Decriminalization

Georgia: Atlanta Considers Eliminating Jail Time For Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

If the Atlanta City Council passes a bill under consideration, people caught with marijuana in Atlanta may not have to do jail time and pay a $1,000 fine.

The Atlanta City Council will consider legislation at April's meeting to lower fines for marijuana possession to $75 and eliminate any jail time. Under current law, people caught possessing marijuana face a fine of up to $1,000 and can receive up to six months in jail.

Advocates are pushing for the change, saying the move is necessary to address racial disparities in arrests for marijuana use.

92 percent of those arrested in Atlanta between 2014 and 2016 for possession were African American and 85 percent were male, according to the Racial Justice Action Center. An American Civil Liberties Union analysis of marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 found blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested nationally for possession of the drug than whites.

City Councilman Michael Julian Bond said he was conflicted because he doesn’t want to encourage drug use, but agreed that the penalties outweighed the violation. But he suggested that $75 may be too low a fine and that jail time could be warranted in some circumstances.

“For me this is an extremely complicated subject,” said Bond, who said he has lost friends to drugs. “I believe as a policy body, we ought not to rush this.

New Mexico: Bill Approved To Lower Marijuana Penalties

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

A bill recently approved by the New Mexico State Senate would replace criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $50 fine if passed. The Senate voted to replace penalties which could include jail time for simple marijuana possession with a purely monetary penalty.

If the bill passes, possession of a half ounce of marijuana or less would be handled much like a traffic ticket with no court appearances required unless the fine is challenged. The passage of the bill through the Senate was only challenged by eight Republicans and one Democrat who voted against the bill. The proposed bill has now moved to the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Democratic Senator Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces told the Associated Press the changes would free up resources for courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys to focus on pursuing violent crime cases amid a state budget crisis.

Texas: Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Is Getting A Hearing In The State House

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

A bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana has been scheduled for a hearing at the Texas State Capitol.

House Bill 81 will be argued in front of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 13th. If it passes, it will make low-level marijuana possession a misdemeanor.

House Bill 81 would make possession of 1-2 ounces of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor. The possession of a small amount of marijuana would result in a civil penalty not exceeding $250. Possession of up to 4 ounces would result in a Class A misdemeanor, while any amount over that would result in a felony still.

The bill was authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs.

Israel: Cabinet Makes Move To Decriminalize Recreational Marijuana Use

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

The Israeli cabinet took a major step toward decriminalizing recreational marijuana use on Sunday, approving a plan that would impose fines rather than criminal penalties on those caught using the drug in public.

Growing and selling marijuana, widely used here both recreationally and medicinally, would remain illegal.

“On the one hand, we are opening ourselves up to the future,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet. “On the other hand, we understand the dangers and will try to balance the two."

The decision must still be approved by Israels' Parliament, the Knesset.

Prior to Sunday, people charged with marijuana use could face heavy fines and even incarceration. Under the new rules, people caught using marijuana publicly a first time would face a fine of about $270 rather than criminal charges. Charges would increase with repeated offenses, with criminal charges filed after a fourth offense.

The new rules were drafted by Gilad Erdan, the public security minister. “The government’s approval is an important step on the way to implement the new policy, which will emphasize public information and treatment instead of criminal enforcement,” he said after the cabinet’s decision on Sunday.

Virginia: Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam Publicly Announces Support For Marijuana Decriminalization

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam wrote on Medium and in a press release yesterday afternoon that he supports decriminalization of marijuana.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk and hopeful candidate for Governor wrote in Medium, "As a doctor, I’m becoming increasingly convinced by the data showing potential health benefits of marijuana, such as pain relief, drug-resistant epilepsy, and treatment for PTSD, By decriminalizing it, our researchers can better study the plant so doctors can more effectively prescribe drugs made from it.”

“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana,” he wrote. “African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement—money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”

Vermont: Governor Pardons 192 Marijuana Offenders

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Vermont governor Peter Schumlin (D) announced pardons Tuesday for 192 people with former convictions for marijuana possession. All but 15 of those pardoned were residents of Vermont.

The state decriminalized pot in 2013, but has not yet legalized and regulated the plant as eight other states have, including Vermont's neighbors Massachusetts and Maine.

Although laws and attitudes toward marijuana have changed a lot in the past several years, few governors have issued pardons to marijuana offenders.

