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NORML Blog

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 6, 2016

    Travel writer and public television travel host (and NORML board member) Rick Steves is truly a breath of fresh air.

    As countless American travelers know, Rick Steves is a popular, prolific, and clean-cut travel expert who hosts the popular public television series “Rick Steves Europe” as well the National Public Radio show “Travel with Rick Steves,” and he has written many guidebooks for Americans traveling in Europe. His company, Rick Steves’ Europe, also hosts hundreds of trips to Europe each year. He helps readers, viewers, and tour participants discover not only great cities but cozy villages off the usual tourist-trampled paths. He helps American travelers connect intimately with Europeans—often for a fraction of what mainstream tourists pay.

    Steves says his company’s mission “is to inspire, inform, and equip Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. We value travel as a powerful way to better understand and contribute to the world in which we live. We strive to keep our own travel style, our world outlook, and our business practices consistent with these values.”

    Steves, who is an active member of his Lutheran church, has a wonderfully wholesome and charming style and has developed a unique comfort level with average Americans. They like and trust him. And it comes as a surprise to many to learn that Steves has another side to him: he is also a marijuana smoker and a public advocate for legalizing the responsible use of marijuana. Because of his ability to personally connect with his audience, Steves is an especially effective NORML advocate whose public support carries great credibility.

    More and more public figures are beginning to speak out, but Steves was ahead of most all of them and has insisted on making his personal views on the subject public, regardless of the audience. Steves made his first appearance as a featured speaker at a NORML conference in 2003, and has been a featured speaker at many of our conferences since. He also frequently joins us to address the annual Seattle Hempfest. He was first elected to the NORML board of directors in 2013 and he continues to serve in that capacity.

    Steves has shown a willingness to articulate in public what many marijuana smokers believe but are uncomfortable saying out loud: that in the right situation, smoking cannabis can be a positive and life-enhancing experience. Not only is it not harmful behavior, when used responsibly, but it can actually improve the quality of one’s life. The mind is clearer, and one’s creative juices are enhanced by the experience of getting high. Beyond that, it can be a wonderful way to simply relax.

    Steves has an effective way to explain his interest in marijuana smoking. “I’m a travel writer. For me ‘high’ is a place. Sometimes I just want to go there. And if my government says no, there better be a good reason. And there isn’t.” He finishes his talk by wishing his audience “Happy travels…even if you’re just staying home.”

    Steves was an official sponsor and significant financial supporter, and toured his home state of Washington actively campaigning in support of the ballot initiative (I-502) that voters approved in 2012, and he actively supported and personally toured Oregon in support of the successful Oregon initiative (Measure 91) in 2014.

    And he has announced he is making similar commitments to the legalization initiatives that will appear on the November ballot in both Maine and Massachusetts this fall. He will spend three days in both states this fall, barnstorming to build support for the measures, and he will make a significant financial contribution to the campaigns in both states.

    Rick Steves - NORML Board MemberJust this past week Steves announced he was putting up $50,000 as a matching grant to the Maine Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, to match the contributions from other supporters.

    I’ve worked hard to help legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult recreational use in Washington State (where I live) and in Oregon. This November, Maine voters will have the opportunity to approve a ballot initiative that will end prohibition and replace it with a sensible marijuana policy in their state too.

    As a NORML Board Member, I am proud to announce that NORML is endorsing this initiative. And to demonstrate my commitment, I am going to match every donation up to $50,000, dollar-for-dollar. This October, I’ll be visiting Maine to speak about the initiative and help build support for legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana in the state.

    Through my travels in Europe, I’ve learned that pragmatic harm reduction makes much more sense than legislating morality. And I believe in civil liberties. Responsible adults should be able to use marijuana, just as they can use alcohol. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska have demonstrated that it is possible to build a system of marijuana control and regulation that works.”

    This isn’t about being “soft” or “hard” on drugs. This is about being smart – and controlling and regulating marijuana the right way.

    Please consider making a donation today. Together, we can make history in Maine.

    Best,

    Rick Steves

    Guidebook Author and Travel TV Host

    NORML Board Member”

    In a press release issued by the Maine campaign, they thanked NORML for endorsing the initiative and expressed their appreciation of Rick Steves’ generosity. “NORML has spent decades educating the public about marijuana and advocating for sensible marijuana policy reform,” said campaign manager David Boyer. “We are proud to have their support, and we are very grateful for Mr. Steves’ exceptionally generous offer. A lot of celebrities express support for ending marijuana prohibition, but few put their money where their mouth is.”

