I’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.
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.
Members 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.
We receive a lot of inquiries (and some complaints) at NORML from those who favor legalization and wonder why we continue to focus on a state-based strategy instead of focusing on Congress. The belief is that Congress could legalize marijuana in one fell swoop if they wanted to do so.
It’s a reasonable question, but there are valid reasons for the current strategy.
Congress Is Not Yet In Play
Congress is comprised of 535 members elected from all parts of the country, representing a wide range of political views. Congress never leads the way on social issues. Historically, it’s an institution that changes slowly by increments and generally only after a majority of the states have already adopted those changes. Congress is always slower to embrace policy change than the American public.
Even if we wanted to convince Congress to legalize marijuana under federal law and take the issue out of the hands of the states (a strategy favored by only 34% of Americans; 60% favor allowing states to control marijuana policy), we simply do not yet have the political support in Congress to achieve that result. In addition, if we waited for majority support in Congress before we tried to move legalization forward, we would still have prohibition in effect in every state with no exceptions for medical use or full legalization. Without those experiments at the state level, we would have no real data regarding how legalization actually works, data that is driving the legalization movement forward.
There are also historical reasons justifying the state-based approach. When we finally ended alcohol prohibition in 1931, the Congress did not simply declare alcohol legal throughout the country. They removed federal laws that conflicted with legalization and allowed the states to adopt whatever alcohol policies they wanted. Those that wished to legalize alcohol were free to do so, but, similarly, those states that wanted to continue the criminal prohibition of alcohol were free to do that. Alcohol policy was treated as a states’ rights issue, and it remains the same today. In fact, there remain a few “dry” counties in several states today, remnants of that earlier failed policy.
It is likely that when Congress does finally act, they too will respect the will of those states that may not yet be ready to adopt legal marijuana. They will almost certainly back the federal government out of the way and allow those states that wish to legalize to do so, free from federal interference. They will not attempt to ram legalization through as a federal policy that states have to follow, nor should they.
The New “States’ Rights”
For those of my generation and older, the term “states’ rights” is a loaded term that makes many of us nervous because, for many decades, it was used to justify racial segregation in the south. Only after the Supreme Court ended school segregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 did the states’ rights arguments begin to lose ground as a justification for the policy then called “separate but equal.” It is with some trepidation that those of us who support legalizing marijuana also find ourselves relying on the states’ rights argument to move the issue forward.
Nonetheless, the reality of today’s political environment is that we can continue to make substantial progress towards marijuana legalization, one state at a time, by picking and choosing the states with the strongest public support for legalization. Even if our goal were to achieve legalization under federal law, it would take several more years for any of that progress.
It’s Time To Get Serious With Congress
As I acknowledged, we do not yet have the necessary support in Congress to legalize marijuana federally or even to remove those federal laws that are in conflict with the various state legalization laws. These federal laws hang over state laws like the proverbial sword of Damocles. President Obama showed the courage to hold the Department of Justice back and to allow the states to implement their new marijuana laws without federal interference. A future administration, not as willing to permit the states that freedom, might well use the current federal law to roll back state legalization. We therefore absolutely must change federal law to protect these states that are willing to experiment with alternatives to prohibition.
Today, there are at least 14 marijuana-related bills pending in Congress, calling on Congress to reform or repeal different aspects of federal prohibition. These proposals would recognize the medical use of marijuana under federal law; allow legal marijuana businesses in the states to operate like other legal businesses, including the availability of banking and financial services; legalize industrial hemp, and remove marijuana altogether from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Here is a link to those pending bills, along with sample letters making it easy for you to contact your members of Congress to urge their support.
NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day
For those who are ready to get more personally involved in changing federal law, I would urge you to attend the two-day NORML Congressional Lobby Day scheduled for May 23 and 24 in Washington, DC. Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a marijuana smoker, or 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.
Changing federal law is never simple, and changing federal marijuana laws is especially challenging. But the necessary changes will not occur on their own, and you can make a real difference and help speed this process along by joining us in Washington, DC for the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day.
Please register here and plan to join us in your nation’s capitol. It’s time to stop complaining and to roll-up your sleeves and get involved.
Hope to see you in DC to help send a strong message to Congress: there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana, and it’s time we ended prohibition and stopped treating smokers like criminals.
California: NORML is opposing pending legislation in the Senate that seeks to impose retail sales taxes on the purchase of medical cannabis. Senate Bill 987 imposes a special 15 percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales, 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. Laws enacted by the legislature last year to regulate medical marijuana explicitly did not include additional taxation, and lawmakers should not try to impose such taxes now.
The legislation is scheduled to be considered by members of the Governance and Finance Committee on April 6th. If you live in California, please #TakeAction and contact your lawmakers to urge them to reject this unnecessary measure!
Connecticut: Members of the House Public Health Committee have approved legislation to allow qualified patients under 18 years old to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating illnesses. Patients who’ve met the necessary requirements would need the consent of a parent or guardian to receive the drug. Presently, Connecticut is the only medical marijuana state that explicitly prohibits use by minors.
Also, on Tuesday, April 5, Reps. Toni Walker and Juan Candelaria will hold an informational hearing on the merits of legalizing the adult use of marijuana. The hearing is open to the public and will take place at 10:00AM in hearing room 2E of the Legislative Office Bldg, 300 Capitol Ave, Hartford, CT 06106.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott signed legislation, House Bill 307, into law to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. House Bill 307 expands the state’s so-called ‘Right to Try Act’ – legislation that permits terminally ill patients to experiment with non-FDA approved remedies – to include the use of medicinal cannabis. Under the new law, which takes immediate effect, qualifying patients are eligible to access both low-THC and high-THC strains of cannabis. The measure also seeks to expand a 2014 state law intended to provide low-THC varieties of cannabis to patients with pediatric epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, or cancer. However, this law is not yet operational.
