We’ve got federal news for you and an encouraging announcement out of Canada this week. Plus we’ll update you on pending state legislation across the country. Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform!
Canada: The country’s health minister announced this week that federal legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use will be introduced in spring of 2017. Speaking at a special session before the UN, the minister said, “”We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”
Members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations committee once again voted in favor of the Mikulski medical marijuana amendment. The provision prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Members of the Senate and House approved similar language last year.
A bipartisan group of 26 Senators and Representatives signed a letter last week urging President Obama to remove federal barriers that limit clinical cannabis research.
“Twenty-three states have passed laws establishing medical cannabis programs and an additional seventeen have passed laws regarding the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from cannabis,” the Senators and Representatives wrote in the letter. “Despite these developments, researchers, doctors, and patients in these forty states are still subject to federal barriers impeding innovation and medical research. Until we have comprehensive scientific research on the medical risks and benefits of cannabis and its derivatives, we will continue to debate this issue on the basis of outdated ideology instead of modern science.”
Florida: Members of the Orlando City Council voted 4-3 in favor of an ordinance to give local police the option of citing, rather than arresting, marijuana possession offenders. The second reading for the measure will be May 8th. If you live in Orlando, contact your City Commissioner and urge their support for this common sense proposal!
Louisiana: Members of the Senate this week decided in favor of legislation, SB 271 to amend the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Despite vocal opposition from law enforcement groups, members of the Senate voted 21 to 16 in favor of the measure on Wednesday, April 20th. The bill now awaits action from members of the House.
Ohio: Senate lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 204, so that drug offenses are no longer punishable by a mandatory loss of one’s driver’s license. Under existing law, any drug conviction carries a mandatory driver’s license suspension of at least six months, even in cases where the possession offense did not take place in a vehicle. Senate Bill 204 would make such suspensions discretionary rather than mandatory. With no public opposition, the bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. #TakeAction
New Hampshire: For the seventh year in a row, members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted to kill marijuana decriminalization. House Bill 1631 sought to amend state law so that offenses involving the possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana would be classified as a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense — no arrest, and no criminal record. New Hampshire remains the last state in New England that has not decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Washington D.C.: D.C. Council voted to permanently ban the creation of private clubs for marijuana consumption in the district this week. The legislation, approved in a 7-6 vote, modifies DC’s laws to add private-membership organizations to the list of public venues, and makes permanent a temporary ban the Council implemented in February when a few clubs sprouted up. The vote came just hours before a Council created “task-force” on marijuana clubs was scheduled to hold its first meeting.
On Wednesday, NORML released our 2016 Congressional Scorecard. An all encompassing database that assigns a letter grade, ‘A’ through ‘F’, to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records. Be sure to check out what grade your federally elected officials received and share the Scorecard with friends and family so they become engaged voters too!
Fifty-six percent of Americans say “Marijuana use should be legal,” according to the results of a nationwide poll commissioned by CBS News. The percentage is the highest ever reported by news agency.
Only 36 percent of respondents said that they opposed legalization.
Seventy-one percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 said that marijuana use ought to be legal, an increase of 10 percent since CBS posed the question last year. Among those age 35 to 64, 57 percent of respondents backed legalization, while only 31 percent of those age 65 or older did so.
Men (59 percent) were more likely than women (54 percent) to support making marijuana use legal. Democrats (63 percent) and Independents (58 percent) were far more likely to support legalization compared to Republicans (44 percent).
In response to a separate polling question, 51 percent of Americans admitted having consumed cannabis, up from 34 percent in 1997.
The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- four percent.
The CBS survey results are similar to those of other recent national polls, such as those by reported by Gallup, CBS, and Pew, finding that a majority of Americans now support ending marijuana prohibition.
It is a wonderful time to be a marijuana smoker. Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end, and with it, the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Prohibition is being replaced with a legally regulated market, where consumers can buy their marijuana in a safe environment and know the product they are buying is safe. We still have a lot of work to do, but the tide of public support is clearly on our side.
At NORML, we started working to legalize marijuana in late 1970, when only 12% of the public supported marijuana legalization. For several decades, as we gradually built public support for our position, the political progress was modest at best. We decriminalized minor marijuana offenses in 11 states in the mid-1970s, following the release of the report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. But then the mood of the country turned more conservative (think Nancy Reagan, “Just Say NO,’ and the emergence of the parents’ movement) and we made no further statewide progress for 18 years, when CA became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. A total of 25 states now enjoy a version of legal medical marijuana.
Our first dramatic breakthrough with full legalization for all adults, regardless of why they smoke, came in 2012 when Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana via voter initiative. Those initial successes were followed in 2014 by the approval of legalization initiatives in Alaska and Oregon (and the District of Columbia). And this fall, legalization initiatives are expected to qualify for the ballot, and be approved by the voters, in a number of states, including Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan, Nevada, Arizona and California.
What Marijuana Consumers Want
NORML is a marijuana smokers’ lobby; we represent the interests of consumers. Marijuana smokers want a high quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. We want to know that the marijuana we buy legally has been tested by a state-certified lab for molds and pesticides, and is accurately labeled as to the THC and CBD content. And we don’t expect to pay black market prices for legal pot, or to drive half-way across the state to find a legal retail outlet.
And importantly, we need the option to grow our own marijuana. Most consumers will not likely exercise this option, just as most beer drinkers do not make beer in their basement, although they are legally permitted to do so. By keeping the option of growing our own marijuana, and boycotting those retailers who sell an inferior product or over-charge for their product, we can assure the industry remains responsive to the needs of consumers.
