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Citizen Lobbyists

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director March 21, 2018

    Marijuana medicineUpdate: The omnibus passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

    Update #2: The omnibus passed the Senate and was signed into law on Friday, 3/23/18.

    As part of the newly proposed appropriations package known as an omnibus bill, a spending restriction upon the Department of Justice from prosecuting state-legal medical marijuana programs will remain in place through the end of September.

    Known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, it explicitly states that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    The amendment has been in place since 2014, as part of annual spending bills. Because the provision was initially approved as a budgetary amendment, it must be explicitly re-authorized by Congress as part of either a continuing resolution or a new fiscal year appropriations bill in order to maintain in effect.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants nothing more than to see these protections go away. In a letter he sent to Congressional leadership last year, he wrote: “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

    In the past month, NORML has worked with Representatives Rohrabacher and Blumenauer in recruiting 60 additional members of Congress to co-sign a letter of their own to Congressional leadership, which states, “We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws. We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”

    Last year, the language was initially included as part of a Senate appropriations bill thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) yet was absent from the House’s funding proposal because House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) refused to allow House members to vote on it. As a result, it was left to House and Senate leadership to ultimately decide on the amendment’s fate when the two chambers’ appropriations bills were reconciled.

    In the past two days as the negotiations reached their peak, over 10,000 members of NORML contacted their federal officials to urge them to maintain these protections.

    Additional language was stripped from the Senate version of the bill, known as the Veterans Equal Access amendment. Originally passed last year in the Senate appropriations committee by a vote of 24-7, Republican Congressional leadership thought it prudent to deny American military veterans the ability to participate in state-lawful medical marijuana programs through their VA doctors.

    Rep. Earl Blumenauer, namesake on the amendment and the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus said “While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo. These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana.”

    He continued, “Instead, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on the failed War on Drugs and Republican leadership in Congress—led by Chairman Pete Sessions—is stonewalling. They’re ignoring the will of the American people by blocking protections for state adult-use laws and cannabis banking. They even refused our veterans access to lifesaving medicine.

    The fate of this spending bill has yet to be made clear but is deemed a “must pass” piece of legislation as the federal government is set to shut down on March 23rd at midnight if action is not taken.

    We will keep you posted as this story develops.

  • by NORML March 19, 2018

    With Colorado lawmakers well into their fifth legislative session since the retail sale of adult-use marijuana was enacted, the need to coordinate the various policy discussions around the issue has never been greater. Since Colorado voters approved the law change in 2012, there have been ongoing debates surrounding various aspects of the law and its impact — such as how best to address the question of social consumption, product testing, and the use of medical cannabis on public campuses. To best address these issues, state lawmakers have formed the first-ever statewide Cannabis Caucus.

    “With the end of marijuana prohibition and the implementation of a robust tax and regulate program in Colorado, you have to consider the various areas of public policy that have been impacted. From business, and law enforcement, to education and health care, Colorado’s newly formed Cannabis Caucus will be a way to facilitate discussions among lawmakers regarding how to best to address these important matters,” said NORML Outreach Director Kevin Mahmalji.

    NORML’s national office has been exploring the idea of state-level cannabis caucuses since the Congressional Cannabis Caucus was established in early 2017. Since then, NORML’s Outreach Director Kevin Mahmalji has floated the idea to several Colorado lawmakers, but it wasn’t until he met with State Representative Dan Pabon’s office that things started to take shape. While Representative Pabon’s staff facilitated internal conversations with lawmakers about the possibility of establishing new caucus, NORML’s Kevin Mahmalji focused his time on recruiting new members and providing educational material.

    “This kind of caucus is something we at the national level have been looking at for quite some time,” says NORML Outreach Director Kevin Mahmalji, who’s based in Denver. “Since the formation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, it just made sense to have something similar at the state level.”

    Read more here: http://www.westword.com/news/colorado-cannabis-caucus-launching-march-16-2018-10094659

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 16, 2018

    Legalization in DCSenate lawmakers this week passed legislation, Senate Bill 1120, that seeks to preemptively quash many of the provisions of State Question 788 — an expansive voter initiative that provides physicians the discretion to recommend medical marijuana to those patients for whom they believe it will therapeutically benefit. Oklahomans will be voting on the measure, which NORML has endorsed, during a special election on June 26.

