The Smell Of Marijuana Should Not Be A Death Sentence

download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

“On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

They continue:

(T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

*  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

*  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

*  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

*  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

*  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

*  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

 

The Smell Of Marijuana Shouldn’t Be A Death Sentence

download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

“On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

They continue:

(T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

Data from The Marshall Project

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.24.13 PM

Data from The Marshall Project

 

The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

 

Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

*  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

*  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

*  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

*  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

*  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

*  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

Pennsylvania Governor to AG Sessions: Back Off!

In a recent letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wrote a pointed letter regarding the Department of Justice and it’s posturing to implement a crackdown of lawful state medical marijuana programs.

The full letter:

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

Last year, the Pennsylvania passed bipartisan legislation to legalize Medical Marijuana that I was proud to sign into law. The legislation was the result of conversations with Republicans and Democrats and fierce advocacy from families of children who were stricken with terrible illness that could be helped by Medical Marijuana.

We talked to kids who suffer dozens of seizures in a given day. We met veterans who have seen absolute terror and seek relief from the effects of their post-traumatic stress. We approached the responsibility of providing relief to the people of Pennsylvania very thoughtfully.

Since I signed the legislation, we have taken very careful and deliberate steps to implement the law so that those who are suffering can get relief while ensuring that the state is a responsible steward of the program.

Given the bipartisan and medical consensus for Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania and many other states, I am disturbed to know that you are actively pursuing a change in federal law to go after medical marijuana suppliers.

We do not need the federal government getting in the way of Pennsylvania’s right to deliver them relief through our new medical marijuana program.

Your action to undo the protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the use federal funds to disrupt states’ efforts to implement “their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana” is misguided.

If you seek to further disrupt our ability to establish a legal way to deliver relief of medical marijuana to our citizens, I will ask the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to take legal action to protect our residents and state sovereignty.

Sincerely,

Governor Tom Wolf

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo by Gage Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Photo by Gage Skidmore

This comes in response to a recently revealed private letter that Jeff Sessions sent to Congressional leadership requesting that the DOJ be permitted to target and prosecute state-licensed medical cannabis facilities, currently prohibited by a spending rider known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote, “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Jeff Sessions actually seems to believe that lawful medical marijuana patients, i.e. sick people, are causing the violent crime and contributing to transnational drug trafficking.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned about federal marijuana policy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week and he brought up current DOJ policy and left the door wide open to a potential crackdown.

“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…”

The Cole Memo, is a Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, Wolf and other state politicians are taking action. Recently, 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.”

Click here to send a message to your member of Congress to urge them to force the Department of Justice to respect state marijuana laws and then visit http://norml.org/act to support other efforts in your state and federally.

PA resident? Click here to send a message to your state lawmakers to support the effort to decriminalize marijuana in the Keystone State.

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.

Congressional Protections For Legal State Medical Marijuana Programs Expected To Be Extended

3410000930_95fc2866fa_zWe welcome the extension and expansion of critical marijuana policy provisions through September 30 in the proposed fiscal year 2017 omnibus funding legislation.

The decision to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment language illustrates both compassion and common sense when it comes to marijuana policy. Now, the majority of states and over 90 percent of the public approves of the use of marijuana as a medicine and Congress should not stand in the way of these reforms.

Congress deciding to maintain protections for state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs in the era of a Department of Justice being led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions means that patients ailing from conditions that range from cancer to PTSD can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. Once approved, states will be able to continue to service and implement these programs without fear of federal incursion until September 30 of this year.

Yet, this action is only a stopgap measure at best. Ultimately, Congress needs to amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America’s rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape. Such action includes removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit.

The text in the omnibus funding legislation is:
Page 230 – “SEC. 537. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, 25 Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

 

Last Chance To Protect Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers From Jeff Sessions

Medical marijuana

Update: Congress passed a one-week continuing resolution to maintain the current federal spending levels with the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment included, meaning state medical marijuana patients and businesses will remain protected from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice until May 5.