    And that is the point of this column. Lots of celebrities talk the talk, but few actually walk the walk. It is a delight to be working with Rick Steves, a celebrity who does both exceptionally well. Rick Steves may well be the single most effective legalization advocate in America, and he is especially helpful bridging the gap between those of us who smoke and those who don’t.

    Thanks, Rick, for all you do to advance the cause of personal freedom for all of us, smokers and non-smokers alike.

    ____________________________________________________

    This column was first published on Marijuana.com.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 30, 2016

    SR2-11It was with great pleasure that NORML presented the first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award this past week to criminal defense attorney Gerald H. Goldstein, a long-time NORML activist and senior partner with the firm of Goldstein, Goldstein and Hilley in San Antonio, TX.

    The award, named after the late Michael J. Kennedy, the legendary civil rights and criminal defense attorney (and general counsel for High Times magazine from its inception in 1974 until his death in early 2016), was established, with the blessing of the Kennedy family, to honor those individuals who, like Michael Kennedy, dedicate their lives to advancing the cause of social justice in America. Eleanora Kennedy, Michael’s window, and their daughter Anna Safir, spoke at the ceremony, reminding us of Michael’s 40-year support for NORML and our mission to legalize marijuana, and suggesting he would be thrilled that his colleague Goldstein would be the first recipient of this annual award.

    The inscription on the award reads as follows:

    “To Gerald H. Goldstein, in recognition of your lifetime commitment to achieving social justice for all people, including especially those without the resources or social standing to achieve justice on their own. Your willingness to speak for the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular, like Michael Kennedy himself, has defined your exemplary personal and professional life.”

    And few lawyers in America better fit this description than my dear friend Gerry Goldstein.

    Goldstein first became involved in the struggle to end marijuana prohibition back in 1972, when he volunteered to represent NORML in the state of Texas, which, at that time, was the state handing down the harshest marijuana sentences in the country. In fact, Texas at the time had more than seven hundred people serving sentences of ten years or longer for (mostly) non-violent marijuana offenses, with more than thirty people serving sentences of thirty years or longer, and thirteen people serving life sentences.

    We realized it was important to publicize that cruel reality, and with Goldstein’s help, we managed to arrange a tour of the Texas prison system with major media, including the New York Times and the AP, to interview a sampling of these poor souls. As a result of the national publicity that resulted, the governor established a panel to review the sentences of those marijuana offenders, and most were subsequently released years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

    Goldstein also became the go-to-guy to represent Vietnam War draft resisters during that era, as well as other protesters willing to challenge unfair policies of the government.

    And there have been many occasions over the years when Goldstein would fly across the country to represent a marijuana defendant facing a lengthy prison sentence because he understood the injustice of marijuana prohibition and could not look the other way. He is an extraordinarily talented and committed individual who has no fear of challenging those who would oppress the less fortunate among us. His personal and professional life has been a tapestry of helping others, and a model for those who seek to assure a more just society for all.

    Over time, Goldstein joined the ranks of the elite criminal defense attorneys in the country, serving as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and a founding member of the NORML Legal Committee (NLC), where he, along with noted San Francisco criminal defense attorney Michael Stepanian, were named “co-chairs for life.”

    He has represented clients as diverse as Manual Noriega and the movie “Deep Throat” before the US Supreme Court; has represented many clients pro bono on behalf the Innocence Project, including the exoneration of Michael Morton, who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit — a case which led to the prosecutor and sitting Texas judge being sentenced to jail for Morton’s wrongful conviction. Goldstein has met with several US Attorney Generals to discuss issues confronting the criminal justice system; and has made himself available to fight some of the toughest battles with the government to protect the right of every citizen to a vigorous defense and the assistance of competent counsel when accused or suspected of a crime.

    Goldstein received NORML’s Al Horn Memorial Award in 1999, and the Lester Grinspoon Award in 2011 for his lifetime of advocacy and support for ending marijuana prohibition; the Robert C. Heeney Memorial Award for the outstanding criminal defense attorney in the US from NACDL; the John Henry Faulk Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from the ACLU; and was named a “Legal Legend” by the State Bar of Texas and is a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Hall of Fame, as well as scores of additional awards (literally too numerous to list) recognizing his commitment to social justice in America.

    And throughout his storied career, Goldstein has never lost sight of the plight of “the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular,” which is why he richly deserves this first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award.

