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Community Organizing

  • by NORML July 18, 2017

    majority_supportOver the first six months of 2017, the American Automobile Association (aka AAA) has been spreading misinformation and propaganda in a lobbying effort to defeat marijuana legalization legislative efforts in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and other states.

    As reported by Leafly.com, AAA representatives have recently preyed upon unsubstantiated fears regarding the alleged “increased plague of drugged driving” and the claim that “more babies will be born high” on marijuana in their lobbying efforts against adult use regulatory reforms. The distortions do nothing to advance the public debate surrounding legalization, but they do tarnish the organization’s reputation.

    Send a message to AAA telling them to put the brakes on lobbying against legalization efforts

    According to federal data, auto accident fatalities have fallen significantly over the past two decades – during the same time that a majority of US states have legalized marijuana for either medical or social use. In 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to under 30,000 by 2014.

    Further, a recently published study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that fatal traffic accident rates in legal marijuana states are no different than those in states where cannabis remains illegal. A separate study published last year in the same journal previously reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.

    One would hope that AAA would be nonpartisan in this debate; that they would be the group to separate the facts from the myths so that politicians and law enforcement would be more likely to pursue evidence-based policies with regard to regulating marijuana in a manner that strengthens public safety. Instead they’re largely fear-mongering and further politicizing the issue — calling for the continued criminalization and arrest of millions of Americans who choose to use marijuana privately and responsibly. By doing so, they are arguing in favor of the failed criminal justice policies of the past and they are alienating the 60 percent of Americans who endorse the outright legalization of recreational cannabis by adults (Gallup, 2016).

    Tell AAA to stop distorting the truth, send their public affairs department a message right now

    There are areas of public policy where AAA is absolutely in agreement with reform advocates, including NORML. For instance, we both agree that driving under the influence of cannabis should be discouraged and legally prohibited, and that the detection of either THC or its metabolites in blood or urine is not indicative of psychomotor impairment and, therefore, should not be used a legal standard of criminal liability.

    Our hope is that some day groups like NORML and AAA can work together to advocate for rational policies that work to keep our roadways safe from the threat of impaired drivers. Specifically, we recognize — as does AAA — that there is a need for greater tools and methods  to more accurately determine whether or not someone is under the influence of cannabis, such as via the use and promotion of handheld performance technology.

    Tell AAA that the days of ‘reefer madness’ are over. It’s time for a rational and evidence-based discussion regarding how best to regulate the use of marijuana by adults and how to keep our roads safe.

  • by Daniel Rouleau, Deputy Director, Virginia NORML July 6, 2017

    A common cliché for overcoming a difficult obstacle asks, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “one bite at a time.” In Virginia politics, the tough question facing cannabis policy reform advocates is, “how do you change the minds of political Elephants?” The answer is, “one law at a time.” Although progress in cannabis reform has been slow in Virginia, two recent bills signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe are significant signs that change is coming, and quicker than ever before.

    Ending Automatic Driver’s License Suspension for Cannabis Possession

    In May 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had a signing ceremony for Senator Adam Ebbin’s Senate bill 784 and Delegate Les Adams’ House bill 2051. These companion bills ended the absolute requirement that Virginians convicted of marijuana possession lose their driver’s license. Until this change, which takes effect July 1, the judge had no option but to suspend, even if the offense was totally unrelated to a vehicle. A driver’s license is necessary in commuter-based economies such as Virginia, where most residents work, attend school, receive medical treatment, or worship outside of their home city, and the public transportation is less then reliable.

    Virginia NORML led the lobbying for this bill, and helped sway lawmakers in the General Assembly who were wary of the proposed changes. The legislators were convinced by explaining the law in detail, and highlighting the positive results from allowing individuals to maintain their license for work and education – no extreme rhetoric or exaggeration needed. Ryan Johnson, membership coordinator for Virginia NORML, testified for both pieces of legislation was congratulated by many thankful legislators at the ceremony.

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    Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA-D) and Ryan Johnson

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    Ryan Johnson with Delegate Les Adams (R-16)

    “With Virginia NORML’s guidance, I was able to craft impactful testimony, helping pass meaningful legislation that will make a difference for thousands of Virginians,” said Ryan Johnson at Gov. McAuliffe’s ceremony. “I was humbled by how many legislators thanked me for stepping outside of my comfort zone and sharing my story in the 2017 General Assembly.” 

