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NORML Blog

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel December 28, 2015

    The end of the year is a natural time to review our progress advancing legalization over the past 12 months, and to look ahead to what we hope to achieve in the coming year.

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    Compared to our recent dramatic electoral victories in 2012 and again in 2014, 2015 was a slow year. We made some modest gains, but nothing dramatic.

    During the current phase of legalization, when our victories primarily come by way of voter initiatives, we have become accustomed to expecting more progress in election years, especially presidential election years when the youth vote is highest, than in non-election years. Those basic rules still apply.

    But even with that caveat, 2015 moved us forward and positioned us well for 2016.

    Public Support Remains Strong

    We are legalizing marijuana because we finally enjoy the support of a majority of the American public, both smokers and non-smokers alike. And that majority support, which first began to register in the national polls three years ago, is holding firm.

    National polling in the past year by Gallup (58% support), PEW (53%), CBS (53%), Morning Consult (55%), Fox (51%), General Social Survey (52%) and Beyond The Beltway (61%) have all demonstrated marijuana legalization continues to have the support of a majority of the nation.

    As the authors of the latest Gallup Poll concluded: “These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.”

    So the foundation for continued progress remains in place, and appears to be growing: most Americans have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy.

    Some Statewide Progress

    The one most significant statewide victory during 2015 came in Delaware, where the state legislature decriminalized minor marijuana offenses ($100 civil fine for possession of up to one ounce), the 19th state in the country to stop arresting marijuana smokers. The new law became effective on Dec. 18th.

    And in Oregon, where the state legalized marijuana in 2014, the legislature became the first of the legalized states to take steps to minimize the impact of prior marijuana convictions, imposed under the old law. Democrat Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation in June allowing those with past marijuana possession convictions to have their criminal records expunged, if those offenses are no longer illegal. That’s an area that each legalization state needs to revisit and address.

    In a somewhat unexpected development, the state of Louisiana, traditionally one of the harshest states in the country for marijuana offenses, took significant steps to mitigate penalties for repeat marijuana offenders—defendants who, in the past, faced up to two decades in prison. Under the new law, second-time possession offenders face a maximum sentence of six months in jail (reduced from five years); and third-time offenders see their potential maximum sentences reduced from 20 years to no more than two. The new law also permits these possession offenders to have their records expunged if they remain arrest-free for two years. It is surely only incremental change, but in Louisiana, it represents real progress.

    Municipal Ordinances

    Much of the progress made in 2015 came at the municipal level. In East Lansing, MI 65% of the voters approved a local ordinance eliminating penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana on private property. Lansing is the seventeenth Michigan city to approve an initiative de-penalizing minor offenses.

    In Milwaukee, WI, members of the City Council reduced penalties for marijuana possession (up to 25 grams) to a fine of no more than $50.00. Nine of the state’s 10 largest cities have now adopted decriminalization ordinances.

    And in Miami-Dade County, FL, Commissioners in Florida’s largest county approved an ordinance that permits police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (up to 20 grams), with a civil fine of $100. Previously misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade County criminal court system.

    Marijuana Arrests Drop in Several Major Cities

    And marijuana possession arrests dropped dramatically in several big cities during 2015. In the District of Columbia, marijuana arrests fell roughly 99%, from nearly 900 arrests in 2014 to less than 10 arrests in 2015.

    In Philadelphia, where marijuana was decriminalized by municipal ordinance in 2014, marijuana arrests for simple possession dropped from 3,700 in 2014 to just over 1,000 in 2015, a drop of 73%.

    And in New York City, where more than 30,000 New Yorkers were arrested on marijuana charges in 2014, marijuana arrests fell 40%, to less than 19,000 in 2015. Still far too many, but a substantial step in the right direction.

    The Bad News in 2015

    The most obvious political disappointment in 2015 was the ill-fated legalization initiative (Issue 3) in Ohio. Brought in a non-election year (assuring a low youth vote turnout) and drafted to enrich the investors who put-up the $23 million spent in the campaign, Issue 3 was met with widespread opposition, even among many who support the legalization of marijuana. The proposal won the approval of only 35% of the voters, making it likely that Ohioans will continue to face arrest and jail for several more years.

    Another disappointment was the failure of the legislature in IL to override the veto by Governor Bruce Rauner of a decriminalization bill approved by the legislature earlier in the year. The proposal would have reduced penalties for possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana to a $125 civil fine. Police in IL arrest some 50,000 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession. In Chicago, 95% of those arrested for marijuana possession are either Black or Hispanic.

    Nationwide, decriminalization proposals were introduced, but failed to be approved by the legislatures, in HI, KY, NE, NH, SC, TX and VA.

