NORML reviews the top news stories of 2015.
#1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which 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."
#2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee.
#3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws."
#4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent.
#5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported.
#6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.
#7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported.
#8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes.
#9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States.
#10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska.
With the holidays around the corner, there is plenty to celebrate in regard to marijuana law reform successes! Congress unveiled their 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the government through next year which included several marijuana measures and we’ve seen a number of state and municipal measures take hold as well. Keep reading to see if your state is moving ahead in reforming their marijuana laws!
Federal: In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.
We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs.
Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.
To read more about this legislation click here.
Vermont: The sponsor has unveiled the bill that will be introduced in the state’s next legislative session to legalize and regulate the adult use, production and sale of cannabis. Once formally
introduced, the bill will head to the Senate Judiciary committee for its first consideration.
The 41 page bill allows for retail outlets, lounges, and personal cultivation. Taxes and fees are not
included in the bill language and will be covered when the bill is considered in the Senate Finance Committee.
Kentucky: Legislation to legalize and regulate the adult use and retail sale of marijuana, The ‘Cannabis Freedom Act, has been pre-filed for the 2016 legislative session.
The legislation allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, cultivate up to five cannabis plants, store excess cannabis lawfully grown for personal use at the location where it was cultivated; or transfer up to one ounce of cannabis to another person age 21 or older without remuneration.
In a prepared statement, the bill’s sponsor said: “Too many Kentuckians have had their lives stymied with criminal records as a result of nonviolent marijuana convictions. That is wrong. It is time to stop making criminals out of citizens due to outdated and ridiculous laws concerning cannabis.”
Contact your lawmakers in Kentucky and encourage them to support this measure here!
House Bill 39 reclassifies the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those age 21 and over from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a criminal record, to a
civil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record. (Those between the ages of 18 and 21 may face criminal charges, but only if it is their second or subsequent offense.)
The new law also amends the personal possession of marijuana paraphernalia from a criminal to a civil violation. Public use of the substance, as well as marijuana possession while inside a vehicle, remain classified as misdemeanors.
Pittsburgh (PA): An ordinance, proposed by Councilman Daniel Lavelle, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana passed a preliminary vote in City Council on Wednesday.
The measure would allow police to seize the drugs and issue a $100 fine as long as a person had less than 30 grams of marijuana — about an ounce. People could have about eight grams of hash.
A final vote is scheduled for this upcoming Monday. You can contact your City Council district here to urge their support for this measure.
Palm Beach County (FL): With a 4 to 1 vote Tuesday, Palm Beach County decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Law enforcement can now give offenders a $100 fine or the option of 10 hours of community service instead of arrest. The ordinance only covers offenders 18 and over, and an offender can receive a maximum of two citations.
This vote comes after nearby cities West Palm Beach and Miami Beach also chose to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!
** 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!
Members of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year. While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.
In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.
We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.
Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.
Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.
While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.
No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.
Do you know what your members of Congress think about marijuana legalization? Do you know how they have voted on pending federal marijuana measures? Being a member of the NORML network automatically puts you ahead of most in staying up-to-date on marijuana-related legislation and activism. But we could all use a little help staying on top of our elected officials when it comes to the causes we care about most, right?
That is why we are eager and excited to announce that, for the past six months, NORML has been working on an extensive project with YOU in mind. Congress largely created the mess that is Marijuana Prohibition back in 1937, and all of these years later they’re singularly in the best position politically to actually fixing the problem for federal and state governments.
When 2016 comes around, we want all of our members and supporters to know exactly where their Representatives and Senators stand on the issue of marijuana legalization.
Knowing so will be easy with NORML’s Congressional Scorecard. This scorecard will be an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade A through F to every single member of Congress based on how proactive they have been at ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. The grade a member of Congress receives will be based on a number of different factors such as how they have voted on marijuana related legislation, the number of marijuana related bills they have introduced or sponsored, and any public comments they have made on the subject. Here’s an example:
It’s time we focus on Congress and show them that we are paying attention to their actions! If your elected official receives a low grade then you know it’s time to kick the activism into gear and start making your voice heard!
We want as many people as possible to know about this Scorecard and we especially want Congress to know that they are being graded based upon what they are (or are not) doing to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. But we need your help to do that! We are fundraising so we can advertise this scorecard in an outlet we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Would you consider donating $50 or more to our PAC (Political Action Committee) so we can make this happen?*
In return for your donation of $50 or more, we will send you a new custom designed just for NORML snapback from our friends over at California Grassroots!
*The NORML PAC is a separate, segregated fund of NORML, and under federal law, we can only raise PAC funds from NORML members. Therefore, if you wish to contribute to the NORML PAC, and you are not currently a NORML member, the first $25 of your contribution will be applied to your membership dues.
Beginning on Monday, October 26, 2015, NORML Affiliates and Chapters from across the country will begin contacting their representatives to urge them to support one of the seventeen marijuana-related bills introduced since the 114th Congress convened on January 3, 2015.
Over the past few months, NORML Affiliates and Chapters have demonstrated their ability to mobilize thousands of marijuana advocates from around the country so we hope all of you will join us in making this a successful campaign!
Project: NORML Congressional Letter Writing Campaign and Contest
Who: NORML Affiliates and Chapters
When: Monday, October 26, 2015 through Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Summary: Letter campaign targeting members of the House and Senate requesting their immediate support of pending marijuana-related legislation. We encourage the use of handwritten letters and emails.
Contest: We’re excited to announce that we have partnered with High Times to offer a pair of Cannabis Cup tickets to two lucky winners who participate in our campaign! By offering a contest, we hope to create some additional excitement around our 2015 Congressional Letter Writing Campaign, and in return, drive participation and engagement.
To enter, contact at least two of your three representatives using NORML’s Action Center by clicking one of the five bills listed above or simply use one of our templates that can be found here. Then, take a picture of your letter and post it to your Facebook or Twitter page using the #ActNORML hashtag so we know you’re participating in the campaign! Once the campaign comes to an end at 7PM MST on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, a random winner will be selected from Facebook and Twitter.
For more details about the contest, please click here for our Official Contest Rules!