Today is the final day that Congress has to pass a short-term budget to fund the federal government and it’s up to us to make sure that lawmakers reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. This critical amendment stops Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice from targeting state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients, growers, caregivers, and providers.

Click here now to tell your member of Congress to Stop Sessions from going after marijuana.

94% of US voters support legal access to medical marijuana. Congress needs to understand that this is a mandate that is non-negotiable.

We cannot give one inch of our hard fought victories when we still have so far to go.

Take action today to protect our gains and to keep in place programs that millions of patients have come to rely upon. Tomorrow we continue our fight to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Click HERE now to make your voice heard!

Background:

Since 2014, members of Congress have passed annual spending bills that have included a provision protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, 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, House Resolution 2028. This bill extends federal funding through April 28, 2017, at which time the measure — and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment — will expire.

According to recently released nationwide survey data, the majority of Americans are on our side. A whopping 93 percent support the medical use of marijuana. Perhaps most importantly, 71 percent of voters — including strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — say that they “oppose the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana.”

Again, please contact your member of Congress right now to protect legal state medical marijuana patients and businesses. 

 

The National District Attorneys Association Is Lying About Marijuana

Cannabis PenaltiesA recently released white paper published by the National District Attorneys Association is calling for the federal government to strictly enforce anti-cannabis laws in states that have regulated its production and distribution for either medical or recreational purposes.

The working group, which consists of D.A.s and prosecutors from more than a dozen states (including representatives from adult use states like California and Colorado), hopes to influence the Trump administration to set aside the 2013 Cole memorandum. That memorandum, authored by former US Deputy Attorney General James Cole, directs state prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

“To maintain respect for the rule of law, it is essential that federal drug enforcement policy regarding the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana be applied consistently across the nation,” the NDAA paper concludes.

Predictably, authors repeat numerous falsehoods about marijuana and marijuana policy in an effort to bolster their call for a federal crackdown. Specifically, authors allege that cannabis damages the brain to a far greater extent than alcohol and that statewide regulations have increased young people’s access to the plant. Both claims are demonstrably false.

The NDAA opines, “[Marijuana] is not like alcohol … because alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn.” Yet, well controlled studies dismiss the contention that cannabis exposure causes permanent structural damage to the brain.

Specifically, a 2015 study assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users, with a particular focus on whether any differences were identifiable in the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and the cerebellum. Investigators reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for potentially confounding variables. In contrast to marijuana, researchers acknowledged that alcohol “has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.”

The NDAA further claims, “Legalization of marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.”

But data from the US Centers for Disease control reports that young people’s access to marijuana has fallen by 13 percent since 2002. The agency further reports, “Since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.

Moreover, state-specific post-legalization data published in March by the Colorado Department of Public Health concludes: “[M]arijuana use, both among adults and among youth, does not appear to be increasing to date. No change was observed in past 30-day marijuana use among adults between 2014 (13.6 percent) and 2015 (13.4 percent). Similarly, there was no statistically significant change in 30-day or lifetime marijuana use among high school students between 2013 (lifetime: 36.9 percent, 30-day: 19.7 percent) and 2015 (lifetime: 38.0 percent, 30-day: 21.2 percent).” 2016 data compiled by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services similarly finds that “rates of teen marijuana use have remained steady” post legalization.

The National District Attorneys Association is the largest and oldest prosecutor organization in the country. Their mission is to be “the voice of America’s prosecutors and strives to support their efforts to protect the rights and safety of the people in their communities.”

The full text of the their paper, entitled “Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective,” is available online here.

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. 

KC NORML Successfully Decriminalized Marijuana in Kansas City

Ballot initiative run by local group passes 71 to 29 to end arrests for possession of marijuana

17800391_10155957557253032_3769984899767242784_nKansas City, MO – In a blowout victory for sensible criminal justice policy, the voters of Kansas City, Missouri have decided to approve Question 5 and decriminalize marijuana to direct their law enforcement officers to no longer target citizens for possession of the plant and would replace current criminal penalties with just a civil fine.

The measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, previously punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine — with no arrest made or criminal record imposed.

“We could not be more excited about the positive impact passing Question 5 will bring to the communities of Kansas City. We fought long and hard for this result and could not have done it without the support of our volunteers,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of KC NORML. “The era of reefer madness in Kansas City has come to an end and no longer will otherwise law abiding citizens be targeted or arrested for the mere possession of marijuana.”

This is yet another victory in the march to end the criminalization of marijuana in the United States.

“The passage of this initiative is not just a victory for the people of Kansas City, but for the democratic process,” said Erik Altieri National NORML’s Executive Director, “When concerned citizens stand up, stand together, and fight back against unjust laws, we will win. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to end our nation’s war on marijuana consumers and politicians across the country should take heed of the message voters sent in Missouri: if you don’t reform our marijuana laws through the legislature, we the people will do it for you.”

Nationally, more than 600,000 people a year are arrested for simple marijuana possession alone. These arrests are disproportionately targeted, the ACLU found that the racial disparity in marijuana charges were levied against people over color, by nearly 4 to 1.

Kansas City now joins the ranks of dozens of cities and states throughout the country that have ended the practice of arresting marijuana consumers,” said Kevin Mahmalji, outreach coordinator for NORML. “We at NORML are incredibly proud of the efforts of Jamie Kacz and her team at KC NORML and thank the voters of Kansas City for bringing a new era of sanity their law enforcement priorities and the overarching movement to end the prohibition of marijuana.”

Kansas City now joins a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

For more information, visit http://www.normlkc.org/ or http://norml.org/ 

 

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NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.

Houston Has Decriminalized Marijuana, Reveals Conflicting Attitudes and Budget Priorities of Law Enforcement

Cannabis PenaltiesOn March 1, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg decriminalized marijuana by instituting the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program. This decision in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, affects more than 4.5 million Texans. As a result, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana is now punishable by up to $150, required attendance of a “decision making” class, and no criminal record.

With so many Sheriffs Associations and prosecutors traditionally advocate for maintaining marijuana prohibition, even lobbying our legislators with our tax dollars in order to cash in on asset forfeitures, what happened in Harris County marks a real tipping point for ending prohibition in the state of Texas and reveals a growing organization within law enforcement that wants to correct currently ineffective marijuana policy by deprioritizing arrests for simple possession.

Harris County courts and jails were long overwhelmed by arrests and prosecutions for small marijuana possessions. According to internal data provided from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition in Harris County tax dollars prior to decriminalization (including court fees, indigent defense, DA fees, jail costs, crime labs and labor costs from local police) were estimated at $26,663,800 annually.

To put that amount of money into perspective, that’s more than enough money for the city of Houston to build a new high school or a 17-bed medical facility every year. Another way to look at it is that these freed up resources can now give prosecutors and police the ability and time required to test the backlog of rape kit evidence and investigate unsolved violent crimes in Harris County. What a concept! Instead of confiscating assets and ruining the lives of nonviolent citizens, we can prosecute the violent criminals that law enforcement are sworn to protect us from.

These estimates don’t include the tax dollars or collateral damage that marijuana prohibition on families including separation from loved ones, lost income from jailed parents or the emotional toll time spent in state custody can have on children. Even for Harris County, these remain real threats under state and federal law.

But after Ogg’s March 1st decision in Harris County, something changed. It was a change that could be felt in the halls of the Texas state capitol. During the Committee hearing on HB81 to decriminalize marijuana in Texas on March 13th, unlike any previous marijuana bill, not a single Sheriff’s Association came to testify against the bill; just one lonely prosecutor from Odessa. By contrast, the halls of the Texas State Capitol filled with members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, friendly state Congressman like Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), Executive Director Jax Finkle of Texas NORML, and Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy all lobbying on our behalf to get HB 81 and SB 170 into committee.

However, as Bob Sechler from the Austin American Statesman recently reported, “Still, some law enforcement representatives are dubious, saying among other things that low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes, and that there currently isn’t a good, on-the-spot test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.”

