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Marijuana Reform Hearings at Rhode Island State House Tomorrow (Press Release)

MEDIA ADVISORY: March 15, 2011

Marijuana Reform Hearings at State House Tomorrow

Bills Would Remove Criminal Penalties for Marijuana Possession and Save Money for Rhode Island

CONTACT: Robert Capecchi, MPP legislative analyst……………………202-905-2007 or rcapecchi@mpp.org

PROVIDENCE – Hearings are taking place at the State House tomorrow on bills that would reform the state’s marijuana laws. H 5031 would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil penalty of $150. The bill is sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Tiverton) and others, and would make marijuana possession similar to a traffic violation, allowing people who are convicted of simple, non-violent marijuana possession charges to avoid the life-long stigma of a criminal record. This measure would also save the state millions of dollars on police and court time.

            What:    Hearing on RI H 5031, Decriminalization of Marijuana Possession

            When:  “Rise of the House” (~4:30 p.m.), Wednesday, March 16

            Where:  Room 313, Rhode Island State House

Marijuana Policy Project legislative analyst Robert Capecchi will be present and available for comment. Mr. Capecchi will also be presenting testimony to the House Finance Committee at an earlier hearing to discuss the benefits of H5591, which would remove criminal penalties for adults who use marijuana and establish a taxed and regulated system for its distribution. This is the second year in a row that Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence) has introduced this bill. This hearing will take place in the Trainor Hearing Room (Room 35) at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16.

The bill would create a system for the regulation and distribution of marijuana to responsible adults in Rhode Island. It would remove the lucrative marijuana market from criminal organizations and allow the state to regulate the sale of marijuana. Taxing and regulating marijuana sales would take away profits from the criminal market, while creating jobs and producing tens of millions of dollars in savings and revenue, according to a report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron.

With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

                                                             ####

Location: 
82 Smith Street Rhode Island State House, Room 313
Providence, RI 02903
United States

Los Angeles Voters Asked to Tax Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
The cash-strapped city of Los Angeles is trying to create a new source of revenue by asking voters to tax medical marijuana dispensaries. Measure M, if approved, would allow to the city to collect $50 out of each $1,000 in "gross reimbursements" that dispensaries receive from their patients. That could generate $10 million a year, which the city can use to pay for basic services such police, libraries and street repairs. "This is something we cannot say 'no' to," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.
Publication/Source: 
NBC
URL: 
http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/politics/Marijuana-Tax-Los-Angeles-Ballot-Measure-M-117579299.html

Marijuana Reform Bills Move in the States [FEATURE]

Times are changing. Ten states decriminalized the possession of marijuana in a sudden burst in the 1970s, just before the dark, "just say no" years of the Reagan era, but after that, it was more than two decades before another state decriminalized when Nevada joined the list in 2001. Then Massachusetts voters added the Bay State to the list in 2008, and California came on board last year.

California Rep. Ammiano during legislative hearings on his legalization bill, January 2010, Sacramento
Driven by budgetary imperatives and increasing awareness of the absurdity of pot prohibition, what had been a trickle of interest in at the least down-grading the severity of pot punishments now threatens to become a torrent. At least nine state legislatures are contemplating marijuana decriminalization bills this year (a tenth, Virginia's, already defeated it this year), while California is pondering a bill to reduce cultivation penalties, and legislatures in two states, Massachusetts and Washington, are considering outright legalization.

It's unlikely that all -- or even most -- of the bills will pass, but prospects are good in several states. In other states, progress will be measured by winning a hearing or a committee vote, and will be viewed as laying the ground work for a longer-term legislative strategy.

"That these bills are popping up shows that popular support has been increasing for both taxing and regulating marijuana and other reforms," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state affairs for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Gallup and other polls show steady increases in support," she added.

"States are also interested in decriminalization because of their budget crunches," O'Keefe noted. "They can't afford to lock up people for marijuana possession. There has been an explosion in these bills. The states can do this to save money and not punish people so severely for something that is less harmful than alcohol."

Here are the states where decriminalization bills have been introduced (thanks to NORML and its "Take Action" web page):

In Arizona, House Bill 2228 would make adult possession of up to two ounces a petty offense punishable by a $100 fine. Under current law, possession of that amount is potentially a felony. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee, where no action has been taken.

