Peachtree NORML Challenges the Faith and Freedom Coalition

553529_215119851939362_39287076_nPost originally published on Peachtree NORML.

At the Georgia Republican Assembly Convention on 8/12/2017 David Baker, the Executive Director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia, used a portion of a 1993 quote from the then Executive Director of NORML, Richard Cowan.  Mr. Baker quoted Cowan as saying “The key to it (marijuana legalization) is medical access”.  Baker’s comments were videoed by AllOnGeorgia’s Jonathan Giles, who wrote about them.  Jonathan reached out to me and asked for a comment or two, which I happily obliged him with.  You can watch the video and read his commentary by clicking here.  I highly suggest you do.  It’s what we are fighting here in Georgia.

What Richard Cowan said in 1993 was, “The key to it is medical access, because once you have hundreds of thousands of people using marijuana medically under medical supervision, the scam is going to be blown”.  Cowan’s statement is an indictment of the DEA classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance, having a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value.  Prior to 1937 and The Marihuana Tax Act, Cannabis, marijuana’s real name, was widely used in the preparation of medicines. The American Medical Association condemned its pending Prohibition in a letter to the Ways and Means Committee that enacted the legislation.  The AMA letter stated, in part, “Since the medicinal use of cannabis has not caused and is not causing addiction, the prevention of the use of the drug for medicinal purposes can accomplish no good end whatsoever. How far it may serve to deprive the public of the benefits of a drug that on further research may prove to be of substantial value, it is impossible to foresee”.  Keeping cannabis away from us by prohibiting it was a scam.  That is Cowan’s point.

David Baker and his Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia have taken the first six words of a 29-word statement and used them to imply that legal medical access to marijuana is a part of some nefarious scheme by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Nothing is further from the truth.  One of NORML’s missions is to unveil the truths about the roots of cannabis prohibition.  To educate our society about the corporate greed, willful ignorance, propaganda and government corruption that was involved in the 1930s, and is still involved to this day.

The science of cannabis proves that it is safer than either cigarettes or alcohol.  It proves that cannabis is a beneficial plant.  The evidence is out there for anyone to find.  David Baker is uninformed at best and willfully deceptive at worst.  In today’s information age, ignorance is a choice.

Whose Faith and Freedom are you talking about when you spew your deceptive venom, Mr. Baker?  Faith?  I am the son of a Baptist preacher, a Godly man who served his Lord to the end of his days.  I was born into the Fold and I am washed in the Blood.  I know a thing or two about Faith and the Teachings of Christ.  What I hear in your Prohibitionist rhetoric seems far removed from those teachings.  It is certainly not the Faith of those hundreds of thousands in this Nation who are currently being helped, just as Mr. Cowan predicted, by marijuana.  They have faith, alright.  They have faith in the fact that marijuana is doing for them what Big Pharma can’t in a safe, effective manner.

Freedom?  I am also a 20-year Veteran of the U.S. Air Force.  My father survived the Ardennes Forest in WWII.  I know what Freedom looks like.  This ain’t it!!  What you advocate would keep cannabis away from those Veterans whom it would benefit.  Those Veterans who did the Government’s bidding and fought for YOUR Freedom, sir.  NORML advocates Freedom.  The Freedom of adults in this great land, which was founded on individual rights and freedoms, to make their own choices concerning the use of this plant.  Whose Freedom do you advocate for, Mr. Baker?  That of your shrinking, narrow-minded ilk that refuses to see the benefits of full legalization?

For you and your organization to take it a step further and vilify Representative Allen Peake, a true Georgia hero, for his efforts to obtain safe access to cannabinoid medicine for legal Georgia patients is unconscionable.  Now there is a man who is putting his Faith to work.  Shame on you, Mr. Baker.  If you had half of Allen’s Compassion, a principle taught by Christ, you wouldn’t be doing this.

As the Executive Director of Peachtree NORML, I challenge you to PROVE IT, David Baker.  PROVE to the citizens of Georgia that marijuana is dangerous and should remain illegal here.  PROVE to us that the cultivation, processing, and sale of marijuana will lead to an increase in crime, or poverty, or any other social ill in Georgia. Prove that your rhetoric is not just atavistic fear-mongering, akin to that of Harry J. Anslinger.

How about it, Dave?  Let’s get someone from NORML on a stage with you for a public debate on the issue.  Let’s invite the Press.  Let’s have an audience Q&A after the debate.  It’ll be the Fight of the Century.

Tom McCain is the Executive Director of Peachtree NORML, the Georgia State Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Of Marijuana Laws. 

Find out more at http://www.peachtreenorml.org/, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and support their efforts by making a contribution at http://www.peachtreenorml.org/donate.  

Register for the 2017 NORML Conference

take_actionNORML’s 2017 Conference at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC and Congressional Lobby Day at the United States Capitol is scheduled for September 10th-12th. Hundreds of marijuana consumers, activists, patients and business owners are expected to attend a day-long training and informational conference on Monday and re-convene on The Hill Tuesday to personally lobby their elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Whether you’re a longtime activist, college student, medical marijuana patient, or simply a NORML supporter, consider taking this all important step to directly lobby your members of Congress in support of common sense marijuana law reform. During your stay, you will meet and network with like minded activists from across the country, and your time on Capitol Hill will ensure that our message is brought face-to-face to those in Congress who need to hear it the most.

