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Lawmakers have introduced 11 separate bills this session to expand the program and significantly increase access to those patients who so desperately need it. To read more about these pending measures and to contact your lawmakers to urge their support, #TakeAction.

    Ohio: On Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board certified an initiative to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. Proponents of the initiative must now collect 305,591 required signatures by early July in order to qualify it for the ballot. You can read the full text of the initiative here.

    Oregon: Governor Kate Brown signed legislation, Senate Bill 1511, allowing adults 21 and older to immediately become eligible to purchase marijuana extracts and marijuana infused edibles from Oregon dispensaries. In 2014, residents in Oregon voted to legalize the adult use and retail sale of herbal marijuana. Senate Bill 1511 legally permits adults to also purchase limited quantities of cannabis-infused products, such as edibles and extracts.

    legalization_pollVermont: The House of Representatives continues to weigh Senate Bill 241, legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis.  Multiple House committees have held hearings in recent dyas to consider public testimony on the subject while Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly reaffirmed his support for the measure. In an interview released this week with TIME, Governor Shumlin discussed the merits of marijuana legalization and described the reform as something “enlightened states” do. You can read the full interview here.

    Washington: House and Senate lawmakers voted 131 to 6 to override Governor Jay Inslee’s veto of Senate Bill 6206, which establishes limited licensed hemp production. The Governor had previously vetoed the bill, along with several others, in response to lawmakers’ failure to pass a comprehensive budget plan. Senate Bill 6206 authorizes “the growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program.

    Don’t forget to buy your Early Bird tickets for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day that is taking place May 23rd and 24th! The schedule will be released soon but rest easy it will be a full two day itinerary focused around marijuana consumerism, the 114th Congress, post prohibition concerns, marijuana in the media and more! We’ll hold our informational conference on Monday with moderated discussions between some of the most influential thought leaders in the movement and then on Tuesday we’ll #TakeAction and gather on Capitol Hill to lobby our elected officials for common sense marijuana law reforms.

    We’ll also be hosting a NORML Social at O St. Mansion on Monday night for a special award ceremony to honor our most valuable marijuana activists! If you wish to join the party don’t forget to purchase a separate ticket at checkout.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director March 18, 2016

    map_leafWe’ve got a new federal bill to share with you this week along with several state legislative developments! Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform.

    Federal: Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 4779, the CBD Oil Act of 2016 this week. This legislation would bar prosecution of individuals who use cannabidiol (CBD) oil for medical purposes as permitted by existing state law. Currently, 15 states have laws on the books to allow for the use of CBD products for medicinal purposes. Utah Governor Herbert has come out in support of the bill saying: “I support Rep. Chaffetz in his effort to alleviate the fear that many Utah families face over conflicting state and federal laws regarding cannabis oil. This legislation resolves that concern by respecting decisions made at the local level.”

    This legislation joins five other pending bills on the federal level to to permit and/or protect patient access to CBD. You can find the other pending legislation here.

    State:

    Alabama: Legislation is pending, House Bill 257, to amend state law so that first time offenders of one ounce or less of marijuana face a civil fine, no arrest and no criminal record. Current law defines the personal possession of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up of to $6,000.

    The legislation is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee. #TakeAction

    Florida: Members of the Tampa city council voted 5 to 1 to amend local laws so that the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis within city limits is a non-arrestable, fine-only offense. First-time offenders face a $75 fine, while multiple offenders could face fines up to $450. By contrast, Florida law defines similar possession offenses as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

    Tampa’s pending law is similar to those recently enacted in a number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, West Palm Beach, and Volusia, as well as in several other metropolitan areas, such as Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

    Georgia: House lawmakers have resurrected language to expand the state’s medical cannabis law. Provisions previously contained in House Bill 722 have been attached to separate legislation, which is expected to be decided upon by a floor vote imminently. House lawmakers previously approved the measure last month, but Senate lawmakers were unwilling to take up the issue.

