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!
One of the next frontiers in the political battles for marijuana smokers is the need to provide venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers in a marijuana-friendly lounge. Under current laws in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, it is perfectly legal for smokers to possess specified amounts of marijuana, but they are only legally allowed to exercise their newly won freedom in their home or as a guest in someone else’s home.
Holland-style coffee shops, or marijuana lounges were not legalized by those early voter initiatives.
This is particularly important to the many tourists who visit those states, as most will have nowhere legal to smoke their legal cannabis. Most hotels don’t allow cannabis consumption, and public marijuana smoking is outlawed – meaning there are a lot of people with no place to go to enjoy their legal bud.
That is about to change.
Can you imagine for a moment what the alcohol scene would look like today if alcohol drinkers were precluded from drinking at bars, and only allowed to drink alcohol in a private home? That would largely eliminate the lively night life scene in every city in America, and it would surely result in the rise of speakeasies, clandestine illegal bars similar to those that arose in several states before the end of alcohol prohibition.
It is equally absurd to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana, once it is legalized, will have to limit their marijuana smoking to private homes. There is absolutely no policy justification for this limitation, and smokers will always find a way around it.
The choice: Regulate smoking lounges or smoke-easies will proliferate.
It is the nature of a free market. If the government does not license and regulate the market, those willing to operate in the “grey zone” will fill the void and develop venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers. There are currently smoke-easies operating in many cities, in states that have legalized marijuana. But because these are not technically legal, the state and local jurisdiction does not receive the tax revenue, nor can they regulate the qualify or safety of the product. When marijuana is being sold illegally, the products are not tested in a certified laboratory for molds and pesticides, nor is there any way to assure the labeling is accurate as to the strength of the drug.
Marijuana smoking is a social activity better enjoyed with friends, so the only real question is whether these marijuana-friendly clubs will continue to be clandestine, or whether they will be licensed and regulated and above ground.
A licensed and regulated system, with age controls, is far preferable to grey market “smoke-easies.”
This push for smoking lounges is currently being principally fought in Alaska, within the state agency developing the rules for legal marijuana in that state; and in Denver, where two versions for social marijuana use were competing for the November ballot.
The situation in Alaska.
First, let’s look at the Alaska situation. Last November, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board issued draft regulations to define when and where “on-site consumption” would be permitted. The proposed regulations have for several months been open for public comment and were expected to be approved this past week, but that vote has now been delayed until October.
While the proposed regulations are still tentative, marijuana cafes would be permitted in Alaska only in conjunction with an existing marijuana retail store, on the same premises, either indoor or outdoor, but with a separate entrance and separate serving area. A separate license would be required for on-site consumption.
Customers could purchase small amounts of marijuana (1 gram of marijuana, edibles with up to 10 milligrams of THC, or .25 grams of marijuana concentrates) to consume on-site and would not be permitted to bring their own marijuana to smoke on-site. Strangely, an early version of the regulations said the legal smokers would be required to leave any unfinished marijuana behind to be destroyed, although this was met with some strong opposition, and has now been deleted. Customers would now be permitted to reseal their unused marijuana and take it with them. Also, marijuana “happy hours” would not be permitted, although marijuana lounges would be permitted to sell food and non-alcohol beverages.
It appears that Alaska may well become the first state to license marijuana lounges, some of which could be up and running within a few months. It is incredibly important for the legalization movement nationwide for a couple of states to move forward to experiment with new marijuana-friendly venues, to serve as a living experiment, which other states can evaluate when they are facing these same issues down the road. If the initial experience with marijuana lounges is generally successful, and if the lounges do not present any unintended consequences in the communities they serve, other states that legalize marijuana will want to incorporate this specific wrinkle in their policy.
Alaska is set to be our first social use club demonstration.
The Denver, Colorado experience.
Denver presents a different situation, as there the effort to legalize social use venues is being fought by way of a city-wide voter initiative. In fact, there were two competing marijuana lounge initiatives being circulated this fall.
One (proposed by Denver NORML and the Committee for the Responsible Use Initiative in Denver) that would have established licenses for marijuana only (no alcohol) social use clubs and for special events, was a grass-roots undertaking, and despite a valiant effort, the sponsors fell short of the required number of registered voters (5,000), so that proposal will not be on the ballot this fall.
Jordan Person, the chief advocate, said she was surprised by the number of rejected signatures for the group’s private clubs initiative, adding that it underlined the need for more voter registration drives.
“You know, we’re not going to stop,” she told me, arguing that private clubs are the better solution to the need for places where people, including tourists, can consume marijuana together.
The second proposal for social use clubs was proposed at the last minute, offered as a competing initiative by the Cannabis Consumption Committee, an industry group that had qualified a similar measure for the ballot in 2015 before pulling it from the ballot at the last minute, in a failed attempt to work with the City Council. Over a thirty-day period, with industry funding, the group managed to collect 10,800 signatures to qualify.
(One would naturally ask why there would be competing social use voter initiatives; were they so different that a reasonable compromise could not have been reached, offering a united social use initiative? The answer, of course, is that individual personalities and egos naturally get involved, and in this case, despite an extraordinary effort by Denver NORML attorney Judd Golden and Executive Director Jordan Person to reach an accord with the industry group, in the end, a compromise was not possible. So we were left with two competing social use initiatives being circulated for signatures in Denver.)
The initiative that did qualify for the ballot would permit certain bars and restaurants to obtain a social use license in which marijuana edibles and vaporizers could be used, but no marijuana could be smoked (because of Colorado’s strong indoor clean air act), and approval would have to be obtained from neighborhood groups and business improvement districts before any such license could be awarded. This requirement may well prove a somewhat challenging proposition in today’s world of NIMBY (not in my backyard), as neighborhood groups may be fearful of the social consequences of allowing marijuana products to be consumed in conjunction with alcohol.
The proposal would establish a four-year pilot program, requiring the city to study the measure’s effectiveness. By the end of 2020, the City Council could allow it to expire, make it permanent or tweak its provisions.
So we are left in Denver with a proposal that we should all support, as it moves us a little closer to the goal of being allowed to smoke marijuana with friends in a social setting, outside a private home. But it remains to be seen how many neighborhood associations are likely to allow the issuance of licenses. Nonetheless, it does recognize the need for responsible marijuana smokers to have a place to congregate where they can socialize with other smokers. And we should all do what we can to get the Denver social use initiative approved by the voters in November.
It’s certainly not a perfect social use initiative, assuming the goal remains to treat marijuana like alcohol, but as this is new territory for the legalization movement, we should use this proposal to try to demonstrate that social use clubs are a viable alternative to the current policy of limiting marijuana smoking to a private home.
The most current polling suggests the proposal is favored by a clear majority (56 percent) of voters in Denver.
Laboratories of democracy.
As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” The city of Denver and the state of Alaska are exercising that important role as we move forward with new and improved versions of legalization. What we learn from these initial experiments with marijuana social clubs will inform subsequent cities and states in the coming years.
Statewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.
With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalization” measure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.
“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”
To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email email@example.com today!