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Medical Marijuana Update

The biggest medical marijuana news this week has to be the Oregon election that saw a pro-medical marijuana attorney general candidate win against a former interim US Attorney, but there was plenty of other news, as well. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, Mitt Romney got asked about medical marijuana and didn't much like the question or really answer it. "Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney asks the interviewer. "The economy, the economy, the economy. The growth of jobs. The need to put people back to work. The challenges of Iran. We've got enormous issues that we face, but you want talk about -- go ahead -- you want to talk about marijuana? I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it is a gateway drug to other drug violations. The use of illegal drugs in this country is leading to terrible consequences in places like Mexico -- and actually in our country."

On Tuesday, a Mason Dixon poll found broad support for medical marijuana among Republicans. Some 67% of Republicans said federal officials should respect state medical marijuana laws. So did 75% of Democrats and 79% of independents.

Also on Tuesday, researchers reported that smoking marijuana can relieve MS symptoms. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that smoked marijuana relieved pain and muscle tightness spasticity. The research was published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Arizona

As of Monday, Arizona started accepting dispensary applications. Arizona has some of the strictest dispensary rules in the country, including requirements that a licensed physician be employed on premises, that letters be obtained showing dispensaries are complying with zoning laws, and that they have a business plan showing they are operating as nonprofits. Then there is the $5,000 application fee and the preference that will be shown to those who can prove they have $150,000 in the bank. Still, competition is expected to be fierce for the licenses, which will be capped at 125 statewide. Interested parties have until May 25 to apply.

California

Beginning Saturday, a medical marijuana "Unity" conference gets underway in Sacramento. It goes through Monday and is aimed in part at obtaining passage of Assembly Bill 2312 to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and distribution statewide. The conference is sponsored by the PAC Californians to Regulate Marijuana as well as  Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and the Emerald Growers Association. The conference will focus on skill-building and grass roots leadership, with a day of lobbying set for Monday.

Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara dispensary operator took a plea deal. Charles Restivo, operator of the Pacific Coast Collective between 2008 and 2010, was arrested after a four-dispensary raid by local law enforcement in February 2010. He was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana for sale since authorities argued the dispensary was violating state laws regarding medical marijuana. Under the deal, Restivo pleaded guilty to one new count of possession of concentrated cannabis (hash) in return for the other charges being dropped. He will get three years probation.

Also last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council voted to oppose Measure D, the Lake County marijuana cultivation initiative set to go before voters June 5. The council's action follows similar votes taken by the Lake County Office of Education Board of Trustees Wednesday night, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and the Lakeport City Council last week. It is also opposed by the Sierra Club, the Lake County Deputy Sheriffs Association, Kelseyville Business Association, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, California Women for Agriculture, Lake County Farm Bureau, the Buckingham and Clear Lake Riviera homeowners associations, and the Lake County Association of Realtors' Board of Directors. Measure D would allow 12 female plants to be grown in residential areas on lots under a half acre, 24 plants on lots larger than a half acre and 84 plants on larger parcels.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided a Fontana dispensary. The raiders hit Holistic Meds RX, detaining four people, and seizing large quantities of medical marijuana. It was a federal warrant, but town and San Bernadino County police aided the DEA. Dispensaries have opened in Fontana, but have been unable to get permits because the city considers the businesses illegal.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles city council postponed adopting a "gentle" ban on dispensaries proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar. The move came after Councilman Paul Koretz instead proposing allowing some dispensaries to continue to operate if they agreed to city regulations. Koretz called Huizar's "gentle" ban, which would close all dispensaries, but allow personal and collective grows, in reality a "vicious, heartless" ban. The city is home to an uncertain number of dispensaries, somewhere in the hundreds.


Colorado

On Monday, 25 dispensaries targeted by federal officials had to be closed down. That was the second wave of dispensaries threatened by US Attorney John Walsh, who earlier forced 22 out of business. He says a third wave of threat letters is forthcoming. In the first wave, Walsh targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools; in the second wave, he targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of college campuses. No telling yet what his criteria will be next time.

