• by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 8, 2018

    Following in the footsteps of San Francisco, Seattle city officials announced today that they will be vacating the criminal convictions of former marijuana offenders.

    Seattle’s mayor and city attorney plan to ask the courts to vacate all misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions that were prosecuted before the plant was legalized in Washington state in 2012.

    Between the years 1986 and 2010, police in Washington made an estimated 240,000 marijuana possession arrests.

    Stated Mayor Jenny Durkan: “[T]his action is a necessary first step in righting the wrongs of the past and putting our progressive values into action. … Our action will affect people who had been convicted of offenses for conduct that is now legal under state law. People won’t have to take any actions like hiring a lawyer or going to a court hearing. … I hope these actions we’re taking here in Seattle can lay the foundation for other cities, counties and states to act, too.”

    Last week, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office announced that it will review, dismiss, and seal an estimated 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. Legislation to enact a similar automatic expungement policy statewide is pending in the California Assembly.

    Legislation is also pending in Vermont to make it easier for those with past criminal marijuana convictions to petition the court for expungement. In Pennsylvania, legislation is anticipated to be introduced shortly to vacate previous marijuana convictions for patients who have enrolled in the state medical marijuana program.

  • 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.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director August 17, 2017

    3410000930_95fc2866fa_zLast week, a US District Court blocked federal prosecutors from continuing a case against a medical marijuana cultivation company as a result of the current, albeit limited, congressional protections from the Department of Justice.

    LA Weekly reported:

    Humboldt County growers Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore had already pleaded guilty to federal allegations (conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute) but sought an evidentiary hearing based on legislation, first enacted in 2014, that prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from cracking down on cannabis suspects who are otherwise following their state laws. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is a budget rider, co-authored by SoCal U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, that prevents enforcement and prosecution in medical marijuana states by stripping funding for such endeavors.

    U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg on Tuesday stayed the prosecution, so the case is closed unless the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment expires and fails to be re-enacted and federal prosecutors want to resume their case. The defendants’ Beverly Hills attorney, Ronald Richards, says: “This is the first time in my 23-year career I’ve had a case stopped because of an appropriations rider.

    “What the court did in this case may be used as a blueprint for other cases,” he says. “It opens the door for people not to get scared.”

    In response to this verdict, California NORML Executive Director Dale Gieringer said, “It’s significant that a federal court ruled that people targeted by feds and in compliance with California’s medical marijuana laws ruled in the defendants’ favor.”

    The Judge’s verdict was predicated on a previous ruling, United States v. McIntosh, a Ninth Circuit decision last year that upheld a medical marijuana defense for those facing federal prosecution in lawful medical states.

    “This is the first case I’m aware of where McIntosh was cited and used to full effect,” continued Gieringer.

    On July 27, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) successfully offered and passed the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee to maintain this protection for lawful medical marijuana programs from the Department of Justice.

    You can send a message to your Representative to support this language in the House by clicking HERE. 


  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 17, 2017

    marijuana_gavelState-registered medical cannabis patients may sue a private employer for discrimination if they are fired for their off-the-job marijuana use, according to a first in the nation ruling issued today by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

    Opining for the court, Chief Justice Ralph Gants determined that it is “not facially unreasonable” for employers to make exceptions to their substance abuse policies in instances where employees are using cannabis at home to treat a debilitating condition. “The fact that the employee’s possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation,” he wrote.

    The defendant in the case was fired on her first day on the job for testing positive for carboxy-THC on a company drug test. The former employee possessed a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat symptoms of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Qualified patients may legally obtain cannabis in Massachusetts under a 2012 voter-initiated law.

    The unanimous verdict reverses a lower court decision and is contrary to rulings in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In each of those states, the supreme courts ruled that employees had no legal protections if they were fired without cause for their state-sanctioned use of medical cannabis.

    “Patients should never have to choose between their heath and their job and for the first time, a court has acknowledged that they shouldn’t have to do so,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions begin to apply this same rationale to patients as well as to all adults who are using cannabis responsibly off-the-job in compliance with the laws of their states.”

    The case is Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    arrestedOver half of all young people entered into drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system and this percentage is increasing, according to data published online in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

    A team of researchers from Binghamton University in New York and the University of Iowa reviewed youth marijuana treatment admission data (TEDS-A) during the years 1995 to 2012.

    Investigators reported that youth admissions for cannabis rose 65 percent during the study period – from 52,894 annual admissions in 1995 to 87,528 in 2012. Admissions rose most precipitously among Latinos (an increase of 256 percent since 1995) and African American youth (an increase of 86 percent). Criminal justice system referrals rose 70 percent during this same period, and now account for 54 percent of all substance abuse admissions by young people.

    Among those in treatment, half exhibited little if any evidence of suffering from marijuana dependence. Specifically, 30 percent of all young people admitted into marijuana treatment since 2008 had no record of having consumed cannabis in the 30 days prior to their admittance. Another 20 percent of those entered into treatment had use cannabis three times or fewer in the month prior to their admission. Prior evaluations of TEDS data among adults have yielded similar results.

    “Our findings indicate that the severity of drug use involved in those admissions has decreased,” authors concluded. “This study highlights the importance of identifying youth in actual need of treatment services.”

    Since the late 1990s, both youth use of marijuana and the prevalence of so-called ‘cannabis use disorder’ by young people have declined significantly.

    An abstract of the study, “Trends in youth marijuana treatment admissions: Increasing admissions contrasted with decreasing drug involvement,” is online here. My commentary about the data, “Blowing the lid off the marijuana treatment racket,” appears on Alternet.org here.

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