It’s a great time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker. We are finally working our way out of the shadows of prohibition and into the mainstream. Following the reign of terror that resulted in more than 25 million Americans being arrested on marijuana charges since 1937, the country is at last looking for a better alternative.
Fewer marijuana smokers are being arrested.
Flickr/Oregon Dept. of Transportation – flic.kr
First, and most important, fewer and fewer states continue to treat responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. Seventeen states have decriminalized the personal use of marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. With each new state that moves in our direction, the number of marijuana arrests continues to decline.
The latest marijuana arrest data released this week by the FBI show that 643,122 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 2015, with 89 percent of those arrests for marijuana possession only, not for cultivation or trafficking. While that number remains far too high — that’s a lot of individuals having their lives and careers disrupted unfairly over their use of marijuana — it is the lowest number of marijuana arrests reported since 1996. And it represents nearly a 25 percent reduction in arrests since the peak (almost 800,000 arrests) was reached in 2007.
“Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana,” according to the ACLU’s 2013 report on marijuana arrests.
With five states scheduled to vote on full legalization this November, marijuana arrest rates are expected to continue to decline further in the coming years. We clearly still have lots of work to do, but the trend is all in our direction, and the pace appears to be accelerating.
More Americans are smoking marijuana.
Second, marijuana smoking continues to become more mainstream culturally, with more and more adult Americans smoking each year. Instead of being ostracized and marginalized, marijuana smokers today are being embraced by the larger culture. For most Americans today, smoking marijuana is simply no big deal.
About 30 million Americans smoked marijuana over the past year, more than double the number of smokers in 2002, and 69 percent of the country now are aware that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
One in eight Americans (13 percent) now reports that they currently smoke marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s nearly double the number of current users (7 percent) found by Gallup just three years earlier, with 43 percent of Americans acknowledging they have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. One in five adults under 30 years of age is now a pot smoker.
Flickr/Dank Depot – flickr.com
And yet the number of adolescent marijuana smokers has not increased over the last decade, and adolescents tell us that marijuana is becoming less available to them than in prior years. The percentage of respondents aged 12-17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between 2002 and 2014, researchers at the CDC reported. Regulation with age controls is clearly more effective than prohibition.
As marijuana smoking continues to gain popularity, it also gains respectability, with fewer and fewer Americans supporting marijuana prohibition. They are not necessarily pro-pot, but — just as the country learned with the failed attempt at alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early ’30s — a majority of the public has concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself. Roughly 60 percent of the public now supports ending prohibition and legalizing marijuana.
Among generations, the demographics are strongly pointing toward ending prohibition altogether. About 68 percent of Millennials say marijuana should be legal, and 50 percent of baby boomers favor legalization. Young Americans simply have no problem with marijuana and can’t understand why it was ever made illegal.
High quality marijuana is available today.
Flickr/fredodf, Bigstock/greg banks – flic.kr
Finally, high quality marijuana is available to most consumers today, regardless of where you live. The marijuana legalization movement is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom. The government has no business coming into our homes to know what books we read, what music we listen to, how we conduct ourselves in the bedroom, and whether we drink alcohol or smoke marijuana when we relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.
If there were no marijuana to smoke, this movement would still be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it would not be a political movement that is changing fundamental values in our country. We have political power as a movement because we are part of a community, and our marijuana smoking helps define that community.
There was a time when marijuana smokers had to make a serious effort to find a source to obtain decent marijuana, and in many parts of the country, there was frequently a “marijuana drought” for a couple of months each fall, before the new crop was harvested, when there was simply no marijuana available for consumers to buy on the black market. During those years, most high quality marijuana was imported. Some came from Canada, some from Mexico (“Acapulco Gold”). There was ganja from Jamaica, “Thai stick” from Thailand, etc. Domestic marijuana during those years was considered “ditch weed” and only smoked as a last resort.
And because of the legal risks involved importing marijuana, the price sometimes put high quality marijuana out of reach for many consumers, even if available. It was largely a connoisseur’s market.
Then the “grow America” movement took off. With seeds imported primarily from Holland and Canada, domestic marijuana growers began to produce the finest marijuana in the world. That remains the case today. Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam, for example, will find that most of the marijuana available in the famous coffee shops, while good, is simply not as strong as the marijuana available in most states today, either via the legally regulated market or on the black market.