“What he’s [Governor Shumlin] doing is, it’s almost unimaginably safe [from criticism] if you think in terms of 40 years ago,” P.S. Ruckman, Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Illinois, told The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. “It’s highly significant. I think it’s likely we'll see more of it.”

Gov. Shumlin’s pardon applied only to people convicted of possessing less than an ounce of pot who had no violent criminal histories, felony convictions, or record of driving under the influence or reckless driving.

“When you look at the Vermonters who are sitting out there with criminal records because they had an ounce or less of marijuana — could have happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s – there’s thousands of them,” he said in early December.

Tennessee: Attorney General Says Cities Cannot Enact Marijuana Decriminalization

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Th Tennessee Office of the Attorney General issued an opinion this week that recently approved marijuana decriminalization ordinances in Memphis and Nashville conflict with state drug laws, and therefore may not be enforced.

City council members in both cities voted this fall to impose local ordinances giving municipal police the option of issuing citations for minor marijuana offenses in lieu of making criminal arrests.

The opinion reads, "[T]he ordinance[s] cannot stand because [they] impede the inherent discretion and responsibility of district attorneys general to prosecute violations of the Drug Control Act."

The opinion was requested by state Republican senators Brian Kelsey and Ron Lollar.

Under Tennessee state law, first-offense marijuana possession violations are classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Texas: Legislators File Bills To Decriminalize Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Less than a week after several other states approved measures to weaken restrictions on marijuana, Texas lawmakers are aiming to do the same.

On Monday, the first day of bill filing for the 2017 legislative session, Texas legislators submitted several proposals to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Bills were submitted that would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders, reduce criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and re-classify convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On Nov. 8, voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana initiatives, adding them to a growing list of states — including Alaska,Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — that have already approved the drug for recreational use. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota also approved medicinal marijuana initiatives.

The National Conference of State Legislators reports that 28 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.

West Indies: Jamaica, Formerly Opposed To Marijuana, Now Wants To Cash In On It

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Jamaica has long been considered the land of ganja, but has worked hard to fight that reputation.

Despite strict drug laws and spending millions on public education to diminish its image as a pot mecca, its role as a major supplier of illegal weed to the United States and its international image led by the likes of Bob Marley have been impossible to overcome.

After watching states like Colorado and California generate billions of dollars from marijuana, Jamaica has decided to accept the plant and is looking to promote "wellness tourism", having legalized medical marijuana. The nation also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot just last year.

A recent conference at a luxury hotel in Montego Bay attracted government leaders, Rastafarian leaders, business leaders, and pot farmers.

Rastafarian leader First Man kicked off the conference with a speech on the global benefits of marijuana.

“We are talking about a plant that bridges the gap between all of our relationships,” First Man, barefoot with a Rasta scarf around his neck, said to a packed room. “Our planet needs this relationship to happen.”

First Man was speaking at the first CanEx conference, a gathering of government and local leaders trying to figure out just how the country can most effectively make this turn-around, without neglecting international law.

Nebraska: Marijuana Groups Already Petitioning For 2018 Ballot

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

With 54 days left until November's election, a group of marijuana advocates pushing to eliminate Nebraska's penalties for those caught with small amounts of pot has already begun gathering signatures to put the issue before voters in 2018.

A second group seeking a broader constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana entirely has also filed 2018 petition language with the Nebraska Secretary of State's Office.

Volunteers started gathering signatures for the more limited proposal Aug. 5, targeting high-traffic areas and events such as last week's Omaha rally by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

"We're in Lincoln three times a week," said Mark Elworth Jr., a perennial candidate for elected office from Omaha who drew up the petition language and is leading the campaign.

Nebraska decriminalized marijuana in the 70s, but anyone caught with an ounce or less is still subject to a fine.

Elworth said the most significant consequence for people who are caught with pot, particularly teenagers, is the permanent record it creates.

"We're trying to protect people," he said. "Those minor possession tickets ... they can ruin people's lives."

Florida: Port Richey Council Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

The Port Richey City Council just became the first government body in Pasco County, Florida to decriminalize the possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana.

After many weeks of debate, the council passed an ordinance Tuesday night on a 3-2 vote that will allow police the discretion to issue a $155 civil citation in lieu of an arrest on a criminal misdemeanor charge for possessing less than 20 grams of pot, as long as the offender is age 18 or older and not engaged in any other simultaneous crime.

