National NORML recently asked Cara Bonin, executive director of Houston NORML, a few questions about their involvement with the recent decision by DA Ogg to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County. Her response became an interview worthy of a blog post in itself. Enjoy!NORML: What was Houston NORML’s involvement if any in the decision by DA Og to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County?Cara: Houston NORML has been backing Kim Ogg over the past two district attorney races. Incumbent Devon Anderson was appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) on September 26, 2013, to succeed her husband, Mike Anderson, who died on August 31, 2013. She naturally became the incumbent in the 2014 race. Kim Ogg immediately made one of her campaign points to discuss marijuana policy reform in Texas. This was such a popular idea that it forced Devon Anderson to then campaign on a similar promise to change the way the county handled misdemeanor marijuana cases. Anderson won the election and implemented a the first chance program which was a very weak version of what Kim Ogg had campaigned on. The program had proven successful and data showed that it was getting results. Despite her loss, Ogg still stayed active in the Houston community, speaking at NORML events and even made it to Austin to testify in favor of decriminalization bills in the Texas house during the 2015 legislative session. Houston NORML supported the Kim Ogg campaign in 2016 and hosted a forum on live television showcasing Ogg’s plan for re-prioritizing marijuana cases in the county. https://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=ap-4ylqY9sMNORML: Has a decrease in marijuana arrests allowed Houston NORML to focus more on local and state legislation and activism and less on support and legal advice to people being arrested and prosecuted for possession?Cara: The program has barely been in place one month. It is a huge relief to know we no longer have to focus on our county. We have the best policy in state thanks to the cooperation of the Harris County sheriff, DA, Houston Police Chief and dozens of other local policing agencies. We are now focusing on getting bills passed in the Texas legislative session.NORML: What are some of the new goals and challenges of Houston NORML post decriminalization? What has changed? What hasn’t?Cara: We are currently funneling all resources on reforming laws at the state level. Since the program has only been in place one month there are not a lot of statistics to share. Many of the surrounding counties have already spoken out in opposition to Ogg’s program. I live in Katy which is a tri-county city. Waller and Ft Bend county officials wanted to make it clear that it is business as usual when it comes to their arresting policies. A spokesman for the Lt Governor’s office claimed that Houston will become a sanctuary city for drug dealers and illegal immigrants. The Montgomery County DA came out in opposition the day before Ogg even announced the details of her program. They proudly show off their ignorance with such arrogance. It is proof that we still have a lot of work to do locally and state wide to change the opinions of policy makers and enforcers. For more detailed information on the Harris County Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program please visit the following site: https://app.dao.hctx.net/ OurOffice/MMDP.aspx. I hope this helps.NORML: Yes it does. Thank you Cara and Houston NORML for a job well done! And a special thanks to Corpus Christi NORML for gaining cooperation with Rep. Todd Hunter R-Corpus Christi to support HB81 who chairs the Calendar Committee!Texans Take Action:
Ballot initiative run by local group passes 71 to 29 to end arrests for possession of marijuana
Kansas City, MO – In a blowout victory for sensible criminal justice policy, the voters of Kansas City, Missouri have decided to approve Question 5 and decriminalize marijuana to direct their law enforcement officers to no longer target citizens for possession of the plant and would replace current criminal penalties with just a civil fine.
The measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, previously punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine — with no arrest made or criminal record imposed.
“We could not be more excited about the positive impact passing Question 5 will bring to the communities of Kansas City. We fought long and hard for this result and could not have done it without the support of our volunteers,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of KC NORML. “The era of reefer madness in Kansas City has come to an end and no longer will otherwise law abiding citizens be targeted or arrested for the mere possession of marijuana.”
This is yet another victory in the march to end the criminalization of marijuana in the United States.
“The passage of this initiative is not just a victory for the people of Kansas City, but for the democratic process,” said Erik Altieri National NORML’s Executive Director, “When concerned citizens stand up, stand together, and fight back against unjust laws, we will win. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to end our nation’s war on marijuana consumers and politicians across the country should take heed of the message voters sent in Missouri: if you don’t reform our marijuana laws through the legislature, we the people will do it for you.”
Nationally, more than 600,000 people a year are arrested for simple marijuana possession alone. These arrests are disproportionately targeted, the ACLU found that the racial disparity in marijuana charges were levied against people over color, by nearly 4 to 1.
“Kansas City now joins the ranks of dozens of cities and states throughout the country that have ended the practice of arresting marijuana consumers,” said Kevin Mahmalji, outreach coordinator for NORML. “We at NORML are incredibly proud of the efforts of Jamie Kacz and her team at KC NORML and thank the voters of Kansas City for bringing a new era of sanity their law enforcement priorities and the overarching movement to end the prohibition of marijuana.”
Kansas City now joins a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.
