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Decriminalization

  • by NORML May 8, 2018

    Police in the Pennsylvania cities of Allentown and Bethlehem continue to arrest hundreds of residents for less than 30 grams of cannabis while opiate and cocaine arrests seem to be going down.

    Last year Allentown put 315 people into handcuffs and the courts over marijuana possession, while the city reported just 31 other drug possession arrests during 2017, according to data from the Pa. Uniform Crime Reporting System.

    Bethlehem police also favor arresting cannabis consumers, between 130 and 160 per year are caught up in the criminal justice system over a few joints. Data from Bethlehem is also showing some odd trends, with zero opiate or cocaine arrests logged in 2016 or 2017.

    “Decriminalization would seem a simple and effective option anywhere,” said Lehigh Valley NORML Director Jeff Riedy, “When you consider the human cost to those convicted of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

    A RAND Corp. study commissioned for Vermont found that each marijuana arrest is estimated to cost taxpayers $1,266 to perform. Prosecuting each person spends another $1,000 according to some estimates.

    That means Allentown and Bethlehem spent over $1 million last year treating otherwise law abiding cannabis consumers like criminals. Thankfully the city councils in both communities have introduced ordinances to address this expensive injustice.

    “The decrim ordinances, like that in Philadelphia, have helped to remove stigma, freed up the courts and allowed law enforcement to focus on more pressing issues. We should stop ruining lives over a joint,” said Riedy.

    Lehigh Valley NORML encourages members of the press and elected officials to review the marijuana possession arrest data included with this release.

    According to Pa. State Representative Michael Schlossberg (D., Lehigh), cosponsor of two statewide decriminalization bills in Harrisburg, “It’s time to put an end to senseless mass incarceration brought on by the prohibition of marijuana. I have added my name to legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana and bring commonsense back to our criminal justice system.  Pennsylvanian’s cannot afford to continue to follow the path of failed policies which hurt individuals and communities.”

    Allentown introduced their ordinance at Council last week, and it has been moved to a Committee of the Whole, scheduled for Tuesday, May 8 at 6pm in Council Chambers. If it passes the Committee with a majority vote, the ordinance will move to the full City Council for a vote next Wednesday, May 16 at 7pm. Public opinion is encouraged both dates.

    Allentown’s proposed ordinance: http://allentownpa.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=6212844&GUID=F77277E0-5440-436B-B430-9CAC4AFFB0BD

    For more info, please contact Jeff Riedy at 610-533-0906 or via email at lehighvnorml@gmail.com. You can also follow Lehigh Valley NORML on FaceBook and Twitter!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 16, 2018

    Philadelphia officials announced today that they will no longer prosecute marijuana possession offenses.

    In October 2014, Philadelphia enacted a municipal ordinance reclassifying cases involving the possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record. Since that time, annual arrests for marijuana possession violations have fallen by an estimated 85 percent. However, despite this decrease, police have continued to make several hundreds of marijuana possession arrests yearly. These arrest primarily target young people pf color.

    Newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner declared today that the city will no longer prosecute those additional cases. “What we’re talking about is the 10 percent or so that are being charged as they used to be, as misdemeanors in court,” he said. “We are going to … drop any cases that are simply marijuana possession.”

    Krasner said that refusing to pursue these cases is “the right thing to do.”

    Last week, Seattle city officials announced their intentions to vacate the criminal convictions of minor marijuana possession offenders. The week prior, city officials in San Francisco announced plans to automatically expunge thousands of past marijuana possession convictions.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director January 24, 2018

    On Tuesday, January 24th, activists from a wide array of Pennsylvania NORML affiliates, allied groups, and state lawmakers took the fight for marijuana law reform to the state capitol building in Harrisburg.

    The event co-sponsored by local NORML chapters, the ACLU-PA, and the Keystone Cannabis Coalition. Activists were joined by State Auditor General Eugene Depasquale and State Representatives Ed Gainey and Jordan Harris, and state Senator Sharif Street. The goal was to further the discussion on the full legalization of marijuana and to support legislation currently pending that would decriminalize marijuana possession statewide.

    Watch the news coverage below:

    Thanks to committed grassroots advocates, we are continuing to make progress nationwide. Get involved and help us relegate marijuana prohibition to the dustbin of history. Click HERE to take action on pending state and federal legislation, click HERE to find your nearest NORML channel and get involved, and click HERE to chip in $5 bucks or more to support NORMLs efforts.

    Together, we WILL legalize marijuana.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director January 15, 2018

    As tensions between AG Sessions and federal lawmakers continues to grow, proponents of marijuana legalization are finding new allies in state legislatures around the country. Despite the recent move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the Cole Memo, a 2013 DOJ memorandum that allowed state sanctioned marijuana business to thrive despite the quagmire between state and federal laws, lawmakers in several states are advancing marijuana reform legislation.

    Reject AG Sessions’ Efforts to Revert to the Failed Criminal Policies of the ‘Just Say No’ Era.

    Within hours of the rollout of the DOJ’s new policy, lawmakers in Vermont passed a depenalization bill out of the House and Senate with overwhelming support and it’s now headed to Governor’s office. With Governor Scott already promising to sign the measure into law, it’s safe to say that Vermont will surely be the newest thorn in the side of an already agitated Sessions. As if the news from Vermont isn’t frustrating enough for the Attorney General, House lawmakers in New Hampshire also passed legislation that would legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 and up. And Thursday, members of the New York State Assembly heard hours of testimony in support of adult use regulation.