Click here to sign up now

We will be lobbying for expanded protections for those states that have reformed their laws, and to protect the progress that we have made from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his rogue Justice Department. Time and time again, AG Sessions has made it clear that he thinks those of us who consume cannabis are “not good people.” We will be in the halls of Congress to set the record straight.

Sunday, September 10
DMV NORML Coalition Welcome Reception & Vanguard Awards
(Hosted by the DC, MD, and VA Chapters of NORML)

Where: Dew Drop Inn (2801 8th St NE, Washington, District of Columbia 20017)
When: 7pm
FB Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/517232688618953/

The DMV NORML Coalition, composed of DC NORML, Maryland NORMLand Virginia NORML, invites you to the Welcome Reception for the 2017 NORML Conference. You’ll enjoy an evening networking with activists from around the country, NORML leaders, and local legislators. The Coalition will present their annual Vanguard Awards to three lawmakers from the DMV who have significantly impacted marijuana policy reform. Proudly sponsored by Kulture

Monday, September 11
NORML 2017 Conference

Where: Capital Hilton (1001 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036)
When: 9am – 5:30pm (Coffee and light refreshments will be served from 9am-10am)

Agenda includes:
– Putting the Grass in Grassroots Activism (How to Reform Marijuana Laws at the State and Local Level)
– Our States Legalized Marijuana, Now What?
– Smoke the Vote: How Marijuana Can Win at the Ballot Box
– Shifting the Overton Window To Get To 51 (and 218 in the House) (How to Effectively Lobby your Federal Officials Training)
– Marijuana Regulation: Impacts on Health and Safety — The Evidence to Date
– Let My People Grow? Principles Versus Pragmatism in Marijuana Law Reform
– Legalization as an Economic Stimulus

We will also have a very special awards presentation and keynote speakers to be announced shortly.

End Prohibition Again!
(Prohibition Era Themed NORML Benefit Party)

Where: Attendees will receive the secret venue location in advance of the conference, optional shuttle service from the Capital Hilton to the venue to be provided.
When: 7pm

Tuesday, September 12
NORML Lobby Day

Where: Congress
When: 9am – 4pm

We will meet in the morning in a reserved room on the hill. Registrants will meet with the offices of their elected officials throughout the day as scheduled (NORML staff will be assisting with setting up these meetings, so please register as soon as possible so we can start booking those with your specific officials). After lobbying we will reconvene one final time for happy hour drinks and to share stories of our efforts at a local establishment.

Please register ASAP if you haven’t already so we can better plan scheduled lobby meetings and anticipate the number of attendees.

Get your tickets now!

See you in September,
The NORML Team

NORML Chapters Hope to Bring Marijuana Discussion To Congressional Town Hall Meetings

blogstickerNORML Chapters around the country are currently organizing efforts to engage their representatives on the issue of marijuana law reform during the upcoming congressional recess where members of the House and Senate will host town hall meetings in their districts. In addition to providing unique opportunities for face-to-face interactions with congressional representatives, town hall meetings provide our volunteers the chance to promote NORML’s message of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana to an audience of politically engaged voters.

With the help of Town Hall Project, a nonprofit organization that’s focused on empowering constituents across the country to have face-to-face conversations with their elected representatives, we have identified almost a dozen town hall meetings taking place in cities with strong NORML representation. To take advantage, NORML leadership is focused on mobilizing our supporters to ask specific questions and encourage their representatives to support legislation that will: protect consumers and businesses in legal marijuana states, expand access to medical marijuana for veterans, stop civil forfeiture and end the federal prohibition of marijuana.

Below is a list of town hall meetings that NORML Chapters will be targeting. We will continue to update the list as new town hall meetings are announced:

(Updated: 8/14/2017)

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (Democrat, NV-4)
Tuesday Aug 1, 2017 at 09:00 AM
Walnut Community Center
3075 N Walnut Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89115

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, CA-48)
Tuesday Aug 1, 2017 at 6:30 PM
Aliso Niguel High School Gym
28000 Wolverine Way, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

Rep. Bradley Byrne (Republican, AL-1)
Thursday August 3 2017 at 3:00 PM
Gulf Shores City Hall
1905 W 1st St, Gulf Shores, AL 36542

Rep. Steve Cohen (Democrat, TN-9)
Saturday August 5, 2017 at 10:00 AM
Memphis College of Art
1930 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

Rep. Will Hurd (Republican, TX-23)
Sunday August 6, 2017 at 1:00 PM
Horizon City Dairy Queen
800 N Zaragoza Rd, El Paso, TX 79907

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (Democrat, NC-1)
Tuesday August 8, 2017 at 6:00 PM
Bertie High School
716 US-13, Windsor, NC 27983

Rep. Donald Norcross (Democrat, NJ-1)
Wednesday August 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM
Carmen Tilelli Community Center
820 Mercer St, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002

Rep. Glenn Thompson (Republican, PA-5)
Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 8:00 PM
WPSU
100 Innovation Blvd, University Park, PA 16802

