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NORML Chapters

  • by NORML Canada October 15, 2019

    Legal Marijuana Sales Being in Canada

    NORML Canada launches official Post-Legalization platform to focus advocacy efforts on reforming Canada’s legal Cannabis system.

    In light of the first year of legalization, NORML Canada has monitored the Canadian cannabis landscape closely, to determine the next steps for crafting achievable and functional reform of cannabis regulations.

    The five key “pillars” established by NORML Canada are designed to help focus organizational resources to support our ongoing government and public outreach.

    1) Increased Access 
    Our goal is to ensure consumers have ease of access to legal cannabis products, access to medical dispensaries, access to world-class product options, as well as access to affordable legal options.

    2) Transitioning “Unregulated Market” into the legal framework
    Creating avenues for the current unlicensed market to be welcomed as part of the legal cannabis industry in order to achieve the government’s stated goal of disincentivizing the illicit market.

    3) Social discrimination protections
    Putting in place protective regulations that remove stigma barriers and consequences for consumers in the workplace, housing, and family.

    4) US relations – border & banking
    Ensuring international respect for Canada’s sovereign laws. Removal of any unnecessary international banking/travel barriers for legal business and cannabis entrepreneurs.

    5) Expungement, apologies, reparations & beyond
    Government must acknowledge the fact that cannabis laws were historically unjust and discriminatory in the first place.

    NORML Canada invites the public and press to join us at the historic Hotbox Lounge on Oct 17th, from 4-7pm to launch the new official platform, and to discuss the year-to-date. 

    NORML Canada proudly welcomes our sister chapter to the South – NORML Michigan, to share insights on Michigan’s newly passed legal recreational cannabis bill. Our combined goals are to understand how we can learn from and collaborate with one another.

    For additional information please contact Info@norml.ca

  • by David Holland, Executive Director of Empire State NORML October 9, 2019

    There has been some confusion and misinformation circulating about what New York’s latest expansion of marijuana decriminalization means and what impact it will have on criminal prosecutions going forward. 

     

    The Short Synopsis of the Offenses and Sentences 

    There are 2 provisions of New York’s Penal Law that relate marijuana-related offenses. Penal Law 220 relates to “controlled substances” offenses which include possession of “concentrated cannabis” which is defined as being more than 2 1/2% by volume of the total volume of cannabis seized. PL 220 then imposes escalating grades of punishment depending on the weight of concentrated cannabis. Simple possession of a very small amount of ‘concentrated cannabis’ is an A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. But, possession of just 1/4 ounce of concentrated cannabis is a D Felony and punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment. 

    Penal Law 221 is far more lenient as it specifically relates to cannabis flower penalizing possession based on the pure weight of the flower (minus root balls, stems, stalks, seeds, etc), not its chemical potency like PL 220 does. It too has escalating grades of punishment, but as of August 28, 2019, now permits much greater amounts to be possessed up to 2 ounces before a misdemeanor crime is actually committed. Possession of flower does not become a felony offense unless the defendant is in possession of more than 8 ounces with a corresponding maximum jail term of 4 years. 

    As of August 28, 2019, public consumption and possession of up to two ounces of cannabis flower is punishable as a marijuana possession violation (not a crime) and the sentence of that offense is a monetary fine up to $200 under Penal Law 221. However, possession or public consumption of wax, shatter, hashish, and/or cannabis oil which is more than 2 1/2% THC by volume, otherwise possessed in any amount, is still punishable as a “controlled substances” crime under Penal Law 220 which results in dramatically different consequences. 

    In addition to the potential length of incarceration, a significant difference between those two penal provisions under which marijuana-related offenses may be charge is that when charged under Penal Law 221, the criminal defendant may, over the objection of the prosecutor, request pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law 170.55 or 170.56 asking the court to adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (“ACD” or “MACD”). That means that if the person is not rearrested in a 6-12 month period, then the charges will automatically dismiss and all the records sealed as if the case never happened. 

