Decriminalization

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Vermont Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law Thursday a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts o marijuana. That makes Vermont the 17th state to decriminalize, including all of its neighboring New England states except New Hampshire.

Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) and passed with tri-partisan support, House Bill 200 removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. People under 21 will be required to undergo substance abuse screening. Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

"This change just makes common sense," Shumlin said as he signed the bill. "Our limited resources should be focused on reducing abuse and addiction of opiates like heroin and meth rather than cracking down on people for having very small amounts of marijuana."

Earlier this week, Shumlin signed a package of bills aimed at reducing problems associated with opiate use, including measures designed to reduce opiate overdose deaths.

"We applaud Gov. Shumlin, the state's top law enforcement officials, and the legislature for their leadership and support of this important legislation," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. "Decriminalizing marijuana possession will allow law enforcement officials to spend more time and attention addressing serious crimes and prevent people from being branded as criminals just for using a substance that most Americans agree should be legal."

But decriminalization is only a half-measure, Simon said.

"Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but it will not stop until marijuana prohibition is replaced with a more sensible policy," he explained. "Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for the state to start exploring policies that treat it that way."

Montpelier, VT
United States

Blacks Targeted in Wasteful War on Marijuana, ACLU Finds

Black Americans are nearly four times more likely to get busted for marijuana possession than white ones, even though both groups smoke pot at roughly comparable rates, the ACLU said in a report released Tuesday. The report, "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests," is based on the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report and US Census Bureau Data.

Blacks are 3.7 times more likely to get busted for marijuana possession than whites. (aclu.org/marijuana)
The disparity in arrest rates is startlingly consistent, the report found. In more than 96% of the counties covered in the report, blacks were arrested at higher rates than whites. Racial disparities in pot busts came in large counties and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, with large black populations and with small ones.

In some counties, the disparity rose to 15 times more likely, and in the Upper Midwest states of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, blacks were eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Nationwide, blacks were 3.73 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than whites.

And it's getting worse, not better. The report found that even though the racial disparities in marijuana arrests existed 10 years ago, they have increased in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

"The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the primary authors of the report. "State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost."

In budgetary terms, that cost to the states was $3.61 billion in 2010 alone, the report found. During the decade the report studied, despite aggressive enforcement and rising marijuana arrest rates, all those arrests failed to stop or even diminish the use of marijuana, and support for its legalization only increased.

"The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn't work," said Edwards. "These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people's lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing or student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, or be deported."

The report recommends legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana, which it said would eliminate racially-targeted selective enforcement of marijuana laws, save the billions of dollars spent on enforcing pot prohibition, and raise badly needed revenues by taxation. If legalization is not doable, then decriminalization, and if not decriminalization, then lowest prioritization.

The ACLU also calls in the report for reforms in policing practices, including not only ending racial profiling, but also constitutionally-suspect stop-and-frisk searches, such as those embraced with such gusto by the NYPD in New York City. It also crucially recommends reforming federal law enforcement funding streams, such as the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, that encourage police to make low-level drug busts by using performance measures that reward such arrests at the expense of other measures.

DC Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Likely Coming

Faced with the prospect of having District of Columbia marijuana policy determined directly by voters through the initiative process, at least two members of the DC Council are considering introducing legislation that would decriminalize possession in the nation's capital. The Washington Post reported that Council members Marion Berry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are formulating a decriminalization bill.

"Absolutely, it's time we look at decriminalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia," said Wells, who is chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and who is running for mayor next year. "It's time we enter the 21st century and stop criminalizing people... for what is not really a major crime."

Wells and Barry aren't the only council members who are thinking decrim. Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said she is also considering drafting a decriminalization bill.

And Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he could get behind decriminalization, but that he wanted to broaden the discussion to include legalization.

"The people on the streets dealing are the nonviolent drug offenders who are going to jail for dealing drugs," said Grosso, who got busted for marijuana possession as a young man in Florida two decades ago. "I think that's a serious problem.”

But council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) may prove an obstacle.

"I don't think it's the right time," said Mendelson, citing congressional opposition that blocked the city from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana program for more than a decade. "I don't think decriminalization of marijuana will go over easily with Congress."