    But state politicians who oppose the plan do not want to wait until June for the results of a statewide vote. Instead, they are trying to kill the measure now.

    The language of Senate Bill 1120 guts State Question 788. It limits the pool of eligible patients only to those diagnosed with four distinct ailments. It arbitrarily caps the total number of licensed cannabis producers at no more than five providers. It limits the quantity of medical cannabis patients may possess, and also places undue limits on the formulations of marijuana products. It bars patients from smoking herbal cannabis and arbitrarily caps the potency of marijuana-infused products to no more than 10mgs of THC. Finally, it removes the right of patients and their caregivers to cultivate their own medicine.

    Although SB 1120 initially failed to gain the number of votes needed for Senate passage, lawmakers reconsidered the legislation on Thursday and passed it by a vote of 26 to 11. The bill now awaits action in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

    If you reside in Oklahoma, please take action here to urge your representatives to oppose this undemocratic piece of legislation. Oklahoma voters, not a handful of politicians, ought to be the ultimate arbiters of State Question 788.

    Unfortunately, as prohibitionist politicians become more desperate in their opposition to marijuana law reform, we are seeing more frequent attempts to undermine the voters’ will. In Maine, lawmakers have yet to fully implement key parts of a 2016 voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative, and are now pushing to either kill or amend many of its core provisions. In Massachusetts, lawmakers have also enacted numerous delays in the rollout of its 2016 voter-approved adult use law. In Tennessee, legislators last year passed legislation nullifying the enactment of citywide marijuana decriminalization ordinances in Nashville and Memphis, and prohibited municipalities from enacting similar marijuana reform measures in the future.

    That is why it is more important than ever that the electorate remain engaged and vigilant. Please utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to stay abreast of pending federal and state legislation, register to vote, access NORML’s 2018 Candidate Packet, and review NORML’s Congressional and Gubernatorial Scorecards to know who is standing with use — and who is acting against us.

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML Political Associate

    Welcome to the latest edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Roundup!

    I first want to highlight some key developments happening at the state level.

    During a budget address on Tuesday 3/13, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reiterated his commitment to legalize marijuana in the Garden State this year. A budget overview document indicated that his Administration plans to legalize adult-use marijuana by January 1, 2019. Also, efforts in Wyoming to set felony penalties for edible and drinkable cannabis products failed.

    Several marijuana related legislation died this week after failing to be voted on before crossover deadlines, including legalization bills in Kentucky and Missouri. The Indiana state legislature failed to agree on amendments to a hemp pilot program bill before the end of the legislative session; the bill will go to an interim study commission this summer. And an Arizona bill to enhance quality testing practices was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee.

    At the local level, advocates in Los Angeles, California are holding events to help people with prior marijuana convictions get their records expunged.

    Following are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

    Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

    Your highness,
    Carly

    Priority Alerts

    Federal

    End Prohibition: Representatives Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have introduced bipartisan legislation, HR 1227, to exclude marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thus leaving states the authority to regulate the plant how best they see fit.

    The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” eliminates federal criminal penalties for possessing and growing the plant. This legislation gives states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.

    Click here to e-mail your Representative and urge them to support this important legislation

    Connecticut

    House Bill 5458 is pending to regulate and tax the retail sale of marijuana to adults. The tax revenue raised by commercial retail sales would be used to fund substance abuse treatment, prevention, education and awareness programs.

    Update: The General Law Committee held a public hearing on HB 5458 on Thursday 3/15. The committee will vote on the bill by Tuesday.

    CT resident? Click here to email your elected officials in favor of legalization, regulation, and taxation

    Maryland

    Legalization
    House Bill 1264 would put an amendment to the Maryland Constitution on the ballot to be decided by voters to ensure that citizens have the right to possess, smoke, and cultivate marijuana.

    Update: The House Judiciary committee held a hearing on HB 1264 on Tuesday 3/13 (I was there to testify!).

