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Policy

  • 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. 

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director May 20, 2017

    revolutionbumperWelcome to this week’s edition of the NORML legislative roundup!

    This year, it seems that multiple states are vying for the honor of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process and four of them had movement this week. Ranked most-to-least likely, here is the action we saw in the last 7 days:

    Vermont: S. 22, to eliminate civil and criminal penalties specific to the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults has been transmitted to Governor Phil Scott.

    If signed or simply ignored, (aka not vetoed by the Governor), the measure will legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and the cultivation of two mature marijuana and four immature plants in a private residence beginning July 1, 2018. The Act will become law in lieu of action by the Governor Wednesday due to the procedural processes of the Vermont.

    Connecticut (tied for 2nd): Senate and House Democrats are lobbying for provisions to permit the retail sale of marijuana to adults as a way to address the state’s estimated $5 billion budget gap. The proposal would initially permit state-licensed dispensaries to sell cannabis to non-patients, and then establish regulations to oversee the establishment of commercial producers and retailers.

    The proposed plan is estimated to yield about $60 million in additional revenue for the state next fiscal year, and $180 million by 2018-19.

    Rhode Island (tied for 2nd): Members of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced H. 5551 to create a study commission on May 17, but failed to call H. 5555 The Adult Use of Cannabis Act for a vote. The study bill now awaits action on the House floor while H. 5555 is likely dead for this session. Yet several lawmakers are now working on a compromise approach which would enact several provisions of legalization similar to Vermont this year and then let decisions on issues like edibles, product testing, business licensing and local opt-out be triggered by a study commission’s recommendations.

    New Jersey (distant 4th): Legislation has been introduced by State Sen. Nicholas Scutari to legalize and regulate the adult use, production, and retail sale of marijuana. Yet in his last year as Governor, Chris Christie has made it clear that he will not sign such legislation, however it does position the Garden State well to pass legalization next year as Gov. Christie is term-limited out.

    At the Federal level, in the House, Representatives  Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) have introduced The Respect States and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2017, HR 2528, which would protect states that have ended prohibition at the state level from federal interference. This bill is substantially similar to that of HR 965, the bipartisan Respect State Marijuana Laws Act introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

    Additionally, the bipartisan Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act was introduced to allow marijuana businesses access to basic banking services.

    Following are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

    Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

    Thanks for all you do and keep fighting,
    Justin

    Priority Alerts

    Federal
    Respect State Marijuana Laws: On May 18, Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Diane DeGette (D-CO) introduced HR 2528, The Respect States and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2017.

    Click here to send your member of Congress a message to support the bill. 

    Bank Safely: Currently, banks face the threat of federal sanction for working with marijuana-related businesses and entrepreneurs. The SAFE Banking Act (Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act) would extend protections to banks from the federal government, thus allowing responsible businesses access to basic banking services.

    Click here to send both your Senators and Representative a message to support these measures.

    Join The Caucus: With public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all time high, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) earlier this year formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.

    Click here to email your Member of Congress to urge them to join the Congressional Cannabis Caucus

    Connecticut
    Senate and House Democrats are lobbying for provisions to permit the retail sale of marijuana to adults as a way to address the state’s estimated $5 billion budget gap.

    CT resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of legalization.

    Nevada
    Senate legislation is pending, SB 236, introduced by Sen. Tick Segerblom to regulate the social use of cannabis.

    The measure allows select businesses to apply for licensing to permit adult marijuana use on their premises. It would also allow event organizers to seek permits to allow adult use at specific events.

    Update: SB236 passed out of the Assembly Government Operations Committee on May 16.

    NV resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of marijuana social clubs.

    New Jersey
    Legislation has been introduced by State Sen. Nicholas Scutari to legalize and regulate the adult use, production, and retail sale of marijuana.

    According to a 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll, nearly six in ten New Jersey adults support “legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over.” Similar percentages of voters through the country also endorse legalization.

    NJ resident? Click here in support of legalization in the Garden State

    Rhode Island
    Several lawmakers are now working on a compromise approach which would enact several provisions of legalization similar to Vermont this year and then let decisions on issues like edibles, product testing, business licensing and local opt-out be triggered by a study commission’s recommendations.

    RI resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of legalization

    Vermont
    S. 22, to completely depenalize marijuana, was transmitted to the Governor on May 18. Governor Phil Scott has until the end of Wednesday May 24 to either sign or veto the legislation, and should he not act, the bill will go into effect by default.

    VT resident? Click here to send a message to Governor Scott in support of legalization

    Other Actions to Take

    Delaware
    Senate Bill 24 has been introduced by Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry to make it easier for those suffering from PTSD to obtain their medicine.

     

    DE resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of those with PTSD

    New York
    A pair of bills are pending in the Senate to expand patients’ access to medical cannabis.

    Senate Bill 6092 expands the pool of patients eligible for medical cannabis access to include those with Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other debilitating diseases. It also removes arbitrary caps imposed on the amount of THC permitted in oral products.

    Senate Bill 6308 allows for additional cannabis providers to operate in the state in order to improve patients’ access.

    NY resident? Click here to express your support for these measures to your lawmakers.

     

     

     

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director May 13, 2017

    revolutionbumperWelcome to this week’s edition of the NORML legislative roundup!