If the council doesn't act, District marijuana reform activists are ready to step up to the plate. They have already been engaged in discussions about a possible November 2014 initiative and whether it should be a decriminalization measure or go for the fence with a legalization measure.

If activists try to take the issue to the voters, they appear to be well-positioned. A Public Policy Polling survey last month showed three-quarters of DC residents supported decriminalization and nearly two-thirds (63%) supported legalization.

Washington, DC
United States

VT Marijuana Decriminalization Heads to Governor

A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana has made it through the Vermont legislature, winning final approval Monday. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he supports it. If he indeed signs it, Vermont will become the 17th state to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, and House Bill 200, sponsored by Rep. Chris Pearson, would impose a civil fine on possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under H. 200, a person under 21 who is found in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would have to undergo substance abuse screening and possible treatment. That language was carried over in the final votes.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

"We applaud the Vermont Legislature for adopting this much-needed legislation and setting an example for other states in the region and around the country," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The exceptionally broad support demonstrated for this measure reflects the progress our nation is making toward adopting a new and more sensible approach to marijuana policy."

The Marijuana Policy Project has spent years lobbying for marijuana reform in Vermont.

"The days of criminalizing people simply for using a substance less harmful than alcohol are coming to an end,” Simon said.

That's already the cost in most of the states in the region. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island have all decriminalized pot possession. In New England, New Hampshire is now the lone hold-out.

Montpelier, VT
United States

New Hampshire Marijuana Decrim Bill Defeated in Senate

New Hampshire won't be the next state to decriminalize marijuana possession, at least not this year. The state Senate Thursday voted down a decriminalization bill, with senators calling it "deeply flawed."

Introduced by Rep. Kyle Tasker, House Bill 621 would have decriminalized the possession of up to a quarter ounce and imposed a maximum fine of $200. The bill passed the House in March on 214-115 vote.

But it had a rougher reception in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave it a negative recommendation in April, and now the Senate has killed it.

The bill was too lenient, opponents claimed. Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told the Associated Press the bill made punishments for pot possession more lenient than those for alcohol or tobacco (presumably for minors), that the House version of the bill had no age parameters, and that there were no increased penalties for repeat offenders.

Marijuana decriminalization or legalization bills have been introduced in nearly two dozen states this year. Some, like New Hampshire's, are already dead, but others remain alive.

Concord, NH
United States

California Senate Passes Drug Defelonization Bill

The California Senate Thursday passed a bill that would give prosecutors the option of charging people caught in the possession of small amounts of hard drugs with misdemeanors instead of felonies. Senate Bill 649, the Local Control in Sentencing Act, now goes before the Assembly.

California prison overcrowding (US Supreme Court)
Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill is designed to ameliorate California's ongoing over-incarceration crisis, reduce the burden of county corrections costs (counties are taking up the burden of imprisoning large numbers of people under the state's prison realignment plan), and increase the number of problem drug users entering drug treatment.

"One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities," said Leno. "However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give nonviolent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they're incarcerated and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education. SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals."

Thirteen other states already allow misdemeanor filings for hard drug possession, Leno said.

"In these 13 other states we can document that there is higher participation in drug treatment," Leno said. "As a result there is lower drug use. As a result, there is less violent and property crime in these 13 other states."

Leno sponsored similar legislation last year, but that measure required that hard drug possession be treated as misdemeanor. That led law enforcement to oppose it on the grounds that it removed leverage necessary to get drug users into treatment. This year's makes hard drug possession a "wobbler," meaning prosecutors could charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

"They need the hammer, the threat of a felony, to make sure certain people go into treatment," Leno explained.

Despite the partial retreat, this year's legislation was again supported by the ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance.

"We commend the Senate for approving this bill at a time when lasting, sustainable and common sense solutions to California's ongoing incarceration crisis are so needed," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California. "This bill will help counties break the state's addiction to incarceration by enabling them to invest their limited resources in the community-based treatment, rehabilitation and education programs proven to reduce recidivism, prevent crime and increase public safety."

But not everybody supported the legislation, which passed on a 23-14 vote. Three Democrats joined 11 Republicans in voting against the bill. Some of those opponents had old-school solutions instead.

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) noted that people can already go into drug treatment instead of jail under Proposition 36. He said the solution was to build more jails and prisons.

