Having just spent the last few days attending the annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminar, I wanted to share some observations about the experience of spending time in a state that no longer cares if I smoke marijuana or not. And as you might expect, it feels wonderful.
No longer must I deal with the fear of being arrested and jailed — treated like some dangerous or undesirable person who needs to be restrained to protect the good citizens who do not smoke. That, obviously, is the most important change.
Second, I no longer have to deal with the uncertainties and dangers of engaging with those who risk serious prison time to sell marijuana on the totally unregulated black market. Over the years most of us identify those “in the business” whom we like and can trust, and we do our best to nourish those “connections” and to extend them as long as possible. But we always know that should the police raid our connection at the time we are conducting our business, we too will likely end up being hauled off to jail; or should our connection be robbed by some thug looking for an easy score, or some peeved competitor looking to settle a score, while we are buying our weed, we too are in harms way.
And when those carefully nurtured relationships ultimately ended, because the connection decided to get out of the business, or moved away, or, God forbid, got busted, we would then have to start the process of identifying a good, reliable source of high quality marijuana all over again.
In Colorado their are hundreds of licensed dispensaries — six in the rather small town of Aspen — and they compete for our business, leaving us free to compare costs and quality and to purchase our favorite intoxicant in a professional setting that is comfortable and safe.
Third, I know when I buy recreational marijuana in Colorado (ironically medical pot in this state does not have to be tested), it has been tested for unhealthy molds and pesticides and labelled to let me know the strength of the product before I use it. No more buying a new ounce of pot only to find it causes me to sneeze every time I take a hit, or that is really only cheap “dirt weed” that hardly even gets me high, for which I paid a premium price. No more “let the buyer beware.” In Colorado, the consumer is now provided the information to make an informed decision.
But there are also other less obvious benefits that legalized marijuana brings to those of us who smoke. Most importantly, we are no longer seen as deviants by our friends and neighbors and co-workers. This cultural change is almost tangible once a state removes the laws that define marijuana smokers as criminals. Just as criminal penalties reinforce the feeling that there must be something wrong with smoking and with those of us who smoke (otherwise, why would “they” make it a crime), ending marijuana prohibition reinforces the feeling that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and nothing wrong with those of us who smoke.
That feeling of cultural acceptance and approval — I’m okay; you’re okay — was palpable at our recent seminar and related social events, whether at the private smoking area at the hotel, at the lovely home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein, or at the hallowed ground known as Owl Farm where the late Hunter S. Thompson lived and thrived. We proudly smoked marijuana with our professional colleagues and friends, and were empowered by the experience. We were both enjoying the marijuana high and exercising our hard-won personal freedom.
I sometimes say “I smoke pot and I like it a lot”. But what I like even more is the feeling of acceptance and approval by, and inclusion in, the mainstream American culture for those of us who smoke, a change that seems to occur almost immediately following legalization. The tension between those who smoke and those who don’t is replaced by the recognition we all have much in common, and our choice of intoxicants is largely irrelevant.
So yes, the feeling of freedom in Colorado is especially wonderful to those of us who smoke marijuana; but legalization also appears to be having a salutary effect on our friends and neighbors and co-workers who do not smoke, as well. Respecting personal freedom works for everyone.
Along with family picnics and public concerts, as a country we wear poppies and decorate the graves of the fallen on the last Monday in May to honor our soldiers who have died while serving in the military. It is a holiday to remember their great sacrifices to protect our country, our citizens, and our way of life.
As we pause to celebrate Memorial Day this year, it also gives us an occasion to consider the sacrifices made by all those who have served, including the tens of thousands of veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional problems resulting from their service to our country.
While additional placebo-controlled research is needed to reconfirm the benefits of medical marijuana in reducing PTSD symptoms, existing research, along with anecdotal accounts from large numbers of PTSD sufferers, is sufficient today to justify its recommendation by physicians. Many combat veterans suffering from PTSD rely on cannabis to control their anger, nightmares and sometimes-violent rage.
Currently, those physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs may not legally recommend the use of medical marijuana to those veterans who could benefit from it use, even in states that have legalized the medical use. But that finally appears to be changing.
