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Governor

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director August 28, 2013

    John Hanger speaking at a Lancaster NORML Meeting - Photo credit: Matt Rohrbach

    John Hanger speaking at a Lancaster NORML Meeting – Photo credit: Matt Rohrbach

    While the general election for governor is still a little over a year away, things are heating up in Pennsylvania as Democrats vie for their party’s nomination to run against incumbent Governor Corbett (R). Seven candidates have so far announced their candidacy and one of them, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection John Hanger, is running on a pro-marijuana law reform platform and wants to not only decriminalize cannabis and allow for its medical use, he wants to see it fully legalized by 2017.

    With a crowded field, and no required run-off election, it is likely the winner of the primary will be decided by several thousand Pennsylvania voters. John Hanger sees this unique situation as not only a boon for his campaign, but for the marijuana law reform issue. “Marijuana law reform has power to elect next governor,” John Hanger stated, “If just 1 out of 3 monthly marijuana users vote, we will win.”

    John Hanger discussed his plans for marijuana law reform in a telephone interview with NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. The transcript of that conversation is below:

    What was the impetus for taking up the issue of marijuana law reform?

    John Hanger: The tipping point for me was just running for governor and realizing that I’ll be in charge of implementing laws, that in the case of marijuana, are unjust. I don’t want to be in the position of enforcing unjust laws. I take doing the right thing seriously. I don’t want to deny cannabis to a sick child because our laws require me to do that as governor. I want to campaign to change unjust laws so I don’t have to administer unjust laws.

    I’ve been coming to terms with the seriousness of running for governor and being governor. The marijuana laws in Pennsylvania are unjust. It goes beyond medical marijuana, the criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana is unjust, it is destroying people’s lives. It is branding them as drug criminals for the rest of their lives. It’s hurting them in a way that three presidents of the United States have not been hurt for their behavior. It is beyond hypocritical.

    I’m also very focused on making sure the Pennsylvania budget is invested in the real needs of our state. There is never enough money for all the things that need to happen. There are very important services that are underfunded, but we are spending 350 million dollars enforcing these unjust laws. It means less money for schools, less money for health, less money for roads and bridges. It is destructive to other vital needs in Pennsylvania.

    When you look at whats right and come to the conclusion these laws must be reformed, the public is with us on medical marijuana and decriminalization…the public is ahead of the politicians on the first two steps and I’m leading on the third step. I’m working to champion and build to the third step, legalization, because it is the right thing to do. I crafted this three step reform plan because this will allow PA’s to have confidence in moving through each step.

    What has the reception to your marijuana reform platform been like?

    JH: In terms of the overall reaction it has been positive. The public is well ahead of the politicians when it comes to medical marijuana and decriminalization. So this is an issue that the public opinion is forming and building, and building towards the right result.

    Around 60% of Democrats support legalization nationwide, about 70% of the highly coveted independent demographic support it, why do you think, by and large, other Democrats and politicians have been hesitant to take up the issue?

    JH: I think it is a mixture of not wanting to lead, not wanting to stick one’s neck out. The old saying in politics is that politicians wait for a parade to form and then run to the front to lead it. Most politicians are risk averse. Many politicians, I think, put their finger up in the air and wait to see which way is the wind is blowing and only when the wind is blowing strongly they move. That’s the normal political animal reaction to issues.

    Quite frankly, I’m not a politician. I ran two state agencies…I got into public policy and public life to make changes and help people’s real lives. I haven’t spent my career climbing up a political ladder, thats not my motivation. My motivation is to address real problems in people’s lives and make people’s lives better. For me, this issue is about doing the right thing. I’m going to do the right thing and I think that it is also going to be smart thing politically.

    Why do you think, so far, Pennsylvania has failed to move forward a medical or decriminalization bill? What will it take for that to happen?

    JH: I think we haven’t had leadership in the governor’s office. The governor has the biggest office, the bully pulpit. It effects how people think about issues, has tremendous influence on legislators. I do know how to get things done in Pennsylvania, we never had a governor to get this done in Pennsylvania. When a governor like me is leading the charge it goes to the top of the priority list. I know how to build public support to get major things done. I built my work in state government going back to Casey admin. I’ve been working on policy getting things done in and out of state government for 29 years.

    Quite frankly Governor Corbett, regardless of his politics, is not competent at the nuts and bolts of governing and has been hostile to marijuana reform. Beating him will send a huge message around the country, winning the primary sends a huge message to Democrats that they need to move [on marijuana reform]. When I win the primary, they are going to understand a major reason for my victory will be marijuana reform.

    What can Pennsylvanians do to help advance marijuana law reform?

    JH: The single best way is to make sure I win the Democratic primary. My candidacy is the equivalent of a marijuana referenda on the ballot. By voting for me you are voting for marijuana reform. Politicians will no longer be able to be on the wrong side of this issue.

    Thats what happens, we can win this issue in May 2014, by my winning that primary. It will shock the political establishment and accelerate the changing of the laws by years in Pennsylvania and around the country. I believe Pennsylvania is seen as a bellwether. If marijuana reform can win in Pennsylvania, it can win anywhere.

    NORML’s constituency group is a great group of people who are fighting for justice and fighting injustice. The great news is that we can win this battle in PA in just 8 months, thats exciting.

