Archive for the ‘legalization’ category

Jamaica: Ganja Decriminalization Plan Finally Approved By Parliament

March 2nd, 2015

Members of Jamaica’s Parliament have given final approval to a long-standing plan to amend the nation’s marijuana policies.

The newly passed measure amends the island’s Dangerous Drugs Act so that the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis by an adult is reclassified as a non-criminal offense. Violators of the new law will receive a ticket and be mandated to pay a fine, but will not face criminal penalties. Public use of the substance will remain prohibited.

Separate provisions of the measure seek to establish regulations allowing for the licensed production of cannabis for therapeutic purposes as well as for industrial purposes. Additional provisions of the bill provide broader legal protections for those who use the plant for sacramental purposes.

Although various Jamaican commissions had previously recommended similar changes in policy for well over a decade, lawmakers had until now consistently failed to move forward with any legislation seeking to depenalize the plant’s possession or production.

Big Brouhaha in DC as Legalization is Phased-In

March 2nd, 2015

The new marijuana laws recently approved by the voters of the District of Columbia (Initiative 71) by nearly 70 percent took effect last week, following a 30-day period in which the US Congress had the opportunity to override the provision, but our opponents did not have the votes.

So it is now perfectly legal in the District of Columbia to possess up to two ounces of marijuana; to cultivate up to six plants in the home, not more than three of which may be flowering; and to give away, but not sell, up to one ounce of marijuana to someone at least 21 years of age. It is one of the better decriminalization laws in the country, a welcome half-way step that is now law in 17 states as well as the District.

I say it is a half-way step, because while it legalizes the possession and use of marijuana by adults, it does not establish a legal, regulated market, such as those currently operating in Colorado and Washington, and soon to be up and running in Oregon and Alaska. (Voter initiatives in DC may not require the expenditure of city funds, so that was not an option). In DC, marijuana smokers will either have to cultivate their own marijuana in their home, or continue to buy their marijuana on the black market, with no quality controls to protect them from contaminants such as molds or pesticides, and no way to evaluate the strength of the product.

Decriminalization is obviously a giant step forward for any jurisdiction, as it ends the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Although in DC the elected City Council has already reduced the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil offense, punishable by a fine of $25, so the latest change will not be dramatic, and the changes will largely go unnoticed by the general public. Nonetheless, it is good to get rid of the fine altogether and finally make marijuana possession and cultivation legal.

Perhaps most significant, now that possession of two ounces of marijuana is legal in the District, the smell of marijuana, traditionally used by the police as legal justification to search the passenger compartment of a car without the need to obtain a search warrant, no longer provides probable cause for a search. It is impossible for the police to tell whether the marijuana they are smelling is more or less than the two ounce limit, so this much-abused police practice now must stop.

Similarly, the smell of marijuana when the police come to someone’s home has traditionally been used by the police as probable cause to obtain a search warrant for someone’s home; that common, abusive practice must now also end. So the new laws in the District will have the positive result of protecting our right to privacy and reinforcing our 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Interestingly, Mayor Muriel Bowser and a majority of the DC City Council members were poised to develop and approve a set of regulations to license growers and dispensaries in the District, until the drug warriors in Congress used the budget bill approved at the end of the last Congress to preclude the District from spending any of its money to legalize marijuana. Some on the council have long supported more progressive marijuana laws, while others resent the interference of Congress in the local affairs in the District, which enjoys a limited form of “home rule.”

The anti-pot zealots in Congress, led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), had thought their budget amendment would also stop the provisions of Initiative 71 from being implemented, but the mayor and City Council Chair Phil Mendelson and the new DC Attorney General all took the position that the initiative was “self-enacting” and required no expenditure of funds by the District, and they are treating the Congressional budget amendment as having no effect on the initiative, although they acknowledge it would block the Council from going further to regulate the market.

When the anti-marijuana ideologues in Congress saw that the elected leadership in the District were going to enforce the language of the new initiative, they publicly threatened to have the mayor and other city officials arrested! To the everlasting credit of Mayor Bowser, Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Police Chief Cathy Lanier, they held a joint press conference explaining what is and is not allowed by the new laws (no public smoking; no selling; no outdoor cultivation; and no possession on federal lands, which comprise roughly 29 percent of the District’s total land area), and announcing the new laws would take effect at 12:01am on Thursday, Feb. 26th.