On Tuesday, the Dacono city council moved forward with its ban on dispensaries, as well as grows and edibles manufacturing. The council voted 4-2 for the ban, but must do so one more time on June 11 before it takes effect. The town has had a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses since July 2010, but that edict expires on July 1. The town has three existing dispensaries, but they would be forced to close if the ban passes.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state appeals court confirmed the conviction of a man who had a medical marijuana card, but not a fence. Lewis Keller of Emmet County got busted with 15 plants on his property. Under state law, he could have 12, but it had to be fenced. Keller said he knew he was over the limit, but he didn't realize the plants had to be secured.

On Tuesday, the Jackson city council got an earful from advocates concerned about its proposed medical marijuana ordinance. Under the proposed ordinance, qualifying patients or primary caregivers who are registered by the Michigan Department of Community Health to grow marijuana could do so in their homes. Patients could consume the drug only in their homes or their primary caregivers' homes. Patients and primary caregivers also could grow medical marijuana at non-dwelling locations in certain commercial and industrial business districts.
The city has had a moratorium on medical marijuana operations during the drafting of the ordinance. The city council will revisit the issue next week.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the House passed a medical marijuana bill already passed by the Senate. It now goes back to the Senate for approval of changes. Gov. John Lynch (D) has vowed to veto the bill over concerns over distribution, just as he did in 2009, when a veto override failed by two votes in the Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, a Siena College poll found majority support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The poll had 57% supporting it and only 33% opposed. A bill in the Assembly has been stalled since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signaled that this was not the year for it.

Oregon

On Tuesday, Ellen Rosenblum defeated former interim US Attorney Dwight Holden in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination for state attorney general. Oregon medical marijuana activists and national drug reformers rallied against Holden and supported medical marijuana-friendly Rosenblum as she picked up 63% of the vote against the former front-runner. Activists said the vote shows opposing medical marijuana carries a political price tag.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the House passed compromise dispensary legislation. A similar measure has already passed the Senate, so after the formalities of concurrence votes, the measure will head to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), who is expected to sign it.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco city council moved closer to banning grows. A workshop discussion that night leaves little doubt that the city will outlaw medical marijuana gardens in the city at its next meeting to avoid violating federal anti-drug laws. Pasco is among Washington cities that have been waiting for nearly a year for the legislature to act to clarify a law allowing cities to write their own rules for medical marijuana garden collectives. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance Monday.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Colorado Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Delegates at the Colorado Democratic Party state convention in Pueblo Saturday formally endorsed Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. Because support for the initiative was so strong at the convention, the endorsement becomes part of the party's "essential" platform.

The initiative had already won the support of Democrats in 15 counties, including eight of the 10 most populous. Those counties are Boulder, Delta, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, Elbert, El Paso, Garfield, Jefferson, La Plata, Larimer, Pitkin, Pueblo, Routt, and Weld.

"This is a mainstream issue," said Cindy Lowery-Graber, chair of the Denver Democratic Party. "Polls show that more than 60% of Democrats and a solid majority of independents believe marijuana should be treated like alcohol. A broad coalition is forming in support of Amendment 64 and I am proud to say that it now includes the Colorado Democratic Party."

It's not just Democrats and independents who are supporting the notion of marijuana regulation. Last month, the Denver County Republican Assembly approved a resolution calling for just that, although they did not explicitly endorse Amendment 64. That resolution got 56% of the vote.

"While there may be more support among Democrats and independents, this is quickly becoming a popular position," the campaign's Mason Tvert told Westword over the weekend. "Supporting an end to marijuana prohibition and regulating marijuana like alcohol is a position that spans the political and ideological spectrum."

Colorado is not the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in November. A similar measure has qualified in Washington state. Signature-gathering campaigns are ongoing in a number of other states, with Montana and Oregon appearing to have the best shot of making the ballot.