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    Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), Del. Les Adams (R-16) ,Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), Ryan Johnson, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30)

    Watch the video

    The new law is a significant step for cannabis policy reform in Virginia for two reasons. First, this is one of the very few marijuana-related criminal justice reforms that advocates have successfully pushed through the difficult, Republican-controlled House subcommittees. Those subcommittees are the sticking point for most criminal justice reform legislation, the bottle neck that prevents bills from proceeding to a full House vote. Second, this is important because it allows judges discretion to apply the standard first-offender’s program and community service to an adult discovered possessing cannabis somewhere completely removed from any vehicles. Admittedly, this is a small step. However, every step, even the very small ones, put Virginia closer to a more sensible criminal justice system that does not criminalize marijuana possession or consumption.

    Welcome to the Medical Cannabis States Club, Virginia

    In June 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had another bill signing ceremony, this one for Senator Marsden’s Senate bill 1027. This bill is significant because it officially makes Virginia a medical cannabis state. Medical cannabis dispensaries will be called “pharmaceutical processors,” and will become medical cannabis patients’ legal source of the cannabis oil permitted under Virginia law. The processors will be vertically integrated facilities. That means the plants will be grown, cured, and trimmed onsite; all extraction, distillation, and synthesis of custom biopharmaceutical medicines will be done in the on-site laboratory; and, finally, patients will interact with and receive medication from a pharmacist. Unlike the medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, this will more closely resemble a traditional pharmacy.

    Virginia families were instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed. However, despite the great success, the law has serious shortcomings. There will only be five (5) pharmaceutical processors. This places a huge burden on applicants, financially and logistically, and could result in the exclusion of start-up ventures owned by minorities, women, and veterans without access to large capital resources. Second, the related laws allowing patient access to medical cannabis is very short: one (1). Only one patient group, those with intractable epilepsy, can possess medical cannabis oil. The major legislative goal for the 2018 session is the “Let Doctors Decide” bill, which would end the eugenics-style creation of state-permitted patient groups and instead allow trained medical professionals to decide if cannabis would be effective for the individual patient’s treatment plan. Jenn Michelle Pedini was at the ceremony representing Virginia NORML, and spoke to the families of several epilepsy patients and lawmakers who had supported the bill.

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    Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and many families watch as Gov. McAuliffe signs historic medical cannabis legislation. Photo courtesy Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

    “It was an exciting day for the families who spent hours at the General Assembly gaining support for this bill which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. We are looking forward to continuing this path next year and expanding the current law to include all patients for whom medical cannabis would provide relief,” said Beth Collins, Senior Director Government Relations and External Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, and mother of a child with intractable epilepsy.

    These landmark bills are significant signs of the change coming in Virginia’s cannabis policy. Decriminalization is being studied by the State Crime Commission, following a request by Senate Majority leader Tommy Norment. The Driver’s License bill may be the first overly punitive prohibition measure to fall, and like dominoes, the changes to criminal justice reform will gain momentum and culminate in decriminalization of adult cannabis possession within the next couple years. The pharmaceutical processor bill is a huge hurdle for both patients seeking legal access to medical cannabis medications, and for individuals interested in the regulated cannabis industry. Although Virginia’s cannabis industry will fall under heavy regulation and oversight by the Commonwealth, the new industry presents new opportunities, jobs, and tax revenue.

    Virginia NORML is the leading cannabis law reform organization in Virginia, but we can only continue our success in changing outdated laws with your help! The Summer of Change Campaign is currently underway, and we are trying to raise $42,000 to support our efforts in the 2018 session and the push for “Let Doctors Decide.” Virginia has a major election this year, and the outcome could determine the success – or failure – of our efforts. Donate today to the Summer of Change campaign! With your help, Virginia NORML will continue its track record of success in Richmond bringing marijuana policy reform.

  • by Troy Smit, Communications Director, Empire State NORML June 15, 2017

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    Lobby Day
    The Drug Policy Alliance, along with other campaign pillar groups Empire State NORML, VOCAL-NY, Cannabis Cultural Association, LatinoJustice and the Immigrant Defense Project, held a press conference and lobby day to announce the Start Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade (Start SMART) campaign to advocate for the substantially amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this past Monday, June 12th.

