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Marijuana: Another Colorado Town Votes to Legalize It

Voters in the Rocky Mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, voted Tuesday to remove all local penalties for adult marijuana possession. The measure passed with 54% of the vote in an election that also saw voters oust incumbent Mayor Martin Cheshes, who had opposed the ballot measure.

"It's a foolish thing to put on the ballot," Cheshes told the Daily Camera in nearby Boulder before the election. "If it passes, it enhances the reputation of Nederland as a kooky place, which I don't think we need, and if you're a marijuana advocate, it leaves the only penalties in place the state penalties, which are harsher."

Nederland becomes the third Colorado community to vote to legalize marijuana in the past five years. Denver voters did so in 2005, and the ski resort town of Breckenridge followed suit last year.

Under Colorado law small-time marijuana possession is decriminalized. Officials in Denver ignored the will of the voters there and continue to prosecute marijuana possession offenses under state law. But Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett may respond differently.

"I'll pay attention if it passes," he told the Daily Camera before the vote. "Marijuana enforcement is a sensitive issue, and it's important to gauge public sentiment."

"It's time for Colorado's elected officials to recognize that many -- and in some cases most -- of their constituents support an end to marijuana prohibition. Those who fail to do so are the 'foolish' ones, and in some areas it could result in them losing votes," said SAFER executive Mason Tvert.

"Nederland is not the first Colorado locality to express its opinion that marijuana should be legal for adults, and it certainly won't be the last," Tvert said. "More and more Coloradans are beginning to recognize the fact that marijuana is far safer than alcohol for the user and for society, and it's only a matter of time before they decide to stand up against irrational laws that drive people to drink by prohibiting them from making the safer choice."

The southwestern Colorado town of Durango could be the next to vote to legalize it, with organizers working to get an initiative on the local ballot. These votes are laying the groundwork for a probable statewide legalization initiative in 2012. A similar initiative got 44% of the vote in 2006, but recent polls show 50% of Colorado voters now supporting legalization.

UPDATE: Philadelphia DA on Philly's "Decrim"

Earlier today, I blogged about Philadelphia embracing a sort of decriminalization of minor marijuana possession based on an article that appeared today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It appears that article not only caught my attention, but also that of a lot of Philadelphians, who have been calling up the DA's office all day. This afternoon, District Attorney Seth Williams issued the following statement of clarification:
Based upon inquiries to this office it appears that some confusion exists regarding potential changes in charging policy when it comes to minimal amounts of marijuana. "We are not decriminalizing marijuana--any effort like that would be one for the legislature to undertake. The penalty available for these minimal amount offenses remains exactly the same. What we are doing is properly dealing with cases involving minimal amounts of marijuana in the most efficient and cost effective process possible. Those arrested for these offenses will still be restrained, identified and processed by police in police custody. They will still have to answer to the charges, but they will be doing so in a speedier and more efficient process. We want to use valuable court resources in the best way possible and we believe that means giving minor drug offenders the option of getting into diversionary programs, get drug education or enter drug treatment centers. Again we are NOT decriminalizing marijuana, and the penalty for these offenses remains the same."
It looks like DA Williams is trying to have it both ways. The Inquirer story--which Williams doesn't contradict in his statement--says that small-time pot offenders will be sent to a special "quality of life" court and fined. While Williams is correct that it would be that state legislature that woud decriminalize marijuana possession, It is a sort of de facto partial decriminalization, with people arrested, but not processed in the criminal courts or jailed upon conviction. I'll try to have this cleared up by the time we publish the Chronicle story about it on Friday.
Localização: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States

Marijuana: Philadelphia to Decriminalize Possession of Up to 30 Grams, But Arrests to Continue Anyway

