Dear NORML Members and Supporters,
In the past 24 years I’ve penned hundreds of fundraising requests in the employ of NORML ranging from basic operating expenses to legal defense funds to advertising to match-the-donor grants to computer purchases to initiatives. Unfailingly, NORML’s members and supporters always come through with the needed funding to this venerable non-profit organization.
On this day I bring your attention to a NORML fundraiser self-conceived and implemented from a welcomed–but unlikely source.
I don’t think he’d mind me commenting that when one thinks of a long-distance runner, High Times’ Cultivation Editor Danny Danko does not immediately (or, at all!) come to mind.
So when Dan recently contacted NORML indicating that he’d decided to run in the 2015 New York City Half Marathon, and wanted to do so to raise money and awareness for NORML’s marijuana law reform work, it reminded me of the many types of personal self-sacrifice supporters of marijuana law reform work have been willing to make in support of the organization since its founding in 1970.
Dan has created a CrowdRise webpage for donations to be directed to the NORML Foundation that he is asking us to widely promote, as his employer, High Times Magazine, is willing to match dollar-for-dollar all of the money he raises through his long-distance running effort on Sunday, March 15.
A number of individuals, non-profit organizations and cannabis-related businesses have already pledged to support Dan’s fundraising efforts for NORML and marijuana legalization. Please take a moment and join them in recognizing Dan’s commitment to legalization, and to a non-profit organization near and dear to him and his family.
Dan has already raised nearly 40% of his stated $5,000 goal!
Thanks to Danny Danko, High Times Magazine and NORML’s supporters for putting the ‘grass’ into the organization’s longstanding grassroots efforts to end cannabis prohibition and stop the arrest of marijuana smokers.
Kind regards from a newly liberated Washington, D.C. (where cannabis became legal on February 26),
Allen St. Pierre
NORML / NORML Foundation
An issue which continues to arise in each new state that legalizes or depenalizes marijuana is where those who wish to gather with others who enjoy smoking marijuana are legally permitted to do so.
This seems like an easy problem to solve — we’ve done it before. At the end of alcohol prohibition, the majority of states legalized and licensed bars and lounges where any adult could legally go to meet friends and enjoy their choice of legal alcohol drinks, and to spend some time with others who enjoy drinking.
This model of allowing bars and lounges where drinkers can socialize is so universal today that it is somewhat surprising it has not been permitted by any of the first few legalization states. Apparently the social stigma surrounding marijuana smoking had become so significant as a result of the decades of “reefer madness” propaganda, that even those proponents of ending marijuana prohibition have feared a political backlash were they to permit marijuana salons. To me it feels like they are saying “it’s OK to smoke, as long as you stay in the closet”!
Unfavorable View of Recreational Marijuana Smokers
This disapproval of recreational marijuana smokers, even by many who favor ending prohibition, was measured in a recent poll commissioned by a group called Third Way, in a national poll conducted in October 2014. This poll found the country nearly equally divided on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, with 50 percent supporting legalization and 47 percent opposed to it. Bur ominously, the same poll found only 36 percent of respondents said they viewed recreational marijuana users favorably, versus 54 percent unfavorably. Meanwhile, a solid majority (55 percent) viewed medical marijuana users favorably — nearly 20 points higher than recreational users.
This segment of the population, dubbed the “marijuana middle” by the pollsters, have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy, and favor legalization; but they nonetheless disapprove of the recreational use of marijuana. They do not think we should treat marijuana smokers as criminals, but neither do they wish to give it their approval. And it is this lingering anti-marijuana bias that is causing most elected officials to oppose the establishment of marijuana lounges or social clubs.
For the rabid anti-marijuana crowd, barring marijuana salons has the appeal of retaining a strong message of societal disapproval of marijuana smoking; it is a sop to those who find themselves on the wrong side of history, even as legalization moves forward. That was clearly on the mind of DC Mayor Muriel Browser last week when she sent emergency legislation to the City Council seeking to prevent anyone from renting a facility for a private marijuana party to which the public could attend.