Denver, CO
United States

Billboard Goes Up for Colorado Marijuana Initiative

In the opening move of its election season effort to pass Amendment 64, a marijuana legalization and regulation initiative, the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has put up a billboard in the heart of Denver featuring a nice, middle aged woman who says, "For many reasons, I prefer marijuana over alcohol" and asks "Does that make me a bad person?"

the first billboard in the Colorado campaign (CRMLA)
The billboard near Mile High Stadium sits above a liquor store. It went up last Thursday.

The initiative, which takes the form of a constitutional amendment, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over. Adults would also be able to possess up to six plants -- three mature -- and the fruits of their harvest.

It also calls for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. It would require the legislature to pass an excise tax on the wholesale sale of marijuana and that the first $40 million in tax revenues each year be dedicated to the state's public school capital construction assistance fund. It would give local governments the ability to regulate such facilities or prohibit them.

In the most recent polling on the issue, a December Public Policy Polling survey found that 49% supported the general notion of legalizing marijuana -- the poll did not ask specifically about Amendment 64 -- while 40% opposed it and 10% were undecided.

That shows that victory is within reach, but by no means assured. One of the key demographic groups needed to win is mothers and middle-aged women, like that nice lady on the billboard.

Colorado isn't the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot. A similar effort in Washington has qualified for the ballot, while signature-gathering for initiatives continues in a number of states. Of those, efforts in Oregon and Montana now appear to have the best shot of actually qualifying for the ballot.

Rasmussen Poll Finds 47% Say Legalize, Tax Marijuana

Support for legalizing and taxing marijuana out-muscled opposition to it in the latest Rasmussen poll to ask respondents about the issue. Support was at 47%, while opposition was at 42%, with 10% undecided in the poll released last Thursday.

Respondents were asked the following question: "To help solve America's fiscal problems, should the country legalize and tax marijuana?"

Rasmussen conducted a telephone survey of 1,000 adults nationwide this week. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

Support is up four points since Rasmussen last asked that question in July 2010. That's in line with most recent national polls, which show a continuing upward trend for legalization, which is now hovering on the cusp of majority support. Angus Reid polled support for legalization at 55% in August, while Gallup had at it 50% in October, continuing long-term upward trends in support. A November CBS News poll had support at only 40%, a decline from its previous number, but it is the downside outlier.

Colorado and Washington will vote on marijuana legalization initiatives in November, but the Rasmussen poll doesn't provide cross-tabs and geographic breakdowns to anyone except paying subscribers, so regional data is unavailable. Most other polls show higher levels of support for marijuana legalization in the West than in the country as a whole.

Mexico Presidential Candidate Vows to End Drug War

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the candidate-in-waiting of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), said last week that he would end the US-backed war on drugs in Mexico if he is elected president. He said his government would instead concentrate on creating jobs and fighting corruption.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (wikimedia.org)
His comments come as the region is awash in criticism of US-style drug wars and calls for a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization and legalization. Regional heads of state will meet to discuss the issue later this month, and it looks likely to be on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia next month.

AMLO was also the PRD candidate in the 2006 elections, barely losing to National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon in a hotly contested election. At least in part to strengthen his stature amid accusations of election fraud, Calderon called out the military to fight Mexican drug trafficking organization shortly after taking office. Since then, more than 50,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence, shaking the country's confidence in its institutions.

Lopez is currently trailing the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto and PAN nominee Josefina Vazquez Mota in national polls. In one poll early this month, Pena Nieto had 36%, Vazquez Mota had 29%, and AMLO had 17%. In another, the figures were Pena Nieto at 49%, Vazquez Mota at 28%, and AMLO at 19%.

"We're going to stop the war (against organized crime) and justice will be procured," if he is elected, AMLO said in remarks reported by the Mexico City daily La Jornada. "We are not going to use this strategy because it has not produced results. There will be jobs, we'll fight corruption and calm down the country. We know how to do it, I'm sure," he said.

