Representatives within the Democratic National Committee have approved provisions specific to marijuana law reform as part of the party’s 2016 platform.
A 15-person decision-making panel unanimously voted to adopt the following language:
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates.”
Though the language falls well short of calling for an end to federal cannabis prohibition, it nonetheless marks a stark contrast between the two major political parties.
Last week, Republican leaders in Congress quashed a number of proposed marijuana law reforms. Specifically, provisions previously voted on by Congress to expand medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans were removed by leadership during the conference committee process and earlier there was a decision to deny members the opportunity to vote on a Democrat-sponsored amendment that sought to permit banks and other financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses.
With many Congressional Republicans actively discouraging marijuana related reforms at the federal level, it’s motivating to see Democrats pro-actively finding ways to include the need for cannabis policy reform in the party’s national conversation.
A majority of registered Maryland voters believe that cannabis use should be legally regulated in a manner similar to alcohol, according to statewide polling data provided by Gonzalez Research & Marketing Strategies and commission by the Marijuana Policy Project.
Fifty-three percent of respondents said that they favor a change in state law “to allow marijuana to be regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, for legal use by adults 21 years of age and older.” Forty-three percent of those surveyed opposed legalization.
In 2014, former Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation into law decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less. Earlier today, lawmakers overrode a 2015 veto to enact legislation decriminalizing the possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia.
Legislation signed into law last June decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses takes effect at midnight tonight.
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.
Prior to the law change, Delaware ranked #17 in the nation in per capita marijuana possession arrests.
Delaware’s decriminalization law mimics similar laws in effect in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — each of which treat minor marijuana possessions as a civil violation.
Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio classify marijuana possession as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, DC previously enacted marijuana decriminalization policies, but have since amended their laws to legalize the plant’s possession and use.
A new Maryland law depenalizing marijuana possession offenses takes effect this Wednesday.
Senate Bill 364, signed into law this past April, amends statewide 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 does not reclassify penalties involving the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, which remains a criminal offense.
A 2013 ACLU analysis of state-by-state marijuana arrests data reported that Maryland has the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests in the nation.
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
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.