Our anti-prohibitionist friends at the prestigious Washington, DC think-tank The Cato Institute will feature a live debate today at 4PM (eastern) entitled The Law and Politics of Marijuana Prohibition. The main focus of the debate, in the wake of Colorado and Washington voters recently approving binding ballot initiatives legalizing and taxing cannabis, is the very important–and unknown–federal response to this next generation of state-based cannabis law reforms that run afoul of the current–and unpopular–federal prohibition on cannabis that is now seventy-five years old.
According to Gallup and PPP polling–to say nothing of the vote totals in Colorado and Washington–more than fifty percent of the population supports legalizing cannabis. Even more recent Gallup polling strongly indicates Americans want the federal government to respect states’ efforts to reform cannabis laws.
Representing the argument that the states can indeed expand personal civil liberties via reform of cannabis laws is Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos, and representing, well, the status quo, is former congressman and Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson (who argues that states can’t legalize cannabis, because that will violate federal laws…cannabis is an evil drug…blah-blah-blah).
Also of great note, in advance of today’s live debate, The Cato Institute released a new (and compelling) academic paper by Professor Mikos entitled ‘On the Limits of Federal Supremacy: When States Relax (or Abandon) Marijuana Bans’
You can watch this debate @ 4PM eastern live here.
History was made once again today when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order that makes an “official declaration of the vote” related to Amendment 64. This declaration formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older.
“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Gov. Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”
Colorado joins Washington as the first two states in modern history to legalize the consumption of cannabis by adults.
As of today, the following acts are no longer unlawful under Colorado state law for persons 21 years of age or older:
(a) POSSESSING, USING, DISPLAYING, PURCHASING, OR TRANSPORTING MARIJUANA ACCESSORIES OR ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA.
(b) POSSESSING, GROWING, PROCESSING, OR TRANSPORTING NO MORE THAN SIX MARIJUANA PLANTS, WITH THREE OR FEWER BEING MATURE, FLOWERING PLANTS, AND POSSESSION OF THE MARIJUANA PRODUCED BY THE PLANTS ON THE PREMISES WHERE THE PLANTS WERE GROWN, PROVIDED THAT THE GROWING TAKES PLACE IN AN ENCLOSED, LOCKED SPACE, IS NOT CONDUCTED OPENLY OR PUBLICLY, AND IS NOT MADE AVAILABLE FOR SALE.
(c) TRANSFER OF ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA WITHOUT REMUNERATION TO A PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER.
(d) CONSUMPTION OF MARIJUANA, PROVIDED THAT NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL PERMIT CONSUMPTION THAT IS CONDUCTED OPENLY AND PUBLICLY OR IN A MANNER THAT ENDANGERS OTHERS.
(e) ASSISTING ANOTHER PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER IN ANY OF THE ACTS DESCRIBED IN PARAGRAPHS (a) THROUGH (d) OF THIS SUBSECTION.
Governor Hickelnlooper also announced today the formation of 24-member task force to oversee the implementation of the law, which ultimately mandates for the commercial production and sale of cannabis by those licensed to do so. A representative of Colorado NORML sits on this task force.
As I previously wrote last week, to be clear: This is not decriminalization — a policy change that amends criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses, but that continues to define cannabis as illegal contraband under the law and subjects its consumers to civil penalties. Today in Colorado, like in Washington, cannabis — when possessed in private by an adult in specific quantities — is a legal commodity. And it is likely that there is very little that the federal government can do to stop it. States are not mandated to criminalize marijuana or arrest adult cannabis consumers and the federal government cannot compel prosecutors in Colorado or Washington to do otherwise.
The voters have spoken and change is upon us. Can you smell the freedom?
Beyond the obvious blessings of good health, being a member of loving families, living in a free country and pursuing one’s muse, on this Thanksgiving…I’m thankful for Zachariah Walker (a member of University of North Texas NORML) and his pro bono team of Texas lawyers from NORML’s Legal Committee.
In the wake of our recent elections, where voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have chosen to end cannabis prohibition, I’m thankful that Zack has the moxie in Denton, Texas to face down a possible six month prison sentence for the criminal charge of possessing two grams of cannabis. I’m thankful that when confronted with a plea bargain (which is how 90% or more of cannabis-related cases are legally dispatched from the criminal justice system), Zach just said no.
I’m thankful that NLC members David Sloane, Jamie Spencer and Jamie Balagia possess equal moxie and commitment to personal freedom by stepping into the breech by providing Zack with pro bono representation in challenging such a ridiculous waste of the local government’s resources and taxpayer dollars: Tens of thousands of tax dollars, in the middle of crushing recession and tight municipal budgets, to arrest, prosecute, pee test and incarcerate a young man for 180 days, who, should otherwise be working, spending money and therein adding taxes to society.
