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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director October 23, 2013

    The DC City Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hold public hearings on legislation introduced earlier this year by Councilman Tommy Wells, B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013. The measure will receive two public hearings, one on Wednesday evening from 6:30pm until 9:00pm at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library located at 1800 Good Hope Road SE. The hearing will reconvene Thursday at 11:30am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building located at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW.

    NORML will be testifying along with other allied groups in favor of this legislation. The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act would make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by those 18 years of age or older a civil violation, punishable by a $100 fine. Currently, the possession of any amount of marijuana in the District of Columbia is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months incarceration or a maximum $1,000 fine. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this year found that 75% of DC residents support this reform.

    A live stream of the hearings should be available here, the video will also be archived on the City Council website for viewing at a later date.

    If you live in DC and can’t attend the hearing, you can quickly and easily contact your City Council member in support of this measure by clicking here.

    You can read NORML’s testimony below:

    Written Testimony Regarding B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013, Before the DC City Council, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

    By Erik Altieri, Communications Director
    NORML | NORML Foundation
    Washington, DC
    October 24, 2013

    NORML applauds the members of the City Council for holding this hearing regarding the decriminalization of personal use amounts of marijuana.

    B20-0409: The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013 reduces minor marijuana possession penalties (those involving the possession of 1 ounce or less) from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $1000 fine, to a civil infraction punishable by a fine only. This common sense, fiscally responsible proposal will cut costs, improve public safety, and have a positive impact on the quality of life of thousands of adults in the District of Columbia.

    This Measure Will Improve The Quality Of Life For DC Citizens

    In 2011, about 4,300 District citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana at the estimated cost of over 20 million dollars. These arrests disproportionately effect people of color, with African American residents being arrested at 8 times the rate of their white counterparts despite similar use rates. This statistic makes the District 2nd in the nation when it comes to racial disparities, falling just behind Iowa. While only accounting for 51.6% of the population, people of color account for more than 90% of all marijuana arrests. Passage of this measure would spare many of these citizens from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow — including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights.

    Most adult marijuana users act responsibly. They are not part of the crime problem and they should not be treated like serious criminals. This legislation would maintain monetary sanctions for marijuana possession violations, but would spare offenders from being saddled with lifelong criminal records. This change would continue to discourage marijuana abuse, while halting the practice of permanently criminalizing thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

    B20-0409 Will Cut Costs And Improve Public Safety

    Law enforcement resource allocation is a zero-sum gain. The time that a police officer spends arresting and processing minor marijuana offenders is time when he or she is not out on the streets protecting the public from more significant criminal activity. Passage of this bill would allow law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts to re-allocate their existing resources toward activities that will more effectively target serious criminal behavior and keep the public safe. In recent years, lawmakers in California (2010), Connecticut (2011) and Vermont (2013) have enacted similar legislation for these reasons. To date, these laws are working as lawmakers intended.

    District Residents Strongly Support Decriminalization

    Public opinion strongly favors such a reprioritization of law enforcement resources. Marijuana ‘decriminalization,’ as proposed under The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act, presently enjoys support from the majority of Americans. According to a DC poll conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this year, 75 percent of D.C. residents support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

    Contrary to the concerns of some, the passage of this legislation would not negatively impact marijuana use patterns or attitudes. Passage of similar legislation in other states has not led to increased marijuana use or altered adolescents’ perceptions regarding the potential harms of drug use. In fact, the only United States government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, “Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people.”

    Support Public Safety: Vote ‘Yes’ On The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act

    The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Act seeks to reduce government expenditures and promote public safety. These are goals that lawmakers should support. It makes no sense to continue to treat responsible adult cannabis consumers as criminals. While NORML encourages the Council to approve this measure, we hope that you will also continue to pursue further marijuana law reforms. Amending this legislation to include limited personal cultivation of several marijuana plants would allow consumers to have an alternative source instead of continuing to funnel money into the black market. Ultimately, we urge the Council to consider moving further, to a system that regulates marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, which would put marijuana commerce in the hands of regulated businesses and away from criminal elements. Thank you for your time and consideration of this measure.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director July 10, 2013

    Today, DC City Council Member Tommy Wells introduced legislation that would decriminalize personal possession amounts of marijuana in Washington, DC.

    Under the proposed measure, the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana would become a civil infraction, similar to a parking ticket, with a fine of no more than $100. Recent survey data released by Public Policy Polling in April 2013 revealed that 75% of DC residents favored this reform.

    “This reform cannot come soon enough,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “The District of Columbia has the highest arrest rate per capita for marijuana charges of any city in the country and those arrests are disproportionately impacting people of color, who are about 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges than their white counterparts, despite similar use rates.”

    NORML will keep you updated as this legislation moves forward.

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

    Polling data released this week by Public Policy Polling shows a large base of support for marijuana law reforms in New Hampshire. Not only is there majority support from New Hampshire voters for the medical use of marijuana and decriminalizing its possession, but more than half support regulating and taxing marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

    When asked if they would support or oppose changing New Hampshire law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older, 53% responded they would support this law and only 37% were opposed.