    Dozens of activists from all around the state took buses, drove cars and rode trains to Albany to join the campaign in launching and lobbying for the legalization bill. After the excellent citizen lobby day training provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group split up to divide and conquer before the press conference hitting as many offices as they could as well as attending scheduled meetings.

    In the afternoon the press conference was held in front of the Senate Chambers. Joining advocates at the press conference were the MRTA’s prime sponsors in both houses, Senator Liz Krueger (D-New York) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), as well as key MRTA sponsors including: Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-New York), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), Senator Jesse Hamilton (IDC-Brooklyn), Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx). We also heard from representatives of Start SMART pillar groups, Drug Policy Alliance (Kassandra Frederique), Empire State NORML (Doug Greene), LatinoJustice (Juan Cartagena), VOCAL-NY (Nick Malinowski), Immigrant Defense Project (Mizue Aizeki) and Cannabis Cultural Association (Nelson Guerrero and Jacob Plowden).

    Afterwards the group of dedicated activists went back to work. Some went to the Senate and Assembly chambers to pull their members off the floor to seek their support of the new bill, while others continued dropping off materials at the offices of legislators who have voted for further decriminalization but haven’t supported taxation and regulation of marijuana.

    The Start SMART campaign

    The substantially amended MRTA would reestablish a legal market for marijuana in New York and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and the craft brewery industry, for adults over the age of 21. Over the past twenty years, nearly 800,000 people have been negatively affected by the harms of prohibition. With people of color accounting for nearly 85% of those arrested annually for possession, the collateral consequences are felt most in these communities. Because of the racial injustice caused by prohibition, the bill is not only an end to prohibition in New York, but also a win in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Significant steps are taken to ensure that those most negatively affected by prohibition will benefit from its repeal.

    The reworked Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) includes substantial racial justice and small business-friendly amendments, including:

    • Creating a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
    • Establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
    • Ensuring diversity in New York’s marijuana industry by removing barriers to access like capital requirements and building inclusivity by allowing licensing to people with prior drug convictions. Only people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) will be explicitly barred from receiving licenses

    Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition, including Empire State NORML.

    NY resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the bill. 

    Make sure to visit Empire State NORML’s website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

    Click here to see the press release from earlier in the week. and click here to go to the Start SMART NY website

  • by Chris Thompson, Executive Director, Las Vegas NORML May 21, 2017

    1294bbf7-8ed0-450d-9f98-5f7fd0090ae4With state lawmakers in Nevada quickly approaching their fast-tracked deadline of July 1st to implement the state’s new adult-use marijuana program, NORML is focused on ramping up our activism efforts in Las Vegas!

    Over the past two months, we’ve been busy planning, attending legislative hearings, tabling at events, doing community outreach, volunteering at our local community garden, and more to get the word out about our new chapter, and post-legalization activism in Las Vegas.

    So far during the 2017 legislative session, there have been several key pieces of legislation introduced. One of the most important bills that we’re currently pushing is Senator Tick Segerblom’s SB 329, which would safeguard many protections for marijuana patients and the legal marijuana industry. These protections include re-establishing patient grow rights, allowing medical marijuana research facilities, allowing marijuana establishments to be organized as a corporation, and adds PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

    Another important piece of legislation that we’re watching closely is SB 236; if adopted by lawmakers, this legislation would permit social use marijuana clubs across Nevada. With the issue of social marijuana consumption quickly becoming a main issue for marijuana advocates in post-legalization states, Las Vegas NORML believes this legislation would be the first step in providing marijuana consumers with a safe and legally defined space to responsibly consume their legally purchased marijuana.

    To learn more, join us for our next meeting on Tuesday, May 23rd where we’ll discuss the various pieces of marijuana-related legislation in Nevada! Get involved and invite your friends!

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    Creating a Space for Marijuana Activism

    We’re at a crucial time in the legislative session, so we need our members and supporters to speak-up for Nevada marijuana consumers by urging their representatives to support marijuana-related legislation. To help facilitate this, Las Vegas NORML has organized a postcard writing party! This will give everyone a chance to share their personal stories and reasons why they support marijuana legislation with their lawmakers.

