• by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 16, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xEvery state that has fully legalized marijuana to date has accomplished that change by voter initiative, which means a majority of the voting public in those states clearly favored ending marijuana prohibition. However most statewide elected officials in those states publicly opposed legalization prior to the vote; and even after the initiatives passed, many attempt to undermine the new laws.

    These out-of-step public officials must be dismayed that their opposition to legalization appears to have had little impact on the voters, who no longer trust their elected officials to determine marijuana policy.

    Which raises the question of why so many of our elected officials remain so dismissive of the public health and other advantages of a regulated marijuana market over a black market. When presented with a choice, they frequently exaggerate the potential dangers from marijuana and embrace the status quo, ignoring the massive costs of prohibition.


    Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, first elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, who made his fortune as founder of the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, was a leading opponent of Amendment 64 in 2012 when it was approved by 55% of the voters.

    Still today, when asked whether pot legalization has been a good thing, or a bad thing, for Colorado, the governor can’t quite decide. The new law has created tens of thousands of new jobs in the state, is currently bringing in well over $120 million in taxes to the state treasury each year, and has reduced marijuana arrests in Colorado by 80%, but the governor continues to contradict himself from one day to the next – depending on what audience he is addressing.

    During his re-election campaign in 2014 Hickenlooper called the legalization of marijuana in Colorado “reckless,” although he had no problem soliciting campaign donations from the marijuana industry behind closed doors.

    And in 2015, he told CNBC “If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election (in 2012), I would’ve reversed the election and said, ‘This was a bad idea.’ You don’t want to be the first person to do something like this,” he said, advising other governors to “wait a couple of years” before moving forward with legalization.

    This man, who became rich selling alcohol, just can’t seem to get comfortable with legal marijuana, despite the obvious benefits to his state, and the popularity of legalization with Colorado voters.

    And in the states expected to have full legalization on the ballot this November, the most prominent state elected officials continue to bury their heads in the sand.


    The most organized opposition to a pending legalization initiative this year can be found in Massachusetts. A bipartisan coalition of public officials, calling themselves “A Campaign for A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts,” has announced their commitment to maintaining marijuana prohibition in MA. The anti-marijuana coalition includes Republican Governor Charles Baker, along with State Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, all Democrats. It is truly a “who’s who” of Massachusetts state politics.

    The basis for their opposition, they say, is that legalization poses a public health and safety threat, especially to young people.

    Governor Baker explained his opposition to the legalization initiative in a statement warning against “legalizing a recreational marketplace for a drug that would put our children at risk and threaten to reverse our progress combating the growing opioid epidemic so this industry can rake in millions in profits.”

    And Mayor Walsh recently explained his opposition. “I’ve met far too many families in Boston and elsewhere where kids have lost their way in school and been shut out of success in the workplace due to addiction and abuse of marijuana. Where marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and a vote against legalizing the commercial marijuana industry is a vote to protect our kids and communities.”

    Of course, no one is suggesting that kids should be using marijuana, and American teens themselves tell us each year in federal surveys that under prohibition, marijuana is easier for them to obtain than alcohol, because of the age requirement for alcohol. A regulated marijuana market would provide a significant deterrence against the use of marijuana by minors whereas no one ever asks for an ID in the black market.

    Despite this high-profile establishment opposition in MA, legalization advocates continue to anticipate a victory in November, expecting the voters to have grown disillusioned by these tired scare tactics.


    In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey has been a vocal public opponent of the legalization initiative in his state, saying he believes the majority of problems the state faces can be linked back to drugs “from unemployment, to homelessness, to domestic violence, to child neglect, to our prison population”.


    In California, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been silent regarding his position on the pending legalization initiative, although back in 2014 he expressed his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana, observing “if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation.”

    I should note that current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy to study policy options, has endorsed the pending legalization initiative in CA (AUMA), and supported efforts to qualify the measure for the ballot. He is somewhat unique among statewide elected officials, and his public support has provided a needed boost to the legalization effort in that state.


    In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage has long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana, despite polling showing majority public support, calling it a “gateway drug.” The governor actually called for the state to “bring back the guillotine” to publicly behead drug traffickers!


    In Nevada, Republican Governor Brian Sandoval has indicated he too opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, but he does not appear to have made a big deal about his opposition. Nevada is a state that has long understood the benefits of regulating gambling, but the principle apparently does not extend to marijuana.

