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  • by Dan Viets, Executive Director, Missouri NORML June 20, 2017
    Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

    Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

    Federal courts have recently rejected the actions of university and college administrators who sought to inflict suspicionless drug tests on students at a public college and to restrict the First Amendment rights of marijuana law reformers at a public university.  Both decisions have important national implications.

    Linn Tech Student Drug Testing Case

    In 2011, Linn State Technical College administrators declared that they intended to drug test every student who applied for admission to the small, state-funded college located in Osage County, Missouri, a short distance east of Jefferson City.  No other public college or university in America had pursued such a program.  It seemed clear to those who follow such matters that college and university students have the same rights as other adults to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  While private institutions are not bound by the restraints of the Fourth Amendment, public tax-supported institutions are.  Nonetheless, Linn Tech seemed determined to pursue inflicting random, suspicionless drug testing on their students.

    Tony Rothert, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri, filed suit against Linn Tech.  I filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, working with Alex Kreit, a law professor from San Diego.

    U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey, sitting in Jefferson City, subsequently issued a decision prohibiting such testing, with a few narrowly-drawn exceptions for those participating in training programs involving heavy machinery or high-voltage electricity.

    Linn Tech appealed that decision to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  Legal scholars were shocked when a three-judge panel of that Court later sided with Linn Tech.  In a decision which many believed ignored legal precedent and logic, two of three judges on the panel which initially heard the case sided with Linn Tech.

    Mr. Rothert then filed for a rehearing of the case by the full 11-judge Court.  Such hearings are rarely granted, but in this case, the Motion was granted.  Following that rehearing, all but two of the judges on the full Court sided with the students and the ACLU, overturning the decision of the three-judge panel.

    Still not satisfied, Linn Tech squandered more public tax money pursuing a Petition for Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  Civil libertarians were concerned that the current high Court might indeed overturn the Eighth Circuit if it had accepted that Petition for review.  However, on June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review in this matter.  Therefore, the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court is now the final decision in this matter.  Linn Tech administrators have reluctantly acknowledged that they must now follow the Constitution and abandon their effort to impose suspicionless drug testing on their students.

    Iowa State University NORML Censorship Case

    In another important case closely watched by many across the nation, members of the NORML Chapter at Iowa State University in 2012 applied for approval to print t-shirts which contained the name of the university-recognized organization and included an image of the school’s mascot, “Cy, the Cyclone”.  University administrators first approved those t-shirts, but when the ISU NORML Chapter asked to reprint them, the university caved in to pressure from legislative staff people who had complained that it appeared the university was supporting marijuana legalization.

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed suit on behalf of the officers of the Iowa State University NORML Chapter, alleging content and viewpoint discrimination.  The lawsuit sought to prevent university administrators from treating the NORML Chapter differently from other university-recognized student organizations.  The federal district court in Iowa sided with the students and against the university.  The university appealed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which issued a decision in February of this year upholding the federal district judge’s ruling.

    Iowa State University administrators then asked the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court to reconsider its decision.  The Court did so, which caused many to fear that they might change their minds.

    However, on June 13, 2017, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court reaffirmed its earlier decision and went even further, holding that university administrators who prevented the ISU NORML Chapter from using the university’s trademarked images were individually liable for their actions and could, therefore, be ordered to pay damages from their own pockets!

    Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

    The federal appellate court sent a loud and clear message to university administrators that they are required to respect the Constitutional rights of students, including those who advocate for reform of the marijuana laws.

    While Iowa State could do as Linn Tech administrators did and continue to squander more public tax money pursuing an ill-considered position, it is not at all likely the U.S. Supreme Court would grant further review in this matter.

    Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

    These two decisions have reaffirmed the rights of college and university students to be free from random, suspicionless drug testing and to speak out for drug law reform without censorship by administrators..

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 16, 2017

    Marijuana medicineToday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy convened its first meeting of President Trump’s “Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.”

    The Commission is tasked with making recommendations for improving the Federal response to opioid misuse and abuse.