The other argument made by Lawrence, that “low-volume pot possession can provide police with probable cause to investigate bigger crimes,” is evidence of a different addiction: an addiction distinct to law enforcement for asset forfeitures. When an informant remains planted on a suspect for decades after a plethora of evidence to close the case, or when law enforcement stops only the cars going south with cash and not the ones going north with drugs, we have what can only be described as an asset forfeiture epidemic lead by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Lawrence doesn’t even take into consideration if the detection of marijuana is either a violent or dangerous threat to roadway safety, admitting his worry is he can’t determine if someone is impaired. (Hint: a good indication the driver is not impaired). By that logic, Lawrence implies he is satisfied with the casualties, tax expenses and arrests of nonviolent citizens whose only offense is possession of marijuana, so long as a portion of those arrested lead to “serious” crimes (or asset forfeitures). This erroneous argument is so preposterous he doesn’t appear to realize he is admitting that encountering someone who has consumed marijuana is relatively safe.

So let’s look at the financial motivations of law enforcement that remain loyal to marijuana prohibition. On the other side of Texas from Harris County, on the I-10 corridor near El Paso, federal grants used to be the major motivator for marijuana possession arrests by a self-proclaimed “Boss Hog” in Hudspeth County, where to fill a federal quota the Sheriff infamously arrested Willie Nelson and even Snoop Dog on road tours for possession. Those funds were more bureaucratic in that the grants kept the Sheriff and private jail facilities employed, but the profit motives were parasitic. The Obama administration tried to do away with private prison contracts but Trump and Sessions are bringing them back.

But what about those civil asset forfeitures? Sheriff’s Associations or prosecutors using our tax dollars to lobby for asset forfeitures are more sinister in that not all the money seized gets accurately reported, and since property and money are seized without due process, victims find it difficult and expensive to go to court dockets titled “The State of Texas vs. $10,000,” only to find in some instances a prosecutor instead of a judge in court.

However, looking at the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Program Annual report for 2012, the local money being reported as seized just doesn’t add up to the cost of incarcerating so many non-violent people in possession of marijuana. Harris County reported: $1,387,430 in seized assets, more than most other Texas counties. But we would have to add up the entire state total of $31,520,522 in local asset forfeitures before we can get passed the $26,663,800 in annual costs for prosecuting and jailing minor marijuana possessions in just Harris County alone. Federal agencies target all the big asset seizures but according to this inspector general’s report, what gets accurately reported of that money causes more corrupt internal fighting and competition between federal agencies than any shared resources with local law enforcement.

In short, for local jurisdictions, decriminalizing marijuana makes plain economic sense. And for districts with law enforcement overwhelmed and under budget decriminalization may be the only logical choice to keep up with the payroll.

What do we do as activists? We can pay attention to candidates for District Attorney and Sheriff to vet them on marijuana policy so we can take local action to decriminalize. (After they become Sheriff? Just say “Am I being arrested?” and make sure you know what a Motion to Suppress Evidence is: example here)

But the real people we need to contact to make effective improvement in marijuana policy is not the President, the DA, a cop or anyone in the executive branch: It’s our state and local Congressman in the legislative branch. And this is the right website to do so.

Texas resident? Take Action:

HB 81 and SB 170 to decriminalize marijuana is pending in their respective chambers. Contact your Texas Representative to support HB 81 and SB 170 by clicking here

Vice Chair Todd Hunter is also the Chair of the Calendar Committee which decides if bills get a floor vote in Texas. Hunter held up a decriminalization bill in 2015 by failing to put the vote on the Calendar. If you live in Chorpus Christi, give Todd Hunter a call and tell him to give HB81 a floor vote!

Also in Texas do not forget to mention SB380 to abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state of Texas.

Visit Houston NORMLs website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Marijuana Treated Like Alcohol? Legislation Filed In Senate and House

Legalize marijuanaSenator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis have introduced legislation in the House and Senate — The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act — to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference. In addition to removing marijuana from the United States Controlled Substances Act, this legislation also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matter concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.