While the mayor had shown admirable political courage by ignoring threats from a few in Congress who were threatening her with arrest and jail for permitting the new full decriminalization law to take effect in the city, she apparently (no one can ever be sure of an elected official’s motivation) thought permitting the emergence of marijuana lounges to pop-up around the city, charging a fee for entrance (the new law permits adults to give, but not sell, up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult) would be too much for Congress to ignore – like sticking one’s finger in their collective eye.
While that may well have been a smart political decision in the short run, since some of those disaffected members of Congress had publicly suggested the District might be penalized with budget cuts for allowing the new law to take effect, it is inconsistent with the intent of Initiative 71 that was approved by nearly 70 percent of the voters, and it will inevitably lead to black market versions of marijuana social clubs. Remember the “speakeasies” of the Roaring ’20s?
Now let me acknowledge that these types of problems are wonderful problems to have. For more than 75 years, marijuana smokers have had to fear being arrested and jailed – sometimes for long periods of time – simply for possessing or using or growing a little marijuana. We reached the peak in 2010 when the country collectively arrested nearly 900,000 Americans on marijuana charges, with nearly 90 percent of those arrests for possession of minor amounts. And while that trend has slowly begun to reverse itself, marijuana smokers continue to be arrested in most states in America. For the millions of marijuana smokers who live in those states, any fight over whether marijuana salons should be permitted must indeed seem like a distant distraction.
But as we move forward in this transition phase, moving from prohibition to legalization, it is important that we not permit ourselves to get shoe-horned into some system that suggests we are second-class citizens, simply because we enjoy smoking marijuana; and that would effectively keep us in the closet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and there is no reason why we should not be permitted to enjoy marijuana in a lounge or social club with like-minded people.
Might Not Want to Permit Alcohol in Marijuana Lounges
I would like to see some legalization states experiment with a provision that would license marijuana lounges in which food and drink is available for sale, along with marijuana, but no alcohol. In effect, that is the Amsterdam model, with a few exceptions. I propose this as an attractive possibility, for two reasons.
First, we all recognize that alcohol sometimes causes drinkers to become belligerent and violent, leading to bar fights and worse. Marijuana has no such effect on smokers; in fact, it tends to smooth over those aggressive tendencies we may all occasionally feel, and it is nearly unheard of for a fight to break out at a marijuana party. We can largely avoid those problems if we ban alcohol.
Second, the research clearly shows that using the two drugs together – marijuana and alcohol – greatly exaggerates the level of impairment beyond that which either drug produces by itself; they are synergistic. So the concern shared by many Americans about marijuana-impaired drivers on the road – a concern which is generally overblown – would become a far greater problem if those who spent some time at a marijuana lounge were later driving home impaired on both marijuana and alcohol. We can save ourselves a lot of problems, both real and political, if we voluntarily keep the two drugs separate.
But the idea that marijuana smokers are going to limit their marijuana smoking only to their home, or a friend’s home, is unrealistic. Even under prohibition marijuana smokers devise ways to socialize in groups where they can enjoy marijuana, and that will certainly be the case with legalization. So let’s begin to experiment with legal and licensed marijuana lounges, salons and social clubs, and bring this inevitable social practice out of the shadows and above ground.
Although the District of Columbia is apparently not going to permit marijuana clubs, at least not in the immediate future, there is some hope in other legal states. In Colorado, for example, while Denver has outlawed private social clubs for marijuana smokers, as have many other towns in the state, the County of Pueblo has opted to license marijuana social clubs; and the City of Colorado Springs, which has since prohibited new clubs, have grandfathered in a few social clubs that were in existence prior to the ban.
Colorado has amended their Clean Indoor Air Act to prohibit marijuana smoking wherever tobacco smoking is prohibited, putting most hotels off limits. Not surprisingly there has been an increase in the number of tickets written for public smoking, since marijuana smokers from out-of-state have no legal alternative.