    Best evidence informs us that medical marijuana access is associated with reduced levels of opioid-related abuse, hospitalization, and mortality. Nonetheless, this administration continues to express skepticism with regard to the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.

    Today in The Hill newspaper, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano writes:

    With opioid overdose deaths having risen four-fold since 1999, it is imperative that lawmakers and public health experts approach this issue with an open mind and remain willing to entertain all potential alternatives.

    For many patients, cannabis provides a safe and effective substitute for the use of opioids and other potentially harmful substances. Committee members should set their political ideologies aside and give strong consideration to this rapidly growing body of scientific evidence.

    You can read the full piece in The Hill by clicking here.

    It is crucial that our government hear from us. Click here to send a message to the Commission urging them to include medical marijuana as part of any national response to the opioid crisis.

  • by Troy Smit, Communications Director, Empire State NORML June 15, 2017

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    Lobby Day
    The Drug Policy Alliance, along with other campaign pillar groups Empire State NORML, VOCAL-NY, Cannabis Cultural Association, LatinoJustice and the Immigrant Defense Project, held a press conference and lobby day to announce the Start Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade (Start SMART) campaign to advocate for the substantially amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this past Monday, June 12th.

    Dozens of activists from all around the state took buses, drove cars and rode trains to Albany to join the campaign in launching and lobbying for the legalization bill. After the excellent citizen lobby day training provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group split up to divide and conquer before the press conference hitting as many offices as they could as well as attending scheduled meetings.

    In the afternoon the press conference was held in front of the Senate Chambers. Joining advocates at the press conference were the MRTA’s prime sponsors in both houses, Senator Liz Krueger (D-New York) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), as well as key MRTA sponsors including: Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-New York), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), Senator Jesse Hamilton (IDC-Brooklyn), Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx). We also heard from representatives of Start SMART pillar groups, Drug Policy Alliance (Kassandra Frederique), Empire State NORML (Doug Greene), LatinoJustice (Juan Cartagena), VOCAL-NY (Nick Malinowski), Immigrant Defense Project (Mizue Aizeki) and Cannabis Cultural Association (Nelson Guerrero and Jacob Plowden).

    Afterwards the group of dedicated activists went back to work. Some went to the Senate and Assembly chambers to pull their members off the floor to seek their support of the new bill, while others continued dropping off materials at the offices of legislators who have voted for further decriminalization but haven’t supported taxation and regulation of marijuana.

    The Start SMART campaign

    The substantially amended MRTA would reestablish a legal market for marijuana in New York and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and the craft brewery industry, for adults over the age of 21. Over the past twenty years, nearly 800,000 people have been negatively affected by the harms of prohibition. With people of color accounting for nearly 85% of those arrested annually for possession, the collateral consequences are felt most in these communities. Because of the racial injustice caused by prohibition, the bill is not only an end to prohibition in New York, but also a win in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Significant steps are taken to ensure that those most negatively affected by prohibition will benefit from its repeal.

    The reworked Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) includes substantial racial justice and small business-friendly amendments, including:

    • Creating a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
    • Establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
    • Ensuring diversity in New York’s marijuana industry by removing barriers to access like capital requirements and building inclusivity by allowing licensing to people with prior drug convictions. Only people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) will be explicitly barred from receiving licenses

    Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition, including Empire State NORML.

    NY resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the bill. 

    Make sure to visit Empire State NORML’s website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

    Click here to see the press release from earlier in the week. and click here to go to the Start SMART NY website

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director

    In a recent letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wrote a pointed letter regarding the Department of Justice and it’s posturing to implement a crackdown of lawful state medical marijuana programs.

    The full letter:

    Dear Attorney General Sessions:

    Last year, the Pennsylvania passed bipartisan legislation to legalize Medical Marijuana that I was proud to sign into law. The legislation was the result of conversations with Republicans and Democrats and fierce advocacy from families of children who were stricken with terrible illness that could be helped by Medical Marijuana.