It was wonderful to see a united defense of the right of the voters in the District of Columbia to determine their own marijuana policy, free from Congressional interference.

This situation may yet end up being resolved by the courts, but for the moment, the good guys are winning. As an aside, the mayor has now called for the City Council to adopt new legislation making it clear that Amsterdam-style “cannabis clubs” will not be tolerated in DC; a sop, I suppose, to the other side. We will try to stop the ban from being enacted. Smoking marijuana is a social activity, and there is no reason to limit marijuana smoking only to a private home. Hopefully we can find some middle ground that will permit smokers to exercise their new right in other private areas. This issue too may end up in the courts.

New Alaska Penalties Also Took Effect

The new legalization law recently approved by the voters in Alaska (Measure 2) calls for the establishment of licensed growers and sellers by the end of the year, but there too the parts of the new law eliminating all penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and for cultivating up to six plants in the home, took effect last week. Once again, little will change initially for smokers in Alaska, since they have enjoyed protection from arrest or prosecution for possessing personal use amounts of marijuana in the home since 1978, because of a state Supreme Court decision, Ravin v State, finding such conduct protected by the right to privacy provisions in the state constitution.

But again, as in DC, the police will no longer be able to use the mere smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle, so the legal significance of the new law is enormous.

Oregon Law to Take Effect in Mid-Year

The new penalties approved by the voters in Oregon (Measure 91) will take effect on July 1, although the state has until Jan. 1, 2016 to implement the provisions regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana. As of July 1, Oregonians will be legally permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and up to eight ounces of marijuana in the home (and one pound of solid edibiles, 72-ounces of infused liquid, and one ounce of extracts), along with the right to grow up to four plants per household.

Until that time, possession of an ounce or less remains a non-criminal violation, carrying a fine-only, with no possibility of jail.

#     #     #NORML Legislative Fly-In

This column was originally published on Marijuana.com.

District of Columbia: Voter-Approved Depenalization Plan To Become Law

February 25th, 2015

NORML Legislative Fly-InDistrict of Columbia officials are moving forward with implementing a voter-approved initiative depenalizing offenses involving the personal possession and/or cultivation of cannabis by adults.

The new law is set to take effect Thursday, February 26, at 12:01am. In a press release issued Tuesday, District officials — including Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier — reaffirmed their intent to recognize the will of District voters, 70 percent of whom voted in favor of the municipal measure (I-71).

“In November, residents of the District of Columbia voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana by adults for personal, in-home use in the District,” said Mayor Bowser. “We will uphold the letter and the spirit of the initiative that was passed last year, and we will establish the Initiative 71 Task Force to coordinate our enforcement, awareness and engagement efforts and address policy questions as they arise.”

Initiative 71 permits adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (no more than three mature at any one time) in one’s primary residence without facing any criminal or civil penalty. Not-for-profit transactions involving small amounts of the substance are also permitted; however, for-profit sales are prohibited as is the retail production or distribution of the plant.

The consumption of cannabis in public or on federal property also remains prohibited.

District officials contend that they possess the legal authority to depenalize minor marijuana offenses despite the passage of a federal spending provision in December prohibiting the District from spending any tax dollars to implement the new law. They argue that the municipal measure took effect upon passage in November and that Congress failed to take any explicit action to overturn the law during its requisite 30-day review period. (This Congressional review period is mandated law before any new District legislation may be imposed.)

District officials’ stance is not without some vocal critics. Earlier this week, two Republican members of Congress sent a letter to DC’s Mayor warning that Congress may take action if I-71 is enforced.

“If you decide to move forward … with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” reads the letter signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the subcommittee that handles DC affairs.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rep. Chaffetz threatened Mayor Bowser and city officials, stating, “[If District officials are] under any illusion that this would be legal, they are wrong. And there are very severe consequences for violating this provision. You can go to prison for this. We’re not playing a little game here.”

To date, neither spokespersons for the Mayor’s office and/or the DC City Council have responded directly to the Congressmen nor have they indicated that they intend to reconsider their decision to implement I-71 as voters intended.

Alaska Legalization Law Takes Effect

February 24th, 2015

Alaska Legalization Law Takes EffectLegislation enacted by voters in November legalizing the personal use and cultivation of marijuana takes effect today.