In Washington, there are a few private smoking clubs operating quietly in the shadows, but none are yet licensed or regulated. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, one of the official sponsors of the new legalization initiative (I-502), has taken the lead in this area, recently releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of legal pot lounges. “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana, “ Holmes said, “but others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless , and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options. You can enforce the law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand,” Homes added. His wise advise has yet to be implemented, but it has given a boost to the necessary public discussion.
Oregon presents an interesting experiment, as they get closer to the July 1 date when marijuana smoking will be legal in the state (the regulated market will not come online until early 2016), as Portland has since 2009 been the site of the grey-market World Famous Cannabis Café, catering to medical cannabis patients, charging an entrance or membership fee, but “giving away” donated marijuana once inside. They operated openly for years as a members-only private club, and have announced they will be re-opening after July 1. There are currently a few other private marijuana social clubs that have opened in Portland, although pending state legislation, if approved, may drive those endeavors back underground.
In Alaska, the new legal status for marijuana took effect in February, although the provisions for licensed growers and sellers will not be implemented until early 2016 But at least one activist – former TV news reporter Charlo Greene, who walked off her job while on-air with a four-letter expletive last year, proclaiming her intent to focus on helping pass the legalization initiative, has already opened the Alaska Cannabis Club in downtown Anchorage, promising to “give away” marijuana to “members.” But it is to early to know whether marijuana lounges will be permitted to operate openly under the new law.
As I said, this is a wonderful problem to deal with! We will eventually get licensed lounges in most states in America, and we will eventually stop arresting smokers in the states where that barbaric practice continues. Let’s keep the pressure on in all of those venues.
It is a great time to be alive for a marijuana smoker. But our work is far from complete.
This column was originally posted on Marijuana.com.
The majority of Americans say that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” according to nationwide polling data provided by the General Social Survey. The GSS is a bi-annual scientific survey that collects data on social trends within the United States.
Fifty-two percent of respondents endorsed legalizing marijuana – an increase of nine percentage points since GSS pollsters asked the question in 2012. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed the idea.
GSS pollsters have been tracking Americans’ views regarding marijuana legalization since the early 1970s. In 1990, only 16 percent of respondents backed legalizing the plant. The just-reported 2014 survey data marks the first time that the General Social Survey has ever reported majority support for legalizing cannabis.
Members of Jamaica’s Parliament have given final approval to a long-standing plan to amend the nation’s marijuana policies.
The newly passed measure amends the island’s Dangerous Drugs Act so that the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis by an adult is reclassified as a non-criminal offense. Violators of the new law will receive a ticket and be mandated to pay a fine, but will not face criminal penalties. Public use of the substance will remain prohibited.
Separate provisions of the measure seek to establish regulations allowing for the licensed production of cannabis for therapeutic purposes as well as for industrial purposes. Additional provisions of the bill provide broader legal protections for those who use the plant for sacramental purposes.
Although various Jamaican commissions had previously recommended similar changes in policy for well over a decade, lawmakers had until now consistently failed to move forward with any legislation seeking to depenalize the plant’s possession or production.
The new marijuana laws recently approved by the voters of the District of Columbia (Initiative 71) by nearly 70 percent took effect last week, following a 30-day period in which the US Congress had the opportunity to override the provision, but our opponents did not have the votes.
So it is now perfectly legal in the District of Columbia to possess up to two ounces of marijuana; to cultivate up to six plants in the home, not more than three of which may be flowering; and to give away, but not sell, up to one ounce of marijuana to someone at least 21 years of age. It is one of the better decriminalization laws in the country, a welcome half-way step that is now law in 17 states as well as the District.
I say it is a half-way step, because while it legalizes the possession and use of marijuana by adults, it does not establish a legal, regulated market, such as those currently operating in Colorado and Washington, and soon to be up and running in Oregon and Alaska. (Voter initiatives in DC may not require the expenditure of city funds, so that was not an option). In DC, marijuana smokers will either have to cultivate their own marijuana in their home, or continue to buy their marijuana on the black market, with no quality controls to protect them from contaminants such as molds or pesticides, and no way to evaluate the strength of the product.
