Safe Streets Alliance et al. v. John Hickenlooper, et al. – Good News, Bad News

C1_8734_r_xA ruling issued on June 7th by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in response to a series of legal challenges to Colorado’s adult cannabis use regulations, includes both good news and bad news.

The Good News

Most importantly for the legalization movement nationwide, the appeals court rejected the argument raised by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma that Amendment 64 in Colorado, the voter initiative that legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana, was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. That argument, made by these neighboring states, if accepted by the court, would have voided Amendment 64.

It should be noted that this was not a definitive ruling on the federal preemption argument. Rather, it was a procedural ruling, finding that only the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states. (The Supreme Court declined to consider a similar challenge in 2016.)

In fact, it was only after the Supreme Court had rejected their motion that the two states elected to raise these same issues with the 10th Circuit, by filing a motion to intervene in the Safe Streets case.

Also a big win, the Circuit Court rejected a similar attempt by a group of sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska to use the US Controlled Substances Act and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution to enjoin the enforcement of Amendment 64. The court found that the Supremacy Clause “does not give rise to a private right of action.”

Hopefully this will give pause to other anti-marijuana zealots out there who might wish to use the federal preemption argument to undermine the various state legalization laws.

The Bad News

The bad news is that the 10th Circuit did reinstate a civil RICO complaint filed by private landowners in Colorado against a state-licensed indoor cultivation center, alleging it had caused a noxious odor that damaged their property value. The appellate court remanded the case back to the US District Court for further proceedings to allow the plaintiffs to attempt to prove their RICO claims.

While this is necessarily concerning to those in the state-legal cultivation industry, since the problems presented by the odors emanating from large grow operations is a theme which has been raised in several Colorado communities, it likely does not open the floodgates for every neighbor to bring a RICO suit against any cultivation center. Rather it likely will accelerate the adoption of the most effective technology by cultivation centers to minimize the odor of marijuana.

In the court’s own words, “We are not suggesting that every private citizen purportedly aggrieved by another person, a group, or an enterprise that is manufacturing, distributing, selling, or using marijuana may pursue a claim under RICO. Nor are we implying that every person tangentially injured in his business or property by such activities has a viable RICO claim. Rather, we hold only that the Reillys alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers here.”

Washington: Support For Marijuana Policy Reform Surges Post-Legalization

legalization_pollPublic support for marijuana legalization has surged in Washington state in the years following the enactment of legislation permitting the commercial production and retail sale of the plant, according to survey data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Fifty-five percent of voters approved the voter-initiated measure in 2012.

Investigators with the Public Health Institute in California assessed survey data from a geographically representative sample of those ages 18 and older. Survey data was collected every six months between January 2014 and April 2016 in order to assess support trends over time.

Authors reported that respondents’ support for legalization increased from 64 percent to 78 percent over this time period. Public support grew among those in every age group.

National polls similarly show an increase in public support for marijuana legalization following the enactment of such laws in various states.

016,” appears online here.

We Must Demand Lawmakers Respect the Will of the Voters

Legalize marijuanaVoters in eight states decided on Election Day to radically amend their longstanding marijuana policies. But many lawmakers in these states still aren’t getting the message.

Despite these voter mandates, many lawmakers remain reluctant to move forward with the legal reforms that the public has demanded. In some cases, legislators and regulators are outright defying voters’ will by proposing measures to undermine the election’s outcomes altogether.

THIS WILL NOT STAND, WE NEED TO FIGHT BACK! CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT NORML’S FIGHT AGAINST THESE SENSELESS DELAYS

For example, in Massachusetts, a handful of political leaders pushed through emergency legislation during an informal legislative session to delay marijuana sales until July 1, 2018. The Boston Globe summarized the event this way, “The extraordinary move, made in informal sessions with just a half-dozen legislators present, … unravel a significant part of the legalization measure passed by 1.8 million voters.” Additional measures before lawmakers seek to further derail several other aspects of the law, including adults’ ability to grow marijuana in their private residence.

In Maine, lawmakers have similarly passed legislation to delay the enactment of voter-initiated provisions governing the retail production and sale of marijuana until the spring of 2018. The emergency measure also rolls back specific initiative provisions that permitted on site consumption in specially licensed establishments, as well as the possession of marijuana-infused edible products.

In Florida, where 71 percent of voters endorsed a constitutional amendment providing doctors with the discretion to recommend medical marijuana to patients for whom they believed the benefits “would likely outweigh the potential health risks,” regulators are trying to strip medical marijuana access to those with chronic pain.

In Arkansas, one lawmaker has proposed legislation to postpone the enactment of the state’s new medical cannabis program indefinitely.

Even in California, where 56 percent of voters decided in favor of legalizing the adult marijuana market, some lawmakers are warning citizens to expect delays before the new law takes full effect.

NORML believes that these delays and proposed legislative changes are unacceptable, and we are working hard to assure that the will of the voters is upheld.