    We talked to kids who suffer dozens of seizures in a given day. We met veterans who have seen absolute terror and seek relief from the effects of their post-traumatic stress. We approached the responsibility of providing relief to the people of Pennsylvania very thoughtfully.

    Since I signed the legislation, we have taken very careful and deliberate steps to implement the law so that those who are suffering can get relief while ensuring that the state is a responsible steward of the program.

    Given the bipartisan and medical consensus for Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania and many other states, I am disturbed to know that you are actively pursuing a change in federal law to go after medical marijuana suppliers.

    We do not need the federal government getting in the way of Pennsylvania’s right to deliver them relief through our new medical marijuana program.

    Your action to undo the protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the use federal funds to disrupt states’ efforts to implement “their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana” is misguided.

    If you seek to further disrupt our ability to establish a legal way to deliver relief of medical marijuana to our citizens, I will ask the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to take legal action to protect our residents and state sovereignty.

    Sincerely,

    Governor Tom Wolf

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo by Gage Skidmore

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
    Photo by Gage Skidmore

    This comes in response to a recently revealed private letter that Jeff Sessions sent to Congressional leadership requesting that the DOJ be permitted to target and prosecute state-licensed medical cannabis facilities, currently prohibited by a spending rider known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

    “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote, “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

    Jeff Sessions actually seems to believe that lawful medical marijuana patients, i.e. sick people, are causing the violent crime and contributing to transnational drug trafficking.

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned about federal marijuana policy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week and he brought up current DOJ policy and left the door wide open to a potential crackdown.

    “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect. Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana,” stated Rosenstein, “So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

    The Cole Memo, is a Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

    But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, Wolf and other state politicians are taking action. Recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a letter to the new U.S. Attorney General and to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin calling on them to uphold the Obama Administration’s largely ‘hands off’ policies toward marijuana legalization, as outlined in the Cole Memo.

    “Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

    Click here to send a message to your member of Congress to urge them to force the Department of Justice to respect state marijuana laws and then visit http://norml.org/act to support other efforts in your state and federally.

    PA resident? Click here to send a message to your state lawmakers to support the effort to decriminalize marijuana in the Keystone State.

  • by NORML June 13, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesDeputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned about federal marijuana policy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today and his responses were disconcerting to say the least.

    Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Rosenstein about the current tension between state and federal marijuana laws.

    “We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states. It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids… I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science,” said Rosenstein, “And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict.”

    He further elaborated on the Trump Administration’s view of the Cole Memo, which was issued by President Obama’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which lays out guidelines for marijuana businesses operating in medical and legal states if they wish to avoid federal interference.

    “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect. Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana,” stated Rosenstein, “So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

    He also said that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”

    After testifying in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he also appeared before its House counterpart.

    Representative Kilmer (D-WA) further questioned the Deputy Attorney General on the Cole Memo and the Department of Justice’s pending review of it, asking for an update on Attorney General Jeff Sessions view on it.

    Rosenstein responded: “I do not have an update. I can tell you, it’s a very complicated issue for us. Under federal law as passed by the Congress, and given the science concerning marijuana, it’s a Schedule I controlled substance. That’s a decision I’ve talked with (DEA) Administrator Rosenberg about. Some states have taken a different approach and legalized or decriminalized marijuana for medical use and in some cases recreational use…The question of whether it’s legal under federal law is resolved because Congress has passed a law — it’s illegal. Scientists have found that there’s no accepted medical use for it. Cole made an effort to examine the issue and find a way forward for the department where we could continue with our obligation to enforce federal law and minimize the intrusion on states that were attempting to follow a different path.”

    Despite these critiques, Rosenstein stated any revisions are likely to happen further down the road.

    “For the moment the Cole memo remains our policy. There may be an opportunity to review it in the future, but at the moment I’m not aware of any proposal to change it. But I think we’re all going to have to deal with it in the future.”

    You can watch the exchange on CSPAN by clicking HERE

    Send a message to your member of Congress to support legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition by clicking HERE. 

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