Many traditionally write off the Southern United States as an area dead to cannabis law reform, but one Representative is behind a new effort that can change all of that.
This week, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has introduced House Bill 550, the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act of 2013. This measure would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 12 mature marijuana plants by those over the age of 21. It would also authorize the Department of Revenue to establish marijuana retail outlets. You can read the full text of the measure here.
As many of you have seen, yesterday, Pew Research released new polling data that revealed, for the first time in data from a US based polling firm, that Americans support legalizing marijuana by over 50%. The survey found that 52% support legalization and only 45% were opposed. This is no longer just an issue relegated to states such as those on the West Coast and Colorado, traditionally considered bastions of marijuana law reform, this support is now nationwide.
As it very well should be, marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that squanders hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year, inversely affects society’s underprivileged, violates civil liberties, and fuels a violent, criminal black market responsible for countless deaths on our border as well as our local communities.
If states such as the traditionally conservative Alabama are beginning the discussion around alternatives to our failed prohibition of marijuana, the collapse of the drug war machine and its war on a green plant cannot be too far behind.
ALABAMA: If you live in Alabama click here to easily write your Representative and urge him or her to support this legislation!
The votes this past November in Colorado and Washington to regulate marijuana for adults have sparked a fire of change that seems to be spreading across the country. This month, both state and federal legislatures will return to work to kick off the 2013 legislative session and it is already shaping up to be one of the busiest in recent memory for marijuana reformers. Bills are already slated to be introduced in states such as Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas – with many more to be introduced in the coming weeks. It is very likely that on top of federal legislation coming down the pipeline, nearly two dozen marijuana reform measures will also be introduced across the country in various states. NORML will be providing you with Action Alerts as new bills are introduced, easily allowing you to contact your elected officials and ask them to support these important reform measures.
2013 is going to be one active year in the world of marijuana law, below you can read the summaries of the first 5 bills that were prefiled for introduction. Residents of these states can click on the “Write Your Officials!” link and easily send a pre-written letter of support to their state Senator or Representative. You can also click here to download our NORMLIZE CONGRESS graphic and share with your friends and family and encourage them to speak out against our country’s draconic marijuana policies.
Alabama – Medical Marijuana
Summary: Legislation that seeks to allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis is pending before state lawmakers. Democrat Rep. Patricia Todd (Jefferson) has pre-filed legislation, House Bill 2: The Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act, to be debated by lawmakers this spring.
This measure seeks to enact statewide legal protections for qualified patients who are authorized by their physician to engage in cannabis therapy. The proposal seeks to establish a network of state-regulated not-for-profit dispensaries and delivery services to provide cannabis to patients. Qualified patients would also be able to grow specified quantities of cannabis in private.
Indiana – Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Summary: Two separate pieces of legislation that seek to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties are expected to be debated during the 2013 legislative session.
State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) has announced that she will reintroduce legislation to reduce penalties for the adult possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation.
Separately, Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) has announced he intends to introduce legislation in 2013 that would make the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana by adults a non-criminal offense. Senator Steele, who chairs the Senate committee on corrections, criminal and civil matters, told the Associated Press that he intends to include the marijuana provision in a bill that revamps the Indiana criminal code to align charges and sentencing in proportion to the offenses.
Iowa – Medical Marijuana Measures
Summary:Two separate pieces of legislation that seek to allow the physician supervised use of cannabis are expected to be introduced during the 2013 legislative session.
State Sen. Joe Bolkham has announced that he will introduce legislation, SF 266, to allow for Iowa patients with qualifying conditions to access and use cannabis for medical purposes with a doctor’s recommendation. Rep. Bruce Hunter also declared his intention to introduce a similar measure, HF 2270, in the General Assembly. These proposals would allow for Iowans with qualifying conditions to possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana, which can be cultivated from a private grow of no more than six plants, or purchased from a state approved dispensary.