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT OUR WORK AND HELP US FIGHT BACK AGAINST THESE EFFORTS TO DERAIL LEGALIZATION. WE MUST ENSURE OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS UPHOLD THE WILL OF THE VOTERS!

Voters like you made their opinions on marijuana policy clear at the ballot box in November. Lawmakers in these jurisdictions have a responsibility to abide by the will of the people and to do so in a timely manner. Americans have lived with the failings of marijuana prohibition for far too long. The people’s will should not be compromised, second-guessed, or held hostage by politicians who are unwilling to recognize that they are on the wrong side of history.

In Solidarity,
Erik Altieri
Executive Director
NORML

Maine Becomes Eighth State to Eliminate Marijuana Possession Penalties

Maine Yes on 1Maine has become the eighth state to eliminate criminal penalties specific to the adult possession and personal use of cannabis.

Language in Question 1: the Marijuana Legalization Act, specific to the private possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults took effect today. It permits adults who are not participating in the state’s existing medical cannabis program to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and/or the harvest of up to six mature plants.

Public use of marijuana is a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine.

Maine voters narrowly passed Question 1 on Election Day.

In response to Question 1, Maine lawmakers passed separate legislation, LD 88, permitting adults to possess up to five grams of marijuana concentrates. However, other provisions in the measure delay the implementation of retail marijuana sales until at least February 1, 2018. It also prohibits the possession of “edible retail marijuana products” until this date.

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

Legislators Seek To Delay The Enactment Of Voter-Initiated Marijuana Laws

take_actionLegislators in a number of states are pushing forward measures to delay the enactment of several voter-initiated marijuana laws.

In Arkansas, House lawmakers are moving forward with legislation, House Bill 1026, to postpone the deadline for establishing the state’s new medical marijuana program by 60 days. Fifty-three percent of voters approved Issue 6 on Election Day, which called on lawmakers to regulate the production and dispensing of medical cannabis within 120 days.

In Maine, leading House and Senate lawmakers have endorsed emergency legislation, LD 88, to delay retail marijuana sales by at least three months. Under the voter-initiated law, rules regulating the commercial marijuana market are supposed to be operational by January 1, 2018. (By contrast, separate provisions permitting adults to possess and grow specific quantities of cannabis take effect on January 30, 2017.)

In North Dakota, Senate lawmakers unanimously passed emergency legislation, Senate Bill 2154, to postpone the deadline for the enactment of the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act. Sixty-four percent of voters backed the measure, which gave lawmakers a 90-day window to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana.

Massachusetts’ lawmakers previously enacted legislation imposing a six-month delay on the licensed production and retail sales of marijuana. Legislators are also debating making additional changes to the law, including raising the proposed retail sales tax and limiting the number of plants an adult may grow at home.

In Florida, health regulators are also calling for significant changes to Amendment 2, which passed with 71 percent of the vote.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri strongly criticized the proposed changes and delays, calling them “an affront to the democratic process.” He added: “Voters have lived with the failings of marijuana prohibition for far too long already. Lawmakers have a responsibility to abide by the will of the voters and to do so in a timely manner.”

Some State Leaders Challenging Marijuana Election Results

ballot_box_leafPolitical leaders in several states are threatening to thwart the implementation of voter-approved initiatives specific to the regulation of marijuana.

In Massachusetts, where voters decided 54 percent to 46 percent on election day to legalize the cultivation, use, and retail sale of cannabis by adults, politicians have suggested amending the law and delaying its implementation. Specifically, lawmakers have called for pushing back the date when adults may legally begin growing cannabis from December 15, 2016 to an unspecified point in time. Legislators have also called for delaying retail sales of cannabis until late 2018, and have proposed increasing marijuana-specific sales taxes. “I believe that when voters vote on most ballot questions, they are voting in principle. They are not voting on the fine detail that is contained within the proposal,” Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said in regard to the proposed changes.

In Maine, where voters narrowly approved a similar ballot measure, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has said that he will seek federal guidance before moving forward with the law’s implementation. Governor LePage, who adamantly opposed the measure, said that he “will be talking to Donald Trump” about how the incoming administration intends to address the issue, and pronounced that he “will not put this (law) into play” unless the federal government signs off on it.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson made similar statements following voters’ decision to legalize the medical use of cannabis. “I don’t like the idea of implementing laws in Arkansas that violate federal law,” the Republican Governor and former head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration said. “This does not call for a state-by-state solution, it calls for … a national solution.”

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump voiced support for the authority of individual states to impose regulatory policies specific to the use and dispensing of medical cannabis, but was less clear with regard to whether he believed that state lawmakers ought to be able to regulate the adult use of cannabis absent federal interference. His nominee for US Attorney General, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, strongly opposes marijuana-zealot-tapped-for-attorney-general> any liberalization in cannabis policy, stating in April, “[M]arijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”

In 2013, the Obama administration issued a memorandum directing US prosecutors not to interfere with statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided those efforts did not undermine specific federal priorities – such as the diversion of cannabis to non-legal states. According to Gallup pollsters, nearly two-thirds of Americans support allowing states to decide their own cannabis policies.