Decriminalization is obviously a giant step forward for any jurisdiction, as it ends the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Although in DC the elected City Council has already reduced the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil offense, punishable by a fine of $25, so the latest change will not be dramatic, and the changes will largely go unnoticed by the general public. Nonetheless, it is good to get rid of the fine altogether and finally make marijuana possession and cultivation legal.
Perhaps most significant, now that possession of two ounces of marijuana is legal in the District, the smell of marijuana, traditionally used by the police as legal justification to search the passenger compartment of a car without the need to obtain a search warrant, no longer provides probable cause for a search. It is impossible for the police to tell whether the marijuana they are smelling is more or less than the two ounce limit, so this much-abused police practice now must stop.
Similarly, the smell of marijuana when the police come to someone’s home has traditionally been used by the police as probable cause to obtain a search warrant for someone’s home; that common, abusive practice must now also end. So the new laws in the District will have the positive result of protecting our right to privacy and reinforcing our 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Interestingly, Mayor Muriel Bowser and a majority of the DC City Council members were poised to develop and approve a set of regulations to license growers and dispensaries in the District, until the drug warriors in Congress used the budget bill approved at the end of the last Congress to preclude the District from spending any of its money to legalize marijuana. Some on the council have long supported more progressive marijuana laws, while others resent the interference of Congress in the local affairs in the District, which enjoys a limited form of “home rule.”
The anti-pot zealots in Congress, led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), had thought their budget amendment would also stop the provisions of Initiative 71 from being implemented, but the mayor and City Council Chair Phil Mendelson and the new DC Attorney General all took the position that the initiative was “self-enacting” and required no expenditure of funds by the District, and they are treating the Congressional budget amendment as having no effect on the initiative, although they acknowledge it would block the Council from going further to regulate the market.
When the anti-marijuana ideologues in Congress saw that the elected leadership in the District were going to enforce the language of the new initiative, they publicly threatened to have the mayor and other city officials arrested! To the everlasting credit of Mayor Bowser, Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Police Chief Cathy Lanier, they held a joint press conference explaining what is and is not allowed by the new laws (no public smoking; no selling; no outdoor cultivation; and no possession on federal lands, which comprise roughly 29 percent of the District’s total land area), and announcing the new laws would take effect at 12:01am on Thursday, Feb. 26th.
It was wonderful to see a united defense of the right of the voters in the District of Columbia to determine their own marijuana policy, free from Congressional interference.
This situation may yet end up being resolved by the courts, but for the moment, the good guys are winning. As an aside, the mayor has now called for the City Council to adopt new legislation making it clear that Amsterdam-style “cannabis clubs” will not be tolerated in DC; a sop, I suppose, to the other side. We will try to stop the ban from being enacted. Smoking marijuana is a social activity, and there is no reason to limit marijuana smoking only to a private home. Hopefully we can find some middle ground that will permit smokers to exercise their new right in other private areas. This issue too may end up in the courts.
New Alaska Penalties Also Took Effect
The new legalization law recently approved by the voters in Alaska (Measure 2) calls for the establishment of licensed growers and sellers by the end of the year, but there too the parts of the new law eliminating all penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and for cultivating up to six plants in the home, took effect last week. Once again, little will change initially for smokers in Alaska, since they have enjoyed protection from arrest or prosecution for possessing personal use amounts of marijuana in the home since 1978, because of a state Supreme Court decision, Ravin v State, finding such conduct protected by the right to privacy provisions in the state constitution.
But again, as in DC, the police will no longer be able to use the mere smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle, so the legal significance of the new law is enormous.
Oregon Law to Take Effect in Mid-Year
The new penalties approved by the voters in Oregon (Measure 91) will take effect on July 1, although the state has until Jan. 1, 2016 to implement the provisions regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana. As of July 1, Oregonians will be legally permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and up to eight ounces of marijuana in the home (and one pound of solid edibiles, 72-ounces of infused liquid, and one ounce of extracts), along with the right to grow up to four plants per household.
Until that time, possession of an ounce or less remains a non-criminal violation, carrying a fine-only, with no possibility of jail.
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This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.