Rep. Adam Smith (Democrat, WA-9)
Saturday August 12, 2017 at 10:00 AM
Foster High School Performing Arts Center
4242 S 144th St, Tukwila, WA 98168

Derek Kilmer (Democrat, WA-6)
Sunday August 13, 2017 at 2:00 PM
Aberdeen High School Auditorium
410 N G St, Aberdeen, WA 98520

Jimmy Panetta (Democrat, CA-20)
Monday August 14, 2017 at 6:00 PM
California State University Monterey Bay World Theater
5260 6th Ave, Seaside, CA 93955

Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat, Senate)
Tuesday August 15, 2017 at 6:00 PM
Gonzaga University, Cataldo Hall, The Boone Room
502 E Boone Ave, Spokane, WA 99258

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (Republican, NC-9)
Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 6:00 PM
Cleveland Community College – Mildred Keeter Auditorium
137 S Post Rd, Shelby, NC 28152

Rep. Gary Palmer (Republican, AL-6)
Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 6:30 PM
North Highlands Baptist Church
4851 15th Street Rd, Hueytown, AL 35023

Rep. David Scott (Democrat, GA-13)
Saturday August 19, 2017 at 09:00 AM
Mundy’s Mill High School
9652 Fayetteville Rd, Jonesboro, GA 30238

Rep. Trent Franks (Republican, AZ-8)
Tuesday August 22, 2017 at 7:00 AM
The Colonnade
19116 N Colonnade Way, Surprise, AZ 85374

Rep. Tom Rice (Republican, SC-7)
Chapin Memorial Library Meeting Room
Tuesday August 22, 2017 at 10:00 AM
400 14th Ave N, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577

Rep. Bradley Byrne (Republican, AL-1)
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 3:00 PM
John L. LeFlore Magnet High School,
700 Donald St, Mobile, AL 36617

Rep. Danny K. Davis (Democrat, IL-7)
Thursday August 24, 2017 at 7:00 AM
Oak Park Village Hall
123 Madison St, Oak Park, IL 60302

Rep. Rodney Davis (Republican, IL-13)
Friday August 25, 2017 at 8:30 AM
Litchfield City Hall
120 E Ryder St, Litchfield, IL 62056

Rep. Ami Bera (Democrat, CA-7)
Tuesday August 29, 2017 at 10:00 AM
Folsom Public Library
411 Stafford St, Folsom, CA 95630

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Republican WI-5)
Saturday September 9, 2017 at 1:00 PM
Elm Grove Village Park
13600 Juneau Blvd, Elm Grove, WI 53122

To support these efforts, NORML has prepared a guide to town hall meetings, as well as a list of questions specific to each representative. If you would like to participate or want a copy of either document, please email chapters@NORML.org.

A Victory Over Some Illegal “Drug Courier Profile” Traffic Stops in Illinois

The test should be, “Is it better than Prohibition.” Does the proposal stop the arrest of smokers and establish a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana?

The Supreme Court of Illinois recently handed down a decision which found that some of the drug courier profile traffic stops in their state were illegal, and agreed with the lower courts that the drugs confiscated in five cases that had been combined for the court’s consideration, should be suppressed. The case was People v. Ringland, et al.

The criminal defense attorney bringing this legal challenge was NORML Legal Committee (NLC) Life Member Stephen M. Komie from Chicago.

The somewhat unique fact in all five of these cases, which arose in 2012 and 2013, was that the drivers were all stopped and searched by a “special investigator” of the La Salle County prosecutor’s office; not by state or local police. After carefully considering the statute that establishes and defines the powers of state prosecutors, the high court found that the prosecutor did not have the legal authority to hire their own people to drive up and down the highways, making traffic stops and searching vehicles for drugs.

Congratulations to attorney Stephen Komie for ending these illegal traffic stops in Illinois with a creative legal challenge.

 

Pennsylavania Cities Continue to Embrace Decriminalization of Marijuana

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With the recent passage of a marijuana decriminalization ordinance, the City of York joins Philadelphia, State College, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg in no longer criminalizing the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. Following several meetings to discuss the proposal, members of city council heard from Chris Goldstein, former executive director of Philadelphia NORML and Les Stark, executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition. Both spoke in support of the proposal and even provided encouraging data showing a decline in marijuana arrests in other municipalities that adopted similar measures.

“Towns across Pennsylvania are moving away from handcuffs and towards issuing fines instead, that’s good news in a state where we have more than 18,000 consumers arrested every year,” said Chris Goldstein.

Similar to other decriminalization measures that have been adopted by municipalities in the Commonwealth, the ordinance approved by the York City Council replaces criminal prosecution and potential jail time with a simple fine or community service for those possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana. The ordinance also decriminalized the public consumption of marijuana.

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While local governments across Pennsylvania continue to adopt measures to reduce the penalty for personal possession of marijuana from jail time to a simple fine, state lawmakers have been more apprehensive on the issue. But advocates are hopeful things will change as the conversation advances on the local level. “This really puts the pressure on legislators in Harrisburg to vote on statewide bills and start having the bigger conversation about full legalization,” added Goldstein.