He also vowed to end impunity and criticized the government's use of high-profile arrests and heavily-covered presentations of captured capos to the media as evidence it was actually achieving anything in its battle with the drug cartels.

"Politicians who want to resolve everything through the use of the media are responsible for the lack of security and violence, because they have not established justice, employment and wellbeing. They look the other way and, continue a policy that produces poverty, resentment, hate, hostility, insecurity and violence; they want to resolve it with wars, threats of a crackdown and PR stunts," he said.

"How are those who have no moral authority, who are dishonest and corrupt, going to guarantee justice?" AMLO asked. "With what moral authority can they ask others to do right if they don't do it themselves? And furthermore they let established interest groups make decisions just like in the past in this country."

Bernardo Batiz, whom Lopez Obrador has named as his attorney general-in-waiting if he wins, added that they want to bring social peace and respect for the human rights of victims, witnesses, and criminals alike.

"We propose to move from a war where there are enemies to a justice system with humane criteria," he said. He also vowed there would not be harsher laws, more prisons, more soldiers in the streets, or "complicity with anybody," a clear reference to the widespread suspicion in Mexico that the Calderon government is cozy with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel.

While AMLO and company were campaigning against the drug war, PAN candidate Vazquez Mota was doing some drug-related politicking herself. On Saturday, as she filed documents needed to make her the official PAN candidate, Vazquez Mota also handed in a drug test and a lie detector test she said showed she has no ties to organized crime.

The election is July 1.

California Marijuana Initiatives Starving for Cash [FEATURE]

Proponents of four out of five of the California marijuana initiative campaigns came together to tout the merits of their various measures at a public meeting in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the road from San Francisco, Tuesday night. But the take away message from the confab was that every single one of the initiatives is in serious trouble if it doesn't get a large cash injection -- and soon.

the crowd listens in Mill Valley
Three of the initiatives, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine 2012 (RMLW), the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012 (RCPA), and the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative of 2012 (CCHHI), offer competing, though mostly similar, versions of legalization, while the  Marijuana Penalties Act of 2012 would expand decriminalization. The fifth initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012 (MMRCTA), seeks to bring statewide regulation to the state's confused and chaotic medical marijuana marketplace.

Disinterested but detailed summaries of each initiative are available at the state Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) initiative fiscal analysis web page, and are highly recommended reading for those interested in the finer picture of what each initiative does. But in summary, according to the LAO, each of the three legalization initiatives would change state law to legalize marijuana possession by adults and regulate the legal commerce in it.

Equally striking, in the LAO's analysis, each of the three legalization initiatives would save the state either "potentially tens of millions of dollars" (RMLW) or "potentially the low hundreds of millions" (RCPA, CCHHI) annually in pot prohibition enforcement costs foregone. At the same time, any of the three would generate "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars" annually in tax revenues, while the MMRCTA would generate "tens of millions of dollars" in potential additional revenues.

The LAO took care, however, to point out that its fiscal impact estimates, and especially its revenue estimates, depended highly on the nature of the federal response to marijuana legalization in California. The figures cited above happen only if the federal government allows  a legal marijuana commerce to thrive.

With that pot of green gold from legalization enticingly foreseeable, even if the path past federal intransigence is unclear, the frustration of initiative campaigners at their inability to raise money to get on the ballot is evident. With each day that passes without a paid professional signature-gathering campaign underway, the cost of gathering each signature goes up. And the clock is ticking. The initiatives have only until April 20 to turn in 504,000 valid voter signatures.

"Time is running out to get these initiatives on the ballot," RMLW campaign presenter Steve Collett, a Los Angeles attorney, told the crowd. "We're going to need to raise some money to do it. We think we need about $2 million to get on the ballot, and then we can reap $230 million a year forever."

Collett pointed to RMLW's list of endorsements and a poll it commissioned showing 62% support for the measure as enticements to potential funders. RMLW is going to need those funders, and it's in the best shape of any of the legalization initiatives.