    By contrast, a criminal defendant charged with a controlled substances offense for possession of “concentrated cannabis” (hash, oil, wax, shatter, etc) under Penal Law 220 cannot ask the Court to adjourn the charges in contemplation of dismissal and the court cannot do so without the consent of the Prosecutor. So, the criminal defendant is really at the mercy of the Assistant District Attorney who is handling the case. Worse, if convicted of the controlled substances misdemeanor under PL 220, in addition to the risk of incarceration, there are mandatory fines and surcharges as well as DNA fees and sample collections that can be imposed. Such convictions may not be subject to the newly enacted expungement provisions as they are “controlled substances” offenses and not “marijuana” offenses which were the sole targets for expungement under the new decriminalization law. 

     

    Legal Provisions

    New York Penal Law defines all of the violations and crimes that are punishable in New York State. Drug-related offenses fall under those provisions of the penal code that considered offenses against Public Health and Morals. Those controlled substances which constitute drug offenses are defined and identified in the Public Health Law. 

    Under the Public Health Law 3302(4) “Concentrated Cannabis” is defined as: 

    (a) The separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from a plant of the genus Cannabis; or 

    (b) a material, preparation, mixture, compound or other substance which contains more than two and one-half (2 1/2%) by weight of delta-9 THC… 

    Under PHL 3302(5) a “Controlled Substance” means any substance listed in section 3306 of the PHL. “Marihuana” is a Schedule I controlled substance under PHL 3306(d)(13). Under PHL 3302(21) “Marihuana” means all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds or resin. It does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, any other compound, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks (except extracted resin therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of the plant which is incapable of germination. 

    The distinguishing feature between “marihuana” and “concentrated cannabis” is greater than 2 1/2% concentration by volume requirement. Once that concentration threshold is exceeded, the arrestee may be charged with misdemeanor possession of either a controlled substance offense under PL 220 or the more lenient weight-based provisions of PL 221 that specifically pertain to marijuana. 

    The 2 1/2% potency threshold is by volume, so unlike other drugs, the medium in which it is contained, ie, the glass vial, pipe, etc., should not be weighed to raise the potential penalty since the inclusion of the weight of the medium may in fact reduce the potency determination as the wax, oil, etc, thereby reducing the concentration calculation. 

    While the Public Health Law 3306 and Penal Law 220 and 221 each address cannabis oil derived from the stalks and stems (but not the seeds), and resin, the determining feature is the 2 1/2% by volume threshold of demarcation to constitute a controlled substances offense. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, any oil or flower with less than 0.3 THC by volume , is now deemed to be legal and that determination will be binding on the states due to Congress’ ‘commerce clause’ and power to regulate interstate commerce. 

    That means that in New York State, personal possession of any flower or oil which falls between 0.3% THC and 2 1/2% THC by volume should be prosecutable only under the more lenient provisions of Penal Law 221. 

    The sentences for each provision of the Penal Law are found in Penal Law 70.00 et seq. 

  • by Josh Kasoff, Nevada NORML October 2, 2019

    Once again, Nevada NORML has remained hard at work, advocating for both patient access and rights as well as the criminal justice reform that this country desperately requires. However, this time, they’ve taken their advocacy to our nation’s capital for NORML’s National Conference to lobby for reform on the federal level and expanded access to medicinal cannabis, such as The MORE Act and the Veterans Affairs Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019.

    During the previous months, Las Vegas NORML traversed the Battle Born State’s dispensaries, collecting signatures from medical patients and consumers alike in support of the surprising amount of monumental federal cannabis reform legislation, many of which would positively affect the lives of the consumers themselves. With every visit, we laid witness to the true strength and diversity of those who want cannabis reform. From Vietnam to Iraq war veterans to cancer survivors who swear by cannabis to those whose lives have been irreparably damaged from The War on Drugs, the Las Vegas chapter collected over 2000 signatures from constituents to hand deliver to their respective representatives, hopefully serving as a strong visual reminder of the support behind federal reform.   

