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NORML Blog

  • by NORML April 3, 2017

    By Jax Finkel
    Texas NORML Executive Director

    Texas-NORMLGreat news! Chairman Joe Moody’s House Bill 81, which would replace criminal penalties for marijuana possession with a simple ticket, has passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a bipartisan vote of 4-2, with one member absent.

    Now, the bill is headed to the Calendars Committee — the group of legislators who manage the voting schedule for the Texas House. What can you do to help?

    Contact your representative in preparation for the vote. Send an email now or call their office to voice your support for a more sensible approach to low-level marijuana possession cases.

    You can also support Texas NORML’s Lobby Campaign by becoming a subscribing donor to help us continue this important work.

    If your representative serves on the Calendars Committee, he/she holds the key to when HB 81 will be voted on by the full House of Representatives, and your voice is especially important. (There’s no need to look up your representative — a different letter will load if your address shows you are in one of those key districts.)

    Once the Calendars Committee schedules the bill for consideration, all 150 Texas representatives will cast a vote on marijuana policy for the first time in decades. Now is your chance to help prevent thousands of Texans from being branded with life-altering criminal convictions.

    Contact your legislators today in support of HB 81! Then, spread the word so that other thoughtful Texans can speak out for humane marijuana policies.

    Meaningful reform is within reach. Please take action today!

    Sidenote: The chair of the Calendars Committee is Rep. Todd Hunter. In 2015, he supported marijuana law reform by voting for the Texas Compassionate Use Act and Rep. Simpson’s bill to regulate marijuana like jalapenos. Additionally, he voted for HB 81 when it was before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this session. We hope that this will have a positive bearing on the rest of the Calendars Committee. Additionally, Calendars will be addressing the budget and will not be addressing our issue until after that.

    Please support the important work we are doing in Texas by supporting our lobbying efforts, making a donation or becoming a Texas NORML member.

     

    This was originally posted on https://www.texasnorml.org/

    Visit their site to find out more and get involved!

  • by NORML

    Cannabis PenaltiesOn March 1, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg decriminalized marijuana by instituting the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. This decision in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, affects more than 4.5 million Texans. As a result, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana is now punishable by up to $150, required attendance of a “decision making” class, and no criminal record.

    With so many Sheriffs Associations and prosecutors traditionally advocate for maintaining marijuana prohibition, even lobbying our legislators with our tax dollars in order to cash in on asset forfeitures, what happened in Harris County marks a real tipping point for ending prohibition in the state of Texas and reveals a growing organization within law enforcement that wants to correct currently ineffective marijuana policy by deprioritizing arrests for simple possession.

    Harris County courts and jails were long overwhelmed by arrests and prosecutions for small marijuana possessions. According to internal data provided from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition in Harris County tax dollars prior to decriminalization (including court fees, indigent defense, DA fees, jail costs, crime labs and labor costs from local police) were estimated at $26,663,800 annually.

    To put that amount of money into perspective, that’s more than enough money for the city of Houston to build a new high school or a 17-bed medical facility every year. Another way to look at it is that these freed up resources can now give prosecutors and police the ability and time required to test the backlog of rape kit evidence and investigate unsolved violent crimes in Harris County. What a concept! Instead of confiscating assets and ruining the lives of nonviolent citizens, we can prosecute the violent criminals that law enforcement are sworn to protect us from.

    These estimates don’t include the tax dollars or collateral damage that marijuana prohibition on families including separation from loved ones, lost income from jailed parents or the emotional toll time spent in state custody can have on children. Even for Harris County, these remain real threats under state and federal law.

    But after Ogg’s March 1st decision in Harris County, something changed. It was a change that could be felt in the halls of the Texas state capitol. During the Committee hearing on HB81 to decriminalize marijuana in Texas on March 13th, unlike any previous marijuana bill, not a single Sheriff’s Association came to testify against the bill; just one lonely prosecutor from Odessa. By contrast, the halls of the Texas State Capitol filled with members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, friendly state Congressman like Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Executive Director Jax Finkle of Texas NORML, and Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy all lobbying on our behalf to get HB 81 and SB 170 into committee.

    However, as Bob Sechler from the Austin American Statesman recently reported, “Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.”