    You can read more about John Hanger’s campaign on his website here or Facebook page here. You can read his three step plan for marijuana law reform here.

    (VOTER NOTE: Pennsylvania has closed primaries. If you wish to vote in the Democratic primary in May of 2014, you would have to be registered Democrat before that election. There is no Republican primary this year. The incumbent, Governor Corbett, is running for reelection. Party affiliations can be changed at any time.)

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director May 31, 2013

    This week, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed two historic measures into law, making Colorado the first state in the country to officially authorize a legalized and regulated cannabis market.

    These measures, House Bills 1317 and 1318, are the first-in-the nation regulations governing the statewide commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to those age 21 and older. HB 1317 establishes a regulatory framework for retail cannabis businesses, which are anticipated to begin operating in early 2014. House Bill 1318 proposes tax rates for commercial marijuana production and sales.

    These regulations were drafted by the legislature with guidance from a task force, created at the request of the Governor. Colorado NORML served on this task force as a representative for marijuana consumer interests.

    The Colorado Department of Revenue is anticipated to more details for the program in the coming weeks. The proposed tax rates in HB 1318 must be approved by a majority of state voters. They seem likely to do so, as recent polling revealed that 77% of Colorado voters support the 15% excise tax on cannabis sales (which is designated for school construction) and an additional 10% sales tax to cover the costs of regulating the industry.

    The regulations in House Bill 1317 would require marijuana retail outlets to license with the state and for the first nine months, only currently operating medical marijuana dispensaries can apply. Owners must also be Colorado residents. Initially, these stores must sell marijuana that they cultivated themselves, but by October 2014 this restriction will be lifted to allow independent growers and retail outlets. State residents will be able to purchase up to one ounce of usable marijuana at a time, while out of state visitors will be capped at one quarter ounce per purchase. Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would be legalized for everyone over the age of 21, regardless of residency.

    For more information on Colorado’s marijuana program, click here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director April 5, 2013

    On Friday, April 5th, Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky stated that he will let Kentucky’s industrial hemp measure become law without his signature. Gov. Beshear had expressed concerns that marijuana growers could hide their illegal growing operations with hemp plants. Despite his concerns, he allowed the measure to become law without his signature and did not veto the legislation.

    House and Senate lawmakers passed an amended version of Senate Bill 50, “An Act relating to industrial hemp”, in March during the final hours of the 2013 legislative session. Noting that “public pressure to pass the bill helped achieve the last-minute deal.”

    After the bills approval by the state legislature, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stated that “by passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the commonwealth and doing it in the right way. That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.”

    Kentucky is now the ninth state to have passed a law allowing for farmers to cultivate industrial hemp. Hemp cultivation is still prohibited by the federal government, so until the feds alter their current policy, it is unlikely that Kentucky farmers will begin to grow this crop. Of the eight states who previously approved industrial hemp legislation, only Hawaii has received a federal waiver allowing them to grow an acre of hemp for research purposes.

    Federal legislation, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana is currently pending in the US Senate and House of Representatives and has been sponsored by prominent politicians such as Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. You can click here to write your federal officials in support of this legislation.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director March 27, 2013

    hempfieldHouse and Senate lawmakers yesterday passed an amended version of Senate Bill 50, “An Act relating to industrial hemp.” The floor votes took place with only hours to go before the close of the 2013 legislative session. Proponents of the measure acknowledged that “public pressure to pass the bill helped achieve the last-minute deal.”

    The United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop, according to the Congressional Resource Service. Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Farmers worldwide grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food and clothing.

    Senate Bill 50 “establishes conditions and procedures for the licensing of industrial hemp growers by the Department of Agriculture.” It designates the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to work in concert with the state Department of Agriculture, and also tasks the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experimental Station to engage in research related to hemp production.

    The bill passed the House by a vote of 88 to 4. The Senate re-approved the measure by a vote of 35 to 1.

    Said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in a prepared statement: “By passing this bill, the General Assembly has signaled that Kentucky is serious about restoring industrial hemp production to the commonwealth and doing it in the right way. That will give Kentucky’s congressional delegation more leverage when they seek a federal waiver allowing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp.”

    Federal legislation, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana is pending in the US Senate and House of Representatives.

    Senate Bill 50 now goes to the desk of Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear, who has said he shares the concerns of the Kentucky State Police who opposed the bill,” but has not stated publicly whether he intends to veto the measure.

    If you live in Kentucky, click here to write the Governor and urge that he does not stand in the way of this legislation.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director February 8, 2013

    kenVirginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Tea Party favorite and presumed Republican candidate for Governor, opened up on his views regarding marijuana legalization while addressing a group of students at the University of Virginia this week.

    When asked how he felt about Colorado and Washington legalizing the adult use and commercial production and sale of marijuana in November, the conservative politico caught many off guard with his answer.

    “I don’t have a problem with states experimenting with this sort of thing I think that’s the role of states,” Cuccinelli stated, “I’m not sure about Virginia’s future [re: marijuana legalization], but I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out.”

    Twice during the talk Attorney General Cuccinelli referred to his views on the subject as “evolving.”

    You can view video footage of this event here.

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