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  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel July 14, 2014

    normlrallyI’m sometimes asked how a midwestern farm-boy ended up starting a marijuana smokers’ lobby. I had been raised in the 1950s in southern Illinois by southern Baptist parents, and there was nothing in that environment that would cause one to challenge authority or attempt to change the prevailing cultural values.

    But then came the Vietnam War. Like many young men of my generation who came of age during that war, I had been radicalized by the war, or more specifically, by the threat of being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam, a war few of us understood and even fewer wanted to die for (58,000 Americans eventually died in Vietnam). My primary focus at the time was avoiding the war in any way possible – a “draft dodger” was the derogatory term used for those of us who did not wish to serve.

    Back then, before the draft lottery had even been established, all young men, by the time they were 18 years of age, were required to register for the draft, and unless they were a full-time student, were promptly inducted. So many of us stayed in school for as long as possible, but we remained subject to the draft until we turned 27 years of age. So when I graduated law school in 1968 at 25, I immediately received my draft notice, passed my physical, and was only two weeks away from my report date, when, with the help of some dedicated lawyers working with the National Lawyers’ Guild, I managed to get what was called a critical-skills deferment, that allowed me to spend my two years working at a presidential commission in Washington, DC, instead of getting shot in Vietnam.

    CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON MARIJUANA.COM

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director May 16, 2014

    In the coming days, members of the House of Representatives are expected to debate and vote on budget appropriation legislation for the Department of Justice. Representatives Rohrabacher and Farr will be introducing an amendment to this measure to prevent any of the department’s funding from being used to interfere with medical marijuana programs in states that have approved them.

    Twenty-one states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting medical marijuana patients from state prosecution. Yet in all of these states, patients and providers still face the risk of federal sanction — even when their actions are fully compliant with state law.

    It is time that we allowed our unique federalist system to work the way it was intended. Patients, providers, and their state representatives should have the authority to enact laws permitting the medical use of cannabis — free from federal interference.

    Please write your members of Congress today and tell them to stop using taxpayer dollars to target and prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers. For your convenience, a prewritten letter will be e-mailed to your member of Congress.

    CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION!

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director April 29, 2014

    Senator Leach Talks Marijuana Policy with National NORML Comm. Director Erik Altieri and PhillyNORML Comm. Director Joe Forte

    Senator Leach Talks Marijuana Policy with National NORML Comm. Director Erik Altieri and PhillyNORML Comm. Director Joe Forte

    NORML recently interviewed Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach regarding marijuana law reform and the role it has played in state politics and his campaign. While serving in Harrisburg, Senator Leach introduced measures to legalize marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes. In addition to currently serving in the state Senate, Daylin Leach is also a candidate in the Democratic primary to represent the Pennsylvania 13th Congressional District in the US House of Representatives (and had previously received the endorsement of NORML PAC).

    What personally made you embrace marijuana law reform?

    Senator Daylin Leach: My embrace for marijuana reform was based off of the pernicious and destructive laws currently in place. We live in a society where marijuana prohibition is putting a strain on our justice system that cannot continue, where sick children and adults are not getting the medicine they need, and where otherwise law-abiding citizens are losing their freedom for partaking in a “drug” that is so much less harmful than alcohol.

    Despite 58% of Americans supporting marijuana legalization, why do you think some politicians are still hesitant to support these important reforms?

    DL: Fear and lack of understanding Though the public is overwhelmingly supportive, understanding this support has not made its way up to many elected officials. They fear losing their next election and they do not understand what this polling means, how American sentiment on this issue has shifted.

    Only after they see other politicians running – and winning – on ending prohibition will they understand that the tide has truly turned.

    That is where NORML comes in, those of us who are running for Congress on this issue need your support so that we can show that this is not an issue to be afraid of, and that public support in polls is evident at the voting booth.

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

    DL: The reception from within the movement, from groups like NORML, has been fantastic.

    From voters and constituents, it has been gratitude that we are talking about finding an end to prohibition, that we are finding safe and legal ways for people to get the medicine that they need, and that we are bringing some common sense to the criminal justice system.

    The only push-back that I’ve gotten is from some of my fellow politicians who (as I stated in the earlier response) just don’t get it.

    What advice would you give to marijuana law reform supporters who are working to change laws and bring politicians over to their side?

    DL: Three words: win more elections.

    Whether it is through campaign contributions (every bit helps!), or volunteering to help make phone calls or knock on doors, we need everyone who cares about this issue to mobilize around elections. And once we start winning, the politicians will follow.

    If elected, what actions would you take to move away from our failed policy of marijuana prohibition?

    DL: Ideally, the federal government would end prohibition with a single piece of legislation, but realistically, we that won’t pass — yet.

    So, given the political realities, we need to push for more achievable goals. That is why, on taking office, I would add my name as a co-sponsor to HR 1635: the National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act; HR1523: the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act; and, most importantly, HR 2652: The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act so that businesses conducting legal business transactions can do so with the same federal banking protections as every other business.

    It is winning incremental steps like these that will slowly push lawmakers toward our ultimate goal.

    Any final words for the NORML audience?

    DLNo other candidate in the Congressional election in PA-13 supports anything close to marijuana legalization, and no other candidate has even addressed it as part of their campaign. I have, and I am proud of that. But I can only get there with your help.

    My Congressional district covers parts of Philadelphia and is in the 4th most expensive media market in the country (behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago). Our election is May 20th and to communicate our message we are currently spending $200,000 a week!

