Decriminalization

Maryland: Gubernatorial Candidate Asks Front Runners To Back Marijuana Decrim

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, a Democratic state delegate, is asking the state's lieutenant governor and attorney general -- who are the front runners in the campaign for the governor's mansion -- to join her in backing marijuana decriminalization.

Running for the Democratic nomination for governor, Mizeur faces Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in next year's primary. She estimated that taxing cannabis could net up to $157.5 million in new revenue for the state annually.

The Maryland Marijuana Decriminalization Act -- which would reduce penalties for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis to a $100 fine -- may have the votes to pass in the Maryland Legislature, which is run by Democratic supermajorities, reports David Weigel at Slate.

"Marijuana's time as a controlled, illegal substance has run its course," Mizeur said. "Marijuana laws ruin lives, are enforced with racial bias and distract law enforcement from serious and violent crimes.

"A Maryland with legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal early childhood education and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system," she said.

Pennsylvania: Marijuana Could Affect Gubernatorial Race

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Marijuana could be a major factor in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race this year, with a Penn Law grad in the race adopting a pro-legalization stance.

John Hanger's position on cannabis has come to define his candidacy, reports Joel Mathis at Philly Mag. While he embraces that, he also says he has a lot more plans for the state beyond pot legalization.

The Hanger campaign has put up billboards in a couple of Pennsylvania towns urging voters to legalize and tax marijuana. "This issue involves the lives of two million Pennsylvanians," Hanger said.

"Some folks say marijuana is not a voting issue, it's not important. Tell that to the 500,000 Pennsylvanians who have conditions that are treated with cannabis in 20 states," he said. "Tell that to the moms I was with this morning, who have children who are suffering from Dravet Syndrome, whose lives are hanging in the balance. They want marijuana for their children and for them it is not the only issue," Hanger said.

"This is also a very important issue for all taxpayers. We are spending $300 million, approximately, chasing down and arresting people who are possessing small amounts of marijuana," he said. "If we get it out of the underground economy and start taxing it, instead of spending that $300 million we will raise $200 million of new revenue. That's a big deal for taxpayers."

D.C.: Council Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana, End Marijuana Possession Arrests

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Bill Would Reduce Enormous Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System

Last-Minute Amendments Weaken Bill; Advocates Warn That “Public Consumption” Provision Will Perpetuate Unfair and Costly Arrests

The D.C. Council on Tuesday took a major step to decriminalizing marijuana in the nation’s capital by voting 11-1 in favor of a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and treat possession as a civil offense.

The Council takes a final vote on the bill in early March; it is expected to pass and to be signed into law by the mayor. It is viewed by both council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

“This is a major victory for advancing the cause of racial justice in D.C.,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The war on marijuana is largely a war on people of color and the D.C. Council is saying enough is enough.”

The “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

D.C.: Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Expected To Advance At Tuesday Council Meeting

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Eight of 13 council members are sponsoring measure that would replace criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession with a $25 civil fine similar to a parking ticket

A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia is expected to advance Tuesday at a meeting of the Washington, DC Council, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). If approved, it will be on the agenda for final passage at the council's next legislative session.

The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replace them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. The fine increases to $100 for public smoking of marijuana.

Individuals under the age of 18 who commit a violation would also have their parents notified. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts and specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession.

Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The bill is sponsored by Ward 6 Council Member Tommy Wells and supported by eight of the council's 13 members, as well as by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

At-large Council Member David Grosso has introduced separate legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

U.S.: President Obama Says Easing Up On Marijuana Is Congress's Job

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Barack Obama said in a new interview that it's up to Congress to remove marijuana from its listing as a Schedule I controlled substance, implying that he might support such a move.

In an interview with CNN that aired on Friday, Obama was asked about recent remarks he made to The New Yorker that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, reports Zeke J Miller at Time. The President was asked if he would push to remove cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration's list of the most dangerous drugs.

"First of all, what is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama replied.

"I stand by my belief, based, I think, on the scientific evidence, that marijuana, for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge," the President said. "But as I said in the interview, my concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly, and in some cases, with a racial disparity."

A spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) had tweeted on Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder could reclassify marijuana after a scientific review, but that it was "not likely given current science."