Sacramento, CA
United States

A Rising Marijuana Reform Tide at the Statehouses [FEATURE]

In the wake of the marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, and buoyed by a series of national public opinion polls showing support for pot legalization going over the tipping point, marijuana reform legislation is being introduced at state houses across the land at levels never seen before.

Oregon is one of the more promising states for marijuana legalization legislation. (Oregon State Capitol photo via oregon.gov)
While the mere fact that a bill has been introduced is no guarantee it's going to pass, that such bills are being introduced in record numbers speaks to how far the marijuana reform movement has come. According to a legislative activity web page maintained by the Marijuana Policy Project, decriminalization bills have been introduced in 10 states and the dependency of the Northern Mariana Islands this year, while outright legalization bills have been introduced in 11 states and the dependency of Puerto Rico.

(This article does not review current medical marijuana legislation, which will be the subject of an additional report. In the meanwhile, our Medical Marijuana Update each week provides extensive info on legislation and other developments in the issue.)

Some of the legalization and decrim bills are dead already (see below), but others remain alive. While passage of a legalization bill this year remains a long shot, decriminalization bills in some states may fare better.

NORML founder, erstwhile executive director and current legal counsel Keith Stroup has been fighting for marijuana law reform for more than 40 years. It's never looked better, he said.

"I wasn't sure I'd live long enough to see this happening, even though the demographics are on our side," he said. "A lot of these legislatures, though, are still playing around with medical marijuana, when the truth is voters are ready to go much further, probably for decriminalization and maybe for legalization. But after we won Colorado and Washington, you can see the increased confidence a number of legislators have demonstrated, and there's only going to be more of that."

Karen O'Keefe is director of state policies for MPP. She hasn't been at it as long as Stroup, but she has a solid decade of reform efforts under her belt, and she, too, said things were definitely looking up.

"When I first started at MPP, I don't think a single state had a tax and regulate bill, and now we have 11 states, and probably Ohio coming on board, too, with tax and regulate. People are realizing it's a serious issue with majority support, and legislatures are starting to catch up," said O'Keefe.

"We first saw majority support in the Gallup poll a couple of years ago, but there wasn't nearly as much activity as this year," she said. "Having two states approve marijuana legalization with solid majorities made it seem real. Colorado and Washington were initiative states, and the first medical marijuana states were initiative states, too. Once the people have led the way, legislators begin to realize it's a popular issue that makes sense and they start to act on it."

Here's what's going on in the state legislatures (excerpted with edits from the aforementioned MPP web page), with further discussion following:

Marijuana Legalization Bills

Alabama -- House Bill 550, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, would allow adults 21 and older to possess or grow limited amounts of marijuana. It would also allow a regulated and taxed marijuana industry, in addition to setting up a medical marijuana program. The bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Hawaii -- Speaker Joe Souki introduced House Bill 150 and House Bill 699, which would have allowed the taxed and regulated sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older. Both bills would also have allowed adults to cultivate marijuana in a locked, secure facility. On February 12, the House Judiciary Committee deferred action on HB 699, killing the bill for the year. Because of legislative deadlines, the other tax-and-regulate bill also will not be able to advance in 2013, which is the first year of Hawaii's biennial legislative session.

Maine -- Rep. Diane Russell’s LD 1229 would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana. It would also set up a system to license and regulate growers, infused product makers, retail stores, and labs. LD 1229 would impose a $50 per ounce tax on marijuana at the wholesale level. It was referred to the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on March 26.

Maryland -- House Bill 1453, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson, would have provided for a taxed and regulated marijuana industry. It would have also allowed adults 21 years of age and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana. HB 1453 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony on the bill on March 19. The bill did not advance out of committee before the deadline to pass the House.

Massachusetts -- Rep. Ellen Story has sponsored House Bill 1632, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana. It would allow a regulated, taxed marijuana industry once it is legal under federal law. HB 1632 was referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Nevada -- Assembly Bill 402, sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Hogan, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana. It would also create a taxed and regulated legal marijuana industry. AB 402 was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, but it did not advance before the deadline.

