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Two-Thirds of Californians Say Legalize Marijuana

Will California wait until 2016 to vote on legalizing marijuana? A poll released Thursday strongly suggests voters in the Golden State are ready to legalize it right now.

Should marijuana be legal? California says "yes."
The new Tulchin Research poll has support for legalizing marijuana at just under two-thirds (65%), with only 32% opposed. It shows majority support for legalization among every demographic except one -- Republican Party members. Even among Republicans, support for legalization (47%) trailed opposition (50%) by only three points.

And this was not a generic legalization question. The poll asked: "There may be a measure on the ballot in the future to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults. It would still be illegal for minors, there would be penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and it could only be sold in state regulated stores. The measure would tax marijuana and generate an estimated one billion dollars a year to fund schools, public safety and other essential services and there would be annual audits to ensure the money is spent as intended. Based on this, would you support or oppose this proposal?"

Geographically, support was strongest in the Bay Area (73%), followed by San Diego (67%), Los Angeles County and the Central Valley at 65%, Sacramento/North (63%), the Los Angeles Area (59%), and the Inland Empire (58%).

Among racial groups, support was strongest among blacks (74%), followed by whites (69%) and Asians (68%), with Hispanics lagging at 53%. Both men (66%) and women (65%) strongly supported legalization. So did all age groups, with the lowest level of support being 54% among 40-49-year-olds.

"In sum, voters strongly support a marijuana legalization and regulation measure for adults that includes penalties for DUI and collects revenues to fund public services," Tulchin said. "Furthermore, such a reform is supported by nearly all demographic subgroups across the state."

The poll comes as one 2014 marijuana legalization initiative is in the signature-gathering phase and a second is awaiting approval of title and ballot summary at the state attorney general's office. The conventional wisdom among deep-pocketed drug reformers is that California should wait until 2016, when a presidential election year generates higher voter turnout, which in turn favors liberal voting groups, but poll numbers like these are going to increase the pressure to get something done next year.

The poll was conducted on behalf of the ACLU of California, which also announced that it is putting together a high-octane panel to study marijuana legalization for the next two years, implicitly precluding a 2014 effort.

The Tulchin Research poll was conducted doing live landline and cell phone interviews with 1,200 November 2016 voters between September 26 and October 6. The margin of error is +/-3.1%.

CA
United States

Poll Finds Texans Ready to Legalize Marijuana

Voters in Texas are among the latest to hop on board the marijuana legalization bandwagon, according to a poll released this week. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for marijuana legalization at 58%, support for medical marijuana at 58%, and support for decriminalizing small-time possession at 61%.

The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The survey of 860 randomly selected Texas voters was conducted September 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%.

"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, a part-time Austin resident. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market."

The poll's legalization question -- "Would you support or oppose changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older?" -- was the only question that allowed respondents to qualify their support as "strongly support" or "somewhat support." Some 41% strongly supported legalization, with another 17% somewhat supporting it.

Unusually, support for legalization was stronger among women (59%) than among men (56%). Also going against the grain, support was stronger among blacks (61%) and Latinos (60%) than Anglos (56%). In most polls across the country, men and whites are more likely to support legalization than women, blacks, or Latinos.

By political affiliation, legalization won strong majority support among Democrats (70%) and independents (57%), while even nearly half of Republicans (48%) also favored it. Legalization also won majority support across all age groups, with even those 65 and older coming in at 52%.

The poll also found that 61% of state voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30% said they were opposed to that. Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined up to $2,000.

"Law enforcement officials' time would be better spent addressing violent crimes instead of adults simply possessing marijuana," Kampia said. "No adult should face potentially life-altering criminal penalties for using a product that is significantly less harmful than alcohol."

Most Texas voters (58%) support changing state law to allow seriously and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Just 31% said they are opposed.

"There is ample research demonstrating the medical benefits of marijuana in the treatment of several debilitating conditions," Kampia said. "People suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis should not face the threat of arrest for using medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help ease their suffering."