Voters in eight statesArkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota – approved statewide ballot measures this November regulating marijuana for either medicinal or social use.

North Dakota Voters Legalize Medical Marijuana

According to the Secretary of State’s office, voters in North Dakota have approved Measure 5, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act 2016. The office’s final vote count is 4 to 36 percent.

“The success of this grassroots campaign shows once again that voters do not wish to have the state come between the decisions of a doctor and a patient,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “Over half of all states recognize the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana. It is incumbent that the next administration abandon the federal government’s Flat Earth attitude toward medical cannabis and amend federal law in a manner that comports with available science and the majority of states’ laws.”

North Dakota Medical Marijuana

North Dakotans voted compassion over reefer madness. Thanks to the support of an overwhelming majority of voters who wanted to provide relief to their fellow citizens, patients in North Dakota will now have access to a safe and effective medicine.” stated NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.

Measure 5, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, permits qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation may legally possess and obtain medical cannabis provided by state licensed dispensaries. Those who reside 40 miles or more away from an operating medical marijuana dispensary are permitted to grow limited quantities of marijuana (up to eight flowering plants) at home.

The new law takes effect 90 days following voter approval. You can read the full text of the initiative here.

Congratulations North Dakota!

This Election Is Too Important To Sit Out!

C1_8734_r_xIn the middle of a tumultuous presidential election, in which one candidate threatens to have the other candidate arrested should he win (as if this were a third-world country with no political institutions), it is tempting to just tune-out of politics and refuse to participate. Without a doubt, we have managed to nominate one candidate for president who, according to President Obama, “says stuff that nobody would find tolerable if they were applying for a job at 7-Eleven” — let alone run our country.

And he has demonstrated a lack of respect for women, as evidenced by his comments that he made on the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he brags he can grope women without consent due to his standing as a “star.” Since the tapes came out, his subsequent video apology, and his claim at the second presidential debate that he did not actually grope women, more than a half-dozen women have come out with stories of Trump’s alleged improper behavior. Trump has categorically denied these allegations.

It is truly an ugly political contest that has coarsened the political discussion and embarrassed the country both internally and with our foreign allies.

But the election is too important to sit out.

On November, we will be making an extraordinarily important decision whether to elect Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

And taking the easy way out – that is, by refusing to participate in the political process by not voting – is precisely the wrong response. By missing the opportunity to cast your vote against Trump, you are missing the chance to help the country make a strong statement: rejecting both Trump and all the prejudice and bigotry he has demonstrated in his campaign — from calling Mexicans rapists, to calling women “pigs” and “dogs,” to saying he would ban Muslims immigrants or establish “extreme vetting.”

And don’t forget about Congress.

And separate from the presidential race, there are 435 member of the House of Representatives up for re-election, many with challengers trying to offer a better alternative; as well as 34 (out of 100) U.S. Senators up for re-election. Those willing to take the time to learn about the voting records of your House and Senate members need only check their voting report card prepared by NORML.

Although Congress is slow to change, especially with social issues, we have seen more support for ending marijuana prohibition at the federal level during the last two years than we have ever seen, and with each new legalization state, our support in Congress increases.

Legalization on the ballot in five states.

And this November there will be full legalization voter initiatives on the ballot in five states, including most importantly California (the most populous state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014). Should we win all of these — and the polling is currently pointing towards victory in all five — that will be the final tipping point to end marijuana prohibition in this country, and adopt legalization, leaving us with 25 percent of the country living under state marijuana legalization.

In addition, four states will have medical use voter initiatives, including the states of Florida and Arkansas, two conservative Southern states that could open far more conservative states to the possibility of adopting medical use as well in the coming years. There is simply no turning back.

So please do your part and vote. There is a lot of be embarrassed by in this current campaign, but there is also the possibility of rejecting this current climate and moving the marijuana legalization movement forward in a significant manner.

Living in a democracy, we have the incredible privilege of voting for our elected officials, and sometimes directly for our public policies. People in many parts of the world have no such power to improve their own lives. So let’s exercise our sacred right to cast our votes for people and policies that will help bring our nation together. And let’s keep marijuana legalization moving forward all across this great country.

NORML Releases Updated and Revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard

FBScorecardToday is National Voter Registration Day and we are pleased to present this valuable voter education tool to the marijuana movement: NORML’s updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade of ‘A’ (the highest grade possible) to ‘F’ (the lowest grade possible) to members of Congress based on their comments and voting records on matters specific to marijuana policy.

