As an American citizen, it is easy to become cynical about citizen participation in democracy. Even the most basic form of participation, voting, can be difficult in the United States. Unlike most nations, who hold elections on a holiday or have mandatory voting requirements, the US holds elections on Tuesdays. When many people cannot vote, whether for time reasons or restrictive state laws, it is a struggle, for those of us enthused about participating in democracy, to watch less than 60 percent of the electorate turnout for a presidential election. One of the proposed reasons for the problem is a lack of voter efficacy. Voters don’t feel as if their voice is being heard. But stories of voters successfully influencing lawmakers are common, if not always reported.
Recently, House Republicans revealed a plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The new body proposed by the GOP would have been a blow to anyone in support of governmental transparency. Unable to report its findings to the public, the proposed Office of Congressional Complaint Review would have even further clouded general understanding of what occurs behind closed doors in the legislative branch. However, congressional offices were subsequently flooded with calls and messages from angry constituents. Less than 24 hours later, the GOP changed course and backpedaled. After tremendous public pressure, the government radically changed its course in a short span of time.
Simply making a phone call, sending an email or Facebook message to a representative, or retweeting a congress member’s phone number (which occurred thousands of times because of the ethics committee plan) can make a difference on the national level. However, many success stories about citizen participation can be found among the lower levels of the federal system. State and local governments are, at least in theory, designed to be more supportive of and responsive to individual citizens. Examples to support this theory is strong. States are known as “laboratories of democracy” and are often ahead of the federal government in terms of cutting edge policy.
One only has to look at success stories like gay marriage or marijuana legislation in several states to see the effect of citizen participation on policy outcomes. We can see with both cases that state policy often follows national public opinion trends. When the tipping point came in regards to gay marriage, it was state judges and lawmakers that first instituted protections for the LGBTQ community. Organizations like Freedom to Marry and the American Civil Liberties Union penned action alerts to their members day after day pleading with them to contact their state representatives. And when the people spoke, politicians listened, and change happened.
Marijuana legislation is following a similar path with organizations including NORML are creating a similar avalanche effect of states legalizing that will ultimately culminate in national legalization if sustained.
To speed up the process one only has to get involved. It is easy to sit back and watch while progress occurs, but it is rewarding to be a part of such a movement. Emailing, calling, and having meetings with your representatives in a constructive way is simple and effective to push change.
If the government is doing something that we as a citizenry do not approve of, we have the right to be heard. Although the mechanisms of government are far from perfect, it our duty as a dedicated and informed public is to try the best we can, in every way we can.
Sign up for our email list to get our action alerts, keep checking the NORML action page for federal legislation and in your home state at http://norml.org/act, talk to your friends and neighbors about getting involved, join a NORML chapter or start your own at http://norml.org/chapters, and never, ever, stop fighting.
For marijuana activists in states with legal marijuana, the strategy quickly moves from legalization to normalization, but for some communities like Ferndale, California, the stigma remains. For months, organizers of the Humboldt County Cup and the Ferndale Police Department have gone back and forth over the decision to host their event at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Citing past complaints from the community and concerns about the reggae music that was to be played during the event, local law enforcement never specified what laws, if any, would be violated.
“Smith-Caggiano — who is the executive director of the Humboldt County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — said the Ferndale Police Department never cited any legal codes to back up their concerns despite requests for them to do so.”
Regardless of receiving approval from the Humboldt County Fair Association, Mr. Smith-Caggiano was ultimately forced by the Ferndale Police Department to move the event location to the Mateel Community Center, located at 59 Rusk Lane, Redway, California 95560.
According to the Associated Press, voters in Montana have approved Initiative 182, the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Associated Press’s final vote count is 58 to 42 percent.
“This decision restores the rights of patients and providers,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “Voters were clear in 2004 when they initially enacted the state’s medical law, and they remain resolved in their opinion that state lawmakers ought not to restrict patients access to medical cannabis.”
I-182 expands the state’s medical marijuana laws. It permits licensed medical marijuana providers to serve more than three patients at one time and allows for providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport medical marijuana. I-182 repeals the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners. It removes the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, and requires annual inspections by the state.
The new law takes effect on June 30, 2017. You can read the full text of the initiative here.
According to the Associated Press, voters in Arkansas have approved Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. The AP’s final vote count is 53 to 47 percent.
“Thanks to the support of Arkansas voters, their state now joins the majority of states in this country in allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. This will provide patients with access to a safe and effective medicine and apply further pressure on Congress and the incoming administration to bring federal policy in line with the overwhelming will of the American people.” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s new Executive Director.
Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, amends the state constitution to permit qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation may legally possess and obtain medical cannabis provided by state licensed dispensaries. The home cultivation of cannabis is not permitted under the law. Under the law, regulators will license up to 40 dispensary providers and up to eight marijuana cultivators.
The new law takes effect on November 9, 2016. Regulators have 120 days following the law’s enactment to develop rules overseeing the new medical marijuana program.
A summary of the Amendment is available here.
According to the Associated Press, voters in California have approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The AP’s final vote count is 56 to 44 percent.
“What California voters did tonight was not just approve the legalization and regulation of marijuana in their state, they also delivered a near fatal body blow to federal prohibition. This victory in California ensures another 12% of the United States population will wake up tomorrow in a state with the legalized adult use of marijuana. Combined with our other recent victories, federal prohibition is truly on its last legs and it is just a matter of time before federal policy is reformed to accept this new reality.” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s new Executive Director.
Proposition 64, The Adult Use Marijuana Act, permits adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrates) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. (Medical cannabis patients are not subject to these limits.) The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative does not “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Several other marijuana-related activities not legalized by the measure are reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. The law also provides for resentencing consideration for those found guilty of prior marijuana convictions.
“California has long been the largest domestic producer of marijuana in the United States, and cannabis commerce has long been a driver of the world’s sixth largest economy,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “Passage of Prop. 64 brings this massive underground market above ground for the first time so that these activities may be regulated and transparent, and will generate over a billion dollars of needed new tax revenue to state and local governments.”
The revised marijuana penalties take effect on November 9, 2016. Retail sales of marijuana by state-licensed establishments are scheduled to begin under the law on January 1, 2018. On site consumption is permitted under the law in establishments licensed for such activity. Large-scale corporate players are restricted from becoming involved until 2023.
You can read the full text of the initiative here. Congratulations California!