Kentucky – Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Act
Summary: Legislation that seeks to allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis is pending before state lawmakers. Democrat Sen. Perry Clark (Louisville) has pre-filed legislation, the Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Memorial Act, to be debated by lawmakers this spring.
The proposal seeks to establish a network of state-regulated dispensaries where qualified patients could obtain cannabis if and when the substance is authorized by their physician. Qualified patients would also be able to grow specified quantities of cannabis in private. The measure bears its name after longtime Kentucky attorney and cannabis advocate Gatewood Galbriath, who passed away last year.
Maine – Tax and Regulate
Summary: Legislation that seeks to make Maine the third state to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana is pending before state lawmakers. Democrat Representative Diane Russell of Portland has pre-filed legislation to be debated by lawmakers this spring. Her proposed measure would legalize the sale of as much as 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana per week to people 21 or older at licensed retail locations. The law would also permit for the cultivation of the plant in private settings.
New Hampshire – Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Summary: Legislation that seeks to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties is once again before state lawmakers. Republican Rep. Kyle Tasker has pre-filed legislation to amend marijuana possession penalties for up to one ounce of marijuana.
Under present law, the possession of one ounce of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to one-year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This proposal seeks to make minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. Doing so would significantly reduce state prosecutorial costs and allow law enforcement resources to be refocused on other, more serious criminal offenses.
New Hampshire – Medical Marijuana
Summary: Legislation that seeks to allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis is pending before state lawmakers. A coalition of some dozen state lawmakers have pre-filed legislation that seeks to make New Hampshire the 19th state since 1996 to allow for the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Rhode Island – Tax and Regulate
Summary: Legislation that seeks to make Rhode Island the third state to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana is pending before state lawmakers. House Judiciary chairperson Edith Ajello has pre-filed legislation to be debated by lawmakers this spring. States Rep. Ajello: “I want to see the criminal element out of this. I think that legalizing and taxing it just as we did with alcohol prohibition is the way to do it.”
Texas – Lower Possession Penalties
Summary: Legislation that seeks to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties is once again pending before state lawmakers. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has prefiled legislation, House Bill 184, to amend minor marijuana possession penalties to a fine-only, Class C misdemeanor.
Under present law, the possession of one ounce of cannabis or less is classified as a Class B criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Passage of HB 184 would reduce these penalties to a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time.
January 2012 marks the beginning of a new legislative session in all 50 states. Already, marijuana law reform legislation is pending (or has been pre-filed) in over a dozen states. To keep up to date with what’s pending, and how you can support marijuana-friendly reform measures in your state, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — where we spotlight specific examples of pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!
ALABAMA: The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (HB 25) which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama Legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health, while a third measure that seeks to reduce penalties on adult cannabis possession is anticipated to be introduced shortly. You can learn more about these efforts via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
INDIANA: Senate lawmakers heard testimony on Tuesday, January 24, in favor of legislation, SB 347, to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties in Indiana. Lawmakers on Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters did not vote on the measure. Therefore, there is still time for constituents to contact their Senate members and encourage them to support marijuana law reform. You can do so via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here. A separate House measure, HB 1370, that seeks to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, is pending before the House Committee on Public Policy.
KANSAS: House Bill 2330, which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, was heard by the House Committee on Health and Human Services on Tuesday, January 24th. You can read media coverage of the hearing here and here. You can track the progress of this measure and contact your state elected officials regarding HB 2330 here.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Members of the House Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on Thursday, January 25, in favor of House Bill 1705, which seeks to allow adults age 21 or over to use marijuana legally in their home. The measure also seeks to establish a regulated cannabis market governing the wholesale production and sale of marijuana. Non-commercial transactions involving less than one ounce of cannabis would not be subject to state taxation or regulation under the measure. You can watch clips from the hearing here and you can contact your elected officials in support of the measure here.
