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Community Organizing

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director December 31, 2017

    Legalize marijuanaAs support for marijuana legalization in America reaches an all-time high, NORML chapters are hoping to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of their most ardent supporters for their 2018 lobby days. According to the most recent nationwide polling data compiled by Gallup, Sixty-four percent of US adults support the legalization of adult-use marijuana. That’s why NORML chapters are gearing up for an aggressive push to advance marijuana law reforms in states across the country.

    Looking Back

    As the year comes to an close, NORML chapters have certainly earned the right to celebrate their hard work and a very productive year. With a record number of state-level lobby days, the passage of several decriminalization measures and a strong presence at congressional town hall meetings, and legislative offices, NORML chapters had an undeniable impact on marijuana policy in 2017.

    To kick things off earlier this year, NORML chapters around the country organized more than two dozen lobby days, where legislative victories ranged from an effort by Virginia NORML to end automatic driver’s license suspension for marijuana possession, to a push by Delaware NORML that resulted in the passage of a marijuana legalization bill out of committee. A first for the Delaware legislature.

    After wrapping up state legislative sessions, NORML chapters continued their work well into the summer months, but shifted their focus to local efforts. While some chapters dedicated their time to collecting signatures for statewide marijuana law reform initiatives and others to community outreach projects, NORML KC, Peachtree NORML, Madison NORML and Ohio NORML set their sights on decriminalization. Each chapter was successful in reducing the penalties for personal possession of marijuana in their community from a criminal infraction to a simple fine or no fine at all.

    Following a busy summer filled with local activism and congressional town hall meetings, chapter leadership from around the country gathered in our nation’s capital for NORML’s 2017 Conference and Lobby in Washington DC. With the help of NORML’s political team led by Justin Strekal, NORML coordinated more than 150 meetings with congressional offices, and to the surprise of many, a face-to-face meeting with Senator Cory Booker, who recently introduced The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017.

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    Looking Ahead

    With the new year quickly approaching, NORML Chapters around the country are busy mobilizing supporters in advance of their 2018 lobby days. NORML activists will be meeting with state representatives where they’ll help educate them about the advantages of ending marijuana prohibition and encourage support for dozens of statewide reform bills. To date, Virginia NORML, NORML KC, NORML of Florida, Lehigh Valley NORML, NORML Women of Washington, Pittsburgh NORML, Ohio NORML, Missouri NORML, Illinois NORML, Delaware NORML, Kentucky NORML, Maryland NORML, New Mexico NORML, Wyoming NORML and Greater St. Louis NORML have scheduled the first round of NORML lobby days for the new year.

    In Pennsylvania, Jeff Reidy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML will be in Harrisburg with a broad coalition consisting of marijuana activists from the Keystone Cannabis Coalition and several other NORML chapters for what’s expected to be one of the largest grassroots marijuana-centric lobby days in the state’s history. With Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients now receiving their state registration cards and the expected opening of dispensaries in early 2018, the coalition will be pushing for statewide decriminalization.

    “Marijuana activism begins with NORML. Being a member of this organization implies a desire to push our agenda, while engaging policy makers,” said Reidy. “Lobbying our elected officials is the simplest way to deliver the voice of the people to our politicians. We only win when we engage, speak out, endure, and fight for our freedoms. It’s time to Lobby!”

    In Washington State, where medical and adult-use marijuana is already legal, Danica Noble, executive director of NORML Women of Washington and her colleagues with Washington NORML will be focused on protecting progress and expanding the rights of marijuana consumers by addressing issues like home cultivation and workplace discrimination.

    “In Washington State, our top legislative priorities will be on legalizing homegrows, expunging felony convictions for simple possession, and establishing workplace protections for marijuana consumers, said Noble. “In addition to not having the legal right to grow our own marijuana, marijuana consumers in Washington are being denied employment opportunities and still carry the burden of a felony conviction for simple possession. This has to change.”

    While the legislative priorities of each NORML chapter can vary, the goals of protecting the rights of marijuana consumers and ending marijuana prohibition are shared by all.

    Empowerment Resources

    To support these grassroots lobbying efforts, we recently updated NORML’s Citizen Lobby Guide. This comprehensive guide will assist NORML activists in the planning and execution of a successful lobby day and also provides organizational checklists and a legislative questionnaire. So regardless of the state or legal status of marijuana, NORML activists will be fully prepared to discuss meaningful marijuana law reforms and effectively communicate NORML’s message of ending the prohibition of marijuana on the local, state and federal level.

    NORML Lobby Guide: http://norml.org/pdf_files/NORML_CitizenLobbyGuide.pdf

    NORML’s Action Center

    In addition to offering support through NORML’s Citizen Lobby Guide, we have created more than a dozen action alerts targeting lawmakers across the country urging their support for marijuana law reform legislation being considered in their state. To join the conversation, simply click on the link below, find the action alert for your state and enter your information!