In California, Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) is not reintroducing his legalization bill, but has introduced Assembly Bill 1017, which would keep marijuana growers out of prison by reducing the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor. It is not exactly decriminalization of cultivation, but it is a step in that direction.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is backing Senate Bill 163, which decriminalizes adult possession of up to an ounce, making it a civil infraction punishable only by a fine. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In Hawaii, Senate Bill 1460 would decriminalize adult possession of up to an ounce, making it punishable by no more than a $100 fine. The law currently mandates a misdemeanor with up to 30 days in jail and a $1000 fine. A similar measure passed the Senate last year, and this bill is moving in that direction, too. It has already been approved by the Senate Joint Committee on Judiciary and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health and awaits a Senate floor vote.

In Illinois, House Bill 100 would decriminalize the adult possession of up to an ounce with a fine of $500 for first-time offenders. Current law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary II -- Criminal Law Committee.

In Maryland, House Bill 606 would decriminalize the adult possession of up to an ounce by making it a civil offense punishable only by a $100 fine, with no criminal record. The bill has been endorsed by the Maryland Black Caucus and had a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on February 22. The committee has yet to take action on the bill.

In Rhode Island, House Bill 5031 would decriminalize the adult possession of up to an ounce by making it a civil offense with a maximum $150 fine and no criminal record. Under current law, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

In Texas, House Bill 548 would decriminalize the adult possession of up to an ounce by making it a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine and no criminal record. The offense is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. It was set for a hearing in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Tuesday.

In Vermont, a decriminalization bill is yet to be filed, but is expected shortly. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has endorsed the notion. The bill is expected to reduce the penalty for pot possession from a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine to a fine only civil infraction.

In Virginia, House Bill 1443, which sought to reduce penalties for first-time pot possession offenders, was killed in January by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee. It would have reduced the current $500 criminal fine to a civil penalty and removed the possible 30-day jail sentence.

And then there are the legalization bills:

In Massachusetts, House Bill 1371 would legalize and regulate the possession, production, and distribution of marijuana for adults 21 and over. The bill would impose licensing requirements and excise taxes on the commercial, for-profit retail sale of marijuana. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

In Washington, House Bill 1550 would legalize and regulate marijuana distribution, with pot being sold through the existing state liquor store system. The bill had a hearing before the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee February 8, and has picked up the endorsement of the Seattle Times, the state's largest newspaper, and the Seattle city prosecutor, but has yet to have a committee vote.

MPP is most directly involved in Rhode Island and Vermont, said O'Keefe, and, not surprisingly, she said she
thought those two states had the best chances of passing decriminalization bills this year. She also said chances were good in Hawaii.

"In Vermont, the new governor is a vocal proponent of decriminalization, so that has increased our chances there, and in Rhode Island, about half the House has signed onto the decriminalization bill. They will have a hearing there on March 16," said O'Keefe. "Things are looking good in Rhode Island," she added.

"In Hawaii, the Senate last year passed decriminalization, but the governor was hostile," said O'Keefe. "This year, the new governor is favorable, or at least not hostile. We expect a floor vote there soon."

"The bill is moving nicely in the Senate," said Pam Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. "It passed unanimously and unamended out of its last committee and awaits a floor vote. It will likely pass there," she said.

"But prospects are dicier in the House," Lichty continued. "There are some new and/or conservative committee chairs who will likely get the referrals. If it reaches Gov. Ambercrombie's desk, he will probably sign it, but that's a big if."

While the Drug Policy Alliance and the A Better Way Foundation are working for reform in Connecticut, the decriminalization bill came from a governor who has also been influenced by the ongoing Campaign for Restorative Justice and who said on the campaign trail that he planned to introduce the bill.

"I talked with Malloy when I was running for governor, and he said he was going to do just what he did with the bill," said Cliff Thornton of Efficacy, who has also been a long-time reformer there. But marijuana decriminalization is only a half-step, Thornton said, and one that allows Malloy to look reformist on drug policy without addressing the fundamental problem: prohibition.

