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Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies in Washington State

A bill that would have legalized marijuana in Washington state has died. It failed to move out of committee by Friday, a legislative deadline for action.

Will voters take matters into their own hands now? (Image via Wikimedia)
The bill, House Bill 1550, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), would have legalized the possession and sale of marijuana, with sales regulated by the state Liquor Control Board. The bill would have imposed a 15% per gram tax on marijuana sales, which supporters said would bring hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers in coming years.

The bill had the support of the entire Seattle legislative delegation, as well as the Seattle Times editorial board. But that wasn't enough to move it out of committee.

The legislature's failure to act clears the way for an effort to take the issue directly to the voters. Sensible Washington is already gathering signatures for a legalization initiative to go before the voters in November.

They need 241,000 valid signatures by July 8, a target they missed by some 50,000 signatures last year after failing to win the support of some key players in Evergreen State pot politics.

Olympia, WA
United States

New England Swings... On Marijuana Law Reform [FEATURE]

Over, the past decade, New England has quietly emerged as a center of marijuana law reform. Outside of the West, no other region of the country has matched the advances of that historic corner of America bounded by New York, Canada, and the North Atlantic. Is there something in the maple syrup?

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/old-north-bridge-concord.jpg
Old North Bridge, Concord, MA (Jim Louzouski, nps.gov)
When New England comes to mind, people tend to think of the leaves turning in the fall, the wild and rocky Maine seacoast, Vermont's Green Mountains, or Boston and its historic role in the American Revolution. But given what the region has accomplished in terms of marijuana policy, perhaps it's better to think of it as an ongoing social experiment, and the question to ask is: Why New England?

New England consists of six states -- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont -- with a combined population of 14.4 million. It is dominated by megalopolitan Boston, whose 7.4 million residents make up more than half the region's residents. But all six states combined still contain fewer people than Florida, New York, Texas, or California.

Of those six states, half have already passed medical marijuana laws (Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and a third have already decriminalized pot possession (Maine and Massachusetts). In both cases, New England scores well above the national average. In fact, outside of New England and the West, from the Dakotas to the Carolinas and from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, the landscape for pot law reform has been largely harsh and barren.

And New Englanders aren't resting on their laurels. The region is intent on remaining in the pot reform vanguard. Whether it's medical marijuana, decriminalization, or legalization, New Englanders are keeping the pressure on.

In Connecticut, where Republican Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2007, current Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy is pushing both medical marijuana and decriminalization bills, the latter as part of a broader corrections reform package. In Rhode Island, which already has a medical marijuana law, the licensing of dispensaries began this month. Legislators there are considering both decriminalization and legalization bills.

In Maine, where possession of up to 2.5 ounces is already decriminalized, there is a bill to double that to five ounces -- and to decriminalize the cultivation of up to six plants, as well. In Massachusetts, where voters decriminalized marijuana through the initiative process in 2008, activists continue to push the envelope. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills have been filed.

In New Hampshire, where a medical marijuana bill was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch (D) in 2009, a new medical marijuana bill passed the House earlier this month and awaits consideration by the Senate. In Vermont, which already has medical marijuana, a bill to allow two nonprofit dispensaries to open up is moving. So is a decriminalization bill endorsed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

While the passage of these bills is by no means assured, the battles are being fought and advances are being made. Observers of the scene say that's only par for the course in a region that has been a crucible for progressive social movements since the days of John Adams and Paul Revere.

It's not only the Revolutionary War heritage, of course; New England has been the home of critical social thinkers such as Emerson and Thoreau, a hotbed of the abolitionist movement in the 19th Century, birthplace of the anti-nuclear movement in the 20th Century, and among the first areas to feel the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

It also the land of participatory democracy through its storied town meetings. And it is the most politically liberal region of the country. Four of its six state houses are controlled by Democrats, and even the region's Republicans are moderate compared to the rest of the country. It is also home to the nation's only socialist senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and only independent governor, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (formerly a moderate Republican).

