NORML released our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard this week in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
With the 2016 presidential election drawing closer and statewide marijuana initiatives qualified for the ballot in nine states, we need YOU to make it out to the polls to support ending cannabis prohibition. Double-check your status as a voter and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Take a look at how we graded your members of Congress and bring that information with you to the polls on Election Day!
Federal: Members of Congress have approved a short-term spending bill that keeps in place existing provisions protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Federal lawmakers will revisit the FY 2017 spending appropriation after the Election.
California: On Tuesday, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the nation’s largest state organization of nurses, announced that it has endorsed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Deborah Burger, President of the California Nurses Association/NNU said, “California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety. California needs a new approach and Proposition 64 is carefully crafted to strictly regulate adult-use marijuana while funding critical youth programs and safeguarding children, workers and local communities.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
The California Nurses Association joins the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the California League of Conservative Voters, Equality California, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML in its support for Proposition 64.
If enacted by voters in November, Question 1 would allow adults to legally possess up to two and one-half ounces of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana (up to six mature plants and the entire yields of said plants) for their own personal use. The measure would also establish licensing for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis. Retail sales of cannabis would be subject to a ten percent sales tax. Non-commercial transactions and/or retail sales involving medical cannabis would not be subject to taxation.
Massachusetts: A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll finds that a majority of voters back Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The measure leads in the poll by a 53 percent to 40 percent margin.
If enacted, Question 4 allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and up to 10 ounces of marijuana in an enclosed, locked space within their residences, which mimics the current in-residence allowance established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for medical marijuana patients. It allows adults 21 years of age and older to grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their residences and possess the marijuana produced by those plants in the location where it was grown.
Tennessee: Members of the Memphis City Council are following in the footsteps of the Nashville Metro Council by approving a local ordinance to provide local police the discretion to issue $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record. Council members approved the ordinance last week in it’s second reading, with the third and final reading taking place October 4th. If you live in Memphis, consider contacting your member of City Council to urge their support for this common sense measure.
Today 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.
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.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, police made 643,122 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in 2015. Of those arrested, 574,641 (89 percent of all marijuana-related arrests) were charged with marijuana possession only, not cultivation or trafficking.
The annual arrest total represents more than a 25 percent decline since 2007, when police arrested a record 872,721 Americans for violating marijuana laws.
Since 2012, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use and possession of personal quantities of cannabis, leading to a dramatic decline in marijuana-related arrests in those jurisdictions.
As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were least likely to occur in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized.
According to 2016 nationwide survey data compiled by the Associated Press, some six out of ten Americans now say that the adult use of marijuana should be legally regulated.
Those of us involved in the marijuana legalization movement have long assumed that those companies that produce and sell competing products — especially alcohol and tobacco — were working behind the scenes to try to maintain marijuana prohibition and to protect their duopoly for legal recreational drugs. These industries have lobbyists who regularly work with state and federal elected officials to keep legal marijuana off the market.
But we now see the pharmaceutical companies are also getting directly involved in political efforts to maintain marijuana prohibition, worried that legal marijuana will undermine their bottom line.
Pharmaceutical company joins the war on marijuana smokers.
Recently, we saw the first direct evidence that pharmaceutical companies are now working to defeat marijuana legalization efforts, acknowledging that their intent is to protect their market in synthetic opioid drugs.
Earlier this month, Insys Therapeutics Inc., an Arizona-based company, donated $500,000 to a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a newly formed organization established to try to defeat Proposition 205, the marijuana legalization voter initiative that will appear on the ballot this November in that state.
Insys currently markets just one product, Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin (fentanyl is the drug found in Prince’s system following his death in April). “Insys Therapeutics made $62 million in net revenue on Subsys fentanyl sales in the first quarter of this year, representing 100 percent of the company’s earnings,” according to The Washington Post. “The CDC has implicated the drug in a ‘surge’ of overdose deaths in several states in recent years.”
Survey data compiled from medical marijuana patients show that subjects often reduce their use of prescription drug therapies — particularly opioids — when they have legal access to cannabis. According to a 2015 RAND Corp. study, opiate-related abuse and mortality is lower in jurisdictions that permit medical cannabis access, compared to those that outlaw the plant.
Insys has come under scrutiny of law enforcement. According to The Washington Post, a number of states are currently investigating Insys for illegally paying physicians to prescribe their drug in situations in which it was inappropriate. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming the company’s “desire for increased profits led it to disregard patients’ health and pushed addictive opioids for non-FDA approved purposes.”