The House Criminal Justice Committee is also scheduled to hear testimony this Thursday in favor of separate legislation, HB 1526, which seeks reduce the penalties on minor marijuana possession offenses (up to one ounce) from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine to a nominal monetary penalty of no more than $100.00. To contact your House representative regarding HB 1526, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
VIRGINIA: Legislation seeking to establish a joint study committee to investigate the fiscal impact of regulating the production and sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over is anticipated to be heard by the Virginia House Committee on Rules as soon as this Thursday. You can read NORML’s published op/eds in support of this measure here and here. To learn more about House Joint Resolution 140, please visit Virginia NORML or contact your state officials here.
[Editor’s note: Kellen’s brief review of a new organization dedicated to bringing attention to the numerous life sentences in America for cannabis-only related offenses is apropos as a 35-year-old father of a young child was sentenced in Louisiana Thursday for life in a cannabis possession case (the life sentence was triggered by the state’s controversial ‘three strikes and you’re out’ mandatory minimum sentences).
Regrettably, and discernibly, the greater south of the United States is the hotbed for these kind of insanely long prison sentences for supposedly criminal acts that many citizens in fact no longer believe are crimes whatsoever.
A new interactive map from the Sentencing Project aptly demonstrates that deep southern states like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have the highest prison incarceration rates not only in America, but the world.]
By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington Law School student, NORML legal intern
To many of us, the idea of anyone spending life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana offense is absolutely ridiculous. Yet with the recent passage of a bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature making the manufacture of hash punishable by life imprisonment, it is clear that life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenders do exist. In fact, a new website is drawing attention to this issue and has identified several people who are currently serving life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
LifeforPot.com focuses on finding individuals who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for federal nonviolent marijuana only offenses. Beth Curtis, the founder of the website, has identified eight people, each with a unique background and story of how they came to spend the rest of their lives in prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
Beth is very familiar with the subject: the first individual listed is John Knock, her brother. Since 2000, John has been serving two life sentences plus twenty years for his connection to a conspiracy to import multiple tons of marijuana and hashish from Pakistan and Lebanon into the United States and Canada, a sentence that Beth believes is the harshest ever for nonviolent marijuana crimes. When she talked to others about the severity of her brother’s sentence, she realized that people believed that nonviolent marijuana offenders could not receive such draconian sentences.
Despite having retired and living in Hawaii when law enforcement came knocking on John’s door he was extradited to Florida—a state that he’d never lived in or committed a crime. Instead, John was drawn into a sting operation because of his contacts with a San Francisco area smuggler who had been indicted. However, John was never seen by law enforcement committing any of the crimes he was convicted of, he was never found in possession of marijuana, and his prosecution rested only upon the testimony of informants. Criminal defense lawyers describe his as a ‘dry case’, and the full story is available at johnknock.com and grandmasmind.com
But how extraordinary is this sentence? Life for Pot lists some of the most famous drug kingpins and the sentences that they received, and it seems that John’s sentence was given special treatment. For example, “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the preeminent crack dealer of the Los Angeles area during the 1980s and early 90s was sentenced to life in 1996. His sentence was subsequently reduced to 20 years, and he was released in 2009. Manuel Felipe Salazar-Espinosa, deemed by the DEA to be one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins making up to $14 million in a week, was given 30 years for conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and money laundering.
It is clear that there are differences in the sentencing of these individuals. Life for Pot seeks to identify and make others aware of these discrepancies. Beth notes that the creation of mandatory minimums at the federal level has resulted in the increase in power of the prosecutor to decide the sentence by choosing which charges to pursue. She specifically points out that the 11th Circuit, which encompasses Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, has given 6 of the 8 life sentences identified for nonviolent marijuana only offenses.
So where does this effort go from here? Although Beth has already received some feedback from politicians, attorneys, activists, and journalists, she hopes to start an organization focused on this issue soon. In order to do this, she explains that she will need advisers to help out, as well as a strong coalition. The roots of this coalition have already begun to take hold, with organizations like the November Coalition, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums providing support, as well as media attention from a Columbia, Missouri NPR affiliate and High Times Magazine.