Read more here: http://www.ydr.com/story/news/2017/07/19/york-city-council-passes-bill-decriminalize-possession-small-amounts-marijuana/480013001/

For future updates on marijuana law reform efforts in Pennsylvania, follow Philly NORML by visiting their website and Facebook page!

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again!

As an attorney, I am always disappointed that the courts in this country – both at the state and federal level – have refused to get involved in the efforts to end marijuana prohibition and end the practice of treating responsible marijuana smokers as criminals. But that is the reality.

While the courts in this country have played a leading role in ending racial discrimination, in guaranteeing women the right to obtain a legal abortion, in protecting the rights of the LGBT community, and in many other areas involving the protection of personal freedom, they have consistently rejected attempts to declare state and federal anti-marijuana laws as unconstitutional.

But that does not mean that we should give up the fight in the courts, and rely only on voter initiatives and elected officials to fix this problem. As long as there are new legal arguments to be made, and fresh and hopefully more convincing facts to be argued, we must continue to engage the courts in this struggle for personal freedom.

Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al

One such legal challenge, Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, was recently filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York by lead attorney Michael Hiller, with NORML Legal Committee (NLC) attorneys David Holland and Joseph Bondy serving as co-counsel. The full complaint can be found here.

Individual plaintiffs in the suit were two young children, an American military veteran, and a retired professional football player, all of whom are medical marijuana patients; and a membership organization alleging their minority members have been discriminated against by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Seeking to overturn the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, plaintiffs request a declaration that the CSA, as it pertains to the classification of Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, is unconstitutional, because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, an assortment of protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental Right to Travel. Further, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Congress, in enacting the CSA as it pertains to marijuana, violated the Commerce Clause, extending the breadth of legislative power well beyond the scope contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.

Named as defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Acting Administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg, the Justice Department, the DEA and the Federal Government.

In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that the federal government does not, and could not possibly, believe that Cannabis meets the definition of a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin, LSD, and mescaline; and that classifying Cannabis as a “Schedule I drug,” is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

 Among the other claims in the lawsuit are that the CSA: (i) was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights; and (ii) violates plaintiffs’ constitutional Right to Travel.

Joseph Bondy, a federal criminal defense attorney and legalization advocate, explained he felt it was important to “question the agenda of those who continue to push for enforcement of the CSA, given its unlawful and discriminatory impact and that so few in America support such an effort.” Co-counsel David Holland, a litigator and Executive Director of Empire State NORML, noted that “the efforts to criminalize Cannabis are relatively recent and were largely underwritten by racial and ethnic animus,” referring to recent findings that African Americans and other persons of color are four times as likely to be arrested under the CSA than white Americans, even though marijuana is used equally by people of color and Caucasians.

Perhaps the federal courts will surprise us at long last and finally take a critical look at marijuana prohibition, and find the courage to declare the CSA to be unconstitutional. That would be an enormous step forward in ending marijuana prohibition altogether. But regardless of the outcome of this particular suit, it is encouraging to see the criminal defense bar continue to push the legal envelope, and to advance the best and latest legal and factual arguments. At some point, the courts will have no choice but to strike downC1_8734_r_x prohibition as a violation of our personal freedom.

 

 

WATCH: Marijuana in the Halls of Congress

Yesterday, NORML moderated a Facebook Congressional Conversation on marijuana law reform with Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Tom Garrett, Beto O’Rourke, and Justin Amash.

We discussed a wide range of issues including the needless burden of the federal driver’s license suspension mandate, access to medical marijuana, racial injustice, and pending bipartisan legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

WATCH NOW:

Share on Facebook  |  Share on Twitter

The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Only when lawmakers speak honestly about the effects of prohibition and the senseless burdens it imposes on our communities will we be able to win substantial reform.

“At a time when 29 states and the District of Columbia have made the decision to regulate the sale and use of marijuana, we should rethink how the federal government approaches this drug. Our current approach to marijuana prevents legitimate medical use, fills our prisons with nonviolent offenders and continues to fuel drug violence,” said Representative Beto O’Rourke in a statement promoting the event.

In our continued effort to educate the lawmakers and the public, events like this will be able to open the eyes of those who have willfully ignored the issue.

NORML chapters throughout the country are working to advance legalization in state legislatures and, with your support, National NORML will continue to up the pressure in Washington, DC.

Click here to share the video through your networks and support efforts like this in the future. 

 

Tell AAA To Stop Lying About Legalization

majority_supportOver the first six months of 2017, the American Automobile Association (aka AAA) has been spreading misinformation and propaganda in a lobbying effort to defeat marijuana legalization legislative efforts in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and other states.

As reported by Leafly.com, AAA representatives have recently preyed upon unsubstantiated fears regarding the alleged “increased plague of drugged driving” and the claim that “more babies will be born high” on marijuana in their lobbying efforts against adult use regulatory reforms. The distortions do nothing to advance the public debate surrounding legalization, but they do tarnish the organization’s reputation.

Send a message to AAA telling them to put the brakes on lobbying against legalization efforts

According to federal data, auto accident fatalities have fallen significantly over the past two decades – during the same time that a majority of US states have legalized marijuana for either medical or social use. In 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to under 30,000 by 2014.