The smoking gun.
When the company first made its half-million dollar contribution to the group opposing the Arizona legalization initiative — the largest single contribution to the group by a factor of four — the company claimed that its reason for opposing the voter initiative was “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens and particularly its children.”
But when the company filed a legally required disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it acknowledged to shareholders that it was making the donation because it feared a decline in the sales of its powerful opioid product and that of a second drug it is developing: Dranabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid. Synthetic cannibinoid is a blanket term for an artificial version of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active compound in the marijuana plant — intended to alleviate chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting. The company concedes that the scientific literature has confirmed the benefits of natural marijuana over synthetic THC:
“Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced, and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.”
The Arizona Republic reported that the company, while publicly claiming to have kids’ best interests in mind, is clearly more concerned with ways to “protect its own bottom line.”
And the company has good reason for that fear. Recently published studies have found that states that provide for the legal use of medical marijuana had a 25 percent decline in opioid prescriptions. Another recent study from Columbia University found the implementation of medical marijuana programs is associated with a decrease in the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers, based on a review of 69,000 fatalities in 18 states, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health. Where legal marijuana is available, people use far fewer opioid drugs.
So we now have direct evidence that this pharmaceutical company in Arizona is spending large amounts of money to avoid having to compete with legal marijuana, in order to protect its market share for an addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid and a synthetic form of THC, at the expense of public health.
This is not the first instance of pharmaceutical companies pouring money into the “war on drugs.” In 2014, The Nation published an article revealing that the makers of Oxycontin and Vicodin were two of the largest contributors to The Partnership for Drug Free Kids and the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, two groups that oppose marijuana legalization and support continued prohibition.
Insys will certainly not be the last pharmaceutical company caught putting company profits ahead of concern for public health, but it is the first instance we have seen where a company was caught with its hands in the cookie jar, opposing a marijuana legalization initiative purely for reasons of corporate greed.
Tobacco and alcohol companies have long opposed legal marijuana.
It is understandable that recreational and pharmaceutical industries would not wish to compete with legal marijuana. By any measure, their products are far more dangerous and far more addictive.
For comparison purposes, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excessive alcohol use results in approximately 88,000 deaths per year in this country. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco smoking results in more than 480,000 deaths each year in this country, about 1,300 people each day.
A 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University found that states that legalized medical marijuana saw a 25 percent decline in overdose deaths from prescription drugs.
Marijuana has never caused an overdose death in the history of mankind. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, one would have to smoke “between 238 and 1,113 joints a day – or at least 10 joints an hour, for 24 hours straight – before overdose would become a realistic concern” for marijuana.
While one can develop a dependence on marijuana smoking, the threat of dependence with marijuana is far less than with either alcohol or tobacco. Here is what the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine concluded in regard to cannabis’ potential dependence liability, in the context of other controlled substances:
“In summary, although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana drug dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”
Here are their dependence ratings:
Tobacco: 32 percent (proportion of users who ever become dependent)
Heroin: 23 percent
Cocaine: 17 percent
Alcohol: 15 percent
Anxiolytics/sedatives: 9 percent
Marijuana/hashish: 9 percent
So if one is electing to use a recreational drug, marijuana is clearly the safest alternative. And if one is using an opioid drug for pain, they should experiment with marijuana as a substitute for the more dangerous and addictive opioids. For many, it is an effective and far less dangerous alternative.
Keith Stroup is a Washington, D.C. public-interest attorney who founded NORML in 1970.
This column was first published in ATTN.com.
Next Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day and NORML will be releasing an updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
With the 2016 presidential election drawing closer and statewide marijuana initiatives qualified for the ballot in nine states, we need YOU to make it out to the polls to support ending cannabis prohibition. Join us in celebrating National Voter Registration Day next Tuesday by double-checking your status as a voter and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Take a look at how we graded your members of Congress and bring that information with you to the polls on Election Day!
California: Sixty percent of likely voters say they would vote for Proposition 64: the Adult Use of Marijuana Act according to the latest poll out of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Only 36 percent of voters said they are against the pending ballot initiative.
A just-released California Field poll similarly finds that likely voters back Prop. 64 by a margin of 60 percent to 31 percent.
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
The ballot measure is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the California League of Conservative Voters, Equality California, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Michigan: Governor Rick Snyder has signed a package of legislation into law regulating the retail sale of medical cannabis and cannabis-infused products. The measures are ordered to take immediate effect.