    “The letter writing campaign was one of the most impactful ways that we showed legislators that their constituents want change.” said Tina Ulman, Communications Director.    

    “This was the third year that Nevada NORML members have been able to represent consumers at the federal level in DC,” said Nevada NORML director Madison Saglibene.  “Easily our most successful effort, we anticipate all of our federal representatives to cosponsor pending legislation that will work towards protections for veterans in the coming weeks.”

    Throughout the conference, Nevada NORML’s A-team of diverse volunteers met with representatives such as Congressman Steven Horsford to show their gratitude for his co-sponsorship of The MORE Act, as well as Nevada’s other members of Congress who may not be so open to cannabis reform such as Mark Amodei. They listened to informative and impactful speeches from notable individuals such as Hawaii Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, who most importantly sponsored the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019.

    Along with Gabbard, NORML volunteers heard the current federal state of cannabis and possible reforms from longtime cannabis reform supporter and chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and bowtie connoisseur, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer. 

    The impact of Nevada NORML’s trip to Washington DC created a ripple effect that will be felt for years down the road in our community and will certainly lead to further reforms in 2021, both within Nevada and on the federal level.

    Even with the glitz and glamour of Washington, Saglibene and the other Nevada NORML volunteers who attended are most grateful towards our community members, cannabusinesses and philanthropy groups that provided a generous donation to our efforts regardless of the size.

    “It is not without the support of our community members and state, that we were able to make this commitment. Thank you to everyone who contributed even just $1 because it truly made the difference.” said Saglibene. 

  • by Jax Finkel, Texas NORML Executive Director September 16, 2019

    This year the Texas delegation at the 2019 NORML Conference and Lobby Day grew exponentially! We had a group of seven advocates that made the trip up to Washington, DC. Here is how our visit went:

    We started off the activities on Sunday by participating in the Leadership Certification where we learned from staff about best practices. Our Executive Director, Jax Finkel, participated as a training facilitator on the modules regarding “Volunteer Engagement and Advocacy Training”, “Strategies for a Successful Lobby Day”, and “Taking Local Action”. The certification was helpful for attendees who wanted to learn how to grow and expand their tools for reform.

    Monday was a full day of content at the 2019 NORML Conference where we learned from industry leaders, chapters from across the states, including Canada, Senator Don Wyden (D-OR) and Dr John Hudak. There was an awards ceremony with a live, original song played by Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and closing remarks from NORML founder, Keith Stroup.

    Tuesday was a packed day of lobbying. Our team visited with eleven offices regarding the Texas hemp program, the Texas Compassionate Use Program and penalty reduction (See our handout). Team members also had printed copies of their personal stories to share. We engaged with legislators and staff on how they could have an impact at the federal level. It was a very different experience from 2017 and we were able to obtain feedback that we can work with. We will be providing additional resources to the offices.

    Donate to support our work!

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE August 26, 2019

    Virginia has been one of the most reluctant states to consider marijuana law reform, though it recently began allowing some forms of cannabis oil for approved patients. MERRY JANE spoke with NORML’s Development Director, Jenn Michelle Pedini, to find out how they got the state’s conservative lawmakers to finally bring medical cannabis to its residents.

    The American South has been one of the toughest (weed) cookies to crack when it comes to marijuana reform, despite legalization’s wildfire spread over the past half-decade. Southern states have largely been dominated by the Republican Party since the mid-’60s, a party that has historically been staunchly opposed to any kind of marijuana law reform. (To be fair, Democrats didn’t mention weed legalization on their party’s official platform until 2016.)

    So, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Virginia didn’t launch a medical marijuana program until 2015, nearly two decades after California. And it took extensive, concerted efforts from marijuana law reform organizations like NORML to negotiate with Virginia’s Republican Party to get the program finally running.