TX
United States

Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in DC

A bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce was introduced in the District of Columbia city council Tuesday. Filed by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), the bill would give regulatory authority to the DC Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration.

The bill comes on the heels of a decriminalization bill introduced in July by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward Six). That bill would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults and replace them with a maximum $100 fine.

The proposals appear to reflect public opinion in the nation's capital. An April Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. The same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release in June of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

Councilmembers are looking over their shoulders as they move on marijuana law reform. DC activists emboldened by the local polling numbers as well as broader national trends are contemplating an initiative next year if the council fails to act.

"Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately criminalized black and brown people and wasted scarce law enforcement resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "Following the introduction of marijuana decriminalization legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Councilmember David Grosso's proposal to tax and regulate marijuana will enhance efforts to provide District residents with relief from prohibitionist policies that have failed to curb the availability of marijuana to young people. Our nation's Capital would be wise to follow Colorado and Washington," said Smith.

Smith also pushed elected officials to not stop with ending marijuana prohibition.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," he said. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that a person should not be criminalized for possession of any drug in DC."

Washington, DC
United States

NYC Comptroller Says Legalize and Tax Marijuana in New Report

New York City Comptroller John Liu Wednesday released a report calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Doing so would reduce the harms generated by marijuana prohibition and generate more than $400 million a year in taxes to pay for higher education, Liu said.

New York City Comptroller John Liu (wikipedia.org)
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and financial officer for the city. Liu, who has served one four-year term, is not seeking reelection.

"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities," said Comptroller Liu. "It's time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."

Liu estimated the size of the city's marijuana market at $1.65 billion a year and proposed using tax revenues from the legalized trade to cut tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) by up to 50%.

"In this way, we'll invest in young people's futures, instead of ruining them," he said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol, New York City can minimize teens' access to marijuana, while at the same time reducing their exposure to more dangerous drugs and taking sales out of the hands of criminals."

Under Liu's proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed, and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes. A strict driving under the influence enforcement policy would be implemented concurrently, and marijuana use in public would be prohibited.

The report comes just days after a federal judge slammed the city for its stop-and-frisk policing tactics, which have played a key role in making the Big Apple the world leader in marijuana possession arrests. The street searches are racially biased, the judge found, ordering reforms.

"New Yorkers, like people elsewhere around the country, are questioning our broken polices related to marijuana," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comptroller Liu's report offers another important opportunity for New Yorkers to examine the issues and discuss the range of options for fixing these laws. An increasing number of elected officials in the City and state agree that our marijuana policies are broken -- resulting in racial disparities, Constitutional violations, fiscal waste and needless suffering. While there may not be widespread agreement about how to fix these problems, it's critical that we have an open and vigorous debate about the issue."

New York City, NY
United States

Pennsylvania NAACP Says Legalize Marijuana

Last week, the Pennsylvania NAACP endorsed a pending marijuana legalization bill. And on the 4th of July, the civil rights group stepped up that support, holding a press conference to gain traction for the legislation.

The bill, Senate Bill 528, is sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), and is currently bottled up in the Senate Law and Justice Committee. It would legalize, tax, and regulate the possession of small amounts of pot, as well as its commerce.

"I am honored that the NAACP has spoken out in favor of my legislation to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in Pennsylvania," Leach said at the press conference. "As noted in recent reports, the war on drugs is racially-biased, inefficient and ineffective; and this modern day prohibition of a product less harmful than alcohol and tobacco needs to end. We can better use the resources we’re spending to fight this unnecessary war, and we can better spend our time and energy cracking down on substances that are actually harmful."

The state NAACP came on board in the wake of the release of a report recently released by the ACLU that showed that black Americans are more than three times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white Americans. In the Keystone State, the report found, blacks are 5.2 times more likely to be busted for pot than whites.

