Uruguay: Retail Cannabis Sales Begin Today

Select pharmacies in Uruguay are now dispensing marijuana to adults, under regulations that went into effect today.

Sixteen pharmacies are presently licensed to engage in cannabis sales, and some 5,000 adults so far have registered with the state to purchase marijuana products — which are capped at a price of $1.30 per gram.

Sales to foreign tourists are not permitted under the law.

Federal officials initially approved legislation in 2013 lifting Uruguay’s criminal prohibition of the plant. Under the policy change, citizens may cultivate up to six plants per household, and engage in collective cultivation as part of membership clubs. Rules and regulations governing the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes are overseen by the Ministry of Public Health.

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.

Rates of marijuana use, heavy use, and cannabis use disorder depend on where you live

Adult marijuana use rose significantly in states that passed loosely regulated medical marijuana laws (MMLs) according to a new study. The highest increases were reported among adults ages 26 and over. Little change was found in past-month marijuana use among adolescents or young adults between the ages 18 and 25.

Study: No Increase In Problematic Cannabis Use Following Passage Of Medical Marijuana Laws

no_marijuanaThe enactment of medical marijuana laws is not associated with increased rates of problematic cannabis use, according to data published online in the journal Addiction.

Columbia University investigators assessed cannabis use trends in states in the years following the passage of medicalization. They reported “no significant change in the prevalence of past-month marijuana use among adolescents or young adults (those ages 18 to 25)” following legalization. They also found no evidence of increased cannabis abuse or dependence by either young people or adults. States with largely unregulated medical programs were associated with increased self-reported use by adults age 26 and older, but states with stricter programs were not.

The study’s findings are consistent with those of numerous other papers reporting no uptick in youth marijuana use or abuse following medical marijuana regulation, including those here, here, here, here, here, and here. The findings contradict those of a recent, widely publicized paper in JAMA Psychiatry which speculated that medical marijuana laws may increase the prevalence of cannabis use disorder among adults.

An abstract of the study, “Loose regulation of medical marijuana programs associated with higher rates of adult marijuana use but not cannabis use disorder,” is online here.

Social Consumption of Marijuana off to a Slow Start in Colorado

14963351_1825384024368232_2740677872685265191_nCurrently marijuana is legal to purchase, possess and consume in the state of Colorado, but the question is: Where can it be legally consumed? Well, if you happen to be in the city of Denver (or most anywhere else in Colorado) the answer is very simple: marijuana can only be legally consumed in a private residence. But what if your landlord won’t allow it or you are one of the thousands of tourists who regularly visits our great city? It appears that we’ll have to continue to wait for state lawmakers to answer that question.

Denver Moves Forward with Social Consumption

Last November, Denver voters passed I-300; a social use initiative that approved the commingling of marijuana and alcohol in bars and restaurants across Denver. Obviously a much different approach when compared to Denver NORML’s Responsible Use Campaign and something the State of Colorado disagreed with. In response, the State of Colorado adopted language making it clear that liquor licenses would not be allowed to permit the consumption of marijuana on their premises. According to the Denver Post, this change went into effect on January 1st of this year and vastly changed the intent of I-300.

“We all want adult consumption everywhere, but this is reality,” said Judd Golden, Legal Counsel for Denver NORML. The news of removing language that allowed the commingling of alcohol and marijuana frustrated proponents of I-300 so a lawsuit was filed against the State of Colorado to push the issue.

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Kevin Mahmalji, outreach director for NORML shared his thoughts on combining the two substances. “As it currently stands, we can easily make the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol, because the two are separated. If we allow the two to be mixed, any incident fueled by alcohol could potentially be blamed on marijuana. That’s why I believe responsible adults deserve their own space to consume marijuana similar to those who enjoy craft beer or cigars.”

In addition to the state’s decision to prevent the commingling of marijuana and alcohol, the City of Denver created the Social Consumption Advisory Committee that consisted of 22 influential decision makers – ranging from city officials to marijuana business owners – to go over the language line by line. The group met six times over several months and offered countless suggestions to improve the original language of I-300. Including a recommendation that would require patrons to sign a waiver before entering consumption areas. Essentially providing a layer of protections against unwanted exposure by non-consumers and those under 21 years of age. A recommendation that Denver NORML fully supports.

The 12 page document lists pages and pages of suggestions to make the law work effectively for the city of Denver. Last week the draft rules were finally posted.