    The program has evolved significantly over the last four years; here’s where it’s at today. HB 1445/SB 1235, passed in 2015, didn’t legalize medical marijuana per se but rather provided patients with an affirmative defense in court for the possession of certain medical cannabis products (just as long as they have an “affirmative defense” certificate from their doctor). HB1445/SB1235, unfortunately, didn’t provide a framework for cultivating or distributing medicines, so patients had to get their cannabis from another state (a no-no under the US Department of Justice’s now-rescinded guidelines).

    Then, in 2017 and 2018, Virginia finally made some moves to establish its own medical marijuana industry. The passage of SB 701 directed the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to regulate and monitor the state’s CBD- and THC-A-rich oils. SB 1027 authorized the Board of Pharmacy to issue permits for marijuana cultivation and processing. There are currently five “pharmaceutical processor” permit holders in Virginia, and they’re about to open for business.

    Furthermore, Virginia’s consumption/product regulations are smoke-free. While patients won’t be rolling up joints full of pungent flower, they can still access oils, tinctures, lozenges, inhalers, topicals, and pills packed with non-intoxicating CBD or THC-A, the acidic precursor  of THC. And, 2019’s SB 1557 makes it possible for patients to get as much as 10mg of THC in each dosethe same limit as one serving size for edibles in adult-use states.

    For comparison, other Southern states such as Texas and Georgia only allow CBD oils (with pretty much zero THC-A) for marijuana patients.

    JM Pedini

    JM Pedini | Photo by Adam Ewing

    To find out how NORML convinced Old Dominion’s conservative legislature to greenlight a medical cannabis program, MERRY JANE reached out to Jenn Michelle Pedini by phone. Pedini is the Development Director at NORML and serves as the Executive Director for Virginia NORML, and they’ve spent years coordinating with the state’s lawmakers, medical professionals, attorneys, patients, and patient activist groups to craft one of the American South’s most comprehensive medical marijuana bills to date. Pedini’s legislative strategy relied on two approaches: (1) carefully crafting the language around Virginia’s medical marijuana laws to protect patients, and (2) letting doctors, not bureaucrats, determine who gets to access medical marijuana.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

    MERRY JANE: Where was Virginia previously, and where is it now in terms of marijuana reforms

    Jenn Michelle Pedini: Virginia passed one of the nation’s first medical marijuana laws way back in 1979. Unfortunately, it used the word “prescription,” so the law was sort of self-defeating ever since day one. Not much happened between 1979 and 2015, aside from preventing the repeal of the wonky 1979 law. They managed to hold on to that.

    Now, in 2015 — like in many other states throughout the country — we saw some fresh faces in the marijuana policy conversation. These were moms and dads and grandparents of children [with intractable epilepsy] who were using medical cannabis oils. In Virginia, these families were simply asking to be able to possess the medicines they were able to access in other states. And Virginia, like many other states, said yes to these families in 2015, but meanwhile, they said no to everyone else. [As in, no to anyone who wasn’t an epilepsy patient.]

    The 2015 Virginia law is an affirmative defense law. It does not specifically legalize the possession of medical cannabis, but it does provide a reasonable defense from prosecution if the person is a registered patient. 

    The 2017 expansion of Virginia’s medical marijuana law got rid of qualifying conditions. How did getting rid of qualifying conditions make things easier for Virginia’s patients and the legislature?

    After the 2015 high-five, we came back to the table and said, We’re not done. We need to do more. We needed to do two things: We need to allow more people to have access [to medical cannabis] and we need to create in-state access, because federal interstate drug trafficking is not an acceptable solution. 

    Virginia Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, MD

    So, we set about these two objectives, one being to add additional conditions. Ultimately, in 2017, with the help of a state senator — Siobhan Dunnavant, who is a Republican and a physician — we were able to convince the legislature to expand the medical program. And instead of having the government arbitrarily select [qualifying] conditions, it would probably be a better public policy approach to let doctors decide. 

    We had the Joint Commission on Health Care introduce that legislation for the 2018 session; it passed unanimously. It removed qualifying conditions altogether. This is now a public policy that NORML uses as its standard. 