Further, a recently published study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that fatal traffic accident rates in legal marijuana states are no different than those in states where cannabis remains illegal. A separate study published last year in the same journal previously reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.

One would hope that AAA would be nonpartisan in this debate; that they would be the group to separate the facts from the myths so that politicians and law enforcement would be more likely to pursue evidence-based policies with regard to regulating marijuana in a manner that strengthens public safety. Instead they’re largely fear-mongering and further politicizing the issue — calling for the continued criminalization and arrest of millions of Americans who choose to use marijuana privately and responsibly. By doing so, they are arguing in favor of the failed criminal justice policies of the past and they are alienating the 60 percent of Americans who endorse the outright legalization of recreational cannabis by adults (Gallup, 2016).

Tell AAA to stop distorting the truth, send their public affairs department a message right now

There are areas of public policy where AAA is absolutely in agreement with reform advocates, including NORML. For instance, we both agree that driving under the influence of cannabis should be discouraged and legally prohibited, and that the detection of either THC or its metabolites in blood or urine is not indicative of psychomotor impairment and, therefore, should not be used a legal standard of criminal liability.

Our hope is that some day groups like NORML and AAA can work together to advocate for rational policies that work to keep our roadways safe from the threat of impaired drivers. Specifically, we recognize — as does AAA — that there is a need for greater tools and methods  to more accurately determine whether or not someone is under the influence of cannabis, such as via the use and promotion of handheld performance technology.

Tell AAA that the days of ‘reefer madness’ are over. It’s time for a rational and evidence-based discussion regarding how best to regulate the use of marijuana by adults and how to keep our roads safe.

Tell the Senate to Expand Veterans’ Access to Medical Cannabis

Medical marijuana

 

Update: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 24-7 to include the amendment as part of the 2018 MilCon-VA bill. It is expected that an identical amendment will be introduced in the future in the House. 

This Wednesday, July 12th, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee will convene to discuss the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. This legislative debate provides lawmakers with the opportunity to expand much needed medical marijuana access to our nation’s veterans.

Presently, V.A. doctors in states where cannabis therapy is permitted are forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a medical cannabis recommendation, thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. This issue can be solved by the approval of the Veterans Access Amendment, which ends these cruel and unnecessary restrictions on V.A. doctors and their patients.

Send a message to your Senators NOW demanding equal access for veterans.

Last year, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include similar language as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee elected to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote. We must not allow a similar outcome again this year.

Veterans are increasingly turning to medical cannabis as an effective alternative to opioids and other conventional medications to treat conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress. A retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction on a scale of post-traumatic symptom scores following cannabis therapy. This is why, in recent months, two of the largest veterans’ rights groups — AMVETS and the American Legion —  have resolved in favor of patients’ access to cannabis therapy.

Our veterans deserve the option to legally access a botanical product that is objectively safer than the litany of pharmaceutical drugs it could replace.

Write your Senator RIGHT NOW and urge them to support the Veterans Equal Access Amendment!

Thanks for all you do,
The NORML Team

P.S. Have you gotten your ticket for the 2017 NORML D.C. Conference and Lobby yet? Click here to register and come to Washington, DC September 10th-12th. 

Two New Virginia Laws Foreshadow Larger Cannabis Policy Changes

A common cliché for overcoming a difficult obstacle asks, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “one bite at a time.” In Virginia politics, the tough question facing cannabis policy reform advocates is, “how do you change the minds of political Elephants?” The answer is, “one law at a time.” Although progress in cannabis reform has been slow in Virginia, two recent bills signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe are significant signs that change is coming, and quicker than ever before.

Ending Automatic Driver’s License Suspension for Cannabis Possession

In May 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had a signing ceremony for Senator Adam Ebbin’s Senate bill 784 and Delegate Les Adams’ House bill 2051. These companion bills ended the absolute requirement that Virginians convicted of marijuana possession lose their driver’s license. Until this change, which takes effect July 1, the judge had no option but to suspend, even if the offense was totally unrelated to a vehicle. A driver’s license is necessary in commuter-based economies such as Virginia, where most residents work, attend school, receive medical treatment, or worship outside of their home city, and the public transportation is less then reliable.

Virginia NORML led the lobbying for this bill, and helped sway lawmakers in the General Assembly who were wary of the proposed changes. The legislators were convinced by explaining the law in detail, and highlighting the positive results from allowing individuals to maintain their license for work and education – no extreme rhetoric or exaggeration needed. Ryan Johnson, membership coordinator for Virginia NORML, testified for both pieces of legislation was congratulated by many thankful legislators at the ceremony.

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA-D) and Ryan Johnson

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Ryan Johnson with Delegate Les Adams (R-16)

“With Virginia NORML’s guidance, I was able to craft impactful testimony, helping pass meaningful legislation that will make a difference for thousands of Virginians,” said Ryan Johnson at Gov. McAuliffe’s ceremony. “I was humbled by how many legislators thanked me for stepping outside of my comfort zone and sharing my story in the 2017 General Assembly.” 

