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Citizen Lobbyists

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director May 12, 2020

    NORML Activist SpotlightTamara Netzel was a middle school English teacher, an Army officer’s wife, and possibly the most cannabis naive individual you could have met. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2013, and for a few years believed she could continue to teach and live her life as long as she followed all the doctors recommendations and took the medications they prescribed. When those very medications led to liver failure in 2017, triggering chronic pain and other MS symptoms, she was forced to retire from teaching. 

    A friend suggested Tamara try CBD oil for her pain, and it gave her relief like nothing else had. She didn’t have a clue what CBD was, nor did she know it was then illegal to possess. By the time she learned she was breaking the law, cannabis medicine was saving her life. Tamara knew she had to get involved and work to change the law in her state of Virginia. In no time at all she found herself front and center in Virginia NORML’s fight to legalize medical cannabis, testifying before the General Assembly, pleading for legal access not only for herself, but for all Virignians. Years later and after countless hours devoted by herself and other advocates at Virginia NORML, the state’s first medical cannabis dispensaries will finally begin opening dispensary doors to patients this summer. 

    Tamara Netzel testifies before the Virginia General Assembly with Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Tamara Netzel testifies before the Virginia General Assembly with Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Though for Tamara it was initially about trying to heal herself, she quickly realized that telling stories like her own could help others heal. And not just physical pain, but the mental pain associated with the criminalization of this plant. While some may discredit anecdotal information in efforts to reform marijuana laws, Tamara came to see that statistics and research must be accompanied by human stories to truly help others understand why these laws must be changed.

    As Virginia made significant progress in a short time with medical cannabis, Tamara quickly learned she needed to educate herself about the criminalization of cannabis. It concerned her that even as a registered patient, she could still be arrested. She had never had any experience with the criminal justice system, and she didn’t know anyone who had. People would tell her she had nothing to worry about because she was a middle aged white woman with MS. “I knew I didn’t fit the description of people who are disproportionately targeted for marijuana charges. At that point, I realized I had two choices: I could just be satisfied with my own white privilege, or I could try to use that privilege for good,” said Tamara.

    Once her teaching career had ended, Tamara was forced to answer the question of who she was now in this world. “I remembered I’m who I’ve always been, a person who helps others, and helps others learn,” recalled Tamara.  Her passion for helping and teaching led Tamara to begin curating a powerful new project, Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law.

    Tamara Netzel and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring at the Virginia 2020 Legislative Cannabis Summit

    Cruel Consequences was founded with the mission of bringing awareness to the enormous suffering many experience from the collateral damage of marijuana – negative impacts that can last well after court costs and sentences have been fulfilled, and often for a lifetime. Through her advocacy work, Tamara met more and more people who had been arrested for cannabis, and it troubled her how important pieces of those stories were left out of the news coverage the general public sees.

    “Before I came to see cannabis as medicine, that missing that information was never a concern for me,” recalled Tamara, and like many other readers, she would unconsciously fill in the blanks with negative assumptions. She quickly learned that even after someone completed their sentence, they still suffered consequences like being denied employment, college loans, housing, and child custody, when all they wanted was to move on from the experience and live their best lives.

    After visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Tamara was inspired to make Cruel Consequences a portrait exhibit. Marijuana arrest or conviction stories never tell the reader who that person really is, a loving parent, a hardworking son, a heroic veteran, a brave patient battling a horrible disease. If there is ever a photo with such a story, it is typically a mug shot or other unflattering image, taken often when someone  is having their worst day of their life. Why not show these people on a good day? Hopefully those opposed to marijuana law reform could then see the human side of this issue.

    Virginia NORML's 2020 Activist of the Year Tamara Netzel

    Virginia NORML’s 2020 Activist of the Year Tamara Netzel

    In Cruel Consequences’ first year, its portrait exhibits were displayed at dozens of events across the Mid-Atlantic. Notably, the project was the only art exhibit at the first Virginia Legislative Cannabis Summit, hosted by Attorney General, Mark Herring and the Virginia Legislative Cannabis Caucus to educate state lawmakers to learn about cannabis policy, and several portraits were on display throughout the Virginia General Assembly Building during the 2020 legislative session.

