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NORML Blog

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 23, 2015

    Marijuana legalizationWashington, DC and New York City are only 225 miles apart, a four-hour drive up I-95, or a 3½ hour train ride on Amtrak. And both jurisdictions have taken positive steps over the last couple of years to stop arresting marijuana smokers. But in other ways, they are in parallel universes.

    In one city the police chief is embracing marijuana legalization, and touting it as a helpful step in building community relations. And in the other, the police commissioner is saying marijuana has caused an increase in homicides and shootings, even worse than the cocaine and heroin epidemics of the 1980s and ’90s. It would be difficult to find a more stark contrast in policing strategies.

    To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 19, 2015

    Take Action for Marijuana Law ReformMarijuana law reform legislation is presently pending in over 30 states. Is your state one of them? Visit NORML’s online ‘Take Action Center’ here to find out.

    By clicking this link, you will have access to up-to-date bill status information. You can also quickly contact your elected officials and urge their support for these reforms with just one click.

    Right now, nearly 20 states — including Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont — are debating measures to legalize the adult use and sale of the plant.

    Some dozen states — including Delaware, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Tennessee — are debating decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses.

    Medical marijuana legislation is also pending in 17 states, including Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

    Click HERE to view NORML’s full list of pending state and federal legislation.

    Get active; get NORML.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 18, 2015

    Nevada: Voters To Decide In 2016 On Statewide Measure Regulating Marijuana SalesNevada voters will decide next November on ballot language that seeks to regulate the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Lawmakers had until late last week to act on the initiative petition, filed by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), but failed to do so – thus placing the measure on the 2016 electoral ballot.

    Proponents of the measure, “The Initiative to Tax and Regulate Marijuana,” turned in over 200,000 signatures from registered Nevada voters in December to qualify it for the ballot.

    The ballot language permits adults to possess and grow personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce and/or six plants) for non-commercial purposes. The measure also regulates and taxes the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis.

    It states, “The People of the State of Nevada find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons 21 years of age or older, and its cultivation and sale should be regulated similar to other businesses.”

    Similar ballot measures are likely to be decided in 2016 in several other states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Missouri.

    For more information on this campaign, please visit: http://www.regulatemarijuanainnevada.org/.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director March 16, 2015

    2015 NORML Legislative Fly-In
    Please join NORML on May 20/21 in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress for passage of cannabis law reform legislation pending before it.

    You’ve probably seen by now the historically important bill to reform medical cannabis laws introduced in the U.S. Senate. There has never been a more exciting and receptive time to be a cannabis law reform activist in America with this political backdrop:

    • 35 states have passed medical cannabis-related legislation (in 23 of these states patients have functional access to the medicine and legal protections)
    • 17 states have decriminalized the possession of cannabis for adults
    • 4 states have legalized the cultivation and sale of cannabis (Washington, D.C. has de-penalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults; allows limited home cultivation; no sales)
    • Every national poll, including the oldest social survey data set, now indicate a majority of Americans no longer favor cannabis prohibition.

    It’s indisputable. Cannabis law reform in America is happening in our lifetimes.

    By the time the NORML Legislative Fly-In convenes in late May, as many as 20 reform bills will have been introduced for us to rally around in our lobbying efforts–and with the new Senate bill, for the first time since the late 1970s, there is good reason to lobby the Senate as hard as the House.

    Also, and of great importance in placing upward political pressure on elected members of Congress and their staff, are the nearly 75 state legislative bills around the country that are now debating cannabis law reform measures–ranging from medical access to industrial hemp to decriminalization to legalization.

    This year upwards of half the states’ legislatures are looking at dozens of reform bills and this clearly positively impacts Congress to see these needed socio-legal reforms bubbling up from their home states and regions.

    For many in Congress, they know the political writing is on the wall for the federal prohibition on cannabis commerce to survive much longer.

    Let’s help make their jobs easier by showing them the necessary public support to hasten cannabis law reforms at the federal level.

    Lastly, there is a strong possibility that we’re going to add another event to the program, in conjunction with High Times…and featuring a famous TV and movie personality who has expressed strong interest in getting involved with the public discussion about cannabis law reform. TBA.

    Please pre-register for the NORML Legislative Fly-In, make your travel and hotel arrangements ASAP to assure lowest possible costs.

    NORML members and supporters get first shot at the low early bird pricing of $50/person.

    Also, there are sponsorship opportunities as well for cannabis-related businesses, services and organizations.

    Below is a brief breakdown of lodging options for the Conference.

    Thanks in advance and hope to see you at the height of Spring in the nation’s capital, being an active participant in an historic public advocacy effort to once and for all end cannabis prohibition.

    Cannabem liberemus,

    -Allen St. Pierre
    Executive Director
    NORML / NORML Foundation
    Washington, D.C.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

    6_8_NORMLK.StroupPortrait_zI wrote about the effect of big money on the legalization movement a few weeks ago, but feel the topic deserves additional discussion.

    The basic problem we are dealing with is the need to raise significant amounts of money to gather the required number of signatures to qualify a legalization proposal for the ballot, and then to run a professional campaign. At one time, those states that provide voters the opportunity to bypass the state legislature and enact new laws by a vote of the people, intended this to be something ordinary citizens could accomplish with a dedicated team of volunteers. It was an outgrowth of the progressive movement. But those days are gone forever.

