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New Jersey

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 30, 2012

    On Tuesday, separate legislative committees in the Rhode Island House and Senate approved measures to significantly reduce the state’s criminal marijuana possession penalties.

    House Bill 7092 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2253, amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 or older is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. You can read NORML’s testimony in favor of the measures here.

    According to a recent statewide poll, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents are in favor of decriminalization. In recent years, neighboring Connecticut (in 2011) and Massachusetts (in 2009, via a voter-approved initiative) have enacted similar decriminalization laws.

    Rhode Island lawmakers have a long history of supporting medical marijuana law reform legislation. However, yesterday’s vote marks one of the first times in recent memory that lawmakers have taken action to amend the state’s marijuana penalties for non-patients.

    The decriminalization measures now await floor votes in their respective chambers. These votes could come as early as this week. Therefore, if you reside in the Ocean State, it is vital that your elected officials hear from you. You can contact your state elected officials directly via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Similar decriminalization legislation is also pending in New Jersey, where the full Assembly is expected to vote on the measure imminently. Further information on this effort is available here.

    Presently, in eight states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by an adult is defined under the law as a civil, non-criminal offense.

    Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska law imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

    In all other states, marijuana possession for personal use remains a criminal offense — punishable by an arrest, potential incarceration, and a criminal record.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 21, 2012

    [Update: The full Assembly is now scheduled to vote on A. 1465 this THURSDAY, MAY 24. For the first time in many years, there is now political momentum in New Jersey to mitigate marijuana possession penalties. If you reside in New Jersey, your member of the Assembly needs to hear from you NOW. Contact your state lawmakers via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.]

    Members of the state Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously today in favor of Assembly Bill 1465, bi-partisan legislation which reduces criminal penalties for those who possess personal use quantities of marijuana.

    Witnesses who testified at the hearing were almost uniformly in favor of the legislation, which is similar to the laws of 14 other states. You can read NORML’s written testimony to the Committee here.

    Assembly Bill 1465 removes criminal penalties for the possession of up to 15 grams (approximately one-half ounce) of marijuana, replacing them with civil penalties punishable by no more than a $150 fine and no criminal record. Under present law, the possession of minor amounts of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six-months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

    Last year, Connecticut NORML spearheaded a successful legislative effort in that state to pass a nearly identical marijuana decriminalization bill. Passage of that measure has since led to a dramatic decline in the total number of marijuana arrests.

    In 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), 22,439 New Jersey citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Passage of A. 1465 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. Further, this change would provide immediate legal protections for some New Jersey patients, who presently benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis, but remain at risk because the state’s two-and-a-half year-old medical marijuana law remains inactive.

    A. 1465 is now pending before the full Assembly. Separate Senate legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. For decriminalization to become reality in New Jersey, the measure must pass both the Assembly and the Senate. The measure would then await action from Gov. Chris Christie.

    If you reside in the Garden State, you are urged to please contact your member of the state Assembly and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on A. 1465 by visiting NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Additional information is available from NORML New Jersey here or via CMM-NJ here.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director April 18, 2012

    Supreme Court Authorizes Strip Searches for Any Criminal Offense

    By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law School and  NORML legal intern

    If you are sent to jail, be prepared to get naked, squat, and cough.

    In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, a 5-4 decision drawn on party lines released on April 2, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of forcing detainees who would be entering the general jail population to undergo strip searches. The Court noted that they “must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or un-justified response to problems of jail security.” Despite the dissent’s assertions that the massive affront to human dignity that strip searches cause is not outweighed by the scant evidence that these procedures actually produce discovery of more contraband, the Court ruled that jails can force detainees to undergo an extremely close inspection while unclothed.

    The rationale for the decision is that corrections officers should have deference to deal with the serious problems faced by admitted new people to the general jail population. These dangers include: introducing contagious diseases or lice; the possibility that the detainee may have open wounds; the fact that a detainee may have gang tattoos, which could lead to violence within the jail; or the chance that the person may be carrying contraband (weapons or drugs) in places that are not visible from a general visual search. Additionally, jails are often more dangerous than prisons because little is known about the admitted offender.

    As if the breadth of the ruling was not striking enough, the case becomes more shocking when the facts are recounted. The case arose from the 2005 arrest of Albert Florence, a middle-aged African-American man. When Florence’s wife was pulled over for speeding, a records search revealed that Florence, who was in the passenger’s seat, had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at an enforcement hearing as a result of unpaid fines from two years prior. In fact, the fine had been paid a few days after the issuance of the warrant, but the warrant was never taking off the system.

    Additionally, anticipating potential confusion and/or conflict with police during any future traffic stop or like encounter, Florence presented photocopies to arresting police of the paid receipts. To no avail, he was arrested on the spot.

    Florence was held for six days in Burlington County jail and then transferred to Essex County jail where he was held for an additional day. At each facility, detention officers forced Florence to strip naked while they examined him for tattoos, scars, and contraband. In the second jail, Florence had to lift his genitals, turnaround, squat, and then cough. After his release, Florence sued the government under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.

    This ruling built on precedent set in Bell v. Wolfish, which held that prisoners detained in any correctional facility run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons could be forced to undergo a strip search after every contact visit with a person from outside the facility. Additionally, the Court cites favorably the decision of Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, which held that a person can be arrested and held in detention no matter how minor the criminal offense is (in that case, a woman was arrested for not wearing her seatbelt). Taken together, this means that a person can be detained for any criminal offense, and therefore forced to undergo a strip search for any criminal offense.