People caught with 30 grams (a bit more than an ounce) or less of marijuana in Philadelphia will no longer be charged with criminal misdemeanors, but with civil summary offenses under a new policy that will go into effect later this month. Fines are expected to be in the $200 to $300 range. But while pot smokers won't face criminal charges, they will still be arrested, handcuffed, searched, detained, and fingerprinted. Then, their cases will be heard by a special "quality of life" court that is already in use for things like dealing with unruly Eagles fans and public drinking. "We're not going stop locking people up," Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, . Marijuana possession remained illegal, he said. "We're going to stop people for it. . . . Our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that's up to the D We can't control that. Until they legalize it, we're not going to stop." According to the Inquirer, the policy shift is the result of a collaboration between new District Attorney Seth Williams and a pair of Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges. It is part of an effort to unclog the city's overwhelmed court dockets. Under Williams' predecessor, former DA Lynn Abraham, police arrested an average of 3,000 people a year for small-time pot possession, about 75% of them black. That figure represents roughly 5% of the city's criminal caseload. About another 2,000 are arrested for marijuana distribution and 2,500 more are arrested for possession of more than 30 grams. Overall, enforcing drug prohibition has resulted in about 18,000 arrests a year in Philadelphia, or nearly one-third of the entire criminal caseload. "We have to be smart on crime," Williams told the Inquirer. "We can't declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who's smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers." Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, one of the two justices who worked with Williams on the policy shift, said decrim was "appropriate" for such a small-time offense. "It's a minor crime when you're faced with major drug crimes." Removing such cases from the criminal courts, he said, "unclogs the system." Philadelphia NORML has been quietly lobbying city officials for the change. "The marijuana consumers of Philadelphia welcome this," said chapter head Chris Goldstein. "This is a very progressive thing to do on the part of the city," Goldstein said of the new policy. "I couldn't be happier about this." Goldstein was much less enthused by the continued arrests policy. "It is completely absurd," he said. "It's harsh. For minor marijuana possession, it's very harsh treatment." In most states and localities with decriminalization laws or policies, people are merely issued a ticket after police seize their stash. Still, this is a quarter-step forward for Philadelphia.
Localização: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States

Canada: Half Support Marijuana Decriminalization, Poll Finds

An EKOS Research Associates poll has found that half of all Canadians support marijuana decriminalization, while only 30% oppose it, with 20% apparently uncertain or without strong views on the matter. That's a 5% increase in support since EKSOS last polled on the issue a decade ago.

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The numbers are lower than those reported in recent Angus Reid polls on marijuana legalization. In those polls, support for legalization was 55% in July 2007, 51% in October 2007, and 53% in May 2008.

A notable aspect of the EKOS poll is the high number of undecideds. While opposition to decriminalization has been declining (down from 37% in 2000), uncertainty has also been increasing, up from 16% in 2000. Optimistically one hopes the new undecideds are former opponents.

Also notable about the EKOS poll is the political context. Canada is six years into Conservative rule, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week released a Youtube video in which he said he rejected marijuana legalization.

In the EKOS poll, the Conservatives were the only party with less than majority support for decriminalization at 39%. Some 63% of left-leaning New Democratic Party voters supported decrim, as did 59% of Green Party members, 58% of the Bloc Quebecois, and 53% of the main opposition party, the Liberals.

Regionally, support for decrim was strongest in British Columbia (54%), Ontario (53%), and Quebec (51%). Support was lowest in the prairie provinces of Alberta (45%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (45%).

Support for decriminalization was also strong among young people (58% for under-25s), and, while declining with age, was still above 50% for every age group except the over-65s. Among seniors, support declined to only 38%.

Harper and the Conservatives have been pushing a harder line on crime, drug offenses, and marijuana offenses in particular. This poll is only the latest indicator that the Conservative push may not be in line with public opinion.

Marijuana: Rhode Island Legislative Commission Endorses Decriminalization

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prohibitionist RI governor Donald Carcieri
A special Rhode Island legislative commission created to review and assess marijuana policy has endorsed decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The decision came Tuesday, when the Special Senate Panel on Marijuana Prohibition endorsed a report calling for decriminalization.

Led by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), the panel concluded in the report that "marijuana law reform" could save the state valuable funds by ending "costly arrests and incarcerations due to simple possession of marijuana." Estimates of the savings ranged from $232,000 to $12.7 million.

Under current Rhode Island law, possession of less than an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Although few people are actually jailed for simple possession in Rhode Island, some 399 have been since 2007, and have served an average of 3 1/2 months. Also, the consequences of even a misdemeanor criminal conviction can have an adverse impact on people for years.

The panel voted to approve the proposal by a vote of 11-2. The no votes came from law enforcement representatives, who warned that marijuana was "dangerous."

The report and its recommendations now go before the full Senate.

Feature: SSDP Does San Francisco -- The 11th Annual National Conference

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plenary session
Some 500 student drug policy reform activists flooded into San Francisco last weekend for the 11th annual Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) national conference, "This is Your Brain on Drug Policy Reform." In a sign of growing momentum for drug reform, this was the largest SSDP conference yet.

There couldn't have been a more inviting place for it. The San Francisco Bay area is the epicenter of marijuana and medical marijuana activism, as well as being a counterculture mecca for decades. The students did their best to take advantage of the advantageous locale.

