MOMENTUM: Post Election, Marijuana Law Reform Bills to be Introduced at Both State and Federal LevelNovember 19, 2012
The message from our big wins on Election Day has already begun to reverberate around the nation. Right on the heels of the votes in Washington and Colorado, several other states (and countries!) are already beginning to consider similar measures in their legislature.
Last week, representatives from Maine and Rhode Island announced their intentions to introduce legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in their respective states. Rep. Diane Russell of Maine and Rep. Edit Ajello from Rhode Island will be submitting these bills soon. Reports from Marijuana Policy Project indicated that Vermont and Massachusetts intend to follow suit.
Reform is spreading as far as Iowa. Today, Rep. Bruce Hunter announced his intentions of not only reintroducing his medical marijuana measure, but also a bill that would decriminalize the possession of cannabis.
The push for sensible reforms does not end at the state level, this week 18 members of the House of Representatives cosigned a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart urging them to respect states that chose to experiment with new approaches to marijuana. You can read the full text of the letter here.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) also declared that she will soon introduce legislation, entitled the “Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act,” which would exempt states where voters have legalized cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act provisions related to the substance.
Leaders outside of the United States have also been following these recent reform efforts closely. Uruguay has just introduced legislation into their congress that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and state-controlled production of marijuana. In Mexico, lawmaker Fernando Belaunzaran of Party of the Democratic Revolution has introduced legislation that also aims to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana.
Now that two states have legalized marijuana, the floodgates of reform have opened and each day more Americans, and people around the globe, are waking up to the reality that the prohibition of marijuana has been an utter failure. The statement delivered by the voters of Colorado and Washington is that we must regulate marijuana and do away with the societal ills caused by prohibition. Further, it showed that if the government isn’t willing to take the first step, the people will do it for them. We can only hope this recent wave of reform measures is just the beginning and we must work diligently to spread these rational policies nationwide. If history is any indication, like alcohol prohibition before it, the one on marijuana will crumble at an accelerated rate as more Americans continue to stand up, in growing numbers, and demand sensible marijuana policy.
Ruminating on the ‘domino effect’ of change, President Eisenhower once stated, “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.”
May it be so with marijuana legalization.
This upcoming November, voters in Washington and Colorado will go to the polls to decide whether marijuana should be totally legal in their respective States. But will it matter? After all, cannabis consumers and retailers in the 17 states that have legalized medical marijuana are still subject to harassment and arrest from the federal government. The threat of federal action has halted the implementation of recently passed medical marijuana programs in Delaware and Rhode Island, and has slowed the progress of other States’ efforts to ensure that sick patients have access to the medicine they need. In the first three years of the Obama administration, the federal government has participated in over 100 raids on medical marijuana dispensaries within states where medical marijuana is legal, even after promising shortly after assuming office that he would end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws. If voters in Washington and Colorado decide to take the leap and legalize marijuana, we have no reason to expect, based on prior actions, that the federal government will let these voters express and enforce their popular will unimpeded.
To fix the system, we must first understand the system. This paper seeks to explain why the federal government has the power to ignore the democratic will of its citizens and to continue to enforce unjust laws on voters who have decided that the imprisonment of cannabis consumers is a waste of government resources and a threat to civil society. While to government’s power to regulate the economy isn’t new, this power was only “recently” (by legal standards) expanded to give the government the power to ban non-lethal drugs. After all, banning alcohol required an Amendment to the Constitution. Yet, less than 50 years later, the Supreme Court changed its mind and allowed the federal government to ban marijuana without state approval, much less a Constitutional Amendment.
This apparently tyrannical power-grab stems, not solely from overzealous law makers, but from the inherent structure of our constitutional government. There are certain explicit provisions in our Constitution, such as the Supremacy Clause, Commerce Clause, and Necessary and Proper Clause, that the Supreme Court has seized upon to allow the federal government to override the legislative wishes of individual states in the course of setting federal policy. The first half of this paper provides a detailed overview of the powers provided to the federal government by the Constitution, and how these powers have been construed in recent times to allow the government to completely ban the possession, use, production, and sale of marijuana.
The federal government’s power in this arena is not unlimited, however, and there are certain actions marijuana reformers can take to help prevent this crackdown as they pen future marijuana legalization ballot initiatives. The second half of this paper explains how, through proper legal drafting, reform activists can limit the ability of the federal government to strike down or limit the effectiveness of state marijuana initiatives.
If you would like to learn more on the subject of how the powers of the federal government operate to curtail your ability to consume cannabis, and how we can correct this injustice through the power of democracy, then this paper is for you.
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This week: a study shows no correlation between marijuana dispensaries and crime, new polling data shows growing support for marijuana legalization, New Hampshire sends their medical marijuana measure to the governor, Rhode Island’s Governor signs their decriminalization measure into law, and the New York General Assembly approves medical marijuana legislation.
Governor Chafee Signs Rhode Island Decriminalization Into Law
Earlier today, Governor Chafee signed Rhode Island’s decriminalization measure into law. Last week, both the state Senate and General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the bill. The new law reduces the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 years or older 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. It takes effect April 1, 2013.
Eight states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — similarly define the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults 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 imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
You can read further coverage here.
New York State Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana Measure
Only several hours after Governor Chafee put his signature on decriminalization in Rhode Island, the New York state Assembly approved of AB 7347, which would amend state law to allow qualified patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana for therapeutic purposes, by a 90-50 vote. This marks the third time the Assembly has passed such a measure; however, in previous years similar legislation has stalled in the Senate. Action is now awaited on AB 7347’s companion legislation Senate Bill 2774. You can contact your state Senator and urge them to support this legislation by clicking here. You can read the bill text here.
By a vote of more than 2 to 1, members of the Rhode Island General Assembly today approved legislation to significantly reduce the state’s criminal marijuana possession penalties.
Members of the House and Senate passed twin bills, House Bill 7092 and Senate Bill 2253, which amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 years 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 these measures here.
House Bill 7092/Senate Bill 2253 now await concurrence votes, after which time they will be sent to Gov. Lincoln Chafee. [Update: In a radio interview this morning, Gov. Chafee stated that he is ‘inclined’ to sign the measures into law. Read the full summary of Chafee’s remarks here.] If you reside in Rhode Island, you can contact Gov. Chafee on behalf of these measures here.
According to a 2012 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 marijuana decriminalization laws.
Rhode Island lawmakers have previously approved legislation legalizing the possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
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.