The RMLW campaign had only raised $131,000 by the end of December, according to the California Secretary of State, and only another $20,000 since then. It currently has only 40,000-50,000 signatures gathered. The other campaigns are in even worse shape.

"We're all down to the last minute," said Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, spokesman for the RCPA campaign. "If we don't get money to get professional signature-gatherers, we don't get on the ballot," he added. "But," he reminded the audience, "with Proposition 215, we got most of the signatures in five weeks with the professionals."

Dale Gieringer of MMCTR and Bill Panzer of Repeal
CCHHI campaign spokesman Buddy Dusy was mum about fundraising, but said the campaign had 130 paid signature-gatherers. "We need to do it for Jack Herer," he said.

California NORML
head Dale Gieringer, who acted as spokesman for the MMRCTA campaign, said it was in do or die negotiations with potential funders right now and has a team of experienced campaign professionals ready to go.

"These are very critical negotiations going on right now, and we will know within another week or so if this comes through," he said. "If we don't get the money, we're not going to get on the ballot."

"Proposition 19 was the wrong election year, it was poorly drafted, and it was opposed by people in our movement who feared for patients' rights, but it still did very well," said Panzer. "Any of these initiatives can pass if they make it to the ballot."

But Gieringer argued that fixing medical marijuana needed to come first.

"All the polls I've seen show that legalization is very dicey in California, but when you talk about medical marijuana and the need for regulation, support is in the 60s," he told the crowd. "It's hard to call on the public to further liberalize the marijuana laws when they feel things are chaotic enough with medical marijuana. We have to demonstrate that we can regulate medical marijuana to make the public comfortable enough to move on to the next step, legalization."

Although there was talk Tuesday about forging unity, none of the initiative campaigns was prepared to give up and go to work for the other. That leaves three legalization campaigns and the medical marijuana initiative all competing for the same funding, and all of them -- so far at least -- coming up short.

While, barring a miracle, seeing marijuana legalization on the California ballot this year looks extremely unlikely, perhaps the movement can get its act together for 2014 or 2016. At least, the campaigns are starting to talk about it.

"We need a coalition of all the legalization people to create an organization that will be a true legalization coalition in California," said Collett. "We have the same long-term objectives, but differences about how to go about it. Sometimes egos get in the way, but we have to focus on the 70,000 Californians getting arrested for marijuana every year."

Mill Valley, CA
United States

Marijuana Law Reform at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

State legislatures have convened or are convening all around the country, and once again this year, marijuana decriminalization or legalization are hot topics at the statehouse. Legalization bills are pending in three states (as well as on the ballot as initiatives in Washington and almost certainly Colorado), decriminalization bills are alive in nine states, and bills that would improve existing decriminalization laws have been filed in two states.

And this is still early in the legislative season. Bills can still be introduced in many states, and bills that have already been introduced can advance or be killed. By around the beginning of May, a clearer picture should emerge, but 2012 is already looking to be even more active than last year when it comes to decriminalization and legalization bills.

There's a reason for that, said leading reformers.

"We're seeing more bills introduced, and they're having stronger and more sponsors," said Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We're also seeing more and more public support for decriminalization and legalization. We're approaching critical mass as more and more people see marijuana prohibition as a failed public policy, and in legislatures because of fiscal constraints and changing public sentiment."

"Each year, these bills are easier to introduce, there is less controversy, and the media reaction is generally neutral to positive," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Baby boomers, medical marijuana, the Internet, and the state of the economy have all had an impact, even, finally, on legislators and their staffs," he explained.

"Before 1996, nobody invited NORML; now our staff is regularly going to meetings requested by legislators around the country," St. Pierre recalled. "First, we couldn't get them to return our phone calls; now they're calling us. Everything is in play because of activists around the country doing years of work."

That contact with legislators has led to results, St. Pierre said. "We've been involved in almost all of this legislation. Either we helped write it or legislators contacted us for deep background and we're testifying at public hearings on these bills."