We’re looking for basic fairness.
Flickr/Heath Alseike, Flickr/Unai Mateo – flickr.com
We still have a great deal of work to do before responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly: Job discrimination, child custody issues, and DUID are just three of the more important areas where smokers are still treated like second class citizens. And we need social clubs where we can legally socialize with our friends and others who also smoke marijuana, outside a private home.
But these reforms will come as we continue to come out of the closet and gain political strength and as more and more Americans accept the fact that we are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities in a positive manner. When we relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, tens of millions of us enjoy a joint.
Is this a great country or what?
This column first ran on ATTN.com.
NORML released our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard this week in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
With the 2016 presidential election drawing closer and statewide marijuana initiatives qualified for the ballot in nine states, we need YOU to make it out to the polls to support ending cannabis prohibition. Double-check your status as a voter and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Take a look at how we graded your members of Congress and bring that information with you to the polls on Election Day!
Federal: Members of Congress have approved a short-term spending bill that keeps in place existing provisions protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Federal lawmakers will revisit the FY 2017 spending appropriation after the Election.
California: On Tuesday, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the nation’s largest state organization of nurses, announced that it has endorsed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Deborah Burger, President of the California Nurses Association/NNU said, “California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety. California needs a new approach and Proposition 64 is carefully crafted to strictly regulate adult-use marijuana while funding critical youth programs and safeguarding children, workers and local communities.”
Proposition 64 permits 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.”
The California Nurses Association joins the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the California League of Conservative Voters, Equality California, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML in its support for Proposition 64.
If enacted by voters in November, Question 1 would allow adults to legally possess up to two and one-half ounces of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana (up to six mature plants and the entire yields of said plants) for their own personal use. The measure would also establish licensing for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis. Retail sales of cannabis would be subject to a ten percent sales tax. Non-commercial transactions and/or retail sales involving medical cannabis would not be subject to taxation.
Massachusetts: A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll finds that a majority of voters back Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The measure leads in the poll by a 53 percent to 40 percent margin.
If enacted, Question 4 allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and up to 10 ounces of marijuana in an enclosed, locked space within their residences, which mimics the current in-residence allowance established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for medical marijuana patients. It allows adults 21 years of age and older to grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their residences and possess the marijuana produced by those plants in the location where it was grown.
Tennessee: Members of the Memphis City Council are following in the footsteps of the Nashville Metro Council by approving a local ordinance to provide local police the discretion to issue $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record. Council members approved the ordinance last week in it’s second reading, with the third and final reading taking place October 4th. If you live in Memphis, consider contacting your member of City Council to urge their support for this common sense measure.
At our board meeting in Boson held this past Friday, in conjunction with the Boston Freedom Rally, the board voted to endorse the 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, sponsored by the Arkansans for Compassionate Care. This initiative would establish 38 non-profit medical cannabis centers across the state, and would function like most of the standard medical use laws in effect across the country, requiring a patient to receive a written recommendation for an Arkansas licensed physician and obtain a medical use card from the state permitting them to purchase marijuana from one of the licensed dispensaries for a wide range of ailments and conditions. Or if a patient lives more than 5 miles from a licensed dispensary they would be permitted to cultivate up to six plants in a secured facility.
The attorney representing the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is long-time NORML Legal Committee member, John Wesley Hall from Little Rock.
A second proposed medical use initiative has also qualified for the November ballot, proposing a Constitutional amendment permitting the medical use of marijuana (The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment). This second proposal is far more restrictive than the first in terms of the list of conditions for which marijuana could be recommended, and does not permit personal cultivation. It is not clear why the sponsors wished to propose this as a Constitutional amendment, as a simple act would require a 2/3 vote by the legislature to reverse it, and our opponents do not have the support in the state legislature to accomplish that.
As a result, the NORML board felt the Aransas Medical Cannabis Act is a more consumer-friendly proposal and elected to endorse it.
Strange Suit Filed By Misguided Attorney
Also, one misguided defense attorney, apparently acting as a surrogate for the sponsors of the Constitutional amendment, has filed suit against the Act that had previously qualified, challenging their signatures. The misguided individual alleged in her law suit that she is a NORML Legal Committee Life Member (although she did not allege that NORML has joined or supported her suit), but she does not attempt to explain why she would oppose a well-drafted medical use initiative that appears to have a good chance to be approved by the voters.