Push for Social Consumption Statewide: SB-184

In addition to our work on the local level, members of Denver NORML spent a lot of time at the state Capitol educating lawmakers on social consumption and the need for a legislative solution. The result? SB-184, which would have empowered local governments to permit private marijuana clubs and better defined what “open and public” means to marijuana consumers. Once the bill was introduced, Denver NORML organized two citizen lobby days with more than 45 participants followed by months of face to face meetings with state lawmakers in support of a statewide solution.

Unfortunately during the final weeks of Colorado’s legislative session, many things with the bill began to change. Most notably, the bill’s sponsors tried to include language that would have criminalized marijuana consumption on the front porch of a private residence and aimed to exclude a newly established cannabis church from operating as a marijuana club. Thankfully the Senate and the House could not come to a consensus and the bill died in committee on the last day of the 2017 legislative session.

Until state lawmakers are willing to pass legislation that will provide a set of rules and protections for business owners and marijuana consumers to responsibly consume marijuana, Colorado municipalities will continue to struggle with this issue.

With the Denver’s Social Consumption Advisory Committee wrapping up its final meeting and Colorado’s legislative session coming to an end, there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the social consumption of marijuana in Colorado.

Denver NORML will apply the lessons learned this year and with their allies, continue to push for statewide reform in the next legislative session.

For more updates on local reform efforts, follow Denver NORML by visiting their website and on Facebook and Twitter!

New Hampshire: Decriminalization Passes Senate, Soon Heads To Governor To Sign

arrestedNew Hampshire is the only New England state that has not either decriminalized or legalized adult marijuana use but that is soon to change.

Today, the state Senate passed an amended version of House Bill 640, which eliminates the threat of jail time for a possession conviction of less than 3/4 of an ounce and reduces the fine from $350 to $100.

HB 640 is a long overdue, fiscally sensible proposals that is supported by the voters, and that will enable police, prosecutors, and the courts to reallocate their existing resources toward activities that will better serve the public.

Governor Chris Sununu (R) has indicated that he will sign the bill.

Sixty-eight percent of New Hampshire adults support “legalizing [the] possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use,” and seventy-four percent of respondents endorse marijuana being sold at state-licensed outlets and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.

After years of stonewalling by former leadership, we commend lawmakers for finally correcting this injustice. Once law, Granite state residents will be one step closer to being able to truly ‘Live Free’ and not just ‘live free, but potentially be incarcerated.

Supporters of Marijuana Legalization Rally in Easton’s Centre Square

10917798_556577754478075_8539327547197949760_oFor more than three decades, supporters of marijuana legalization have gathered in cities across the country on 4/20 to celebrate all things marijuana, and to protest the federal government’s failed War on Drugs. From what started as a loosely organized group of people protesting federal marijuana laws, has now grown into a nationally recognized movement, and now, a day of action.

To continue this tradition, members of Lehigh Valley NORML organized the 4/20 March on Easton; an effort to highlight the need for marijuana law reforms on the local and state level. With Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. and more than a hundred supporters on hand, Jeff Reidy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML and his colleagues provided educational materials to attendees and spoke about several marijuana bills being considered by state lawmakers.

“This year’s March was an announcement that we plan to press our policy-makers, offer up facts, and influence change in our community and across this state,” said Jeff Reidy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. More than 100 attended the event, both young and old, meandering about Centre Square, holding signs and sharing the moment, while celebrating the leaf.”

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With marijuana decriminalization measures adopted in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg and recent comments by Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney and Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to end marijuana prohibition in the Commonwealth, advocates are hopeful things will change as the conversation advances in Eaton

“We are grateful for our community of supporters here in the Lehigh Valley, but know we need to grow that support and strengthen our voice, in order to effect change,” added Reidy. “The fight continues, but damn, this is one 4/20 I will long remember.”

TAKE ACTION: Contact Pennsylvania lawmakers and urge them to support House Bill 928 by clicking here!

Read more here: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf/2017/04/420_rally_in_easton_keeps_it_l.html

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

Say NO To Taxpayer Funded Medical Marijuana Raids

doctor_marijuanaSince 2014, the Department of Justice has been prohibited from using taxpayers’ funds to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that regulate its medical use.

But that could all change this week as Congress decides how to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year. 

At issue is a provision known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” In December, Congress re-authorized the amendment as part of a short term spending package through April 28, 2017, at which time the budget — and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment — will expire.

With anti-cannabis zealot Jeff Sessions now heading the Department of Justice, we can’t leave patients across the country and those who supply their medicine vulnerable to a federal crackdown on medical marijuana.

