Since 1996, when California voters approved the medical use of marijuana, most of the high-profile political progress that has been made towards legalizing marijuana has been made in the United States. And starting with Colorado and Washington, all of the full legalization experiments have been homegrown.
But that does not mean we should not be looking to other countries for successful experiments and policies. Drug use and abuse is worldwide, so the solution to the destructive war on drug users must also be worldwide.
The Portugal Experiment
In 2001, the Portugal legislature bravely enacted a comprehensive form of drug decriminalization, in which all criminal penalties were removed for personal drug possession and use offenses — reclassifying them as administrative violations. Instead of arresting individuals in possession of personal-use amounts of any drug, defined as less than a ten-day supply of any drug — a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine; two-grams of cocaine; or 25 grams of marijuana — they are now given a violation and ordered to appear before a rather ominous sounding “dissuasion commission.”
The possession of larger amounts of drugs and drug sales continue to be criminal matters for which an offender is subject to arrest and prosecution.
The “dissuasion commission,” which is comprised of one local legal official and two health and social service professionals, first determines whether the individual is addicted, and if so to what degree. It then determines whether the individual is referred to a voluntary treatment program, given a fine, or receives other administrative sanctions. The majority of cases are simply suspended, and the violator receives no sanction. According to Nuno Capaz, a sociologist who serves on the Lisbon “dissuasion panel,” between 80 and 85 percent of the people who are referred to the panels today are caught with hashish or cannabis.
For persistent offenders, or those identified as addicts, these panels can order sanctions or treatment, and recreational users may face fines or community service. If an addict refuses treatment, they are required to check in regularly with their family doctor (Portugal has a free national healthcare program), and if they fail, the local police remind them of their obligation. And those running the Portuguese system attribute this close working relationship between the police and the public health officials as crucial to their success. “This small change actually makes a huge change in terms of police officers’ work,” says Capaz. “Of course, every policy officer knows where people hang out to smoke joints. If they wanted to they would just go there and pick up the same guy over and over. That doesn’t happen.”
Flying in the face of the more prevalent “lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key” anti-drug policies popular at the time in most countries, especially the United States, there were initially fears that Portugal would become overrun with heroin addicts from all over Europe, and the government received a lot of criticism for their experimental policy from such staid groups as the International Narcotics Control Board – part of the UN drug convention system.
What Decriminalization Really Means
Decriminalization was a half-way measure originally recommended for marijuana policy in the U.S. by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972. It says consumers, who generally comprise up to 90 percent of the marijuana arrests, should be removed from the criminal justice system, but that commercial sales of marijuana should remain illegal. While that is obviously an improvement over total prohibition, where users are also subject to arrest and jail, it generally is thought to lead to an increase in demand without any legal supply — a boon to the illegal black market and those willing to take the risk to sell to the newly legal consumers.
Seventeen states in the U.S. have enacted a version of marijuana decriminalization (some have eliminated all penalties for minor possession offenses; others have reduced the penalty to a fine-only). But more recently states that wish to end prohibition have looked toward full legalization, where the commercial market is regulated and taxed. Nonetheless, decriminalization remains an option for those states that no longer wish to treat smokers as criminals, but do not yet feel politically comfortable with full legalization.
Not The Results In Portugal That Were Expected
But the results from Portugal seem to dispel those initial fears that decriminalizing drugs would result in an increase in dangerous drug use, especially among addicts.
First, and most importantly, decriminalization in Portugal for a decade and a half has not led to any major increases in the rate of drug use. There were minor increases in drug use during the initial year (2001), but the rates of drug use after that have not changed significantly, or, in some cases, have actually declined since 2001, and remain below the average rates in both Europe and the United States. And importantly, adolescent use, and use by people who are deemed “dependent” or who inject drugs, has decreased in Portugal since 2003.
So decriminalization may yet prove to be an attractive alternative to prohibition for the more dangerous drugs in the United States. No one wants to see a cocaine store on the corner, but neither do most people want to ruin an individual’s life with a long prison sentence for the use of cocaine. If it is a problem, it is a medical one, not a criminal justice problem.