    In addition to the advancement of marijuana law reform legislation in Vermont and New Hampshire, a number of other states such as Kentucky, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Delaware, New Hampshire, Virginia, Missouri and New Mexico will also be debating several marijuana-related bills during their 2018 legislative sessions. To support these legislative efforts, members of Virginia NORML, NORML KC, NORML of Florida, Lehigh Valley NORML, NORML Women of Washington, Pittsburgh NORML, Ohio NORML, Missouri NORML, Illinois NORML, Delaware NORML, Kentucky NORML, Maryland NORML, New Mexico NORML, Wyoming NORML, Springfield NORML and Greater St. Louis NORML will be meeting with their state representatives to encourage support for marijuana reform legislation

    With the help of NORML chapters, 2018 could prove to be a very successful year for marijuana law reform efforts.

    Virginia NORML

    Taking a more conservative approach than lawmakers in Vermont and New Hampshire, lawmakers in the Commonwealth of Virginia are considering both medical marijuana and decriminalization bills this session. While there hasn’t been any notable criticisms of the DOJ’s new policy from the state legislature, Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA) recently introduced HR 1227: The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act which would gives states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.

    Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML had this to say about the current political climate.

    “Attorney General Sessions isn’t stopping Virginia from moving forward in the 2018 legislative session with both medical cannabis expansion and decriminalization. We have strong, bipartisan representatives working on marijuana policy in Congress, Reps. Beyer, Garrett, Griffith and Taylor, and the same holds true in our State House. Republicans and Democrats are united on advancing these common sense reforms demanded by the overwhelming majority of Virginians.”

    Las Vegas NORML

    In Nevada, where state lawmakers approved a measure to fast track rules and regulations for the state’s adult-use marijuana program in 2017, the news of the DOJ’s new policy prompted partisan reactions from Carson City. While Republican lawmakers refrained from publicly criticizing AG Sessions, Democratic Senator Tick Segerblom wasted no time. Speaking to a group of legalization advocates at a rally outside of a marijuana dispensary In Las Vegas, Senator Segerblom had this to say:

    “Contact your legislators in Washington DC and tell them to tell Trump to back off until we get this thing resolved. This is a great industry for Nevada. The people have spoken…this is a state’s rights issue.”

    After hearing the news about the shift in federal policy, Chris Thompson, executive director of Las Vegas NORML quickly shifted his focus from state-level lobbying efforts to mobilizing pro-marijuana advocates and scheduling meetings with Congressional leaders.

    “It’s definitely a precarious situation right now, but thankfully Las Vegas NORML is working with our representatives at the state and federal level to prevent Sessions from trampling over states’ rights and prosecuting legal cannabis,” said Thompson.

    With virtually no federal lawmakers expressing support the Sessions’ reversal, as reported by Politico, and state lawmakers seemingly unphased by this shift in the administration’s tone, it appears that AG Sessions severely underestimated the political juggernaut the issue of marijuana legalization has become.

    For more information about a NORML’s 2018 lobbying efforts, email Chapters@NORML.org or visit http://norml.org/about/chapter-calendar for list of upcoming chapter lobby days and meetings. If you’re unable to attend a NORML lobby day in your state, please take a few minutes to contact your representatives using NORML’s Action center http://norml.org/act

  • by Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of NORML KC December 12, 2017

    15167619_606981862846104_8187971922597102036_oOn April 4, 2017, Kansas City residents decriminalized marijuana possession with an amazing 75% of voters supporting that move. The Initiative was led by NORML KC, the Kansas City Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    The Petition decriminalized marijuana possession by eliminating arrests, eliminating the possibility of jail as a sentence, and requiring almost all such cases to be handled in municipal court which does not result in a criminal conviction. The previous range of punishment was up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. The new maximum fine is $25.

    Prior to the election in April, certain public officials claimed they were concerned about the welfare of indigent marijuana defendants who would no longer be eligible for free legal services under the City’s contract with Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO). Supporters of the Initiative pointed out that this problem could easily be fixed by amending the City’s contract with LAWMO. Now, that has happened.

    The previous KC/LAWMO contract limited free legal services to indigent defendants charged with offenses which carry possible jail sentences. The new amendment specifically allows for LAWMO to represent indigent defendants facing marijuana possession charges.

    According to The Kansas City Star, April 4, 2017, LAWMO represented defendants in about 59% of municipal marijuana cases during the past fiscal year.  The Star reported that approximately 70% of marijuana defendants are black, in a city where the population is only 30% black.  Studies consistently show that marijuana use rates are virtually the same between black and white Americans.

    “NORML KC is pleased that the City has chosen to do the right thing in protecting its most vulnerable population by amending the contract with LAWMO,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of NORML KC. “Prosecuting non-violent cannabis offenses should not be a priority in our city when over half of the nation has some form of safe and legal access.”

    Attorney Dan Viets, Missouri NORML Coordinator and a member of the national NORML Board of Directors, said that the voters of Kansas City spoke loudly and clearly in getting the Initiative a landslide victory. “It was incredible that with no funding and only a small group of volunteers supporting the effort, this Initiative passed with the support of 75% of the voters!”

    Further reform efforts are underway statewide. The New Approach Medical Cannabis Initiative campaign intends to place a measure legalizing medical cannabis on the November 2018 Missouri ballot. Missouri NORML Chapters, including NORML KC, are an important part of the coalition which is supporting this measure. The Initiative would provide funding for veterans’ services and regulate cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis to patients whose doctors have recommended such use. The campaign has gathered more than 125,000 signatures.  Nearly 170,000 valid signatures will be required to qualify for the ballot.

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