    Victims of Their Own Propaganda

    To some degree, what we see in all of these states reflects the cautious instincts of most elected officials. Their top priority is getting re-elected, and they see change, especially involving contentious social issues, as politically risky behavior. That underlying reality explains why not a single state legislature has yet approved full legalization.

    But with current polling clearly showing a majority of the country now supporting legalization, fear of a political backlash should be abating. Perhaps this refusal by most elected officials to acknowledge the obvious benefits to legalization is based on an unwillingness to finally admit what the rest of us have known all along – their passionately-held anti-marijuana views were based on ignorance, prejudice and misinformation.

    To some degree, they are the victims of their own propaganda. And they can’t let go of those dated views without acknowledging their complicity in the misguided and destructive war on marijuana smokers. The policy they support has resulted in the senseless arrest and prosecution of tens of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, simply because they smoke pot. And our elected officials do not wish to accept that responsibility.

    Instead of moving forward with a fresh approach, these public officials prefer to assume the voters have been fooled, or they are stupid, or otherwise incapable of making these decisions for themselves.

    That screeching we are hearing from the establishment politicians in these states is the sound of a dying breed, squarely on the wrong side of history. Where do they get these clowns?

    Fortunately for the reform community, voters are way ahead of their elected representatives on our issue. And the time is coming for our elected officials to catch-up or be held accountable and replaced at the ballot box by these same voters.


    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director May 13, 2016

    legalization_pollThis week we’ll give you updates on legislation in Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Ohio. Plus we have exciting ballot initiative news out of California and Missouri! Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform this week.

    California: Proponents of the marijuana legalization ballot initiative, the AUMA (Adult Use of Marijuana Act), announced announced at a press conference that they have gathered more than 600,000 signatures from registered voters. This total is far more than the required number of 365,880 signatures needed in order to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The Board of Directors of NORML has endorsed the measure, which permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales.

    Florida: Members of the Orlando City Council voted  4 to 3 this week in favor of a new municipal ordinance giving police the option to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana possession offenders. Under the ordinance, which takes effect on October 1, 2016, first-time and second-time possession offenses involving up to 20 grams of cannabis may be punished by a fine of no more than $200 – no arrest and no criminal record. Under state law, similar offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Similar local measures have been recently approved in several other Florida cities and counties, including Tampa, Miami-Dade county, Palm Beach county, and Volusia county.

    Louisiana: Members of the House of Representatives have approved senate legislation, Senate Bill 271, to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Existing law only permits for the patients’ use of medical marijuana in instances where the plant is ‘prescribed.’ However, under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. Senate Bill 271 seeks to change the language of existing law so that physicians may ‘recommend’ rather than prescribe cannabis therapy. The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include Crohn’s disease, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders. The bill will now return to the Senate for concurrence. Governor John Bel Edwards has expressed support for the medical marijuana expansion measure, stating that he wants a ‘meaningful’ bill that will ‘actually work.’ #TakeAction

    namlogoblueMissouri: Representatives of New Approach Missouri, the group pushing for a statewide medical marijuana ballot question this November, announced earlier this week they have turned in just under 250,000 signatures to the state for certification — well over the 167,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. The measure, which NORML has endorsed, would permit physicians to recommend cannabis therapy to patients at their discretion, and would also permit qualified patients to cultivate marijuana or obtain it from licensed dispensaries.

    New Hampshire: Members of the House approved an amended, Senate-backed sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 498, in a 298-58 vote on Wednesday, May 11th. The amended language would make first-time marijuana possession offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. The legislation now returns to the Senate for concurrence. Members of the Senate have previously rejected decriminalization for several years running. #TakeAction

    Ohio: House lawmakers approved revised legislation, House bill 523, to establish guidelines for those who may qualify to use medical marijuana and how it may legally be consumed, in a 71-26 vote on May 10th. The revisions outline 20 ailments for which cannabis may be recommended, including epilepsy, AIDS, and intractable pain. However, the revised language prohibits the consumption of medicinal cannabis via smoking. Such restrictions exist in three other states: Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania. The measure will now be considered by members of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday, May 17th. #TakeAction

    A separate, more comprehensive medical marijuana measure is likely to appear on the 2016 ballot initiative. Proponents of the initiative, the Marijuana Policy Project, must collect 305,591 valid signatures of Ohio voters by early July to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The MPP-backed measure would permit qualified patients to cultivate their own medicine and/or obtain cannabis from licensed dispensaries. You can read a summary of the measure here.

    lobby_day_2016We are ten days out from NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day and we are excited to share with you the full itinerary! Have you registered to attend? We have some fun events planned and it would be a shame for you to miss out!