Marijuana activist and local businessman Garyn Angel spearheaded the lobbying effort that led to the council's consideration of the ordinance. He stood in front of City Hall with Port Richey's seal behind him to celebrate the vote, making a speech to a two-man video crew he employs. It went out on Facebook live to his followers, who he said number in the hundreds of thousands.

Dozens of people spoke for or against the ordinance during previous hearings, and there was contentious debate. Ultimately, the council vote was split, with Mayor Dale Massad and council members Jennifer Sorrell and Will Dittmer in favor.

Vice Mayor Terry Rowe and Nancy Britton opposed the vote, afraid that it will encourage drug dealing and use in the city.

There was little debate by Tuesday night; no one from the public or on the council spoke

Tennessee: Nashville Marijuana Decriminalization Effort Advances In Metro Council

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

A proposal to reduce the charge for possession of small amounts of marijuana took a big step forward Tuesday.

The Metro Council advanced legislation on a second of three readings that would add Nashville to the ever-growing list of cities and states that have passed measures aimed at decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.

The ordinance would give police the option of reducing the penalty for people who knowingly possess a half-ounce of marijuana or less in Nashville to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service.

Currently, people caught with a half ounce of pot or less in Tennessee face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“There’s a large criminal justice reform conversation going on now and there’s a large national conversation that is changing around this particular issue,” said Green Hills-area Councilman Russ Pulley, a co-sponsor of the legislation, noting that multiple states have already legalized marijuana and several more will have referendum votes on the matter in November.

“This gets us involved in that conversation,” he said.

The bill will now be considered for final approval on Sept. 20.

Caribbean and South America: Antigua And Guyana Both Looking To Decriminalize Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

This week the island of Antigua in the Caribbean and Guyana in South America became the latest countries to consider decriminalizing marijuana for personal use.

The Antigua Observer reported this week that the country's Cabinet is recommending that island residents be allowed to possess up to five grams of pot without a penalty.

According to notes from a Cabinet meeting on August 24, Antigua’s Ministry of Legal Affairs has been directed to draft a law that would eliminate fines for 5 grams or less.

The government's reasoning behind the change is the wasted expense in arresting and prosecuting people for such a minimal crime. The change is also meant to stop people from getting criminal records for simple possession, making their whole life more difficult in getting employment, traveling, and many other areas.

A prominent leader from the Church in Antigua recently spoke out, saying he is open to relaxing marijuana laws. Religious institutions carry a lot of weight in the Caribbean, so an endorsement from a church leader is meaningful.

Meanwhile, President David Granger of Guyana in South America said in a TV address Thursday that he is open to easing laws on marijuana for personal use. He said that his Cabinet would soon be reviewing marijuana laws with the goal of reducing prison overcrowding in Guyana.

U.S.: Clinton Campaign Says She Would Reschedule Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Hillary Clinton's campaign issued a statement today, saying she plans to reschedule marijuana if elected in November.

The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced its decision to keep marijuana on the list of Schedule I drugs, in the same category as heroin and LSD, but the Clinton campaign thinks the drug serves a higher purpose.

“Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use,” Maya Harris, a senior policy advisor to Clinton’s campaign, said in a statement, reported by The Denver Post. “As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Clinton seems to disagree with the DEA's decision to keep marijuana on the Schedule I list, and the campaign said if she is elected she would reclassify the drug to a Schedule II substance, which would mean acceptance that marijuana has a medical use for treatment.

“As president, Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy,” Harris continued.

Oregon: Senators Criticize DEA For Refusal To Reclassify Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Oregon Democrats, criticized a DEA decision today to keep marijuana on the list of Schedule I controlled substances.

"The DEA's decision flies in the face of choices made freely by voters in Oregon and many other states about the legality of marijuana," Wyden said in a statement. "The bottom line is the DEA is keeping federal law behind the times."

Merkley accused the DEA as interfering with Oregon's economy.

"The federal government shouldn't force Oregon's legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills," Merkley said.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon congressional delegation's loudest voice for ending marijuana prohibition, released his outraged statement on Wednesday, before the official decision was officially announced

The DEA's decision, just announced will keep marijuana in the same category as drugs such as LSD and heroin, also considered Schedule I, drugs with no medical value but with a high potential for abuse.

