• 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 Tyler McFadden, NORML NE Political Associate September 27, 2019

    On Wednesday, September 25th, 2019, NORML testified at the DC Council Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in support of B23-0309, the “Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Amendment Act of 2019”, which seeks to expand workplace protections for medical cannabis patients in the District of Columbia. 

    Dozens of District residents, medical cannabis patients, and advocates came to speak in favor of ending the practice of randomly testing public employees and/or those seeking employment for their off-the-job use of cannabis. DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) and unions also came out to speak on behalf of their constituencies and union members in support of the proposed legislation. The hearing lasted more than seven hours. 

    Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (Committee Chair and At-Large Councilmember), David Grosso (At-Large Councilmember), and Trayon White (Ward 8 Councilmember) interacted with witnesses in rounds of questioning to clarify points made in witness testimony. By the time NORML left the witness panel — after an hour of testimony and questioning — the science was made clear: Medical cannabis patients do not present any greater risk to workplace safety, and drug testing for cannabis metabolites does not provide any means of determining whether someone is impaired on the job. You can read more about NORML’s position on cannabis in the workplace here

    You can view the hearing by clicking here. NORML’s testimony begins at 32:00. You can also read NORML’s submitted written testimony here

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director September 25, 2019

    Members of the House of Representatives voted 321 to 103 in favor of HR 1595: The SAFE Banking Act, which amends federal law so that explicitly banks and other financial institutions may work directly with state-legal marijuana businesses. 

    Two-hundred and twenty-nine Democrats and 91 Republicans cast ‘yes’ votes in favor of the measure.

    This historic vote marks the first time ever that a chamber of Congress has ever held a successful floor vote on a stand-alone piece of marijuana reform legislation. 

    Today’s vote is a significant victory for the cannabis reform movement and here’s why: for the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization. 

    Now we look to the Senate, where we are cautiously optimistic. Given the strong bipartisanship of the House vote, coupled with Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo’s recent pledge to hold a markup on this issue, we believe that Congress’ appetite to resolve this important issue has never been greater.

    But we are not done. In fact, we’re just getting started. 

    Why NORML Supports Passage of HR 1595: The Safe Banking Act:

    Federal law currently defines all marijuana-related endeavors as criminal enterprises, including those commercial activities that are licensed and legally regulated under state laws. Therefore, almost no state-licensed cannabis businesses can legally obtain a bank account, process credit cards, or provide loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

    In this environment, the rapidly growing multi-billion dollar cannabis industry must operate largely on a cash-only basis, which makes businesses more susceptible to theft and more difficult to audit. This ongoing federal prohibition also places the safety and welfare of these businesses’ customers at risk, as they must carry significant amounts of cash on their persons in order to make legal purchases at retail facilities. For these reasons, NORML has long advocated that federal lawmakers vote “yes” on The SAFE Banking Act.

    What’s Next?

    Today’s vote is a significant first step, but it must not be the last. Much more action will still need to be taken by lawmakers. In the Senate, we demand that lawmakers in the Senate Banking Committee hold true to their commitment to move expeditiously in support of similar federal reforms. And in the House, we anticipate additional efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act — which is sponsored by the Chair of the House Judiciary — in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana.

    Now Is the Time to Demand Congress Do MORE.

    Now that House members have overwhelmingly shown their support for HR 1595, it is time for them to address more comprehensive reform legislation, namely The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.

    Introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the MORE Act is bipartisan legislation that removes the marijuana plant from the Controlled Substances Act, thereby descheduling the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own regulatory policies absent the threat of federal interference.

    But, perhaps most importantly, the MORE Act seeks to address many of the past wrongs of marijuana criminalization. Specifically, it would appropriate a portion of the federal taxes collected from the legal industry to pay for the expungement of past criminal records and to partially fund reentry services, job training, and community improvements in jurisdictions that have been most disproportionately impacted by war on marijuana. Furthermore, the MORE Act additional allocates a portion of the federal taxes collected to the Small Business Administration to support small businesses and entrepreneurs who seek to engage in the emerging legal marketplaces. 

    Strike while the iron is hot and send a message to your lawmakers in support of ending prohibition NOW!

    Take time today to tell your members of Congress that their work is far from over. Nearly one in four Americans now reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal and it is time for members of Congress to stand up for their rights and liberties. 

    Thank you again for your support for NORML and for being on the right side of history. We could never have gotten this far without you, and with your continued support we know that we can ultimately secure cannabis freedom in our time. 


    Our educational and advocacy efforts are supported by thousands of people throughout the country as we work to advance marijuana reform in all 50 states and the federal level. Can you kick in $5, $10 or $20 a month to help us keep going?

  • by NORML September 18, 2019

    Today, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the Assistant Speaker of the House cosponsored the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, which would end the prohibition of marijuana and creates a pathway for states to implement their own reforms, and introduced legislation, the Remove Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act to end the practice of deporting immigrants for cannabis-related offenses.

    Upon introduction, Assistant Speaker Lujan said “The Trump administration’s decision to use marijuana as a weapon against our immigrant communities is despicable. The federal government should not be wasting resources to wreak havoc on immigrant families when there are children held in border camps that are desperate for legal services, hygiene products, and basic humanitarian care. Providing care for these children and families should be where the Trump administration devotes its funding – not working as a deportation force.”

    11 states and Washington DC have legalized marijuana for adult-use, and dozens more have passed laws decriminalizing its possession and use. Despite this, federal law enforcement continues to use minor marijuana-related infractions as justification to deport otherwise law-abiding immigrants and their families.

    “The status quo of marijuana criminalization is irrational and discriminatory towards tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding aspiring Americans who pose no safety risk to the United States. Public opinion and policy surrounding cannabis are rapidly shifting, which is why we must ensure that those who strive to achieve the American Dream are treated with dignity,” said Justin Strekal, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Political Director.

    By cosponsoring the MORE Act, Assistant Speaker Lujan becomes the most senior member of the House of Representatives to endorse legislation to end federal marijuana criminalization.

  • 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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