    Full legalization proposals were introduced, but failed to be approved by the legislatures, in CT, FL, HI, MD, ME, MO, NM, RI and VT.

    Looking Forward to 2016

    As we look ahead to 2016, the best news for those who support marijuana legalization is the agreement reached by most of the major players in the nation-state of California to coalesce behind one legalization initiative. California is the big prize, and a win there will add significant momentum to the legalization movement nationwide.

    Most of us presumed California would be the first state to fully legalize marijuana, as it has historically been the breeding ground for progressive marijuana policy. But in the recent past, the sheer size of the state has resulted in several competing proposals being advanced, with marijuana remaining illegal in the Golden State. The same possibility loomed large for 2016 as well, with several differing versions of legalization being circulated by different interest groups, and no assurance that anyone would be willing to compromise.

    With crucial leadership provided by current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a consensus has now formed around a single proposal, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, and it now appears California voters will likely approve legalization in November of 2016.

    Other states that appear poised to approve full legalization via voter initiatives in 2016 include Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada. Needless to say, were all five states to approve full legalization, 2016 would truly be a break-out year, and would set the stage for several additional states to adopt legalization in 2018. But even if we fail to win them all, it promises to be a banner year for legalization around the country.

    And it is possible that 2016 may give us our first state legislative approval of full legalization. A breakthrough in this area would be especially important for those 26 states that do not offer a voter initiative option. The states that appear most likely to take this step in 2016 include the three northeastern states of Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

    So as we look forward to the new year, those of us who smoke marijuana, and all who support marijuana legalization, can anticipate a string of victories that should catapult the movement well past the political tipping point in America. Our momentum continues to grow with each election cycle

    We are finally winning this long fight to stop the senseless arrest of responsible marijuana smokers, and establish a legally regulated market where consumers can obtain their marijuana. As we prepare for 2016, the smell of personal freedom is in the air.

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    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.

    http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2015/12/a-look-back-at-2015-and-ahead-to-2016/

     

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director December 24, 2015

    happy-holidays-greeting-14470407458EyWhile many are already celebrating the holidays with family and loved ones, we didn’t want to miss the chance to spotlight some important marijuana law reforms that have taken place this past week. We have exciting news internationally, federally, and in several states! Keep reading below to find out more!

    International:

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signed legislation into law regulating the licensed production and exportation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

    Under the new policy, those seeking to grow medicinal cannabis commercially or manufacturer cannabis-based medicinal products may apply with government agencies for licensure. Regulators will also grant permits to those seeking to export medicinal cannabis products out of the country.

    Santos said that the goal of the policy “is for patients to be able to access medications made in Colombia that are safe, high-quality and accessible. It is also an opportunity to promote scientific research in our country.”

    While existing law allows for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis, the plant’s commercial production, manufacture, and sale had not been permitted.

    You can read more about this new policy here.

    US_capitolFederal: Back in July, we wrote about a letter authored by Senator Elizabeth Warren and seven other Senators that demanded answers from the federal government in regards to the facilitation of research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

    While the DEA, ONDCP, and HHS responded to the letter in October, the Senators were not satisfied and have just recently written a second letter asking for those answers again after claiming the initial response, “failed to answer key substantive questions.”

    Of importance to the Senators were topics such as the rescheduling of marijuana in the Federal Controlled Substances Act, the current monopoly the University of Mississippi holds on cultivating cannabis for federal research purposes, interagency coordination as well as the coordination between the federal government and states, and surveillance and epidemiological studies on the use of medical marijuana in the U.S.

    This second letter once again signals to many that medical marijuana is becoming an even more important issue in the political sphere not only to voters but also to their elected officials.

    Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a press release this week stating that they would “ease some of the regulatory requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for those who are conducting FDA-approved clinical trials on cannabidiol (CBD), an extract of the marijuana plant.”

    Current federal regulation requires researchers who wished to expand their CBD based studies to submit a written request for additional CBD. This would delay the research while the request went through the approval process. According to the press release, “Under these changes, a previously registered CBD clinical researcher who is granted a waiver can readily modify their protocol and continue their research seamlessly.  This waiver effectively removes a step from the approval process.

    Deputy Director for NORML, Paul Armentano comments, “It’s a minor change. The DEA has done nothing to speed the process for investigators who want to do clinical work with CBD. In order to do clinical work on a drug on the Schedule 1 list, an investigator still needs approval from the FDA, the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.”

    State:

    legalization_pollMassachusetts: H. 1561: The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act of 2016 has been scheduled for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, January 13th at 1PM.

    This legislation would permit the personal possession, cultivation and retail sale of marijuana to adults. The measure would also permit home cultivation of the plant for non-commercial purposes.