We NEED you to send a message to your member of Congress RIGHT NOW to support medical marijuana patients! 

Over 90% of all Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana, according to nationwide polling data published last week. Further, 73 percent of voters oppose federal interference in states that regulate its use. Let’s ensure that these programs and the millions of patients who rely upon them are protected. 

Tell your member of Congress to get this right. Demand that they protect patients from Jeff Sessions and his Department of Justice. 

Q&A with Houston NORML

10457838_1496853423881548_3582533077732459054_nNational NORML recently asked Cara Bonin, executive director of Houston NORML, a few questions about their involvement with the recent decision by DA Ogg to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County. Her response became an interview worthy of a blog post in itself. Enjoy!

NORML: What was Houston NORML’s involvement  if any in the decision by DA Og to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County?
Cara: Houston NORML has been backing Kim Ogg over the past two district attorney races. Incumbent Devon Anderson was appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) on September 26, 2013, to succeed her husband, Mike Anderson, who died on August 31, 2013. She naturally became the incumbent in the 2014 race. Kim Ogg immediately made one of her campaign points to discuss marijuana policy reform in Texas. This was such a popular idea that it forced Devon Anderson to then campaign on a similar promise to change the way the county handled misdemeanor marijuana cases. Anderson won the election and implemented a the first chance program which was a very weak version of what Kim Ogg had campaigned on. The program had proven successful and data showed that it was getting results. Despite her loss, Ogg still stayed active in the Houston community, speaking at NORML events and even made it to Austin to testify in favor of decriminalization bills in the Texas house during the 2015 legislative session. Houston NORML supported the Kim Ogg campaign in 2016 and hosted a forum on live television showcasing Ogg’s plan for re-prioritizing marijuana cases in the county. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap-4ylqY9sM
NORML: Has a decrease in marijuana arrests allowed Houston NORML to focus more on local and state legislation and activism and less on support and legal advice to people being arrested and prosecuted for possession?
Cara: The program has barely been in place one month. It is a huge relief to know we no longer have to focus on our county. We have the best policy in state thanks to the cooperation of the Harris County sheriff, DA, Houston Police Chief and dozens of other local policing agencies. We are now focusing on getting bills passed in the Texas legislative session.
NORML: What are some of the new goals and challenges of Houston NORML post decriminalization? What has changed? What hasn’t?
Cara: We are currently funneling all resources on reforming laws at the state level. Since the program has only been in place one month there are not a lot of statistics to share. Many of the surrounding counties have already spoken out in opposition to Ogg’s program. I live in Katy which is a tri-county city. Waller and Ft Bend county officials wanted to make it clear that it is business as usual when it comes to their arresting policies. A spokesman for the Lt Governor’s office claimed that Houston will become a sanctuary city for drug dealers and illegal immigrants. The Montgomery County DA came out in opposition the day before Ogg even announced the details of her program. They proudly show off their ignorance with such arrogance. It is proof that we still have a lot of work to do locally and state wide to change the opinions of policy makers and enforcers. For more detailed information on the Harris County Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program please visit the following site: https://app.dao.hctx.net/OurOffice/MMDP.aspx. I hope this helps.
NORML: Yes it does. Thank you Cara and Houston NORML for a job well done! And a special thanks to Corpus Christi NORML for gaining cooperation with Rep. Todd Hunter R-Corpus Christi to support HB81 who chairs the Calendar Committee!
Texans Take Action:
https://ballotpedia.org/Calendars_Committee,_Texas_House_of_Representatives
http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/51046/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=19633

For more updates on local reform efforts, follow Houston NORML by visiting their website and on Facebook and Twitter!

Sessions’ DOJ Reviewing Marijuana Enforcement Policies, Governors Fight Back

arrestedUnited States Attorney General Jeff “Marijuana Consumers Aren’t Good People” Sessions has issued a formal memorandum calling on members of the Justice Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to “undertake a review of existing policies,” including federal enforcement policies with regard to cannabis.

The memo was sent on April 5 to 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department of Justice component heads.

The Attorney General has requested a report back from task force members by no later than July 27th. You can read the full memo here.

The release of this memorandum provides us with a general time frame during which to expect any formal announcements from the new administration with regard to addressing marijuana policy — specifically whether the Justice Department will respect state legalization laws.

In the interim, members of Congress can remove all of the bite from Jeff Sessions’ bark by approving the bipartisan Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which prevents the federal government from criminally prosecuting individuals and/or businesses who are engaging in state-sanctioned activities specific to the possession, use, production, and distribution of marijuana.