Email your members of Congress now and urge them to support this effort.

“The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress’ approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country’s disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics.”

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for qualified patients, while eight states now regulate the production and sale of marijuana to all adults. An estimated 63 million Americans now reside in jurisdictions where anyone over the age of 21 may possess cannabis legally. Voters support these policy changes. According to a 2017 Quinnipiac University poll, 59 percent of Americans support full marijuana legalization and 71 percent believe that states, not the federal government, should set marijuana policy

“If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition,” said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. “Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion.”

These statewide regulatory schemes are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies have not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety, or youth use patterns. They have stimulated economic development and tax revenue. Specifically, a 2017 report estimates that 123,000 Americans are now working full-time in the cannabis industry. Tax revenues from states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington now exceed initial projections. Further, numerous studies have identified an association between cannabis access and lower rates of opioid use, abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Senator Ron Wyden said. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

“Colorado has proven that allowing responsible adults to legally purchase marijuana, gives money to classrooms, not cartels; creates jobs, not addicts; and boosts our economy, not our prison population,” Representative Jared Polis said. “Now, more than ever, it is time we end the federal prohibition on marijuana and remove barriers for states’ that have chosen to legalize marijuana.  This budding industry can’t afford to be stifled by the Trump administration and its mixed-messages about marijuana.  The cannabis industry, states’, and citizens deserve leadership when it comes to marijuana.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Representative Earl Blumenauer said. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”

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.

By contrast, regulating the adult use of marijuana stimulates economic growth, saves lives, and has the support of the majority of the majority of Americans. 

Send a message to your members of Congress urging them to support the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act

Federal Marijuana Sentences Plummet: Report

Cannabis PenaltiesThe number of federal offenders sentenced for violating marijuana laws has fallen significantly since 2012, according to data provided by the United States Sentencing Commission.

Just over 3,000 federal defendants were sentenced for marijuana violations in 2016, according to the Commission. That total is roughly half of the number of federal defendants that were sentenced in 2012. The total has fallen year-to-year since that time.

The 2016 total is nearly equal to the number of federal defendants sentenced for violating powder cocaine laws, and less than the number of federal defendants sentenced for heroin. Some 96 percent of federal marijuana defendants were sentenced for trafficking, with an average sentence of 28 months in prison.

Of those sentenced, 77 percent were Hispanic, 11 percent were Caucasian, and eight percent were African American. Fifty-six percent were categorized as non-US citizens.

In 2015, over 5,600 federal defendants were sentenced for violating marijuana laws, a total equal to some 25 percent of all federal drug sentences.

Click here to email your lawmakers on various pieces of legislation related to marijuana reform.

 

What Would A Federal Marijuana Crackdown Look Like?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo by Gage Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Ever since the 2016 election, marijuana legalization supporters have been wondering if President Trump will crack down on state-approved recreational and/or medical marijuana programs. The Heritage Foundation believes it knows the answer.

According to the conservative think tank, there are actions the government can take without needing to pass any new legislation or expend much political capital, such as reaffirming the federal government’s position as supporting marijuana’s illegality under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and reasserting support for the international treaties that require countries to enforce marijuana prohibition. These actions would make headlines, send a chill across the industry (particularly in states that have yet to formally launch their legal marijuana markets) and make clear the direction the White House has decided to go when dealing with legal marijuana businesses.

The Washington, D.C.-based group calls for rescinding the Obama Administration’s Cole memo, which gives leeway to the states to implement legalization and replace it with a memo that makes it clear that the DOJ “fully expects states to not permit commercialized marijuana production and sale.” With this memo in place, the DOJ could then select a number of marijuana businesses for prosecution of a violation of state and/or federal law, which would create “a real threat of prosecution.”

The right-wing policy shop recommends overturning previous guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which opened the door to very limited banking for a handful of businesses in the marijuana industry. This would scare off the already minuscule number of financial institutions working, or considering working, with marijuana-related businesses. Using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the government could target investors.