KEY FINDINGS

Of the 535 members of the 114th Congress:

  • 330 members (62%) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (270 Representatives and 60 Senators)
  • Of these, 22 members (4%) received a grade of ‘A’ (20 Representatives and 2 Senators)
  • 254 members (47%) received a ‘B’ grade (218 Representatives and 36 Senators)
  • 54 members (10%) received a ‘C’ grade (32 Representatives and 22 Senators)
  • 172 members (32%) received a ‘D’ grade (149 Representatives and 23 Senators)
  • 32 members (6%) received a failing grade (16 Representatives and 16 Senators)
  • 60 Senators (60%) received a passing grade of a C or higher (Two A’s, 36 B’s, and 22 C’s)
  • 270 Representatives (62%) received a passing grade of a C or higher (20 A’s, 218 B’s, and 32 C’s)
  • Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 215 (92%) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher
  • Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 113 members (37%) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher

This analysis affirms that voters’ views on marijuana policy are well ahead of many of their federally elected officials. While the majority of Americans support legalizing the use and sale of cannabis for adults, only four percent of Congressional members voice support for this position. Approximately half (51%) of federal lawmakers favor liberalizing medical cannabis policies. However, this percentage remains far below the level of support frequently expressed by voters in state and national polls.

Also evident is that Congressional support for marijuana law reform is largely a partisan issue. While more than nine out of ten Democrats express support for some level of reform, just over one-third of Republicans hold similar positions. This partisanship lies in contrast to voters’ sentiments, which tend to view the subject as a non-partisan issue. For example, recent polls from swing states show that super-majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents endorse medical marijuana legalization. Further, most Republican voters embrace principles of federalism with regard to cannabis policy. Nonetheless, Republican support for this position remains marginal among members of Congress.

HOW NORML’S CONGRESSIONAL SCORECARD IS CALCULATED

  • An ‘A’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for adults.
  • A ‘B’ letter grade indicates that this member supports policies specific to the legalization of medical cannabis and/or the decriminalization of cannabis.
  • A ‘C’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference.
  • A ‘D’ letter grade indicates that this member has expressed no support for any significant marijuana law reform
  • An ‘F’ letter grade indicates that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To find NORML’s grade for a specific member of Congress, please click here for the Senate scorecard and click here for the House scorecard. NORML’s full 2016 Congressional Scorecard and Executive Summary is available online here.

Will The Marijuana Vote Be A Factor This November?

 

2016 NVRD

This year’s Presidential election will most certainly be one for the ages. As much of the campaigning prior to Election Day turns negative, NORML is here to remind marijuana law reform advocates that there remains many reasons to remain positive. On November 8, voters in nine states will go to the polls to decide statewide cannabis reforms. We want to assure that you are among them. It is up to us to make sure our supporters are motivated and have everything they need to participate in this November’s election.

In order to accomplish this goal, it is imperative that we make sure our supporters are registered to vote. Something as simple as a clerical error can cause your voting rights to be denied. Take the 2012 general election for example, more than 6 million American voters were not able to vote due to an outdated voter registration.

That’s why we’ve decided to partner with NationalVoteRegistrationDay.org, a nonprofit organization that is focused on one thing: registering more voters. Since the organization was formed, they have made it their mission to promote a national day of action and educate voters on the importance of updating their voter registration.

In the coming days, NORML will also be releasing our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard, ranking every member of Congress based on their voting history and public statements. The Scorecard, which will be available on the NORML website on Tuesday, September 27, will serve as a guide for voters this November. With five states voting to legalize the adult use of marijuana, and four states voting to legalize medical marijuana, it’s imperative that we focus our attention on utilizing our strength in numbers to mobilize support for pro-marijuana initiatives and/or candidates across the country.

While some in the media will continue to question what impact supporters of marijuana law reform will have on the outcome of this November’s election, I’m confident in our ability to prove that we can and will be an important voting block.

I hope you’ll join us for National Voter Registration Day next Tuesday, September 27, 2016 to celebrate democracy in America by registering to vote! For more information or to find out ways to help promote our efforts, please click here!

Holland-Style Marijuana Clubs Coming to America

Logo-1-R4One of the next frontiers in the political battles for marijuana smokers is the need to provide venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers in a marijuana-friendly lounge. Under current laws in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, it is perfectly legal for smokers to possess specified amounts of marijuana, but they are only legally allowed to exercise their newly won freedom in their home or as a guest in someone else’s home.

Holland-style coffee shops, or marijuana lounges were not legalized by those early voter initiatives.

This is particularly important to the many tourists who visit those states, as most will have nowhere legal to smoke their legal cannabis. Most hotels don’t allow cannabis consumption, and public marijuana smoking is outlawed – meaning there are a lot of people with no place to go to enjoy their legal bud.

That is about to change.

Can you imagine for a moment what the alcohol scene would look like today if alcohol drinkers were precluded from drinking at bars, and only allowed to drink alcohol in a private home? That would largely eliminate the lively night life scene in every city in America, and it would surely result in the rise of speakeasies, clandestine illegal bars similar to those that arose in several states before the end of alcohol prohibition.

It is equally absurd to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana, once it is legalized, will have to limit their marijuana smoking to private homes. There is absolutely no policy justification for this limitation, and smokers will always find a way around it.