"As a representative of the NAACP and a retired Deputy Chief of Police with more than 31 years of service with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Department, it is time Pennsylvania respond to this injustice in a rational and sensible way," said Harvey Crudup, president of the NAACP's Cheltenham Area Branch. "Millions of dollars per year in additional revenues can be generated to build more schools instead of prisons. These tax dollars can also subsidize drug treatment, job training and diversion programs to reduce racial disparities in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system as well as transportation projects throughout the Commonwealth."

In addition to Leach and Crudup, other speakers at the press conference included Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and David Scott, chair of the legal redress committee for the Cheltenham Area Branch.

Philadelphia, PA
United States

Maine Legislature Won't Put Marijuana Referendum on Ballot

If Maine residents want to legalize marijuana via the popular vote, they may have to do it themselves. Last Friday, a bill that would have called for a referendum on marijuana legalization fell four votes short in the House. On Monday, it was defeated more decisively in the Senate.

The bill, LD 1229, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), was a detailed tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana measure when first introduced. But, with a lack of support among colleagues, the bill was amended to merely call for a popular referendum. Even that watered down version couldn't pass the House.

During debate on the bill last Friday, Russell argued that if legislators failed to act, it was likely that activists would put a legalization initiative before voters through the citizens' initiative process, and that then, lawmakers would have no say.

"I believe this is the smartest, most rational way forward… to ensure we're the ones driving the bus to do it," Russell said.

Support for and opposition to the bill wasn't a simple party line affair, with some Republicans speaking for it and some Democrats opposing.

"We have a society that’s been hypocritically fighting this war for years," said Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington). "In a democratic republic, the will of the people will be expressed."

"I have seen lives ruined by addiction," said Rep Gay Grant (D-Gardiner). "I am not ready to raise the white flag on one more opportunity to destroy lives."

"You actually can't smoke enough marijuana to kill yourself. You’d fall asleep first," said Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta), who argued that prohibition had failed and that the state should consider collecting taxes on marijuana to help fight more dangerous drugs.

With Maine activists eyeing the presidential election year of 2016 for a citizens' legalization initiative, the legislature still has a couple of years to act. If it doesn't, Mainers may well make the decision themselves.

Augusta, ME
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.

Colorado Marijuana Commerce Bills Approved

The Colorado legislature Wednesday approved a pair of bills that will establish a regulated marijuana market for adults. The legislature was charged with doing so when voters approved the marijuana legalization Amendment 64 last November.

On the down side, the legislature earlier approved another bill, House Bill 1325, which would set a level of THC in the blood above which drivers would be presumed to be impaired. Drivers with 5 milligrams or more of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered to be impaired, but could challenge that presumption in court.

The marijuana regulation bills are House Bill 1317 and House Bill 1318. The former creates the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing, while the latter enacts a 10% special sales tax (above and beyond standard sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales.

Under Colorado law, the tax bill will have to be approved by voters in November. But three-quarters of Colorado voters support such pot taxation, according a Public Policy Polling survey.

"The adoption of these bills is a truly historic milestone and brings Colorado one step closer to establishing the world's first legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana market for adults," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent and campaign co-director for the ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in November. "Facilitating the shift from the failed policy of prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation has been a huge undertaking, and we applaud the many task force members, legislators, and others who have helped effect this change," Tvert said. "We are confident that this legislation will allow state and local officials to implement a comprehensive, robust, and sufficiently funded regulatory system that will effectively control marijuana in Colorado."

Look for an in-depth analysis of the new regulations coming soon.

Denver, CO
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.

The Rocky Mountain Road to Legal Marijuana Commerce [FEATURE]

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/rockies.jpg
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
When Colorado voters last November gave the thumbs up to marijuana legalization, the celebrations came quickly, with overjoyed pot smokers triumphantly lighting up, even though the pot laws had yet to officially change. Indeed, in following the will of the voters, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) within weeks announced that marijuana was no longer illegal in Colorado.