And Portugal has experienced more than a 60 percent decrease in the number of people arrested and prosecuted for drug offenses. More than 80 percent of the cases coming before the “dissuasion commissions” are perceived to have no problems and receive no sanction.
The percentage of prisoners in Portuguese prisons for drug offenses has been reduced from a high of 44 percent to the current rate of 13 percent. And drug overdose deaths have decreased from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. In the U.S., for comparison, more than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses alone each year.
“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” Portugal’s Drug Czar Dr. Joao Goulão explained, according to Drug Policy Alliance. He attributed this shift to “a set of policies that target reduction of both supply and demand, including measures of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reinsertion.” Adding that, “[t]he biggest effect has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear.”
And he strongly favors a policy of harm reduction. “I think harm reduction is not giving up on people,” Dr. Goulão said, according to Vice, “…assuming that even if someone is still using drugs, that person deserves the investment of the state in order to have a better and longer life.”
And even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has concluded that “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems has decreased.” And some leading independent researchers investigating the Portugal experiment wrote in the British Journal of Criminology in 2010 that “contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding.”
So What Can We Learn From Portugal
First, we can begin to stop treating so harshly illicit drug users, who use something other than marijuana. Sure heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine are more potentially dangerous than marijuana; but that does not mean those drug users should be treated like criminals. If, like Portugal, we can minimize abuse, greatly reduce the number of people arrested on drug charges, reduce overdose deaths, reduce adolescent drug use and problematic drug abuse, greatly reduce our prison population, and still maintain a safe, free and open society, then why would we not want to begin to move in that direction?
Also, we can learn from Portugal the importance of adopting a policy of harm reduction that recognizes the value of all lives, including those who may, for a time, use dangerous drugs, and to provide needed mental health services to those whom we can identify as problem drug abusers. Portugal seems to make it clear that their success simply could not have been possible without making health care professionals available to those who will avail themselves of that help.
And third, we can and should learn that the stigma of drug use or abuse — regardless of the drug involved — needs to be eliminated, to create an environment in which individuals feel free to seek help without fear of being labeled a bad person. It’s time to treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not primarily a criminal justice issue.
A new report identifies factors that make food attractive to children. Commissioned by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, the report studied research on what makes food appeal to children and the role that marketing and branding play.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers has improved our understanding of how cannabinoids, the active agent in marijuana, affect vision in vertebrates.
New research suggests there may be some truth to the belief that marijuana use causes laziness — at least in rats.
Statewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.
With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalization” measure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.
“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”
To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email firstname.lastname@example.org today!
What Gambling Can Tell Us About Legalizing Marijuana
I am old enough to remember when Nevada was the only state where gambling was legal. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the state legislature had legalized casino gambling as a way to stimulate their economy, create new jobs, and entice more people to the state.
For decades Nevada had a monopoly on casino gambling — that, along with legalizing “no fault” divorces, and later legalizing prostitution — when most states did not offer those options. These factors combined to give Nevada a reputation as a maverick state where people could visit to engage in naughty behavior without legal consequences. “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”
The state is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana via voter initiative (Question 2) this November, which will further enhance that reputation.
Other states obviously knew that legal gambling was an alternative that might provide an economic boost to their states as well, but the prevailing morality at the time was far too negative towards gambling for elected officials in other states to pursue. It was a time when the religious communities had successfully convinced most Americans that a life of virtue, not vices, was the path to happiness.
But social mores change over time, and as gambling began to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment, instead of a moral sin, the tax revenue and economic benefits from legal gambling were more attractive. In 1977, by voter initiative, New Jersey legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, offering an east coast version of Nevada, where gambling hedonists could legally do what they could not yet do in their own states.
And gradually the barriers banning legal gambling began to crumble nationwide, leading to a situation today in which every state has some form of legal gambling, such as state-run lotteries, albeit with strange limitations in some states (e.g., in Missouri it is illegal to gamble on land, but perfectly legal to have casinos on riverboats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, although the boats never leave the shore).