    We need you. Only by wining victories like my race will the issue and the movement progress forward. If you can make a contribution, thank you. If you can’t, sign up to phone bank (which you can do from anywhere in the country), and if you live near Philadelphia, stop by to help us knock doors.

    This campaign lives and dies by the grassroots efforts of our supporters, and we need you now!

    Thank you for all of your support.

    Stay tuned for more interviews with policymakers, politicians, candidates, and public figures in the near future here on NORML Blog. For more information about Daylin Leach you can click here. The Pennsylvania Democratic Primary will be held on May 20th of this year, click here to find your polling place and here. A map of the Pennsylvania 13th Congressional District is available here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director April 5, 2014

    Today, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 78 to 55 in favor of Senate Bill 364 which reduces the penalty for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil offense.

    Senate Bill 364 was originally amended by the House Judiciary Committee to simply form a task force to study the issue of marijuana decriminalization. However, this morning, under pressure from the House Black Caucus, the House Judiciary Committee reversed their vote and instead voted 13 to 8 to approve an amended version of SB 364. As amended by committee, the bill would make possession of 10 grams or less a civil offense with the first offense punishable by a $100. The fine for a second offense would be $250, and the fine for a third and subsequent offenses would be $500. The original Senate version set the fine at $100, no matter which offense it was. SB 364 is now expected to go to conference committee to resolve the differences between the version approved by the House and the one approved by the state Senate.

    Commenting on today’s vote, NORML Communication Director Erik Altieri stated, “This bill represents a great step forward in reversing the devastating effect current marijuana policies have on communities in Maryland. While the state must now move forward on the legalization and regulation of marijuana, we applaud Maryland legislators in taking action to end the 23,000 marijuana possession arrests occurring in the state every year.”

    According to a 2013 ACLU report, Maryland possesses the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests per capita of any state in the country. Maryland arrests over 23,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession every year, at the cost over of 100 million dollars.

    NORML will keep you updated on the progress of this legislation.

  • by Mitch Earleywine February 28, 2014

    (Dr. Mitch Earleywine was elected as the Chairman of the NORML Board of Directors in February 2014)

    A recent headline reads: “Can Marijuana Kill You? German Scientists Say Yes.” The article focuses on a study of two (count ‘em, two!) young men who died while they had detectable levels of THC in their blood. I take a lot of pleasure in this kind of melodrama. If prohibitionists are stooping this low, we must really be frightening them. (It’s not completely pharmacologically ridiculous. Marijuana does increase heart rate. In fact, it can jack up heart rate almost as much as an espresso or energy drink. Maybe if you already had a weak heart and a coffee and a bong hit, well, something might happen.)

    But I want to point out that we should actually expect literally thousands of reports like this. We should hear about lots of people who have heart attacks on the same day that they commune with the plant. It’s not because cannabis causes heart attacks. It’s simple chance.

    I hate for my first blog as Chair of The Executive Board to be this nerdy, but I’ve been teaching statistics for more than 20 years. If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I’m not sure what would. But given how many people use cannabis daily and how many heart attacks occur in the United States, it’s actually a miracle that we haven’t heard about this kind of thing before. We also should expect to hear it a lot more often.

    According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7,600,000 Americans (over age 12) used marijuana daily or near daily in 2012. In addition, the Center for Disease Control suggests that about 715,000 of us have heart attacks in a year. (Let’s assume those under age 12 are probably not grabbing their chests with a myocardial infarction too often.) In addition, let’s guess that the United States has about 280 million people over age 12. It’s hard to know the exact number, but that’s probably in the ballpark.

    With this in mind, we can predict how many people should have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis simply by chance. That is, even if these two things had nothing to do with each other, we should expect some folks to have a heart attack the same day that they used cannabis just by accident.

    Okay. It’s going to get nerdy here, but this is comparable to asking simpler questions. If I had a dime and a nickel, I might want to know what the chances are that I’d flip heads on both. I flip heads 1 out of 2 times on average for the dime, for a probability of .5. Then I flip heads on the nickel 1 out of 2 times on average, also for a probability of .5. So the chances of flipping heads on both is .5 * .5 for .25. So we’d expect to get heads on both coins about 1Ž4 of the time. If I flipped both coins 100 times, I’d get around 25 pairs of heads. Note that there’s nothing causal here. The nickel doesn’t know what the dime did. It doesn’t want to be like the dime. It’s not that the dime caused the nickel to flip heads.

    So it’s the same deal for the cannabis-related heart attacks. If 7.6 million people use cannabis daily out of 280 million relevant Americans, that’s a probability of .0271. And if 715 thousand of 280 million have heart attacks, that’s a probability of .0026. Multiply these the same way we did with the probabilities for flipping heads (.0271 * .0026 = .00007). Now .00007 is a dinky number. If there were only 100 people in the country, we wouldn’t expect any of them (well, .007) to have a heart attack and smoke cannabis on the same day. But we’re talking about 280 million people here. So we’d expect .00007 * 280,000,000, = 19,600. That’s over 19,000 heart attacks.

    So the question isn’t, “How did these two guys die of a heart attack with THC in their blood?” It should be, “Where are the other 19,598 guys who should have had heart attacks with THC in their blood?” In fact, the absence of this many cannabis-related myocardial infarctions inspired my wife to ask, “Does cannabis protect the heart?”

    If we repeal prohibition, we’ll get to find out.

    Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013 Jan 1;127(1):e6-e245.

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

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