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)

Empire State NORML in Albany with the Start SMART Campaign

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

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

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

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

The Start SMART campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Action This Memorial Day

for_painVeterans have served our nation honorably. So this Memorial Day, why is the federal government denying those veterans suffering from debilitating ailments like chronic pain and PTSD access to the therapeutic effects of marijuana?

Presently, V.A. doctors residing in states where medical cannabis is legal remain forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a medical marijuana recommendation — thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of an expensive, private, out-of-network physician.

Recently introduced legislation, HR 1820, ends this prohibition.

Send a message to your member of Congress and tell them to support veterans by supporting HR 1820. 

Last year, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include similar language as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee elected to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.

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

Tell your Representative, don’t play politics with the health of our veterans.

Montana Special Election: Rob Quist’s Marijuana Use is NORML

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 11.44.51 AMOne of the latest developments in the Montana Congressional special election is the news that Democratic candidate Rob Quist had previously consumed marijuana during the course of his life. Certain media outlets in the state have attempted to make a lot of hay out of this issue, hoping to shift a hotly contested election. I think Quist’s opponents may be surprised by the reaction this “revelation” will evoke from most Montana residents, and Americans across the spectrum. That reaction can largely be summed up as:

“So what?”

First, I’d like to clarify that NORML finds it an affront to personal privacy that these outlets are leaking the medical history of an individual without their consent. That in and of itself is unacceptable. However, there is no grand controversy in a story about an American smoking marijuana. Recent surveys have shown approximately half of all Americans have tried using marijuana at least once during their lives and 60% of Americans believe the adult use of marijuana should be legalized and regulated. Eight states have already legalized the possession and retail sale of marijuana with more expect to join them over the next few years. Thirty states have approved state medical marijuana laws, including Montana.

With legalization now policy in these states, all of the rhetoric and bluster from the “reefer madness” era has been proven false. All reliable science has demonstrated that marijuana is not a gateway to harder drug use, as youth use rates have either slightly declined or stayed the same after the implementation of legalization; highway traffic fatalities did not spike; and millions of dollars in tax revenue are now going to the state to support important social programs instead of into the pockets of illicit drug cartels.

Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. It disproportionately impacts people of color and other marginalized communities, fills our courts and jails with nonviolent offenders, engenders disrespect for the law and law enforcement, and diverts limited resources that can be better spent combating violent crime. Rob Quist’s past marijuana use doesn’t make him a pariah, it makes him an average American. Members of the press, particularly the Washington Free Beacon, should not be in the business of criminalizing or stigmatizing responsible adults who chose to consume a product that is objectively safer than currently legal ones such as tobacco and alcohol.

Calling for an end to the disastrous policy that is our nation’s prohibition on marijuana and replacing it with the fiscally and socially responsible policy of legalization and regulation isn’t something that should or will scare voters away. Pursuing these sensible proposals is both good policy and good politics. I think that Quist’s opponents will soon realize the attempts to use one’s past marijuana consumption and support for legalization against them not only puts them out of step with the majority of Montana residents, but puts them firmly on the wrong side of history as well.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Activists Continue to Push the Issue

15134788_1361964283815279_7643241837130367190_nHundreds of marijuana law reform advocates from across Pennsylvania gathered last week at the state capitol to express their support for marijuana legalization and also to express concerns regarding the future of the state’s limited medical cannabis program. The event was coordinated by local reform groups Pittsburgh NORML, Philly NORML, and the Keystone Cannabis Coalition to raise awareness about marijuana laws in the Commonwealth.

“On Wednesday dedicated activists from across the Commonwealth gathered in Harrisburg, our state capitol, to demand the end of criminal prohibition for cannabis possession,” said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. “Speakers decried the waste of law enforcement resources while the Commonwealth is in the midst of a true opioid crisis.”

Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale kicked of the event with a powerful speech that electrified the hundreds of pro-legalization activists who gathered in the capitol rotunda. In addition to highlighting the many failures of marijuana prohibition, AG DePasquale also encouraged state lawmakers to consider options for a statewide solution such as decriminalization or outright legalization.

“We have a real and legitimate political voice in Harrisburg. Gone are the days of closed doors and whispered insults,” said Nightingale. “Now more and more of our elected leaders know that we are on the right side of history and that the ruinous and racist legacy of cannabis prohibition must end.”