The Balancing Test.
Which leads to the question of why behavior thought by many to be inappropriate (or even morally offensive), can nonetheless sometimes be legalized? Or put another way, when is conduct with the tinge of sinfulness out-weighted by the potential for economic benefits to the states?
I raise that question because of the increasingly profitable side of legal marijuana in the states that have elected to regulate and tax marijuana. As the latest revenue data make clear, legalizing marijuana has been an enormous benefit for the few states that have taken that step, and that fact will be more and more difficult for neighboring states to ignore over the coming years. As we saw with gambling, once the economic benefits of legal marijuana are obvious, the moral opposition will fade and the economic arguments will prevail.
The Latest Data from Colorado and Washington
In Colorado, the first state to get their legal retail outlets up and running on January 1, 2014, the gross sales of marijuana, and the tax revenue to the state, have continued to rise each year. For 2015, licensed marijuana stores in the state totaled an astounding $996,184,788 – just shy of $1 billion dollars, up from $669 million in sales in 2014.
Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees last year (including $35 million dedicated to school construction), up from $76 million in 2014 (when $13.3 million was raised for schools).
In Washington state, marijuana retail sales reached $322,823,639 in 2015, up from only $30,783,880 in 2014, when retail outlets were open for only a portion of the year. That 2015 sales figure has already been eclipsed in the first seven months of 2016.
The state retail tax revenue for fiscal year 2016 from recreational marijuana sales totaled $30,017,823, while state retail sales taxes from the sale of medical marijuana totaled $5,236,536. Local retail sales tax totaled $11,228,861 from recreational sales, and local retail tax totaled $2,084,323 for medical sales.
These, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might say, are “yugee” numbers, and they are continuing to increase each year, making them more and more difficult to ignore by other states.
Marijuana Legalization is Inevitable
Which brings me to my main point. At a time when several national polls confirm that between 55 and 61 percent of the entire country now favor full legalization, it is difficult to argue that marijuana smoking is, any longer, considered immoral behavior. Sure, there are pockets of fundamental moralists to whom anything pleasurable will always be suspect behavior, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. But this puritanical perspective is finding less and less support each year, and when balanced with the economic windfall that results when a state legalizes marijuana, it simply cannot prevail.
Today a majority of Americans under 65 support marijuana legalization, particularly younger adults: 71 percent of adults under 35 think marijuana use should be legal, a jump of 10 points since last year. The demographics are clear and unstoppable, as younger voters replace those over 65.
Just as all states now have some form of legal gambling, within a few short years, all states will offer some form of legal marijuana. It’s the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do; and it’s inevitable in a democracy, when most people want it.
This column originally ran on ATTN:
The Secretary of State’s office has confirmed that initiative proponents, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, submitted a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot. A Maricopa County judge has also dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prohibit the measure from going before voters, although initiative opponents may seek to further litigate the matter before the state Supreme Court.
Proposition 205 permits adults to legally possess (up to one ounce of marijuana flowers and/or five grams of marijuana concentrates) and cultivate marijuana (up to six plants) for their own personal use, and establishes licensing for its commercial production and retail sale. Commercial, for-profit sales of cannabis will be subject to taxation, while non-commercial exchanges of marijuana will not be taxed.
Similar adult use measures will appear on the ballot this November in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will also decide on medical use measures this fall. A Missouri statewide initiative seeking to regulate the plant’s medicinal use is in litigation.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
Jordan Person, executive director of the Denver Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) submitted roughly 8,000 signatures this week to Denver’s Election Division with the hope of qualifying the Responsible Use Initiative for this November’s ballot. Relying on the hard work and dedication of more than twenty grassroots activists, the Denver NORML team worked tirelessly for more than three months educating voters on the issue and collecting signatures throughout the city. The campaign needs a total of 4,726 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“I could not be more proud of the grassroots movement Denver NORML has created. Our volunteers sacrificed every moment they could to work hard for this campaign.” Person said. “It was an easy choice for most because of how much they believe in the initiative they are fighting for. As we go through this interim period of waiting, hoping and preparing we look forward to the future with excitement.”