    Is that solely determined between the patient and the doctor now, or can a patient alone claim their own justified medical use?

    There is a state medical program with which patients must register. Virginians must first visit an authorized practitioner, meaning a practitioner registered with the state to issue written certifications to patients. This last year, we added nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to the definition of “practitioner,” too. 

    After the patient receives their certification from the practitioner, they then register with the state, and receive a piece of paper in the mail, which is what we call your affirmative defense certificate

    We don’t have operating medical cannabis facilities yet, so patients may be bringing in their medicine from out-of-state. The certificate provides an affirmative defense for possession of those medicines. Eventually, patients will use this certificate to access Virginia’s medical dispensaries.

    Was this no-qualifying-conditions strategy specifically designed to get a medical marijuana bill passed through an incredibly conservative legislature?

    Pedini & Dunnavant celebrate the passage of Let Doctors Decide in 2018

    Pedini & Dunnavant celebrate the passage of Let Doctors Decide in 2018

    Yes. We tried numerous approaches. We had lawmakers who were just proposing lists of diseases that they felt were deserving, and we tried very narrow approaches, proposing two diseases, cancer and Crohn’s disease specifically, and we were being met with questions like, “Where are the data on that?” and “We only want to see data from an American source.” 

    There were really high hurdles to meet, just to get a condition or two added. Despite us meeting whatever obstacles they set before us, legislators were still saying, “Oh, we don’t know” or “I’m not a doctor. I can’t read this.” And they were right: Maybe we should be letting doctors make these decisions. Having a senator who is a physician working alongside us was probably the best thing to happen to Virginia’s medical cannabis program. 

    Senator Dunnavant provided that voice of clarity that we needed, and from the political party that is the controlling majority of our legislature. 

    How would you describe Virginia’s medical marijuana program? Is it a CBD program? A low-THC program?

    You’ll see Virginia’s medical program called all kinds of things. You’ll see it called a CBD-only program, or you’ll see it called a low-THC program. It’s neither of these things. Virginia has an “extraction-based” model; it’s not unique. We’ve seen other states do the same thing, or, at least, start there.

    There are some minimum and maximum cannabinoid contents with the program. The terms CBD oil and THC-A oil speak to a codified minimum cannabinoid content that the product must have, in this section of the state criminal code, to allow for the affirmative defense. 

    What people really want to know now is what they’re actually able to get. The retail side of these facilities are technically pharmacies — also not novel in medical cannabis regulation — and these pharmacies only dispense medical cannabis products. And, as they’re operating under pharmacy regulations, they’re going to be able to dispense things that pharmacies can already dispense: gels, capsules, tinctures, tablets, lozenges, lollipops. 

    But, pharmacies don’t dispense cookies, and they don’t dispense — at least in Virginia — flowers. So, those two things are not available under Virginia’s model as it’s currently written. 

    Everyone who was involved in the legislative process was aware that THC-A is one chemical step away from becoming psychoactive THC, right? They were all fine with that?

    [chuckles] Way, way back in the day, in 2015, this was originally being drafted to only serve patients with intractable epilepsy. Families of the patients involved in this conversation were primarily using preparations that contained CBD and THC-A. 

    But to your point about THC-A, that it’s the precursor of THC: Yes, certainly, they knew. If patients were to decarboxylate their THC-A products, then technically, that would nullify their affirmative defense. And that was the argument we used when they asked, “What’s to stop them from taking this home, heating this up, and getting high?”

    We said, “Well, pharmacies dispense entire bottles of Oxycontin. And you’re not supposed to take those home, crush them up, and snort them. It’s the same thing here [with THC-A products].”

    We later lowered the minimum cannabinoid requirement. In other words, each dose, which means one “unit” — one dropperful, one lollipop, one spray — must have either 5mg CBD or 5mg THC-A. 