MPP has been busy, too, O'Keefe said. "We have paid lobbyists in Rhode Island and Vermont, and one of our legislative analysts, Matt Simon, is from New Hampshire and has been working on bills up there," she said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, O'Keefe thought the prospects of passage were best in Rhode Island and Vermont. "In Rhode Island, more than half of both chambers are cosponsors of the decriminalization bill, while in Vermont, Gov. Shumlin has been very supportive, and for the first time we have a Republican sponsor in the Senate -- we already had one in the House," she said.

Getting a marijuana bill through a state legislature is a frustrating, time-consuming process, and there is a chance that none of these bills will pass this year. But there is also a chance some will, and some will pass eventually, if not this year, next year, or the year after.

Here is what is currently going on around marijuana law reform at the state house (compiled from our Legislative Center, with additional information from MPP's list of bills and from cantaxreg.com):

Legalization Bills

Massachusetts


Thirteen months ago, Rep. Ellen Story introduced House Bill 1371, which would allow the legal and regulated sale of marijuana to adults. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary then, and it is still pending. A hearing is scheduled on March 6.

New Hampshire

Last month, Rep. Calvin Pratt (R) introduced HB 1705, which would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and allow for regulated retail and wholesale sales. Marijuana would be taxed at a rate of $45 an ounce at wholesale and at 19% of the wholesale price at retail. The bill is now before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Washington

Last year, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D) and 13 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1550, which would replace prohibition with regulation. It and a companion bill, Senate Bill 5598, are still both alive. Dickerson's bill is pending in the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness.

Decriminalization Bills

Arizona


On January 9, Rep. John Fillmore (R) filed House Bill 2044, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a petty offense punishable by up to a $400 fine. Simple possession is currently a Class 6 felony in Arizona.

Hawaii

In March 2011, the Hawaii Senate passed Senate Bill 1460, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce to a civil fine capped at $100. The current law specifies a jail stay of up to 30 days and a $1,000 fine. That bill was carried over and is now before the House Health, Public and Military Affairs, and Judiciary committees. Also carried over is House Bill 544, which would make possession of less than an ounce a violation instead of a misdemeanor and impose a maximum $500 fine. That bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Illinois

In January 2011, Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced House Bill 100, which would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 28.35 grams of marijuana to a $500 fine for a first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for a subsequent offense. It would also reduce the charge from a misdemeanor to a petty offense. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce can be penalized with up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill has been referred to House Rules Committee, and is still alive in Illinois' two-year session.

Indiana

Last month, Sen. Karen Tallian introduced Senate Bill 347, which would reduce several marijuana-related penalties, including by making possession of up to three ounces of marijuana a civil infraction, punishable by up to a $500 fine and court costs. SB 347 was referred to the Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters.

New Hampshire

Last week, House Bill 1526, which would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, got a hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Sponsored by Rep. William Panek (R),the bill would mandate a maximum $100 fine. It also provides for notification of parents of minor offenders, who could be ordered to attend a drug awareness program.

New Jersey

Last month, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) introduced Assembly Bill 1465, which would reduce the penalty for 15 grams or less of marijuana to a civil penalty. The first violation would be punishable by a $150 fine, $200 fine for a second offense, and $500 after that. Any adult caught three times would be ordered to undertake a drug education program, as would any minor regardless of prior offenses. The bill is currently before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island

Last month, more than half of the Rhode Island House of Representatives cosponsored Rep. John Edwards' bill to fine adults for simple possession of marijuana and to sentence minors to drug awareness classes. The bill, House Bill 7092, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Current law provides for up to a year in jail and $500 fine; the bill would make it a civil offense with a maximum $150 fine.

Tennessee

In February 2011, Rep. Mike Kernell introduced House Bill 1737, which would reduce the penalty for less than 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana to a fine between $250 and $2,500. Possession would remain a Class A misdemeanor, but the bill would remove the possibility of a year-long jail sentence. Fines would remain the same.  A companion bill, Senate Bill 1597, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both bills remain alive in the state's two-year legislative session.

