In this week’s Round Up we’ll update you regarding the status of a number of state and local ballot measures, and we’ll also highlight new legislation signed into law this week in Delaware. Plus we’ll give you the details on the latest Governor to endorse marijuana decriminalization. Keep reading below to get this week’s news in marijuana law reform!
Arizona: The Supreme Court this week rejected a lawsuit that sought to prohibit Proposition 205, the Arizona Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, from going before voters this November. The Act allows adults twenty-one years of age and older to possess and grow specified amounts of marijuana (up to one ounce of marijuana flower, up to five grams of marijuana concentrate, and/or the harvest from up to six plants). It creates a system for licensed businesses to produce and sell marijuana and establishes a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana.
Voters in four additional states, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will also be deciding on similar adult use initiatives on Election Day.
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s office this week certified that a competing medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, will also appear on the electoral ballot in November. Unlike Issue 7, The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, this second initiative does not include provisions allowing eligible patients to cultivate their own cannabis at home.
Statewide polling reports greater public support for the Medical Cannabis Act. Under state law, if voters approve both measures the one that receives the greatest number of votes will become law.
Voters in three additional states, Florida, North Dakota, and Montana, will decide on similar medical use measures in November. In Missouri, campaigners are litigating to ask the courts to review signature totals in the state’s second Congressional district.
Colorado: A municipal initiative effort that sought to permit for the adult use of marijuana in licensed establishments failed to qualify for the November ballot. The Responsible Use Denver initiative, backed by Denver NORML, needed 4,726 signatures to qualify for inclusion on November ballot. The campaign submitted more than 7,500 signatures, but just 2,987 were verified as eligible by the Denver Elections Division. The Campaign posted: “We are sad to report that our language did not make the November ballot. We plan to continue pushing the conversation with the city of Denver. Our opinion remains the same, that we have what we feel is the best solution for the city of Denver. Thank you to everyone that has supported us on this journey.” City officials did confirm that a separate municipal initiative seeking to establish a ‘Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program’ will appear on November’s ballot.
Delaware: Governor Jack Markell signed legislation into law this week permitting terminally ill patients to access medical cannabis. House Bill 400 (aka ‘Bob’s bill’) permits physicians to recommend cannabis therapy to terminally ill adults. It also permits those under 18 to access CBD products if they are suffering from “pain, anxiety, or depression” related to a terminal illness.
The new law takes effect at the end of November.
Oklahoma: State Question 788, a statewide initiative to establish a state-licensing system to permit eligible patients to possess and cultivate personal use quantities of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, is unlikely to appear on the 2016 electoral ballot. Although the Secretary of State has certified that initiative proponents collected sufficient signatures, proponents are now challenging the attorney general’s rewording of the ballot title. The legal challenge could force the issue to be decided in a special election. Updated information regarding this initiative campaign may be found on NORML’s 2016 initiatives page.
Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf expressed support for marijuana decriminalization this week stating, “too many people are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carrying modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it’s destroying families, and it’s hurting our economy.”
Marijuana decriminalization legislation, House Bill 2076, is currently pending before members of the House Judiciary committee. The legislation would amend the state’s controlled substances act so that minor marijuana possession offenses are considered a non-criminal offense. Contact your state House members and urge them to support this common sense legislation. #TakeAction
Tennessee: Members of the Nashville Metro Council voted 32 to 4 to approve legislation to lessen local marijuana possession penalties. The proposal amends penalties for the possession of or exchanging of up to one-half ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. The vote was the first of three the bill will receive; it is the first time a marijuana decriminalization measure was considered by the legislative body.
Under current state law, individuals convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If you live in Nashville, consider contacting your Council member and urging them to support this common sense measure.
The Secretary of State’s office has confirmed that initiative proponents, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, submitted a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot. A Maricopa County judge has also dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prohibit the measure from going before voters, although initiative opponents may seek to further litigate the matter before the state Supreme Court.
Proposition 205 permits adults to legally possess (up to one ounce of marijuana flowers and/or five grams of marijuana concentrates) and cultivate marijuana (up to six plants) for their own personal use, and establishes licensing for its commercial production and retail sale. Commercial, for-profit sales of cannabis will be subject to taxation, while non-commercial exchanges of marijuana will not be taxed.
Similar adult use measures will appear on the ballot this November in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will also decide on medical use measures this fall. A Missouri statewide initiative seeking to regulate the plant’s medicinal use is in litigation.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
Jordan Person, executive director of the Denver Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) submitted roughly 8,000 signatures this week to Denver’s Election Division with the hope of qualifying the Responsible Use Initiative for this November’s ballot. Relying on the hard work and dedication of more than twenty grassroots activists, the Denver NORML team worked tirelessly for more than three months educating voters on the issue and collecting signatures throughout the city. The campaign needs a total of 4,726 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“I could not be more proud of the grassroots movement Denver NORML has created. Our volunteers sacrificed every moment they could to work hard for this campaign.” Person said. “It was an easy choice for most because of how much they believe in the initiative they are fighting for. As we go through this interim period of waiting, hoping and preparing we look forward to the future with excitement.”