    So much to talk about this week, so let’s start with our favorite villain, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This week, Sessions superseded the 2010 Holder Memo, regarding DOJ’s policy on charging and sentencing decisions – establishing what I like to now refer to as The Sessions Doctrine, in which he directed the the thousands of assistant U.S. attorneys to pursue “the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

    NPR reports:

    Holder had asked prosecutors to avoid slapping nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carried mandatory minimum sentences, practices that, as NPR’s Tamara Keith explains, “give judges and prosecutors little discretion over the length of a prison term if a suspect is convicted.” Holder’s recommendation had been aimed partly at helping reduce burgeoning prison populations in the U.S.

    Now, if prosecutors wish to pursue lesser charges for these low-level crimes, they will need to obtain approval for the exception from a U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general or another supervisor.

     

    This is yet another clear example of the Trump administrations escalation the failed War on Drugs.

    On a much brighter note, things moved quite a bit at the state level in 3 key battles.

    Delaware: Members of the House Revenue and Finance Committee voted 7 to 2 on May 10 to move HB 110 to the House floor. Because the measure seeks to amend criminal penalties, it requires a two-thirds majority from House members to move to the Senate for further consideration. The vote marks the first time the “1st State” that lawmakers have ever approved legislation seeking to legalize and regulate the adult use marijuana market.

    Iowa: In a last minute deal by Iowa state lawmakers and signed by the Govenor, an amended version of HF 524 is now the law of the land. The measure expands the state’s existing CBD exemption law, which was set to sunset this year, and expands it. Specifically, HF 524 permits patients with various qualifying conditions, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS and HIV, Crohn’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, to possess CBD with up to 3% THC. The bill also seeks to establish regulations for the manufacturing and dispensing of CBD products within the state.

    New Hampshire: Members of the Senate on May 11 voted 17 to 6 in favor of HB 640, to decriminalize marijuana in “The Granite State.” Because the Senate amended the bill’s language, it must return to the House for a concurrence vote, where it is expected to easily pass. Once reconciled, the bill goes to Governor Sununu, who has time and again affirmed his support for decriminalization.

    Vermont: S. 22, to eliminate civil and criminal penalties specific to the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults has been passed by the Vermont legislature.

    If not vetoed by the Governor, the measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and the cultivation of two mature marijuana and four immature plants in a private residence.

    Vermont would become the first state to completely depenalize the simple possession and cultivation of marijuana by the legislative process, thus breaking a stigma for legislators throughout the country.

    Unfortunately, in Texas, while we saw historic process to both establish a medical marijuana program and decriminalize the plant in the state, our efforts came up short this year as the deadline for floor votes came and past on Thursday.

    Texas NORML organized in a heroic fashion and I must give a special shoutout to their Executive Director Jax Finkel for all of her hard work and diligence. Never has the Lone Star state been so close on moving sane marijuana reform policy forward and we will now must build upon the tremendous momentum generated this year to achieve victories in the next legislative session. You can support Texas NORML’s work by clicking here. 

    Following are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

    Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

    Thanks for all you do and keep fighting,
    Justin

    Priority Alerts

    Federal
    Join The Caucus: With public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all time high, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) earlier this year formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.

    Click here to email your Member of Congress to urge them to join the newly created Congressional Cannabis Caucus

    Delaware
    House floor vote pending for marijuana legalization legislation, HB 110. The measure establishes a regulated commercial market for cannabis cultivation and retail sales, but does not permit unlicensed, home cultivation.

    DE resident? Click here to send a message to your elected officials to support legalization!

    New Hampshire
    Decriminalization legislation is on its way to the Governor.

    NH resident? Send him a note thanking him for his support. 

    Vermont
    Legislation to eliminate adult use marijuana penalties and study legalization sent to Governor.

    VT resident? Send a message to Gov. Scott now and call his office at (802) 828-3333

    Other Actions to Take

    Alaska
    State officials in Alaska are considering legislation, HJR 21, to urge the federal government to restrain from interfering in state marijuana laws.

    HJR 21 urges the current Administration to respect previous federal arrangements in regard to state laws and to continue a policy of allowing legalized states autonomy.

    The bill points to several reasons that Alaska would be harmed by a federal crackdown, ranging from economic ramifications to the confusion of law enforcement officers; federal enforcement would ultimately have negative results.

    AK resident? Click here to urge your lawmakers to stand up for Alaskans.

    California
    Legislation is pending, Assembly Bill 1578, to try and limit potential federal interference in the state’s marijuana regulatory laws.

    The bill states, “This bill would prohibit a state or local agency, as defined, from taking certain actions without a court order signed by a judge, including using agency money, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity that is authorized by law in the State of California and transferring an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for purposes of marijuana enforcement.”

    The majority of Californians desire a legally regulated marijuana market. Passage of this act will limit state or local agencies from working with the federal government to undermine these regulations.

    Update: Read third time and amended on May 8. Ordered to third reading.

    CA resident? Click here to urge your lawmakers to protect legal marijuana in your state. 

    Hawaii
    Legislation to expand Hawaii’s medical cannabis program has passed both legislative chambers.

    The bill expands the number of qualifying conditions eligible to receive cannabis therapy to include: lupus, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and autism. It also permits patients’ caregivers to engage in medical cannabis cultivation, among other changes.

    HI resident? Click here to send a message to the Governor urging them to sign the legislation. 

    New Jersey
    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently made public statements calling the notion of regulating adult marijuana use “beyond stupidity.”

    Yet, according to a 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll, nearly six in ten New Jersey adults support “legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over.” Similar percentages of voters through the country also endorse legalization.

    NJ resident? Click here to help us educate the Governor and his staff to the facts on marijuana.

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