Vermont

Last year, a tri-partisan group of legislators led by Rep. Jason Lorber filed House Bill 427, which would reduce the penalty for adults' possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to civil fine of up to $150. Minors would be sent to drug education and community service for a first offense, as would adults under 21 convicted of a second or subsequent offense. The current penalty for first offense possession of marijuana is a fine of up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. Second offense possession is currently punishable by up to two years in prison and/or up to a $1,000 fine. The bill is still alive in the state's two-year legislative session. Last month, Sen. Joe Benning (R) and Sen. Philip Baruth (D) filed Senate Bill 134, which would reduce marijuana penalties, including by reducing the penalty for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana to a civil fine of up to $100. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Decriminalization Improvement Bills

New York


Last year, legislators filed bills aimed at removing New York City's reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital. The state's current decriminalization law creates an exception for marijuana possessed in a public place and which is burning or open to the public view. The NYPD has used that exception to arrest more than 50,000 people a year on misdemeanor charges instead of issuing them tickets. In May, Sen. Mark Grisanti (R) filed Senate Bill 5187, while Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries introduced a companion bill, A 7620. Both bills were referred to their chambers’ Codes Committees and are still alive.

North Carolina

A bill that would reclassify possession of an ounce as an infraction instead of a misdemeanor has been filed in North Carolina. HB 324 increases the decrim amount from a half-ounce, but removes the automatic suspended sentence for a first offense.

Twelve states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far (and possession in small amounts at home is legal under the Alaska constitution), but between an initial burst of reform activity in the 1970s and Nevada's decriminalization in 2002, there were three decades of stagnation. Since then, three more states- -- California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- have come on board, and chances are more will follow shortly, Legalization remains a tougher nut to crack, but so far, there are opportunities in five states this year.

Marijuana Reform Polling Well in Rhode Island

Rhode Islanders are ready to decriminalize and maybe even legalize marijuana, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). The poll found nearly two-thirds support (65%) decriminalization and bare majority support (52%) for legalization.

The poll comes as the state legislature ponders a pair of bills, House Bill 7092 and Senate Bill 2253, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of weed to a citation with a maximum $150 fine. Under current law, possession is punishable by a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.

Decriminalization had support across the political spectrum, with 73% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 60% of independents in favor of the measure. In addition to political party, the poll provided cross-tabs on age and gender. In no group was there less than majority support for decriminalization. The least supportive group was voters over 65, and even 58% of them supported decriminalization.

But maybe legislators should set their sights a bit higher and go for legalization. It looks like the Rhode Island electorate is just about there already with 52% saying they supported taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

Legalization won majority support among men (59%), but not women (45%); among Democrats (55%) and Republicans (54%), but not independents (49%); and among every age group except voters over 65, 55% of whom opposed it.

"As this polling demonstrates, the public is clearly aware that marijuana prohibition is failed policy and they are ready for change," said MPP legislative analyst Robert Capecchi. "The people of Rhode Island understand the need for sensible marijuana policy reform. Ending marijuana prohibition would created entire industries with hundreds of jobs, allow the government to collected needed revenue from responsible sales, and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors through thorough regulations."

The poll also asked about medical marijuana and found strong support (72%) for the state's program. Nearly as many (70%) said they wanted Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) to implement the state's 2009 creating three nonprofit dispensaries for patients. Chafee stopped the program because of fears of federal intervention.

RI
United States

California Medical Marijuana Initiative Polls at Nearly 60%

A medical marijuana initiative aiming at the November ballot found nearly 60% support in a poll conducted last week. The Probolsky Research poll reported that 34.5% of respondents would "definitely vote yes," 22.5% would "probably vote yes," and 2.3% were "leaning toward" a yes vote.That comes out to 59.8% saying they favor the initiative

The initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Tax Act (MMRCTA) would impose comprehensive, statewide regulations on medical marijuana distribution. The act would create a state medical marijuana board, require all dispensaries and commercial cultivation operations to be licensed after July 1, 2013, and impose a 2.5% state medical marijuana sales tax. (For more detail on the initiative, see our recent feature article here.)

