Hundreds of marijuana law reform advocates from across Pennsylvania gathered last week at the state capitol to express their support for marijuana legalization and also to express concerns regarding the future of the state’s limited medical cannabis program. The event was coordinated by local reform groups Pittsburgh NORML, Philly NORML, and the Keystone Cannabis Coalition to raise awareness about marijuana laws in the Commonwealth.
“On Wednesday dedicated activists from across the Commonwealth gathered in Harrisburg, our state capitol, to demand the end of criminal prohibition for cannabis possession,” said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. “Speakers decried the waste of law enforcement resources while the Commonwealth is in the midst of a true opioid crisis.”
Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale kicked of the event with a powerful speech that electrified the hundreds of pro-legalization activists who gathered in the capitol rotunda. In addition to highlighting the many failures of marijuana prohibition, AG DePasquale also encouraged state lawmakers to consider options for a statewide solution such as decriminalization or outright legalization.
“We have a real and legitimate political voice in Harrisburg. Gone are the days of closed doors and whispered insults,” said Nightingale. “Now more and more of our elected leaders know that we are on the right side of history and that the ruinous and racist legacy of cannabis prohibition must end.”
While local governments in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg have each approved measures to reduce the penalty for personal possession of marijuana from jail time to a simple fine, state lawmakers have been more apprehensive on the issue. But advocates are hopeful things will change as the conversation advances.
“While PA’s conservative legislature may not be prepared to make the jump to full legalization, there is growing bipartisan support for statewide decriminalization with a Republican sponsored bill headed to Committee on Monday,” added Nightingale.
National NORML recently asked Cara Bonin, executive director of Houston NORML, a few questions about their involvement with the recent decision by DA Ogg to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County. Her response became an interview worthy of a blog post in itself. Enjoy!NORML: What was Houston NORML’s involvement if any in the decision by DA Og to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County?Cara: Houston NORML has been backing Kim Ogg over the past two district attorney races. Incumbent Devon Anderson was appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) on September 26, 2013, to succeed her husband, Mike Anderson, who died on August 31, 2013. She naturally became the incumbent in the 2014 race. Kim Ogg immediately made one of her campaign points to discuss marijuana policy reform in Texas. This was such a popular idea that it forced Devon Anderson to then campaign on a similar promise to change the way the county handled misdemeanor marijuana cases. Anderson won the election and implemented a the first chance program which was a very weak version of what Kim Ogg had campaigned on. The program had proven successful and data showed that it was getting results. Despite her loss, Ogg still stayed active in the Houston community, speaking at NORML events and even made it to Austin to testify in favor of decriminalization bills in the Texas house during the 2015 legislative session. Houston NORML supported the Kim Ogg campaign in 2016 and hosted a forum on live television showcasing Ogg’s plan for re-prioritizing marijuana cases in the county. https://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=ap-4ylqY9sMNORML: Has a decrease in marijuana arrests allowed Houston NORML to focus more on local and state legislation and activism and less on support and legal advice to people being arrested and prosecuted for possession?Cara: The program has barely been in place one month. It is a huge relief to know we no longer have to focus on our county. We have the best policy in state thanks to the cooperation of the Harris County sheriff, DA, Houston Police Chief and dozens of other local policing agencies. We are now focusing on getting bills passed in the Texas legislative session.NORML: What are some of the new goals and challenges of Houston NORML post decriminalization? What has changed? What hasn’t?Cara: We are currently funneling all resources on reforming laws at the state level. Since the program has only been in place one month there are not a lot of statistics to share. Many of the surrounding counties have already spoken out in opposition to Ogg’s program. I live in Katy which is a tri-county city. Waller and Ft Bend county officials wanted to make it clear that it is business as usual when it comes to their arresting policies. A spokesman for the Lt Governor’s office claimed that Houston will become a sanctuary city for drug dealers and illegal immigrants. The Montgomery County DA came out in opposition the day before Ogg even announced the details of her program. They proudly show off their ignorance with such arrogance. It is proof that we still have a lot of work to do locally and state wide to change the opinions of policy makers and enforcers. For more detailed information on the Harris County Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program please visit the following site: https://app.dao.hctx.net/ OurOffice/MMDP.aspx. I hope this helps.NORML: Yes it does. Thank you Cara and Houston NORML for a job well done! And a special thanks to Corpus Christi NORML for gaining cooperation with Rep. Todd Hunter R-Corpus Christi to support HB81 who chairs the Calendar Committee!Texans Take Action:
After more than a year of negotiations with city officials, and countless hours cultivating support for a ballot measure aimed at decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana, members of Kansas City NORML will finally have a chance to hear from voters on the issue. Next Tuesday, April 4, 2017, Kansas City voters will weigh in on Question 5. If approved, the measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine — no arrest made or criminal record imposed.