Mexico City Considering Marijuana Decriminalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Mexico's capitol, Mexico City, is the most liberal and secular part of that mostly Catholic nation. In 2007, the city government legalized abortion; in 2010 gay marriage was allowed; and next month the city's lawmakers are about to rethink policies on marijuana possession.

Other Mexican states, including Morelos, Veracruz, and Oaxaca could follow Mexico City's lead, reports Karl Baker at The Christian Science Monitor, presenting a challenge to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has opposed marijuana legalization as he continues the country's war against drug smugglers.

The proposal will be submitted to the Mexico City legislative assembly in two weeks, according to the office of the bill's sponsor. It would legalize up to 40 grams of cannabis, assigning it a "zero priority" legal status. The law would instruct police not to take action if they witness cannabis use.

Analyst Carlos Zamudio Angles with the Collective for an Integral Drug Policy, a Mexico City think tank favoring decriminalization, said police corruption makes the decrim law necessary. The think tank said in a June 2013 report that two out of three cannabis users had reported bribing police in order to avoid being arrested.

Texas: Republican Candidates For Lieutenant Governor Debate Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor of Texas took the stage Monday night for a live debate hosted by public television station KERA in Dallas. Asked for their positions on marijuana laws, three of the four voiced opposition to any change in the state's current laws concerning both recreational and medical marijuana.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick all said they didn't want to change the marijuana laws, reports Mark Wiggins at KVUE.

"I would not legalize it," said Dewhurst. "I would not decriminalize it. I think marijuana can be an addictive drug and cause problems for people who are suffering from that addiction."

"We do not need to lower our standards," Staples said. "I think that those that are receiving government assistance should not be eligible if they're illegally using narcotic substances in our state, and our laws need to reflect that fully."

"We know the medical research proves, without question, that marijuana does impact young people more than older people," claimed Patrick. "So it's a nonstarter with me."

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson staked out his own position, however. While opposed to recreational marijuana legalization, Patterson explained his support for medicinal cannabis by comparing its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to other pharmaceutical agents.

U.S.: Advocates Call On Obama To Fire DEA Head Who Criticized Him For Saying Marijuana Is No More Harmful Than Alcohol

FireMicheleLeonhart!

National petition calls on the president to replace DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart with someone who will uphold his mandate that administration decisions be guided by science instead of ideology and politics

The nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), is calling on President Barack Obama to fire the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, and replace her with someone who will uphold his mandate that administration decisions be guided by science instead of ideology and politics.

In a speech to the Major Counties Sheriffs Association last week, Leonhart criticized the President for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol in terms of its impact on the consumer.

During a 2012 House oversight hearing, Leonhart refused to answer questions from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis about whether heroin and crack cocaine are more harmful than marijuana. Under her watch, the DEA has also obstructed attempts to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — a classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs, which includes heroin.

U.S.: Atty. Gen. Holder Says US Will Allow Legal Marijuana Money In Banks

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Policy Changes Will Protect Public Safety, Honor the Will of the Voters, and Help Small Businesses

Drug Policy Alliance: White House Appears to be Working in Good Faith with Colorado and Washington’s efforts to Regulate Marijuana in a Responsible Way

While speaking on Thursday at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama Administration will soon announce policy guidance that would make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.

Twenty states and Washington D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use; two of those states (Colorado and Washington) recently legalized marijuana like alcohol.

Many banks have been afraid to open checking or savings accounts for legalized marijuana businesses out of fear of breaking federal law. As a result, these businesses are forced to deal with large amounts of cash, creating public safety risks for employees, bystanders, and police officers.

"You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash—substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective."

Texas: Gov. Rick Perry Says States Should Be Allowed To Legalize Marijuana

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Possibly positioning himself for another attempt at the White House, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he believes states should be allowed to legalize marijuana and that, as governor, he has helped move Texas in the direction of decriminalizing marijuana.

"I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment," Perry said, reports US News and World Report. "States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, then people will decide where they want to live.'"

"On marijuana legalization," Perry said twice, "States should be allowed to make those decisions."

According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman, Perry said:

"[A]fter 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past," Perry said, reports the Austin American-Statesman. "What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade."

"We applaud Gov. Perry for standing up in support of states' rights to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adult use," said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Our marijuana prohibition policies have failed, and it is time to adopt a more sensible policy.