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While local governments in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg have each approved measures to reduce the penalty for personal possession of marijuana from jail time to a simple fine, state lawmakers have been more apprehensive on the issue. But advocates are hopeful things will change as the conversation advances.

“While PA’s conservative legislature may not be prepared to make the jump to full legalization, there is growing bipartisan support for statewide decriminalization with a Republican sponsored bill headed to Committee on Monday,” added Nightingale.

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

Read more here: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news/auditor-general-speaks-at-harrisburg-marijuana-rally-in-support-of/article_a546ae06-2605-11e7-93c5-177c718a0193.html

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

420: Take Action to End Prohibition!

Happy 420 to all!

420 Marijuana Day of ActionNever in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition and replacing it with regulation. The historic votes on Election Day 2016 — when a majority of voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada decided at the ballot box to regulate the adult use of marijuana, and several other states passed medical marijuana legalization laws — underscore this political reality., as do just-released polling data from CBS finding that a record high 61 percent of Americans say marijuana use should be legal.

It is time for the Congress, and your elected officials, to respect the will of the majority of American citizens.

Email your members of Congress and demand an end to federal prohibition.

At NORML, we started working to legalize marijuana in 1970, when only 12 percent of the public supported marijuana legalization. For several decades, as we gradually built support for our position, our political progress was modest at best. We decriminalized minor marijuana offenses in 11 states in the mid-1970s, following the release of the report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. But then the mood of the country turned more conservative (think Nancy Reagan, “Just Say NO,’ and the emergence of the parents’ movement) and we made little further statewide progress over the next 18 years. The tide turned in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Today, a total of 30 states now recognize medical marijuana by statute and eight states have legalized its adult use.

We’ve achieved these successes solely for one reason: the hard work and struggle of you and so many others

We need to continue the fight until no American is subject to arrest for responsibly consuming marijuana, so tell your member of Congress to end prohibition now.

Happy Holidays to you and your friends and family,

The NORML Team

P.S. Our work is supported by thousands of people throughout the country as we work to advance marijuana reform in all 50 states and at the federal level. Can you kick in $4.20, $10 or $20 a month to help us keep going?

P.P.S. Have you picked up your NORML gear? Check out our store today

‘Faces of Marijuana Prohibition’ Event Held on Capitol Hill

NORML held a ‘Faces of Marijuana Prohibition’ event on Capitol Hill on April 19th, in cooperation with the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, where congressional staff heard first-hand from those most adversely impacted by the criminalization of marijuana

Dozens of congressional staff attended, hearing from victims across the spectrum of marijuana criminalization. Perspectives included: a cancer survivor who consumed marijuana to mitigate the effects of chemotherapy, a federal staffer who lost his job as a result of a positive drug test, and those who received criminal charges and had their lives put on hold while they had to overcome the onerous penalties imposed by the state for a simple possession charge, among others. 

NORML Political Director Justin StrekalThis was yet another effort in our ongoing quest to educate our legislators on the need to to end the prohibition-industrial-complex and respect the basic rights of those who choose to consume marijuana, a substance safer than currently legal products like alcohol or cigarettes.

Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition. The continued criminalization of adult marijuana users is out-of-step with the views of adults throughout America, 93% of whom support medical marijuana (Quinnipiac, 2017) and 60 percent of whom endorse the outright legalization of recreational marijuana (Gallup, 2016).

On April 20th (4/20), long considered the unofficial marijuana holiday, marijuana consumers and advocates will gather around the world to show their support for ending marijuana prohibition. NORML for its part will hosting an online day of action, driving tens of thousands of constituent contacts to members of Congress in support of HR 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. 

You can sign up for the 4/20 online day of action by clicking here. 

This 4/20, Demand To End Prohibition, Again.

image420actionIt’s that time of the year again. Long recognized as the national marijuana holiday, April 20th presents us with an opportunity to make our voices heard: 

Click here to sign up for the Online Day of Action

When Jeff Sessions was nominated Attorney General, NORML worked with all of you to send out a “Thunderclap,” a powerful social media tool that enabled us to reach more than 2 million people with our #JustSayNoToSessions campaign. While we were unable to stop Sessions from being confirmed, he did hear the message loud and clear. Just last week, he said:

“When they nominated me for Attorney General, you would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, ‘I don’t think America’s going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store, (People) didn’t like that; I’m surprised they didn’t like that.

Now, with the establishment of the Cannabis Caucus and the introduction of the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, we must make every member of Congress feel the same pressure.