    MD resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of letting the voters decide

    Decriminalization
    Legislation is pending, SB 127, to expand the state’s marijuana decriminalization law.

    If passed, SB 127 would amend penalties so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is classified as a civil rather than a criminal offense. Under current law, the possession of more than ten grams of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

    Update: SB 127 was approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee on 3/15.

    MD resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of expanding the decriminalization law

    Louisiana

    Legislation is pending in the House, House Bill 611, to decriminalize offenses involving the possession of marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia.

    The measure amends criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis to a civil violation punishable by a fine only — no arrest and no criminal record. Possessing paraphernalia items would be treated similarly.

    Update: Another, more favorable proposal was introduced on 3/12, HB 274, which seeks to entirely decriminalize the possession and distribution of marijuana, contingent on the creation of a sales tax system that would regulate the retail sale of marijuana.

    LA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of complete decriminalization

    Washington, DC

    Legislation is pending, B22-446, to expand patients’ access to medical marijuana under District law.

    This measure seeks to increase access among qualified patients by: establishing same-day registration, permitting home delivery, establishing safe-treatment facilities, establishing reciprocity with other jurisdictions, allowing existing dispensaries to expand their operations, and capping taxes, among other changes. These changes will assure that District patients — as well as those visiting from other jurisdictions that have similar programs in place — will have safe, consistent and reliable access to affordable medicine.

    DC resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of improved medical marijuana access

    New Jersey

    New Jersey lawmakers are set to consider legalizing marijuana this legislative session. Sen. Scutari, as expected, re-introduced his marijuana legalization bill from last session for 2018, S830 and companion bill A1348. Both were referred to committee.

    Update: Another proposal to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis was introduced by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, A3581.

    NJ resident? Click here to email your elected officials and tell them that it’s time to legalize marijuana

    Tennessee

    SB 1710 and HB 1749 permit qualified patients to possess marijuana-infused oil products, as well as other non-herbal forms of cannabis, from state-licensed dispensaries. Both patients and physicians would be required to participate in a state registry.

    Update: HB 1749 was originally on the Criminal Justice Committee’s calendar for 3/14, but got deferred until 3/21. SB 1710 is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    TN resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of access to medical marijuana extracts

     

    Additional Actions to Take

    Missouri

    Legislation is pending, SB 547 and HB 2034, seeking to modify provisions relating to industrial hemp.

    If passed, the bills would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue a registration or permit to growers and handlers of agricultural and industrial hemp. It would also create an industrial hemp agricultural pilot program to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture to study the growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp.

    Update: SB 547 passed the Senate on 3/15 by a 29-3 vote, and now awaits action in the House. HB 2034 passed the House last month, and is currently pending in the Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee.

    MO resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of an industrial hemp pilot program

    Indiana

    Senate Bill 52 seeks to legalize the possession, use, manufacture, and retail sale of cannabidiol products, as well as to provide protections so that employers may not discriminate against anyone using CBD in compliance with the law.

    Update: After a conference committee was appointed due to failure of both houses to agree on amendments, the conference committee report was approved by both the Senate (36-11 vote) and House (97-0 vote) on 3/14, and now awaits action from the Governor. Gov. Eric Holcomb has indicated that he will sign the bill.

    IN resident? Click here to email your Governor and urge him to sign this bill into law

    Alaska

    Senate Bill 184 prohibits the release of past records for any marijuana offense that is no longer defined as a crime under state law. The bill’s intent is to reduce barriers to employment for people who have been convicted of low-level marijuana possession crimes that would be legal under today’s laws, and to make it more likely that people convicted of only low-level crimes will become contributing members of society.

    Update: SB 184 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 21, at 1:30 pm in BELTZ 105 (TS Bldg)

    AK resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of sealing past marijuana convictions

    California

    Legislation is pending, AB 3157, to temporarily reduce tax rates imposed on the retail sale and cultivation of cannabis.

    State and local taxes currently imposed upon retail cannabis sales can total in upwards of 40 percent. This excessive taxation places an undue financial burden, particularly on patients, many of whom are now unable to consistently afford their medicine.