    The other argument made by Lawrence, that “low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes,” is evidence of a different addiction: an addiction distinct to law enforcement for asset forfeitures. When an informant remains planted on a suspect for decades after a plethora of evidence to close the case, or when law enforcement stops only the cars going south with cash and not the ones going north with drugs, we have what can only be described as an asset forfeiture epidemic lead by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Lawrence doesn’t even take into consideration if the detection of marijuana is either a violent or dangerous threat to roadway safety, admitting his worry is he can’t determine if someone is impaired. (Hint: a good indication the driver is not impaired). By that logic, Lawrence implies he is satisfied with the casualties, tax expenses and arrests of nonviolent citizens whose only offense is possession of marijuana, so long as a portion of those arrested lead to “serious” crimes (or asset forfeitures). This erroneous argument is so preposterous he doesn’t appear to realize he is admitting that encountering someone who has consumed marijuana is relatively safe.

    So let’s look at the financial motivations of law enforcement that remain loyal to marijuana prohibition. On the other side of Texas from Harris County, on the I-10 corridor near El Paso, federal grants used to be the major motivator for marijuana possession arrests by a self-proclaimed “Boss Hog” in Hudspeth County, where to fill a federal quota the Sheriff infamously arrested Willie Nelson and even Snoop Dog on road tours for possession. Those funds were more bureaucratic in that the grants kept the Sheriff and private jail facilities employed, but the profit motives were parasitic. The Obama administration tried to do away with private prison contracts but Trump and Sessions are bringing them back.

    But what about those civil asset forfeitures? Sheriff’s Associations or prosecutors using our tax dollars to lobby for asset forfeitures are more sinister in that not all the money seized gets accurately reported, and since property and money are seized without due process, victims find it difficult and expensive to go to court dockets titled “The State of Texas vs. $10,000,” only to find in some instances a prosecutor instead of a judge in court.

    However, looking at the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program Annual report for 2012, the local money being reported as seized just doesn’t add up to the cost of incarcerating so many non-violent people in possession of marijuana. Harris County reported: $1,387,430 in seized assets, more than most other Texas counties. But we would have to add up the entire state total of $31,520,522 in local asset forfeitures before we can get passed the $26,663,800 in annual costs for prosecuting and jailing minor marijuana possessions in just Harris County alone. Federal agencies target all the big asset seizures but according to this inspector general’s report, what gets accurately reported of that money causes more corrupt internal fighting and competition between federal agencies than any shared resources with local law enforcement.

    In short, for local jurisdictions, decriminalizing marijuana makes plain economic sense. And for districts with law enforcement overwhelmed and under budget decriminalization may be the only logical choice to keep up with the payroll.

    What do we do as activists? We can pay attention to candidates for District Attorney and Sheriff to vet them on marijuana policy so we can take local action to decriminalize. (After they become Sheriff? Just say “Am I being arrested?” and make sure you know what a Motion to Suppress Evidence is: example here)

    But the real people we need to contact to make effective improvement in marijuana policy is not the President, the DA, a cop or anyone in the executive branch: It’s our state and local Congressman in the legislative branch. And this is the right website to do so.

    Texas resident? Take Action:

    HB 81 and SB 170 to decriminalize marijuana is pending in their respective chambers. Contact your Texas Representative to support HB 81 and SB 170 by clicking here

    Vice Chair Todd Hunter is also the Chair of the Calendar Committee which decides if bills get a floor vote in Texas. Hunter held up a decriminalization bill in 2015 by failing to put the vote on the Calendar. If you live in Chorpus Christi, give Todd Hunter a call and tell him to give HB81 a floor vote!

    Also in Texas do not forget to mention SB380 to abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state of Texas.

    Visit Houston NORMLs website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator

    WV NORML[UPDATE: On Thursday, April 5, members of the House and Senate concurred on an amended version of SB 386, which significantly curtails patient protections included in the initial version of the bill. The amended bill now awaits action from Gov. Jim Justice, who is expected to sign it in to law.]

    Marijuana advocates in West Virginia are celebrating after the state senate voted to pass a bill that would legalize and regulate the use of medical marijuana in the Mountain State. After surviving two committee assignments, and being amended to allow home cultivation by registered patients, Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Senator Richard Ojeda, passed out of the full Senate by a considerable margin of 28-6.

    “West Virginia has a medical marijuana bill that is close to becoming law. Senate Bill 386 was introduced early in the session and surprisingly made its way through both of its assigned committees with very little opposition,” said David Dawson, Legal Counsel for West Virginia NORML. “SB 386  passed the Senate with huge support, 28-6, and is now on its second reading in the House of Delegates.”

