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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 24, 2012

    A pair of House bills that seek to dramatically reform the state’s marijuana laws are pending votes on the House floor.

    On Tuesday, members of the House Criminal Justice Committee voted 9 to 7 in favor of HB 1526, which reduces the penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses (up a half ounce) from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine to a nominal monetary penalty ($250 for the first offense), no arrest, and no criminal record.

    House members are also anticipated to decide imminently the fate of HB 1705, which seeks to allow adults age 21 or over to use marijuana legally in their home.

    Both measures will soon be voted on by the full House. If you reside in New Hampshire, please contact your member of the House and urge their support for these marijuana law reform measures. NORML’s ‘Take Action’ page has legislative alerts for HB 1526 here and for HB 1705 here.

    Get active; get NORML!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 16, 2012

    The 2012 legislative session is in full swing and marijuana law reform legislation is pending in well over a dozen states. To keep up to date regarding how you can support marijuana-friendly reform measures in your state, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    You can also stay abreast of 2012 statewide ballot initiative efforts via NORML’s Legalize 2012 Facebook page here.

    Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — where we spotlight specific examples of pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.

    ** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!

    MASSACHUSETTS: State lawmakers on Tuesday, March 6, will hear testimony in favor of House Bill 1371, which would legalize and regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana for adults over 21 years of age. Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will debate the measure at 1pm in Room A-2 of the Boston Statehouse. For more information on this upcoming hearing, contact MassCann: the Massachusetts chapter of NORML here. To contact your elected officials regarding HB 1371, visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    NEW YORK: Bi-partisan legislation, Senate Bill 5187 and Assembly Bill 7620, seeking to reduce marijuana penalties and arrest violations involving cases where marijuana was either consumed or allegedly possessed in public [NY State Penal Law 221.10] remains pending in New York state. Under present law, non-public possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. However, in recent years, police — particularly in New York City — have misused Penal Law 221.10 to arrest defendants who would have otherwise faced no more than a civil citation. Passage of these measures will stop this police misconduct. You can contact your state legislators regarding these efforts here.

    NORTH CAROLINA: House Bill 324, an act to reclassify the possession of minor amounts of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to an infraction, remains pending before House lawmakers. House Bill 324 would amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would become a non-criminal infraction, punishable by a fine and no criminal record. You can contact your lawmakers regarding this measure by visiting NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    RHODE ISLAND: Legislation seeking to reduce marijuana possession penalties has been reintroduced in both chambers of the Rhode Island legislature. 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. Full text of the bills can be read online here and here. A recent statewide poll shows that 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents approve of this change. If you reside in the Ocean State, you can contact your members of the House and Senate in support of these decriminalization measures here.

    VERMONT: House Bill 427 — which amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by six months in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record — remains pending in the 2012 legislative session. According to a just-released statewide poll, over 60 percent of Vermont voters endorse decriminalizing cannabis. You can contact your House member in support of HB 427 here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 27, 2010

    Public support for California’s Prop. 19 — which would legalize the private adult use and cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis, and allow local governments the option of regulating its commercial production and retail distribution — is up significantly, according to the latest statewide Field Poll, released on Sunday.

    According to the Poll, 49 percent of respondents say that they would vote ‘yes’ on 19 ‘if the election were being held today.’ 42 percent say that they would vote ‘no.’

    Self-identified Democrats, men, and non-partisan voters were most likely to back the measure.

    The latest Field Poll numbers mark a significant improvement from the firm’s previous poll, conducted in July, which reported only 44 percent of respondents voting ‘yes’ and 48 percent voting ‘no.’

    Two additional polls released last week also emphasize voter support for Prop. 19. A September 22 Public Policy Polling firm survey of 630 likely California voters found 47 percent of likely voters backed 19, versus 38 percent against. The most recent Survey USA poll of 569 California adults reported similar support, with 47 percent of respondents saying that they were ‘certain’ to back the measure, versus 43 percent opposed.

    PollTracker.com, a website that posts aggregates results of all of the polls conducted on this issue to date shows Prop. 19 leading by 47 percent to 40 percent.

    Speaking of Prop. 19, Dave Borden, Executive Director of StoptheDrugWar.org, recently posted an excellent commentary on the Huffington Post rebutting the myth that passage of Prop. 19 would somehow undermine medical marijuana in California. NORML has addressed this minority (and fallacious) opinion numerous times on this site and on the Audio Stash blog, but Dave really hits it out of the park here.