Not least of all, it is also hosts one of the densest concentrations of college students in the land. New England is home to Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth (half of the Ivy League), as well as MIT, half of the historically liberal arts women's colleges known as the Seven Sisters, and the Five Colleges consortium in Western Massachusetts. The Boston area in particular is crawling with students.

"In New England, we have a rich history of standing up and speaking truth to power dating back to even before this country was founded," said Tom Angell, a New Englander born and bred, who rose through the ranks as an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the University of Rhode Island and as staff in the national office SSDP in Washington, DC, before taking his current position as communications director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "This is really in our blood," he said.

Angell pointed to the critical role of student activists in the region. "We have this enormous concentration of colleges and universities, and, at least from a Rhode Island perspective, many of the campaigns we've seen over the past few years were initiated by or happened with members of SSDP chapters," he said. "Students from the University of Rhode Island and Brown founded the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition and did all the legwork building coalitions" that led to passage of the medical marijuana bill there, he said.

A relatively small population in the region also plays a role, activists said. "The populations in New England are smaller, and it's easier to get public education done," said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There is also a lot of public support for reform, as well as a tradition of independent thinking regarding any type of policy issues."

"There are fewer people here and less bullshit," said Cliff Thornton, a long-time Connecticut-based drug reformer. "California alone has almost three as many people as all New England. When you understand that, you understand why there are fewer voices for prohibition."

New England is fertile ground for reform, said Thornton, who was quick to add that he was not just talking about pot law reform and was in fact critical of reformers who concentrated solely on marijuana. "It seems like all of a sudden everyone just woke up," Thornton said. "Every damned week, there is some type of forum on marijuana or prohibition or prison. I think here in New England we've reached critical mass, and people feel safer now coming out against the drug war."

But critical mass doesn't just suddenly happen, and it is here that the region's more immediate history of drug reform activism plays a role. To take just one regional example, the Boston Freedom Rally, the nation's second-largest marijuana reform event (behind Seattle's Hempfest) has been going on since 1989, and the MassCann activists associated with it have spent the last decade running non-binding public policy questions on medical marijuana, decriminalization, and legalization. They have never lost, and that wins them some leverage at the state house.

"Here in Massachusetts, 20 years of activism has played a key role in getting us to where we are today," said MassCann's Bill Downing. "Massachusetts is so active because we have a history, a tradition of civil activity here, and many people in Massachusetts believe it's their patriotic duty; that's how democracy works."

"Activism has made a tremendous impact in New England," said Thornton. "I've been doing this for a long time, but now other organizations are springing up, and over the years, we've garnered a lot of credibility. We've got some good activists now and they have been able to turn a lot of people around."

MassCann's Downing also saluted young people and suggested that the region's marijuana reform movement has matured enough to allow for a changing of the guard. "We have so many young people in Boston," he said. "For years, we've been reaching out to them, and it's paying off. Our board of directors just had a sea change, with a lot of new people and a lot of women coming in. Last year, we didn't have any women on the board; now there are five."

For reasons historical and demographic, cultural and geographic, New England is clearly in the vanguard of marijuana law reform. And, as MassCann's Downing noted, the same spirit that animated the Founding Fathers animates reformers today.

"People forget that the major reason marijuana law reform is good is because we are more free," he said.

Pot Politics on Capitol Hill: Proponents Aim to Shift Industry's Image

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are hoping to build momentum on Capitol Hill after a historic election that saw the politics of pot take center stage in four states. The marijuana industry's public relations campaign has so far been limited to states, especially California, where a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana almost passed in November. But today, the National Cannabis Industry Association, launched in December to represent the interests of legal marijuana growers and distributors, will hold the first congressional lobbying day in the nation's capital, hoping to shore up support for an industry they say could bring billions of dollars in revenue to the government.
Publication/Source: 
ABC News (US)
URL: 
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/pot-politics-capitol-hill-proponents-aim-shift-marijuana/story?id=13251446

Marijuana Legalization Advocates Organize to Put New Measure on California Ballot