    Bring your written testimony and testify in front of the committee in support of The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act of 2016.

    If you can’t make the hearing, you can contact your lawmakers and urge their support here.

    New Hampshire: Legislation has been prefiled for the 2016 legislative session to allow persons 21 years of age or older to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and to cultivate up to 6 marijuana plants without penalty.

    Police in New Hampshire arrest some 2,900 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. The continued criminalization of adult marijuana use is out-of-step with the views of New Hampshire adults, some 60 percent of whom now endorse legalizing and regulating the plant, according to an October 2014 WMUR Granite State Poll.

    Click here if you’re a resident of New Hampshire and want to contact your lawmakers and urge their support for this legislation!

    Pennsylvania: The Pittsburgh City Council on Monday voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, falling in line with a growing number of municipalities that have taken similar actions in recent years, city officials said.

    Under the ordinance passed with a 7 to 2 vote, police in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, will begin to issue fines of $25 for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana and $100 for smoking it in a public space instead of citing for misdemeanors, the city clerk’s office said.

    The ordinance is subject to approval by Mayor Bill Peduto, who has voiced support.

    chapter_spotlightVirginia: Virginia NORML in Richmond, VA will be holding their state Lobby Day on January 14th!

    Virginia NORML members and supporters will convene at the General Assembly building to bring our message directly to our lawmakers. RSVP now — this is their #1 advocacy event of the year, and they need all hands on deck in Richmond!

    Participants will be teamed with other constituents and meet with their legislators face-to-face to discuss the marijuana policy reforms critical to the Commonwealth. Participants will be lobbying for decriminalization, and for eliminating the driver’s license suspension upon a conviction.

    For more information click here.

    Wyoming: House legislation (HB 3) to depenalize marijuana possession offenses has been pre-filed for the 2016 legislative session, which begins February 8. 

    Annually, state and local police make some 2,100 marijuana possession arrests. The state ranks sixth in the nation in per capita marijuana possession arrests. Under state law, first-time marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    House Bill 3  replaces criminal sanctions involving the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of no more than $100 — no arrest and no criminal record.

    To take action and contact your House member to urge their support for this measure, click here.

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    Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!

    ** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 23, 2015

    thumbs_upColombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signed legislation into law regulating the licensed production and exportation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

    Under the new policy, those seeking to grow medicinal cannabis commercially or manufacturer cannabis-based medicinal products may apply with government agencies for licensure. Regulators will also grant permits to those seeking to export medicinal cannabis products out of the country.

    Santos said that the goal of the policy “is for patients to be able to access medications made in Colombia that are safe, high-quality and accessible. It is also an opportunity to promote scientific research in our country.”

    While existing law allows for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis, the plant’s commercial production, manufacture, and sale had not been permitted.

    Federally licensed medical marijuana production and distribution is presently permitted in Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands.

    In 2013, Uruguay officials approved legislation authorizing the retail production and sale of cannabis to those age 18 and older. Consumers in that country are anticipated to be able to begin purchasing cannabis at state-licensed pharmacies by mid-2016.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel December 21, 2015

    As another year draws to a close, and I turn another year older, I am reminded how nicely marijuana compliments the aging process. And yet, because of the fears and misconceptions from the decades-long “reefer madness” government propaganda campaign, most seniors today remain unaware of the benefits and pleasures of cannabis. Those over 65 years of age remain the only demographic in the country who do not yet support marijuana legalization. We need to change that.

    Marijuana and Health

    First, aging brings a host of natural aches and pains, many of which are best remedied with a little marijuana smoking. Most of us who qualify as seniors end up with a growing list of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by our physicians, most of which have some undesirable side-effects, some minor and some not so minor. Recent research has documented that those who use marijuana to treat the symptoms of their conditions generally use fewer dangerous, Schedule 2 narcotics, avoiding the inevitable unpleasant side-effects those drugs bring, along with their palliative effects.

    Improving the Quality of Life for Seniors

    But primarily the point I would like to make in this column is the positive role marijuana can play in an older individual’s life, beyond the traditional medical applications. That is, marijuana can help enhance the quality of life at a time when most seniors have time on their hands and can explore facets of life that might have been missed when one’s career or family responsibilities consumed every available moment. We can now slow down and smell the flowers.

    Many older citizens fill their time by traveling more extensively than before; some spend more time playing golf or tennis or some other sport that may have been only an occasional diversion during their earlier years; and many pursue an intellectual search to learn more about the world around them, an option made enormously more attractive with the internet.

    And each of these uses of their free time, and many more, can be enhanced with the use of marijuana.