The measures seek to clarify and expand various aspects of the state’s 2008 medical cannabis law. Specifically, the new law provides qualified patients for the first time with legal protections regarding the possession and use of non-smoked cannabis derived topical products and edibles, as well as cannabis-based extract products. The law also licenses and regulates facilities where state-qualified patients may legally obtain medical marijuana.
Michigan was one of the only medical marijuana states in the country that had yet to regulate the dispensing of medicinal cannabis. About 210,000 residents are now registered in the state’s medical program.
Missouri: Voters will not have the opportunity this November to decide on a proposed statewide proposition to permit the physician-supervised use of marijuana.
A Cole County Circuit Judge this week upheld a decision by St. Louis election officials to disqualify thousands of petition signatures because voters had mistakenly signed forms indicating that they resided in a county other than where they lived.
The measure, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, sought to authorize qualified patients to possess, cultivate, and/or obtain cannabis through a licensed system of dispensaries. Polling indicated that over 60 percent of voters backed the proposal. On Thursday, Secretary of State Jason Kander called on lawmakers to move swiftly to enact similar legislation.
Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will vote on medical use measures on Election Day. Voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will also vote this November on initiatives legalizing the adult use of marijuana. A summary of 2016 ballot measures and their status is online here.
Assembly Bill 4193 permits marijuana to be sold at convenience stores to adults aged 19 and older in unlimited amounts. The legislation also seeks to expunge the criminal records of past marijuana offenders. Says the bill’s sponsor, Assembly member Michael Patrick Carroll: “To me it’s just not a big deal. It’s already ubiquitous. Anybody who thinks this is somehow going to increase the availability of marijuana has never been 19. If that’s the case, then what’s the big deal about having it available at the local 7-Eleven?”
Separate legislation to legalize adult marijuana possession, A 2068, is also pending before the legislature. #TakeAction
Tennessee: Members of the Nashville Metro Council have given final approval to municipal legislation providing police the discretion to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders.
Council members voted 35 to 3 in favor of the new ordinance. It provides police the option of issuing $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record.
Washington D.C.: District Mayor Muriel Bowser announced this week that she will propose amending the city’s medical cannabis law so that qualified patients may obtain up to four ounces of cannabis per month. Under existing law, patients are limited to no more than two ounces per month. The Washington D.C. currently has about 4,000 registered medical marijuana patients.
Looking for updated information on all of the pending statewide marijuana related ballot measures? Check out our 2016 Election page!
At our board meeting in Boson held this past Friday, in conjunction with the Boston Freedom Rally, the board voted to endorse the 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, sponsored by the Arkansans for Compassionate Care. This initiative would establish 38 non-profit medical cannabis centers across the state, and would function like most of the standard medical use laws in effect across the country, requiring a patient to receive a written recommendation for an Arkansas licensed physician and obtain a medical use card from the state permitting them to purchase marijuana from one of the licensed dispensaries for a wide range of ailments and conditions. Or if a patient lives more than 5 miles from a licensed dispensary they would be permitted to cultivate up to six plants in a secured facility.
The attorney representing the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is long-time NORML Legal Committee member, John Wesley Hall from Little Rock.
A second proposed medical use initiative has also qualified for the November ballot, proposing a Constitutional amendment permitting the medical use of marijuana (The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment). This second proposal is far more restrictive than the first in terms of the list of conditions for which marijuana could be recommended, and does not permit personal cultivation. It is not clear why the sponsors wished to propose this as a Constitutional amendment, as a simple act would require a 2/3 vote by the legislature to reverse it, and our opponents do not have the support in the state legislature to accomplish that.
As a result, the NORML board felt the Aransas Medical Cannabis Act is a more consumer-friendly proposal and elected to endorse it.
Strange Suit Filed By Misguided Attorney
Also, one misguided defense attorney, apparently acting as a surrogate for the sponsors of the Constitutional amendment, has filed suit against the Act that had previously qualified, challenging their signatures. The misguided individual alleged in her law suit that she is a NORML Legal Committee Life Member (although she did not allege that NORML has joined or supported her suit), but she does not attempt to explain why she would oppose a well-drafted medical use initiative that appears to have a good chance to be approved by the voters.
The NORML board of directors wanted to make it clear that NORML is not involved in this suit, nor do we think it is a helpful strategy.
Meeting at our board meeting in Boston this past Friday, held in conjunction with the Boston Freedom Rally, the national NORML board of Directors endorsed Denver Social Use Initiative 300, the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.
