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Decriminalization

  • by NORML April 3, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesOn March 1, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg decriminalized marijuana by instituting the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. This decision in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, affects more than 4.5 million Texans. As a result, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana is now punishable by up to $150, required attendance of a “decision making” class, and no criminal record.

    With so many Sheriffs Associations and prosecutors traditionally advocate for maintaining marijuana prohibition, even lobbying our legislators with our tax dollars in order to cash in on asset forfeitures, what happened in Harris County marks a real tipping point for ending prohibition in the state of Texas and reveals a growing organization within law enforcement that wants to correct currently ineffective marijuana policy by deprioritizing arrests for simple possession.

    Harris County courts and jails were long overwhelmed by arrests and prosecutions for small marijuana possessions. According to internal data provided from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition in Harris County tax dollars prior to decriminalization (including court fees, indigent defense, DA fees, jail costs, crime labs and labor costs from local police) were estimated at $26,663,800 annually.

    To put that amount of money into perspective, that’s more than enough money for the city of Houston to build a new high school or a 17-bed medical facility every year. Another way to look at it is that these freed up resources can now give prosecutors and police the ability and time required to test the backlog of rape kit evidence and investigate unsolved violent crimes in Harris County. What a concept! Instead of confiscating assets and ruining the lives of nonviolent citizens, we can prosecute the violent criminals that law enforcement are sworn to protect us from.

    These estimates don’t include the tax dollars or collateral damage that marijuana prohibition on families including separation from loved ones, lost income from jailed parents or the emotional toll time spent in state custody can have on children. Even for Harris County, these remain real threats under state and federal law.

    But after Ogg’s March 1st decision in Harris County, something changed. It was a change that could be felt in the halls of the Texas state capitol. During the Committee hearing on HB81 to decriminalize marijuana in Texas on March 13th, unlike any previous marijuana bill, not a single Sheriff’s Association came to testify against the bill; just one lonely prosecutor from Odessa. By contrast, the halls of the Texas State Capitol filled with members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, friendly state Congressman like Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Executive Director Jax Finkle of Texas NORML, and Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy all lobbying on our behalf to get HB 81 and SB 170 into committee.

    However, as Bob Sechler from the Austin American Statesman recently reported, “Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.”

    The other argument made by Lawrence, that “low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes,” is evidence of a different addiction: an addiction distinct to law enforcement for asset forfeitures. When an informant remains planted on a suspect for decades after a plethora of evidence to close the case, or when law enforcement stops only the cars going south with cash and not the ones going north with drugs, we have what can only be described as an asset forfeiture epidemic lead by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Lawrence doesn’t even take into consideration if the detection of marijuana is either a violent or dangerous threat to roadway safety, admitting his worry is he can’t determine if someone is impaired. (Hint: a good indication the driver is not impaired). By that logic, Lawrence implies he is satisfied with the casualties, tax expenses and arrests of nonviolent citizens whose only offense is possession of marijuana, so long as a portion of those arrested lead to “serious” crimes (or asset forfeitures). This erroneous argument is so preposterous he doesn’t appear to realize he is admitting that encountering someone who has consumed marijuana is relatively safe.

    So let’s look at the financial motivations of law enforcement that remain loyal to marijuana prohibition. On the other side of Texas from Harris County, on the I-10 corridor near El Paso, federal grants used to be the major motivator for marijuana possession arrests by a self-proclaimed “Boss Hog” in Hudspeth County, where to fill a federal quota the Sheriff infamously arrested Willie Nelson and even Snoop Dog on road tours for possession. Those funds were more bureaucratic in that the grants kept the Sheriff and private jail facilities employed, but the profit motives were parasitic. The Obama administration tried to do away with private prison contracts but Trump and Sessions are bringing them back.

    But what about those civil asset forfeitures? Sheriff’s Associations or prosecutors using our tax dollars to lobby for asset forfeitures are more sinister in that not all the money seized gets accurately reported, and since property and money are seized without due process, victims find it difficult and expensive to go to court dockets titled “The State of Texas vs. $10,000,” only to find in some instances a prosecutor instead of a judge in court.