    As amended, the language expands the pool of patients eligible for certain medical marijuana products to include autism spectrum disorder, AIDS, a skin disease known as epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy, Tourette’s syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, and protects patients against various discriminatory practices. #TakeAction

    Louisiana: Members of the New Orleans city council voted 7 to zero in favor of legislation permitting police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (defined as those who possess 14 grams or less), including repeat offenders. First-time violators are subject to a $40 fine while subsequent offenders may face fines of up to $100. Under state law, first-time possession offenders are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution (punishable by up to 15 days in jail) while repeat offenders face up to eight years in prison.

    Pennsylvania: After months of delay, House members approved legislation in a 149-3 vote on Wednesday to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients.The amended bill permits state officials to license marijuana cultivators and dispensaries to provide cannabis products to qualified patients who possess a recommendation from select physicians. The measure permits for the dispensing of herbal cannabis via vaporization, as well as the use of marijuana-infused extracts or oils.Because the House-amended legislation differs from the version initially approved by the Senate, the bill must be reapproved by the Senate or it will be negotiated in conference committee. #TakeAction

    Tennessee: Legislation is pending, HB 2310 and SB2321, to place a referendum before voters this November that would provide local law enforcement the option of citing rather than arresting adults who are caught in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. If the referendum is approved by voters, the option to arrest or cite minor offenders will be at the discretion of law enforcement.

    An analysis of 2012 marijuana possession arrests reports that police annually arrest over 19,000 Tennesseans for minor marijuana possession offenses. This is the 15th highest statewide tally in the nation. House Bill 2310 has been scheduled to be heard by members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on March 22nd. #TakeAction

    Vermont: The House Judiciary Committee held it’s first walk-through this week related to S.241, the measure to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Though the Senate has approved the measure, it’s expected to be a difficult road to win the House over. If you live in Vermont it’s important to contact your lawmakers and urge their support for this measure! #TakeAction

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 17, 2016

    fifty_dollar_fineLocal legislators in New Orleans, Louisiana and Tampa, Florida voted today in favor of municipal ordinances to halt minor marijuana possession arrests within city limits.

    Members of the New Orleans city council voted 7 to zero in favor of legislation permitting police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (defined as those who possess 14 grams or less), including repeat offenders. First-time violators are subject to a $40 fine while subsequent offenders may face fines of up to $100. Under state law, first-time possession offenders are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution (punishable by up to 15 days in jail) while repeat offenders face up to eight years in prison.

    Members of the Tampa city council voted 5 to 1 to amend local laws so that the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis within city limits is a non-arrestable, fine-only offense. First-time offenders face a $75 fine, while multiple offenders could face fines up to $450. By contrast, Florida law defines similar possession offenses as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

    Tampa’s pending law is similar to those recently enacted in a number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, West Palm Beach, and Volusia, as well as in several other metropolitan areas, such as Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    wheelchair_patientAfter months of delay, members of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives finally approved legislation to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients.

    House members decided yesterday in favor of an amended version of Senate Bill 3. The measure passed by a vote of 149 to 43.

    The amended bill permits state officials to license up to 25 marijuana cultivators and up to 25 dispensaries to provide cannabis products to qualified patients who possess a recommendation from select physicians. Qualifying conditions eligible to receive cannabis therapy include chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. The measure permits for the dispensing of herbal cannabis via vaporization, as well as the use of marijuana-infused extracts or oils, but it does not permit smoking.

    Because the House-amended legislation differs from the version initially approved by the Senate, the bill must be re-approved by the Senate or it will be negotiated in conference committee. Governor Tom Wolf supports patients’ access to medical cannabis and has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

    Derek Rosenzweig of PhillyNORML, which has been lobbying on behalf of medical cannabis access legislation since 2009, said: “This is a historic day in Pennsylvania. Hopefully during concurrence they can fix some of the flaws in the bill.”

    Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.

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