Under current law, marijuana can be legally smoked only in a private home, or in one of only a few marijuana-friendly hotels in the state. Most tourists and many renters have no place where they can legally consume marijuana that they legally buy in Colorado. This is not a realistic situation, and will continue to result in many people smoking in public, which is not legal in Colorado, and can result in stiff fines.
Two Competing Social Use Initiatives
There were initially two competing social use initiative being circulated in Denver. Denver NORML and Responsible Use Denver were circulating petitions for an initiative that would have allowed marijuana-only lounges and special use permits to be issued, and frankly, it was in my perspective the preferred proposal. It would have provided Amsterdam-like lounges where marijuana smokers could socialize with their marijuana smoking friends outside a private home, and it would have provided for special permits for 420 and similar events where marijuana smoking would have been legal.
And most importantly, it would not have permitted alcohol sales in the marijuana lounges, an attempt to avoid the problems often faced when alcohol drinkers imbibe too heavily, getting in fights and otherwise engendering violent and aggressive behavior. As marijuana smokers, we did not want to be blamed for these all-too-familiar alcohol-related problems.
But despite a valiant effort by Jordan Person and Judd Golden and Denver NORML supporters, the petition failed to gather a sufficient number of signatures of registered voters. It was a true grassroots effort, and Denver NORML will likely be back with another effort in the future.
An industry-backed and funded effort, Initiative 300, did make the ballot with a proposal that would permit certain bars and lounges to apply for a license that would permit marijuana edibles in restricted areas, and perhaps vaporization (although city authorities have questioned whether this would be permissible under current state law). But to obtain such a license, the applicant would first have to obtain the approval of a neighborhood advisory council, a requirement that is not likely to be met by many applicants.
Nonetheless, any proposal that recognizes the need for responsible marijuana smokers to be allowed to use marijuana outside a private home is a step in the right direction, and thus this initiative, with all of its shortcomings, still deserves our support.
So all Denver marijuana smokers need to get behind this city-wide voter initiative, and let’s continue to push the envelope until we achieve a policy that treats responsible marijuana fairly in all respects, including job discrimination, child custody issues; driving under the influence of drugs, and the right to socialize with other marijuana smokers in a public setting outside the home where we are permitted to smoke marijuana.
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!
The implementation of medical marijuana programs is associated with a decrease in the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Davis performed a between-state comparison of opioid positivity rates in fatal car accidents in 18 states. Authors reported that drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 who resided in states that permitted medical marijuana use were approximately half as likely to test positive for opioids as were similar drivers in jurisdictions that did not such programs in place.
They concluded, “Operational MMLs (medical marijuana laws) are associated with reductions in opioid positivity among 21- to 40-year-old fatally injured drivers and may reduce opioid use and overdose.”
Prior comparisons have determined that medical cannabis access is associated with lower rates of opioid use, abuse, and mortality. Most recently, a 2016 study published in the journal Health Affairs reported a significant decrease in the use of prescription medications following the implementation of medical marijuana programs.
An abstract of the study, “State medical marijuana laws and the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers,” appears online here.
In this week’s Legislative Round Up you’ll learn about a national call to action to renew federal legislation protecting hundreds of thousands of patients and providers. In other news, the marijuana movement received support from two leading national veterans groups and several important bills were signed into law at the state level. Keep reading for the latest news in marijuana law reform.
A federal provision limiting the Justice Department from prosecuting state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers is set to expire at the end of this month. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Please visit our #TakeAction Center to contact your federally elected officials and urge them to move quickly to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment and to keep these important patient protections in place.
In other news of national significance, members of the American Legion passed a resolution to promote research on marijuana’s potential use for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Additionally, the group called for marijuana to be removed from it’s current Schedule I classification within the Controlled Substances Act. A second veterans group, The American Veterans (AMVETS), also recently resolved that marijuana should be made available to veterans within the VA healthcare system in every state where it is legal.
Delaware: Governor Jack Markell has signed legislation, SB 181, into law permitting designated caregivers to possess and administer non-smoked medical marijuana formulations (e.g. oils/extracts) to qualifying patients “in a school bus and on the ground or property of the preschool, or primary, or secondary school in which a minor qualifying patient is enrolled.”
The measure takes immediate effect. To date, two other states — Colorado and New Jersey — impose similar legislation.