    We also have two guest speakers from Nevada’s marijuana industry that will be joining us: DB Labs and Sahara Wellness. DB Labs will be educating our members on marijuana testing in Nevada, and Sahara Wellness will be sharing their story of helping patients in the community. Plus we’ll have event sign-ups, membership packages, legislative updates, and even FREE SNACKS! Who can say no to that?

    Be sure to RSVP using our Facebook Event Page, and invite all of your friends in Las Vegas!

    For more information on Las Vegas NORML, please find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email us at LasVegasNORMLchapter@gmail.com.

  • by Jordan Person, Executive Director, Denver NORML May 15, 2017

    14963351_1825384024368232_2740677872685265191_nCurrently marijuana is legal to purchase, possess and consume in the state of Colorado, but the question is: Where can it be legally consumed? Well, if you happen to be in the city of Denver (or most anywhere else in Colorado) the answer is very simple: marijuana can only be legally consumed in a private residence. But what if your landlord won’t allow it or you are one of the thousands of tourists who regularly visits our great city? It appears that we’ll have to continue to wait for state lawmakers to answer that question.

    Denver Moves Forward with Social Consumption

    Last November, Denver voters passed I-300; a social use initiative that approved the commingling of marijuana and alcohol in bars and restaurants across Denver. Obviously a much different approach when compared to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign and something the State of Colorado disagreed with. In response, the State of Colorado adopted language making it clear that liquor licenses would not be allowed to permit the consumption of marijuana on their premises. According to the Denver Post, this change went into effect on January 1st of this year and vastly changed the intent of I-300.

    “We all want adult consumption everywhere, but this is reality,” said Judd Golden, Legal Counsel for Denver NORML. The news of removing language that allowed the commingling of alcohol and marijuana frustrated proponents of I-300 so a lawsuit was filed against the State of Colorado to push the issue.

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    Kevin Mahmalji, outreach director for NORML shared his thoughts on combining the two substances. “As it currently stands, we can easily make the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol, because the two are separated. If we allow the two to be mixed, any incident fueled by alcohol could potentially be blamed on marijuana. That’s why I believe responsible adults deserve their own space to consume marijuana similar to those who enjoy craft beer or cigars.”

    In addition to the state’s decision to prevent the commingling of marijuana and alcohol, the City of Denver created the Social Consumption Advisory Committee that consisted of 22 influential decision makers – ranging from city officials to marijuana business owners – to go over the language line by line. The group met six times over several months and offered countless suggestions to improve the original language of I-300. Including a recommendation that would require patrons to sign a waiver before entering consumption areas. Essentially providing a layer of protections against unwanted exposure by non-consumers and those under 21 years of age. A recommendation that Denver NORML fully supports.

    The 12 page document lists pages and pages of suggestions to make the law work effectively for the city of Denver. Last week the draft rules were finally posted.

    Push for Social Consumption Statewide: SB-184

    In addition to our work on the local level, members of Denver NORML spent a lot of time at the state Capitol educating lawmakers on social consumption and the need for a legislative solution. The result? SB-184, which would have empowered local governments to permit private marijuana clubs and better defined what “open and public” means to marijuana consumers. Once the bill was introduced, Denver NORML organized two citizen lobby days with more than 45 participants followed by months of face to face meetings with state lawmakers in support of a statewide solution.

    Unfortunately during the final weeks of Colorado’s legislative session, many things with the bill began to change. Most notably, the bill’s sponsors tried to include language that would have criminalized marijuana consumption on the front porch of a private residence and aimed to exclude a newly established cannabis church from operating as a marijuana club. Thankfully the Senate and the House could not come to a consensus and the bill died in committee on the last day of the 2017 legislative session.

    Until state lawmakers are willing to pass legislation that will provide a set of rules and protections for business owners and marijuana consumers to responsibly consume marijuana, Colorado municipalities will continue to struggle with this issue.

    With the Denver’s Social Consumption Advisory Committee wrapping up its final meeting and Colorado’s legislative session coming to an end, there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the social consumption of marijuana in Colorado.

    Denver NORML will apply the lessons learned this year and with their allies, continue to push for statewide reform in the next legislative session.

    For more updates on local reform efforts, follow Denver NORML by visiting their website and on Facebook and Twitter!

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