    NORML Action Center: http://norml.org/act

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    For more information about a NORML’s 2018 Chapter Lobby Days, please email Chapters@NORML.org or visit http://norml.org/about/chapter-calendar for list of upcoming chapter lobby days and meetings.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director December 29, 2017

    revolutionbumperIn the wake of landmark cannabis victories in 2016, there was much momentum to build upon when state legislatures opened up at the beginning of 2017. With NORML chapters in nearly all 50 states, activists took the fight to the halls of state capitals and city councils from Florida to Washington State and everywhere in between. In all, lawmakers in 26 states have passed legislation to advance cannabis reform.

    Victories include: Nevada expediting the implementation of adult distribution of legal marijuana, becoming the first of the newly legal states to respect the will of their voters and come online in 2017; New Hampshire becoming the 22nd state to decriminalize marijuana, making it so that an individual can be in any state in New England without fear of being arrested for a simple possession charge; West Virginia becoming the 30th state to pass a medical marijuana program, which will soon serve patients suffering from a range of conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain; In Ohio, the Athens Cannabis Ordinance (aptly named TACO) passed to completely de-penalize marijuana possession; among many other advancements and legislative tweaks around the country.

    Nationwide, with public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all-time high, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) have formed the first-ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and ease the tension between federal and state governments. As of this writing, (December 2017) 96 members of the House of Representatives, or 22% of the legislative body, have either authored or co-sponsored legislation to reform our nation’s outdated marijuana laws.

    This progress has come as a result of years of organizing and conversations with our fellow citizens about the role of government in relation to a plant. The tough conversations about the scope of the government’s right to stop, search, and incarcerate individuals for possessing or consuming marijuana for either personal or medical benefits may not always be easy, but they are necessary in order to advance reform efforts.

    And all said, the public is now strongly with us. The national polling outfit, Gallup, recorded for the first time ever outright majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents supporting the legalization of marijuana, representing 64% of Americans. For context, in 1969, the year before NORML was founded, only 12% of Americans supported legalization.

    2018 is going to be no different. With over two dozen states on the books with scheduled lobby days and more to come, now is the time to take action. To help increase the likelihood of success for these volunteer-led lobbying efforts, NORML has updated our citizen lobby guide, a comprehensive booklet that will assist activists in the planning and execution of a successful lobby day. It also provides organizational checklists and a legislative questionnaire so that marijuana activists, regardless of the state they’re located in, will be fully prepared to meet with state lawmakers to discuss meaningful marijuana law reforms and to most effectively communicate NORML’s message of ending the prohibition of marijuana on the local, state and federal level.

    So use us as a resource – NORML.org has fact-sheets, talking points, and visit our Action Center at norml.org/act to track legislation moving in 2018 and to plug in with a chapter near you or start your own.

    As we look toward an uncertain future, we know we must work to both sustain our existing gains and to win future victories. Thanks for all that you do.

  • by NORML December 23, 2017

    134097_10150140899238032_23906288031_8089338_6869920_o-e1322953486444-500x166We have much to be merry for this year. Lawmakers in 26 states have passed legislation to advance cannabis reform, including New Hampshire becoming the 22nd state to decriminalize marijuana and West Virginia becoming the 30th state to pass a medical marijuana program.

    This progress has come as a result of years of organizing and conversations with our fellow citizens about the role of government in relationship to a plant. Having the tough conversations about the scope of the government’s right to stop, search, and incarcerate individuals for possessing or consuming marijuana for either personal or medical benefits.

    And now for the first time ever, Gallup polling recorded outright majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents supporting the legalization of marijuana. The only way to find out if this includes your aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives is if you bring it up.

    So use us as a resource – NORML.org has FactsheetsTalking Points, and you can even pass your phone or computer around the table to have your friends and family contact their lawmakers right then and there to support reform in our Action Center.

    As we look toward an uncertain future, we know we must work to both sustain our existing gains and to win future victories. With your continued financial support, we are confident that we can bring the era of marijuana prohibition to an end and usher in the new era of legalization. Together, we will be unstoppable. Together, we WILL legalize marijuana across this great country.

    From all of us at NORML to all of you, we hope you have a very, very green Christmas.

    Onward.

  • by Tom McCain, Executive Director, Peachtree NORML December 21, 2017

    18402697_1258339267617410_3397086841457512968_nBackground

    In June of 2016 members of Peachtree NORML began a practice of visiting official law enforcement Facebook pages when marijuana bust “brag” posts were put up. We began expressing our opinions on those posts. Those opinions were often deleted from these official pages and the citizens making them were blocked from commenting. These actions are an abridgment of a citizen’s First Amendment Right to criticize a governmental official or entity. Sheriff Joey Terrell of Habersham County, Georgia was one of the officials who deleted dissenting comments. We decided to contact the ACLU, and they decided to take up our case for us.

