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Seth Williams

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 12, 2011

    The city of Philadelphia saved an estimated $2 million last year by ceasing criminal prosecutions for minor marijuana offenses, according to comments made last week by District Attorney Seth Williams to the Philadelphia Daily News.

    In April 2010, Williams publicly announced a citywide policy change whereby law enforcement officials would issue a summons rather than arrest and criminally prosecute minor marijuana offenders. Philadelphia NORML had actively lobbied for the policy change after finding that the city punished minor marijuana violations more severely than many neighboring counties. A February 2010 Philly NORML report also found significant racial disparities in the city’s marijuana prosecutions – noting that African American males comprised an estimated 83 percent of all persons in Philadelphia arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    The new enforcement policy took effect in June 2010.

    Approximately 4,160 defendants were diverted under the program, called the Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM), during its first year, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Defendants in the program pay a $200 fine to attend a three-hour drug awareness class. Those who complete the class and pay the fine do not have to appear in criminal court and will not have a criminal record.

    Previously, minor (under 30 grams) marijuana possession offenders in Philadelphia were criminally prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days probation or jail time, a $500 fine, and a criminal record.

    “There’s no reason to waste tax dollars on harsh prohibition enforcement,” said Chris Goldstein, media coordinator for Philly NORML and publisher of FreedomIsGreen.com. “Removing the criminal penalties for marijuana possession helps to pay for firefighters, ambulances, and other necessary services. It’s that simple.”

    Additional information on this story will appear in this week’s NORML media advisory. Sign up to receive NORML’s news advisories free online here.

  • 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.