    This January, Virginia NORML recognized Tamara as Advocate of the Year, and she says she’s proud to have played a small part in their legislative victories. The project is always looking for more stories, please consider sharing yours. Like Tamara, by sharing your story, you can change lives.

     

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator April 23, 2020

    As we all learn to cope with our new socially distant realities amidst a global pandemic, its difficult to think of any aspect of society that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19. Unfortunately for marijuana reform, what began with at least a dozen states optimistically working to qualify state level ballot initiatives in advance of the November 2020 election, has slowly dwindled to a number that can be counted on one hand.

    Activists have been working for months registering new voters, collecting signatures, and educating the public, in hopes of giving voters in their state the opportunity to make their voices heard and cast their vote for marijuana. But social distancing guidelines have made this work virtually impossible.

    Below is an overview of key 2020 ballot initiative efforts and where they stand now.

    New Jersey

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Qualified
    The question:

    Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

    Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market.

    Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.

    Members of the New Jersey state legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment in December 2019 by a three-fifths majority, firmly placing a question to allow regulated cannabis sales on the November 2020 ballot. According to a recent Monmouth University survey, 61 percent of respondents said they would vote in support of the proposal, while 34 percent said they’d vote against it.

    Mississippi

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Two competing measures have both qualified
    The questions:

    Initiative 65 (citizen initiated):

    Should Mississippi allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana?

    A citizen driven campaign, spearheaded by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, turned in over 200,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in January to allow patients to access up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day time period.

    HC 39 (legislature approved):

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, That the following amendment to the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 is proposed to the qualified electors of the state at the November 2020 election, as an alternative to the amendment proposed by Initiative Measure No. 65:

    Article 16, Section 290, Mississippi Constitution of 1890, is created to read as follows: “Section 290. There is established a program in the State of Mississippi to allow the medical use of marijuana products by qualified persons. The program shall be structured to include, at a minimum, the following conditions and requirements:

    Members of the Mississippi state legislature approved an alternative ballot measure in March that will appear alongside Initiative 65 on the November ballot. Activists view this less clear, more restrictive initiative as an effort by lawmakers to undermine the will of the people and confuse voters at the polls. Under this proposal, patients would be prohibited from smoking whole-plant marijuana.

    South Dakota

    Issue: Medical & adult use marijuana
    Status: Two separate measures have both qualified
    The questions:

    Constitutional Amendment A (adult use):

    Title – An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; and to require the Legislature to pass laws regarding hemp as well as laws ensuring access to marijuana for medical use.

    If approved, the constitutional amendment would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants for personal use. The initiative is backed by a former federal prosecutor as well as the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy organization.

    Initiative 26 (medical):

    Title – An initiated measure on legalizing marijuana for medical use.

    If approved, the statutory initiative would allow registered patients, with a physician’s approval, to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow up to three plants for therapeutic use.

    Arizona

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Minimum # of signatures collected
    The proposal: Initiative 23: Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the ballot initiative, is confident that they have enough signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. With about 320,000 signatures already collected, they say they have about 80,000 signatures more than the 237,645 needed to qualify. The campaign is asking the state supreme court to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19. If approved, the statutory measure would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. It also includes expungement and social equity provisions.

    Missouri

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Campaign suspended
    The proposal: After launching the campaign early this year, Missourians for a New Approach, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that they are suspending their campaign due to COVID-19 restrictions severely limiting their ability to collect in-person signatures. They had already collected about 80,000 signatures out of the needed 160,199 to qualify. The initiative would have allowed adults to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retail outlets and grow up to three plants for personal use.

    Montana

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: A proposal to legalize marijuana for adults was submitted to the Secretary of State back in January by New Approach Montana, clearing the group to begin collecting the 25,468 signatures required to officially qualify for the November ballot. Most recently, activists sued the state, arguing that preventing electronic signature gathering is unconstitutional.

    North Dakota

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Campaign suspended
    The proposal: Legalize ND, the group behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, submitted another proposal to legalize marijuana for adults in the state late last year in hopes of qualifying for the November 2020 ballot. Most recently, the campaign announced its suspension due to the inability for the group to collect signatures in-person due to COVID-19. They needed 13,452 signatures before July 6 in order to qualify. The measure would have allowed adults to purchase and possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.