With all of this in mind, the only option we truly have to ensure our victories are upheld and that we move forward with nationwide legalization is to change federal law. Amendments such as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer stem the bleeding a bit, but require a new political fight every year. Congress needs to pass The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would prevent the federal government from interfering in state-approved adult use or medical programs. Even better, Congress should remove marijuana from the CSA entirely.

If you want to see the cannabis revolution continue, call your members of Congress today and tell them to support federal marijuana law reform. For more information on pending legislation and to easily email your elected officials, visit norml.org/act.

Weekly Legislative Roundup 3/11/2017

revolutionbumperWelcome to this week’s edition of the NORML legislative roundup!

At the federal level, aside from a few absurd comments by Attorney General Sessions and new cosponsors to HR 975 and HR 1227, things have been pretty quiet.

At the state level, it is quite a different story. We have continued to see a marked rise in the number of bills introduced pertaining to marijuana, crossing the 1,500 mark. From hearings on marijuana legalization in Maryland to social clubs passing the Senate in Colorado to hemp passing the both chambers in the New Mexico statehouse, at every level we are making progress.

Below are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

Thanks for all you do and keep fighting,
Justin

Priority Alerts

Federal
End Prohibition: Representatives Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have introduced bipartisan legislation, HR 1227, to exclude marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thus leaving states the authority to regulate the plant how best they see fit.

The “Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” eliminates federal criminal penalties for possessing and growing the plant. This legislation gives states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.

Click here to email your Congressional Representative to urge them to support this crucial legislation.

Join The Caucus: With public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all time high, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) have formed the first-ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.

Click here to email your Member of Congress to urge them to join the newly formed Cannabis Caucus

Colorado
Colorado State Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Dan Pabon have introduced legislation that is headed to the Senate Business, Labor and Technology committee on Tuesday, March 1, 2017. SB 184: The Marijuana Membership Clubs and Public Use Bill, will provide Colorado municipalities with the regulatory framework needed to allow responsible adults the option to socially consume marijuana in a membership club away from the general public.

Last November, voters In California and Maine approved public marijuana consumption through Proposition 64 and Question 1, but haven’t settled on rules. This means Colorado could be first out of the gate with statewide regulations for pot clubs.

Update: SB 184 passed the full Senate on Thursday, March 9, by a vote of 25-10 and will now be sent to the House. Gov. Hickenlooper has promised to veto the bill if passed in its current version.

CO Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Connecticut
Multiple pieces of legislation to legalize the adult use of marijuana and to regulate its commercial distribution is pending in both the state House and Senate.

Update: Lawmakers have scheduled a pair of hearings in March to debate these various legalization proposals. Members of the Public Health Committee heard testimony on Tuesday, March 7. Members of the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on Wednesday, March 22.

CT Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Kansas
Legislation is pending, House Bill 2152, to permit qualified patients access to marijuana or extracts containing CBD and low levels of THC.

The measure would permit patients with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder or a condition causing seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy, to possess marijuana or extracts containing no more than three percent THC. The measure also seeks to establish rules governing the state-licensed cultivation of low-THC marijuana strains and the preparation of products derived from such strains.

KS Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Maryland
HB 1236 and it’s companion bill SB891 would amend the Maryland Constitution to ensure citizens have the right to possess, smoke, and cultivate marijuana.

The Amendment would also require the General Assembly to establish a regulatory structure for “the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale.”

If enacted, the law would legalize the possession of up to two ounces and the cultivation of up to six plants.

Update: The House held a hearing about HB 1236 on March 3 at 1pm, and a hearing about SB 891 on March 2 at 1pm.

MD Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Nevada
Senate legislation is pending, SB 236, to regulate the social use of cannabis.

The measure allows select businesses to apply for licensing to permit adult marijuana use on their premises. It would also allow event organizers to seek permits to allow adult use at specific events.

To date, private adult use of marijuana is permitted, but only in a private residence. Passage of SB 236 establishes a regulatory framework to permit adults the option to consume cannabis at specified public places or events.

