NORML reviews the top news stories of 2014.
#1 Marijuana Legalization Measures Win Big On Election Day
Voters in Oregon and Alaska decided on Election Day in favor of statewide initiatives legalizing the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults, while voters in the nation’s capitol and in numerous other cities nationwide similarly decided on local measures to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.
#2 Colorado And Washington Begin Regulating Retail Marijuana Sales
Two states, Colorado and Washington, initiated retail marijuana sales in 2014. Colorado’s program began on January 1. In Washington, state-licensed retail outlets began legally selling cannabis to adults in July.
#3 Congress Enacts Measure Protecting State-Sponsored Medi-Pot Programs
President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law in December that included a provision limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The amendment states, “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
#4 Congress Moves To Permit State-Sanctioned Hemp Cultivation
Federal lawmakers approved legislation in February permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation to move forward despite the plant’s federal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.
#5 Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status
United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller heard five days of testimony in October in regard to the constitutionality of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law. Defense counsel and their experts argued that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. Judge Mueller is expected to make her ruling in early 2015.
#6 JAMA: Fewer Opiate-Related Deaths In Medical Marijuana States
The enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”
#7 President Acknowledges That Booze Is More Harmful Than Marijuana
Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged in January in an interview with The New Yorker. “I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol,” he stated. He added, [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time.”
#8 Study: Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Violent Crimes
Medicinal cannabis laws are not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, according to data published in April in the journal PLoS ONE. “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault,” authors concluded. “In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”
#9 NYT Editors Opine In Favor Of Legalizing Cannabis
The New York Times editorial board in July called upon federal lawmakers to end the criminalization of cannabis for those over the age of 21. The paper’s editors opined: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. … Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. … [W]e believe that on every level, … the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.”
#10 Americans Say Marijuana Is Less Harmful To Health Than Sugar
Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released in March. Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).
2014 was truly a watershed year for the movement to legalize marijuana in this country.Two states joined the list of jurisdiction to switch from prohibition to regulated sales, and the District of Columbia, as well as a number of cities, adopted complete decriminalization for minor offenses. And scores of additional states saw their first serious legalization proposals introduced in their state legislatures, a fact that holds great promise for more victories to come in the near future.
While far too many marijuana arrests continue to occur in this country, and hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens still have their lives and careers turned upside-down each year because of their use of marijuana, it is also true that the number of marijuana arrests dropped for the fourth straight year, reversing a pattern of increasing numbers of arrests that had been expanding for several decades. With additional states moving from prohibition towards decriminalization or full legalization, those numbers should continue to decline for years to come. We did not get into this mess called marijuana prohibition overnight, and it will require both persistence and patience to put it fully behind us.
A lot of the progress we have seen over the last year occurred in ways that reflect the increasing public acceptance of marijuana, a necessary precursor to political change. 2014 was truly another banner year for legalizers.
Here is my list of the most significant milestones of the last twelve months.
To Read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
Dear NORML members and supporters,
Thanks for providing this venerable 44-year old non-profit organization the support necessary–both financially and spiritually–in helping achieve its two stated public policy goals:
- End cannabis prohibition and replace with system of taxation and regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco products
- Help the victims of cannabis prohibition enforcement (from those busted for possession to workers being denied employment over drug testing to patients who need to access cannabis as a therapeutic)
To the former, the math is simple: four states down (AK, WA, OR and CO have legalized cannabis commerce and taxation), forty-six more to go.
To the latter, NORML and its 160 plus chapters are both sympathetic to and helpful outlets for the many hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers, cultivators and sellers arrested annually on criminal charges.
Attached is an end-of-year synopsis of many of the projects and efforts put forward by the organization in 2014 to advance cannabis law reforms.
Important issues going forward post legalization present a myriad of public policy concerns for groups like NORML to advocate for adult cannabis consumers:
- To be able to imbibe in a licensed establishment in the same manner alcohol consumers do (in other words, it is not sufficient or prudent to banish cannabis consumers to use the herbal drug only on private property, which does not even include most public accommodations like hotels. Americans want Dutch-like ‘coffeeshops’ to buy and use the product responsibly on-site);
- Employment protections for cannabis consumers not impaired in the workplace;
- Child custody rights;
- Second Amendment rights (under federal law, cannabis consumer and state-sanctioned patients can’t buy guns or ammunition);
- Reasonable taxes for consumers and businesses (so as not to encourage continuance of black market);
- Legal protections for cannabis consumers who currently fall under federal government’s specter (military personal, government contractors, university students, federal workers and contractors)
- Scientific based drugged driving testing
The public’s support since 1970 has aptly guided NORML thus far, looking into the political crystal ball for 2015, here are four items to be prepared for:
- There will be in excess of fifteen states that debate legalization bills in their 2015 legislative sessions (a state, likely in New England, will pass cannabis legalization legislation for the first time as all previous legalization successes have come about via voter ballot initiatives)
- The US Congress will have nearly twenty cannabis law reform bills introduced, ranging from legalization to rescheduling to sentencing to industrial hemp reforms.
- Reform organizations, including NORML, will be increasingly focused on passing a voter initiative in California in 2016 legalizing cannabis
- Non-partisan advocacy of presidential candidates for 2016 to support ending cannabis prohibition
Going into the New Year, possibly the penultimate year for cannabis law reform in the United States, please consider in 2015 the remarkable contrast occurring in the few states that have ended cannabis prohibition with the nightmare scenarios our fellow cannabis consumers still face in a vast majority of states in America.
Bittersweetly, here at NORML we’re caught betwixt and between prohibition and legalization where we field as many daily inquiries from citizens still getting screwed by antiquated cannabis prohibition laws as we do now very eager entrepreneurs wanting to know how they can become a legitimate cannabis-related business.
Please help NORML continue to push forward with achieving our stated policy objectives with your continued financial support in 2015.**
Thanks in advance for both caring and sharing!
Allen St. Pierre
NORML and NORML Foundation
**Donations of cash, stocks, securities and property to The NORML Foundation are fully tax deductible.
Legislation decriminalizing the possession of one ounce or less of cannabis in the United States Virgin Islands became law this weekend.
On Friday, Senate lawmakers voted to override Gov. John P. DeJongh’s line-item veto of the decriminalization provision, which had been included in territory’s 2015 fiscal year budget.
The depenalization measure eliminates jail time for minor marijuana offenses. Under the new law, cannabis possession for those age 18 and older is classified as a civil offense, punishable by a fine between $100 and $200. Those under the age of 18 will also be required to complete a drug awareness program.
(Under the previous law, minor marijuana possession offenses were punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.)
The enactment of the new law “will go a long way in easing cost on the judicial system and judicial process,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Terrance Nelson. Senators voted 14-0 to override the President’s veto.
For those of us in the business of changing public policy, sometimes we judge our progress on what we have accomplished; and other times we judge our effectiveness by the desperate acts of our opponents. The federal law suit filed late last week by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, seeking a declaratory judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court holding Colorado’s legalization provisions to be unconstitutional, clearly falls in the latter category.
This suit is more political theater than a serious legal challenge. These two conservative state attorneys general know they are losing this fight in the court of public opinion, so they are hoping the Supreme Court will step in and overturn the will of the voters. Desperate times lead to desperate tactics, and the plaintiffs in this action were clearly feeling desperate.