Speaking recently before Congress, Attorney General Sessions said that his job is to enforce federal law. Let’s change federal law to ensure that our reform victories remain in place, and so that we can build upon these victories in the future.

CLICK HERE TO CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE IN SUPPORT OF RESPECTING STATE MARIJUANA LAWS.

But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, state politicians are taking action. In recent days, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a letter to the new U.S. Attorney General and to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin calling on them to uphold the Obama Administration’s largely ‘hands off’ policies toward marijuana legalization, as outlined in the Cole Memo.

“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

Political and social change rarely comes from the top on down, it comes from the bottom up. That is why it is imperative for you to not only contact your federal officials in support of changing policy, but also to continue to push for change at the local and state level.

Click HERE to view pending federal and state legislation and easily contact your elected officials in support of them.

Click HERE to find a local NORML chapter in your area and get involved. NORML Kansas City this week successfully placed marijuana decriminalization on their municipal ballot and saw it pass with 71% support. This is the kind of positive change a group of committed volunteer citizens can bring to their communities.

A people united will never be defeated and together we WILL end marijuana prohibition nationwide.

So We Have Attorney General Sessions – What’s Next For Marijuana?

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Despite historic opposition, members of the United States Senate voted 52 to 47 last week to approve the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General.

NORML thanks the tens of thousands of you who responded to our action alerts opposing this nomination and the thousands more who took time to make phone calls. While we are disappointed with this outcome, we are pleased that several members of Congress cited the senator’s opposition to marijuana policy reform as an impetus for rejecting his appointment.

We’ve previously told you why Jeff Sessions is the wrong man for the job, but today it is time to move forward, not backward.

So now what?

Well, during his testimony before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Sen. Sessions said that it is not the responsibility of the Attorney General to pick and choose which federal laws to enforce. “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act,” he said. “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”

He’s right. It is time we demand Congress to change the rules once and for all.

arrestedJust hours prior to Sessions’ confirmation vote, US Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), along with six other Republicans and six Democrats, introduced bipartisan legislation, ‘The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,’ to prevent the federal government from criminally prosecuting individuals and/or businesses who are engaging in state-sanctioned activities specific to the possession, use, production, and distribution of marijuana.

HR 975 states, ‘‘Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.’’

Passage of this Act would halt US Attorney General Jeff Sessions or any other federal official from prosecuting individuals and businesses for violating the Controlled Substances Act in the 29 states that permit either the medical or adult use and distribution of marijuana. According to national polling, 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

take_actionClick here to send your member of Congress a message urging them to support HR 975.

With the appointment of Sen. Sessions to the position of US Attorney General, passage of this Act is necessary to ensure that medical marijuana patients and others are protected from undue federal interference.

There will be a number of bills in the coming months that will build upon the progress that the movement to legalize marijuana will support. As we always have, NORML will keep you informed and provide you the tools needed to connect with your elected officials.

 

Please take action today to urge your federal lawmakers to support HR 975, the ‘The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,’ and when you have finished, please also take a moment to make a generous and much appreciated donation to NORML here so that we can continue to make progress in our federal and statewide efforts.

With NORML members throughout the country organizing lobby days and taking action over the coming days and weeks, the fight for cannabis freedom will continue with renewed energy.

NORML has resisted marijuana prohibition for 47 years – We’re not going to stop now; in fact, we’re just getting started. Are you in?

Action Works When Action Is Taken

As an American citizen, it is easy to become cynical about citizen participation in democracy.  Even the most basic form of participation, voting, can be difficult in the United States. Unlike most nations, who hold elections on a holiday or have mandatory voting requirements, the US holds elections on Tuesdays. When many people cannot vote, whether for time reasons or restrictive state laws, it is a struggle, for those of us enthused about participating in democracy, to watch less than 60 percent of the electorate turnout for a presidential election. One of the proposed reasons for the problem is a lack of voter efficacy. Voters don’t feel as if their voice is being heard. But stories of voters successfully influencing lawmakers are common, if not always reported.

Recently, House Republicans revealed a plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The new body proposed by the GOP would have been a blow to anyone in support of governmental transparency. Unable to report its findings to the public, the proposed Office of Congressional Complaint Review would have even further clouded general understanding of what occurs behind closed doors in the legislative branch. However, congressional offices were subsequently flooded with calls and messages from angry constituents. Less than 24 hours later, the GOP changed course and backpedaled. After tremendous public pressure, the government radically changed its course in a short span of time.