With over 750,000 annual cannabis-related arrests in America (approximately 90% for possession only), if more citizens charged with cannabis possession offenses regularly challenged their arrest and possible conviction, like the way Zach is in Texas, there is no doubt that the criminal justice system in many cities and counties across the country will come to a grinding halt—forcing both bureaucrats and elected officials to re-evaluate and likely support at a minimum cannabis ‘decriminalization’, possibly legalization.
With these crucially important changes of law and custom pending in Colorado and Washington regarding ending all criminal sanctions for adults who possess a little bit of ganja, citizens charged with minor cannabis-related offenses and their legal counsel from around the country can and now should challenge more and more of these petty cannabis charges—juxtaposing and educating judges and juries all along the way that in some parts of the country the ‘offense’ before them is not only no longer a crime in some states, the product is actually regulated and taxed.
How much longer will cannabis prohibition last in America?
Not much longer if we all demonstrate the moxie of Zach and his NLC legal team.
Prosecutors throughout Colorado and Washington state continue to dismiss hundreds of pending misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.
On Thursday, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and City Attorney Doug Friednash announced that they would stop pressing charges and would review pending criminal cases involving minor cannabis possession offenses. Their announcement came one day after Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett announced he would dismiss pending cases that involved less than an ounce of marijuana.
Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters on Election Day approved Amendment 64, which allows for the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants in private by those persons age 21 and over. The law will take effect the first week of January, 2013.
Prosecutors throughout Washington are also dismissing criminal charges against minor marijuana offenders. Most recently, prosecutors in Thurston County and Olympia announced that they would be dismissing all pending criminal cases involving the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Thurston County officials announced their decision shortly after receiving a request from the Thurston County chapter of NORML.
Thurston and Olympia County prosecutors join officials in several other Washington counties — including two of the state’s largest counties: King County and Pierce County — as well as Clark County and Spokane, all of which are have dismissed or are preparing to dismiss pending cannabis cases from the docket.
Washington state prosecutors’ actions follow voters’ passage of Initiative 502, which removes criminal penalties specific to the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use (as well as the possession of up to 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.) The law is set to take effect on December 6, 2012.
Explaining his decision to drop hundreds of pending cannabis cases ahead of the enactment of the new law, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told The Seattle Times: “Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month. I think when the people voted to change the policy, they weren’t focused on when the effective date of the new policy would be. They spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense.”
Suit Before Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals Seeks To Halt Federal Actions Against California’s Medical Cannabis ProvidersOctober 25, 2012
On Wednesday, October 24, a group of California dispensary operators, medical cannabis providers, and patients, as Plaintiffs, filed their Opening Brief before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, asking the Circuit Court to hold that Plaintiffs, in their continuing litigation against the Federal Government, have a constitutional Ninth Amendment and Substantive Due Process fundamental right to distribute, possess and use medical cannabis. The brief, filed by members of the NORML Legal Committee, also contends that the Federal Government’s criminal prohibition of medical cannabis has no rational basis and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Plaintiffs further contend that the Federal Government is Judicially Estopped from enforcing medical marijuana prohibition in states that allow such activity because the Administration has previously asserted in public and in court that they would no longer do so.
Plaintiffs in November 2011 initially filed suit in California’s four federal districts against Eric Holder (United States Attorney General), Michelle Leonhart (Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the individual US Attorneys of each California District: Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego — following increased efforts from the Obama administration and the state’s US Attorneys to crack down on the production and distribution of medical cannabis. Plaintiff’s are asking the Ninth Circuit to reverse the district court’s dismissal of that complaint, and to allow the plaintiff’s the opportunity to prove their contentions in a court of law.
Three members of the NORML Legal Committee — Matt Kumin and David Michael from San Francisco and Alan Silber from Roseland, NJ — are representing the Plaintiffs in this appeal. In a press release, they stated, “The ill, in compliance with state law and with a physician’s recommendation, are made to suffer needlessly by the federal threats and denial of access to medical cannabis due to irrational governmental policy. Judicial intervention is the only way to stop the federal government from acting irrationally and from willfully ignoring the science supporting the use of cannabis as medicine.”
The cases are El Camino Wellness Center, et al. v. Eric Holder et al. (Sacramento), Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, et al. v. Eric Holder, et al. (San Francisco), and Alternative Community Health Care Cooperative, et al. v. Eric Holder, et al. (San Diego).
Other NLC attorneys who participated in the litigation of these cases are Lance Rogers of San Diego, Mark Reichel of Sacramento and Edward Burch of San Francisco.
A copy of Plaintiff’s Opening Brief is available here.