Friday was mainly a day of tourism and networking for the student activists from around the country and the planet. Hundreds of them signed up to head across San Francisco Bay to tour Oaksterdam University and Oakland's Oaksterdam neighborhood downtown. Many then headed to the nearby Harborside Health Center, a state of the art medical marijuana dispensary. The day of medical marijuana tourism gave students at up-close look at medical marijuana as it should be done -- and as it could be done in their home states.

On Saturday, it was just like being back at college as students spent the day in numerous panels around the theme "Drug War Education." Acting SSDP executive director Matt Palevsky opened the session with optimism, challenging the students to seize the day.

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El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke, Mexico session
"This is our biggest conference to date," he said. "Now we have as many chapters in California as we do in the Northeast" where the group had its genesis, he noted. "We're really a national organization now, more than 200 chapters large. The power we feel in this room is the power of a movement. And for the first time since SSDP was founded, we can really feel the wind at our backs," he said to loud applause.

Palevsky was followed by NORML policy analyst Paul Armentano, who urged students to get out and talk to people one-to-one about ending pot prohibition. "Talk to family, friends, faculties, neighbors, school advisors, people who know you, and with whom you have credibility," he advised. "Then start talking to people who can shape public opinion, and then become an opinion-shaper yourself. Become the editor of your newspaper, run for the student council, run for the city council. We want this failed drug policy to end before you fuck over another generation of young people like you fucked over our generation," Armentano said to loud applause, presumably aiming his latter remarks at prohibitionist politicians and opinion-makers.

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exhibitor hallway
Linking with the previous day's medical marijuana tourism, one of the Saturday panels was on what the medical marijuana movement and business looks like. With panelists including Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center, Robert Jacob of Sebastopol's Peace in Medicine, Debby Goldsberry of the Berkeley Patients Group, and Aundre Speciale of the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley, students got a well-informed earful. The panel was also a sign of an evolving symbiotic relationship between the medical marijuana movement and SSDP. The medical marijuana community's support for SSDP was evident by its heavy participation in the conference -- both in panels and at the vendors' booths -- and it has, in turn, become a career opportunity for more than one former SSDPer.

One of the most popular panels of the day Saturday was the one on psychedelics. It was headlined by Rick Doblin, head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), who described the group's work researching the therapeutic uses of ecstasy (MDMA) and fighting for the ability of researchers to grow their own marijuana. It gave attendees a good enough sense of the group's work to ensure that at least some of them will show up for MAPS' upcoming conference Psychedelic Research in the 21st Century, set for April 15 -18 just down the road from San Francisco in San Jose.

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students and others wish Ethan Nadelmann a happy birthday -- also on panel: Steph Shere (ASA), Paul Armentano (NORML), Aaron Smith (MPP)
Saturday also saw panels on the Mexican drug war, what legalization could look like when it happens, and on the drug war's impact on women, communities of color, and the poor. For the SSDP activists, many of whom were attending their first national conference, Saturday was a definite eye-opener.

"It's really been exciting," said Melissa Beadle, attending her first conference as head of a brand new SSDP chapter at South Dakota State University in Brookings. "I've been learning so much."

One of the highlights of the day was the session-closing presentation by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), the author of California's marijuana legalization bill. Ammiano is not just a serious guy, he's a seriously funny guy, and his comedic talent was on full display Saturday afternoon. Mixing earthy language and humor, the openly gay Ammiano sketched the intertwined history of gay activism, the AIDS crisis, and medical marijuana in the Bay Area, and he didn't let party loyalty get in the way of telling it like it was.

"Bill Clinton was shit on this issue," he said. "He put out that edict that doctor's couldn't prescribe it," referring to the Clinton administration's effort to try to intimidate doctors by threatening to jerk their DEA licenses to prescribe drugs if they recommended medical marijuana to patients. "That's not an adult way to deal with an issue, and it's certainly not a statesman-like way." The would-be censors lost in the Supreme Court.

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Cliff Thornton of the Hartford, CT, based group Efficacy wants inner-city communities who have become dependent on the illicit economy created by drug prohibition to be indemnified from the economic effects of the job losses that will accompany legalization.
Ammiano was a bit kinder to the current White House occupant. "In terms of Obama," he said, "the messaging is good, but it's sometimes contradictory. Still, history isn't always linear. But I'm here to tell you this movement has never been stronger; we've never been on the cusp in such a pronounced way."

Mentioning the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative that will in all likelihood be on the California ballot in November, Ammiano said he was working closely with initiative organizers and that their efforts were not competitive, but complementary. He also unleashed a bit of pot humor, noting that 57 people had signed initiative petitions twice.