Beth would also like to broaden the focus by included those serving de facto life sentences for nonviolent marijuana only offenses, including where older individuals are sentenced to long sentences (e.g., a 50 year old sentenced to 20 years).
State sentences are another area that Beth would like to examine. Sentence reform efforts can be very successful at the state level. In order to do this, however, more resources must be available.
A group petition for clemency is also in the works for those prisoners that have been identified as part of this effort.
“The solution is political,” Beth declared. Legislative action is the best way to address the problem of egregious sentencing disparities. An organization focused on this issue would therefore be heavily focused on reaching legislators. So far, Life for Pot has sent out several cards and letters to federal congressmen and agencies. Beth also noted that advocacy efforts for the legalization of marijuana at the national level must be bolstered.
In these times where some jurisdictions are locking up nonviolent marijuana offenders for life, it is good to hear that someone is bringing the inconsistency and irrationality of these practices to light.
If you know someone that is currently serving a federal life sentence without parole for a nonviolent marijuana only offense, or would be able to assist Beth in her efforts, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lots to report on this week, so let’s get right to it.
If you have not yet gotten active in your state, now is most definitely the time to start.
Here’s this week’s highlights of actions you can take right now to reform the laws in your state.
For a complete listing of statewide actions, please visit NORML’s Take Action Center here.
Decriminalizing Marijuana: In a historic vote, members of the Connecticut Joint Committee on Judiciary last week approved Senate Bill 349, which as amended, would mandate that the possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana by those over 18 years of age is punishable by a ticket — not criminal charges. The bill now awaits action from he full Senate. Show your support for this effort by logging on here or by getting in touch with Connecticut NORML here.
In Texas, members of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence will hear testimony on Wednesday in favor of House Bill 902 — an act to reduce the penalties for the possession of up to ounce of marijuana to fine-only offense. The hearing is scheduled for 2pm in room E-2028 in the State Capitol Building. If you live in Texas you can write your representative in support of HB 902 by going here. You can also leave a message for the Committee by going here. Full details on attending this week’s hearing are available from Texas NORML here.
Legalizing Medical Marijuana: Minnesota lawmakers continue to show their support for making medical cannabis legal. Senate File 97 is now before the Senate floor, and the House companion bill is also gaining momentum. If you reside in Minnesota and want to see it become the fourteenth state to legalize the physician-supervised use of cannabis, please visit here to contact your elected officials and the Governor’s office.
In Alabama, members of the House Judiciary Committee are scheduled to hear testimony this Wednesday in favor House Bill 434, The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act. If you live in Alabama you can contact your state officials here, and you can learn more about attending this week’s hearing from Alabamians for Compassionate Care here.
And since so many of you have asked: yes, medical marijuana legislation is coming to Pennsylvania. Over the past weeks, NORML state affiliates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been working closely with Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) to draft legislation legalizing the authorized use of medical cannabis. Representative Cohen’s bill is anticipated to be formally introduced before the legislature later this month, and mainstream media outlets are already opining for its passage. For more information, or to become involved in this effort, please visit here, or contact the good folks at Philly NORML.
UPDATE: Montana GOP Kills Marijuana Law Reform: On March 23, members of the Montana House Judiciary Committee deadlocked 9 to 9 on House Bill 541, which sought to reclassify the possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction. Not one Republican voted in favor of the bill. An effort by supporters to raise the measure for reconsideration also failed.
Days later, members of the House Human Services Committee voted 8 to 8 on Friday, March 27, to table Senate Bill 326, which sought to expand Montana’s medical marijuana program. Once again, no Republicans endorsed the bill. A motion on the House floor to reconsider the bill failed 47 to 51.
To learn about additional pending legislation in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Vermont, please visit NORML’s Legislative Action Alerts page here.