Fifty-three percent of Alaska voters approved Ballot Measure 2 on Election Day, permitting those over the age of 21 to lawfully possess up to one ounce of marijuana and/or to grow up to six marijuana plants (no more than three mature) for non-commercial purposes. Sharing or gifting personal use quantities of marijuana is also permitted under the new law; however the consumption of cannabis in public remains an offense.

Lawmakers will now begin the process of establishing licensing requirements for those who wish to commercially produce cannabis and/or engage in the plant’s retail sale. State regulators have up to nine months to enact rules to govern these commercial entities and are expected to begin granting operator permits by February 2016.

Since 1975, Alaskans have enjoyed personal privacy protections allowing for the possession and cultivation of unspecified quantities of cannabis in one’s home. However, state lawmakers had never before codified these protections into law or permitted a legal market for marijuana production and sales.

Alaska is the third state – following Colorado and Washington – to legalize the personal possession of marijuana by adults and to license the plant’s retail production and sales. Oregon voters in November approved similar legislation (Measure 91), which is scheduled to go into effect later this year.

Congressional Legislation Introduced to Get the Federal Government Out of the Marijuana Enforcement Business

February 23rd, 2015

Get the Federal Government Out of the Marijuana Enforcement BusinessLegislation was introduced Friday in the US House of Representatives to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.

House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, removes cannabis from the United States Controlled Substances Act. It also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matters concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.

Said the bill’s primary sponsor, Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado: “Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children. While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical  marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration – or this one—could reverse course and turn them into criminals. It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don’t want, to have legal marijuana within their borders.”

Separate legislation, House Resolution 1014: the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, introduced by Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, seeks to impose a federal excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes as well as apply an occupational tax for state-licensed marijuana businesses. Such commercial taxes would only be applicable if and when Congress has moved to defederalize marijuana prohibition.

“It’s time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana.” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Together these bills create a federal framework to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, much like we treat alcohol and tobacco. The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives. As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done, it’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”

Similar versions of these measures were introduced in the previous Congress but failed to gain federal hearings.

To contact your US House member and urge him/her to support House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and/or other pending federal marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s Take Action page here.

Federal Judge Hears Closing Arguments In Constitutional Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I Status

February 12th, 2015

Federal Judge Hears Closing Arguments In Constitutional Challenge To Cannabis’ Schedule I StatusYesterday in Sacramento a federal judge heard closing arguments in a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ Schedule I classification.

At issue is whether a rational basis exists for the government’s contention that cannabis is properly designated as a schedule I substance — defined as possessing a “high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment,” and “a lack of accepted safety … under medical supervision.” A federal court has not heard evidence on the matter since the early 1970s.

Lawyers for the federal government argue that it is rational for the government to maintain the plant’s prohibitive status as long as there remains any dispute among experts in regard to its safety and efficacy. Defense counsel — attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke of the NORML Legal Committee — contend that the federal law prohibiting Justice Department officials from interfering with the facilitation of the regulated distribution of cannabis in over 20 US states can not be reconciled with the government’s continued insistence that the plant is deserving of its Schedule I status under federal law.

In October, defense counsel and experts presented evidence over a five-day period arguing that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. “Numerous clinical trials have been conducted using whole plant marijuana and have concluded the evidence strongly suggests therapeutic value,” defense counsel affirmed in a written brief filed with the court last month. “Physicians in 23 states and the District of Columbia have been recommending whole plant cannabis for treatment of a myriad of medical conditions. The United States, through SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of HHS), holds a patent [on the therapeutic utility of the plant.]”

“… It is unimaginable to believe that if heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or even over-the-counter medications were being distributed in 23 states and the District of Columbia, Congress and the President would abdicate all regulatory authority to those jurisdictions, and then cut off all funds … to intervene in related distribution activities. … Even the most vivid imagination would be hard pressed to reconcile such action with a ‘rational belief’ that marijuana is one of the most dangerous drugs in the nation.”

In a brief filed with the court by the federal government, it contends: “Congress’ decision to treat marijuana as a controlled substance was and remains well within the broad range of permissible legislative choices. Defendants appear to argue that Congress was wrong or incorrectly weighed the evidence. Although they failed to prove even that much, it would be insufficient. Rational basis review does not permit the Court’s to ‘second guess’ Congress’ conclusions, but only to enjoin decisions that are totally irrational or without an ‘imaginable’ basis.”