    Prop 19 Would Help — Not Hurt — Medical Marijuana Patients
    via Huffington Post

    [Excerpt: Read the full text HERE.]

    Are they misinformed or deliberately lying? I don’t know anymore.

    A group of medical marijuana dispensaries organized as the California Cannabis Association has come out against Prop 19, California’s “Tax and Regulate Cannabis” initiative to legalize marijuana.

    The coalition claims that Prop 19’s provisions giving local jurisdictions the power to regulate cannabis sales, including the right to choose whether to allow commercial or other outlets, would enable them to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana to patients, something that under California they currently can’t do.
    The claim is completely false.

    … Fortunately, only some medical marijuana people are so shortsighted as to oppose this historic and important measure. Harborside Health Center in Oakland, and the Berkeley Patients Group are among the top quality groups lending their support to Prop 19. But it’s still worth asking, why are some other medical marijuana providers opposing it?

    I say enough is enough. Whether they are doing it deliberately, or out of deliberate ignorance, they should stop spreading misinformation about Prop 19. Shame on the California Cannabis Association. And YES on PROP 19!

    I also have added my two cents to this ongoing debate. In particular, I’ve addressed the allegation expressed by the so-called ‘Stoners against Prop. 19‘ (and repeated by others) that argues, “Simply put, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative does not reflect most people’s ideas of what legalization would be.” Perhaps that may be true for a minority of reformers. But the conflict doesn’t lie with Prop. 19; it lies with some people’s ‘idea of what legalization should be.’

    Coming to Terms With Taxation, Regulation, and California’s Prop. 19
    via HighTimes.com

    [Excerpt: Read the full text HERE.]

    This November, California voters will decide on Proposition 19, which seeks to enact the most far-reaching marijuana law reforms anywhere in the United States. The immediate effect of Prop. 19, if passed, would be to provide legal protection to the individual marijuana consumer – that is the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently using marijuana for non-medical purposes.

    Yet as is apparent by the criticism voiced by some, there’s a minority of folks who wish to define cannabis legalization unconventionally. They would prefer that legalization be characterized as the absence of any regulation whatsoever. It’s ironic because, in truth, it is the present criminal prohibition of cannabis that is an unregulated free for all. Conventional legalization is just the opposite.

    It is counter-intuitive for some critics of Prop. 19 to advocate that marijuana be treated in a ‘legal’ manner, but then at the same time demand that it not be subject to regulation. Bottom line: all legal commodities are regulated in some manner and their retail production or sale is subject to taxation.

    For example, cell phones are legal to possess and use in California, but if an individual uses his or her cell phone while driving they are subject to legal sanctions and intervention by law enforcement.

    Possessing domesticated pets is legal in California and elsewhere, yet certain apartments and home rentals forbid tenants from having pets on the premises. Certain localities have even barred adults from possessing certain pets (e.g., pit bulls) all together.

    Water is legal, but it’s a product that is highly regulated by the government. The state taxes private individuals’ water use; it can add components like fluoride to the product without voter consent, and it can even sanction the private individual if their water use is greater than that deemed appropriate by the government (in times of water rationing). Yet, even with these rules and regulations, is there any organized outcry from the public claiming that water, pets, or cell phones ‘aren’t really legal?’

    Ditto for the subject of taxation. Gasoline is taxed at the state level, federal level, and there’s also an excise tax that is passed on to the consumer. Same with alcohol. There are a multitude of taxes that are charged to the consumer on his or her phone bill. How about the taxes tacked on to airline travel, which equal nearly 25 percent of the consumer’s total purchase price? The number of specific taxes and regulations sought to be imposed upon marijuana under Prop. 19 are arguably minimal in comparison to the taxes and regulations on many commodities consumers already use every day. In fact, under the proposition, an adult can grow marijuana themselves and avoid any taxes all together.