NV Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

New Hampshire
Legislation is pending in the New Hampshire House, HB 215, to establish a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.

Police in New Hampshire arrest some 2,900 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. The continued criminalization of adult marijuana use is out-of-step with the views of New Hampshire adults, 62 percent of whom now endorse legalizing and regulating cannabis, according to a 2016 WMUR Granite State Poll.

Update: HB 215 passed the House on Thursday, March 8 on a voice vote. It will now be referred to the Senate.

NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Additionally, Multiple bills are pending before lawmakers to expand the pool of patients eligible to qualify for medical marijuana therapy.

In particular, these measures would permit patients with conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress to obtain legal access to marijuana.

Update: Bills to add chronic pain (HB 157) and PTSD (HB 160) to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana have passed the House. They will now be referred to the Senate.

NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

New Mexico
Legislation is pending, Senate Bill 258, to reduce penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

The measure eliminates criminal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one-half of one ounce of cannabis, reducing the offense to a $50 fine. Under present law, this offense is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in jail and criminal record.

Update: A Senate substitute version of SB 258 was passed 33 to 9 by members of the Senate. The amended version of the bill now awaits action by the House.  

NM Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Oregon
Legislation is pending in the Senate, SB 863, to limit the federal government from acquiring data regarding adults and patients who legally purchase marijuana under state law.

The emergency legislation, which would take immediate effect, mandates that retailers and dispensaries do not maintain customers’ purchase and/or personal identification records beyond 48 hours.

Sponsors of the bipartisan measure say the privacy protections are in response to recent statements by the Trump administration with regard to a possible enforcement crackdown in adult use marijuana states.

OR Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Tennessee
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, are sponsoring the legislature’s most concerted effort to legalize medical use of marijuana.

Under present law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $250 fine.

Update: SB 1119 and SB 673 were debated by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 7.

TN Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Texas
Legislation has been introduced for the 2017 legislative session to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

House Bill 81, filed by Representative Joe Moody and cosponsored by Representative Jason Isaac, seeks to amend state law so that possessing up to one ounce of marijuana is a civil violation, punishable by a fine – no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record. Under current state law, first-time marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Update: HB 81 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, March 13. Starting at 8am if you happen to be in the state capitol in Austin you can get within the capitol steps Wi-Fi in order to register your support of HB 81.

TX Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Vermont
Rep. Samuel Young has introduced H. 490 to regulate the commercial and retail marijuana market.

H. 490 establishes a regulated system whereby adults may legally obtain marijuana from state-licensed retail providers and sellers.

Statewide polling reports that a majority of Vermont voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana. According to a RAND Corporation study, regulating the commercial sale of cannabis in Vermont would generate $20 million to $75 million annually in new tax revenue.

VT Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

West Virginia
A coalition of Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation, SB 386, which seeks to establish the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act — a state-sponsored program that will permit qualified patients to obtain medical cannabis from licensed dispensaries. A House version of the bill, HB 2677, is also pending.

Passage of the bill establishes a commission tasked with developing “policies, procedures, guidelines, and regulations to implement programs to make medical cannabis available to qualifying patients in a safe and effective manner.”

WV Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Additional Actions To Take

Arkansas
House Bill 1580 imposes a special eight percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales. This tax would be in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.

While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Most other states that regulate medical cannabis sales do not impose such taxes and Arkansas patients should not be forced to pay these excessive costs.

AR Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

District of Columbia
Councilman David Grosso has re-introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. First introduced in 2014, DC voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.

The bill will legalize marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 and will allow the city to tax and regulate a commercial market. Due to DC’s unique charter in Congress, however, this provision of the law was gutted in 2014.

DC Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

New Hampshire
House legislation is pending, HB 472, to permit qualified patients to cultivate their own medicine.

Under present law, qualified patients must purchase cannabis from one of a handful of state-licensed dispensaries.

House Bill 472 allows patients to cultivate up to two mature plants and up to 12 seedlings at one time.