    Justice Breyer in dissent points out the absurdity of this approach. Under this ruling, minor offenses such as driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, or walking your dog without a leash, could subject the arrestee to a strip search.

    Breyer also notes that other procedures used by jails, including the jails in which Florence was detained, have not shown to be any less effective in finding contraband, gang tattoos, or removing lice than the strip search procedure. For example, both jails performed pat-down searches, made detainees go through metal detectors, made inmates shower with de-lousing shampoo, and searched the inmate’s clothing.

    Furthermore, a New York Times article summarizes the trend that states have taken so far regarding strip searches for newly admitted persons to jails:

    The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures . . . . Monday’s decision endorsed a recent trend, from appeals courts in Atlanta, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allowing strip-searches of everyone admitted to a jail’s general population. At least seven other appeals courts, on the other hand, had ruled that such searches were proper only if there was a reasonable suspicion that the arrested person had contraband.

    Although Justice Breyer argues that people who commit minor offenses should not be subject to strip searches unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that they possess drugs or other contraband, he agrees that all people detained for drug offenses can be forced to undergo one.  As you may know, there were over 850,000 arrests made in 2010 for marijuana offenses alone. Although not all of these result in jail time, a significant proportion does, meaning that non-violent marijuana users could be subjected to strip searches. Even in states that have decriminalized to a certain extent, people could still be sent to jail while it is determined whether or not charges will be brought against them. The Court specifically pointed to this possibility in both this ruling and the Atwater case.

    As Justice Kennedy points out in his majority opinion, 13 million people are jailed annually.  This means that 4% of Americans could be subject to these humiliating procedures under this ruling every year. Pointedly, for cannabis consumers and patients, with 850,000 cannabis-related arrests annually in America–90% for possession only–many hundreds of thousands can now be readily exposed to multiple strip searches emanating from a single encounter with law enforcement that begin over an adult possessing no more than a single joint.

    Perhaps it is time to try and stop people, instead of contraband, from entering jails.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director April 13, 2012

    This Week in Weed

    Click here to subscribe to NORMLtv and receive alerts whenever new content is added.

    The latest installment of “This Week in Weed” is now streaming on NORMLtv.

    In this episode: NORML attorneys file a lawsuit in NJ, DC announces 6 marijuana cultivation centers, a new poll shows growing support for legalization, and more.

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5IxZOeq72Y[/youtube]

    Be sure to tune in to NORMLtv every week to catch up on the latest marijuana news. Subscribe to NORMLtv or follow us on Twitter to be notified as soon as new content is added.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director April 11, 2012

    From the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines
    IACM-Bulletin of 8 April 2012

    World: Increasing numbers of patients use cannabis for medicinal purposes

    An increasing number of patients in the world are using cannabis for therapeutic reasons, with available data from countries, which have installed programs for their citizens. Good data are available for Israel, Canada, the Netherlands and many states of the US with medicinal cannabis laws and registries. In several more countries only a few patients are allowed to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, including Germany, Norway, Finland and Italy. In many other countries such as Spain and some states of the US without a registry such as California the number of medicinal users is estimated to be high, but no detailed data are available.

    The numbers in California with hundreds of cannabis dispensaries and clinics that issue medical cannabis recommendations are unclear, since the state does not require residents to register as patients (see below**)
    Most of the 16 states that allow the medicinal use of cannabis require a registration. Recently the press agency Associated Press published data on registered patients in different states of the USA based on state agencies responsible for maintaining patient registries:

    State: Number of registered patients (per 1,000 of the whole population) —
    Colorado: 82,089 (16.3)
    Oregon: 57,386 (15.0)
    Montana: 14,364 (14.5)
    Michigan: 131,483 (13.3)
    Hawaii: 11,695 (8.6)
    Rhode Island: 4,466 (4.2)
    Arizona: 22,037 (3.5)
    New Mexico: 4,310 (2.1)
    Maine: 2,708 (2.0)
    Nevada: 3,388 (1.3)
    Vermont: 505 (0.8)
    Alaska: 538 (0.8)
    Patient registration is mandatory in Delaware, New Jersey and the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), but their registries are not yet up and running. Washington State has neither voluntary nor mandatory registration.

    Data from Israel show that in August 2011 6,000 patients got medicinal cannabis (0.8 patients in 1,000). It is estimated that the number increases to 40,000 in 2016 (5.2 patients in 1,000 citizens).

    In Canada 12,116 patients were allowed to use cannabis on 30 September 2011 (0.35 patients in 1,000 citizens).

    Numbers of patients using cannabis from the pharmacies in the Netherlands were estimated to be 1,300 in 2010 (0.08 patients in 1,000 citizens). However, many patients in the Netherlands use cannabis from the coffee shops or grow their own.

    In Germany about 60 patients are currently allowed to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.

    (Sources: Associated Press of 24 March 2012, website of the Israeli Prime Minister of 7 August 2011, UPI of 31 October 2011, Pharmaceutisch Weekblad No. 20, 2011)

    **[Editor’s note: CA NORML published a white paper last May estimating that California has 750,000 – 1,125,000 citizens who possess a physician’s recommendation to use cannabis medicinally.]

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