New Hampshire -- Rep. Steve Vaillancourt proposed House Bill 492, which would tax and regulate marijuana for adults’ use. It would also allow adults 21 and older to cultivate up to six plants. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee retained HB 492, meaning it will study the issue this fall. In addition, Rep. Mark Warden introduced House Bill 337, which would have made marijuana legal without imposing regulations. HB 337 received 112 votes on March 13, including from 52 Republicans, but 239 representatives voted against the bill, so it is dead for the year.

New Mexico -- Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino introduced Senate Joint Memorial 31, which would have directed the state's Economic Development Department to study the budgetary implications of a legal marijuana industry. The legislative session ended without SJM 31 receiving a floor vote.

Oregon -- The House Committee on Revenue introduced House Bill 3371, which would allow persons 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana. It would also set up a system of taxation and regulation for the commercial production and sale of marijuana, similar to alcohol. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary, which approved the bill on April 2. The bill is now pending in the House Committee on Revenue.

Pennsylvania -- Senate Bill 528, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach, would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. It would allow adults 21 years of age or older to purchase, cultivate, and possess limited amounts of marijuana. On April 3, the bill was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Puerto Rico -- Sen. Miguel Pereira has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 517, which would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess marijuana but would not provide for regulated distribution or cultivation.

Rhode Island -- On February 6, Rep. Edith Ajello introduced House Bill 5274, the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, which was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would tax and regulate marijuana sales for adults' use and would allow adults to cultivate up to three mature marijuana plants. Sen. Donna Nesselbush sponsors the Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 334. The bills are pending in the House and Senate judiciary committees.

Vermont --  Rep. Susan Davis’ House Bill 499 would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and to grow up to three plants. It would have required the Department of Liquor Control to regulate marijuana wholesalers, retailers, and labs and impose a $50 per ounce tax at the wholesale level. The bill did not advance before the crossover deadline. In addition, Sen. Jeanette White's Senate Bill 160 would create a Study Committee on the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana, which would be a legislative committee that would study a process for licensing marijuana businesses along with a taxation and regulatory structure.

Decriminalization Bills (generally speaking, see the notes)

Hawaii --  Sen. Kalani English sponsored Senate Bill 472, which would punish possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine, while Sen. Donovan De la Cruz sponsored Senate Bill 739, which would impose a civil fine of up to $100 for no more than an ounce of marijuana. The Senate unanimously approved SB 472 on March 5. Both bills are dead for the year, but they will carry over to the second year of the state's two-year session.

Illinois -- House Bill 2332 would have imposed a civil fine on possession of a tiny amount of marijuana -- 0.1 gram. It did not advance before the deadline.

Indiana -- Senate Bill 580, sponsored by Sen. Karen Tallian, would have made possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a class C infraction punishable by a fine only with no possibility of jail time. The bill, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, would also have made other reforms to Indiana's marijuana laws, including allowing hemp. The bill did not advance before the crossover deadline.

Maryland -- Senate Bill 297, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin, would have reduced the maximum penalty for possession up to 10 grams of marijuana to a $100 civil fine. The Senate approved the bill in a 30-16 vote on March 19, but it did not get a vote in the House Judiciary Committee before the legislature adjourned on April 8. Another bill sponsored by Sen. Zirkin -- Senate Bill 394 -- would have made the maximum fine for marijuana possession a $100 civil fine. That bill was withdrawn.

Michigan -- House Bill 4623, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Irwin, would replace possible jail time and criminal penalties with civil fines of $25, $50, or $100, depending on the number of prior convictions the person has for marijuana possession. The bill was introduced on April 24 and was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.

Missouri -- Rep. Rory Ellinger has introduced House Bill 512, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana from up to a year in prison to a fine of no more than $250 and a suspended sentence.

New Mexico -- House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Emily Kane, would have reduced the penalty for first offense possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil fine. A second offense would have been a petty misdemeanor carrying a $100 fine. It would have also imposed fines for up to eight ounces of marijuana. The bill passed the House, but the session ended before the Senate could vote on it.