Florida: Another local municipality, New Port Richey, has approved marijuana decriminalization legislation. In a 3-2 vote, the council approved an ordinance providing police the discretion to issue a $155 civil citation in lieu of making a criminal arrest in cases involving less than 20 grams of marijuana. The New Port Richey vote mimics those of nearby municipalities Orlando and Tampa, which passed similar ordinances earlier this year and a wave of South Florida municipalities that passed similar ordinances last year. Under state law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Michigan: Lawmakers gave final approval this week to a package of bills, HB 4209/4210, HB 4827, SB 141, and SB 1014, to regulate the retail sale of medical cannabis and cannabis-infused products. The legislation licenses and regulates above-ground, safe access facilities where state-qualified patients may legally obtain medical marijuana, provides qualified patients for the first time with legal protections for their possession and use of non-smoked cannabis derived topicals and edibles, as well as cannabis-based extract products, and establishes regulations tracking the production and sale of medical marijuana products. The measures, which lawmakers had debated for the past two years, now await action by the Governor. #TakeAction
New Jersey: On September 14th, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation, A 457, into law that adds PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions eligible for medical marijuana therapy. More than a dozen states permit medical marijuana access for PTSD treatment. A retrospective review of PTSD patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction CAPS (Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.
The new law took immediate effect.
Tennessee: Last week the Nashville Metro Council advanced legislation providing police the option to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders. Those cited would face only a $50 fine (or ten hours of community service.) Under state law, such offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison. A final vote on the ordinance is scheduled for September 20. If you live in Nashville, consider contacting your member of the Metro Council and voicing your support for this common sense reform.
One 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.
More than seven in ten Californians say that they favor voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 64: the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, according to polling data compiled by the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at Sacramento State.
Seventy-one percent of respondents say that they are leaning toward voting in favor of the statewide initiative. Public support is strongest among those between the ages of 18 and 34 (84 percent) Latinos (81 percent), Democrats (80 percent), those between the ages of 50 and 64 (74 percent), and Independents (72 percent).
The poll’s margin of error is +/- four percentage points.
Polling data compiled last month by by the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley reported that 64 percent of California voters believe, “Marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally, with government regulations similar to the regulation of alcohol.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Proposition 64 is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Similar adult use measures will also appear on the ballot this November in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
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.
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.
This column first ran on ATTN:
As more and more states continue to embrace some form of legal cannabis, it’s important that we begin to examine what partnership opportunities exist among the thousands of emerging cannabis-related companies that are eager to promote their products and/or services to NORML’s vast network of cannabis consumers and advocates. But where do we begin? From marketing and public relations, to growing supplies and consumer products, the possibilities are endless.
After much consideration, NORML has decided to engage in partnerships with companies that genuinely support our organization’s mission of reforming cannabis laws on the local, state and federal level. These are companies that understand the need to invest in ending the mass incarceration of nonviolent marijuana consumers and that are committed to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.
With that said, please join us in welcoming Black Rock Originals as an official sponsor of NORML. Like our other partners, Black Rock Originals founders Tommy Joyce and Nick Levich, are committed to seeing the federal prohibition of cannabis come to an end. Founded in 2014, Black Rock Originals designs, markets and distributes the “Safety Case,” a discreet, travel-friendly cannabis kit for the modern consumer. From rolling and smoking to vaporizing and dabbing, their convenient kit has all the essentials a cannabis consumer would need while on the go.
“I believe it’s imperative for both companies and consumers in the cannabis space to vote with their dollar. Consumers have the power to educate themselves and support cannabis businesses who are positively impacting the industry’s legalization efforts, and in turn, that revenue can be allocated to supporting the critical reform efforts our fledgling industry needs,” Tommy said. “ We pride ourselves on providing a high level of service with an emphasis on transparency and education – two values that the cannabis industry has traditionally struggled to embrace.”
Through the support of responsible cannabis-related companies like Black Rock Originals that believe in NORML’s mission, we will be able to continue and expand our efforts to end the war on responsible cannabis consumers.
Fewer young people are reporting that marijuana is ‘easy’ to obtain, according to an analysis released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control.
Investigators from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC evaluated annual data compiled by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2002 to 2014. Researchers reported that the percentage of respondents aged 12 to 17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent during this time period. Among those ages 18 to 25, marijuana’s perceived availability decreased by three percent.
Researchers further reported that “since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.
By contrast, authors reported an uptick in use among adults. However, they acknowledged that this increase in adult marijuana consumption has not been associated with a parallel increase in problematic use. There has been “steady decreases in the prevalence of marijuana dependence and abuse among adult marijuana users since 2002,” the study found. Those adults experiencing the greatest percentage increase in marijuana use during the study period were respondents over the age of 55.
