A new District ordinance reducing marijuana possession penalties to a $25.00 fine-only violation goes into effect at midnight tonight.
Washington, DC City Council members overwhelmingly approved the legislation, entitled “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act,” this past spring. The measure amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25.00 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record).
Offenses involving the public consumption of cannabis remain classified as a criminal misdemeanor under DC law, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine. The possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia will be re-classified as a violation, not a criminal offense.
An analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union reported that the District possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.
The District’s $25.00 fine-only measure is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states — Alaska, Colorado, and Washington — impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 231 to 192 in favor of the Heck-Perlmutter-Lee-Rohrabacher Amendment, which will restrict Treasury Department and SEC funds from being spent to penalize financial institutions for providing services to marijuana related business that operate according to state law. This proposal amends H.R. 5016, a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 that funds the Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, and Securities and Exchange Commission.
The amendment reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin or the District of Columbia, to prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a financial institution from providing financial services to an entity solely because the entity is a manufacturer, producer, or person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”
This vote comes on the heels of another recent historic vote in the House of Representatives, that restricted Department of Justice and DEA funds from being used to interfere in state approved medical marijuana programs. That measure is still awaiting action in the US Senate. This measure, HR 5106, will now be sent to the Senate as well.
“The recent votes in the House of Representatives demonstrate bi-partisan support at the federal level to allow states to experiment with new marijuana policies, free from federal interference,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “If implemented, this amendment will help alter the current untenable status quo that forces otherwise law abiding businesses to operate on a cash only basis, making them a target for criminal actions and unduly burdening their operations.”
More than six out of ten Americans – including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – support the regulation and retail sale of marijuana in Colorado, according to the findings of a nationwide HuffPost.com/YouGov poll released today.
Colorado voters in 2012 approved a statewide initiative legalizing the personal consumption and cultivation of the plant. The measure also allows for the state-licensed commercial production and retail sales of cannabis to those over the age of 21. Commercial cannabis sales began on January 1st of this year. To date, these sales have generated nearly $11 million in tax revenue.
Sixty-one percent of Americans – including 68 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and 52 percent of Republicans – say they “support” Colorado’s efforts to regulate the commercial cannabis market. Only 27 percent of respondents oppose the Colorado law.
Respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 (65 percent) as well as those age 65 and older (64 percent) were most likely to support Colorado’s efforts, while those between the ages of 45 to 65 (55 percent) were less likely to do so.
The results of a separate poll of Colorado voters commissioned by Quinnipiac University in April similarly reported that most Coloradoans support the state’s efforts to regulate marijuana sales and consumption.
Similarly licensed commercial retail sales of cannabis began last week in Washington state.
In response to a separate HuffPost/YouGov poll question, 54 percent of those surveyed said that the US government should not enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized and regulated the plant. Only 29 percent of respondents endorsed the notion of enforcing federal prohibition in states that are pursuing alternative regulatory schemes.
“Every day in America, hundreds of thousands of people engage in transactions involving the recreational use of marijuana, but only in two states – Colorado and Washington – do these transactions take place in a safe, above-ground, state-licensed facility where consumers must show proof of age, the product sold is of known quality, and the sales are taxed in a manner to help fund necessary state and local services,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Not surprisingly, most Americans prefer to have cannabis regulated in this sort of legal setting as opposed to an environment where the plant’s production and sale is entirely unregulated and those who consume it are stigmatized and classified as criminals.”
Complete poll results are available online here.
In a Statement of Administration Policy, released today, President Obama’s administration took a firm stance against recent efforts by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) to restrict the District of Columbia from using any of its funds towards reducing the penalties for, or legalizing, marijuana for recreational use.
The memo states that “the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”
“It is encouraging to see the White House stand up for DC’s right to pursue the reformation of their marijuana laws,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Prohibition is a failed policy and we are pleased to see President Barack Obama beginning to act in accordance with the view of an overwhelming majority of Americans that states and localities should be free to pursue new approaches to marijuana, free from federal incursion.”
You can read the full text of the memo here.
You can click here to quickly and easily contact your elected officials and encourage them to oppose this amendment.
NORML has been fighting for nearly half a century to replace our nation’s overreaching, under-serving and (by any objective measure) disastrous marijuana laws with a sensible, regulated retail system – and in 2014, real change is finally upon us. The effective launch of Colorado and Washington State’s new cannabis market is a clear indication that the days of prohibition are numbered. Marijuana is now a true commercial commodity, and with that comes a new set of standards – the likes of which the industry, and the movement have never seen before.
As a result of the commercialization of this new industry, NORML is pleased to announce the launch of the NORML Business Network, a new initiative seeking to bridge consumer advocacy with the cannabis industry. The Network will be collaborating with marijuana companies and ancillary businesses that are committed to using their enterprise as a positive example of corporate social responsibility, and a platform for ending marijuana prohibition nationwide. The NORML Business Network has already partnered with Weedmaps, Marijuana.com and High Times Magazine to further promote this initiative, and to highlight other members of the NORML Business Network through their various mediums.
The NORML Business Network is a selective, industry focused, membership-based program that advocates for high industry standards, and using business as a force for change. The Network’s mission is to empower the market early on to become invested in creating a culture of self-regulation, and to encourage entities to adopt a socially conscious corporate model that integrates the interests of their customers and communities into the fabric of their business’ DNA. Similar to that of the Better Business Bureau, stores or products that carry the NORML Business Partner seal confirms that they are operating a “values-driven” enterprise, and are active supporters of marijuana law reform nationwide. NORML Business Partners will be required to meet certain criteria, including various market and industry qualifiers such as testing, labeling, environmental sustainability, fair wages, decent pricing and special discounts for certain populations such as seniors and veterans.
The cannabis industry is under more scrutiny than any other developing market has ever been, and it is critical for all stakeholders to remain cognizant of this enduring challenge. The public as well as lawmakers will be watching closely at how these new policies in Colorado and Washington affect the communities and environments of those states, and beyond their borders. How retail marijuana unfolds in these early years will determine the future course of legalization nationwide.
As a consumer advocacy nonprofit, NORML is dedicated to identifying and protecting all new and evolving stakeholder interests – while also continuing on the path to legalization nationwide. The organization recognizes that the implementation of Colorado and Washington State’s commercial retail cannabis market have permanently changed the scope of the consumer advocacy debate, and the NORML Business Network is a natural evolution for the forty-five year old organization. The evolution of this burgeoning industry is creating entirely new legal and logistical challenges, which call for new standards and industry accountability – and NORML will continue to advocate for consumer’s interests under a legal regime.
“We want to recognize the positive impact these marijuana businesses are having on their communities by highlighting those who go above and beyond the letter of the law in an effort to align their economic benefits alongside the interests of their customers and communities,” said Sabrina Fendrick, NORML’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.
The NORML Business Network will promote these good corporate citizens to a national audience, media, elected official and the public safety community, amplifying their work as positive examples of the marijuana industry. This in turn will help solidify the integrity of legalization as public policy, and ensure the sustainability of the industry as reform takes root nationwide. For more information visit www.norml.org/business.