    These minimums exist because we were originally concerned about “snake oil,” so we needed the cannabinoid threshold so they couldn’t sell snake oil to patients. Initially, the minimum was 50mg, but we were concerned about pediatric dosing. So, we settled on 5mg for the affirmative defense amount.

    In addition, each dose can contain up to 10mg THC which, of course, is the same as an adult-use serving size. So, if grandma finds a caplet on the floor and decides to eat it, she’s not going to experience any particularly adverse effect

    [Note: There’s no maximum limit for how much CBD or THC-A that a medical cannabis product can contain in Virginia.]

    Between Virginia’s lawmakers and cannabis activists, where did you see intersection between these two groups? What sorts of things did they agree on?

    Up until 2015, there were a lot of conversations about marijuana policies that focused specifically on criminal justice reform. The controlling members of the committees that clear criminal justice legislation in Virginia are primarily prosecutors and former prosecutors. And they’re not interested in writing laws that limit their prosecutorial discretion. Which, by and large, is fairly unrestricted in the commonwealth. 

    Now, when they were confronted with families with sick children, that was something that everyone could emotionally identify with. And that, like in many other states, moved the needle, that emotional connection, the ability to sympathize or empathize with these patients. That same connection does not yet exist on the criminal justice side for those lawmakers. 

    Virginia’s legislature is currently controlled by Republicans, but Democrats have steadily gained traction in recent years. In 2008, Virginia’s voters, for the first time in 44 years, elected a Democrat for the US presidency. That trend persisted through the following two presidential races, as well. Do you anticipate any new marijuana reforms in Virginia after the 2020 elections? 

    What happens with marijuana legislation during the 2020 General Assembly depends entirely on the outcome of the 2020 election. Every single seat in our state’s legislature — both the Senate and the House of Delegates — is up for reelection. So, what is feasible in 2020 depends entirely upon who the controlling party is.

    Your state’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, sounds like he’s down for decriminalization if not outright legalization. 

    If the Republican Party maintains control of the legislature, we can expect to have very limited and incremental reform. If Democrats control the legislature, that would likely open the door for the criminal justice reforms that we just really have not seen in Virginia — yet. Which is what our Attorney General [Mark Herring] is talking about

    He understands that decriminalization — fines, not crimes — is an easy step that Virginia can and should take, but that it doesn’t provide the real solution. It’s essentially a Band-Aid on a femoral artery bleed. 

    Decriminalization will reduce arrests, but it won’t address the disparities with which these arrests are made. And he has been very clear in recognizing that the end-goal should be to regulate the responsible, adult-use of marijuana so we can take it off the street corner and put it behind an age-verified counter, prevent youth access, and better provide for consumer safety.

    We’ve been fortunate to have an Attorney General who has worked so closely with Virginia NORML, and who has been advocating a better public policy, one that serves Virginians. 

    Is there anything else you think people should know about Virginia’s marijuana reforms?

    You’ll see “5 percent” mentioned in reference to our program. 5 percent by dry weight means something entirely different than 5 percent in a liquid pharmaceutical measurement. I think this is how people got the notion that our program is “low-THC.” “5 percent” translates into 50mg/mL. So, you can tell me how that equals low THC. [laughs]

    We have been very thoughtful in the language that’s been used, so that we can get to where we need to be: Let doctors decide; full therapeutic strength; pharmaceutical processors (that’s what we call our cannabis facilities), and, if it makes people feel better to call it CBD or THC-A oil, then go ahead.

    This is what works to get it into the legislature. On the flip side, after these laws are passed, we’re left with an opportunity to talk about this — with the media and in public spaces — to use terms that consumers understand. They don’t necessarily understand what CBD or THC-A oil means; they just know that they want access to medical cannabis now. The language is on us at this point, and while we may have used that language to get this into the legislature, now we need to leave that language at that door. 

    Learn more about Virginia’s medical cannabis program here.

    Become a member of NORML and Virginia NORML and join the fight to reform marijuana laws.

    Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter, and read more of their work at MERRY JANE here.

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