A separate analysis of the data published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry similarly acknowledged no observed increase in marijuana use disorders. A previous assessment of marijuana use patterns since 2002, published earlier this year in JAMA Psychiatry, also reported a decline in the percentage of adults reporting problems related to their marijuana use.
Full text of the CDC study, “National estimates of marijuana use and related indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002-2014,” appears online here.
In this week’s Round Up we’ll update you regarding the status of a number of state and local ballot measures, and we’ll also highlight new legislation signed into law this week in Delaware. Plus we’ll give you the details on the latest Governor to endorse marijuana decriminalization. Keep reading below to get this week’s news in marijuana law reform!
Arizona: The Supreme Court this week rejected a lawsuit that sought to prohibit Proposition 205, the Arizona Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, from going before voters this November. The Act allows adults twenty-one years of age and older to possess and grow specified amounts of marijuana (up to one ounce of marijuana flower, up to five grams of marijuana concentrate, and/or the harvest from up to six plants). It creates a system for licensed businesses to produce and sell marijuana and establishes a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana.
Voters in four additional states, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will also be deciding on similar adult use initiatives on Election Day.
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s office this week certified that a competing medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, will also appear on the electoral ballot in November. Unlike Issue 7, The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, this second initiative does not include provisions allowing eligible patients to cultivate their own cannabis at home.
Statewide polling reports greater public support for the Medical Cannabis Act. Under state law, if voters approve both measures the one that receives the greatest number of votes will become law.
Voters in three additional states, Florida, North Dakota, and Montana, will decide on similar medical use measures in November. In Missouri, campaigners are litigating to ask the courts to review signature totals in the state’s second Congressional district.
Colorado: A municipal initiative effort that sought to permit for the adult use of marijuana in licensed establishments failed to qualify for the November ballot. The Responsible Use Denver initiative, backed by Denver NORML, needed 4,726 signatures to qualify for inclusion on November ballot. The campaign submitted more than 7,500 signatures, but just 2,987 were verified as eligible by the Denver Elections Division. The Campaign posted: “We are sad to report that our language did not make the November ballot. We plan to continue pushing the conversation with the city of Denver. Our opinion remains the same, that we have what we feel is the best solution for the city of Denver. Thank you to everyone that has supported us on this journey.” City officials did confirm that a separate municipal initiative seeking to establish a ‘Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program’ will appear on November’s ballot.
Delaware: Governor Jack Markell signed legislation into law this week permitting terminally ill patients to access medical cannabis. House Bill 400 (aka ‘Bob’s bill’) permits physicians to recommend cannabis therapy to terminally ill adults. It also permits those under 18 to access CBD products if they are suffering from “pain, anxiety, or depression” related to a terminal illness.
The new law takes effect at the end of November.
Oklahoma: State Question 788, a statewide initiative to establish a state-licensing system to permit eligible patients to possess and cultivate personal use quantities of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, is unlikely to appear on the 2016 electoral ballot. Although the Secretary of State has certified that initiative proponents collected sufficient signatures, proponents are now challenging the attorney general’s rewording of the ballot title. The legal challenge could force the issue to be decided in a special election. Updated information regarding this initiative campaign may be found on NORML’s 2016 initiatives page.
Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf expressed support for marijuana decriminalization this week stating, “too many people are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carrying modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it’s destroying families, and it’s hurting our economy.”
Marijuana decriminalization legislation, House Bill 2076, is currently pending before members of the House Judiciary committee. The legislation would amend the state’s controlled substances act so that minor marijuana possession offenses are considered a non-criminal offense. Contact your state House members and urge them to support this common sense legislation. #TakeAction
Tennessee: Members of the Nashville Metro Council voted 32 to 4 to approve legislation to lessen local marijuana possession penalties. The proposal amends penalties for the possession of or exchanging of up to one-half ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. The vote was the first of three the bill will receive; it is the first time a marijuana decriminalization measure was considered by the legislative body.
Under current state law, individuals convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If you live in Nashville, consider contacting your Council member and urging them to support this common sense measure.
Justices determined that state-registered medical marijuana patients are forbidden from purchasing firearms because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law. They further opined that the ban “furthers the Government’s interest in preventing gun violence” because marijuana users “are more likely to be involved in violent crimes.”
They concluded, “[The plaintiff in this case] does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in simultaneously holding a [medical cannabis] registry card and purchasing a firearm.”