The choice: Regulate smoking lounges or smoke-easies will proliferate.

It is the nature of a free market. If the government does not license and regulate the market, those willing to operate in the “grey zone” will fill the void and develop venues where marijuana smokers can socialize with other marijuana smokers. There are currently smoke-easies operating in many cities, in states that have legalized marijuana. But because these are not technically legal, the state and local jurisdiction does not receive the tax revenue, nor can they regulate the qualify or safety of the product. When marijuana is being sold illegally, the products are not tested in a certified laboratory for molds and pesticides, nor is there any way to assure the labeling is accurate as to the strength of the drug.
Marijuana smoking is a social activity better enjoyed with friends, so the only real question is whether these marijuana-friendly clubs will continue to be clandestine, or whether they will be licensed and regulated and above ground.

A licensed and regulated system, with age controls, is far preferable to grey market “smoke-easies.”

This push for smoking lounges is currently being principally fought in Alaska, within the state agency developing the rules for legal marijuana in that state; and in Denver, where two versions for social marijuana use were competing for the November ballot.

The situation in Alaska.

First, let’s look at the Alaska situation. Last November, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board issued draft regulations to define when and where “on-site consumption” would be permitted. The proposed regulations have for several months been open for public comment and were expected to be approved this past week, but that vote has now been delayed until October.

While the proposed regulations are still tentative, marijuana cafes would be permitted in Alaska only in conjunction with an existing marijuana retail store, on the same premises, either indoor or outdoor, but with a separate entrance and separate serving area. A separate license would be required for on-site consumption.

Customers could purchase small amounts of marijuana (1 gram of marijuana, edibles with up to 10 milligrams of THC, or .25 grams of marijuana concentrates) to consume on-site and would not be permitted to bring their own marijuana to smoke on-site. Strangely, an early version of the regulations said the legal smokers would be required to leave any unfinished marijuana behind to be destroyed, although this was met with some strong opposition, and has now been deleted. Customers would now be permitted to reseal their unused marijuana and take it with them. Also, marijuana “happy hours” would not be permitted, although marijuana lounges would be permitted to sell food and non-alcohol beverages.

It appears that Alaska may well become the first state to license marijuana lounges, some of which could be up and running within a few months. It is incredibly important for the legalization movement nationwide for a couple of states to move forward to experiment with new marijuana-friendly venues, to serve as a living experiment, which other states can evaluate when they are facing these same issues down the road. If the initial experience with marijuana lounges is generally successful, and if the lounges do not present any unintended consequences in the communities they serve, other states that legalize marijuana will want to incorporate this specific wrinkle in their policy.

Alaska is set to be our first social use club demonstration.

The Denver, Colorado experience.

Denver presents a different situation, as there the effort to legalize social use venues is being fought by way of a city-wide voter initiative. In fact, there were two competing marijuana lounge initiatives being circulated this fall.

One (proposed by Denver NORML and the Committee for the Responsible Use Initiative in Denver) that would have established licenses for marijuana only (no alcohol) social use clubs and for special events, was a grass-roots undertaking, and despite a valiant effort, the sponsors fell short of the required number of registered voters (5,000), so that proposal will not be on the ballot this fall.

Jordan Person, the chief advocate, said she was surprised by the number of rejected signatures for the group’s private clubs initiative, adding that it underlined the need for more voter registration drives.

“You know, we’re not going to stop,” she told me, arguing that private clubs are the better solution to the need for places where people, including tourists, can consume marijuana together.

The second proposal for social use clubs was proposed at the last minute, offered as a competing initiative by the Cannabis Consumption Committee, an industry group that had qualified a similar measure for the ballot in 2015 before pulling it from the ballot at the last minute, in a failed attempt to work with the City Council. Over a thirty-day period, with industry funding, the group managed to collect 10,800 signatures to qualify.

(One would naturally ask why there would be competing social use voter initiatives; were they so different that a reasonable compromise could not have been reached, offering a united social use initiative? The answer, of course, is that individual personalities and egos naturally get involved, and in this case, despite an extraordinary effort by Denver NORML attorney Judd Golden and Executive Director Jordan Person to reach an accord with the industry group, in the end, a compromise was not possible. So we were left with two competing social use initiatives being circulated for signatures in Denver.)

The initiative that did qualify for the ballot would permit certain bars and restaurants to obtain a social use license in which marijuana edibles and vaporizers could be used, but no marijuana could be smoked (because of Colorado’s strong indoor clean air act), and approval would have to be obtained from neighborhood groups and business improvement districts before any such license could be awarded. This requirement may well prove a somewhat challenging proposition in today’s world of NIMBY (not in my backyard), as neighborhood groups may be fearful of the social consequences of allowing marijuana products to be consumed in conjunction with alcohol.

The proposal would establish a four-year pilot program, requiring the city to study the measure’s effectiveness. By the end of 2020, the City Council could allow it to expire, make it permanent or tweak its provisions.