    However, looking at the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program Annual report for 2012, the local money being reported as seized just doesn’t add up to the cost of incarcerating so many non-violent people in possession of marijuana. Harris County reported: $1,387,430 in seized assets, more than most other Texas counties. But we would have to add up the entire state total of $31,520,522 in local asset forfeitures before we can get passed the $26,663,800 in annual costs for prosecuting and jailing minor marijuana possessions in just Harris County alone. Federal agencies target all the big asset seizures but according to this inspector general’s report, what gets accurately reported of that money causes more corrupt internal fighting and competition between federal agencies than any shared resources with local law enforcement.

    In short, for local jurisdictions, decriminalizing marijuana makes plain economic sense. And for districts with law enforcement overwhelmed and under budget decriminalization may be the only logical choice to keep up with the payroll.

    What do we do as activists? We can pay attention to candidates for District Attorney and Sheriff to vet them on marijuana policy so we can take local action to decriminalize. (After they become Sheriff? Just say “Am I being arrested?” and make sure you know what a Motion to Suppress Evidence is: example here)

    But the real people we need to contact to make effective improvement in marijuana policy is not the President, the DA, a cop or anyone in the executive branch: It’s our state and local Congressman in the legislative branch. And this is the right website to do so.

    Texas resident? Take Action:

    HB 81 and SB 170 to decriminalize marijuana is pending in their respective chambers. Contact your Texas Representative to support HB 81 and SB 170 by clicking here

    Vice Chair Todd Hunter is also the Chair of the Calendar Committee which decides if bills get a floor vote in Texas. Hunter held up a decriminalization bill in 2015 by failing to put the vote on the Calendar. If you live in Chorpus Christi, give Todd Hunter a call and tell him to give HB81 a floor vote!

    Also in Texas do not forget to mention SB380 to abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state of Texas.

    Visit Houston NORMLs website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator March 28, 2017

    Following a national trend, members of the Monona City Council passed an ordinance that removed all municipal fines for the private possession and consumption of marijuana. Under the new ordinance, adults 21-years and older will no longer be subjected to a fine for possessing marijuana in public or in private spaces. Marijuana use in a private residence would also be exempt from a fine, but a $200 fine will still be given to those caught smoking in public.

    243428_10150183848971408_290803_oThis came as no surprise to Nate Petreman, executive director of Madison NORML. For almost two years, Mr. Petreman along with several members of Madison NORML worked to build a broad coalition of active community members who attended countless meetings and provided testimony in support of the measure.

    “Private use and possession and possession in public are no longer local offenses in Monona, WI. The new ordinance in Monona only prohibits public use. We were denied at the city last year, in part due to the Police Chief advocating on city time, and came just shy of the necessary signatures to trigger a vote on direct legislation in summer 2016,” said Petreman. “To succeed in our recent efforts, nearly 20 people attended each meeting along the way, many who were residents. These efforts resulted in the best known local ordinance statewide.”

    On the state level, lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would provide qualified patients with legal access to medical marijuana and establish a statewide medical marijuana program.

    Read more here about the statewide effort by clicking here. 

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director March 11, 2017

    revolutionbumperWelcome to this week’s edition of the NORML legislative roundup!

    At the federal level, aside from a few absurd comments by Attorney General Sessions and new cosponsors to HR 975 and HR 1227, things have been pretty quiet.

    At the state level, it is quite a different story. We have continued to see a marked rise in the number of bills introduced pertaining to marijuana, crossing the 1,500 mark. From hearings on marijuana legalization in Maryland to social clubs passing the Senate in Colorado to hemp passing the both chambers in the New Mexico statehouse, at every level we are making progress.

    Below 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.

    Thanks for all you do and keep fighting,
    Justin

    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 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 email your Congressional Representative to urge them to support this crucial legislation.

    Join The Caucus: 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 work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.

    Click here to email your Member of Congress to urge them to join the newly formed Cannabis Caucus

    Colorado
    Colorado State Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Dan Pabon have introduced legislation that is headed to the Senate Business, Labor and Technology committee on Tuesday, March 1, 2017. SB 184: The Marijuana Membership Clubs and Public Use Bill, will provide Colorado municipalities with the regulatory framework needed to allow responsible adults the option to socially consume marijuana in a membership club away from the general public.