    The ACLU sent a letter to Sheriff Terrell, demanding that he cease the practice of deleting dissenting comments and restore commenting capabilities to those persons who had been blocked from the page. Initially, Hunt & Taylor Law Group replied to the letter, stating the following:

    Mr. Young:

    We are the county attorneys for Habersham County, Georgia. While we technically do not represent the Sheriff as he is an elected official and we are retained to represent the Board of Commissioners and various county departments that are not headed by elected officials, we do, on occasion, respond to requests from those elected officials of the County who seek advice. In that regard, the Sheriff shared with us your letter regarding his FaceBook page. He was concerned that it was his personal FaceBook account and contained information that he wanted to share about the Sheriff’s office. I explained to him that as the elected sheriff of Habersham County, he was the “face” of the department – even on his personal FaceBook page. He understands now that he cannot censor comments even on his account. He has advised me that he will make changes to his account and no longer receive any kind of comments but rather use it as an “announcement page”. I personally know very little about FaceBook and do not know exactly how that will be accomplished. My understanding is that his account will no longer be interactive as he is concerned about responses that will not be appropriate – such as bad language. He will now only post news items.

    Donnie Hunt
    County Attorney
    Habersham County, Georgia

     

    I personally felt Sheriff Terrell was taking the coward’s way out but to his credit, so far, he has acquiesced to our demands, restored the ability to comment to those who were blocked, and is still allowing comment. His post concerning the matter has a bit of a “whine” to it, though, and I’ll let you the reader determine if the Sheriff’s “personal” page is really personal, since it is riddled with the trappings of his Office.

    Oaths

    Elected officials in Georgia are required to swear several Oaths before taking office. Among them is an Oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. They don’t get to pick and choose which parts of it they will uphold. They are answerable to US, and we need to hold their feet to the fire when they abridge our rights.

    I hope this sends a clear message to ALL elected officials in Georgia regarding deleting dissenting comments from their Facebook pages. If it doesn’t, and they persist, we’re prepared to take this to the Federal Courts.

    Thank Yous

    I want to thank Sean Young, ACLU GA’s Legal Director, Fallon Traylor (who was the Policy Advocate when this all got started), and Chris Bruce, the Policy Counsel, who pointed me in the right direction to make this happen.

    I also want to thank all the members of Peachtree NORML who took screenshots and shared them with me. Without them, this couldn’t have happened. Thank you for standing up!!

    Much respect for all of you.

    Tom McCain is an Air Force Veteran, retired law enforcement officer, former Chief Deputy of Johnson County, and the Executive Director of Peachtree NORML. You can find out more at http://www.peachtreenorml.org/ and follow their work on Facebook and Twitter. Peachtree NORML is supported by grassroots contributions and your support means a lot – consider making a donation now

  • by Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of NORML KC December 12, 2017

    15167619_606981862846104_8187971922597102036_oOn April 4, 2017, Kansas City residents decriminalized marijuana possession with an amazing 75% of voters supporting that move. The Initiative was led by NORML KC, the Kansas City Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    The Petition decriminalized marijuana possession by eliminating arrests, eliminating the possibility of jail as a sentence, and requiring almost all such cases to be handled in municipal court which does not result in a criminal conviction. The previous range of punishment was up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. The new maximum fine is $25.

    Prior to the election in April, certain public officials claimed they were concerned about the welfare of indigent marijuana defendants who would no longer be eligible for free legal services under the City’s contract with Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO). Supporters of the Initiative pointed out that this problem could easily be fixed by amending the City’s contract with LAWMO. Now, that has happened.

    The previous KC/LAWMO contract limited free legal services to indigent defendants charged with offenses which carry possible jail sentences. The new amendment specifically allows for LAWMO to represent indigent defendants facing marijuana possession charges.

    According to The Kansas City Star, April 4, 2017, LAWMO represented defendants in about 59% of municipal marijuana cases during the past fiscal year.  The Star reported that approximately 70% of marijuana defendants are black, in a city where the population is only 30% black.  Studies consistently show that marijuana use rates are virtually the same between black and white Americans.

    “NORML KC is pleased that the City has chosen to do the right thing in protecting its most vulnerable population by amending the contract with LAWMO,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of NORML KC. “Prosecuting non-violent cannabis offenses should not be a priority in our city when over half of the nation has some form of safe and legal access.”

    Attorney Dan Viets, Missouri NORML Coordinator and a member of the national NORML Board of Directors, said that the voters of Kansas City spoke loudly and clearly in getting the Initiative a landslide victory. “It was incredible that with no funding and only a small group of volunteers supporting the effort, this Initiative passed with the support of 75% of the voters!”

    Further reform efforts are underway statewide. The New Approach Medical Cannabis Initiative campaign intends to place a measure legalizing medical cannabis on the November 2018 Missouri ballot. Missouri NORML Chapters, including NORML KC, are an important part of the coalition which is supporting this measure. The Initiative would provide funding for veterans’ services and regulate cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis to patients whose doctors have recommended such use. The campaign has gathered more than 125,000 signatures.  Nearly 170,000 valid signatures will be required to qualify for the ballot.

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