NORML has been in this fight for over 47 years because we believe that responsible adults who choose to consume marijuana should not be be persecuted or stigmatized. Despite our recent victories, the forces of the prohibition-industrial complex remain strong and the government’s marijuana misinformation campaign that has spanned from Reefer Madness to D.A.R.E. is still deeply entrenched. However, just as we have for decades, we will fight on and not be deterred.

We must continue to educate our legislators and neighbors alike. That is why on this 4/20 we are calling upon Americans to contact their members of Congress and say “Enough is Enough” to marijuana prohibition

Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced in Canada

legalizationToday, the federal Liberal government of Canada released a slate of proposed bills that would legalize and regulate the commercial sale and adult use of marijuana in the country. The legislation would establish 18 as the minimum legal age to purchase marijuana and would create a legal framework for production, sale, and distribution. The bills were introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freehand.

You can read more details on the proposed legislation HERE.

This sensible approach to marijuana stands in stark contrast to the direction and tone United States President Donald Trump and his administration have been taking on the issue. While the Canadian government is moving in the direction of legalization and regulation, the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem more intent on reviving outdated and erroneous Drug War rhetoric than allowing science and facts to dictate public policy. The United States should follow Canada’s example and end our own costly and disastrous prohibition on marijuana.

CLICK HERE TO EMAIL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE TODAY AND URGE THEM TO END FEDERAL MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

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.

Did you see John Oliver last night?

Did you catch it? On Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver skewered our nation’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition addressing topics ranging from a potential crackdown from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, and the desperate need for federal marijuana law reform.

“There is now a Cannabis Caucus in DC… and if even an 83 year old Republican from Alaska has come around on this issue, then it is probably time for our laws to catch up” Oliver said

Since it’s launch in February, members of the Cannabis Caucus have lead the way in the fight for sensible marijuana policy by introducing a number of bills that would end federal prohibition and support states efforts to set up regulated markets for medical and responsible adult-use.

Click here to tell your member of Congress to join the Cannabis Caucus and push for sensible marijuana policy.

Now, more than ever, it is time for Congress to take action. Jeff Sessions recently said “I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana. States, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” 

Well, Congress can change that. 

Email your member of Congress to join the Cannabis Caucus

Thanks in advance for taking the time to send your Representative a message. The only way that Congress will listen is if we speak up loudly and clearly.

Together, we WILL legalize marijuana

Thanks for all you do,

The NORML Team

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

Canada: Trudeau Administration Seeking Marijuana Legalization By July 2018

flag_of_canadaThe Trudeau administration is anticipated to introduce legislation in early April to regulate the use, production, and sale of marijuana. In 2015, the Liberal Party pledged to “legalize and regulate” marijuana if Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister.

The forthcoming legislation will likely be modeled after recommendations issued by a federal task force in 2016. Members of the task force called on Parliament to permit those over 18 to possess and grow personal use quantities of marijuana, and further recommended lawmakers regulate and tax the commercial cannabis market.

The pending legalization legislation is expected to be introduced the week of April 10, CBC News has reported. Proponents of the measure are seeking to achieve its implementation by July 1, 2018.

Until that time, however, Canadian police are continuing to enforce marijuana prohibition. In recent weeks, police in several Canadian cities – including Toronto and Vancouver – carried out raids of various storefront dispensaries, including those operated by longtime activists Marc and Jodie Emery.

George Rohrbacher: Trump Administration Plans To Ramp Up Government Regulation and Stifle New Marijuana Businesses

By George Rohrbacher,
Former Washington State Senator (R),
Former NORML board member

George Rohrbacher

George Rohrbacher

The Trump White House statement last week of plans for stricter enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states with newly voter-approved recreational marijuana laws signals Trump’s surprisingly pro-regulation, anti-business, anti-Liberty stance.

Cannabis prohibition is perhaps one of America’s most onerous forms of government regulation, regulation enforcement that comes with prison time and possible asset confiscation, regulation that has produced over 25,000,000 marijuana arrests. Think about that stunningly gigantic number for a moment. POT PROHIBITION IS GOVERNMENT REGULATION ON STEROIDS!

Marijuana legalization is the answer, and tens of millions of American voters have said so. They have repeatedly said, “YES”, to cannabis. This “culture war,” brewing for three or four generations, has finally been brought to a head by the voters themselves doing an end-run around the system. Even though we won 8 out of 9 cannabis legalization election efforts this past fall, the Trump Administration wants to turn back the clock.