New Hampshire -- Rep. Kyle Tasker proposed House Bill 621, which would impose a fine on simple possession of marijuana. On March 21, the House of Representatives amended the bill to apply only to a quarter of an ounce of marijuana and to impose a fine of up to $200. It then approved the bill in a 214-115 vote, sending it to the Senate. On April 16, the bill received a negative recommendation in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New Jersey -- Senate Bill 1977, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, would impose a $50 fine on up to 50 grams of marijuana (nearly two ounces). Assembly Bill 1465, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, was introduced in 2012 and passed the Assembly. The bill would impose civil fines starting at $150 on possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana. Both bills are pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New York -- Senate Bill 3315 would eliminate the "public use" exception to the state's decriminalization law, a reform supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. [Note: Although New York decriminalized in the 1970s, New York City police have continued to arrest tens of thousands of people each year under the "public use" exception.]

North Carolina -- Rep. Rep. Kelly Alexander sponsors House Bill 637, which would downgrade the penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor that does not carry jail time to a civil infraction.  [Note: This is a depenalization, not a decriminalization, bill.]

Northern Mariana Islands -- House Bill 18-42, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero, would impose a $50 fine on marijuana possession in the U.S. territory.

Texas -- Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. sponsors House Bill 184, which would make up to one ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine. It was referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which approved an amended version of the bill on April 23. The bill would now only apply to persons under 21 for their first offense.

Vermont -- Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, and House Bill 200, sponsored by Rep. Chris Pearson, would impose a civil fine on possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under H. 200, a person under 21 who is found in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would have to undergo substance abuse screening and possible treatment. On April 16, the House of Representatives approved H. 200 in a 92-49 vote, sending the bill to the Senate. Gov. Peter Shumlin has been a strong proponent of replacing criminal penalties with a civil fine.

Denver "420" rally, April 2013 (facebook.com/pages/420-Rally/104447806260934)
As the lists demonstrate, some bills have died already, but others still breathe, and some could even pass this year.

"We're most involved in Vermont, and we're very hopeful the decriminalization bill there will pass before the legislature adjourns," said MPP's O'Keefe. "The bill is in the Senate, and the governor is supportive. That's probably the best chance for removing criminal penalties this year."

Passing a legalization bill could take a little longer, she said.

"Tax and regulate could end up taking a couple of years," said O'Keefe, "but the bills in Maine and Oregon are getting serious consideration, and Rhode Island legislators seem very reasonable. But we don't think it's likely to pass in Rhode Island this year, although we are hopeful in will in the next couple of years be one of the first states to pass it."

That it should take a year or two or three to get marijuana legalization passed in any given state legislature is no surprise, O'Keefe said.

"We've had a lot of bills that got a vote one year, but legislators needed more time to think and be educated," she pointed out. "In Illinois, the House twice voted down medical marijuana before passing it, and in New Hampshire tax and regulate has slowly been gaining more and more support. This isn't something legislators are used to, and in most cases it takes them awhile to get used to it."

For Stroup, using the initiative process in states that allow for it is the best bet, but he cautioned that the movement is going to have to be able to win victories at the statehouse, too.

"Any time we have the choice of going to the people, it's always in our interest to do so," he said. "We know increasingly from the public opinion surveys that if the people decide, we win. Elected officials remain more timid about this than the public -- they're really worried about getting reelected and less worried about reform legislation -- but realistically, we have to be able to win in the states that don't have initiatives."

When it comes to passing bills, though, Stroup drew a parallel with the first burst of decriminalization efforts in the 1970s. Oregon and Maine went for decriminalization early in the decade, but the other handful of states that decriminalized in that era only came in at the end of the decade.

"When we won those first couple of states in the 1970s, we thought we were off and running, but the other states were all waiting to see what would happen, so we didn't win anything for a couple of years," he recalled. "I think we're in the same phase now when it comes to legalization. I have no doubt we will eventually win full legalization everywhere, but for the next couple of years, people in Colorado and Washington are going to have to be especially careful that they are demonstrating responsible use."

Cannabis culture celebrations like 4/20 have their place, said Stroup, but the rest of the time, it should be about responsible use.

"That's not the tactic we need the rest of the year," he said. "We want to demonstrate to the average person that nothing really changes when you legalize marijuana except you quit arresting responsible marijuana smokers and raise some revenue. What we don't want is a bunch of out-of-control pot smokers driving crazy -- that will scare neighboring states and cause a political backlash," the veteran activist warned.