    Oklahoma

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: SQ 807 would allow adults to legally purchase and possess marijuana for personal use. Advocates in the state say it is unlikely that collecting enough signatures would be feasible.

    Arkansas

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Unclear
    The proposal: Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, the group behind the initiative, has already collected 15,000 signatures out of the required 89,151 to qualify an adult use legalization initiative. It is unclear whether the campaign will continue collecting signatures before the July 1 deadline.

    Nebraska

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the campaign behind the initiative, announced that they are temporarily suspending signature gathering after being cleared to start collecting signatures over a year ago. They must collect about 130,000 signatures by July 8 in order to qualify. The constitutional amendment would have allowed qualifying patients, with a physician’s approval, to access medical marijuana and “discreetly” grow marijuana for therapeutic use.

    Idaho

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that in-person signature gathering would be suspended due to COVID-19. They need to collect 55,057 signatures by May 1 in order to qualify, which is unlikely. They already collected about 40,000.

    California

    Issue: Marijuana and hemp regulations
    Status: Electronic signature gathering requested
    The proposal: The California Cannabis Hemp Heritage Act would make changes to the state’s licensing and taxation rules in an effort to expand access to marijuana. Most recently, celebrities Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith asked state officials to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19.

  • by Delaware NORML April 3, 2020

    Medical marijuana

    In case anyone has been living under a particularly heavy and sound-proof rock, medical cannabis is essential. While we commend our state officials for declaring that centers will remain open during the state of emergency, we need to ensure our patients have uninterrupted access to their life saving medicine. This is especially important during these uncertain times. Delaware NORML sparked up the community for a call to action, urging Governor Carney to offer delivery options to adequately serve medical cannabis patients in this time of crisis.

    We are thrilled to pass on this joint effort. Delaware officials, lawmakers and compassion center owners are working together to quickly roll out delivery options for cannabis patients.  We offer our highest appreciation to everyone who helped make this happen!

    With the recommended guidelines, many patients have been left without an option to obtain their medicine. Some patients may not drive and many do not have an authorized caregiver. Ordering online with pick up options isn’t enough when a vast majority of patients are now homebound with little resources to facilitate those services. Medical patients are the most at risk and we should be doing everything we can to ensure their safety. Hopefully these new updates to our medical cannabis program will be implemented quickly.

    Columbia Care will be the first center to offer this option, hopefully in the coming weeks. They are working quickly but must ensure they can safely implement delivery services. Please note this is a brand new service, being launched for this first time during an active crisis. Columbia Care will unfortunately be unable to service all patients, especially at first. Once the other two centers are also set up for delivery services, the process will improve.

    Please have patience with the centers’ staff during this process. We are all trying to do the best we can with what we have.  Please be mindful that for many patients this will literally be their only option. If you can facilitate the online ordering with pick up option safely, please continue to do so and save this service for those who need it most.

    Please visit the centers’ websites for updates and more information to be posted soon.

    DE Medical Cannabis Centers:

    Help us continue to cultivate our cannabis community and join us on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter (@denorml) to find out how you can help us spark up reform.

  • by Josh Kasoff, Nevada NORML March 12, 2020

    In the same vein as our historic start to 2020, the month of February proved to be an equally memorable and important month for the Las Vegas chapter of NORML. Throughout the city, we’ve been making sure that criminal justice advocacy stays at the forefront of the social cannabis community’s mind. From staying up to date on the happenings of the legal adult use industry to the patient and consumer rights that we stand for, we’re going into March with an even stronger, fired up passion and our forever memorable February is to blame. 

    Dana Gentry at February’s meeting

    At our monthly meeting hosted by our generous dispensary/cannabis mini-museum sponsor Acres, members and guests were able to hear from award-winning investigative journalist and longtime Las Vegan media personality Dana Gentry. Most recently, the reporter exposed the many misdeeds of the Department of Taxation throughout a series of articles with the Nevada Current, from blatant examples of nepotism and playing favorites with certain cannabis companies over others to full on corruption within the very regulatory body supposedly put in place to act as an authority figure over this newly legal industry. 