The NORML board of directors wanted to make it clear that NORML is not involved in this suit, nor do we think it is a helpful strategy.
Meeting at our board meeting in Boston this past Friday, held in conjunction with the Boston Freedom Rally, the national NORML board of Directors endorsed Denver Social Use Initiative 300, the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.
Under current law, marijuana can be legally smoked only in a private home, or in one of only a few marijuana-friendly hotels in the state. Most tourists and many renters have no place where they can legally consume marijuana that they legally buy in Colorado. This is not a realistic situation, and will continue to result in many people smoking in public, which is not legal in Colorado, and can result in stiff fines.
Two Competing Social Use Initiatives
There were initially two competing social use initiative being circulated in Denver. Denver NORML and Responsible Use Denver were circulating petitions for an initiative that would have allowed marijuana-only lounges and special use permits to be issued, and frankly, it was in my perspective the preferred proposal. It would have provided Amsterdam-like lounges where marijuana smokers could socialize with their marijuana smoking friends outside a private home, and it would have provided for special permits for 420 and similar events where marijuana smoking would have been legal.
And most importantly, it would not have permitted alcohol sales in the marijuana lounges, an attempt to avoid the problems often faced when alcohol drinkers imbibe too heavily, getting in fights and otherwise engendering violent and aggressive behavior. As marijuana smokers, we did not want to be blamed for these all-too-familiar alcohol-related problems.
But despite a valiant effort by Jordan Person and Judd Golden and Denver NORML supporters, the petition failed to gather a sufficient number of signatures of registered voters. It was a true grassroots effort, and Denver NORML will likely be back with another effort in the future.
An industry-backed and funded effort, Initiative 300, did make the ballot with a proposal that would permit certain bars and lounges to apply for a license that would permit marijuana edibles in restricted areas, and perhaps vaporization (although city authorities have questioned whether this would be permissible under current state law). But to obtain such a license, the applicant would first have to obtain the approval of a neighborhood advisory council, a requirement that is not likely to be met by many applicants.
Nonetheless, any proposal that recognizes the need for responsible marijuana smokers to be allowed to use marijuana outside a private home is a step in the right direction, and thus this initiative, with all of its shortcomings, still deserves our support.
So all Denver marijuana smokers need to get behind this city-wide voter initiative, and let’s continue to push the envelope until we achieve a policy that treats responsible marijuana fairly in all respects, including job discrimination, child custody issues; driving under the influence of drugs, and the right to socialize with other marijuana smokers in a public setting outside the home where we are permitted to smoke marijuana.
This year’s Presidential election will most certainly be one for the ages. As much of the campaigning prior to Election Day turns negative, NORML is here to remind marijuana law reform advocates that there remains many reasons to remain positive. On November 8, voters in nine states will go to the polls to decide statewide cannabis reforms. We want to assure that you are among them. It is up to us to make sure our supporters are motivated and have everything they need to participate in this November’s election.
In order to accomplish this goal, it is imperative that we make sure our supporters are registered to vote. Something as simple as a clerical error can cause your voting rights to be denied. Take the 2012 general election for example, more than 6 million American voters were not able to vote due to an outdated voter registration.
That’s why we’ve decided to partner with NationalVoteRegistrationDay.org, a nonprofit organization that is focused on one thing: registering more voters. Since the organization was formed, they have made it their mission to promote a national day of action and educate voters on the importance of updating their voter registration.
In the coming days, NORML will also be releasing our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard, ranking every member of Congress based on their voting history and public statements. The Scorecard, which will be available on the NORML website on Tuesday, September 27, will serve as a guide for voters this November. With five states voting to legalize the adult use of marijuana, and four states voting to legalize medical marijuana, it’s imperative that we focus our attention on utilizing our strength in numbers to mobilize support for pro-marijuana initiatives and/or candidates across the country.
While some in the media will continue to question what impact supporters of marijuana law reform will have on the outcome of this November’s election, I’m confident in our ability to prove that we can and will be an important voting block.
I hope you’ll join us for National Voter Registration Day next Tuesday, September 27, 2016 to celebrate democracy in America by registering to vote! For more information or to find out ways to help promote our efforts, please click here!