    Thank you, Gerry, for a lifetime of fighting for the underdog.

    _____________________________________________

    This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director May 27, 2016

    NORML members, supporters, and chapter leaders gathered in our nation’s capital this week, for NORML’s 2016 Conference and Lobby Day. The events were filled with education, activism, socializing, and plenty of marijuana smoking. For those who weren’t able to attend, keep reading below to find out what you missed and how you can get involved in next year’s events.

    NORML Congressional Lobby Day 2016

    On Monday we held our educational conference at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. On the top floor, surrounded with ceiling to floor windows, the meeting room provided attendees a view of some of the district’s most iconic sights while hearing from some of the reform movement’s brightest minds.

    Highlights on Day 1 included a presentation by Deputy Director Paul Armentano entitled, “We Don’t Know Enough About Cannabis? Think Again,” where he acknowledged that there are now more scientific studies and papers available specific to cannabis than most other conventional therapeutics.

    John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brookings Institute discussed the successes we have seen from Colorado and the other pioneering states that have regulated marijuana for adult use.

    Attendees also heard from Queens College professor Harry Levine and investigator Loren Siegel, who highlighted the continuing racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement — a disparity that continues to exist even in jurisdictions that have regulated cannabis-related activities. Their presentations were a stark reminder that even as we celebrate or successes, there is still plenty of work left to do.

    A summary of many of the day’s presentations is online here.

    awardFinally, in one of the more notable events of the day Eleanora Kennedy and Anna Kennedy Safir awarded longtime NORML Legal Committee member Gerald H. Goldstein with the first annual Michael John Kennedy Social Justice Award.

    Events continued Monday night at the historic O St. Mansion where attendees gathered for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. NORML hosted our 2016 award ceremony, highlighting various attendees for their extraordinary activism, and political and cultural leadership in the field of marijuana and marijuana policy reform. Award recipients included:

    • Outstanding Chapter Award to Norm Kent on behalf of Florida NORML
    • Student Activist Award to Chris Thompson, Purdue NORML
    • Lester Grinspoon Award to Harry Levine and Loren Siegel
    • Hunter S. Thompson Award to Bruce Barcott, Leafly
    • Pauline Sabin Award to Pam Novy, Virginia NORML
    • Peter McWilliams Award to Ken Wolski, Coalition for Medical Marijuana – NJ
    • Outstanding Cannabist Activist Award to Kevin Oliver, Washington NORML

    On Tuesday attendees convened on Capitol Hill for a full day of lobbying. In the morning, attendees heard words of encouragement from five distinguished members of Congress: Reps. Sam Farr, Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis, Suzan DelBene, and Dana Rohrabacher. Congressman Farr (D-CA), who is the co-sponsor of legislation protecting statewide medical marijuana programs from federal interference, will be retiring this year so it was a privilege for our lobby group to hear from him.

    NORML awarded Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR) our 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award for his continued leadership and focus on marijuana law reform throughout his career. Keith Stroup, NORML’s founder and legal counsel, spoke of the Congressman’s first days as a legislator in the Oregon State House of Representatives where he sponsored the state’s 1973 decriminalization law. Ever since then Congressman Blumenauer has continued to support our issue. Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment sponsored by the Congressman providing V.A. physicians the ability to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to U.S. veterans.

    Congressman Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman DelBene (D-WA) encouraged attendees to continue their advocacy work. Congressman Polis is chief sponsor of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, legislation to to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference. Congresswoman DelBene is chief sponsor of the SMART Enforcement Act, legislation to make the US federal Controlled Substances Act inapplicable with respect to states that have legalized and regulated marijuana in a manner that addresses key federal priorities.

    rohrabacherWrapping up the morning reception, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) made news when he acknowledged successfully using a topical marijuana treatment for his shoulder arthritis. His admission marked quite possibly the first time ever a sitting member of Congress has admitted using marijuana while serving in office! Congressman Rohrabacher is one of our most valuable leaders at the federal level and NORML wishes to thank him for not only addressing our group but for sharing with us his candid and personal testimony. You can listen to the archived audio from NORML’s Capitol Hill reception here.

    Throughout the three day event, attendees were able to network with fellow activists, learn from leaders in the reform movement, and relax with some of best locally grown marijuana in Washington D.C. NORML would like to thank those of you who attended and contributed to this successful event and we look forward to seeing you all again next year.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director

    take_actionFederal lawmakers pressured President Obama this week to take executive action to reform marijuana policy. Meanwhile, state legislative reforms are still moving forward throughout the country. Keep reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.

