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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 9, 2010

    Lawmakers around the country are debating a record number of marijuana law reform bills in 2010. NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up is your one-stop guide to pending marijuana law reform legislation around the country, along with tips for influencing the policies of your state.

    ** Remember: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and make the changes they want to see. We can’t do it without you.

    Washington: Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation into law last week that expands the state’s nearly twelve-year-old medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 5798 allows additional health care professionals including naturopaths, physician’s assistants, osteopathic physicians, osteopathic physicians assistants, and advanced registered nurse practitioners to legally recommend marijuana therapy to their patients. Presently, only licensed physicians may legally recommend medicinal cannabis.

    Washington is the first state to codify these recommendation rights into law. Senate Bill 5798 takes effect on June 10, 2010.

    Maine: State lawmakers approved legislation this week establishing guidelines for the establishment of state-authorized medical marijuana distribution facilities. As approved by the legislature, LD 1811 authorizes the creation of up to eight nonprofit medical cannabis dispensaries – one for each of the state’s public health districts. Under the measure, dispensaries may legally “acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, sell, supply or dispenses marijuana or related supplies and educational materials” to state-authorized medical marijuana patients.

    Patients and/or their caregivers will still be allowed to cultivate their own medical cannabis under state law. However, patients will now be required to join a confidential state registry in order to be able to legally possess and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will oversee the new medical marijuana programs.

    Last November, voters approved Question 5, the Maine Marijuana Medical Act, which amends existing state law by: establishing a confidential patient registry; expanding the list of qualifying conditions for which a physician may recommend medicinal cannabis; and by allowing for the creation of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries. In 1999, 61 percent of state voters approved the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana. However, the law did not establish a state identification registry for qualified patients, nor did it address regulating the distribution of medical marijuana.

    Democrat Gov. John Baldacci is anticipated to sign the dispensary measure into law imminently.

    Ohio: House lawmakers this week introduced House Bill 478, the Ohio Medical Compassion Act. The act would allow state-authorized patients to possess and cultivate cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The bill allows for authorized patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate medical marijuana, but only at designated registered sites. Patients are allowed to possess up to 200 grams of usable cannabis (about six ounces) or 12 mature plants under this proposal. To support this measure, visit the Ohio Patient’s Network or NORML’s ‘Take Action’ Center here.

    Pennsylvania: Minor marijuana possession offenses in the city of Philadelphia will be no longer be prosecuted as criminal misdemeanors, according to a policy change announced this week by new District Attorney Seth Williams. Philadelphia NORML had been lobbying for the policy change after publishing a report which found that African American males comprised an estimated 83 percent of all persons in Philadelphia arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    Under the new policy, which is anticipated to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge minor marijuana possession (defined as 30 grams or less) as ‘summary offenses’ rather than criminal misdemeanors. Defendants will be required to pay a fine, but will not face incarceration or receive a criminal record. Under the previous District Attorney, the city criminally prosecuted some 3,000 minor marijuana possession cases per year.

    You can read further details regarding this policy change here, here, and here.

    To learn about pending legislation in additional states — and how you can get involved, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action’ Center here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 7, 2009

    Update: Today’s blog post is also featured on Huffington Post. Please feel free to post your feedback there as well.

    In a revelation that I’m sure will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, it turns out that ex-Drug Czar John Walters is still full of s—-t.

    Responding on CNN last night to California Gov. Schwarzenegger’s call to debate the merits of taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana (E-mail the Governor here), Walters demonstrated that he remains an unrepentant liar — even though he’s no longer paid by the federal government to be one.

    To summarize: in under five minutes Walters manages to falsely claim that:

    Today’s marijuana is far stronger — and thus more dangerous — than ever before. Actually, the Feds’ own data indicates that the average strength of domestic cannabis hasn’t changed in over ten years; that marijuana — regardless of THC content — is relatively non-toxic and incapable of causing a fatal overdose; and that most folks — when given the choice — prefer to consume milder marijuana over highly potent pot.

    More people seek drug treatment for pot than all other drugs combined. Technically true, but only because between 60 percent and 70 percent of individuals enrolled in substance abuse ‘treatment’ for cannabis are small-time pot offenders who were referred there by the criminal justice system. In fact, according to the latest federal data, nearly four in ten people admitted to substance abuse treatment programs for cannabis did not even use it in the month prior to their admission.

    Nobody is actually in jail for marijuana-related offenses. Ah yes, the “unicorn” theory. Never mind those 50,000 or state and federal inmates serving time for pot offenses the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics talks about. In John Walters fantasy world, they simply don’t exist.

    Consuming cannabis leads to violent behavior and other criminal acts. Apparently, when pot doesn’t make you “docile and unresponsive, to the point of helplessness,” it makes you unpredictably violent. Or not. Look, I asked this question on Monday and I’ll ask it again: Read about any gang-related violence surrounding the sale of alcohol lately? How about vicodin or paxil? Didn’t think so. Consuming marijuana doesn’t cause violent or criminal behavior, but criminals and violent people do engage in the black market trafficking of illicit drugs. The irony, of course, is that the very ‘violence’ that Walters claims to lament — that is, when he and his colleagues over at the DEA aren’t hailing the increase in drug-related violence as a good thing — is a direct consequences of the public policy (prohibition) he reflexively endorses.

    **Side note: Maine Gov. John Baldacci just signed legislation into law on Friday making the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana a civil violation, punishable by a fine and no jail time. (Read more about this law in this week’s NORML News stories.) Expect to hear Walters ranting and raving about marijuana cartels setting up shop in the Pine Tree state any day now.

    Finally, for good measure, Walters even resurrects the claim that there are now more medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Fransisco than there are Starbucks — an allegation so absurd that the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper laughed it out of the room some six months ago.

    So here’s my question: Gov. Schwarzenegger — as well as U.S. Senator Jim Webb — have called for a “debate” on whether or not to legalize the use and distribution of cannabis for adults. Webster’s dictionary defines “debate” as “to argue opposing views.” But as Walters’ comments so adeptly illustrate, the opposing side has no actual “views,” it only has lies and seven decades of bulls—-t.

    Therefore, I say we skip the public debate and go straight to the public ‘debunk’ (verb: to expose the fallacy or fraudulence of). I’m sure we can find Mr. Walters a seat at the head of the table.