Prop. 215

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator November 4, 2011

    Tomorrow, November 5th, 2011, marks the fifteenth anniversary of California’s passage of Prop 215, The Compassionate Use Act. The Act passed with 55.58% of the vote and remains the greatest achievement in marijuana law reform in the “War on Drugs” era.

    NORML's Chart of Legalization Polls - data compiled by Russ Belville from various organizations asking a form of the question "Should marijuana be legalized in America?" (click graphic for full-sized version)

    The successes of Prop 215 are well documented.  Two years following its passage, the rest of the West Coast and Alaska passed their own medical marijuana initiatives, with close to equal (OR 55%) or greater (WA 59% & AK 58%) support than California voters gave Prop 215.

    The next decade saw twelve more states and the District of Columbia passing medical marijuana laws, with seven of those states doing so through the legislature.  Five of the citizen initiatives topped 60% support.  As states passed medical marijuana, some added more conditions for qualification, some legislated dispensary operations, and the most recent have instituted protections for the rights of patients to drive, work, have a home, get an organ transplant, and raise their kids.  In some ways, medical marijuana has improved in fifteen years.

    In the 21st Century, medical marijuana support has flatlined and support for legalization of marijuana has almost doubled.

    But a closer examination reveals a reform strategy that has stalled out and may even be in decline.  The last election saw Oregon fail to pass a dispensary measure for the second time with about the same support after six years.  South Dakota defeated medical marijuana with only 36% support, a drop of 12 points since they tried in 2006.  Arizona only barely passed medical marijuana with 50.13% support, when they had previously seen 65% in 1996 and 64% in a 1998 referendum (both 1990’s Arizona Acts were invalidated.)

    Indeed, the national polls show a stalling on the medical marijuana issue as well.  When Gallup asked about support for medical marijuana and legalized marijuana in 1999, support was 73% and 29%, respectively.  We assume that someone who supports legalization for healthy people probably supports legalization for sick people, too, so that means 44% of those polled only support medical marijuana, not legalization.  But in the latest 2011 poll, legalization support has hit 50% while in the 2010 poll, medical support had dropped to 70%, down 8 points since 2005.  How has the support for legalization doubled (25% to 50%) since Prop 215 while support for making a medical exception to criminal marijuana has flatlined? (more…)

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director May 3, 2011

    Despite legal protections for qualified medical patients who possess a physician’s recommendation for cannabis being the law in fifteen states and the District of Columbia since 1996, there is still a tremendous gray area in the law for patients, physicians, lawyers and providers.

    In response, NORML Foundation has just published a new book entitled ‘Medical Marijuana Law in California’, researched and written by NORML Legal Committee lawyers from Ventura, James Devine and Jay Leiderman.

    While the name of this new legal guide implies exclusivity to California, the reality is that the legal information found in the guide is applicable to the other fourteen states and the District of Columbia that now have legal protections for qualified patients who’ve received a physician’s recommendation to posses and use medical cannabis. California’s patients and ‘cannabusinesses’ were the first in the country, starting in 1996, to legally vet most of the legal/public health concerns regarding medical cannabis (i.e., If a passenger in a car has medical cannabis on his person, is the driver liable for ‘drug transportation?‘ or ‘Can I fail a drug screen at work because I’m a state-approved medical cannabis patient?‘, ‘Can I be a medical cannabis patient and still own a gun?’, etc….).

    No personal or legal library that focuses on cannabis is complete without this new book from the NORML Foundation.

    If you’re a patient, cultivator, provider, physician, investor, policymaker or member of the media, the 2011 NORML ‘Medical Marijuana Law in California’ is a great and affordable source of up-to-date legal information about the current state of California’s medical marijuana laws.

    Topics include:

    -Who can use medical marijuana and how much can they possess?

    -Medical marijuana in the workplace

    -Driver’s Licenses





    -Probation and Parole concerns

    -Concentrated cannabis products like hash, oils and ‘medibles’

    -Numerous other legalisms and case studies regarding medical marijuana

    *Single copies of the 170-page legal guide retail for $15 (two copies for $25) and are now available online here.

    **Bulk copies are available for bookstores, medical cannabis dispensaries, lawyers, physicians and organizations by emailing an inquiry to legal@norml.org, or, by calling 202-483-5500.

    Thanks for supporting cannabis law reforms, as well as supporting America’s oldest and largest public interest organization that lobbies, litigates and educates on all matters marijuana-related: NORML!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 7, 2010

    Obama administration officials strongly oppose plans by the city of Oakland to license and tax industrial sized medical cannabis producers, according to a just published report on CaliforniaWatch.org, the website of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

    Sources at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco said that federal officials would likely pursue criminal or civil litigation against local marijuana growers as well as Oakland city officials if they decide to move forward with plans to license medical cannabis farming. “Oakland would be on the hook for violating state and federal law,” an unnamed administration official told the website.

    Oakland City Attorney John Russo confirmed that DOJ officials are opposed to the city’s licensing plan. “They’ve expressed their concerns that the path Oakland is taking is in violation of the law,” Russo said in a prepared statement.

    Oakland officials are seeking to license up to four industrial-sized medical marijuana grow operations within the city limits. The permits do not set limits regarding the quantity of cannabis that licensed producers may cultivate at each given site. City officials began accepting applications from prospective growers in November.