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Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), Del. Les Adams (R-16) ,Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), Ryan Johnson, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30)

Watch the video

The new law is a significant step for cannabis policy reform in Virginia for two reasons. First, this is one of the very few marijuana-related criminal justice reforms that advocates have successfully pushed through the difficult, Republican-controlled House subcommittees. Those subcommittees are the sticking point for most criminal justice reform legislation, the bottle neck that prevents bills from proceeding to a full House vote. Second, this is important because it allows judges discretion to apply the standard first-offender’s program and community service to an adult discovered possessing cannabis somewhere completely removed from any vehicles. Admittedly, this is a small step. However, every step, even the very small ones, put Virginia closer to a more sensible criminal justice system that does not criminalize marijuana possession or consumption.

Welcome to the Medical Cannabis States Club, Virginia

In June 2017, Gov. McAuliffe had another bill signing ceremony, this one for Senator Marsden’s Senate bill 1027. This bill is significant because it officially makes Virginia a medical cannabis state. Medical cannabis dispensaries will be called “pharmaceutical processors,” and will become medical cannabis patients’ legal source of the cannabis oil permitted under Virginia law. The processors will be vertically integrated facilities. That means the plants will be grown, cured, and trimmed onsite; all extraction, distillation, and synthesis of custom biopharmaceutical medicines will be done in the on-site laboratory; and, finally, patients will interact with and receive medication from a pharmacist. Unlike the medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, this will more closely resemble a traditional pharmacy.

Virginia families were instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed. However, despite the great success, the law has serious shortcomings. There will only be five (5) pharmaceutical processors. This places a huge burden on applicants, financially and logistically, and could result in the exclusion of start-up ventures owned by minorities, women, and veterans without access to large capital resources. Second, the related laws allowing patient access to medical cannabis is very short: one (1). Only one patient group, those with intractable epilepsy, can possess medical cannabis oil. The major legislative goal for the 2018 session is the “Let Doctors Decide” bill, which would end the eugenics-style creation of state-permitted patient groups and instead allow trained medical professionals to decide if cannabis would be effective for the individual patient’s treatment plan. Jenn Michelle Pedini was at the ceremony representing Virginia NORML, and spoke to the families of several epilepsy patients and lawmakers who had supported the bill.

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Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and many families watch as Gov. McAuliffe signs historic medical cannabis legislation. Photo courtesy Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

“It was an exciting day for the families who spent hours at the General Assembly gaining support for this bill which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. We are looking forward to continuing this path next year and expanding the current law to include all patients for whom medical cannabis would provide relief,” said Beth Collins, Senior Director Government Relations and External Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, and mother of a child with intractable epilepsy.

These landmark bills are significant signs of the change coming in Virginia’s cannabis policy. Decriminalization is being studied by the State Crime Commission, following a request by Senate Majority leader Tommy Norment. The Driver’s License bill may be the first overly punitive prohibition measure to fall, and like dominoes, the changes to criminal justice reform will gain momentum and culminate in decriminalization of adult cannabis possession within the next couple years. The pharmaceutical processor bill is a huge hurdle for both patients seeking legal access to medical cannabis medications, and for individuals interested in the regulated cannabis industry. Although Virginia’s cannabis industry will fall under heavy regulation and oversight by the Commonwealth, the new industry presents new opportunities, jobs, and tax revenue.

Virginia NORML is the leading cannabis law reform organization in Virginia, but we can only continue our success in changing outdated laws with your help! The Summer of Change Campaign is currently underway, and we are trying to raise $42,000 to support our efforts in the 2018 session and the push for “Let Doctors Decide.” Virginia has a major election this year, and the outcome could determine the success – or failure – of our efforts. Donate today to the Summer of Change campaign! With your help, Virginia NORML will continue its track record of success in Richmond bringing marijuana policy reform.

Have a NORML 4th of July

Legalize marijuanaWhat are your plans this Fourth of July weekend? If you are like most Americans, you are likely to be having a cookout, watching fireworks with friends and family, or engaging in some other social event that celebrates your freedom.

But for the millions of Americans who consume cannabis, freedom can be fleeting.

In many states, our fellow citizens still face the possibility of arrest, criminal prosecution, and jail time for a first offense marijuana possession charge. For instance, in Arizona and Florida, first-time possession offenders may face felony charges. In Oklahoma, growing even a single plant is punishable by up to life in prison.

At NORML we understand that this harsh reality is probably not something that you think about every single day — particularly on July 4th. But we do. That is why we are working hard to empower our national network of engaged citizens — citizens like you — to change America’s antiquated and punitive marijuana laws. And, because of you and your efforts, we are succeeding!

Support NORML’s effort to empower citizens to participate in the democratic process and reform our nation’s marijuana laws.

It is the highest ideal of American democracy that our nation has a well-informed and politically engaged electorate. That is why every week — via our blog, social networks, and weekly e-zine — NORML aims to arm our supporters with the latest science and news, as well as legislative and legal developments pertaining to cannabis and cannabis policy. Via the NORML Action Center at www.norml.org/act, we keep you up to date on and engaged in all ongoing state and federal legislative efforts to reform marijuana prohibition and restore our freedoms. And we thank the 100,000+ individuals that have taken action over the past few months.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we come together and assert our authority over our elected officials. The Declaration of Independence explicitly states: That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In sum: it’s our responsibility to compel our elected officials to institute change.