If certified for the ballot, Denver voters will be among the first in the nation to decide whether to regulate legal private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and over.
Officials with Denver Elections have 25 days to verify the campaign’s signatures. Regardless of the outcome, this has been a groundbreaking effort to normalize the consumption of marijuana in America.
In addition to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign, voters in the city might also have the opportunity to vote on a similar, yet more limited proposal that would restrict consumers to vaping in predesignated areas.
Approximately two in three California voters support the establishment of a state-regulated retail market for the sale of marijuana to adults, according to polling data compiled by the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sixty-four percent of respondents agree, “Marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally, with government regulations similar to the regulation of alcohol.”
Support is strongest among those between the ages 18 to 24 (75 percent), Democrats (74 percent), African Americans (72 percent), those between the ages of 25 to 34 (71 percent), and Latino voters (69 percent). Among voters over 65 years of age, 58 percent back legalization.
The polling data bodes well for the passage of California’s Proposition 64 this November. The statewide initiative permit adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Proposition 64 is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Voters in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will similarly decide on adult use measures in November. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota are expected to also decide on medical use measures this fall.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
Among all the speeches and balloons and revelry of the recently completed Democratic National Convention — a convention that has already made history by nominating a woman for president – was a far less obvious, but important change in the Democratic Party platform. For the first time since marijuana was made illegal on the federal level in 1937, a major party platform has embraced a strategy they describe as a “reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
That’s right. While many mainstream elected officials remain skittish of endorsing or embracing potentially controversial social issues, the 2016 Democratic Party finally could no longer ignore the changing attitudes towards marijuana legalization reflected in the national polls, and evidenced by the growing number of states that have already moved in this direction.
The precise text of the history-making marijuana amendment was as follows:
“Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization”
In other words, the Democrats endorsed the strategy legalizers have been following since 2012, when we first legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington, despite the continuation of federal prohibition.
Now let’s be honest. We have all seen over the years that the national parties tend to adopt a platform favored by their candidate, which is then almost immediately ignored once the candidate is elected. The platform is a campaign tool, and it is malleable, so as not to box anyone into a position he/she is uncomfortable with.
Nonetheless, seeing the words “a reasoned pathway for future legalization” in the Democratic platform is truly empowering for those who have worked so long to try to get our state and national elected officials to embrace an end to marijuana prohibition. It provides political cover to any and all elected officials who have known all along that prohibition causes more harm than the marijuana it is intended to protect us from, but who have feared an honest position might endanger their political careers.
The Bernie Sanders Factor
We all recognize that Sen. Bernie Sanders had the strongest pro-legalization position; and that his publicizing that position during the hard-fought campaign, and fighting for those provisions during the platform debates, caused Sec. Hillary Clinton and her supporters to more to the left, first endorsing the medical use of marijuana, and most importantly, agreeing with Sanders that the states should be allowed to continue to experiment with full legalization, without interference from the federal government. That is a significant improvement over her earlier cautious statements calling for more research, and should assure us at least four more years to demonstrate to the public that legalization is an effective program with few if any unintended consequences. Thanks, Bernie, we are in your debt.
With social issues, occasionally progress comes in bold steps, especially if the courts get involved and determine that an existing policy is unconstitutional (e.g., Roe v Wade on abortion rights or Obergefell v. Hodges on gay marriages). Of course, each of these victories was preceded by decades of litigation, so they too were not exactly overnight successes. Change takes time in this country, and generally occurs in incremental steps, rather than by big steps.
But the courts have consistently refused to hold marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional (with the exception of a state decision out of Alaska back in 1975 (Ravin v State ) holding the marijuana laws were unconstitutional as applied to personal use amounts in the home). So we don’t have the luxury of designing a strategy to win this fight with one big, successful court decision. We will have to win legalization through a combination of voter initiatives in the states that offer that option, and passing legislation in the other states, a challenging task that almost assures those states will be among the last to change.
But prohibition has been in effect for 80 years, resulting in the arrest of more than 30 million Americans on marijuana charges, many serving time in prison, alienating generations of young people and severely limiting their ability to get an education and advance professionally in their chosen careers. If necessary, we can certainly spend a few more decades (and I believe it will require a decade or more to finally treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly, including ending job discrimination, unfair child care policies, and unfair DUID provisions) to repair the damage caused by prohibition.
For the first time in my lifetime, a major political party has suggested they too recognize the need to move towards legalization, and away from prohibition. It was certainly not the headline of a convention that nominated the first female candidate for president, but it surely was a wonderfully hopeful sign of things to come.
By the next quadrennial conventions, even the Republicans may have found the courage to state the obvious.