Global: World Economic Forum To Feature Panel On Drug Policy Reform

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Strange Bedfellows: Former UN Head Kofi Annan, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, and Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch to Discuss the War on Drugs

The World Economic Forum in Davos will host a plenary session on drug policy on Thursday, January 23 at 2:45 pm Davos time and 8:45 am ET. This is the first time that the prestigious gathering has given such prominence to the drug policy issue.

The panel, moderated by Univision anchor Enrique Acevedo, is called "The Drugs Dilemma: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.” Former UN head Kofi Annan, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth and, of all people, Texas Governor Rick Perry will be on the panel.

“I’ve long wondered what it would take to persuade the Davos organizers to put drug policy on the main stage of the forum,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “They clearly were moved by the fact that some of the world’s most distinguished statesmen, including former UN Secretary Kofi Annan and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, are now deeply committed to ending the global war on drugs and pushing the envelope of drug decriminalization.

"Drug policy reform as a global political movement has come of age," Nadelmann said.

Texas: Legislators To Try Again To Lower Marijuana Penalties

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Two lawmakers in Texas have vowed to reintroduce marijuana legislation "as many times as it takes," but drug policy experts say it will be from five to 10 years before the Legislature might change the Lone Star State's cannabis laws.

"I would say within the next decade," said Nathan Jones, Ph.D., with Rice University's Baker Institute, reports Kevin Reece at KHOU 11 News. "If you're looking at the polling data it looks pretty electable. Or it looks almost inevitable."

Recent polls show about 58 percent of Texans supporting the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana. An even larger majority -- 61 percent -- supports reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. said he's going to try for a fourth time to get a vote on his bill that would lessen penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Under current Texas law, possession of two ounces or less is a Class B misdemeanor and get can you up to six months in jail. "I think that's a little overkill for somebody who has an ounce or less of marijuana," Dutton said.

Is it a dangerous thing to be using (marijuana) in your house, for example?" Dutton asked. "Probably not any more so than having a drink in your house."

U.S.: President Obama Says Marijuana Is No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

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President Calls New Laws Legalizing Marijuana in Colorado and Washington ‘Important’

In an interview with the New Yorker published on Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke about his past drug use, said marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol, talked about racial disparities in marijuana arrests and said the new laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington are ‘important’.

In the interview, conducted by David Remnick of the New Yorker, Obama discussed cannabis and the War On Drugs.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama told Remnick.

The president expressed concern about disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said, adding that individual users shouldn’t be locked up “for long stretches of jail time.”

In the interview, Obama said he believes these new laws are "important."

“It's important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished,” said Obama.

President Obama’s interview is generating national news and is being applauded by drug policy reform advocates.

D.C.: Council Committee Expected To Approve Marijuana Decrim Bill Today

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Four out of five committee members are sponsors of the measure, which would replace criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession with a $25 civil fine similar to a parking ticket

A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia is expected to be approved Wednesday by the Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The committee is scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. ET in Room 123 of the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW).

The measure was introduced by committee chair Tommy Wells and is cosponsored by three additional members of the five-member committee. Eight of the Council’s 13 members are sponsoring the bill, which is also supported by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

“It’s long past time we stopped arresting and prosecuting adults simply for possession of a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “As a former prosecuting attorney myself, I know that decriminalizing marijuana would reduce the burden on our limited law enforcement resources, and allow us to focus on real crimes and real threats to public safety.”

The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replace them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. Individuals under the age of 18 who commit a violation would also have their parents notified.

D.C.: Nation's Capitol Takes Major Step Toward Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests

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Wednesday: Councilmembers to Vote on Decriminalization Bill that Would Reduce Racial Disparities and Re-Prioritize Law Enforcement Resources

With Support of Mayor and Supermajority of Councilmembers, Marijuana Decriminalization Appears Imminent

D.C. lawmakers will vote Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties under District law for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use during a meeting of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The panel of five Councilmembers is expected to approve the measure.

The bill would next go before all 13 Councilmembers for final consideration.

The “Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate criminal penalties and instead subject a person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine. The legislation was introduced in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with the support of ten out of thirteen Councilmembers.

WHAT: Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to Mark-up Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

WHEN: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:30AM

WHERE: John A. Wilson Building; Room 412; 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Colorado: Denver City Council Decriminalizes Marijuana For Young Adults

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Denver City Council on Monday passed an ordinance to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people 18 to 21 years old.