"A backlash because of bad behavior won't stop us -- the demographics are on our side -- but whether it takes five years or 15 depends to some degree on how well we behave ourselves. We may see decriminalization pass somewhere, but I don't think we'll win legalization this year. I think before that passes in state legislatures, those lawmakers need to see that what Colorado and Washington did was a good thing."

The process of turning legalization victories at the voting booth into actual taxed, regulated, and legal commerce in Colorado and Washington is a process in progress in both states right now. By next year, those two states should be living experiments in marijuana legalization. Doing it right there will make it easier to get it done elsewhere. If not this year, next year. Or 2016.

Poll of DC Voters Finds Two-Thirds Support Marijuana Legalization

District of Columbia map
Activists planning possible Washington, DC, marijuana reform efforts got some good news this week. A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found that three-quarters of DC voters support decriminalizing marijuana possession, two-thirds (67%) think law enforcement resources focused on marijuana should be used elsewhere, and nearly two-thirds (63%) said they would support ballot measures similar to those in Colorado and Washington state, where voters legalized marijuana last November.

DC voters weren't just interested in lessening marijuana law enforcement. A solid majority (54%) said drug use should be treated as a public health issue and people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.

DC-based activists have been meeting about plans to push pot law reforms. The first stop is the city council, but it the council balks, there are also contingency plans for a possible ballot initiative. In interviews earlier this year, activists said they were waiting for polling results before deciding on a course of action. Now they have them.

Adam Eidinger holding "Free Bryan Epis" sign at protest of then drug czar John Walters, 2002 (drugwar.com)
"As a 20-year DC resident, I know scores of people who have been humiliated with an arrest and have even spent time in jail for possessing small quantities of marijuana," said longtime District activist and spokesman for Dr. Bronner's Natural Soaps Adam Eidinger. "This new poll confirms that there is little support for laws that criminalize marijuana consumers in the District and they are due for repeal. We hope it inspires the Council to craft meaningful marijuana policy reform legislation, but in either case a change in the law appears to be inevitable."

"District voters, like most Americans, think it is time for a new, more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Steve Fox of the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "People should not be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Harsh criminal penalties should be reserved for serious criminals, and our law enforcement resources should be reserved for addressing serious crimes."

"DC voters clearly want to end the failed war on drugs," said Bill Piper, DC-based national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Decriminalizing marijuana is a no-brainer, but the Council should do more. There is an opportunity to make a clean break from the past and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. More access to treatment and health services. No more putting people in jail."

The ball is in the DC City Council's court, but if elected representatives fail to act, the threat of direct democracy via the initiative process looms.

Washington, DC
United States

Vermont House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization

The Vermont House of Representatives Friday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill passed on a vote of 98-44.

The bill now moves to the Senate. It is supported by state Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, both of whom testified for it in the House. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has also expressed support for decriminalization.

Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tri-partisan group of 38 cosponsors, House Bill 200 would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, making it only a ticketable offense, like a traffic citation. Minors under 21 would additionally have to undergo substance abuse screening.

Under current Vermont law, possession of up to two ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, and up to two years in jail if it's not a first offense.

"Vermont is another step closer to adopting a more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The support demonstrated by members of the House reflects that of the state's top law enforcement officials and the voters."

Marijuana is decriminalized in 17 states, including Vermont's neighbors, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.

Montpelier, VT
United States

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dies

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana has died in the House. Legislators earlier killed a marijuana legalization bill.

The decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 472, passed out of the Senate a month ago and saw fervent debate in House committee hearings, but House leaders said there was not enough support for the bill to move forward.

Rep. Karl Rhoads (D-District 29), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee told the Associated Press Wednesday that there weren't enough votes to push the bill through. And although the state's two-year legislative session would allow the bill to be taken up again next year without having to pass the Senate again, Rhoads said he doubted that would happen.

"It was a moderate measure," Rhoads told the AP. "If this couldn't pass, I think it's very unlikely that anything is going to pass next year."

Marijuana reform supporters, including the ACLU of Hawaii and two new coalitions aimed at changing the state's marijuana laws, Fresh Approach Hawaii and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii, had been optimistic about the bill's prospects after it passed the Senate, but it ran into stiff opposition from law enforcement and community groups. Police testified that reforming the marijuana laws would make their job more difficult and increase crime.

Honolulu, HI
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School