"You can imagine what they were doing just before that," he said before switching into a stoner voice. "Dude, let me sign this again to make sure it passes," he role-played to gales of laughter.

Regarding his bill's prospects in Sacramento, the dapper and diminutive Ammiano reported that there is a lot of sympathy, even among conservatives, but many are still afraid to say so out loud or to vote yes for the record. "If we voted in the capitol hallways, we'd be home free," he said, before engaging in a replay of dialogues he's had with other lawmakers.

"They come up to me and say, 'Man, I used to smoke that shit in college, let's tax the hell out of it.' And I'd say, 'Are you with me then?' and they'd say, 'Oh, no, man, I can't do that.'"

Ammiano also mentioned Barney Frank's federal decriminalization bill. "I guess it's a queer thing," he said, mincing mightily and pretending to swoon over Frank.

"You guys ought to get married," someone yelled from the audience to more laughter.

And then he was gone, leaving an appreciative audience reinvigorated and still laughing.

On Saturday night, SSDP announced new board members and honored well-performing chapters, then celebrated by rocking out to live music from Panda Conspiracy and Roots of Creation. On Sunday, it was up early despite the shift to Daylight Savings Time for a day of serious activist how-to panels. Then on Monday, it was back home to put the information and lessons learned to work on campuses across the country. Students departed San Francisco feeling like they were riding the crest of a reform wave, and maybe, just maybe, they were right. We'll have to check back next year.

Assemblyman Ammiano at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference

Tom Ammiano addressing the conference California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), the author of California's marijuana legalization bill, is not just a serious guy, he's a seriously funny guy, and Ammiano's comedic talent was on full display Saturday afternoon as he closed out the first full day of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. After a long day of grueling panels on medical marijuana, psychedelics, state and local drug reform, the Mexican drug war, marijuana legalization, and harm reduction, among others, a taste of Ammiano was just the thing to revive flagging student activists. Mixing earthy language and humor, the openly gay Ammiano sketched the intertwined history of gay activism, the AIDS crisis, and medical marijuana in the Bay Area, and he didn't let party loyalty get in the way of telling it like it was. "Bill Clinton was shit on this issue," he said. "He put out that edict that doctors couldn't prescribe it," referring to the Clinton administration's effort to try to intimidate doctors by threatening to jerk their DEA licenses to prescribe drugs if they recommended medical marijuana to patients. "That's not an adult way to deal with an issue, and it's certainly not a statesman-like way." The administration lost that one in the Supreme Court. Ammiano was a bit kinder to the current White House occupant. "In terms of Obama," he said, "the messaging is good, but it's sometimes contradictory. Still, history isn't always linear. But I'm here to tell you this movement has never been stronger; we've never been on the cusp in such a pronounced way." Mentioning the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative that will in all likelihood be on the California ballot in November, Ammiano said he was working closely with initiative organizers and that their efforts were not competitive, but complementary. He also unleashed a bit of pot humor, noting that 57 people had signed initiative petitions twice. "You can imagine what they were doing just before that," he said before switching into a stoner voice. "Dude, let me sign this again to make sure it passes," he role-played to gales of laughter. students and others attending Ammiano talk Regarding his bill's prospects in Sacramento, the dapper and diminutive Ammiano reported that there is a lot of sympathy, even among conservatives, but many are still afraid to say so out loud or to vote yes for the record. "If we voted in the capitol hallways, we'd be home free," he said, before engaging in a replay of dialogues he's had with other lawmakers. "They come up to me and say, 'Man, I used to smoke that shit in college, let's tax the hell out of it.' And I'd say, 'Are you with me then?' and they'd say, 'Oh, no, man, I can't do that.'" Ammiano also mentioned Barney Frank's federal decriminalization bill. "I guess it's a queer thing," he said, mincing mightily and pretending to swoon over Frank. "You guys ought to get married," someone yelled from the audience to more laughter. Ammiano predicted victory -- if not this year, soon. "We have a strategy," he said. "We have our shit together, boys and girls, and that's something they're not ready for." And then he was gone, leaving an appreciative audience reinvigorated, still laughing, and clapping wildly. There is much more to report about on the SSDP conference. Look for a feature article on it sometime this week. in the exhibitor space
Localização: 
San Francisco, CA
United States

Marijuana: New Hampshire House Passes Decriminalization Bill, But Without Veto-Proof Majority

The New Hampshire House Wednesday voted 214-137 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the measure faces an uncertain future after Gov. John Lynch (D) immediately threatened to veto it. The House tally leaves supporters about 20 votes short of a veto-proof majority.

