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!
What Gambling Can Tell Us About Legalizing Marijuana
I am old enough to remember when Nevada was the only state where gambling was legal. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the state legislature had legalized casino gambling as a way to stimulate their economy, create new jobs, and entice more people to the state.
For decades Nevada had a monopoly on casino gambling — that, along with legalizing “no fault” divorces, and later legalizing prostitution — when most states did not offer those options. These factors combined to give Nevada a reputation as a maverick state where people could visit to engage in naughty behavior without legal consequences. “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”
The state is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana via voter initiative (Question 2) this November, which will further enhance that reputation.
Other states obviously knew that legal gambling was an alternative that might provide an economic boost to their states as well, but the prevailing morality at the time was far too negative towards gambling for elected officials in other states to pursue. It was a time when the religious communities had successfully convinced most Americans that a life of virtue, not vices, was the path to happiness.
But social mores change over time, and as gambling began to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment, instead of a moral sin, the tax revenue and economic benefits from legal gambling were more attractive. In 1977, by voter initiative, New Jersey legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, offering an east coast version of Nevada, where gambling hedonists could legally do what they could not yet do in their own states.
And gradually the barriers banning legal gambling began to crumble nationwide, leading to a situation today in which every state has some form of legal gambling, such as state-run lotteries, albeit with strange limitations in some states (e.g., in Missouri it is illegal to gamble on land, but perfectly legal to have casinos on riverboats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, although the boats never leave the shore).
The Balancing Test.
Which leads to the question of why behavior thought by many to be inappropriate (or even morally offensive), can nonetheless sometimes be legalized? Or put another way, when is conduct with the tinge of sinfulness out-weighted by the potential for economic benefits to the states?
I raise that question because of the increasingly profitable side of legal marijuana in the states that have elected to regulate and tax marijuana. As the latest revenue data make clear, legalizing marijuana has been an enormous benefit for the few states that have taken that step, and that fact will be more and more difficult for neighboring states to ignore over the coming years. As we saw with gambling, once the economic benefits of legal marijuana are obvious, the moral opposition will fade and the economic arguments will prevail.
The Latest Data from Colorado and Washington
In Colorado, the first state to get their legal retail outlets up and running on January 1, 2014, the gross sales of marijuana, and the tax revenue to the state, have continued to rise each year. For 2015, licensed marijuana stores in the state totaled an astounding $996,184,788 – just shy of $1 billion dollars, up from $669 million in sales in 2014.
Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees last year (including $35 million dedicated to school construction), up from $76 million in 2014 (when $13.3 million was raised for schools).
In Washington state, marijuana retail sales reached $322,823,639 in 2015, up from only $30,783,880 in 2014, when retail outlets were open for only a portion of the year. That 2015 sales figure has already been eclipsed in the first seven months of 2016.
The state retail tax revenue for fiscal year 2016 from recreational marijuana sales totaled $30,017,823, while state retail sales taxes from the sale of medical marijuana totaled $5,236,536. Local retail sales tax totaled $11,228,861 from recreational sales, and local retail tax totaled $2,084,323 for medical sales.
These, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might say, are “yugee” numbers, and they are continuing to increase each year, making them more and more difficult to ignore by other states.
Marijuana Legalization is Inevitable
Which brings me to my main point. At a time when several national polls confirm that between 55 and 61 percent of the entire country now favor full legalization, it is difficult to argue that marijuana smoking is, any longer, considered immoral behavior. Sure, there are pockets of fundamental moralists to whom anything pleasurable will always be suspect behavior, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. But this puritanical perspective is finding less and less support each year, and when balanced with the economic windfall that results when a state legalizes marijuana, it simply cannot prevail.
Today a majority of Americans under 65 support marijuana legalization, particularly younger adults: 71 percent of adults under 35 think marijuana use should be legal, a jump of 10 points since last year. The demographics are clear and unstoppable, as younger voters replace those over 65.
Just as all states now have some form of legal gambling, within a few short years, all states will offer some form of legal marijuana. It’s the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do; and it’s inevitable in a democracy, when most people want it.
This column originally ran on ATTN:
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.
Like most Americans who follow the debate over marijuana legalization in this country, I was disappointed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week once again determined that marijuana has no medical use and left it in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Disappointed, but not surprised.
NORML first petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule back in 1973, and we have been involved in two subsequent attempts to accomplish the same result, without success. The DEA is a law enforcement agency. So they will continue to oppose any steps to loosen controls over marijuana until Congress forces them to change.
A Brief History of Rescheduling Attempts.
The initial petition NORML filed to reschedule marijuana in 1973 ended up being an endurance test. The agency refused to even acknowledge our petition or respond to it until we went to the court of appeals and forced them to respond. And this strategy of ignore and delay continued at every step, dragging the process out for 15 years until 1988, when DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, following days of testimony, finally ruled in our favor.