    Last November, voters In California and Maine approved public marijuana consumption through Proposition 64 and Question 1, but haven’t settled on rules. This means Colorado could be first out of the gate with statewide regulations for pot clubs.

    Update: SB 184 passed the full Senate on Thursday, March 9, by a vote of 25-10 and will now be sent to the House. Gov. Hickenlooper has promised to veto the bill if passed in its current version.

    CO Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Connecticut
    Multiple pieces of legislation to legalize the adult use of marijuana and to regulate its commercial distribution is pending in both the state House and Senate.

    Update: Lawmakers have scheduled a pair of hearings in March to debate these various legalization proposals. Members of the Public Health Committee heard testimony on Tuesday, March 7. Members of the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on Wednesday, March 22.

    CT Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Kansas
    Legislation is pending, House Bill 2152, to permit qualified patients access to marijuana or extracts containing CBD and low levels of THC.

    The measure would permit patients with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder or a condition causing seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy, to possess marijuana or extracts containing no more than three percent THC. The measure also seeks to establish rules governing the state-licensed cultivation of low-THC marijuana strains and the preparation of products derived from such strains.

    KS Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Maryland
    HB 1236 and it’s companion bill SB891 would amend the Maryland Constitution to ensure citizens have the right to possess, smoke, and cultivate marijuana.

    The Amendment would also require the General Assembly to establish a regulatory structure for “the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale.”

    If enacted, the law would legalize the possession of up to two ounces and the cultivation of up to six plants.

    Update: The House held a hearing about HB 1236 on March 3 at 1pm, and a hearing about SB 891 on March 2 at 1pm.

    MD Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Nevada
    Senate legislation is pending, SB 236, to regulate the social use of cannabis.

    The measure allows select businesses to apply for licensing to permit adult marijuana use on their premises. It would also allow event organizers to seek permits to allow adult use at specific events.

    To date, private adult use of marijuana is permitted, but only in a private residence. Passage of SB 236 establishes a regulatory framework to permit adults the option to consume cannabis at specified public places or events.

    NV Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    New Hampshire
    Legislation is pending in the New Hampshire House, HB 215, to establish a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.

    Police in New Hampshire arrest some 2,900 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. The continued criminalization of adult marijuana use is out-of-step with the views of New Hampshire adults, 62 percent of whom now endorse legalizing and regulating cannabis, according to a 2016 WMUR Granite State Poll.

    Update: HB 215 passed the House on Thursday, March 8 on a voice vote. It will now be referred to the Senate.

    NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Additionally, Multiple bills are pending before lawmakers to expand the pool of patients eligible to qualify for medical marijuana therapy.

    In particular, these measures would permit patients with conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress to obtain legal access to marijuana.

    Update: Bills to add chronic pain (HB 157) and PTSD (HB 160) to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana have passed the House. They will now be referred to the Senate.

    NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    New Mexico
    Legislation is pending, Senate Bill 258, to reduce penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    The measure eliminates criminal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one-half of one ounce of cannabis, reducing the offense to a $50 fine. Under present law, this offense is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in jail and criminal record.

    Update: A Senate substitute version of SB 258 was passed 33 to 9 by members of the Senate. The amended version of the bill now awaits action by the House.  

    NM Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Oregon
    Legislation is pending in the Senate, SB 863, to limit the federal government from acquiring data regarding adults and patients who legally purchase marijuana under state law.

    The emergency legislation, which would take immediate effect, mandates that retailers and dispensaries do not maintain customers’ purchase and/or personal identification records beyond 48 hours.

    Sponsors of the bipartisan measure say the privacy protections are in response to recent statements by the Trump administration with regard to a possible enforcement crackdown in adult use marijuana states.

    OR Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Tennessee
    Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, are sponsoring the legislature’s most concerted effort to legalize medical use of marijuana.

    Under present law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $250 fine.

    Update: SB 1119 and SB 673 were debated by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 7.