But that was only the beginning. Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization initiative approved by the voters, didn't just legalize marijuana -- it also called on the state to come up with a regulatory regime for legal marijuana commerce. That process is now well underway, with the state legislature currently considering implementation legislation.

The legislature is working on a framework crafted by a Hickenlooper-appointed Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which in mid-March released its Final Report with 58 discrete recommendations for the legislature to consider. The highlights included:

  • The adult-use marijuana industry should be required to have common ownership from seed to sale. This vertical integration regulatory model means that cultivation, processing and manufacturing, and retail sales must be under common ownership.
  • During the first year of licensing, only entities with valid medical marijuana licenses should be able to obtain licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis.
  • A new Marijuana Enforcement Division in the Department of Revenue would be funded by General Fund revenue for the next five years and would provide the necessary regulatory oversight of all marijuana industries in Colorado.
  • Refer a ballot initiative to voters this November for a 15% excise tax, with the first $40 million of excise tax proceeds going to the state’s school construction fund as outlined in Amendment 64, and a "marijuana sales tax" to create funding sources to cover the costs of regulating the industry, implementing consumer safeguards and establishing youth prevention and treatment programs.
  • Only Colorado residents should be allowed to hold licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis. But sales to both residents and visitors to the state should be permitted, with stricter quantity limits for visitors.
  • All types of marijuana sold from adult use cannabis retail facilities should be in child-proof packaging and have warning labels that detail tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency and list all pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and solvents used in cultivation or processing.

Other recommendations included not allowing pot smoking in bars or other facilities impacted by the state's anti-smoking laws, barring "open containers" of marijuana in vehicles, and requiring people with children at home to keep their marijuana gardens secure.

"This is a very comprehensive report, developed in a rapid timeframe, that lays the groundwork for the establishment of a robust regulatory framework, with adequate funding for marijuana industry oversight and enforcement, consumer protection and prevention and treatment programs for young people," said Task Force co-chair and governor's legal counsel Jack Finlaw. "The Task Force recommendations will now need to be perfected through the legislative process and rulemakings by various state agencies."

While there is some quibbling over the various recommendations and some concerns about what the legislature might do, Amendment 64 proponent (and now Marijuana Policy Project communications director) Mason Tvert said things were going pretty much as expected.

"The goal is to establish regulated retail stores that provide marijuana to adults, and we are steadily moving toward that," he said. "There are obviously lots of details to be worked out, and lots of different opinions on those details, but overall, we're moving in the direction of accomplishing our goal. There is debate over vertical integration, whether sales should be restricted to non-residents, the levels of sales tax -- these are all important issues, but overall things are going well, and we're well on our way to having a system of regulated marijuana cultivation and sales in Colorado."

Now, the Task Force recommendations are before a joint legislative committee charged with turning them into regulatory legislation. The committee had hoped to be done by the end of March, but progress has been slow, and the new deadline date is next week. If the committee meets that deadline, that will give the legislature as a whole exactly one month to craft and pass enabling legislation before the session ends.

The politicians are doing what they are supposed to do, said Tvert. There have been no real attempts to sabotage the will of the voters, and legislators are trying with good faith to implement Amendment 64.

"Generally, elected officials have been responsive," he said. "There have been some proposals for restrictions, but overall, they are moving forward to pass this. There is really nothing else they can do. For most Coloradans, this is going exactly as planned. For people in the industry, for advocates, for elected officials, there are lots of details being debated and it can feel like there's a lot of drama, but overall, everything's happening as it's supposed to."

The clock is ticking in Colorado. The voters have already voted to legalize marijuana. Either the legislature passes regulations to implement it -- and quite possibly puts anticipated taxes on the ballot, as required by state law for any new taxes -- and Colorado has legal, taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, or it simply has legal marijuana possession with no taxes and no regulations. The threat of the latter should be enough to ensure the success of the former.

CO
United States

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