They add: “Congress is not required to be ‘right,’ nor does it matter if the basis on which Congress made its decision turns out to be ‘wrong.’ All that is required is that Congress could rationally have believed that its action — banning the production and distribution of marijuana — would advance its indisputably legitimate interests in promoting public health and welfare. Because qualified experts disagree, it is not for the Courts to decide the issue and the statute must be upheld.”

The Judge is anticipated to rule on defense’s motion within 30 days.

Legal briefs in the case, United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM, are available online here.

Cannabis Sniffing Canines Needed No More

February 2nd, 2015

Need another prime example of cannabis prohibition coming to pass in these United States? Look no further than the states of Alaska and Oregon where the voters have ended cannabis prohibition and instead replaced the failed prohibition with tax-n-regulate policies, both states are canceling the use (and expense) of maintaining and employing cannabis sniffing canines.pot_civil_rights

Up next in states that have jettisoned cannabis prohibition: Canceling law enforcement overflights looking for once illegal cannabis plants.

 

 

Voters Have Spoken, But Drug Warriors Aren’t Listening

February 2nd, 2015

6_8_NORMLK.StroupPortrait_zThe drug warriors — led principally by law enforcement and their handmaidens in the state legislatures — continue to do everything within their power to prolong marijuana prohibition, even in those states in which the voters have approved full legalization.

I am referring specifically to a legislative proposal introduced last week in the Alaska state legislature, allegedly to implement their recent legalization initiative, under which possession of one ounce of marijuana and the private cultivation of six plants was legalized for everyone over 21 years of age. Recreational marijuana use will be totally decriminalized effective February 24, although the state has until the end of the year to implement the regulations for licensing recreational growers and dispensaries.

Senate Bill 30, and it’s House companion bill, HB 79, initially considered by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week, would have kept any amount of marijuana illegal, causing users to be arrested and brought to trial, when they could then raise an affirmative defense by proving they were over 21 and their conduct was protected under the new initiative.

To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.

 

Demanding “Perfect Legalization” is a Formula for Defeat

January 26th, 2015

You don’t have to look too hard to see marijuana legalization efforts in several states that have a good chance of being approved by the voters in 2016. But many of those efforts are mired-down with competing proposals and competing proponents that could easily undermine the ability of supporters in those states to actually change public policy and end prohibition.

The inability to accept compromise in the interest of building a winning coalition threatens to turn some of these political opportunities into losing efforts. And that would be a disaster.

Specifically, different factions with different political demands are competing for control of the issue in Massachusetts, Ohio and California, three large and important states that would add enormous legitimacy and political credibility to the legalization movement, were they to approve legalization in 2016.

Click here to read the balance of this column.

 

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Want Legalization in Your State?

January 19th, 2015

Want Legalization in Your State?How do we move from prohibition to legalization in my state?

That’s one of the most asked questions we hear every week at NORML.

With national media attention focusing on the favorable experience with legalization in Colorado and Washington, and on the not-yet-implemented legalization programs recently adopted in Oregon and Alaska, anyone living in a state that continues arresting and jailing marijuana smokers would naturally wonder why their state seems to have missed out on the drive to end marijuana prohibition.

More accurately, many of those states are lagging behind in the legalization movement, but that, too, will change. As we continue to gather data demonstrating these new laws are working as intended, with few unintended consequences, the drive to end marijuana prohibition will soon reach every state in the union, and beyond. We are no longer debating theory and conjecture; we now have real-life experiences that can be evaluated, and that data resource will grow with each new state.

Patience and persistence still required

We all need to accept the reality that changing public policy is a complex process that requires financial resources, re-education and political organizing. Following more than 75 years of criminal prohibition, and “reefer madness” propaganda by our state and federal governments, many Americans — especially older Americans — hold a negative view of marijuana and marijuana smoking, believing it presents a risk to health or public safety.

Since all but a few of us have lived under prohibition for our entire lives, it is understandable that many would presume there must have been some justification for those tens of millions of marijuana arrests. Surely our own government would not needlessly wreak havoc on all those lives and careers without a good reason.

To Read the Balance of This Column, please go to Marijuana.com.