A range of fines can be assessed for cannabis possession under the measure, but no jail time. Until now, violators had faced heavy fines and up to a year behind bars, reports The Denver Post.

Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization measure approved by Colorado voters last year, only legalized cannabis for those 21 and older.

Fines will now be $150 for a first offense of marijuana possession, for those 18-21; $500 for a second offense; and $999 for subsequent offenses.

The council also passed a separate measure to keep marijuana that is on city-owned property at least 1,000 feet away from schools.

(Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

U.S.: Fewer Than One Third of Americans Oppose Marijuana Legalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Fewer than one third of Americans oppose the legalization of cannabis, according to a new poll from the Associated Press. Just 29 percent of respondents said they opposed "legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use."

The number opposing legalization has fallen dramatically since 2010, when 55 percent were opposed, notes Jacob Sullum at Forbes. The AP numbers are consistent with other recent surveys in finding increased acceptance of marijuana, and increased resistance to its prohibition.

The share in favor of legalization was about the same as in 2010, but more repeated "feeling neutral" on the issue this time, reports the Associated Press. Pollsters typically see an increase in "neutral" responses in surveys conducted online (as in 2013) compared with those conducted by phone (as was the case in 2010).

Public opinion has been gradually softening towards cannabis since anti-pot hysteria peaked during the "Just Say No" Reagan 80s. Opposition to legal marijuana peaked in 1990 at 84 percent, according to the General Social Survey conducted at the University of Chicago.

Colorado: Denver Council Moves To Decriminalize Marijuana For Minors

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Denver City Council has moved to prevent minors who are caught with marijuana from being punished too harshly.

Amendment 64, the cannabis legalization measure passed by voters last year, removes many penalties for adults, but people under 21 were left open to criminal charges that could stay on their permanent record, reports CBS Denver.

Members of the city council want possession of marijuana by minors to become a civil charge, subject to a petty fine but with no lasting legal consequences.

"We do not want this age group to have their legs cut off before they get started in life," said City Council Member Albus Brooks.

Brooks sponsored the new ordinance, calling it "in the spirit" of Amendment 64.

A final vote on the measure will be taken December 23; it is expected to pass unanimously.

(Graphic: Huffington Post)

New Hampshire: Prison Official Says It's Time To Legalize Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Twenty-year law enforcement veteran Richard Van Winkler, superintendent for the Cheshire County Department of Corrections in New Hampshire, on Monday told Vermont Public Radio that decriminalization doesn't go far enough, and the legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is the way to go.

"If we decriminalize we allow the illegal drug enterprise to flourish," said Van Winkler, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), reports Mitch Wertlieb at VPR. "If we legalize, control, regulate, tax in the same way that we do for alcohol, we put the illegal drug dealer out of business."

Van Winkler stressed that advocating for legalization isn't the same as advocating for cannabis use; he said that it costs about $32,000 to keep each nonviolent drug offender locked up every year, reports David Edwards at The Raw Story.

"The fact is policies like mandatory minimum sentencing, drug war issues have meant that the United States has had to build over 900 jail beds every two weeks for the last 20 years, this while violent crime in our country is at a 30-year low," Van Winkler pointed out.

Noting that two states, Colorado and Washington, had already legalized marijuana. "Guess what? The sky is not falling," he said.

Michigan: After Local Success, Cannabis Advocates Push For Statewide Decriminalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Michigan cannabis advocates hope that their successes at the ballot box this year will help increase pressure on state legislators to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Voters in Ferndale, Jackson and Lansing last week all approved ballot measures that removed all city penalties for possession of marijuana by adults on private property, reports Jake Neher at Interlochen Public Radio.

Tim Beck, an activist who helped organize those campaigns, said their success sends a message to the Legislature that marijuana penalties need to be reduced statewide.

"Like 17 other states have done, including Ohio," Beck said. "It's the equivalent of a traffic ticket in Ohio -- a $100 fine. That should be very simple," he said during a guest appearance on "Off the Record," a show on Michigan Public Radio.

"And there's huge public support," Beck said, "as demonstrated in all of these elections that we've had." But it's still too soon for a statewide ballot initiative, he said.

"The funders that funded the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in (2008), they need to see poll numbers, OK?" Beck said. "Michigan, right now, is 'hardcore support' at 52 percent for full legalization of marijuana. That's not good enough to run a ballot initiative. We need to get those numbers up."

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