Offered as an amendment to a veterans affairs and military construction bill, a provision to expand medical marijuana coverage to US veterans was approved this week by the Senate Appropriations Committee, assuring it will be included in the version of the bill that will be sent shortly to the full senate for consideration. A similar amendment to a House military appropriations bill recently failed by only three votes on the floor of the House (210-213), setting up the need for a reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill, and the likelihood of the amendment being included in the final version of the bill approved by Congress.
While this most recent progress in Congress to approve the medical use of marijuana as a treatment option for VA physicians treating veterans is promising, it is but one small step in a longer process that must continue forward before marijuana is recognized under federal law as a valuable therapeutic agent for many conditions and illnesses.
But on this Memorial Day 2015, let’s honor our military men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those surviving veterans who have served their country with distinction, by committing ourselves to assuring that all Americans, and especially our veterans, have access to whatever therapies treat their symptoms and conditions most effectively and help them heal, including the option of medical marijuana; and by removing the remaining governmental obstacles that undermine this noble goal and interfere with the physician-patient relationship.
The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.
Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.
Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.
The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.
Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.
NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.
To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
For those not able to attend NORML’s Legislative Fly-in, I have put together a list of marijuana-related bills currently pending in Congress as well as the names and Twitter accounts associated with members of specific committees that we plan to target during our social media campaign. By using social media, we will be able to add another layer to our lobbying efforts and will also provide each and every one of our members a chance to have their voice heard on these issues. I encourage all of you to start promoting our Twitter campaign to your networks as soon as possible.
Apply pressure on members of the House Subcommittee on Health, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations by engaging them through a coordinated social media campaign using specific messaging and hash tags to track our activity. Using the #NORML hash tag gives us the power to bring attention to and mobilize a larger and more diverse coalition of social media activists to support and/or join our efforts. Also, it’s important that we stay on message so please avoid altering the language provided. By maintaining a consistent message, we will be able to present a coordinated and disciplined effort.
Simply cut and paste the Twitter handle and language provided below into your Twitter account and hit send. Please make sure that you use the directory so that you contact each representative directly. I’ve provided an example of what each tweet should look like for each bill. I recommend coordinating specific times with your organization and its membership to maximize our efforts.
H.R. 1013: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. It’s time for a new approach! #NORML”
S.683: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act. America is ready! #NORML”
H.R. 667: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support House Resolution 667, the Veterans Equal Access Act. America’s veterans deserve better! #NORML
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (@JimPressOffice) – WI
- Rep. Steve Chabot (@RepSteveChabot) – OH
- Rep. Randy Forbes (@Randy_Forbes) – VA
- Rep. Ted Poe (@JudgeTedPoe) – TX
- Rep. Jason E Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) – UT
- Rep. Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) – SC
- Rep. Raúl Labrador (@Raul_Labrador) – ID
- Rep. Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) – CO
- Rep. Rob” Bishop (@RepRobBishop) – UT
- Rep. Rep. Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) – TX
- Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (@pedropierluisi) – PR
- Rep. Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) – CA
- Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (@RepGutierrez) – IL
- Rep. Karen Bass (@RepKarenBass) – CA
- Rep. Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) – LA
Committee on the Judiciary
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Chuck Grassley (@ChuckGrassley) – IA
- Senator Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) – VT
- Senator Orrin G. Hatch (@OrrinHatch) – UT
- Senator Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) – CA
- Senator Jeff Sessions (@SenatorSessions) – AL
- Senator Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) – SC
- Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) – TX
- Senator Michael S. Lee (@SenMikeLee) – UT
- Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) – TX
- Senator Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) – AZ
- Senator David Vitter (@DavidVitter) – LA
- Senator David Perdue (@Perduesenate) – GA
- Senator Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) – NC
- Senator Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) – CT
- Senator Christopher A. Coons (@ChrisCoons) – DE
- Senator Al Franken (@alfranken) -MN
- Senator Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) – MN
- Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) – RI
- Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) – IL
- Senator Charles Schumer (@SenSchumer) – NY
Subcommittee on Health
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Rep. Dan Benishek (@CongressmanDan) – MI
- Rep. Gus Bilirakis (@RepGusBilirakis) – FL
- Rep. Phil Roe (@DrPhilRoe) – TN
- Rep. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) – KS
- Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) – CO
- Rep. Beto O’Rourke (@RepBetoORourke) – TX
- Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (@RepAnnieKuster) – NH
- Rep. Raul Ruiz (@CongressmanRuiz) – CA
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup (@RepBradWenstrup) – OH
- Rep. Ralph Abraham (@RepAbraham) – LA
- Rep. Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) – CA
- Rep. Julia Brownley (@JuliaBrownley26) – CA
We sponsor two legal seminars each year at NORML, one in Key West, Florida, in early December, and the other in Aspen, Colorado, in late May/early June. Those are two wonderful venues for those who are looking for a mini-vacation, in addition to a valuable legal seminar. The 2015 Aspen legal seminar will be held next week (May 28-30) at the Gant Hotel.