    TN Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Texas
    Legislation has been introduced for the 2017 legislative session to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

    House Bill 81, filed by Representative Joe Moody and cosponsored by Representative Jason Isaac, seeks to amend state law so that possessing up to one ounce of marijuana is a civil violation, punishable by a fine – no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record. Under current state law, first-time marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

    Update: HB 81 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, March 13. Starting at 8am if you happen to be in the state capitol in Austin you can get within the capitol steps Wi-Fi in order to register your support of HB 81.

    TX Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Vermont
    Rep. Samuel Young has introduced H. 490 to regulate the commercial and retail marijuana market.

    H. 490 establishes a regulated system whereby adults may legally obtain marijuana from state-licensed retail providers and sellers.

    Statewide polling reports that a majority of Vermont voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana. According to a RAND Corporation study, regulating the commercial sale of cannabis in Vermont would generate $20 million to $75 million annually in new tax revenue.

    VT Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    West Virginia
    A coalition of Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation, SB 386, which seeks to establish the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act — a state-sponsored program that will permit qualified patients to obtain medical cannabis from licensed dispensaries. A House version of the bill, HB 2677, is also pending.

    Passage of the bill establishes a commission tasked with developing “policies, procedures, guidelines, and regulations to implement programs to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients in a safe and effective manner.”

    WV Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Additional Actions To Take

    Arkansas
    House Bill 1580 imposes a special eight percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales. This tax would be in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.

    While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Most other states that regulate medical cannabis sales do not impose such taxes and Arkansas patients should not be forced to pay these excessive costs.

    AR Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    District of Columbia
    Councilman David Grosso has re-introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. First introduced in 2014, DC voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.

    The bill will legalize marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 and will allow the city to tax and regulate a commercial market. Due to DC’s unique charter in Congress, however, this provision of the law was gutted in 2014.

    DC Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    New Hampshire
    House legislation is pending, HB 472, to permit qualified patients to cultivate their own medicine.

    Under present law, qualified patients must purchase cannabis from one of a handful of state-licensed dispensaries.

    House Bill 472 allows patients to cultivate up to two mature plants and up to 12 seedlings at one time.

    Update: Members of the House of Representatives have passed HB 472. It now awaits action by the Senate.

    NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    New Mexico
    Governor Susana Martinez has vetoed House Bill 144, which sought to establish a hemp research program in compliance with provisions in the federal Farm Bill explicitly authorizing states to engage in licensed activity involving hemp absent federal reclassification of the plant. The Governor provided no public explanation for he veto.

    A similar provision, Senate Bill 6, now awaits action from the Governor. Members of the House and Senate have previously passed the measure by votes of 58 to 8 and 37 to 2.

    NM Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

    Washington
    Legislation is before lawmakers, House Bill 2064, to amend state law so that industrial hemp is not longer classified under the state’s uniform controlled substances act.

    If passed, hemp plants will no longer be regulated as a controlled substance.

    Update: HB 2064 has unanimously passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

    WA Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator January 25, 2017

    chapter_spotlightOn the heels of the 2016 election – where four states voted to approve adult-use marijuana initiatives, and four more voted to approve medical marijuana initiatives – NORML Chapters across the country are lobbying their state legislators for additional reforms. In the coming weeks, NORML Chapters around the country, such as California NORML, Connecticut NORML, Wyoming NORML, and Virginia NORML, will be focusing their time and energy in support of dozens of statewide reform bills seeking to amend various aspects of their state’s marijuana policies.

    To help increase the likelihood of success for these volunteer-led lobbying efforts, NORML has created a citizen lobby guide. This comprehensive booklet will assist activists in 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.

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

    In addition to offering support through NORML’s Citizen Lobby Guide, we have created more than 30 action alerts targeting state lawmakers across the country urging their support for marijuana legislation being considered in their state. Simply click on the link below and enter your information to join the fight!

    take_actionTake Action: http://norml.org/act

    We hope that with these tools, along with the direct support of NORML staff, marijuana activists will have the resources needed to effectively lobby state lawmakers in support of marijuana law reforms.