If certified for the ballot, Denver voters will be among the first in the nation to decide whether to regulate legal private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and over.
Officials with Denver Elections have 25 days to verify the campaign’s signatures. Regardless of the outcome, this has been a groundbreaking effort to normalize the consumption of marijuana in America.
In addition to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign, voters in the city might also have the opportunity to vote on a similar, yet more limited proposal that would restrict consumers to vaping in predesignated areas.
Men had greater pain relief than women after smoking marijuana, a new study has found. Despite differences in pain relief, men and women did not report differences in how intoxicated they felt or how much they liked the effect of the active cannabis.
Approximately two in three California voters support the establishment of a state-regulated retail market for the sale of marijuana to adults, according to polling data compiled by the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sixty-four percent of respondents agree, “Marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally, with government regulations similar to the regulation of alcohol.”
Support is strongest among those between the ages 18 to 24 (75 percent), Democrats (74 percent), African Americans (72 percent), those between the ages of 25 to 34 (71 percent), and Latino voters (69 percent). Among voters over 65 years of age, 58 percent back legalization.
The polling data bodes well for the passage of California’s Proposition 64 this November. The statewide initiative permit adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Proposition 64 is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Voters in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will similarly decide on adult use measures in November. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota are expected to also decide on medical use measures this fall.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, covering nine western states, earlier this week ruled unanimously that the Department of Justice is barred by federal law from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses if those businesses are operating in compliance with state law.
This decision came in an appeal in which the court had consolidated ten different cases from California and Washington, in which the defendants — growers and dispensaries — had argued that their federal indictments should be dismissed because of a current ban, enacted by Congress in 2014, on the use of federal funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana activities. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the language of the enactment said federal funds could not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The Department of Justice had argued the ban only precluded their interference with the state governments, and did not ban federal prosecutions against individual defendants. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, and remanded the cases back to the US District Courts for an evidentiary hearing to determine if the individual defendants had in fact acted in compliance with their state medical marijuana laws.
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the panel, did warn in his opinion that Congress could restore funding to prosecute these cases “tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”
Like most Americans who follow the debate over marijuana legalization in this country, I was disappointed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week once again determined that marijuana has no medical use and left it in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Disappointed, but not surprised.
NORML first petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule back in 1973, and we have been involved in two subsequent attempts to accomplish the same result, without success. The DEA is a law enforcement agency. So they will continue to oppose any steps to loosen controls over marijuana until Congress forces them to change.
A Brief History of Rescheduling Attempts.
The initial petition NORML filed to reschedule marijuana in 1973 ended up being an endurance test. The agency refused to even acknowledge our petition or respond to it until we went to the court of appeals and forced them to respond. And this strategy of ignore and delay continued at every step, dragging the process out for 15 years until 1988, when DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, following days of testimony, finally ruled in our favor.
The ruling concluded that “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
Judge Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”
However, the DEA Administrator simply ignored the decision of his own hearing examiner and rejected our petition, claiming the hearing examiner had relied on anecdotal evidence. NORML again appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the court allowed the Administrator’s decision to stand, saying he had acted within his discretion.
And twice in the intervening decades NORML has been a party to subsequent attempts to require the DEA to reschedule marijuana; and both times, as they did in this most recent case, the DEA continued to insist that marijuana has no medical usefulness and should remain on Schedule I, along with heroin.
So I hope readers will understand when I say, “Enough is enough! Time to ignore the DEA altogether and focus our efforts on Congress.”
How Marijuana Ended Up on Schedule I in the First Place.
When the federal Controlled Substances Act was being considered by Congress in 1970 — after the prior federal anti-marijuana act had been held unconstitutional — various members of Congress debated the question of where to place marijuana under the new act. A separate provision of that new law established The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Marijuana Commission), which was charged with the responsibility of determining the appropriate policy regarding marijuana and reporting back to Congress. A compromise was reached to temporarily place marijuana in Schedule I until the commission came back with their report.