Tens of thousands of NORML people just like you support our mission. Make a contribution today so that we can continue our important work.

Our system of government is not perfect. In fact, it is far from it. But for hundreds of years, citizens have organized and struggled to come closer to Thomas Jefferson’s iconic aspiration, “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson legally grew cannabis. You should be able to as well.

Help us change American for the better.

Happy Fourth of July,
The NORML Team

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Nevada: Licensed Adult Use Marijuana Sales Set To Begin Saturday

Nevada Legalized MarijuanaStarting on Saturday, July 1, specially licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Nevada will have the opportunity to engage in the retail sale of marijuana to adults.

State tax regulators finalized temporary rules on Monday governing adult use sales. Regulators so far have issued over 80 licenses to business establishments seeking to engage in activities specific to the production, testing, or sale of cannabis to adults.

“Adults in Nevada will now be able to access cannabis in a safe, above ground, regulated environment,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “To their immense credit, lawmakers expeditiously to implement the will of their voters. Elected officials elsewhere would do well to follow Nevada’s example.”

Adult use sales are anticipated to be limited because of an ongoing legal dispute regarding who may legally transport cannabis to retail stores. Last week, a Carson City judge issued an injunction prohibiting any entity other than liquor distributors from engaging in retail marijuana transport. As a result, retailers will only be able to sell their existing inventory.

“While we applaud Nevada for moving to enact their voter approved legalization initiative in a timely fashion, interested parties must now move quickly and decisively to resolve the pending issues around distribution. If supply remains constrained in the state it will drive up prices and ultimately lead to most retail outlets being entirely out of sellable product for the recreational market.” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “This will only serve to continue to drive consumers to the black market, the very thing residents voted to demolish, and will deprive the state of needed tax revenue that will instead go to underground operators.”

A majority of voters decided in November in favor of the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act – a voter-initiated regulating the adult use marijuana market. In May, state regulated decided in favor of expediting the timeline for retail marijuana sales from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2017.

Seven additional states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington — no longer impose criminal penalties with regard to the adult possession or use of cannabis.

Businesses in the state still do not have protections from the Justice Department, led by militant prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently stated marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

You can click here to easily send a message to your federal lawmakers in support of pending legislation, HR 1227: The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act by clicking HERE.

Two Major Victories For Student Rights In Federal Courts

Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

Federal courts have recently rejected the actions of university and college administrators who sought to inflict suspicionless drug tests on students at a public college and to restrict the First Amendment rights of marijuana law reformers at a public university.  Both decisions have important national implications.

Linn Tech Student Drug Testing Case

In 2011, Linn State Technical College administrators declared that they intended to drug test every student who applied for admission to the small, state-funded college located in Osage County, Missouri, a short distance east of Jefferson City.  No other public college or university in America had pursued such a program.  It seemed clear to those who follow such matters that college and university students have the same rights as other adults to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  While private institutions are not bound by the restraints of the Fourth Amendment, public tax-supported institutions are.  Nonetheless, Linn Tech seemed determined to pursue inflicting random, suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Tony Rothert, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri, filed suit against Linn Tech.  I filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, working with Alex Kreit, a law professor from San Diego.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey, sitting in Jefferson City, subsequently issued a decision prohibiting such testing, with a few narrowly-drawn exceptions for those participating in training programs involving heavy machinery or high-voltage electricity.

Linn Tech appealed that decision to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  Legal scholars were shocked when a three-judge panel of that Court later sided with Linn Tech.  In a decision which many believed ignored legal precedent and logic, two of three judges on the panel which initially heard the case sided with Linn Tech.

Mr. Rothert then filed for a rehearing of the case by the full 11-judge Court.  Such hearings are rarely granted, but in this case, the Motion was granted.  Following that rehearing, all but two of the judges on the full Court sided with the students and the ACLU, overturning the decision of the three-judge panel.

Still not satisfied, Linn Tech squandered more public tax money pursuing a Petition for Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  Civil libertarians were concerned that the current high Court might indeed overturn the Eighth Circuit if it had accepted that Petition for review.  However, on June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review in this matter.  Therefore, the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court is now the final decision in this matter.  Linn Tech administrators have reluctantly acknowledged that they must now follow the Constitution and abandon their effort to impose suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Iowa State University NORML Censorship Case

In another important case closely watched by many across the nation, members of the NORML Chapter at Iowa State University in 2012 applied for approval to print t-shirts which contained the name of the university-recognized organization and included an image of the school’s mascot, “Cy, the Cyclone”.  University administrators first approved those t-shirts, but when the ISU NORML Chapter asked to reprint them, the university caved in to pressure from legislative staff people who had complained that it appeared the university was supporting marijuana legalization.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed suit on behalf of the officers of the Iowa State University NORML Chapter, alleging content and viewpoint discrimination.  The lawsuit sought to prevent university administrators from treating the NORML Chapter differently from other university-recognized student organizations.  The federal district court in Iowa sided with the students and against the university.  The university appealed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which issued a decision in February of this year upholding the federal district judge’s ruling.

Iowa State University administrators then asked the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court to reconsider its decision.  The Court did so, which caused many to fear that they might change their minds.