The ruling concluded that “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
Judge Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”
However, the DEA Administrator simply ignored the decision of his own hearing examiner and rejected our petition, claiming the hearing examiner had relied on anecdotal evidence. NORML again appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the court allowed the Administrator’s decision to stand, saying he had acted within his discretion.
And twice in the intervening decades NORML has been a party to subsequent attempts to require the DEA to reschedule marijuana; and both times, as they did in this most recent case, the DEA continued to insist that marijuana has no medical usefulness and should remain on Schedule I, along with heroin.
So I hope readers will understand when I say, “Enough is enough! Time to ignore the DEA altogether and focus our efforts on Congress.”
How Marijuana Ended Up on Schedule I in the First Place.
When the federal Controlled Substances Act was being considered by Congress in 1970 — after the prior federal anti-marijuana act had been held unconstitutional — various members of Congress debated the question of where to place marijuana under the new act. A separate provision of that new law established The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Marijuana Commission), which was charged with the responsibility of determining the appropriate policy regarding marijuana and reporting back to Congress. A compromise was reached to temporarily place marijuana in Schedule I until the commission came back with their report.
When the commission came back with its marijuana report in 1972, they recommended that minor marijuana offenses be decriminalized, which would have made it available (again) as a medicine. (Marijuana was on the U.S. Pharmacopeia from the mid-1850s until 1937, and it was available by prescription and widely prescribed for several conditions.)
However, those recommendations were not accepted by then-Presdient Nixon or Congress, and marijuana was left in Schedule I, where it remains today.
In fact, what Congress should really do, and what NORML has been arguing for some time, is to totally de-schedule marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and treat it as we do alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.
Bills Pending In Congress.
There are currently several bills pending in Congress that, if adopted, would resolve this matter. HR 1774, the Compassionate Access Act, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Rep. Dana Rorhabacher (R-Calif.), would require that marijuana be rescheduled and would prohibit federal officials from interfering in state-compliant activities specific to the physician-authorized use or distribution of medical cannabis.
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently introduced S.2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, that would de-schedule cannabis from the CSA and treat it like alcohol and tobacco.
Of course, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing or given a vote — even in committee. But those conditions may change following the upcoming election in November, and we may well have the opportunity to move a rescheduling proposal forward in the next Congress.
So instead of trying to convince the DEA that they should act responsibly and compassionately and lower marijuana to a more appropriate schedule under federal law, or remove it entirely, it is now time to put our efforts behind a push to convince the next Congress to solve this problem directly.
This column originally appeared on ATTN.com.
The latest Gallup Poll, based on polling conducted from July 13-17, 2016, reports that 13% of adults in the US are current marijuana smokers, and 43% have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives. According to Gallup, the numbers of adults acknowledging their personal use of marijuana has risen from 7% in 2013 to 11% in 2015; and to 13% in 2016.
This may surprise some marijuana smokers, who tend to choose their friends (at least partially) based on their mutual enjoyment of marijuana, and to whom it may seem as if a majority of Americans are current smokers, but the great majority of Americans are not current marijuana users.
The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it — at least double the rate seen among each older age group.
In addition, religiosity appears to be a key determinant for current marijuana usage, with only 2% of those who report regular church attendance and 7% of those who report frequent church attendance acknowledging current marijuana usage. Apparently marijuana smoking is still considered bad behavior, or “sinful,” among some religious communities.
How Are We Winning Politically?
Which raises the obvious question: how is the legalization of marijuana continuing to move forward politically in more and more states if only one out of 8 Americans are current users? The answer: you don’t have to be a marijuana smoker to oppose prohibition.
Most of us support gay rights, although most of us are not gay or lesbian; and most of us support equality for all minorities, while by definition most of us are not minorities. Most Americans seek to treat others in a fair manner, despite our gender or racial differences, or our sexual preferences. And the same is true about marijuana smokers.
A majority of the non-smokers have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy that causes more harm to society than the use of marijuana itself. They favor an end to marijuana prohibition, although they are not “pro-pot.” In fact, a recent poll by The Third Way discovered that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the non-smokers who favor legalization continue to hold an unfavorable impression of recreational marijuana smokers. They do not believe we should be treated like criminals, but neither do they approve of our marijuana usage.
Current Support Levels
From a low of only 12% public support for legalization when NORML was founded in 1970, we have seen those support levels build gradually over four decades, as Americans became more familiar with marijuana and less fearful of the possible harm from responsible marijuana smoking. Gallup first found a majority of Americans supporting full legalization in 2013, and their most recent data (released in October, 2015) finds the current support level at 58%. Several other national polls find similar support levels, with one 2016 Associated Press poll finding support at 61%.
All of which suggests that we have largely won the hearts and minds of most adult Americans, including a majority of those who do not smoke. And that is really all we need to continue forward politically. We don’t need to “turn-on” more Americans. Rather we need to continue to demonstrate that responsible marijuana smokers present no threat to non-smokers, or to society as a whole.
So long as we do that, a clear majority of Americans are willing to respect our right to smoke marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax at the end of the day. Thankfully a majority of Americans understand and support the concept of personal privacy.