    State legislators, who understandably dislike the voter initiative process and prefer to maintain their control over the process of adopting new laws, have raised the bar for qualifying an initiative for the ballot, requiring more and more signatures; and sometimes requiring that a minimum percentage of those signatures be gathered from voters in every county in the state, making it impossible to qualify by simply focusing on the major population centers.

    The result is that voter initiatives have become unrealistic as a vehicle to change public policy unless the sponsoring group has the ability to raise substantial sums of money. Political commitment and hard work are no longer sufficient.

    We have had a handful of big donors supporting legalization initiatives going back to the successful Prop. 215 campaign in CA in 1996, and continuing through the two successful legalization initiatives approved in 2014. But those funders were motivated by their desire to end marijuana prohibition, and were not attempting to directly profit from those changes. Their motivation was high-minded.

    And the need to earn the support of this group of philanthropic funders tended to assure that the language contained in those initiatives was similarly high-minded, seeking to establish legalization systems that were open to all entrepreneurs, both big and small. Until now, none of the successful initiatives attempted to establish “cash cows” to benefit the funders.

    We have seen some ill-advised regulations adopted by the implementing state agencies in a few states that clearly favored those with big bucks, such as the medical marijuana regs in Massachusetts that required those seeking to apply for a license to commercially cultivate marijuana to put $500,000 in escrow before their application would be considered.

    And in Florida, the medical marijuana bill that was passed by the legislature last year, permitting only low-THC, high-CBD marijuana, established only five licenses to cultivate for the entire state, and only applicants who could post a $5 million performance bond and pay a $100,000 application fee, and who had been in the nursery business in Florida continuously for a minimum of 30-years, could apply. A cynic might suspect the legislative leadership must be receiving some sizable contributions from the nursery industry.

    New Investor Driven Voter Initiatives

    But we are now dealing with a different, and potentially more significant, problem in which those who put up the funding to qualify a legalization initiative for the ballot seek to include specific language in the proposal put before the voters that assures them of a favored position in the soon-to-be legal market, and that essentially assures them of a huge “return on their investment.” For these individuals, who have not previously been involved in the legalization movement, this exercise is only incidentally about ending prohibition and stopping the arrest of smokers; it is really about getting rich in a newly legal industry.

    On a purely political level, we should welcome these new developments, as these moneyed interests obviously have valuable political connections that could be helpful in ending prohibition more quickly than we could accomplish, at least in some states, without their help. And ending prohibition means stopping the barbaric practice of arresting responsible marijuana smokers, which must remain our highest priority. We have paid far too high a price for prohibition, in wrecked lives and careers.

    But the arrival of these new potentially powerful interest groups, primarily motivated by greed instead of policy goals, causes most of us some concern, and some discomfort. Or as Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann recently told a journalist, when asked about this latest phenomenon, “This thing sticks in my craw.”

    But whether we like it or not — and most of us do not — as a movement, we will shortly have to decide whether we can embrace proposals to end prohibition and implement legalization in states in which it appears likely those changes will directly enrich a small group of investors, and may erect market barriers for the small and mid-size entrepreneur.

    The Loss of Innocence

    As a movement, we have lost our innocence. For most of us, legalizing marijuana has been only incidentally about marijuana; it has really been about personal freedom. We are entering a new phase of the legalization movement in which some of the most powerful interests will be profit driven.

    Last week, a group called Responsible Ohio announced it had raised $36 million to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November to legalize marijuana in the state. They reportedly required investors to pony-up a minimum of $4 million each, for which these investors would be assured one of a handful of commercial cultivation licenses, authorized to grow medical marijuana in the state. The initiative language would establish an oligopoly who would largely control and profit from legal marijuana.

    According to an article published in the Columbus Dispatch, one of their principal investors was recently recorded at an investment seminar as saying the business opportunities presented by their proposal are “beyond your imagination. … Let’s hop on this tsunami of money and ride the top of that wave to some enrichment for us.”

    Talk about unabashed greed! These are not high-minded individuals. It turns out one of the investors reportedly made his fortune dealing with off-shore asset protection, and another likely investor is a federal felon who was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading in 2005. Legalizing marijuana is simply another get-rich-quick scheme for these scammers.

    And rumors continue that a group of venture capitalists has formed in Michigan with the intent of qualifying an initiative for their ballot that sounds awfully similar to the Ohio approach. Investors put-up the money to pass an initiative, and they directly profit from that investment by being assured of licenses under the new system.

    Different people will come to different conclusions. I continue to feel we should keep our eye on the prize of legalization, and not get sidetracked fighting over who will profit from legalization. After all, we live in a free enterprise system and we should not expect legal marijuana will be different.

    But we may have our limits tested in the months ahead. Are we willing to be complicit in the establishment of oligopolies, which would likely lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers; or should we insist on the opportunity for small and mid-sized entrepreneurs to participate in this newly legal market?

    The bottom line for me is to stop arresting marijuana smokers as soon as possible, in every state. And each year we defer ending prohibition, for whatever reason, we permit thousands of marijuana smokers to continue to be arrested; nearly 20,000 marijuana arrests annually in Ohio and in Michigan. That’s an enormous price to pay if we have the ability to end prohibition now, even if we do not like all the terms of the system to be established.

    Big money has entered the picture, and we will have to deal with that. I prefer to keep the focus on personal freedom and stopping the arrests, but in some states we may have to swallow hard and accept legalization that is profit driven.

    This column was originally posted to Marijuana.com.

     

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