    In the weeks leading up to the Senate vote on SB 386, Jesse Johnson, executive director of West Virginia NORML, along Rusty Williams, West Virginia NORML board member, worked diligently to build a broad coalition of volunteer advocates to lobby state lawmakers in support of the bill. From regularly calling legislative offices and writing their representatives, to meeting face to face with lawmakers, it’s safe to say SB 386 would not be where it is today if not for the efforts of West Virginia NORML.

    “These folks have worked their tails off and produced spectacular and unexpected results. The West Virginia legislature has shown what I knew it was capable of, bi-partisan compassion for our fellow West Virginians. The fight still continues as House opposition is seeking to amend the bill to death and put on expert testimony in opposition,” added Dawson.

    While there’s certainly a reason to celebrate, SB 386 still faces an uncertain future. With an uphill battle expected in the House of Delegates, members of West Virginia NORML are calling for supporters of SB 386 to join them in a final push to encourage a yes vote from members of the House.

    takeactionban

    TAKE ACTION: Contact West Virginia Lawmakers to Urge a YES vote on SB 386

    For future updates on marijuana law reform efforts in the Mountain State, follow West Virginia NORML by visiting their website and Facebook page!

  • by NORML

    Did you catch it? On Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver skewered our nation’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition addressing topics ranging from a potential crackdown from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, and the desperate need for federal marijuana law reform.

    “There is now a Cannabis Caucus in DC… and if even an 83 year old Republican from Alaska has come around on this issue, then it is probably time for our laws to catch up” Oliver said

    Since it’s launch in February, members of the Cannabis Caucus have lead the way in the fight for sensible marijuana policy by introducing a number of bills that would end federal prohibition and support states efforts to set up regulated markets for medical and responsible adult-use.

    Click here to tell your member of Congress to join the Cannabis Caucus and push for sensible marijuana policy.

    Now, more than ever, it is time for Congress to take action. Jeff Sessions recently said “I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana. States, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” 

    Well, Congress can change that. 

    Email your member of Congress to join the Cannabis Caucus. 

    Thanks in advance for taking the time to send your Representative a message. The only way that Congress will listen is if we speak up loudly and clearly.

    Together, we WILL legalize marijuana. 

    Thanks for all you do,

    The NORML Team

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director April 1, 2017

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

    Happy April Fools Day – unfortunately I have no light-hearted gag for you today as marijuana prohibition is still very much in effect with thousands of people a week arrested throughout the country for mere possession of the plant.

    Nationwide, we have topped 1,600+ bills being filed throughout the country pertaining to marijuana. From new efforts in the Senate to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and to tax and regulate marijuana to tax reform that would treat marijuana businesses just like every other industry through 280E reform, a new found pressure is now felt for reform on Capitol Hill.

    At the state level, we have seen a range from legislative progress on social clubs in Colorado to the prohibitionists on the verge of a victory on rolling back local progress in Tennessee on decriminalization.

    Below 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
    Regulate and Tax: Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis have introduced legislation in the House and Senate — The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act — (SB 776 and HB 1841 / HB 1823) to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference. In addition to removing marijuana from the United States Controlled Substances Act, this legislation also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matter concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit. An additional excise tax would be levied on the sale of marijuana.  

    Click here to email your federal elected officials to support this effort.

    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) have formed the first-ever 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 formed Cannabis Caucus

    Colorado
    Colorado State Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Dan Pabon have introduced legislation, SB 184, The Marijuana Membership Clubs and Public Use Bill, will provide Colorado municipalities with the regulatory framework needed to allow responsible adults the option to socially consume marijuana in a membership club away from the general public.

    Update: The House Second Reading for SB 184 was laid over to 4/03.

    CO Resident? Click here to email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Delaware
    Legislation, HB 110, has been officially filed and introduced to regulate the adult use and sale of marijuana on March 30.  

    Senator Henry, the author of the state’s medical marijuana legislation said at a recent Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting, “Education is suffering. Revenue from legalizing marijuana could help struggling schools and seniors, among other causes and close major budget deficits in Delaware.” The legislation is expected to be introduced in January.

    According to recent polling data compiled by the University of Delaware, sixty-one percent of state voters favor legalizing marijuana.

    DE Resident? Click here to email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Rhode Island
    A coalition of Rhode Island lawmakers has reintroduced marijuana legalization legislation in the House, H. 5555: The Adult Use of Cannabis Act

    The bill will allow adults 21 and older to possess cannabis and will establish a framework for businesses to cultivate and distribute marijuana. While the language is similar to that of previous bills that have failed to come to a vote, lawmakers this year believe that Rhode Island is ready to catch up to its northeast neighbors.

    Update: House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s office says it is unlikely that the legislations would get a floor vote in the House.