"[Marijuana] does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," wrote Chuck Rosenberg, acting DEA administrator. "There is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."

U.S.: DEA To Make Announcement Thursday On Resceduling Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

A decision from the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected Thursday on the rescheduling of marijuana in the U.S.

The DEA said late Wednesday it would answer a congressional petition to reschedule marijuana in the Federal Register on Thursday morning.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medical value.

The DEA’s response could move the drug to a less-restrictive schedule, which would allow more research on the plant. It could also completely remove it from the agency’s regulation, or take no action. The DEA’s email didn't indicate which course the agency might select.

Rescheduling marijuana would mean that in states where medical cannabis is legal it could be prescribed by a doctor, rather than just recommended, as it is presently. Pharmacies could offer it instead of only dispensaries.

Half the states in the country have legalized medical marijuana, and four states plus the District of Columbia have made recreational use legal. Five states are voting this November for recreational marijuana legalization and four more for medical cannabis legalization.

Tennessee: Nashville To Consider Decriminalization Of Small Amounts Of Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

A newly filed ordinance is seeking to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana in Nashville.

The ordinance would make the penalty for possession or exchange of a half ounce of pot (14.175 grams) or less a civil penalty with a $50 fine. A court could have the option to suspend the civil penalty and instead mandate 10 hours of community service.

Under current Tennessee law, violators of this offence face a misdemeanor charge with up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

If the Nashville ordinance is approved, a third offense will remain a felony, as required by state law.

“This would allow the police to just write a ticket,” said Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg, a self-described libertarian who is among those who have introduced the Nashville ordinance.

He said that someone who makes a mistake as a kid could be haunted their entire life because of the criminal offenses they face under the current marijuana law here.

“It’s very unproductive,” he said. “This has been an issue that has been moving nationwide from Florida to Washington as our society has come to understand that the most harmful effect of marijuana is marijuana laws.”

New Jersey: Newark Marijuana Proposal Headed For Ballot

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

Voters in Newark, New Jersey will have the opportunity in November to vote to eliminate penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Currently under state law, anyone caught with under 100 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia face a maximum fine of $150 and loss of driving privileges.

Under Newark's current law, however, possession of under 100 grams of marijuana is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail. Possession of marijuana paraphernalia is punishable by a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

The discrepancy between Newark’s law and state law for marijuana possession is part of the reason organizers sought to get the proposal on the ballot.

The new proposal would remove penalties for possessing less than 200 grams of marijuana in the city. Under the initiative, possessing less than 200 grams would constitute a minor misdemeanor, and no fines, incarceration, probation or “any other punitive or rehabilitative measure” would be imposed.

Board of Elections Director Gloria Carson said Tuesday that the Licking County Board of Elections validated 1,107 signatures supporting the measure, surpassing the 1,063 signatures that were needed to get on the ballot.

Organizers say the new proposal will allow law enforcement officers more opportunity to focus on serious problems in the community.

Florida: Daytona Beach Decriminalizes Marijuana

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

The city of Daytona Beach voted on Wednesday night to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The ordinance will allow police officers to issue tickets to offenders found with less than 20 grams of marijuana, instead of arresting them and taking them to jail.

The ordinance was approved unanimously by the city council and it goes into effect immediately.

The exact cost of tickets has not been announced.

The city of Orlando passed a similar ordinance in April to make possession of 20 grams of pot or less a violation of city code.

Penalties for simple possession in Orlando range from $50 to a mandated court hearing, depending on how many times a person has been ticketed.

Florida: Orlando Leaders Change Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance

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Orlando leaders made changes Monday to their recent marijuana decriminalization ordinance, making possession of 20 grams of pot or less a city code violation instead of a misdemeanor.

The ordinance was originally written so that a first violation would mean a $50 fine. The fine was changed to $100 and $200 for first and second offenders, but it would also give them the option to waive the fines if they take a substance abuse education program instead.

Currently, possession of 20 grams of pot is a criminal misdemeanor carrying a punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

“It would help a lot of lower and middle-income families out here have a second chance. We keep seeing the same things over and over again, and it’s not working, so we need to make a change with the policy,” said Korey Wheeler of Organize Now.

Supporters for the change said the punishment should fit the crime.

"This will give our officers an option so that that person's life won't be ruined by a criminal record," said Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department.

The effective date for the ordinance has been set for October 1.

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