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director May 12, 2016

    lobby_day_2016We are ten days out from NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day and we are excited to share with you the full itinerary! Have you registered to attend? We have some fun events planned and it would be a shame for you to miss out!

    Our ‘pre-registration’ social will be held at Eden Lounge the night of Sunday, May 22nd where we will have the place to ourselves for private mingling and relaxing. We’ll be welcoming those of you who are travelling from out of town and getting you checked into the event so you won’t have to worry about a thing on Monday morning. This party is free for those who pre-register for our Conference and Lobby Day but for those who wait till the last minute, you will have to pay a cover charge.

    On Tuesday, May 24, during our morning reception on the Hill we have confirmed the participation of three prominent members of Congress: Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Suzan Delbene (D-WA). Each of them will take time to address NORML’s attendees. This is a unique chance to meet with and hear directly from some of our nation’s most important marijuana law reformers in an intimate setting. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and gain insight into the progress we are making at the federal level. Have you ever had the opportunity to speak directly with a member of Congress? Now is your chance!

    We already know you care about marijuana law reform. But now it’s time to take your efforts to the next level! Join us in Washington, DC May 22-24 and tell Congress that it’s time to legalize the responsible adult use of marijuana.

    Register now to attend NORML’s 2016 Conference and Congressional Lobby Day!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 11, 2016

    thumbs_upSolid majorities of voters in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania support the legalization of marijuana for adult use, and super-majorities in Florida and Ohio support efforts to medicalize the plant, according to polling data provided today by Quinnipiac University.

    Fifty-six percent of Florida voters believe that state law ought to allow “adults to legally possess for personal use small amounts of marijuana.” Only majorities of self-identified Republicans and respondents over the age of 65 oppose legalization.

    With regard to the question of permitting medical cannabis access, 80 percent of Floridians say that “they will vote for a constitutional amendment this November allowing for medical marijuana.” The 2016 ballot measure, entitled the “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Conditions,” will appear before voters as Amendment 2. Passage of the amendment would permit qualified patients to possess and obtain cannabis from state-licensed facilities. Support for the measure is over 70 percent among every party, gender, education, age and ethnic group measured, Quinnipiac reported.

    In Ohio, 52 percent of voters endorse “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” and 90 percent support “legalizing the use of medical marijuana.” Legislation to permit the limited use of non-herbal cannabis formulations by qualified patients was recently passed by Ohio House lawmakers and awaits further action by the Senate. A separate, more comprehensive medical marijuana measure sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project may appear on the November 2016 Ohio ballot.

    In Pennsylvania, voters support by a margin of 57 percent to 39 percent the notion of “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” As in Florida, only Republicans and voters over 65 years old expressed majority opposition to legalization. Quinnipiac pollsters did not ask voters to provide their opinions with regard to medicinal cannabis, which state lawmakers just legalized in April.

    The Quinnipiac survey results are similar to those of other recent national polls, such as those by reported by CBS, Gallup, and Pew, finding that a majority of Americans now support ending marijuana prohibition.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 10, 2016

    cbd_trichomesPer se driving limits for the presence of THC are arbitrary and may improperly classify motorists who are not behaviorally impaired, according to the findings of a study published today by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    Per se driving limits criminalize the act of operating a motor vehicle if the driver possesses detectable amounts of specific drugs or drug metabolites above a set threshold. Under these laws, drivers are guilty per se of violating the traffic safety laws even absent evidence of demonstrable behavioral impairment.

    Five states – Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington – presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards. In Colorado, the presence of THC in blood above 5ng/ml “gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.” Legislation similar to Colorado’s law is presently pending in California.

    However, the AAA report concludes, “[A] quantitative threshold for per se laws for THC following cannabis use cannot be scientifically reported.” This is because the body metabolizes THC in a manner that is significantly distinct from alcohol. In particular, acute effects of cannabinoids lag well behind the presence of maximum THC/blood levels. Additionally, residual levels of THC may be present in blood for extended periods of time, long after any psychomotor-related effects have ceased.

    The Automobile Association’s finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which acknowledges: “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”

    NORML has long articulated a similar opposition to the imposition of per se driving thresholds for THC and/or its metabolites, stating, “[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus. … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”

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