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NORML Blog

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel April 11, 2016

    I cringed last weekend when I saw news photos of a protest and demonstration in front of the White House in which the most notable image was a 51-foot inflatable “joint.”

    That’s right. Here we are in 2016 on the verge of finally ending marijuana prohibition, and some activists seem caught in a time warp, using tactics more suitable for the 1960s and 70s. I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.

    This latest example of street theater came courtesy of DCMJ, the local group in DC who led the successful voter initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia in 2014. They deserve our appreciation for helping move reform forward in DC, where adults are permitted to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants for their personal use, and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult for no remuneration.

    This latest protest, though, was both misguided and counter-productive.

    The Wrong Target

    First, the stated purpose of the protest was to put pressure on President Obama, whom the group claimed had done nothing to legalize marijuana. “The Obama administration has been a big ZERO on cannabis reform,” the organizers of the event alleged in their press release announcing the White House protest.

    Apparently they are unaware of the extraordinary action taken by President Obama to instruct his Department of Justice to step aside and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference. That unprecedented action was an enormous gift to the legalization movement and permitted us to demonstrate that marijuana can be successfully legalized and regulated with no significant unintended consequences.

    Under any prior administration, the DOJ would have filed for an injunction in federal court, seeking to use federal law to enjoin the provisions in these new state laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Most legal observers agree they would have been successful, based on the “supremacy clause” of the US Constitution.

    It is the experience of these first few states that allows us to argue with authority that legalization is a legitimate option to prohibition. Ignoring the significance of this decision by President Obama, in order to justify some street theater, suggests a lack of political sophistication.

    Also, President Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 200 federal drug prisoners, including a number of people serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, and promises additional non-violent offenders will be pardoned or otherwise released from prison over the remaining months of his administration. It is difficult to imagine a public protest intended to embarrass the president would be a helpful tactic at this juncture.

    The Wrong Time

    Public protests have at times played a powerful role in our country’s history, most notably in building public opposition to unpopular wars, including especially the Vietnam war. However, those demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, and demonstrated mass support for ending the war.

    The latest protest at the White House involved perhaps 100 protesters, and rather than demonstrating mass opposition to President Obama and his marijuana policies, showed a handful of activists more concerned with seeing themselves on the evening news than engaging in the hard work of actually changing public policy. The utilization of the 51-foot inflatable “joint” left the impression this was more about fun in the park and less about serious political change.

    Keep in mind that the City Council in the District of Columbia has been actively discussing the need to license commercial growers and retail sellers of marijuana. They would have done this earlier but for a provision attached by Congress on the District’s budget (Congress retains the right to review and possibly reject actions of our elected City Council).

    Under the terms of a recent court case in DC (Council of the District of Columbia v DeWitt) , it now appears the Council may adopt a legally regulated market for marijuana, if they use only money raised from DC residents, excluding money provided to the District by Congress. The Council members understand they need to tread carefully in this area to avoid a backlash from the more conservative members of Congress, but a clear majority want to move forward.

    C1_8734_r_xWitnessing the juvenile demonstration at the White House could only complicate this delicate dance the DC City Council is trying to take regarding marijuana policy in the District. Instead of (symbolically) blowing smoke in their faces, these local activists could have been meeting with our supporters on the City Council to discuss how best to move forward with the least resistance from Congress.

    Apparently, that would not have been nearly as much fun, nor would it have resulted in their being covered in the local news. All of us who engage in public advocacy for legalization need to be sure we are taking actions that move the legalization movement forward and not confusing media coverage with political progress. All news is not good news, and some news coverage definitely sets us back.

    This latest street theater at the White House was one of those times. Though few of us were involved (none of the national reform organizations), it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization in the District, or to encourage President Obama to push marijuana law reform further under federal law.

    _______________________________________________________________________

    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com:

    http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/04/its-time-to-move-beyond-street-theater/

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director April 8, 2016

    map_leafWe’ve got several legislative updates from around the country this week. Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform!

    State:

    Colorado: Denver NORML filed the Responsible Use initiative with the city of Denver. If passed by voters this November, it would legalize the establishment of private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and up. Passage of this ordinance would be a historic first step in moving toward normalizing the responsible, adult consumption of marijuana. The initiative would provide adults with a legally defined space where marijuana could be consumed and shared with other like-minded citizens — a simple, yet necessary accommodation for states that have passed some form of legalization. You can show support for the initiative by liking their page on Facebook.

    Florida: On April 1st, the city of Tampa began implementing its new decriminalization law. Under the new ordinance, people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana will now only face a civil citation rather than a arrest, criminal prosecution, and a criminal record.