Under the bill, HB 1653, adults caught possessing or transporting up to a quarter-ounce of pot would be subject to a $400 fine. Minors caught with a quarter-ounce or less would be subject to a $200 fine and their parents would be notified. Youthful offenders would also have to complete a drug awareness program and community service within a year or face an additional $1000 fine. Under current New Hampshire law, small-time pot possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The House passed a similar measure in 2008, but it died in the Senate after Gov. Lynch threatened to veto it. Last year, the House dropped decrim and instead concentrated on passing a medical marijuana dispensary bill. Lynch vetoed that. The House overrode his veto, but the Senate came up two votes short.

Lynch was back in form on Wednesday. "Marijuana is a controlled drug that remains illegal under federal law. I share the law enforcement community's concerns about proliferation of this drug," Lynch said. "In addition, New Hampshire parents are struggling to keep their kids away from marijuana and other drugs. We should not make the jobs of parents -- or law enforcement -- harder by sending a false message that some marijuana use is acceptable."

"This makes three years in a row that the House has passed a bill attempting to reform New Hampshire's archaic marijuana policies," said Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which led the lobbying fight for the bill. "Unfortunately, Gov. Lynch has continued to show little interest in learning what the House has learned about these issues."

The bill now goes to the Senate. But unless advocates can pass it overwhelmingly there and come up without another 20 or so votes in the House, it is likely to meet the same fate as the 2008 decrim bill and last year's medical marijuana bill.

Marijuana: Hawaii Senate Passes Three Different Reform Measures

On March 2, the Hawaii Senate overwhelmingly approved three separate marijuana reform measures, two relating to medical marijuana and one that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. The bills now head to the House.

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Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
SB 2213 would allow counties to license medical marijuana dispensaries. It passed 20-4, with one member excused.

SB 2141 would increase the number of plants and amount of marijuana patients could possess. Under current law, they can possess three plants and one ounce; under this bill, they could possess up to 10 plants and five ounces. The measure would also increase the number of patients a caregiver can provide for from one to four. It passed 24-1.

SB2450 would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Under current law, small-time pot possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1000 fine. Under this bill, there would be no criminal penalties for possession of under an ounce, but offenders would face a $300 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine for subsequent offenses. The bill also makes possession of less than an ounce by a parolee not a reason to force him into drug treatment or violate his parole.

"These votes show that Hawaii's Senate supports sensible marijuana policies that will serve the best interests of state citizens," said Eric McDaniel, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Hawaii's most vulnerable citizens deserve safe and reliable access to their medicine, and no Hawaiian deserves to go to jail simply for using a substance that is safer than alcohol. If House members agree, I would strongly encourage them to pass these measures as well."

In lobbying for the bill, MPP was joined by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Peaceful Sky Alliance.

The overwhelming margins of approval for the measures in the Senate is important because Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) is an avowed foe of marijuana and is likely to try to veto any reform measures coming out of the legislature. Now only if the House can pass these bills by similar veto-proof margins.

Press Release: More States Embrace Marijuana Decriminalization

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

MARCH 10, 2010

More States Embrace Marijuana Decriminalization

Measures to impose a fine for marijuana possession make key advances this month in New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Vermont

CONTACT: Mike Meno, MPP assistant director of communications …………… 202-905-2030

WASHINGTON, DC — With numerous states facing significant budget shortages, legislators and voters across the country this month have been giving overwhelming support to measures that would reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine.

         Yesterday in New Hampshire, the state House voted 214-137 to pass H.B. 1653, a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $200.

         In Hawaii, the state Senate voted 22 to 3 on March 2 to pass SB 2450, a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $300 for a first offense and $500 for a subsequent offense.

         And in Vermont, 72% of voters in Montpelier approved a non-binding ordinance asking the state legislature “to pass a bill to replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for adults who possess a small amount of marijuana.”

         “Taken together, these developments demonstrate how an increasing number of voters and lawmakers across the country no longer support the notion that otherwise law-abiding citizens should be arrested, slapped with a criminal record and possibly thrown behind bars, simply for choosing to use a substance that is safer than alcohol,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We know from efforts in other states that decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana allows police to focus on more serious crimes and also produces a net financial gain through saved law-enforcement costs and the revenue generated by civil fines. Lawmakers everywhere should take heed of these examples, especially in these troubled economic times.” 

         Currently 12 states have laws that reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine. A decriminalization bill in Rhode Island is co-sponsored by 48% of House members.  

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

####

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