When the commission came back with its marijuana report in 1972, they recommended that minor marijuana offenses be decriminalized, which would have made it available (again) as a medicine. (Marijuana was on the U.S. Pharmacopeia from the mid-1850s until 1937, and it was available by prescription and widely prescribed for several conditions.)
However, those recommendations were not accepted by then-Presdient Nixon or Congress, and marijuana was left in Schedule I, where it remains today.
In fact, what Congress should really do, and what NORML has been arguing for some time, is to totally de-schedule marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and treat it as we do alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.
Bills Pending In Congress.
There are currently several bills pending in Congress that, if adopted, would resolve this matter. HR 1774, the Compassionate Access Act, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Rep. Dana Rorhabacher (R-Calif.), would require that marijuana be rescheduled and would prohibit federal officials from interfering in state-compliant activities specific to the physician-authorized use or distribution of medical cannabis.
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently introduced S.2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, that would de-schedule cannabis from the CSA and treat it like alcohol and tobacco.
Of course, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing or given a vote — even in committee. But those conditions may change following the upcoming election in November, and we may well have the opportunity to move a rescheduling proposal forward in the next Congress.
So instead of trying to convince the DEA that they should act responsibly and compassionately and lower marijuana to a more appropriate schedule under federal law, or remove it entirely, it is now time to put our efforts behind a push to convince the next Congress to solve this problem directly.
This column originally appeared on ATTN.com.
The latest Gallup Poll, based on polling conducted from July 13-17, 2016, reports that 13% of adults in the US are current marijuana smokers, and 43% have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives. According to Gallup, the numbers of adults acknowledging their personal use of marijuana has risen from 7% in 2013 to 11% in 2015; and to 13% in 2016.
This may surprise some marijuana smokers, who tend to choose their friends (at least partially) based on their mutual enjoyment of marijuana, and to whom it may seem as if a majority of Americans are current smokers, but the great majority of Americans are not current marijuana users.
The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it — at least double the rate seen among each older age group.
In addition, religiosity appears to be a key determinant for current marijuana usage, with only 2% of those who report regular church attendance and 7% of those who report frequent church attendance acknowledging current marijuana usage. Apparently marijuana smoking is still considered bad behavior, or “sinful,” among some religious communities.
How Are We Winning Politically?
Which raises the obvious question: how is the legalization of marijuana continuing to move forward politically in more and more states if only one out of 8 Americans are current users? The answer: you don’t have to be a marijuana smoker to oppose prohibition.
Most of us support gay rights, although most of us are not gay or lesbian; and most of us support equality for all minorities, while by definition most of us are not minorities. Most Americans seek to treat others in a fair manner, despite our gender or racial differences, or our sexual preferences. And the same is true about marijuana smokers.
A majority of the non-smokers have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy that causes more harm to society than the use of marijuana itself. They favor an end to marijuana prohibition, although they are not “pro-pot.” In fact, a recent poll by The Third Way discovered that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the non-smokers who favor legalization continue to hold an unfavorable impression of recreational marijuana smokers. They do not believe we should be treated like criminals, but neither do they approve of our marijuana usage.
Current Support Levels
From a low of only 12% public support for legalization when NORML was founded in 1970, we have seen those support levels build gradually over four decades, as Americans became more familiar with marijuana and less fearful of the possible harm from responsible marijuana smoking. Gallup first found a majority of Americans supporting full legalization in 2013, and their most recent data (released in October, 2015) finds the current support level at 58%. Several other national polls find similar support levels, with one 2016 Associated Press poll finding support at 61%.
All of which suggests that we have largely won the hearts and minds of most adult Americans, including a majority of those who do not smoke. And that is really all we need to continue forward politically. We don’t need to “turn-on” more Americans. Rather we need to continue to demonstrate that responsible marijuana smokers present no threat to non-smokers, or to society as a whole.