    Also, The Florida Democratic Party has endorsed Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment to permit the physician-authorized use and state-licensed distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The initiative has also received recent endorsements from the Tallahassee Democrat, the Miami Herald, and the Bradenton Herald. Presently, 16 states explicitly exempt the use of CBD by qualified patients. But, to date, no of these states provide a regulated, in-state supply source for the product.

    Maine: A superior court judge today overturned the Secretary of State’s ruling that a citizen petition seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine was invalid. The ruling mandates the Secretary of State to review the disputed signatures to determine whether petitioners submitted enough valid ones to qualify for ballot placement this November.

    Missouri: This week, regulators at the Missouri Department of Agriculture granted licenses to two applicants seeking to grow CBD-dominant cannabis. Their products are anticipated to be ready for distribution this fall to state-qualified patients.

    Pennsylvania: State lawmakers have unanimously passed separate pieces of legislation to establish “a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” Members of the Senate voted 49 to zero in March in favor of SB 50. House lawmakers more recently voted 187 to zero in favor of the House companion bill, HB 967. House Bill 967 will now go to the Senate  for concurrence with SB 50 and then to Gov. Tom Wolf, who has expressed support for the legislation. #TakeAction

    Members of the Pittsburgh City Council have approved a new ordinance imposing more lenient penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses. Under this ordinance, marijuana-related offenses will now be classified as summary offenses, punishable by a fine of $100 for public smoking or $25 for the possession of a small amount of marijuana.

    Virginia: Governor Terry McAuliff has signed legislation, Senate Bill 701, into law to establish regulations governing the in-state production of therapeutic oils high in cannabdiol and/or THC-A (THC acid). Senate Bill 701 requires the Board of Pharmacy to adopt regulations establishing health, safety, and security requirements for pharmaceutical processors of oils high in CBD and/or THC-A. The measure takes effect on July 1, 2016.

    Don’t forget to join us in Washington D.C. May 23rd and 24th for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day! Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a social marijuana consumer, or just someone who opposes prohibition, this is an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from across the country and get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process. It is an exhilarating experience for anyone who has taken the time to come to DC to lobby their members of Congress. Get your tickets today!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 6, 2016

    personal_cultivationA recent memorandum from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to several United States Senators indicates that the agency is prepared to respond in the coming months to a five-year-old petition seeking to amend the plant’s status as a schedule I prohibited substance.

    Under the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. As summarized by the DEA, “Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

    Explicitly, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria: The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.” Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (schedule II through schedule V) and are legally regulated accordingly. (For example, schedule II substances like morphine or methadone are available by prescription.) Alcohol and tobacco, two substances that possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not subject to federal classification under the CSA.

    Federal law grants power to the US Attorney General to reclassify a controlled substance if the available scientific evidence no longer supports that drug’s classification. In practice, however, this power has been delegated to the DEA, with input from both FDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Federal law also allows third parties to petition these agencies to consider reclassifying controlled substances.

    The petition now before the DEA was filed in 2011 by then-governors Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Other recent rescheduling petitions, such as a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, have been rejected outright by the agency. In 1990, the DEA set aside the decision of its own administrative law judge, who had responded in 1988 to a petition effort initiated by NORML, after he called for reclassifying the plant.

    While it remains unknown at present time if the DEA will respond favorably to this current rescheduling effort, it has become apparent in recent years that reclassifying cannabis from schedule I to schedule II – the same category as cocaine – falls well short of the sort of federal reform necessary to reflect America’s emerging reefer reality. Specifically, reclassifying the pot plant from I to II (or even to schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances such as methamphetamine (schedule II), anabolic steroids (schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to fully regulate it free from federal interference.

    Further, the federal policies in place that make clinical trial work with cannabis more onerous than it is for other controlled substances — such as the requirement that all source material be purchased from NIDA’s University of Mississippi marijuana cultivation program — are regulatory requirements that are specific to cannabis, not to Schedule I drugs in general. Simply rescheduling cannabis from I to II does not necessarily change these regulations, at least in the short-term.

    In addition, the sort of gold-standard, large-scale, long-term Phase III safety and efficacy trials that are typically necessary prior to bringing therapeutic drugs to market are prohibitively expensive. As a result, trials of this kind are typically are funded by private pharmaceutical companies aspiring to bring a new product to market. In some cases, the federal government may assist in sharing these costs, such as was the case with the research and development of the synthetic THC pill Marinol (dronabinol). However, political reality dictates that neither entity is likely to pony up the tens of millions of dollars necessary to conduct such trials assessing the efficacy of herbal cannabis any time soon, if ever, regardless of the plant’s federal scheduling.