In 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued a memorandum to all gun dealers in the United States specifying, “Any person who uses … marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
In response to today’s court ruling, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “There is no credible justification for a ‘marijuana exception’ to the US Constitution. Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as do other citizens. It is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion, as well as its rapidly changing legal status under state laws.”
The Ninth Circuit decision, Wilson v Lynch et al., is available online here.
Since 1996, when California voters approved the medical use of marijuana, most of the high-profile political progress that has been made towards legalizing marijuana has been made in the United States. And starting with Colorado and Washington, all of the full legalization experiments have been homegrown.
But that does not mean we should not be looking to other countries for successful experiments and policies. Drug use and abuse is worldwide, so the solution to the destructive war on drug users must also be worldwide.
The Portugal Experiment
In 2001, the Portugal legislature bravely enacted a comprehensive form of drug decriminalization, in which all criminal penalties were removed for personal drug possession and use offenses — reclassifying them as administrative violations. Instead of arresting individuals in possession of personal-use amounts of any drug, defined as less than a ten-day supply of any drug — a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine; two-grams of cocaine; or 25 grams of marijuana — they are now given a violation and ordered to appear before a rather ominous sounding “dissuasion commission.”
The possession of larger amounts of drugs and drug sales continue to be criminal matters for which an offender is subject to arrest and prosecution.
The “dissuasion commission,” which is comprised of one local legal official and two health and social service professionals, first determines whether the individual is addicted, and if so to what degree. It then determines whether the individual is referred to a voluntary treatment program, given a fine, or receives other administrative sanctions. The majority of cases are simply suspended, and the violator receives no sanction. According to Nuno Capaz, a sociologist who serves on the Lisbon “dissuasion panel,” between 80 and 85 percent of the people who are referred to the panels today are caught with hashish or cannabis.
For persistent offenders, or those identified as addicts, these panels can order sanctions or treatment, and recreational users may face fines or community service. If an addict refuses treatment, they are required to check in regularly with their family doctor (Portugal has a free national healthcare program), and if they fail, the local police remind them of their obligation. And those running the Portuguese system attribute this close working relationship between the police and the public health officials as crucial to their success. “This small change actually makes a huge change in terms of police officers’ work,” says Capaz. “Of course, every policy officer knows where people hang out to smoke joints. If they wanted to they would just go there and pick up the same guy over and over. That doesn’t happen.”
Flying in the face of the more prevalent “lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key” anti-drug policies popular at the time in most countries, especially the United States, there were initially fears that Portugal would become overrun with heroin addicts from all over Europe, and the government received a lot of criticism for their experimental policy from such staid groups as the International Narcotics Control Board – part of the UN drug convention system.
What Decriminalization Really Means
Decriminalization was a half-way measure originally recommended for marijuana policy in the U.S. by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972. It says consumers, who generally comprise up to 90 percent of the marijuana arrests, should be removed from the criminal justice system, but that commercial sales of marijuana should remain illegal. While that is obviously an improvement over total prohibition, where users are also subject to arrest and jail, it generally is thought to lead to an increase in demand without any legal supply — a boon to the illegal black market and those willing to take the risk to sell to the newly legal consumers.
Seventeen states in the U.S. have enacted a version of marijuana decriminalization (some have eliminated all penalties for minor possession offenses; others have reduced the penalty to a fine-only). But more recently states that wish to end prohibition have looked toward full legalization, where the commercial market is regulated and taxed. Nonetheless, decriminalization remains an option for those states that no longer wish to treat smokers as criminals, but do not yet feel politically comfortable with full legalization.
Not The Results In Portugal That Were Expected
But the results from Portugal seem to dispel those initial fears that decriminalizing drugs would result in an increase in dangerous drug use, especially among addicts.
First, and most importantly, decriminalization in Portugal for a decade and a half has not led to any major increases in the rate of drug use. There were minor increases in drug use during the initial year (2001), but the rates of drug use after that have not changed significantly, or, in some cases, have actually declined since 2001, and remain below the average rates in both Europe and the United States. And importantly, adolescent use, and use by people who are deemed “dependent” or who inject drugs, has decreased in Portugal since 2003.
So decriminalization may yet prove to be an attractive alternative to prohibition for the more dangerous drugs in the United States. No one wants to see a cocaine store on the corner, but neither do most people want to ruin an individual’s life with a long prison sentence for the use of cocaine. If it is a problem, it is a medical one, not a criminal justice problem.