    Is there the possibility that under Prop. 19 some local governments might seek to over-regulate or over-tax certain aspects of the plant’s use or retail distribution? Of course. [Editor’s note: And that is why reformers will continue to need to be involved in the local democratic process after 19 passes.] But ultimately, the question is: what is the preferable policy for adult marijuana use – not the Utopian. Right now the state has the power of a gun to seize an adult’s marijuana – even marijuana that is used in the privacy of one’s home – and to sanction that adult with criminal prosecution and a criminal record if their use is for non-medical purposes. Under Prop. 19, an individual would no longer face these criminal sanctions for their private activities, as long as their private use was limited to possession and cultivation within certain limits. That is legalization. And in NORML’s opinion, that is a net gain – not a net loss.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 3, 2010

    It seems not a day goes by where the staff at NORML doesn’t receive some sort of e-mail or comment arguing that marijuana use is ‘already legal’ in California. Really? Then how do you explain this?

    California Marijuana Arrests Remain Near Record Levels in 2009
    via California NORML

    According to data from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics, California reported nearly the same number of marijuana arrests in 2009 as in the previous, record year.

    In 2009, there were 17,008 felony and 61,164 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, for a total of 78,172. In 2008, there were 17,126 felonies and 61,388 misdemeanors, for a total of 78,514. This was the highest number of arrests since marijuana was decriminalized in 1976.

    So to summarize, this means that there have been more than 122,500 criminal prosecutions in California for the non-medical possession of marijuana of less than one ounce since 2008 (and that’s not counting 2010). Since marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor in California, that means that all of these individuals were forced to appear in court, pay court costs, pay an administrative fine, and were subject to either drug treatment or a temporary (2 years) criminal record. And, oh yeah, they also had their marijuana forcefully taken away from them by the full police power of the state.

    Since 2008, there were also over 34,000 felony marijuana prosecutions (not counting 2010). Marijuana felonies in California include charges like: growing even a single marijuana plant for non-medical purposes (punishable by up to 36 months in prison), and the sale of any amount of marijuana for non-medical purposes (punishable by up to four years in prison).

    Does that sound like legalization to you?

    Passage of Prop. 19 would make the adult possession (up to an ounce) of marijuana and the cultivation of marijuana (whatever amount may be harvested from a 25 square foot garden) legal. In other words, it would halt the criminal prosecutions of tens of thousands of Californians who are presently running afoul of the criminal law. It would offer legal protection to the estimated 3.3 million Californians who are presently using marijuana for non-medical purposes. (By contrast, only an estimated 200,000 or so Californians possess a valid doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis lawfully.) And that is why NORML supports this effort.

    In a similar vein, I’m also frequently asked the question: ‘Why legalize marijuana? Why not just decriminalize it?’

    First, let’s look at what ‘decriminalization’ really means:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decriminalization

    Definition of DECRIMINALIZE

    : to remove or reduce the criminal classification or status of; especially : to repeal a strict ban on while keeping under some form of regulation

    The term ‘decriminalize’ first came into vogue in 1972 when the Nixon’s Schafer Commission recommended this public policy for marijuana. Their recommendation to Congress was to replace criminal penalties on adult possession with administrative (non-criminal) sanctions, such as a fine — but to keep the commodity defined as contraband and to maintain criminal penalties on its retail sale and production.

    As a stopgap measure NORML has supported, and still supports, decriminalization. In fact, we are presently encouraging Californians to contact the Governor in support of Senate Bill 1449, which reduced adult possess penalties from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.

    But any public policy that mandates that marijuana remain, by definition, an illegal commodity (contraband) is woefully insufficient — as by definition it grants the state (law enforcement) the power to forcefully engage with the public in order to legally seize said commodity. That is why, even in places that have ‘decriminalized’ marijuana possession, we still see horrific acts of violence by police upon marijuana consumers like this and this.

    By contrast, simply removing marijuana from the entire criminal code in California, which appears to be what some anti-19 Utopians would prefer, would not fall under the definition of decriminalization — which by its very definition still maintains government sanctions and regulations. In fact, it is hard to define any statutory term for such an idyllic change, as virtually all ‘legal’ commodities are defined as such, and are thus subject to rules and regulations. As I’ve written previously, tomatoes aren’t decriminalized; they are legal and thus subject to regulation and taxation when they are commercially produced and sold on the retail market.

    I suppose one could argue that dandelions are non-criminal yet they are not subject to government taxation and regulation. But of course dandelions are not a commodity that is bought and sold on the open market. (Yes, like marijuana, dandelions also grow out of the ground. But, of course, so does wheat — which is highly regulated by the government.) And of course it is totally unrealistic to think that a commodity like marijuana, that is ingested and purchased by tens of millions of Americans, would ever be treated like dandelions.