So we are left in Denver with a proposal that we should all support, as it moves us a little closer to the goal of being allowed to smoke marijuana with friends in a social setting, outside a private home. But it remains to be seen how many neighborhood associations are likely to allow the issuance of licenses. Nonetheless, it does recognize the need for responsible marijuana smokers to have a place to congregate where they can socialize with other smokers. And we should all do what we can to get the Denver social use initiative approved by the voters in November.

It’s certainly not a perfect social use initiative, assuming the goal remains to treat marijuana like alcohol, but as this is new territory for the legalization movement, we should use this proposal to try to demonstrate that social use clubs are a viable alternative to the current policy of limiting marijuana smoking to a private home.

The most current polling suggests the proposal is favored by a clear majority (56 percent) of voters in Denver.

Laboratories of democracy.

As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” The city of Denver and the state of Alaska are exercising that important role as we move forward with new and improved versions of legalization. What we learn from these initial experiments with marijuana social clubs will inform subsequent cities and states in the coming years.

The Reason a Record Number of States Can Vote to Legalize Weed This Fall

Legalize MarijuanaThose of us who support the full legalization of marijuana are greatly benefiting from political reforms adopted during what is frequently referred to as the Progressive Era in this country.

The principal objective of the progressive movement was eliminating corruption in government, and to accomplish that goal, proponents sought ways to take down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access by ordinary Americans to the political system – a concept called direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy.

It was during this period that the concept of direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of U.S. senators, and universal suffrage for women gained traction. And, most important to our work, the procedures known as referendum and initiatives began to be adopted in several states.

In 1902, Oregon was the first state to adopt the option of initiative and referendum to change public policy, permitting citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or constitutional amendments. This process was called an initiative if the change originated by action of citizens, without the involvement of the legislature, and as a referendum if it originated from the legislature but was referred to the voters to decide.

By 1920, a total of 22 states had adopted provisions modeled on the Oregon system. Today, a total of 24 states offer a voter initiative. In the rest of the states, the only avenue to change public policy is through the state legislature.

This brief history of direct democracy is relevant today because it is this access to direct political action by voters that has allowed marijuana legalization to move forward, years earlier than would have been politically possible through the action of state legislatures.

The four states and the District of Columbia that have approved full legalization for all adults, and the five states that will be voting on full legalization in November, all rely on voter initiatives. These progressive procedures have worked precisely as they were intended back in the Progressive Era: They have allowed citizens to go around the establishment to alter the status quo.

Voter initiatives are unpopular among most elected officials.

Altering the status quo has not taken place without some legal kicking and screaming by the elected officials in those states. It comes as no surprise that most elected officials do not appreciate the fact that public policies in their states can, when necessary, be changed without their consent.

As we approach the end of summer and the coming fall elections, we once again see examples of the extraordinary time and resources many establishment politicians and other anti-marijuana zealots are willing to invest to try to prevent citizens in their states from voting directly on marijuana policy.

The reason, of course, is obvious. According to recent national polls, a clear majority of the American public (between 55 and 61 percent) supports an end to marijuana prohibition. If given the opportunity to vote on the issue, they will vote to legalize marijuana.

Elected officials, who otherwise claim to represent the will of the voters in their states, and other self-appointed moral guardians, go to great lengths to try to stop the votes from happening.

Democracy is something they support so long as the public favors the same policies they favor. When the public gets out ahead of the establishment, democracy be damned; they will use any tools available, including procedural and constitutional challenges, to avoid allowing the voters to decide the issue.

Full legalization proposals.

We will have full legalization measures on the ballot in five states this fall: Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and California. A sixth, Michigan, would have qualified but for last-minute legislation.

In several of the states with pending initiatives, establishment prohibitionists have gone to court in a desperate effort to get the courts to intervene to keep the measures off the ballot.

In Maine, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap attempted to invalidate a significant number of the signatures gathered by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, arguing that the signature of a single notary did not match the one on file with the state. Fortunately, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy overruled Dunlap’s decision. When the signatures were recounted, the measure, Question 1, qualified for the ballot.

In Massachusetts, once the Secretary of State had qualified the legalization initiative for the ballot, a group of prohibitionists calling themselves the Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign sued to have the measure removed from the ballot, claiming it violated the constitutional limitation prohibiting an initiative from dealing with two unrelated topics. This challenge was subsequently dismissed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the measure, Question 4, will now appear on the November ballot.

In Arizona, a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy — including two prominent country prosecutors and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce — filed suit to try to keep the legalization initiative off the ballot, after it had been qualified by the Secretary of State. The group claimed that the 100-word summary (a limit set by statute) did not accurately reflect everything contained in the 30-page proposal. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry rejected the argument and approved the measure, Proposition 205, for the ballot.