As the American voter has taken their cannabis rights back state by state, a new, legal multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has sprung up- bigger, faster and more diversified than anyone expected. The Trump-Sessions Justice Department wants to kill it. Beyond just getting high, new unexpected markets are springing up everywhere, from upscale middle-aged women looking for a non-psychoactive sleep aid (CBD, etc.), to geriatric patients in nursing homes looking for a little more spring in their step, to a non-toxic substitute for prescription painkillers, drastically reducing opioid deaths and use. The markets this industry-in-the-making will service extend from getting-a-buzz-on, to optimum human health, and everything else in between. The Trump Administration has plans to stifle these burgeoning businesses!

The supposed lines of distinction between the categories of recreational and medical use of marijuana are not recognizable to this cannabis consumer with 48 years of experience. I’ve used pot daily for half-a-century because it makes me feel good. Farming for 40 of those years, my spine has received quite a beating and I’ve used cannabis for the pain of that too. The line between these two uses? Is there one? No, there are none.

Attorney General Sessions believes that while medical use might be okay sometimes, “recreational use is very, very different” (please cue up a showing of REEFER MADNESS). “Good people do not use marijuana,” Sessions believes. And those bad pot using people, like me, felons all by federal law, deserve to be arrested.

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is a Schedule I Drug. This gives our myopic, over-regulating federal government license to treat hemp like heroin. Schedule I Drugs, by their very definition, have no accepted medical use. While at this very same time, according to PubMed, the prohibited cannabis and its many surprisingly active cannabinoids show over 24,000 references in medical studies, half of them done within the last 10 years. This includes a VERY, VERY important clinical trial released just last month, done in England: a randomized, placebo-controlled study that showed cannabinoids effective in controlling blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics. Being that 1 out of 8 American adults suffers from diabetes, a disease with devastating health, societal, and economic costs, one would think that the discovery of an all-natural, non-toxic new treatment option for this horrible disease would be met with a standing ovation from the White House, instead of promises of increased Draconian Government Regulation.

If President Trump wants to live up to his pre-election rhetoric and take real action on those promises to cut government regulation…. Well, try this: Earth to Trump! Earth to Trump! De-Schedule Marijuana, for God’s sake.

To maintain their fantasy that marijuana is a dangerous drug and has no medical use while 29 states have legal medical marijuana, the people at the Justice Department who really truly believe that cannabis should be listed as a Schedule I Drug must be smoking something far, far stronger and much more dangerous than pot.

I’ve worn many hats in my life, the most important: dad, granddad, and husband. Also cattle rancher and farmer, small businessman, state senator and board member of NORML. I’m an active citizen married 47 years to a cannabis-using former school superintendent. I’ve been involved in local and regional land use planning, community development, wildlife and historical preservation. And all these many years those many hats have been sitting on a good-for-nothing, unrepentant pot-head.

As a farmer, I am by my very definition conservative. I served in the legislature as a Republican, from a party that believes in reducing government regulation and freeing up business to serve America…. And being able to make a profit while doing it!

Americans across the nation are clamoring: “Tax me, tax me, just please stop arresting me!” Hundreds of millions of new tax dollars to build schools and fix our roads have been generated by legal recreational marijuana sales. The Trump Administration wants to kill this new tax-generating business. Why??? Is it to protect Trump’s buddies at Big Pharma, Big Booze and Big Tobacco who worry about cannabis potentially cutting into their profits? Or is this Trump’s effort to harken back to the Greatness of the Ideas, Beliefs and Failed Policies of Richard Millhouse Nixon?

In attempting to answer this question: Why? Just run down the list of tried-and-true one-line answers to that question. My favorite is: “BUT, BUT… WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN???”

Yes, a very good question, indeed. It is THE question. It is always, ultimately, about the children. Those 25,000,000 Americans arrested for pot that I mentioned earlier in this piece? Every single last one of them was someone’s child, someone’s grandchild. And many, many of them had children of their own. And the toll on children of color is many times that of whites. Millions of lives have been ruined, and countless families were destroyed by these arrests.

Yes. Absolutely. It is all about the children. Which is why it is time to end marijuana prohibition.

Click here to join me in calling upon our members of Congress to join the newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus and finally re-legalize marijuana.

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