    Federal:

    Fourteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter this week to President Obama urging the administration to enact various marijuana law reforms.

    The letter requests the administration to reschedule marijuana under federal law to Schedule III or a lower category, or to deschedule it altogether; to license additional growers of cannabis for research purposes; to extend protections for secondary and tertiary businesses that serve the medical marijuana industry, and to ensure that the Justice Department better respects Congressionally-enacted legislation preventing it from interfering with well-regulated state medical cannabis programs.

    The letter comes after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced recently that it will soon issue a decision on pending petitions seeking to reclassify marijuana. However, lawmakers cautioned that reclassification is only one of many changes needed with regard to federal marijuana regulations. The letter reads, “We would like to caution against adopting the assumption that rescheduling alone is the panacea to the difficulties currently facing businesses, practitioners, and consumers. As such, we implore your Administration to investigate additional reforms that may be made administratively.”

    State:

    legalization_pollCalifornia: The Public Policy Institute of California released new polling information Thursday showing “broad and increasing support for a legal, regulated system of adult-use marijuana in California.” The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), which is expected to appear on the November ballot, 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. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possession and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes.

    Sixty-nine percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans support regulating the adult use of marijuana, according to the poll, In each demographic, support has increased in recent months. National NORML has endorsed the AUMA, along with California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu and Dana Rohrabacher, the California Council of Land Trusts, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the California Medical Association, and the California NAACP.

    Ohio: Lawmakers in both chambers have approved legislation, House bill 523, to regulate the use of medical cannabis preparations by qualified patients. The bill authorizes the use of various forms of cannabis preparations for the physicians-authorized treatment of nearly two-dozen conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and Crohn’s. It calls on the state to license the production, distribution, and testing of cannabis products. Home cultivation is not allowed. Products may be dispensed as oils, tinctures, edibles, patches, or as plant material. However, smoking herbal cannabis is not permitted under the measure. Vaporizing medical cannabis products is permitted. Similar restrictions exist in three other states: Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.

    The measure now awaits action from Gov. John Kasich, who may be contacted here.

    Proponents seeking to place a separate, broader medical marijuana measure on the 2016 ballot announced on May 28 that they were suspending their campaign, stating, “[A]ll in all, it is a moderately good piece of legislation passed by lawmakers who were pushed hard by the patient community. We plan on continuing forward as an advocacy effort to ensure that the State of Ohio lives up to the promises contained in HB 523, but also working to better the program utilizing our amendment as a roadmap for those improvements.”

    thumbs_upPennsylvania: Representative Ed Gainey has introduced legislation, House Bill 2076, to amend the state’s controlled substances act so that minor marijuana possession offenses are considered a non-criminal offense. The legislation would impose a fine and a summary conviction for an individual possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of hashish. Offenders would no longer face criminal arrest, incarceration, or a criminal record. The bill is now pending before the House Judiciary committee. #TakeAction

    West Virginia: Legislation was recently introduced to decriminalize the possession and cultivation of limited quantities of marijuana in West Virginia.

    House Bill 114 permits the personal use, growth and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by persons over the age of twenty-one who have acquired a “tax stamp” from the state. It removes marijuana from the state list of schedule I drugs and decriminalizes first-time marijuana distribution offenses involving under 30 grams of marijuana. Adults will be allowed to transfer to another person twenty-one years of age or older, without remuneration, one ounce or less of marijuana.

    Adults who choose to grow their own marijuana will be permitted to cultivate and harvest up to six pants. #TakeAction

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 26, 2016

    no_marijuanaFewer adolescents are consuming cannabis; among those who do, fewer are engaging in problematic use of the plant, according to newly published data in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

    Investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis evaluated government survey data on adolescents’ self-reported drug use during the years 2002 to 2013. Over 216,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 participated in the federally commissioned surveys.

    Researchers reported that the percentage of respondents who said that they had used cannabis over the past year fell by ten percent during the study period. The number of adolescents reporting problems related to marijuana, such as engaging in habitual use of the plant, declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

    The study’s lead author acknowledged that the declines in marijuana use and abuse were “substantial.”

    The study’s findings are consistent with previous evaluations reporting decreased marijuana use and abuse by young people over the past decade and a half — a period of time during which numerous states have liberalized their marijuana policies.

    An abstract of the new study, “Declining prevalence of marijuana use disorders among adolescents in the United States, 2002 to 2013,” appears online here.

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