"The decriminalization bill in Connecticut is seen by many as a great bill proposed by Gov. Dan Malloy, but for seasoned reformers like myself, it doesn't go far enough," said Thornton. "My main problems with the bill are that it leaves the criminal black market intact, there's little reason for people who do not use illegal substances to support the bill, and it supports the lie that there's something wrong about illegal drug use," said Thornton.

The Massachusetts legalization bill is "not going to pass this year," said Bill Downing of MassCann. "If it got out of committee, it would be a great surprise to all of us, but stranger things have happened."

Patience is a virtue, said Downing. "We're trying to advance the conversation, and we want to use that conversation to produce legislative language that makes sense to everybody," he said.

Things are looking a little better in Washington. "We had a great hearing on the cannabis regulation bill last month and educated a lot of people," said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), a cosponsor of the bill. "It's another step in the process of reform."

Goodman said he had prepared an amendment to the bill that would make its implementation effective upon the changing of federal law, either through rescheduling or amending the Controlled Substances Act. "That would deal with the chair's objections and get it out of committee," he said. "If we delay implementation under federal law changes, we can do it. We will then have a system in place."

And then there's California. While Rep. Ammiano broke ground last year when his legalization bill became the first to ever win a legislative committee vote, he's leaving legalization to others this year. "We will not be reintroducing the legalization bill, but have introduced a bill decriminalizing cultivation, and we are potentially looking at the possibility of statewide regulation of marijuana," said Ammiano spokesman Quintin Mecke.

California will likely have another marijuana initiative on the 2012 ballot, said Mecke, and Ammiano will leave it up to the voters. "We talked to our allies, and there didn’t seem to be any strategic rationalization for reintroducing the bill," he said. "It will be decided at the ballot box one more time in 2012."

While California waits for the voters to decide, in state houses across the country, legislatures are beginning to move on marijuana reform. Whether we end up four successful decriminalization bills or three, or even one or two, each bill is a step in the right direction. And even bills that don't make it into law this year lay the groundwork for next year and the year after. The times are indeed changing.

Seattle Times Endorses Marijuana Legalization Bill

In an editorial appearing in last Sunday's print edition, Washington state's largest circulation daily newspaper has called on the state legislature to legalize marijuana. "Marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed," the Seattle Times editorial board wrote.

The endorsement comes as the legislature ponders House Bill 1550, which would do just that. It also comes just days after a similar endorsement from first term Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, who published an op-ed titled Washington State Should Lead on Marijuana Legalization in the Times Thursday.

Legalization is within reach in Washington, according to a SurveyUSA poll released late last month. That poll had support for marijuana legalization in general at 51% in the state, although that figure dropped to 47% when respondents were asked if they supported marijuana being sold through state liquor stores, as HB 1550 envisions.

In its Sunday editorial, the Times said the Evergreen State could take the first step toward ending pot prohibition nationwide. "The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington," said the Times.

The Times noted that Washington state had been in the vanguard of medical marijuana legalization and that Seattle had led the move to make adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. "It is time for the next step," the Times said.

Declaring that "marijuana is available now," the Times declared that "prohibition has not worked" and has imposed numerous costs -- to people arrested and imprisoned, in wasted law enforcement resources, in corruption and "disrespect for the law," in encouraging a criminal lifestyle among youth, and in lost tax revenues.

Although legalization would put Washington at odds with federal law, leading to a political and legal fight, somebody has to do it, and it might as well be Washington, the Times said.

[Editor's Note: HB 1550 might certainly ignite a political fight, but the legal conflict aspect tends to be overstated. As with state medical marijuana laws, the federal government has been found to have legal power to enforce federal drug laws, even in states that have broken with federal policy, but no federal power has been found which forces states to have drug laws on their own books.]

Seattle, WA
United States

Bill Aims to Legalize Marijuana, Make Washington Pioneer State

Location: 
WA
United States
Sponsors of a marijuana legalization bill predict Washington will lead the nation in getting rid of the prohibition on marijuana. If bill sponsors get their way, Washington residents will be able to go to the state liquor store and legally buy marijuana. The same laws against selling to minors and driving while impaired would apply.
Publication/Source: 
KOMO (WA)
URL: 
http://www.komonews.com/news/local/115604624.html

Washington, Oregon Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Marijuana law reform activists in the Pacific Northwest are moving ahead with renewed efforts to win legalization at the ballot box. In the last few days, legalization initiatives have been filed with state authorities in Oregon and Washington.