So long as we do that, a clear majority of Americans are willing to respect our right to smoke marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax at the end of the day. Thankfully a majority of Americans understand and support the concept of personal privacy.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.
Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.
Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.
Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:
For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.
While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.
Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.
Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:
The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”
Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.
A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”
Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”
The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and 011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
My name is Randy Quast and I am NORML’s new Acting Executive Director. Let me be the first to welcome you to a new era at NORML.
I’m from Minnesota. My background is in business. I worked my way up in trucking, starting with my family’s small 10-employee trucking company in the 1980s. I worked in various departments of the company and eventually became president and CEO in 1988. By the time I sold the company ten years later, it employed 700 people in 23 service centers in 10 Midwestern states and had revenues over $50 million a year.
After retiring, I turned my love of flying into 2,500 flight-hours. I volunteered myself and my airplane to AirLifeLine to fly patients who couldn’t afford commercial flights to receive medical treatments. I eventually became the president and CEO of that non-profit until we merged with another similar organization. The combined companies still operate today under the name Angel Flight.
Coming Out of the Closet
But throughout my previous careers, I had always been a regular marijuana consumer — a corporate stoner, if you will. But like many in similar positions, I kept that information private. It wasn’t until 2007 that I was forced out of the cannabis closet and into the arms of NORML.
While out for dinner one evening a thief broke in my home and dragged my safe, where I stored my marijuana, out the back door. When neighbors confronted the thief, he ran, leaving the safe in the middle of my back yard.
When I came home, there were cop cars all around my home. I’d left an aluminum one-hitter in the bathroom. That led to cops’ suspicions about what was in my safe. That led to a search warrant and a SWAT raid of my home. The three ounces in my safe led to a felony possession charge.
Because I was fortunate to be a white person and able to afford an attorney, I received a stay of adjudication with two years’ probation. When my probation ended in 2009, I attended my first NORML Conference in Portland, Oregon. I then returned home to start Minnesota NORML in 2010. Recently, I moved to Oregon in 2015 and co-founded Portland NORML.
Now, I’m in Washington, D.C., working to take National NORML into the next era, one that includes continuing the fight for legalization in places like Minnesota and includes expanding the rights of legal cannabis consumers in places like Oregon.
Positioning NORML For the Future
NORML has formed a search committee to find a new, permanent Executive Director. In the interim, we’re continuing our important work. We’re educating lawmakers and judges on the scientific truth about cannabis, public policy, and health.
We’re supporting our chapters and grassroots supporters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada as they push for legalization in 2016 and we are supporting our chapters and advocates in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, and Montana as they fight to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.
We’re are also working with congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill to pass legislation needed to secure banking and tax relief for our legal marijuana industries.
On the state level, we’re working with legislators to reduce marijuana penalties and to increase patients’ access, while also organizing municipal initiatives to permit social use and to mitigate criminal sanctions.
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed many successes on the state level. Three states have enacted legislation to permit medical marijuana access while many others have expanded access to greater numbers of patients. Many states have amended their laws to significantly reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana or cannabis paraphernalia, while other states have taken steps to authorize the growing of industrial hemp.
As we look forward to the future, specifically this November, we realize that our role is more important than ever. With voters deciding on nine marijuana-specific ballot measures, this election is the most important in recent memory. And the results of Election Day hold the potential to transform American public policy.
So, as I begin this new chapter at NORML I ask all of you to join me. Please help usher in this new era by making a donation today of $50.00 or more to NORML. Your donation will help assure that we continue to play a necessary role in shaping public opinion and policy in such a way that puts the needs of responsible marijuana consumers first. As the nation continues to engage in this ongoing narrative regarding legalization, there exists a greater need than ever for politicians, media, and policy analysts to seek guidance and expertise from NORML with regard to the benefits of regulation as well as the health and societal effects of responsible cannabis consumption.
I’m excited to do my part to make NORML the best organization it can be and I hope you’ll join me.