“The main objective of this initiative is to eliminate jail time and reduce the current penalties for marijuana possession in our city. By voting Yes on 5, individuals caught possessing 35 grams or less of marijuana or marijuana products shall receive a maximum fine of $25,” said Jamie Kacz, executive director of Kansas City NORML. “We have received an outpouring of support from voters across Kansas City who are ready for change and no longer want to see their loved ones suffer for marijuana possession.”
A recent poll by Remington Research Group revealed that 56% of likely Kansas City voters currently support Question 5. With less than a week before polling locations are scheduled to open, this is certainly encouraging news for proponents of the measure.
“This is promising because the survey was done using landlines, which means that it was likely an older demographic weighing in on the issue,” added Jessica Kelly, who serves on the Board of Directors for Kansas City NORML. “Typically, younger demographics tend to vote in favor of marijuana reform, so this shows a good chance of the initiative passing with the support of both older and younger demographics.”
If passed by voters, Kansas City will join a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Following a national trend, members of the Monona City Council passed an ordinance that removed all municipal fines for the private possession and consumption of marijuana. Under the new ordinance, adults 21-years and older will no longer be subjected to a fine for possessing marijuana in public or in private spaces. Marijuana use in a private residence would also be exempt from a fine, but a $200 fine will still be given to those caught smoking in public.
This came as no surprise to Nate Petreman, executive director of Madison NORML. For almost two years, Mr. Petreman along with several members of Madison NORML worked to build a broad coalition of active community members who attended countless meetings and provided testimony in support of the measure.
“Private use and possession and possession in public are no longer local offenses in Monona, WI. The new ordinance in Monona only prohibits public use. We were denied at the city last year, in part due to the Police Chief advocating on city time, and came just shy of the necessary signatures to trigger a vote on direct legislation in summer 2016,” said Petreman. “To succeed in our recent efforts, nearly 20 people attended each meeting along the way, many who were residents. These efforts resulted in the best known local ordinance statewide.”
On the state level, lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would provide qualified patients with legal access to medical marijuana and establish a statewide medical marijuana program.
On the heels of the 2016 election – where four states voted to approve adult-use marijuana initiatives, and four more voted to approve medical marijuana initiatives – NORML Chapters across the country are lobbying their state legislators for additional reforms. In the coming weeks, NORML Chapters around the country, such as California NORML, Connecticut NORML, Wyoming NORML, and Virginia NORML, will be focusing their time and energy in support of dozens of statewide reform bills seeking to amend various aspects of their state’s marijuana policies.
To help increase the likelihood of success for these volunteer-led lobbying efforts, NORML has created a citizen lobby guide. This comprehensive booklet will assist activists in planning and execution of a successful lobby day. It also provides organizational checklists and a legislative questionnaire so that marijuana activists, regardless of the state they’re located in, will be fully prepared to meet with state lawmakers to discuss meaningful marijuana law reforms and to most effectively communicate NORML’s message of ending the prohibition of marijuana on the local, state and federal level.
Citizen Lobby Guide: http://norml.org/pdf_files/NORML_CitizenLobbyGuide.pdf
In addition to offering support through NORML’s Citizen Lobby Guide, we have created more than 30 action alerts targeting state lawmakers across the country urging their support for marijuana legislation being considered in their state. Simply click on the link below and enter your information to join the fight!
Take Action: http://norml.org/act
We hope that with these tools, along with the direct support of NORML staff, marijuana activists will have the resources needed to effectively lobby state lawmakers in support of marijuana law reforms.
Here’s a list of scheduled NORML Chapter Lobby Days below:
- Virginia NORML – Jan 30
- Arizona NORML – Feb 2
- Texas NORML – Feb 8
- Houston NORML – Feb 8
- DFW NORML – Feb 8
- Waco NORML – Feb 8
- New Mexico – Feb 21
- Missouri NORML – Feb 28
- Kansas City NORML – Feb 28
- Greater St. Louis NORML – Feb 28
- Mid-Missouri NORML – Feb 28
- Springfield NORML – Feb 28
- University of Missouri NORML – Feb 28
- North Carolina NORML – Mar 1
- Charlotte NORML – Mar 1
- Denver NORML – Mar 7
- Colorado NORML – Mar 7
- Monterey County NORML – Mar 7
- NORML Women of Washington – Mar 7
- Washington NORML – Mar 7
- Portland NORML – Mar 7
- Michigan NORML – March 30
- Illinois NORML – May 17
- California NORML – June 5
To get involved or to find out more information about a lobby day in your state, please email: KevinM@NORML.org.