Majority Now Support Full Legalization – But They are Not Pro-Pot
After years of struggle with few victories, legalizers are now winning these political battles not because we have come up with better arguments, or a better strategy; but because we have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the American public. They realize prohibition is a failed public policy. But even this crucial point requires further clarification.
Roughly 14% of the American public are marijuana smokers, and of course most of us favor ending prohibition, which continues to result in the arrest of more than 600,000 of our fellow marijuana smokers each year in this country. But 86% of the public are not smokers. So the first point any effective advocate needs to understand is that those of us who smoke simply cannot achieve full legalization by ourselves; we must have the support of a majority of the non-smokers. We must be sensitive to their concerns as we move forward politically.
A recent survey by a DC-based group called the Third Way identified what they called “the marijuana middle.” That is, people who have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-pot. This is an important distinction. Even as they agree that we should legalize and regulate marijuana, they nonetheless still have a negative impression of those of us who smoke. Specifically, 64% of those non-smokers have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers.
This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.
In every policy area that arises, including especially employment discrimination, child custody issues and impaired driving, we need the support of the non-smokers to overcome discriminatory policies that continue to unfairly impact marijuana smokers, even under legalization.
It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And the best way to accomplish this is to come out of the closet.
The Challenge for the New Generation of Activists
This is the real challenge facing new activists who are just getting involved in the legalization movement. They must convince their non-smoking peers that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana.
The latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good neighbor and a productive citizen. We must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people – who happen to enjoy smoking marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day, when they relax.
We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke.
The 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day
And there is no better place to prepare to effectively make this argument than the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day on May 23rd and 24th. We will focus on the specific arguments that are most effective when dealing with non-smokers and elected officials, and on the most effective ways to respond to their principal areas of concern. We know from exit polling that those who vote against legalization are generally concerned about the potential danger of more impaired drivers on the road, and on the fear that legalization might result in elevated usage rates among adolescents. Neither concern is valid, but they are real concerns, and we must provide answers to those concerns. We will provide those answers during the lobby training sessions on Monday, May 23.
The following day we will meet on Capitol Hill and hear from a number of our strongest supporters in Congress, before spreading out across the Capitol to lobby our individual members of Congress. For those who may not have done this before, I can assure you it is an exhilarating experience. The act of exercising this most basic democratic right – to petition your elected officials to support your position on marijuana policy – reminds us all that democracies work best when average citizens get involved. And if you join us, it will almost certainly not be your last effort to lobby members of Congress.
The National Cannabis Festival
And I would encourage everyone in the DC area to come out to RFK and join us on Saturday for the National Cannabis Festival, a day-long celebration of all things cannabis, including live entertainment, an educational pavilion, representatives from the various marijuana law reform groups, and more. It’s an excellent opportunity for those new to the issue to meet those with more experience, and to identify those groups they feel comfortable working with in the future.
It’s time to get involved in the legalization movement.
This blog post first appeared on the National Cannabis Festival website:
NORML would like to wish you a Happy 4/20! In honor of the annual holiday we are pleased to release our 2016 Congressional Scorecard.
With 61 percent of American adults now advocating that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” and 67 percent of voters believing states, not the federal government, ought to be the ultimate arbiters of marijuana regulatory policy, it’s no longer acceptable for the federal government to continue to be an impediment to progress.
Do you know where your federally elected officials stand?
Our Congressional Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
Below are some key findings from the Scorecard:
- 312 members (58 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (258 Representatives and 54 Senators)
- Nineteen members (3.6 percent) received a grade of ‘A’ (17 Representatives and 2 Senators) and 37 members (6.9 percent) received failing grade (20 Representatives and 17 Senators)
- Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 208 members (89.3 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
- Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 102 members (33.8 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher.
You can access the complete 2016 Congressional Scorecard here.
You can read our Executive Summary here.
Projects like this are only possible because of the donations from NORML members. If you find our Congressional Scorecard useful and wish to support NORML’s efforts, please make a donation of at least $4.20 on this 4/20.
Thank you for your continued support and Happy 4/20,
-The NORML Team
P.S. Don’t forget to attend NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day, May 23-24 in Washington, DC.
We are pleased to announce that Barry Grissom, who until last Friday was the US Attorney for Kansas, will be speaking at the 2016 NORML Aspen Legal Seminar this June in Aspen, CO. The seminar is scheduled for June 2, 3 and 4, 2016.
We have had many wonderful speakers at our various legal seminars over the years, including many former prosecutors, but I believe this is our first former US Attorney to appear on the program. Barry’s topic, on Friday afternoon, will be The Advantages to Ending Marijuana Prohibition from the Perspective of a US Attorney.
If you are a practicing attorney and are expecting to attend the Aspen legal seminar this year, please register soon so we know which states we need to apply for CLE approval. This seminar is also open to non-lawyers.
We have a great program again this year with outstanding speakers, including some new faces, and fascinating topics dealing with cutting edge issues facing criminal defense and marijuana business lawyers today. Whether you are from a state still looking forward to an end to marijuana prohibition, or from one of the states that have begun to experiment with different legalization models, you will leave this seminar with the knowledge that you are current both with the law and the politics of marijuana legalization in America.
And, of course, we guarantee everyone a lively social calendar as well, including an opening reception at the Gant on Thursday; a benefit dinner at the lovely Aspen home of Chris and Gerry Goldstein (catered by Cache Cache chef Chris Lanter) on Friday, and an afternoon cookout with live music at Owl Farm, the guests of Hunter Thompson’s widow, Anita Thompson, on Saturday.