    According to the California Watch report, federal officials are also planning to initiate a broader crack down on marijuana production and distribution statewide. The story reports that DOJ and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials met with California’s four U.S. attorneys on November 10 “to develop a plan to deal with some of the loopholes and gray areas in the state’s medical marijuana program.”

    The administration’s threats appear to be in conflict with an October 19, 2009 DOJ memo stating, “As a general matter, pursuit of [federal law enforcement] priorities should not focus federal resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” Nevertheless, as previously reported by Americans for Safe Access and others, the administration since issuing that memo has engaged in an estimated 30 federal raids of medical marijuana providers, producers, and laboratory facilities that engage in the testing of cannabis potency and quality.

    NORML will have further details on this story in Thursday’s weekly media advisory.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 15, 2010

    The mainstream media is in a frenzy over statement’s issued today by the Justice Department alleging that the office will “vigorously enforce” federal anti-marijuana laws in California, regardless of whether voters enact Proposition 19 this November.

    Even if Prop. 19 passes, federal drug laws will be ‘vigorously’ enforced, official says
    via The Los Angeles Times

    The nation’s top federal law enforcement official said the Obama administration would “vigorously enforce” drug laws against people who grow, distribute or sell marijuana for recreational use even if California voters pass a measure to legalize it.

    U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in a letter sent Wednesday to nine former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, wrote, “Let me state clearly that the Department of Justice strongly opposes Proposition 19. If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens.”

    The initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot would allow Californians 21 and older to grow up to 25 square feet and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also allows cities and counties to authorize cultivation and sales. Several cities, including Oakland, appear poised to do so if the law passes. [Author’s note: Oakland appears poised to do regardless of whether Prop. 19 passes or not.]

    Holder’s letter was made public Friday.

    … Possession and sales of marijuana are illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In his letter, Holder wrote: “We will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    To which I’d respond: So what? Of course the Obama administration is wedded to America’s failed prohibition policies. After all, it is their policy.

    And of course the voters of California cannot change the federal Controlled Substances Act via a statewide vote. Nobody ever claimed that they could.

    However, here’s what is noteworthy. Despite the claims of various Prop. 19 opponents that the measure is in ‘direct conflict‘ with federal law or is somehow ‘unconstitutional‘ and would thus be ‘preempted’ by the Feds, at no time today did the federal government challenge the fact that Californians have the legal right to determine their own marijuana policies. Rather, the federal government simply reinforced that they remain of the opinion that marijuana ought to be criminally outlawed — a position that is out-of-step with the American public’s sentiment.

    Furthermore, Californians have been here before, and not just in 1996. Seventy-eight years ago this November, Californians overwhelmingly voted for the repeal of a morally, socially, and economically failed public policy – alcohol prohibition. Voters did not wait for the federal government to act; they took the matter into their own hands. And they will do so again this November.

    Finally, it goes without saying that the federal justice department — verbal bluster aside — lacks both the resources and the political will to take on the role of targeting and prosecuting the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently consuming cannabis for non-medical purposes. These duties are relegated to state, not federal, law enforcement officials. Just as medical marijuana has existed as a legal market in California, in obvious violation of federal Controlled Substances Act, Prop. 19 will too remain the law of the land post-November 2.

    Which ultimately begs the question, “If a government’s legitimate use of state power is based on the consent of the governed, then at what point does marijuana prohibition — in particular the federal enforcement of prohibition — become illegitimate public policy?” Perhaps it is time to ask President Obama and United States Attorney General Eric Holder?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 21, 2010

    California’s Supreme Court issued its long awaited opinion today regarding the constitutionality of state-imposed limits regarding the amount of marijuana patients may legally possess and grow.

    In it’s 53-page decision, the Court unanimously ruled that the state’s guidelines, enacted in 2004, should not preclude patients from receiving legal protections in court if they possess cannabis in quantities above those recommended under state law (six mature or twelve immature plants and/or eight ounces) or county law.

    The People v. Patrick K. Kelly in the Supreme Court of California

    [excerpt] “Whether or not a person entitled to register under the [2004 state law] elects to do so, that individual, so long as he or she meets the definition of a patient or primary caregiver under the CUA (Compassionate Use Act of 1996), retains all the rights afforded by the CUA. Thus, such a person may assert, as a defense in court, that he or she possessed or cultivated an amount of marijuana reasonably related to meet his or her current medical needs … without reference to the specific quantitative limitations specified by the [2004 state law.]

    In short, the Court affirmed that the state’s guidelines in no way override the sweeping legal protections provided under Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. As long as a patient possess quantities of cannabis that are “related to meet his or her current medical needs,” then they are legally protected under state law — regardless of whether or not these quantities are in accordance with state-imposed or locally-imposed guidelines.

    In a separate legal issue before the Court, justices further ruled that provisions enacted by the Legislature allowing for counties to establish a voluntary identification system for legally recognized patients did not infringe upon the intent of the 1996 voter-approved initiative.

    So precisely what does this decision mean for California patients and providers? Aaron Smith provides an excellent summation here. The bottom line: patients in California have a legal right to possess and use marijuana in the way that is in best accordance with their medical treatment, as decided by the patient and his or her doctor — not by state or local legislators.

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