However, on June 13, 2017, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court reaffirmed its earlier decision and went even further, holding that university administrators who prevented the ISU NORML Chapter from using the university’s trademarked images were individually liable for their actions and could, therefore, be ordered to pay damages from their own pockets!

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

The federal appellate court sent a loud and clear message to university administrators that they are required to respect the Constitutional rights of students, including those who advocate for reform of the marijuana laws.

While Iowa State could do as Linn Tech administrators did and continue to squander more public tax money pursuing an ill-considered position, it is not at all likely the U.S. Supreme Court would grant further review in this matter.

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

These two decisions have reaffirmed the rights of college and university students to be free from random, suspicionless drug testing and to speak out for drug law reform without censorship by administrators..

 

Empire State NORML in Albany with the Start SMART Campaign

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Lobby Day
The Drug Policy Alliance, along with other campaign pillar groups Empire State NORML, VOCAL-NY, Cannabis Cultural Association, LatinoJustice and the Immigrant Defense Project, held a press conference and lobby day to announce the Start Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade (Start SMART) campaign to advocate for the substantially amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this past Monday, June 12th.

Dozens of activists from all around the state took buses, drove cars and rode trains to Albany to join the campaign in launching and lobbying for the legalization bill. After the excellent citizen lobby day training provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group split up to divide and conquer before the press conference hitting as many offices as they could as well as attending scheduled meetings.

In the afternoon the press conference was held in front of the Senate Chambers. Joining advocates at the press conference were the MRTA’s prime sponsors in both houses, Senator Liz Krueger (D-New York) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), as well as key MRTA sponsors including: Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-New York), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), Senator Jesse Hamilton (IDC-Brooklyn), Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx). We also heard from representatives of Start SMART pillar groups, Drug Policy Alliance (Kassandra Frederique), Empire State NORML (Doug Greene), LatinoJustice (Juan Cartagena), VOCAL-NY (Nick Malinowski), Immigrant Defense Project (Mizue Aizeki) and Cannabis Cultural Association (Nelson Guerrero and Jacob Plowden).

Afterwards the group of dedicated activists went back to work. Some went to the Senate and Assembly chambers to pull their members off the floor to seek their support of the new bill, while others continued dropping off materials at the offices of legislators who have voted for further decriminalization but haven’t supported taxation and regulation of marijuana.

The Start SMART campaign

The substantially amended MRTA would reestablish a legal market for marijuana in New York and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and the craft brewery industry, for adults over the age of 21. Over the past twenty years, nearly 800,000 people have been negatively affected by the harms of prohibition. With people of color accounting for nearly 85% of those arrested annually for possession, the collateral consequences are felt most in these communities. Because of the racial injustice caused by prohibition, the bill is not only an end to prohibition in New York, but also a win in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Significant steps are taken to ensure that those most negatively affected by prohibition will benefit from its repeal.

The reworked Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) includes substantial racial justice and small business-friendly amendments, including:

  • Creating a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
  • Establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
  • Ensuring diversity in New York’s marijuana industry by removing barriers to access like capital requirements and building inclusivity by allowing licensing to people with prior drug convictions. Only people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) will be explicitly barred from receiving licenses

Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition, including Empire State NORML.

NY resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the bill. 

Make sure to visit Empire State NORML’s website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Click here to see the press release from earlier in the week. and click here to go to the Start SMART NY website

Deputy AG: Marijuana is federally illegal and has no medical use

Cannabis PenaltiesDeputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned about federal marijuana policy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today and his responses were disconcerting to say the least.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Rosenstein about the current tension between state and federal marijuana laws.

“We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states. It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids… I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science,” said Rosenstein, “And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict.”

He further elaborated on the Trump Administration’s view of the Cole Memo, which was issued by President Obama’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which lays out guidelines for marijuana businesses operating in medical and legal states if they wish to avoid federal interference.

“Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect. Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana,” stated Rosenstein, “So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”

He also said that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”

After testifying in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he also appeared before its House counterpart.

Representative Kilmer (D-WA) further questioned the Deputy Attorney General on the Cole Memo and the Department of Justice’s pending review of it, asking for an update on Attorney General Jeff Sessions view on it.

Rosenstein responded: “I do not have an update. I can tell you, it’s a very complicated issue for us. Under federal law as passed by the Congress, and given the science concerning marijuana, it’s a Schedule I controlled substance. That’s a decision I’ve talked with (DEA) Administrator Rosenberg about. Some states have taken a different approach and legalized or decriminalized marijuana for medical use and in some cases recreational use…The question of whether it’s legal under federal law is resolved because Congress has passed a law — it’s illegal. Scientists have found that there’s no accepted medical use for it. Cole made an effort to examine the issue and find a way forward for the department where we could continue with our obligation to enforce federal law and minimize the intrusion on states that were attempting to follow a different path.”

Despite these critiques, Rosenstein stated any revisions are likely to happen further down the road.

“For the moment the Cole memo remains our policy. There may be an opportunity to review it in the future, but at the moment I’m not aware of any proposal to change it. But I think we’re all going to have to deal with it in the future.”

You can watch the exchange on CSPAN by clicking HERE

Send a message to your member of Congress to support legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition by clicking HERE. 

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