    It is foolish for critics of Prop. 19 to demand that marijuana be treated in a ‘legal’ manner, but then at the same time demand that it not be subject to regulation when the fact of the matter is that all legal commodities are regulated in some manner and subject to taxation.

    Gasoline is taxed at the state level, federal level, and there’s also an excise tax. How about water? If your house is connected to a sewer your water consumption is taxed, and there are numerous regulations imposed upon it. The state can control what goes into your water (e.g., flouride). The state can even restrict how much water one uses (e.g., water rationing) in one’s own home. And of course there is alcohol. In this case the government regulates who can use it (e.g., age restrictions); where one can use it (e.g., no use in public parks, in motor vehicles, etc.), what time of day one can buy it, where one can buy it, how much one can brew themselves, how it can be advertised, and so on and so forth. Yet does anyone truly think that these commodities are not ‘fully legal’ because there are taxes and regulations associated with them? Does anyone really think that water should be ‘decriminalized, but not legalized?’

    Ultimately, the question is: what is the preferable policy for adult marijuana use — not the Utopian. Right now the state has the power of a gun to seize an adult’s marijuana — even marijuana that is used in the privacy of one’s home home — and to sanction that adult with criminal prosecution and a criminal record if their use is for non-medical purposes. Under Prop. 19, an individual would no longer face these criminal sanctions for their private activities, as long as their private use was limited to possession and cultivation within certain limits. That, in NORML’s opinion, is a net gain — not a net loss.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 22, 2010

    On Tuesday I penned a commentary for the Los Angeles Times rebutting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s public condemnation of Prop. 19 — The Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Initiative of 2010.

    Now the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), which provides non-partisan fiscal and policy advice, has come out with their own repudiation of Sen. Feinstein’s claims. Specifically, it sets the record straight regarding opponents allegations that passage of Prop. 19 would not result in significant cost savings, and counters the senator’s groundless argument (which nevertheless will appear in the 2010 California voter guidebook) that the measure is “a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe.”

    You can read the entire LAO summary here. Below are some key excerpts regarding what the passage or Prop 19 would and would not do. (Note: sections are set in bold for emphasis by the editor.)

    Proposition 19 — Changes California Law to Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be Regulated and Taxed
    via the California Legislative Analyst’s Office

    State Legalization of Marijuana Possession and Cultivation for Personal Use
    Under the measure, persons age 21 or older generally may (1) possess, process, share or transport up to one ounce of marijuana; (2) cultivate marijuana on private property in an area up to 25 square feet per private residence or parcel; (3) possess harvested and living marijuana plants cultivated in such an area; and (4) possess any items or equipment associated with the above activities. … The state and local governments could also authorize the possession and cultivation of larger amounts of marijuana. … State and local law enforcement agencies could not seize or destroy marijuana from persons in compliance with the measure.

    In addition, the measure states that no individual could be punished, fined, or discriminated against for engaging in any conduct permitted by the measure.

    [E]mployers would retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee’s job performance.

    [T]he measure would not change existing laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or that prohibit possessing marijuana on the grounds of elementary, middle, and high schools.

    Authorization of Commercial Marijuana Activities
    The measure allows local governments to adopt ordinances and regulations regarding commercial marijuana-related activities— including marijuana cultivation, processing, distribution, transportation, and retail sales. For example, local governments could license establishments that could sell marijuana to persons 21 and older. … As discussed below, the state also could authorize, regulate, and tax such activities.

    … Whether or not local governments engaged in this regulation, the state could, on a statewide basis, regulate the commercial production of marijuana. The state could also authorize the production of hemp, a type of marijuana plant that can be used to make products such as fabric and paper.

    Impacts on State and Local Expenditures
    Reduction in State and Local Correctional Costs. The measure could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision. These savings could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually.

    Reduction in Court and Law Enforcement Costs. The measure would result in a reduction in state and local costs for enforcement of marijuana-related offenses and the handling of related criminal cases in the court system.

    Impacts on State and Local Revenues
    The state and local governments could receive additional revenues from taxes, assessments, and fees from marijuana-related activities allowed under this measure. … To the extent that a commercial marijuana industry developed in the state, however, we estimate that the state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues.

    NORML’s Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville also has recently posted a line-by-line analysis of Prop. 19 here for those of you who have any lingering questions or concerns.

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