    With a couple of hits of high-quality weed, one might be inclined to finally take the time to learn that foreign language you have always wanted to master; or to research the family tree to learn your family’s history; or to more fully understand some of the serious social and environmental challenges with which we are confronted today.

    There are wonderful, creative ways to spend free time when your mind is open to new experiences.

    Opening the Doors of Perception

    The marijuana high, when used properly, opens the doors of perception and allows us to ask ourselves questions we might not have asked before, when we were overwhelmed with the challenges of everyday life – it stimulates one’s intellectual curiosity.

    By the nature of our existence, as we grow older we naturally ponder the reality that we are mortal and will not live forever, and that none of us are certain precisely what that means. It is the nature of the human experience that some of these question are beyond our ability to answer.

    Marijuana can be an entheogen that helps one achieve a degree of calmness about such imponderable spiritual questions, and allows us to set those issues aside while we enjoy each day, even with all of life’s uncertainties and challenges.

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    And finally, the marijuana high can turn an otherwise ordinary time into a special experience. Marijuana enhances the pleasures we derive from spending time with family and friends; from good music and good food, however one defines those things; and from those ordinary things that bring us joy each day, such as seeing a new-born baby, listening to the birds chirp in the morning, smelling the distinctive aroma of spring flowers, playing with our pets, or watching our grandchildren develop into younger versions of ourselves.

    This seems to me to be the most useful aspect of the marijuana high; it allows us to find value and richness in the ordinary.

    For seniors who enjoy smoking marijuana, there is really no such thing as “too much time on our hands.” It’s all good time that we can use to enrich our lives.

    I sometimes think marijuana is wasted on the young; it really is best suited for those of us who are now senior citizens, with discretionary time, and enjoying every minute of it.

    Stoner Seniors. It has a nice ring to it!

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director December 18, 2015

    christmas-baubles-clipartWith the holidays around the corner, there is plenty to celebrate in regard to marijuana law reform successes! Congress unveiled their 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the government through next year which included several marijuana measures and we’ve seen a number of state and municipal measures take hold as well. Keep reading to see if your state is moving ahead in reforming their marijuana laws!

    Federal: In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs.

    Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    To read more about this legislation click here.

    State:

    Vermont: The sponsor has unveiled the bill that will be introduced in the state’s next legislative session to legalize and regulate the adult use, production and sale of cannabis. Once formally
    introduced, the bill will head to the Senate Judiciary committee for its first consideration.legalization_poll

    The 41 page bill allows for retail outlets, lounges, and personal cultivation. Taxes and fees are not
    included in the bill language and will be covered when the bill is considered in the Senate Finance Committee.

    You can read more about the legislation here and write your lawmakers, urging their support here.

    Kentucky: Legislation to legalize and regulate the adult use and retail sale of marijuana, The ‘Cannabis Freedom Act, has been pre-filed for the 2016 legislative session.

    The legislation allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, cultivate up to five cannabis plants, store excess cannabis lawfully grown for personal use at the location where it was cultivated; or transfer up to one ounce of cannabis to another person age 21 or older without remuneration.

    In a prepared statement, the bill’s sponsor said: “Too many Kentuckians have had their lives stymied with criminal records as a result of nonviolent marijuana convictions. That is wrong. It is time to stop making criminals out of citizens due to outdated and ridiculous laws concerning cannabis.”

    Contact your lawmakers in Kentucky and encourage them to support this measure here!

    Delaware: Legislation signed into law last June decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses took effect at midnight this morning in the state of Delaware.

    House Bill 39 reclassifies the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those age 21 and over from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a criminal record, to a
    thumbs_upcivil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record. (Those between the ages of 18 and 21 may face criminal charges, but only if it is their second or subsequent offense.)

    The new law also amends the personal possession of marijuana paraphernalia from a criminal to a civil violation. Public use of the substance, as well as marijuana possession while inside a vehicle, remain classified as misdemeanors.

    Municipal:

    Pittsburgh (PA): An ordinance, proposed by Councilman Daniel Lavelle,  which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana passed a preliminary vote in City Council on Wednesday.

    The measure would allow police to seize the drugs and issue a $100 fine as long as a person had less than 30 grams of marijuana — about an ounce. People could have about eight grams of hash.

    A final vote is scheduled for this upcoming Monday. You can contact your City Council district here to urge their support for this measure.

    Palm Beach County (FL): With a 4 to 1 vote Tuesday, Palm Beach County decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Law enforcement can now give offenders a $100 fine or the option of 10 hours of community service instead of arrest. The ordinance only covers offenders 18 and over, and an offender can receive a maximum of two citations.

    This vote comes after nearby cities West Palm Beach and Miami Beach also chose to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.


    takeactionban

    Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!

    ** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!

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