And Portugal has experienced more than a 60 percent decrease in the number of people arrested and prosecuted for drug offenses. More than 80 percent of the cases coming before the “dissuasion commissions” are perceived to have no problems and receive no sanction.
The percentage of prisoners in Portuguese prisons for drug offenses has been reduced from a high of 44 percent to the current rate of 13 percent. And drug overdose deaths have decreased from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. In the U.S., for comparison, more than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses alone each year.
“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” Portugal’s Drug Czar Dr. Joao Goulão explained, according to Drug Policy Alliance. He attributed this shift to “a set of policies that target reduction of both supply and demand, including measures of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reinsertion.” Adding that, “[t]he biggest effect has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear.”
And he strongly favors a policy of harm reduction. “I think harm reduction is not giving up on people,” Dr. Goulão said, according to Vice, “…assuming that even if someone is still using drugs, that person deserves the investment of the state in order to have a better and longer life.”
And even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has concluded that “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems has decreased.” And some leading independent researchers investigating the Portugal experiment wrote in the British Journal of Criminology in 2010 that “contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding.”
So What Can We Learn From Portugal
First, we can begin to stop treating so harshly illicit drug users, who use something other than marijuana. Sure heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine are more potentially dangerous than marijuana; but that does not mean those drug users should be treated like criminals. If, like Portugal, we can minimize abuse, greatly reduce the number of people arrested on drug charges, reduce overdose deaths, reduce adolescent drug use and problematic drug abuse, greatly reduce our prison population, and still maintain a safe, free and open society, then why would we not want to begin to move in that direction?
Also, we can learn from Portugal the importance of adopting a policy of harm reduction that recognizes the value of all lives, including those who may, for a time, use dangerous drugs, and to provide needed mental health services to those whom we can identify as problem drug abusers. Portugal seems to make it clear that their success simply could not have been possible without making health care professionals available to those who will avail themselves of that help.
And third, we can and should learn that the stigma of drug use or abuse — regardless of the drug involved — needs to be eliminated, to create an environment in which individuals feel free to seek help without fear of being labeled a bad person. It’s time to treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not primarily a criminal justice issue.
Statewide marijuana legalization efforts in Ohio have proven to be more difficult than many expected. After Ohio voters overwhelming rejected Issue 3 – a well-funded ballot initiative, that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over, but also contained severe restrictions with regard to retail production of the plant – many advocates promised to return with a better plan for marijuana consumers. But those plans were quickly derailed after the Ohio General Assembly established a limited, yet workable medical marijuana program with the passage of House Bill 523.
With no statewide initiative, many activists decided to shift their focus to working with state lawmakers to strengthen HB 523 by expanding access and advocating for amendments to permit for home cultivation for patients and caregivers. And since the possession of less than 100 grams (roughly 3.5 ounces) of marijuana is considered a “minor misdemeanor,” punishable by a maximum fine of $150 plus $100 in court costs, some activists found themselves complacent with the status quo. After considering these points, members of Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) decided to explore reform options on the local level.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Eleanor Ahrens and Chad Thompson, led by executive director Cher Neufer, decided they would retool a local decriminalization measure that was approved by Toledo voters in 2015. With this strategy the group set their sights on several municipalities across the state. Activists in the municipalities of Newark Bellaire, Bellevue, Cleveland, Elyria, Logan, Huron, Athens and Norwood, as well as in Lucas County, started to collect signatures for a “complete decriminalization” measure that would further decriminalize the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana flower, up to 10 grams of concentrates, paraphernalia, by removing all fines and court costs.
“Complete Decrim is a new innovative way to make any misdemeanor offense basically legal,” Neufer said. “With no fines, no jail time, no drivers license suspension, and no court costs, we are making the police just walk away from misdemeanor marijuana offenses as if it were a legal substance.”
To date, the group has successfully qualified the measure for the municipal ballot in the cities of Newark and Logan this November, but fell short in the city of Athens. Activists with Ohio NORML plan to continue their effort. An effort that could extend well into 2017. For more information about or to get involved with Ohio NORML, please email email@example.com today!
What 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.
This column originally ran on ATTN:
News & Information
A very well built documentary about cannabis and drug prohibition. Does the drug prohibition work? Have a look and think for yourself.
The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Research - PTSD to Cancer
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Cannabis sativa (hemp) is a flowering annual that has been in use as a structural material (cordage, cloth, paper) and in medicine for thousands of years.5–7 Reference to the psychoactive effects of its phytochemical products have been found in writing throughout the ancient world.
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