    62% stated that they would support a change in the law to provide for a fine of up to $100 without jail time or the threat of arrest for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana and 68% support allowing for its physician supervised use. Even more enlightening, 52% stated an elected official’s support of medical marijuana made them more likely to support them.

    Fortunately for New Hampshire lawmakers, they have the opportunity to capitalize on this groundswell of support for sensible marijuana laws. Legislation has already been introduced to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and a separate measure has been introduced to allow patients to use marijuana for medical purposes. The incoming governor has even voiced her support for legalizing medical use.

    If you live in New Hampshire, you can use NORML’s Take Action to easily contact your elected officials in support of these measures. Click here to view our alert for decriminalization and here for medical use.

    You can view the full polling data here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 23, 2012

    Arresting and prosecuting low level marijuana offenders in New York City has little or no impact on law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime, according to a study released today by Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization that focuses on human rights violations worldwide.

    The study’s authors reviewed data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services to track the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view [NY State Penal Law 221.10] in 2003 and 2004. Researchers assessed whether those arrested for minor marijuana violations engaged in additional, more serious criminal activity in the years following their arrest.

    They reported: “[W]e found that 3.1 percent of [marijuana arrestees] were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years that our research covers; 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. That is, 1,022 persons out of the nearly 30,000 we tracked had subsequent violent felony convictions. Ninety percent (26,315) had no subsequent felony convictions of any kind.”

    New York City police arrest more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view than for any other offense, the study found. Between 1996 and 2011, police made more than half-a-million (586,320) arrests for this misdemeanor, including a total of around 100,000 in just the 2 years of 2010 and 2011. Of those arrested, the overwhelming majority are either Black or Latino and under 25 years of age.

    Investigators concluded: “[T]he rate of felony and violent felony conviction among this group of first-time marijuana arrestees appears to be lower than the rate of felony conviction for the national population, taking into account age, gender, and race. … Neither our findings nor those of other researchers indicate the arrests are an efficient or fair means for identifying future dangerous felons.”

    Under New York state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor.

    In June, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers to close the ‘public view’ loophole. That effort was ultimately quashed by, Senate majority leader, Republican Dean Skelos, who argued, “Being able to just walk around with ten joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”

    In October, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for amending the state’s marijuana laws. Speaking a the New York State Trooper Class of 2012 graduation ceremony, Cuomo said that he “would not consider” convening a special legislative session unless lawmakers were willing to consider reforms to reduce New York City’s skyrocketing marijuana arrest rates.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director October 23, 2012

    While the discussion of marijuana policy may be noticeably absent from the current dialogue in the presidential race, one prominent Democratic Party member is not backing down on his push to reform his state’s marijuana laws.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has redoubled his efforts to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in public view after state legislators failed to act on the measure before the end of this year’s session. Amid discussions of a pay increase for legislators, Governor Cuomo told reporters this morning that, “I would not even consider, even consider a pay raise, unless the people’s business was being done in a thorough, responsible way.”

    Included in his definition of “the people’s business” is the decriminalization of marijuana he had championed earlier in the year, along with an increase in New York’s minimum wage.

    There have been talks about the legislature reconvening for a special session in the state after election day and before the start of next year’s session in January, but the governor made clear he would not sign off on their desired pay raise without action on these reform efforts.

    “I understand they may have an interest in a pay raise. I’m interested in a people’s agenda and that’s what the session would be about,” stated Gov. Cuomo.

    It is refreshing to see such a prominent sitting politician stand up for sound marijuana reform. New York’s current failed policy has cost the state around $75 million a year to arrest about 50,000 people for small amounts of marijuana, 85% of whom were people of color. This policy disproportionately targets the most vulnerable in our society and we applaud Governor Cuomo for taking a strong stance on this important issue. We can only hope other elected officials take notice and follow suit.

    UPDATE: New York City Council Member for Council District 8, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has released a statement applauding the Governor’s action:

    I commend New York Governor Cuomo for urging the State Legislature to adopt what he calls ‘The People’s Agenda,’ which includes an end to unjust small-quantity marijuana arrests, before they consider a potential salary hike for legislators.

    I strongly support this principled act of leadership in the face of a hostile Republican State Senate which in the last session blocked legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. This inaction has led to thousands more unjust stop-and-frisk arrests of young men of color when they are told to empty their pockets during stops. Enforcement of this policy costs the city an estimated $75 million each year.

    The new law would make marijuana possession merely a violation, like a traffic ticket, and not a crime that the police can arrest people for committing. Since there are currently over 50,000 annual stop-and-frisk arrests for small-time marijuana possession in NYC, this will dramatically reduce the unjust criminalization of our youth. Earlier this year, the New York City Council passed a resolution in support of this legislation, which I sponsored, and Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have voiced their support of these reforms. The Commissioner even issued a directive to officers intended to slow down the number of marijuana arrests. Still, it is essential to codify this policy change at the State level, and I thank Governor Cuomo for taking this issue so seriously. – Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (source)

    Note: This story was featured on The Colbert report last night. You can view the segment here. You can view more press coverage here.

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