    RI Resident? Click here to email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Tennessee
    Legislation is before the Governor, HB 173, to nullify the enactment of citywide marijuana decriminalization ordinances and to prevent additional municipalities from enacting similar marijuana reform measures.

    The intent of the bill is to override the passage of recent citywide measures in Nashville and Memphis — both of which passed local ordinances last year making minor marijuana possession offenses a non-arrestable citation.

    By contrast, state law classifies marijuana possession as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record.

    Update: Members of the Senate passed HB 173 on March 28. It now goes to the Governor.

    TN Resident? Click here to tell Governor Haslam to veto this measure.

    West Virginia
    A coalition of Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation, SB 386, which seeks to establish the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act — a state-sponsored program that will permit qualified patients to obtain medical cannabis from licensed dispensaries. A House version of the bill, HB 2677, is also pending.

    Passage of the bill establishes a commission tasked with developing “policies, procedures, guidelines, and regulations to implement programs to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients in a safe and effective manner.”

    Update: SB 383 passed the senate by a vote of 28-6 and will now head to the House.

    WV Resident? Click here to email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Other Actions To Take

    Federal
    The Small Business Tax Equity Act (SB 777 and HB 1810) is pending in the House and Senate to amend the federal tax code so that state-licensed, marijuana-related businesses are no longer unduly penalized by federal laws. NORML supports these legislative efforts.

    These measures amend Section 280E of the Federal Income Tax Code so that state-compliant marijuana operators for the first time can take business deductions for standard expenses such as rent and employee compensation and benefits — just like other legally licensed business entities.

    According to a 2017 report, over 120,000 workers are now employed full time in the legal cannabis industry. Allowing deductions for rent and employee costs would help these businesses grow economically and would provide incentives for hiring additional employees.

    Click here to email your federal elected officials to support this effort.

    Arkansas
    House Bill 1580 imposes a special eight percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales. This tax would be in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.

    While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Most other states that regulate medical cannabis sales do not impose such taxes and Arkansas patients should not be forced to pay these excessive costs.

    Update: HB 1580 was returned by the Senate committee, with recommendation that it Do Pass.

    AR Resident? Email your elected officials to oppose this effort.

    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.

    CA Resident? Email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Colorado
    State officials in Colorado are considering legislation, SB 192, to protect the state’s adult use marijuana industry in case of a potential federal crackdown.

    The bill would permit adult use growers and sellers to instantly reclassify their recreational marijuana inventory as medical marijuana “based on a business need due to a change in local, state, or federal law or enforcement policy.” In recent weeks, officials from the Trump administration have indicated that they may consider taking action against recreational marijuana providers, but that they will not likely move against state-licensed medical marijuana providers.

    Update: The bill passed 4-1 committee in the Republican Senate

    CO Resident? Email your elected officials to support this effort.

    New York
    Legislation is pending, Senate Bill 1087, to expand the state’s medical marijuana law by removing the existing prohibition on herbal cannabis preparations.

    Under existing law, qualified patients are forbidden from obtaining whole-plant cannabis. Instead, they are required to access only cannabis-infused oral products such as oils, pills, or extracts prepared from the plant. “Smoking” or inhaling herbal cannabis is not defined as a “certified medical use.”

    These restrictions unnecessarily limit patients’ choices and deny them the ability to obtain rapid relief from whole-plant cannabis in a manner that has long proven to be relatively safe and effective.

    Senate Bill 1087 amends the law so that the possession and inhalation of herbal cannabis is no longer illegal.

    NY Resident? Email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Oregon
    Legislation is pending in the Senate, SB 863, to limit the federal government from acquiring data regarding adults and patients who legally purchase marijuana under state law.

    The emergency legislation, which would take immediate effect, mandates that retailers and dispensaries do not maintain customers’ purchase and/or personal identification records beyond 48 hours.

    Sponsors of the bipartisan measure say the privacy protections are in response to recent statements by the Trump administration with regard to a possible enforcement crackdown in adult use marijuana states.

    Update: SB 863 cleared the Senate and is now headed to the House.

    OR Resident? Email your elected officials to support this effort.

    Texas
    State Senator Jose Menendez has filed Senate Bill 269, currently making its way through committee, to protect qualified patients who consume cannabis and to provide for the state-licensed production and distribution of the plant.

    Update: A bipartisan House version of SB269 to legalize medical marijuana in the state of Texas has just been introduced by Representative Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, titled HB 2107.

    TX Resident? Click here to email your officials in support of this effort.

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