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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 8, 2014

    Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to legislation to eliminate criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    Members of the state House of Delegates on Saturday passed the measure by a vote of 78 to 55. Members of the Senate on Monday approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 8. Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he intends to sign the bill into law.

    The forthcoming law reduces existing penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (presently punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders).

    The new law will take effect on October 1, 2014.

    According to a recent ACLU report, Maryland in 2010 possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country.

    Maryland’s pending law 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.

    In March, lawmakers for the District of Columbia also approved legislation reducing penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The measure is subject to a 60-day review period by members of Congress before it can become District law.

    Maryland lawmakers on Monday also approved separate legislation amending the state’s existing medical marijuana law, which had been largely nonfunctional. The pending law will allow for qualified patients to obtain cannabis for therapeutic purposes from state-licensed producers and distributors.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director September 16, 2013

    The FBI released their crime and arrest statistics for 2012 today and, despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized, the total marijuana related arrests in the United States is largely unchanged year over year.

    In 2012, marijuana arrests as a percentage of all drug arrests dipped very slightly from 49.5% in 2011 to 48.3% last year. This puts the total number of marijuana arrests at about 749,825 (compared to 757,969 arrests in 2011). 87% of these arrests were for possession only, meaning that about 658,231 Americans were forced into handcuffs last year for nothing more than simple possession. Another 91,593 were arrested for sale or manufacturing charges.

    That means a marijuana consumer is arrested for possession every 48 seconds. In the time it took you to read this short blog post, another marijuana consumer was taken to jail. Meanwhile, the occurrences of violent crime ticked up to 1,214,462 reported incidents, an increase of 0.7% over 2011 totals.

    You can view the FBI Crime Report for 2012 here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 15, 2013

    The regulation and taxation of marijuana for New York City residents age 21 and over would yield an estimated $431 million in annual savings and revenue, according to a report released this week by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. The mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition.

    The report, entitled “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana: The Fiscal Impact on NYC,” estimates that regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of cannabis to adults would yield an estimated $400 million annually. This figure is based on existing estimates regarding cannabis’ present market price and demand in New York City, as well as by calculating the imposition of an excise tax (on commercial production) and sales tax (on retail sales).

    Authors further estimate that $31 million dollars would be saved annually in eliminating citywide misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10 -- possession of any amount of cannabis in public view], which in recent years have totaled approximately 50,000 arrests per year — largely as a result of law enforcement’s aggressive use of ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics. Persons arrested are often under age 25 and disproportionately are those of color. Combined, blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of marijuana users in New York City, but account for 86 percent of possession arrests, the Comptroller’s report found.

    The Office did not attempt to quantify the broader economic impacts of legalization, including the costs of lost time, work, and other opportunities currently imposed on those arrested. The report’s authors also acknowledged that they did not attempt to quantify the costs of incarceration, which are largely borne by the state, or other secondary fiscal impacts of legalization, such as the positive or negative effects on public health spending.

    Following the release of the study, City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu spoke out in favor of legalizing the consumption of cannabis by adults, stating: “New York City’s misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities. It’s time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children.”

    A summary of the report is available online from the NYC Comptroller’s Office here. The full report is available here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 26, 2013

    naacpThe Pennsylvania Chapter of the NAACP endorsed Senate Bill 528, legislation that would regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, yesterday during a press conference in Harrisburg. SB 528 was introduced earlier this year by State Senator Daylin Leach*.

    Speaking at the press conference the current chair of the Legal Redress Committee for the Cheltenham Area Branch of the NAACP, David Scott, stated, “The war on drugs is a catastrophic failure.”

    Sponsor Daylin Leach welcomed the group’s support. “This is decimating the minority community. This is a problem that is particularly acute,” said Senator Leach.

    More coverage of this endorsement can be found here, here, and here.

    Sponsors of Senate Bill 528 hope to bring it up for a committee hearing in the fall.

    Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 4.31.43 PMA recent report released by the ACLU, The War on Marijuana: In Black and White, revealed that Pennsylvania was one of the worst states when it came to racial disparities in marijuana arrests. According to their data, an African American in Pennsylvania is over five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Pennsylvanians, despite using at similar rates.

    *Senator Leach is also running for the US House of Representatives and has received support from NORML PAC. You can learn more about Senator Leach’s campaign here or the NORML PAC here. You can learn more about the ACLU report here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 5, 2013

    poeOn May 18th, The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML held “Smoke Down Prohibition V” in a free speech zone near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA. As the name suggests, this was the fifth such event they had organized. The previous four were well attended, with hundreds of legalization advocates attending and peacefully demonstrating against our country’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition. You can view video of the largest event, held on April 20th of this year, by clicking here.

    The previous rallies went off without a hitch. Protestors were peaceful and respectful while law enforcement kept their distance and allowed them to voice their constitutionally guaranteed rights (as evidenced in this video, where National Park Police refuse to interfere with the event). This time, things were different. It was immediately clear from the outset that the police were taking a different approach to Smoke Down Prohibition V, from the very beginning the police presence was massive, with a couple dozen officers standing by and a newly erected fence in place to keep the attendees contained.

    Smoke Down Prohibition V continued as planned, despite the inclement weather and ominous group of National Park Service Officers and Philadelphia Police keeping watch. Speakers addressed the crowd of about 100 through the rain and things seemed to be going smoothly. However, as The Panic Hour’s N.a. Poe began the countdown to 4:20, a time at which the crowd traditionally engages in a moment of “cannabis reflection,” the police made their move. Rushing past a crowd of people openly smoking cannabis, they stormed the stage and began the process of violently detaining several marijuana activists, including N.a. Poe, radio host Adam Kokesh, and New Jersey Libertarian candidate for Senate, Don DeZarn. The travesty that followed can be best understood by watching cell phone video captured from the scene below:


    (Poe’s arrest starts around 1:50 mark, he is in the hat and yellow shirt being violently pinned to the ground by law enforcement.)

    When the dust settled, several were detained and released. N.a. Poe and Adam Kokesh were taken into federal custody. For six days they were held in solitary confinement at a nearby federal detention center, with Poe being denied even a single phone call. The confinement was supposed to provide him with one hour out of solitary for every 23 hours he was in, but this often did not occur, with Poe spending over 36 hours straight in his cell at points. During these six days, he was also denied recreation, access to lawyers, and medical treatment.



    Photo Credit: Vanessa Maria, The Panic Hour

    When they were brought up for a hearing on their charges, Poe was charged with felony assault on a federal officer and resisting arrest though Kokesh ultimately had his charges dropped to citations. Unfortunately, Poe still must appear in court under these trumped up allegations, which it seems rather clear to any who watched the countless videos, filmed at multiple angles, never happened.

    Despite law enforcement’s best efforts to silence him, Poe remains undaunted in his fight against our nation’s absurd marijuana policy. “The suppression of freedom of speech and targeting of activists expressing their views at the birthplace of liberty is a travesty that casts a bright light on the failure of marijuana prohibition at a federal level,” he stated.

    N.a Poe and The Panic Hour have long been supporters and friends of NORML and the marijuana legalization movement and the seemingly purposeful targeting of him and several other marijuana activists is an appalling example of the lengths law enforcement will go to, not just to criminalize marijuana smokers, but to silence our ability to utilize our First Amendment rights speak out against this prohibition. NORML will keep you updated as his case moves forward, you can click here to learn more how you can help by supporting N.a. Poe’s legal defense fund.

    Not ones to be intimidated, The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML will be hosting Smoke Down Prohibition VI on June 30th, featuring a pro-legalization march with the Cannabus and live comments from N.a. Poe (who will have to be video streamed in as the conditions of his release require him to stay off of federal park property). Stay tuned to The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML‘s facebook pages for more info very soon.

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