In California — the big enchilada for the 2016 elections and a state in which opponents to an initiative are permitted to include on the ballot their reasons for opposing the proposal — it was the proponents who went to court. The Yes on 64 advocates successfully challenged all six arguments that opponents had wanted to appear on the ballot, and Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang found all six “false and misleading.” She ordered the opponents to modify their arguments, most of which falsely claimed the initiative would permit pro-marijuana ads to appear on radio and television and would appeal to children.

And in Michigan, where proponents, MI Legalize, had turned in a sufficient number of signatures (more than 350,000) to qualify a legalization measure for the ballot, the state legislature quickly rammed through a new law in June declaring signatures older than 180 days to be invalid, leaving proponents shy of the required number of signatures. Proponents have filed suit against the state, challenging the new limitations on constitutional grounds, but it appears the appeal will not be decided in time for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot, even if the appeal succeeds.

Of the five full-legalization initiatives that will appear on the ballot this fall, only the Nevada initiative, Question 2, was free from a court challenge. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller certified the proposal for the ballot at the end of 2014. While there are certainly organized opponents, none elected to challenge the measure in court.

Moving forward.

In the short term, proponents of legalization will continue to focus efforts in the states that offer the option of a voter initiative. So long as our elected officials, and the establishment interests they represent, continue to support the status quo of prohibition, it makes sense strategically to bypass the state legislature where possible.

But that is a strategy that must eventually evolve, as 26 states simply do not offer that option. For that half of the country, we will have to win the old-fashioned way: By building majority support among state legislators to pass the proposal through the legislature.

It’s a significant challenge for sure, but as we’ve demonstrated with the drive to legalize medical marijuana, after a few more states have adopted legalization by voter initiative, enacting legalization by statute will become more realistic.

For those who live in one of the 26 states without an initiative process, we must continue the painfully slow process of convincing individual legislators that prohibition of marijuana is a failed public policy and that full legalization makes sense.

Many already understand this but continue to fear being labeled “soft on drugs” should they acknowledge the obvious. It is frustrating to have to win over supporters one at a time, but each year it becomes easier as public support for legalization continues to increase, and elected officials ignore the wishes of their constituents at their own peril.

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This column first ran on ATTN:

http://www.attn.com/stories/11148/marijuana-legalization-and-voter-initiatives

 

When State Revenue and Personal Freedom Coincide

C1_8734_r_xWhat Gambling Can Tell Us About Legalizing Marijuana
I am old enough to remember when Nevada was the only state where gambling was legal. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the state legislature had legalized casino gambling as a way to stimulate their economy, create new jobs, and entice more people to the state.

For decades Nevada had a monopoly on casino gambling — that, along with legalizing “no fault” divorces, and later legalizing prostitution — when most states did not offer those options. These factors combined to give Nevada a reputation as a maverick state where people could visit to engage in naughty behavior without legal consequences. “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”

The state is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana via voter initiative (Question 2) this November, which will further enhance that reputation.

Other states obviously knew that legal gambling was an alternative that might provide an economic boost to their states as well, but the prevailing morality at the time was far too negative towards gambling for elected officials in other states to pursue. It was a time when the religious communities had successfully convinced most Americans that a life of virtue, not vices, was the path to happiness.

But social mores change over time, and as gambling began to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment, instead of a moral sin, the tax revenue and economic benefits from legal gambling were more attractive. In 1977, by voter initiative, New Jersey legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, offering an east coast version of Nevada, where gambling hedonists could legally do what they could not yet do in their own states.

And gradually the barriers banning legal gambling began to crumble nationwide, leading to a situation today in which every state has some form of legal gambling, such as state-run lotteries, albeit with strange limitations in some states (e.g., in Missouri it is illegal to gamble on land, but perfectly legal to have casinos on riverboats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, although the boats never leave the shore).

The Balancing Test.

Which leads to the question of why behavior thought by many to be inappropriate (or even morally offensive), can nonetheless sometimes be legalized? Or put another way, when is conduct with the tinge of sinfulness out-weighted by the potential for economic benefits to the states?

I raise that question because of the increasingly profitable side of legal marijuana in the states that have elected to regulate and tax marijuana. As the latest revenue data make clear, legalizing marijuana has been an enormous benefit for the few states that have taken that step, and that fact will be more and more difficult for neighboring states to ignore over the coming years. As we saw with gambling, once the economic benefits of legal marijuana are obvious, the moral opposition will fade and the economic arguments will prevail.

The Latest Data from Colorado and Washington

In Colorado, the first state to get their legal retail outlets up and running on January 1, 2014, the gross sales of marijuana, and the tax revenue to the state, have continued to rise each year. For 2015, licensed marijuana stores in the state totaled an astounding $996,184,788 – just shy of $1 billion dollars, up from $669 million in sales in 2014.

Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees last year (including $35 million dedicated to school construction), up from $76 million in 2014 (when $13.3 million was raised for schools).

In Washington state, marijuana retail sales reached $322,823,639 in 2015, up from only $30,783,880 in 2014, when retail outlets were open for only a portion of the year. That 2015 sales figure has already been eclipsed in the first seven months of 2016.