    This is not to say that rescheduling cannabis would not have any positive tangible effects. At a minimum, it would bring an end to the federal government’s longstanding intellectual dishonesty that marijuana ‘lacks accepted medical use.’ It would also likely permit banks and other financial institutions to work with state-compliant marijuana-related businesses, and permit employers in the cannabis industry to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed by other businesses. Rescheduling would also likely bring some level of relief to federal employees subject to random workplace drug testing for off-the-job cannabis consumption.

    But ultimately, such a change would do little to significantly loosen federal prohibition or to make herbal cannabis readily accessible for clinical study. These goals can arguably only be accomplished by federally decsheduling cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, such as is proposed by US Senate Bill 2237, The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. Doing so will finally provide states the power to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intrusion.

  • by Rick Steves, NORML Board Member April 5, 2016

    Rick Steves - NORML Board MemberI’ve worked hard to help legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult recreational use in Washington State (where I live) and in Oregon. I was proud of these laws; they won because they were what I consider “public safety” laws — rather than “pro-pot” laws — and our communities are thankful they passed. California is voting on an even smarter law this November and when this passes, I believe the country will follow and our federal government’s long and stubborn war on marijuana will be history. California is critical in the battle to end the wrong-minded prohibition of our age.

    That’s why I support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. This is smart, sensible policy that ends damaging prohibition and paves the path to a sensible marijuana policy in California. It respects the concerns of people who don’t smoke pot, of law enforcement, of employers, and of families with children. It’s not radical; it’s pragmatic…it’s common sense…and it’s time.

    Those who wrote California’s “The Adult Use of Marijuana Act” learned from our experience in Washington (2012) and Oregon (2014). This smart law is a major step in ending this war on marijuana. And we need your help to pass it.

    But we can’t make this happen without your help. Please, show your support in these early stages. It’s simple really: Just sign up today and endorse the Adult Use of Marijuana Act!

    This isn’t about being “soft” on drugs or “hard” on drugs. This is about being smart — and controlling and regulating marijuana the right way.

    Through my travels in Europe, I’ve learned that pragmatic harm reduction makes much more sense than legislating morality. And I believe in civil liberties. Responsible adults should be able to use marijuana, just as they can use alcohol. And my travels and our track record here in the Northwest have taught me that we can build a system of marijuana control and regulation that works. European countries manage an approach that protects children, keeps their roads safe, respects the rights and concerns of employers, spends fewer tax dollars, and solves health problems. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a smart, measured and balanced approach that can do the same thing.

    Please, join me in supporting California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act and we’ll make huge progress on the national movement.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director

    marijuana_gavelMembers of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, lead by Senate Judiciary Chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gathered this morning for a hearing titled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”

    Invited participants at today’s hearing included an advisory board member for a national anti-marijuana organization and the Nebraska Attorney General who sought to overturn Colorado’s marijuana regulation laws by filing a lawsuit with the Supreme Court. Clearly, Senator Grassley and co-chair, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) did not gather lawmakers to discuss how to move marijuana policy reform forward, but backwards.

    Senator Grassley’s hearing appeared, by and large, to be an effort to try and shame the Department of Justice into taking action to overturn the regulatory laws of states that are presently regulating marijuana production and sale. The panelists presented a laundry list of purported dangers that they claimed to be the result of changes in marijuana laws, such as supposed spikes in teenage use and traffic collisions.

    There was, however, one highlight for marijuana reformers during today’s hearing. When witness Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of California, Sacramento, California was asked by Sen. Grassley as to why the Department of Justice isn’t challenging adult use marijuana state laws, he responded: “The decision to intervene would not be solely based on data. If we took out regulation of the market and just left decriminalization, it may leave a more chaotic system than it is now.”

    By contrast, arguably the hearing’s lowlight came from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who spoke longingly of about the decade of ‘Just Say No’ and claimed, “[G]ood people don’t smoke marijuana.”

    The hearing’s tone, while predictable, is nonetheless disappointing. That is because the CARERS Act, bipartisan legislation to strengthen statewide medical marijuana protections, is pending before the US Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Grassley. To date, the senator has pledged not to hear the bill, despite the fact that medical marijuana legalization is supported by 80 percent of his own constituents and an estimated 78 percent of voters nationwide.

    If you live in Iowa, you can contact Senator Grassley and urge him to hold hearings on the CARERS Act here. If you don’t live in Iowa, you can urge your own elected officials to support the CARERS Act here.

    To view an archived video of today’s Congressional hearing, please visit: http://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov/hearings.

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