     

    Here’s a list of scheduled NORML Chapter Lobby Days below:

    • Virginia NORML – Jan 30
    • Arizona NORML – Feb 2
    • Texas NORML – Feb 8
    • Houston NORML – Feb 8
    • DFW NORML – Feb 8
    • Waco NORML – Feb 8
    • New Mexico – Feb 21
    • Missouri NORML – Feb 28
    • Kansas City NORML – Feb 28
    • Greater St. Louis NORML – Feb 28
    • Mid-Missouri NORML – Feb 28
    • Springfield NORML – Feb 28
    • University of Missouri NORML – Feb 28
    • North Carolina NORML – Mar 1
    • Charlotte NORML – Mar 1
    • Denver NORML – Mar 7
    • Colorado NORML – Mar 7
    • Monterey County NORML – Mar 7
    • NORML Women of Washington – Mar 7
    • Washington NORML – Mar 7
    • Portland NORML – Mar 7
    • Michigan NORML – March 30
    • Illinois NORML – May 17
    • California NORML – June 5

    To get involved or to find out more information about a lobby day in your state, please email: KevinM@NORML.org.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator January 18, 2017

    marijuana_seedlingSince its founding, NORML has advocated that statewide legalization efforts – whether through a ballot initiative or using the legislative process – should ideally include provisions that permit and protect the act of home cultivation by marijuana consumers. This advocacy has resulted in more than 16 states now allowing home cultivation, including in six of the eight voter-initiated measures passed in 2016.

    But although there has been a tremendous amount of progress on this issue, it appears that home cultivation is now at risk in several municipalities across Colorado and California. Local and state lawmakers in both jurisdictions are revisiting the issue and are moving toward unnecessarily limiting adult’s home cultivation rights.

    Most recently, representatives with Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy revealed a plan to, “limit unlicensed recreational and medical grows in private residences,” throughout the city of Denver. This decision came after months of closed-door meetings between regulators and leading marijuana industry interests such as the Marijuana Industry Group (MIG); which together, form what’s being called the, “Non-Licensed Marijuana Grows Inspection Team.

    personal_cultivationAlthough there has been little to no mention of specific details regarding this proposed program, many are anticipating the new regulations to resemble those that have come under fire in Indian Wells, California. In that city, lawmakers are pushing for regulations mandating that anyone who wishes to cultivate marijuana in their home must purchase an annual permit and must also allow inspectors into their residence. This amounts to an absolutely unnecessary burden for responsible, law-abiding citizens.

    In recent days, Denver NORML became inundated with emails, messages and comments on social media demanding a response to what many believe is a blatant overreach by city government officials. In response, members of Denver NORML, led by Executive Director, Jordan Person, began mobilizing volunteers to contact members of the Denver City Council with the goal of defending the rights and privacy of marijuana consumers in the city of Denver.

    “With all of the uncertainty we are expecting in 2017 at both the local and state level our goal at Denver NORML is to help maintain our rights as residents of Colorado to grow in our homes,” said Person. “We will keep our members and supporters informed and part of the conversation as it happens.”

    While it’s obvious that there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into regulating Colorado’s legal marijuana industry, most marijuana consumers would never support any effort that would attempt to bring similar regulations into the privacy of their homes. Not to mention the fact that the creation of a task force or any other bureaucratic process to approve and/or oversee the cultivation of marijuana in a private residence amounts to a severe misuse of tax dollars and violation of privacy when those limited resources could be dedicated to combating actual problems in our communities.

    marijuana_growerWithout providing any data points related to the correlation between home cultivation and out-of-state diversion, those advocating for tighter regulations deserve to fail in their attempt to convince marijuana consumers that allowing regular visits from government officials in their homes is a good idea. Adults who brew their own beer are not subject to inspections by the state and neither should those who choose to grow personal use quantities of marijuana. Furthermore, criminalizing the personal cultivation of marijuana is an arbitrary prohibition that has absolutely no basis in public safety. Therefore NORML will continue to support the right of individuals to grow their own marijuana as an alternative to purchasing it from licensed commercial producers.

    To join the fight to protect home cultivation, check out NORML’s action page by visiting http://norml.org/act or for more information, please email Chapters@NORML.org.

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