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Decriminalization

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 20, 2020

    NH Capital New Hampshire House lawmakers today approved legislation, House Bill 1648, eliminating criminal and civil penalties for activities involving possession and home cultivation of personal use quantities of cannabis.

    Legislators passed the bill by a veto-proof majority, voting 236 to 112 in favor of it. The legislation now awaits action by the Senate.

    The measure legalizes the possession of up to 3/4 of an ounce of marijuana by those age 21 or older. It also allows for adults to home cultivate up to three mature marijuana pants and/or to possess up to five grams of hashish, and up to 300mg of cannabis-infused products.

    If advanced by the Senate, the measure is likely to face resistance from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has previously said that he will “absolutely” veto any legalization legislation, “regardless of what the language looks like.”

    Last session, the Governor vetoed legislation, House Bill 364, which sought to allow patients registered in the state’s medical cannabis access program the option to home-cultivate up to three cannabis plants. In his veto message, he opined that allowing patients to grow their own medical cannabis would “make the job of law enforcement significantly more difficult,” and also suggested that it might reduce the number of patients soliciting the state’s dispensaries.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 12, 2020

    House and Senate lawmakers have passed legislation decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.

    House Bill 972, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 64 to 34, reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record. Senate Bill 2, which passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 13, reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine. It is anticipated that the two competing bills will be reconciled in conference committee.

    Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges.

    According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    Both the Governor and the Attorney General are on record in favor of decriminalization.

    Senate lawmakers also passed separate legislation on Tuesday, SB 1015, by a unanimous vote. The measure states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis oil program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year.

    Commenting on the legislative activity, NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, said: “This week, both the House and Senate voted in favor of decriminalizing personal possession of marijuana, and the Senate voted unanimously to legalize participation in Virginia’s medical cannabis program. Long overdue progress is finally being made in the General Assembly thanks to many years of dedicated advocacy by Virginia NORML members.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 6, 2020

    Lawmakers are advancing legislative efforts to end criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession offenses.

    On Wednesday, members of the House Courts of Justice Committee amended and approved legislation, HB 972, reducing penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana to a civil violation — punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record. Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges.

    According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, praised the progress. “[This vote] marks the first time the House Courts of Justice Committee has approved a decriminalization bill,” she said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “We’re especially grateful to Delegate Herring for her thoughtful amendments and look forward to continuing our work with the legislature to reduce the cruel and disparate impact of marijuana laws in the Commonwealth.”

    Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had previously approved a separate decriminalization measure last week. If both competing measures are ultimately approved on the floors of the House and Senate, lawmakers will convene a committee to reconcile the two bills.

    Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has spoken in favor of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions as has Attorney General Mark Herring. Last year, Herring said: “Criminalization of marijuana possession is not working for Virginia. We are needlessly creating criminals and getting a lot of convictions. And this whole system — the weight of it — falls disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. There is a better, smarter way to approach cannabis, and it starts with decriminalizing simple possession of small amounts, addressing past convictions and moving thoughtfully toward legal and regulated adult use.”

    According to state crime data, nearly 29,000 arrests were made in Virginia in 2018 for marijuana-related activities — an increase of 25 percent since 2016.

  • by Chris Goldstein, Regional NORML Organizer January 28, 2020

    Preliminary data*, released on request from the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System, reveals that overall arrests for marijuana possession showed a decline in 2019.

    In 2018 there were nearly 24,000 adults arrested for less than 30 grams of cannabis. The new data shows 19,990 adults arrested for the same offense in 2019.

    Chris Goldstein, a writer and regional organizer for NORML, has gathered Pa. cannabis arrest data since 2008. He called this “a significant shift.”

    “Previously, there were steady annual increases in arrests for cannabis possession – thousands more every year – while other drug arrests had plateaued. Now, there is a clear downward trend in arresting marijuana consumers.”

    “This is likely the result of two major policy changes: More than twenty decriminalization or penalty downgrade ordinances passed by city councils across the Commonwealth, and approximately a quarter of a million registered medical marijuana patients,” said Goldstein.

    Philadelphia instituted civil fine tickets in 2014, starting a wave of municipal action to stem cannabis arrests. The largest cities followed suit such as Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Erie and York. Most recently, in January, Norristown joined the list. Pennsylvania began offering registration for the medical cannabis program in 2017.

    Lehigh Valley NORML Executive Director Jeff Riedy helped pass several ordinances, and noted that Allentown’s has yet to be implemented.

    “We are clearly going to legalize marijuana and tax it here in the Keystone State, so we should stop these arrests right now,” said Reidy.

    Andy Hoover, spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that the data shows incremental progress but more remains to be done.

    “At the very least, this means less people who are cannabis consumers are getting tied up in the criminal legal system. That’s a positive,” Hoover said. “The damage that is done when a person is arrested is significant, and it’s people of color who are disproportionately impacted, despite the fact that cannabis consumption is the same across races. Ultimately, the state legislature can stop these arrests from happening altogether by wiping marijuana possession from the commonwealth’s criminal law. For now, at least police in Pennsylvania are arresting fewer people.”

    Although the data points to a promising new trend, Pennsylvania still ranks in the top five states where cannabis consumers face frequent arrest and prosecution. A recent report from Pew Research noted that Northeast states account for 53 percent of the nation’s 663,000 marijuana arrests –  9 out of 10 were for possession.

    Reporting from every corner of Pennsylvania has documented the injustices happening every day:

    • Police aggressively searching property, vehicles and people on the premise of marijuana.
    • Those who face arrest or even summary offenses for possession are often made to undergo questionable and expensive drug treatment programs to avoid further prosecution.
    • Constant THC testing sending people into an endless cycle of probation violations.
    • Cannabis consumers – even registered medical patients –  regularly enduring deep discrimination by property owners and employers.

    NORML Chapters and policy reform groups across the commonwealth are calling for immediate action from the General Assembly, Governor Tom Wolf, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro stop police from targeting more than a million local cannabis consumers for arrest and discrimination.

    “Marijuana prohibition will end in Pennsylvania. Law abiding cannabis consumers deserve better than getting arrested right until the moment we’re taxed,” said Lehigh Valley NORML’s Jeff Reidy.

    * Preliminary data as released on request from the PAUCRS, these numbers may change slightly when the Annual Uniform Crime Report is published in the fall. 

    For more information, please contact Jeff Riedy, 610-533-0906, lehighvnorml@gmail.com or NORML Regional Organizer Chris Goldstein 609 726 6030.

    Lehigh Valley NORML is a local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a non-profit organization, fighting to reform cannabis laws nationwide. Their efforts include education, community outreach, and working with lawmakers.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 2, 2020

    Legislation takes effect on Saturday, January 11, decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.

    The new law, which was passed in July, reduces penalties involving the possession of up to three grams of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a criminal record, to a non-criminal violation – punishable by a $130 fine. It also provides procedures for the courts to grant an expungement order for those previously convicted of a marijuana possession offense involving no more than three grams.

    The law was enacted absent the Governor’s signature.

    Lawmakers are hoping to expand the scope of the law in the coming legislative session.

    Twenty five states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana.

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