Illinois: Senate bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of personal use quantities of marijuana, was approved by members of the Senate Criminal Law Committee. If passed, Senate Bill 2228 would amend state law so that the possession of up to ten grams of marijuana is no longer classified as a criminal offense. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. Under the proposal, offenders would instead be issued a civil citation and have to pay a fine of $100 to $200. The marijuana would be confiscated at the time of offense. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
The legislation is anticipated to be voted on by the full Senate in early April. You can #TakeAction to contact your state Senator and urge their support for this legislation!
Maine: House lawmakers voted ‘ought not to pass’ on legislation, LD 1628, to impose presumptive impairment standards in cases where low levels of THC is detected in the blood. NORML is actively opposing this measure, which states that the detection of 5 ng/ml or more of THC in a driver’s blood “gives rise to a permissible inference … that [a] person is under the influence of intoxicants.” NORML would like to thank those House lawmakers that recognized this legislation as an unscientific and disproportionate response to behavior that is already sufficiently addressed by present traffic safety laws.
Massachusetts: Legislation to regulate the cultivation and promotion of industrial hemp received attention this week when lawmakers hosted celebrity Tim Gunn at the Massachusetts State House so he could express his support for regulating the crop. If passed, the measure would establish policies and procedures to allow for the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp if/when federal law permits such activity. You can #TakeAction and contact your state lawmakers to urge their support for this common sense legislation.
New York: New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Lawmakers have introduced 11 separate bills this session to expand the program and significantly increase access to those patients who so desperately need it. To read more about these pending measures and to contact your lawmakers to urge their support, #TakeAction.
Ohio: On Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board certified an initiative to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. Proponents of the initiative must now collect 305,591 required signatures by early July in order to qualify it for the ballot. You can read the full text of the initiative here.
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown signed legislation, Senate Bill 1511, allowing adults 21 and older to immediately become eligible to purchase marijuana extracts and marijuana infused edibles from Oregon dispensaries. In 2014, residents in Oregon voted to legalize the adult use and retail sale of herbal marijuana. Senate Bill 1511 legally permits adults to also purchase limited quantities of cannabis-infused products, such as edibles and extracts.
Vermont: The House of Representatives continues to weigh Senate Bill 241, legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Multiple House committees have held hearings in recent dyas to consider public testimony on the subject while Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly reaffirmed his support for the measure. In an interview released this week with TIME, Governor Shumlin discussed the merits of marijuana legalization and described the reform as something “enlightened states” do. You can read the full interview here.
Washington: House and Senate lawmakers voted 131 to 6 to override Governor Jay Inslee’s veto of Senate Bill 6206, which establishes limited licensed hemp production. The Governor had previously vetoed the bill, along with several others, in response to lawmakers’ failure to pass a comprehensive budget plan. Senate Bill 6206 authorizes “the growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program.
Don’t forget to buy your Early Bird tickets for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day that is taking place May 23rd and 24th! The schedule will be released soon but rest easy it will be a full two day itinerary focused around marijuana consumerism, the 114th Congress, post prohibition concerns, marijuana in the media and more! We’ll hold our informational conference on Monday with moderated discussions between some of the most influential thought leaders in the movement and then on Tuesday we’ll #TakeAction and gather on Capitol Hill to lobby our elected officials for common sense marijuana law reforms.
We’ll also be hosting a NORML Social at O St. Mansion on Monday night for a special award ceremony to honor our most valuable marijuana activists! If you wish to join the party don’t forget to purchase a separate ticket at checkout.
As Colorado approaches its fourth year of legal marijuana, consumers around the state are still struggling with the issue of acceptance. With local governments passing restrictive laws aimed at preventing the public consumption and/or display of marijuana, marijuana consumers are being forced to enjoy their legally purchased products behind closed doors. Take Denver for example. In 2013, City Council members passed an ordinance that established fines of up to $999 for those who are caught smoking in a public space. This left in state consumers with nowhere to consume their marijuana other than a private residence, and left out-of-state consumers with no legal place to consume at all.
After the new law was put into place, Denver police officers issued more than 650 tickets within the first year, compared to just over 117 for the previous year. This massive increase of 461 percent in citations speaks volumes to the obvious need for a more thoughtful approach. It just doesn’t make sense to provide a legal avenue for adults to purchase marijuana while simultaneously applying restrictions that severely limit the act of consuming it. It’s fairly simple, marijuana consumers deserve similar rights that our society typically affords to someone who enjoys a glass of wine at a local wine bar after an exhausting day.
Hopefully this situation will soon change. Last week 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 towards the ultimate goal of normalizing the consumption of marijuana in our country. The initiative would provide responsible adults a legally defined space where marijuana could be consumed and shared with other like-minded adults — a simple, yet necessary accommodation for states that have passed some form of legalization. It’s time for marijuana consumers to embrace the idea that just like any other consumer focused industry, we have rights.
We have our work ahead of us: gathering signatures, voter outreach and coalition building will be our top priorities over the next few weeks. Even in a progressive city such as Denver, where marijuana is fairly popular, we must work to earn the support non-consumers to ensure a victory on this issue. I believe we can accomplish this by offering a pragmatic initiative that will focus on the basics. There are plenty of places to grab a drink or a quick bite to eat, but we as marijuana consumers have no where to legally consume marijuana other than the privacy of someone’s home. If we focus on what is truly needed, I believe we can increase our chances of being successful this November.
To learn more about the Responsible Use Initiative or to get involved, please visit the campaign’s website by clicking, here!