    Continuing from our inaugural meeting in January, the team at Las Vegas NORML has spread across cannabis-related events and locations across Sin City getting the information out about our Smoke The Vote campaign. With methods such as hosting popups at dispensaries and providing knowledge about all the upcoming state and federal elections with plans to helping people get registered to vote at the dispensaries themselves, Las Vegas NORML is ensuring that the democratic voices of cannabis patients, consumers and advocates are heard clear as day and that thorough cannabis reforms are enacted. 

    For the Presidential debate hosted in the heart of Sin City which certainly had a slight focus on issues directly facing Nevadans, Las Vegas NORML hosted a watch party complete with popcorn and snacks in The Cannabis Business Den. The Democratic candidates, many of them considered senior citizens, traded verbal blows and “threw shade” as the Gen Z’ers would say about a certain candidate’s previous errors or scandals like it was a high school trash talking contest. From Elizabeth Warren absolutely eviscerating Michael Bloomberg over non-disclosure agreements he signed in relation to sexual harassment incidents to of course, Joe Biden awkardly touching Pete Buttigieg, the debate was undoubtedly more theatrical than analytical, but everyone’s hilarious banter and reactions to the hijinks of an actual presidential debate made it a great time regardless. 

    Aariel Williams with a handful of panelists

    And as the pinnacle of February and the importance of remembering the history of a culture of America’s society that have contributed to the greater good of our country in an endless amount of ways. For our 3rd Annual Black History Month Summit and Celebration, Las Vegas NORML paired up with the Cannabis Law Society, an organization consisting of UNLV Boyd School of Law students advocating for cannabis and drug sentencing reform founded by our member Aariel Williams. 

    “I’m grateful that we were able to have these conversations,” explained Williams, “because that is how we work towards change. We had a Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter from Golden Gate School of Law attend, and they said it was one of the best cannabis education events they’ve attended.” 

    Hosted in UNLV’s Richard Tam Alumni Center, the summit had a series of panel discussions with successful, well experienced and influential people of color who incorporate cannabis into their lives and professions in a variety of ways. The spectrum of speakers and their subjects of expertise varied greatly, from XXL Freshman-featured musician Dizzy Wright to G Five Cultivation CEO Larry Smith, Director of Black Caucus Nevada Yvette Williams and NORML Board of Directors Member Kyndra Miller Esq. 

    “We began this year with intense momentum and passion for education & reform within the Silver State.” said Executive Director Madisen Saglibene. “I am proud to say that with the Black History Month Summit completed, and Smoke the Vote well underway, it’s obvious we aren’t slowing down. I look forward to what’s in store as we head into this local elections cycle – defining vital seats who will either align with us, or vote against us.”

  • by Representative Earl Blumenauer March 11, 2020
    Earl Blumenauer is a member of Congress representing Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District

    As a founding Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I am pleased to report to you that my legislation to allow VA doctors to fill out state-legal medical marijuana recommendations is scheduled for a committee vote tomorrow.

    Currently, VA healthcare providers, however, are prohibited from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a state-legal medical cannabis recommendation, forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Seeking care is hard enough, and we should not make it even harder for our veterans.

    I introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act, HR 1647 because it is my responsibility as a Member of Congress to ensure that all Americans have access to medical treatment as recommended by their physicians.

    Please take a moment and contact your member of Congress and tell them to join me in support of the Veterans Equal Access Act.

    The reefer madness days are done and it’s time for Congress and the VA to face the facts surrounding marijuana — most pointedly, its medicinal benefits for veterans. More and more veterans are reportedly using cannabis to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and several other ailments.

    This is reflected by a recent poll commissioned by the American Legion that showed more than 1 in 5 veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

    Today, you can make a difference and show your support for our nation’s veterans and the efficacy of medical cannabis. Please tell your members of Congress now to support the Veterans Equal Access Act – because our veterans need more from our government than words of support, we need action.

    Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) speaking a NORML Conference

    Courage,
    Earl

    Earl Blumenauer
    Member of Congress

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