This seminar is available for non-lawyers, as well as attorneys, for those who have an interest in the criminal defense and regulatory side of the legalization movement. And a visit to Aspen, now that marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, provides an excellent opportunity for those from other states to see what legalization actually looks and feels like, since there are now several legal dispensaries operating in Aspen. If you have not yet had the pleasure of walking into a retail store to legally purchase your marijuana, now is your chance. It is an empowering experience, and one that reinforces the importance of ending prohibition.
At NORML our basic goal is to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, regardless of why one smokes. Until we achieve that ultimate goal, we also do our best to provide assistance and support to victims of the current laws. The NORML Legal Committee (NLC), comprised of several hundred criminal defense and business attorneys, plays a major role in providing that support. NORML is the only legalization organization that has a legal committee, sponsors legal seminars, or that provides legal assistance or advice to those who have been arrested or who need legal assistance entering the legal marijuana market.
Lawyers who specialize in defending victims of prohibition, and business lawyers who represent the interests of the newly legal marijuana businesses in several states, are a special breed. Motivated by their commitment to legal marijuana, they have chosen a legal specialty that may not pay them the financial rewards they could make practicing corporate law, or probate law, or personal injury law, or many other higher-paying fields of practice; but they are at the cutting edge of the legal profession, willing to push the cultural and legal envelope. They generally feel an emotional and cultural attachment to the legalization movement, and most would tell you they get far more personal satisfaction by helping their clients stay out of jail on a marijuana charge (or avoid a criminal charge altogether), or by helping new marijuana entrepreneurs through the labyrinth of regulations and permits necessary to enter these newly legal markets, than they would get from helping rich individuals or institutions get richer, which is what many lawyers do.
This group of committed lawyers draws strength and knowledge from attending these seminars, and from the opportunity to spend time with their legal colleagues from around the county. It reminds us all of why we do what we do, and it empowers us to go forth and fight the good fight. Being an effective lawyer means trying new theories and defenses, and not being discouraged by the fact that we are not always successful. If it were easy, the clients would not need an attorney.
Because we have room at our Aspen venue (unfortunately we do not have extra room at our Key West venue), we permit non-lawyers to attend at a discounted registration fee. And those non-lawyers who do attend report they enjoy the opportunity to meet some of the leading NLC attorneys in an informal setting, and they find fascinating the internal debates and discussions regarding legal theories and new challenges being faced by this group of attorneys. It’s a rare opportunity to be part of this subset of NORML, and one well worth experiencing.
In addition to the seminar, social events where one can relax and get to know the other attendees, including the speakers, include an opening reception on Thursday night; a benefit dinner at the lovely home of Christine and Gerry Goldstein in Aspen on Friday evening , catered by Chris Lanter, chef and co-owner of the trendy Cache Cache restaurant in Aspen; and a Saturday afternoon cookout with live music at Owl Farm, the legendary Woody Creek home of the late Hunter S. Thompson, outside of Aspen a few miles.
If the 2015 NORML Aspen Legal Seminar and related social events is of interest, whether you are an attorney or someone who follows the legalization movement and wishes to learn more, you can still register for this seminar on line and join us in Aspen next week. I hope to see you there.
This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.