Only 23.6% of respondents would definitely vote no, with another 9.7% who would probably vote no, and an additional 2.0% who were leaning toward no, for a total "no" vote of 34.3%. Some 5.5% of respondents were either decisively uncertain or refused to answer.

The question respondents answered was directly about the MMRCTA: "The California Medical Marijuana Regulation Act may appear on the November ballot in California. It reads: 'Creates a state enforcement division to regulate and control all entities involved in the commercial cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana in California; requires their mandatory registration with the state; and establishes a state excise tax of upon all medical marijuana grown for sale in California.' If the election were held today, would you vote Yes to approve or No to reject this initiative? And would you say that you would definitely vote [yes/no] or probably vote [yes/no]? If unsure, would you say that you lean one way or another?"

Only limited additional polling data is available at this point, but Probolsky did provide data on where support for the initiative was strongest: among Democrats (65.8%), unaffiliated voters (67.4%), foreign-born voters (67.5%), Asian voters (66.7%), and those who feel California is on the right track (68.4%). Democratic voters over age 55 are especially supportive at 70.0%.

The poll was conducted last week in English and Spanish using landline and cell phones. A total of 750 surveys were recorded, yielding a margin of error of +-3.7%.

The MMRTC campaign has a self-imposed goal of raising a million dollars by February 9 and estimates it could take twice that much for a successful signature-gathering campaign. This poll should help push them toward that goal. The conventional wisdom is that initiatives need to be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins, and MMRTC is very, very close.

CA
United States

"Regulate Marijuana Like Wine" Wins 62% in CA Poll

A voter survey commissioned by California's Regulate Marijuana Like Wine (RMLW) initiative campaign suggests the initiative could win at the polls in November -- if it manages to make it onto the ballot.

RMLW is one of handful of proposed 2012 California marijuana legalization initiatives, all of them ill-funded. For any of them to make the ballot, they have to come up with more than 500,000 valid voter signatures by April, a task that is considered almost impossibly to accomplish by volunteer efforts alone.

RMLW commissioned the poll in a bid to show potential funders it could win in November, and with these poll results, the campaign can now make that argument. California initiative watchers estimate that it would take between $1 and $2 million in paid signature-gathering to make the ballot.

The statewide poll of 800 likely voters conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates found support for the initiative at 62%, with 35% opposed and 3% undecided. No cross-tabs have been made available.

The poll found even higher levels of support for more general critiques of current drug laws and the level of attention California law enforcement pays to marijuana. Four out of five respondents (80%) agreed with the statement, "State and federal drug laws are outdated and have failed, therefore, we need to take a new approach that makes sense for today," while 71% agreed that law enforcement spends too much, time, money, and resources enforcing marijuana laws.

If RMLW were to pass, the California Legislative Analyst's Office has projected "savings of potentially several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments of the costs of incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders," as well as potentially generating "hundreds of millions of dollars in net additional tax revenues related to the production and sale of marijuana products."

"There is no policy that is more discriminatory or wastes more tax dollars," said RMLW treasurer Steve Collett, who hailed the poll results. "This initiative helps farmers, reduces prison overcrowding, relieves burdens on the courts, generates revenues for the state, and frees up police to work on real crimes."

The results also encouraged Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) co-founder Jack Cole. "LEAP believes the citizens of California are far ahead of the federal government in assessing a policy that will reduce death, disease, crime, and corruption, when they register 62% support for the initiative Regulate Marijuana Like Wine," he said.

Proponents of the competing marijuana legalization initiatives are working to set up a joint meeting, a so-called "Cannadome" in the Bay Area for mid-February. Whether these new poll results will make any difference in forging unity then remains to be seen.

CA
United States

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