In both states, similar legalization initiatives failed to make the ballot last year. This time around, organizers in both states say they are better prepared for the arduous and expensive process of signature-gathering to make the ballot.

In Washington, Sensible Washington, the folks behind last year's failed effort, have filed an initiative that removes all criminal penalties for adults who use, possess, produce, transport, or distribute marijuana. Unlike last year's initiative, which lost critical support for its failure to address regulation of the marijuana market, this year's version explicitly directs the state legislature to enact a regulatory scheme.

Sensible Washington is aiming for this year's November election ballot, despite pleas from some national and state reform figures to hold off until the presidential election year in 2012.

"We're pleased to again put the important question of marijuana legalization before the public," said Seattle attorney Douglas Hiatt, Sensible Washington’s chair and initiative coauthor. "We’re better funded and better organized this year and we look forward to giving the public an opportunity to vote on this issue in November. We've changed last year’s initiative to reflect concerns about civil regulations of marijuana, and our new initiative has language that clearly directs the state legislature to regulate the responsible adult use of marijuana."

The group expects to start signature-gathering this month. They need 241,153 valid voter signatures to make the November ballot.

In Oregon, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA 2012) initiative is back. Organizers turned in 2,200 signatures on January 4 to start the ballot title creation process. The initiative has until July 2012 to turn in nearly 86,000 valid voter signatures to make the November 2012 ballot. In an email to supporters, D. Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp vowed to gather at least 130,000 signatures to ensure a comfortable cushion. The initiative is also supported by Oregon NORML.

OCTA 2012 would allow Oregonians 21 or over to possess and grow marijuana. It would also create an Oregon Cannabis Commission to oversee the regulation of commercial cultivation and distribution. The commission would sell marijuana through its own outlets, similar to state liquor stores.

And so the next round begins.

Arizona Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Introduced by GOP State Rep John Fillmore

Location: 
AZ
United States
Under a bill introduced by Representative John Fillmore possession of two ounces or less of marijuana -- by anyone -- would become a petty offense and carry a fine of only $100. Fillmore says that marijuana isn't a gateway drug, as critics unscientifically claim, and all the money and time wasted by law enforcement on marijuana prohibition enforcement would be better spent elsewhere.
Publication/Source: 
Phoenix New Times (AZ)
URL: 
http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2011/02/marijuana_decriminalization_bi.php

Massachusetts State Legislator Files Marijuana Legislation

Location: 
MA
United States
Ellen Story, D-Amherst, responding to the 69 percent of the voters in her district who instructed her to vote "in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol" on Nov. 2, 2010, is sponsoring "An Act to Regulate and Tax the Cannabis Industry." Assigned House Docket Number 01091, it will receive a bill number in the near future. If enacted, the state’s current prohibition upon adults having or growing a personal supply will be repealed, analogous to alcohol-control laws for home winemaking.
Publication/Source: 
Marblehead Reporter (MA)
URL: 
http://www.wickedlocal.com/marblehead/news/x286169782/State-legislator-files-marijuana-legislation

Sensible Washington Files New Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Despite Plea to Hold Off

Location: 
WA
United States
Undeterred by last year's failure to pass a marijuana legalization initiative, and a plea by national advocacy groups to hold off until next year for another effort, Sensible Washington is filing a new initiative with the Secretary of State.
Publication/Source: 
Seattle Weekly (WA)
URL: 
http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2011/01/sensible_washington_files_new.php

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne Recommends State Tax on Medical Marijuana

Location: 
AZ
United States
Attorney General Tom Horne announced a plan for Arizona to tax medical marijuana. Horne added that the Department of Revenue informed his office that they plan to take the advice and tax the sales. The taxes could yield revenues for the state in the approximate amount of $40 million per year, according to a report.
Publication/Source: 
KNXV (AZ)
URL: 
http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/health/horne-recommends-state-tax-on-medical-marijuana

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