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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 30, 2014

    2014: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana PolicyNORML reviews the top news stories of 2014.

    #1 Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day
    Voters in Oregon and Alaska decided on Election Day in favor of statewide initiatives legalizing the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults, while voters in the nation’s capitol and in numerous other cities nationwide similarly decided on local measures to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.

    #2 Colorado And Washington Begin Regulating Retail Marijuana Sales
    Two states, Colorado and Washington, initiated retail marijuana sales in 2014. Colorado’s program began on January 1. In Washington, state-licensed retail outlets began legally selling cannabis to adults in July.

    #3 Congress Enacts Measure Protecting State-Sponsored Medi-Pot Programs
    President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law in December that included a provision limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The amendment states, “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    #4 Congress Moves To Permit State-Sanctioned Hemp Cultivation
    Federal lawmakers approved legislation in February permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation to move forward despite the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.

    #5 Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status
    United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard five days of testimony in October in regard to the constitutionality of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law. Defense counsel and their experts argued that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. Judge Mueller is expected to make her ruling in early 2015.

    #6 JAMA: Fewer Opiate-Related Deaths In Medical Marijuana States
    The enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

    #7 President Acknowledges That Booze Is More Harmful Than Marijuana
    Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged in January in an interview with The New Yorker. “I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” he stated. He added, [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time.”

    #8 Study: Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Violent Crimes
    Medicinal cannabis laws are not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, according to data published in April in the journal PLoS ONE. “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault,” authors concluded. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”

    #9 NYT Editors Opine In Favor Of Legalizing Cannabis
    The New York Times editorial board in July called upon federal lawmakers to end the criminalization of cannabis for those over the age of 21. The paper’s editors opined: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. … Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. … [W]e believe that on every level, … the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.”

    #10 Americans Say Marijuana Is Less Harmful To Health Than Sugar
    Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released in March. Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel December 22, 2014

    Supreme_Court_BuildingFor those of us in the business of changing public policy, sometimes we judge our progress on what we have accomplished; and other times we judge our effectiveness by the desperate acts of our opponents. The federal law suit filed late last week by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, seeking a declaratory judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court holding Colorado’s legalization provisions to be unconstitutional, clearly falls in the latter category.

    This suit is more political theater than a serious legal challenge. These two conservative state attorneys general know they are losing this fight in the court of public opinion, so they are hoping the Supreme Court will step in and overturn the will of the voters. Desperate times lead to desperate tactics, and the plaintiffs in this action were clearly feeling desperate.

    To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 11, 2014

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton publicly announced plans yesterday to halt the NYPD’s practice of arresting tens of thousands of minor marijuana offenders annually.

    Under the new plan, set to take effect November 19, city police would issue first-time marijuana offenders a summons, payable by a fine, in lieu of making a criminal arrest.

    Though the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have made pledges in the past to reduce the city’s marijuana arrest totals, which average nearly 30,000 per year, they have previously failed to do so. Of those arrested for minor marijuana offenses in New York City, a disproportionate percentage (86 percent) are either Black or Latino. Nearly three out of four arrested possessed no prior criminal record.

    Although New York state law classifies minor marijuana possession offenses as a non-criminal offense, separate penal law (NY State Penal Law 221.10) defines marijuana possession in a manner that is ‘open to public view’ as an arrestable offense.

    Mayor de Blasio called the City’s proposed depenalization policy “a smart policy that keeps New Yorkers safe, but it is also a more fair policy.”

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director November 10, 2014

    norml_remember_prohibition2The FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report was released this morning and provides an updated look at the total number of marijuana arrests law enforcement made across the country in 2013.

    The good news is that numbers are down slightly from 2012’s arrest figures. In 2012, there were about 749,825 marijuana arrests (compared to 757,969 in 2011).

    The new report shows a modest decrease in arrests. In 2013, there was a total of 693,481 arrests made for marijuana charges, with the overwhelming majority of these being for simple possession. Law enforcement made about 609,423 arrests for possession alone, a decrease of 48,808 arrests compared to 2012. While we may be seeing slight decreases due to the growing number of states who have begun to reform their marijuana policies, the fact that over 600,000 individuals are still being arrested for a non-violent act shows how much work we have left to do in ending our disastrous prohibition of marijuana.

    Using the ACLU low-level estimate of cost per arrest ($750), the minimum enforcement cost for the 609,423 individuals put in handcuffs for just marijuana possession in 2013 would be in excess of $457,067,250.

    (NOTE: Numbers in this reporting were rounded to the nearest decimal point. You can read the full Uniform Crime Report here.)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 31, 2014

    Federal marijuana hearingUnited States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard testimony over the course of the past five days in regard to the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. At issue in this evidentiary hearing is whether the scientific literature provides a rational basis for the federal classification of the plant as a substance with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and a “lack of accepted safety” for use under medical supervision.

    The federal government’s position was articulated in testimony provided by Dr. Bertha Madras, Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush.

    Expert witnesses for the defense who testified at the hearing were Dr. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, Dr. Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington, and marijuana cultivation expert and archivist Chris Conrad.

    Defense counsel for the litigants were NORML Legal Committee members Zenia Gilg of San Francisco and Heather Burke of Nevada City, CA. I assisted attorneys Gilg and Burke as a consultant in the case prior to the hearing and as their principle investigator during the hearing — a point that the federal government’s attorneys insisted on making public on Wednesday by insisting the judge recognize that: “Defense counsels’ investigator is the Deputy Director of NORML; he’s not some ordinary investigator.”

    Representatives from California NORML as well as writer Jeremy Daw of TheLeafOnline were in attendance during the hearing and provide day-by-day coverage of events on their respective websites and at the links below. Dr. Madras was cross-examined both Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

    INTRODUCTION/GENERAL SUMMARY:
    http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/whytodayishistoric/

    FRIDAY:
    http://www.canorml.org/news/day_one_testimony_in_Federal_marijuana_rescheduling_hearing.html

    MONDAY:
    http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/federal-prosecutors-appear-concede-cannabis-medical-benefits/

    TUESDAY:
    http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/norml-feds-agree-benefits-cannabis/

    WEDNESDAY:
    http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/medicine-trial-cannabis-scheduling-hearing/

    THURSDAY:
    http://theleafonline.com/c/politics/2014/10/schedule-hearing-concludes-judges-ruling-expected-december/

    A ruling by Judge Mueller is not anticipated until after the first of the year.

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