[UPDATE: On Thursday, April 5, members of the House and Senate concurred on an amended version of SB 386, which significantly curtails patient protections included in the initial version of the bill. The amended bill now awaits action from Gov. Jim Justice, who is expected to sign it in to law.]
Marijuana advocates in West Virginia are celebrating after the state senate voted to pass a bill that would legalize and regulate the use of medical marijuana in the Mountain State. After surviving two committee assignments, and being amended to allow home cultivation by registered patients, Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Senator Richard Ojeda, passed out of the full Senate by a considerable margin of 28-6.
“West Virginia has a medical marijuana bill that is close to becoming law. Senate Bill 386 was introduced early in the session and surprisingly made its way through both of its assigned committees with very little opposition,” said David Dawson, Legal Counsel for West Virginia NORML. “SB 386 passed the Senate with huge support, 28-6, and is now on its second reading in the House of Delegates.”
In the weeks leading up to the Senate vote on SB 386, Jesse Johnson, executive director of West Virginia NORML, along Rusty Williams, West Virginia NORML board member, worked diligently to build a broad coalition of volunteer advocates to lobby state lawmakers in support of the bill. From regularly calling legislative offices and writing their representatives, to meeting face to face with lawmakers, it’s safe to say SB 386 would not be where it is today if not for the efforts of West Virginia NORML.
“These folks have worked their tails off and produced spectacular and unexpected results. The West Virginia legislature has shown what I knew it was capable of, bi-partisan compassion for our fellow West Virginians. The fight still continues as House opposition is seeking to amend the bill to death and put on expert testimony in opposition,” added Dawson.
While there’s certainly a reason to celebrate, SB 386 still faces an uncertain future. With an uphill battle expected in the House of Delegates, members of West Virginia NORML are calling for supporters of SB 386 to join them in a final push to encourage a yes vote from members of the House.
The Board of Directors of the newly-formed Las Vegas NORML recently traveled to the Nevada State House to lobby lawmakers in support of protections for marijuana patients and advocates.
Less than a month after forming Las Vegas NORML, the organization’s founding members provided testimony to the State Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of SB-374, sponsored by Senator Tick Segerblom.
SB-374 provides protection to citizens with professional licenses from having their license revoked for being a marijuana consumer. The bill would also prevent employers from taking disciplinary action against an employee for expressing opinions related to marijuana. Las Vegas NORML believes that SB-374 is great step forward in adding much needed protections for marijuana consumers who hold professional licenses.
Among those giving testimony was Madisen Saglibene, deputy director of Las Vegas NORML, who testified that she could be at risk for losing her Nevada gaming license simply for being a medical marijuana patient and speaking out against unjust marijuana laws.”We’re so excited to have a chance to speak to local lawmakers and be a voice for marijuana consumers,” said Madisen. “We really think this bill will be another great step towards NORMLizing marijuana use in Nevada by protecting both patients and responsible consumers.”
Las Vegas NORML’s Political Director and veteran Tim Petarra also gave comments at the Senate meeting, specifically mentioning that SB-374 would protect vets with professional licenses while they use medical marijuana for PTSD or depression. “After having been an activist for national legislation, focusing on state issues was a welcome change of pace and helped me use my experience to focus on issues closer to home,” said Petarra.
Chris Thompson, executive director of Las Vegas NORML also provided testimony, speaking on behalf of prospective engineers who could lose their professional engineering licenses just for being a recreational cannabis consumer.
The trip up to Carson City was a huge learning experience for the young chapter, and everyone is extremely excited to continue reaching out to legislatures to ensure marijuana consumers are protected after legalization.
Find Las Vegas NORML on social media and stay tuned with our mission to be a positive voice for cannabis consumers in Sin City!
After more than a year of negotiations with city officials, and countless hours cultivating support for a ballot measure aimed at decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana, members of Kansas City NORML will finally have a chance to hear from voters on the issue. Next Tuesday, April 4, 2017, Kansas City voters will weigh in on Question 5. If approved, the measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine — no arrest made or criminal record imposed.
“The main objective of this initiative is to eliminate jail time and reduce the current penalties for marijuana possession in our city. By voting Yes on 5, individuals caught possessing 35 grams or less of marijuana or marijuana products shall receive a maximum fine of $25,” said Jamie Kacz, executive director of Kansas City NORML. “We have received an outpouring of support from voters across Kansas City who are ready for change and no longer want to see their loved ones suffer for marijuana possession.”
A recent poll by Remington Research Group revealed that 56% of likely Kansas City voters currently support Question 5. With less than a week before polling locations are scheduled to open, this is certainly encouraging news for proponents of the measure.
“This is promising because the survey was done using landlines, which means that it was likely an older demographic weighing in on the issue,” added Jessica Kelly, who serves on the Board of Directors for Kansas City NORML. “Typically, younger demographics tend to vote in favor of marijuana reform, so this shows a good chance of the initiative passing with the support of both older and younger demographics.”
If passed by voters, Kansas City will join a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.