Simply making a phone call, sending an email or Facebook message to a representative, or retweeting a congress member’s phone number (which occurred thousands of times because of the ethics committee plan) can make a difference on the national level. However, many success stories about citizen participation can be found among the lower levels of the federal system. State and local governments are, at least in theory, designed to be more supportive of and responsive to individual citizens. Examples to support this theory is strong. States are known as “laboratories of democracy” and are often ahead of the federal government in terms of cutting edge policy.

One only has to look at success stories like gay marriage or marijuana legislation in several states to see the effect of citizen participation on policy outcomes. We can see with both cases that state policy often follows national public opinion trends. When the tipping point came in regards to gay marriage, it was state judges and lawmakers that first instituted protections for the LGBTQ community. Organizations like Freedom to Marry and the American Civil Liberties Union penned action alerts to their members day after day pleading with them to contact their state representatives. And when the people spoke, politicians listened, and change happened.

Marijuana legislation is following a similar path with organizations including NORML are creating a similar avalanche effect of states legalizing that will ultimately culminate in national legalization if sustained.

To speed up the process one only has to get involved. It is easy to sit back and watch while progress occurs, but it is rewarding to be a part of such a movement. Emailing, calling, and having meetings with your representatives in a constructive way is simple and effective to push change.

If the government is doing something that we as a citizenry do not approve of, we have the right to be heard. Although the mechanisms of government are far from perfect, it our duty as a dedicated and informed public is to try the best we can, in every way we can.

Sign up for our email list to get our action alerts, keep checking the NORML action page for federal legislation and in your home state at http://norml.org/act, talk to your friends and neighbors about getting involved, join a NORML chapter or start your own at http://norml.org/chapters, and never, ever, stop fighting.

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Chicago Suburb Decriminalizes Small Amounts of Marijuana

thumbs_upOfficials in the Village of Oswego, Illinois recently passed an ordinance that allows local law enforcement to issue tickets and fines to anyone found with small amounts of marijuana or certain drug paraphernalia. For example, if a person is in possession of drug paraphernalia and is convicted of possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana, the charge for the paraphernalia is now considered a civil law violation, punishable by a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $200.

Marijuana-related offenses became civil violations after the Illinois state legislature voted to amended the Cannabis Control Act in 2016, but it is up to local governments to amend their local marijuana laws to reflect the change at the state level.

“Oswego’s fines will begin at $100 for the first offense and $150 and $250 for second and third offenses. There is a maximum $750 penalty for repeat violators,” said Oswego Police Chief Jeff Burgner.

The City of Yorkville adopted a similar ordinance in October.

Read more here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/news/ct-abn-oswego-marijuana-st-0105-20170104-story.html

Did teen perception, use of marijuana change after recreational use legalized?

Marijuana use increased and the drug’s perceived harmfulness decreased among eighth- and 10th-graders in Washington after marijuana was legalized for recreational use by adults but there was no change among 12th-graders or among students in the three grades in Colorado after legalization for adults there, according to a new study.

Massachusetts: Over a Century Of Cannabis Criminalization Comes to an End

Legalize marijuanaMassachusetts today became the sixth US state to enact legislation eliminating criminal penalties specific to the adult possession and personal use of cannabis. The law change ends over a century-long policy of criminal cannabis prohibition in the Bay State. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to criminalize the use of marijuana — a policy it first enacted in 1911.

“By legalizing the adult use of marijuana, Massachusetts will shrink the illicit black market, generate millions in tax revenue, end the arrest of otherwise law abiding citizens, and better enable society to keep marijuana out of the hands of children,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said.

Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have previously adopted voter-initiated laws legalizing the private consumption of cannabis by adults. The District of Columbia also permits adults to legally possess and grow personal use quantities of marijuana in private residences.

On Election Day, 54 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. Question 4 permits adults who are not participating in the state’s existing medical cannabis program to legally grow up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants, and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce and/or up to 5 grams of concentrate; in addition, adults may legally possess up to ten ounces of marijuana flower in their home). Public consumption of cannabis remains a civil violation.

Separate provisions in the statute also license the commercial cannabis production and retail sales of cannabis. Those regulations do not take effect until January 1, 2018. However, some state lawmakers have suggested delaying this timeline, raising the state’s proposed sales tax rate, and amending the state’s new home cultivation guidelines — proposals that NORML opposes.

If you live in Massachusetts, urge your lawmakers to move swiftly to fully implement Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act as written as approved by voters by clicking here.

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