    Further, these tax rates make it exceedingly difficult for retail providers to compete with those in the underground market. One of the primary goals of Proposition 64 was to bring the black market above ground and to make this market transparent. In order to do so, it is necessary to reduce existing tax rates. Otherwise, compliant businesses are at a significant disadvantage due to their inability to compete with illicit actors who do not pay similar taxes.

    CA resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of lower taxes

    Oklahoma

    Senate Bill 1120 seeks to preemptively challenge provisions in State Question 788.

    Voters will decide on June 26 in favor of State Question 788, which permits physicians to recommend medical cannabis therapy to qualified patients at their discretion. Under this plan, patients would be authorized to possess up to eights ounces of herbal cannabis in private and grow up to six mature plants.

    NORML endorses State Question 788 and opposes SB 1120.

    Update: Senate Bill 1120 was brought back for reconsideration after it failed to secure the necessary number of votes on the Senate floor on 3/12, and Senator Yen held it on a procedural motion to reconsider. SB 1120 then passed by the Senate on 3/15 by a 26 to 11 vote and awaits action from the House.

    OK resident? Click here to email your elected officials in OPPOSITION to this effort

    Check back next Friday for more legislative updates!

     

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML Political Associate March 15, 2018

    I’m Carly, and I’ve been a Political Associate with NORML in Washington, DC for about 7 months now. I recently testified (for my first time ever!) before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee in favor of House Bill 1264 – a constitutional amendment that would put a question on this November’s ballot to let the voters decide on the issue of marijuana legalization and retail sales.

    When I first found out I was going to testify, I was excited. I knew this was a unique opportunity that not everyone would have in their lives, and a chance to make my own voice heard before a committee of legislators in a state I felt a deep connection to – being a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, I spent some of the best years of my life living in College Park, MD.

    What was I going to say? How was I going to say it? Were they going to take me seriously, being so young? Is 2 minutes enough to communicate the extremely important message I was trying to convey? There was only one thing I knew for sure – I was really nervous.

    I arrived at the Maryland State House around noon that day, and was instantly greeted by my colleagues from Maryland NORML. Everyone brought positive vibes and good energy, which I needed. The hearing began at 1pm, and I thought it would only be a couple hours, at most, before they called our bill. Little did I know, this was all just a waiting game.

    Then came 5pm, 6pm, 7pm… and still no mention of HB 1264. By that time, I was losing energy and hope, wondering if the committee would even end up getting to our bill that day. Luckily, I was surrounded by an optimistic, upbeat group of activists that kept my spirits high. By the time 10pm rolled around, it was finally our turn.

    I entered the committee room, and Delegate Moon (the bill’s sponsor) had the microphone, explaining different provisions of the bill and answering a boatload of questions from the committee members, with a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, and a former law enforcement officer joining him on the panel.

    My nerves were surprisingly eased as I sat in that room waiting for my turn to testify. The committee members were cracking light-hearted jokes – one of them even joked about Delegate Moon providing samples to the committee. This made me feel a lot more comfortable speaking in front of them. After all, they are just regular people, and concerned residents of MD like I once was.

    I was on the next panel, with Luke Jones, Director of Maryland NORML, and attorney Eric Sterling beside me. We each had our 2 minutes, and that was that. I felt confident in my testimony, focusing on the right to home cultivate and how perceived youth access to cannabis has declined in the states that have legalized.

    The other panels testifying in favor included victims of the current laws who were arrested for simple possession and a medical patient who had to revert to the black market because of high costs and poor accessibility.

    Then came the opposition panel. It consisted of two AAA representatives (as expected), along with another representative from the organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. They brought up concerns of impaired driving and youth access, which we had previously addressed. We left the committee room around 11:30pm feeling cautiously optimistic and eager to see how this would all play out.

    All in all, besides the anticipation of waiting for 10 hours, I had an incredibly positive experience testifying at the Maryland State House. I felt empowered, like I was making a difference. If there’s ever a hearing for a bill on an issue that you care about – go. Testify. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do so, and as a result, Maryland is one step closer to ending the prohibition of marijuana.

    If you live in MD, tell your lawmakers to support HB 1264

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