The state retail tax revenue for fiscal year 2016 from recreational marijuana sales totaled $30,017,823, while state retail sales taxes from the sale of medical marijuana totaled $5,236,536. Local retail sales tax totaled $11,228,861 from recreational sales, and local retail tax totaled $2,084,323 for medical sales.

These, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might say, are “yugee” numbers, and they are continuing to increase each year, making them more and more difficult to ignore by other states.

Marijuana Legalization is Inevitable

Which brings me to my main point. At a time when several national polls confirm that between 55 and 61 percent of the entire country now favor full legalization, it is difficult to argue that marijuana smoking is, any longer, considered immoral behavior. Sure, there are pockets of fundamental moralists to whom anything pleasurable will always be suspect behavior, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. But this puritanical perspective is finding less and less support each year, and when balanced with the economic windfall that results when a state legalizes marijuana, it simply cannot prevail.

Today a majority of Americans under 65 support marijuana legalization, particularly younger adults: 71 percent of adults under 35 think marijuana use should be legal, a jump of 10 points since last year. The demographics are clear and unstoppable, as younger voters replace those over 65.

Just as all states now have some form of legal gambling, within a few short years, all states will offer some form of legal marijuana. It’s the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do; and it’s inevitable in a democracy, when most people want it.

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This column originally ran on ATTN:

http://www.attn.com/stories/10830/what-gambling-can-tell-us-about-marijuana-legalization

 

Looking Past the Party Conventions

C1_8734_r_xWith the country so divided right now along party lines, as well as within each of the two major parties, it would be easy for voters to say “The hell with them all,” and sit this election out. Both of the major party candidates have record-setting voter disapproval ratings, assuring that our next president will be starting off their first term knowing that more than half the country did not like them, and would have preferred someone else for president.

But there really is no other choice this year.

History of Third Party Candidates

The reality is third party candidates have a terrible track record in this country, so a vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party is, in effect, throwing away your vote. Those who insist on exercising this option may get some emotional satisfaction out of rejecting the two major party candidates, but they are also helping Donald Trump.

The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 established a Republican-Democrat duopoly that persists even today. Since then we have seen third-party candidates on the presidential ballot in two dozen elections, without success. In fact, most – including Ralph Nader in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 – have failed to win a single electoral vote, do to the winner-take-all nature of the electoral college.

The last such candidate to secure any electoral votes was segregationist candidate George Wallace in 1968, who won five Southern states in his fight against the civil rights movement. And the most successful third party presidential candidate was Teddy Roosevelt, who bolted the Republican Party to run as a Progressive Party (aka “Bull Moose Party”) candidate in 1912, who won six states and came in second with 27% of the vote, but lost badly to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

It Matters

Despite the continuing complaints of dissatisfaction being heard from the cadre of enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporters, in fact Sen. Sanders himself has now acknowledged the inevitable and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Sanders used his popularity with millions of American voters to nudge the Democratic Party platform, and the Democratic candidate, to the left. And that’s a positive development.

But Sanders also realized the most important priority at this time is to assure that Donald Trump is not elected president.

Both Hillary Clinton and her vice-presidential running mate Sen. Tim Kaine support the right of the states to continue to experiment with different versions of marijuana legalization, without interference from the federal government. While Donald Trump said he too holds that position, that was not apparent from the language in the Republican platform, that appeared to be heading in the other direction. And with Trump, who could guess what his position will be tomorrow or the next day.

But more importantly, Donald Trump is a bigoted, racist, ignorant candidate whom no one with a whit of common sense would want running our country, or having his finger on the nuclear button. Merely having him as a major party candidate is an embarrassment for the country, and has sent shockwaves throughout our allies in NATO and other strategic alliances. He is obviously unfit to be president.

So don’t waste your vote making a political point, knowing it would make it more likely that “the Donald” might somehow squeak through and win this election. Every progressive voter who sits out this election, or who votes for a third party candidate, helps Donald Trump.

We can all fight among ourselves about specific issues and how best to achieve more progressive policies in this country. But none of us can afford the risk of a Trump presidency.

Record Level of Californians Support Regulating Marijuana

According to survey data released this week by The Field Poll, a record number of Californians now support legalizing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The poll, conducted February 5-17 among 834 registered California voters, found that 54% support making the use of marijuana legal, with age and other controls like those that apply to alcohol, only 43% were opposed. This is the highest level of support for legalization since The Field Poll began asking the question. In their 2010 poll, only 50% of California voters supported legalization and 46% were opposed.

This survey also found that an overwhelming 72% of Californians support the state’s medical marijuana program and 52% favor allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open in their town.

California narrowly rejected Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana in 2010, but clearly public opinion has continued to move in our favor since then. It is reasonable to expect that by 2016, when many believe there will be another voter initiative to legalize marijuana, support will have reached the critical mass required to approve of such a measure.

You can view the full poll results here.

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