Update: Members of the House of Representatives have passed HB 472. It now awaits action by the Senate.

NH Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

New Mexico
Governor Susana Martinez has vetoed House Bill 144, which sought to establish a hemp research program in compliance with provisions in the federal Farm Bill explicitly authorizing states to engage in licensed activity involving hemp absent federal reclassification of the plant. The Governor provided no public explanation for he veto.

A similar provision, Senate Bill 6, now awaits action from the Governor. Members of the House and Senate have previously passed the measure by votes of 58 to 8 and 37 to 2.

NM Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Washington
Legislation is before lawmakers, House Bill 2064, to amend state law so that industrial hemp is not longer classified under the state’s uniform controlled substances act.

If passed, hemp plants will no longer be regulated as a controlled substance.

Update: HB 2064 has unanimously passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

WA Resident? Click here to email your elected officials in support of this effort.

Jeff Sessions: Wrong on Opioids and Violence, Considers RICO Lawsuits

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo by Gage Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt to discuss a range of issues, including how the Trump administration intends to address marijuana law enforcement in states that are regulating its adult use.

During the interview, Hewitt repeatedly encourages Sessions to engage in federal prosecutions against state-licensed marijuana providers.

Hugh Hewitt (HH): Let’s talk about the rule of law. I have a piece coming out in the Washington Post about this on Sunday, Attorney General Sessions. One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?

Jeff Sessions (JS): We will — Um — Marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws. So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It’s not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that’s legalized it. And I’m not in favor of legalization of marijuana. I think it’s a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don’t think we’re going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store.

HH: No, but it would literally take one racketeering influence corrupt organization prosecution to take all the money from one retailer, and the message would be sent. I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you’re going to send it?

JS: Well, we’ll be evaluating how we want to handle that. I think it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case, I’ve got to tell you. This, places like Colorado, it’s just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it’s also being moved interstate, not just in the home state.

HH: Yes.

JS: And neighbors are complaining, and filed lawsuits against them. So it’s a serious matter, in my opinion. And I just came from a big rally in New Hampshire yesterday, Hugh. This is, this opioid problem is just huge. There were 9,000 high school and junior high school students there. A mother I met who had lost a son three months before, a child, and she said there were 50 more mothers there who’d lost children speaking to those kids. We’ve had this huge opioid surge in America, 120 people a day die from drug overdose. And I do believe, and the President has issued an order to the Department of Justice to crack down on drugs and these international cartels that are moving this Fentanyl that’s so deadly into our country. And we’re going to step up that in a very vigorous way as I talk to United States Attorneys yesterday by conference call.

Predictably, Sessions’ responses — in particular his reaffirmation: “Marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws. So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide.” — follows the path laid out by The Heritage Foundation’s Cully Stimson, who on February 27th, released an 11-point plan on how to “provide a targeted approach to [federal] marijuana enforcement.” The Heritage Foundation proposal specifically calls for the Department of Justice to use RICO laws to target state-licensed marijuana businesses:

  1. Prosecute those dealing in marijuana—which is illegal under federal law—using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Those who engage in a pattern of racketeering activity through a corporation or other enterprise are liable for three times the economic harm they cause. RICO gives federal courts the power to order racketeering enterprises and their co-conspirators to cease their unlawful operations.

The Attorney General also repeats two overt myths regarding cannabis, claiming that the enactment of marijuana regulatory schemes are somehow linked with violent crime and opioid abuse. As NORML recently points out in op-eds here and here, both of these claims are categorically untrue.

At the end of the day, when the Attorney General of the United States publicly contemplates the federal prosecution of those in the adult use marijuana industry, we should take these threats seriously.

That is why we need to continue to be proactive in pushing Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition and be ready to fight back at every level should Sessions follow through on his recent statements.

Click here to tell your member of Congress and urge them to support HR 1227, the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017.

And click here to sign up as a NORML monthly supporter to make sure that we have the resources to support our chapters in the upcoming legal battles to protect the states that have legalized adult-use marijuana.

Thanks for all you do and stay vigilant.

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