Location: 
CA
United States
The campaign behind the initiative to legalize marijuana in California which lost narrowly announced it had formed a new committee to put another measure on the ballot. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 aims to build on the support that coalesced around Proposition 19, which would have allowed adults to grow and possess marijuana and authorized cities and counties to legalize and tax sales. Proposition 19 lost 46%-54% in November, but it drew worldwide media attention and stimulated a vigorous debate over the nation's drug policies. Polls have shown growing support for marijuana legalization nationwide, and a post-election poll in California suggested the measure might have passed if proponents had had the money for a campaign to reach swing voters.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/03/new-medical-marijuana-initiative-in-california.html

Rhode Island Looks at Legalizing Marijuana for Recreational Use

Location: 
RI
United States
Rhode Island would become the first U.S. state to legalize marijuana for recreational use under legislation that would replace criminal penalties for possession with alcohol-style regulation and taxes on America's most widely used illicit drug. Cash-strapped Rhode Island would stand to make tens of millions of dollars off the deal. The legislation would allow individuals to grow up to three marijuana plants, but only if they've paid $100 per plant. Wholesalers would have to pay a $50-per-ounce excise tax, retail licenses would cost $5,000 annually, and all retail marijuana sales would be subject to sales taxes.
Publication/Source: 
New England Cable News (MA)
URL: 
http://www.necn.com/03/16/11/RI-looks-at-legalizing-pot/landing_politics.html?&blockID=3&apID=a03f57af1fce445581110e37942b8c52

Former U.S. Attorney to Speak in Favor of Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Bill

Location: 
WA
United States
Former federal prosecutor John McKay will join Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of Seattle in speaking in favor of a bill to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in Washington state.
Publication/Source: 
The Seattle Times (WA)
URL: 
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014506919_apwaxgrlegalizingmarijuana.html

Marijuana Reform Advocates Call for a Safer Alternative to Alcohol for St. Patrick's Day (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2011

CONTACTS: Rev. Jay Goldstein - Executive Director - Empire State NORML at (212) 473-2486 or [email protected]; Doug Greene - Legislative Director - Empire State NORML at (516) 242-4666 or [email protected]

MARIJUANA REFORM ADVOCATES CALL FOR A SAFER ALTERNATIVE TO ALCOHOL FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY

WHEN: St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th, 2011 at high noon
WHERE: City Hall Park - Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side)
WHO: Empire State NORML and numerous speakers (see list below):
WHAT: Rally and Press Conference

On March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) at high noon, Empire State NORML (the New York State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)) will remind New Yorkers that marijuana is a safer alternative to alcohol for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“While scores of New Yorkers are out getting hammered, we want to remind the Big Apple that there is a safer, greener and cleaner choice for adults: marijuana,” said Doug Greene, Legislative Director of Empire State NORML, who organized the event for the first time in 2010.

“In an era of budget cuts and worsening public health, why is the Bloomberg administration driving New Yorkers to drink while spending tens of millions of dollars per year arresting peaceful, healthy cannabis consumers? New York City made over 50,000 marijuana possession arrests last year alone, and over 500,000 since 1996,” said Greene.

Marijuana arrests are 15% of all arrests in New York City. The NYPD is now jailing people for marijuana possession at the rate of nearly 1,000 arrests a week. With 2.7% of the U.S. population, New York City represents 6% of nationwide marijuana arrests.

Greene was first inspired to organize “Marijuana is SAFER” events after reading the book of the same name (subtitled “So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?), co-authored by Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, by Mason Tvert, Executive Director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and by Steve Fox, Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Speakers include:

· Dr. Julie Holland, a nationally recognized authority on drugs and drug safety, who has appeared multiple times on Today. She is the author of “Weekends at Bellevue” (which may be coming to TV on Fox this fall ) and editor of “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis” and “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.”

· Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at CUNY Queens College, the co–author of the NYCLU report “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007.” He is also the co–author of a new report on the costs of New York City’s marijuana arrests, which will be released on March 15 by the Drug Policy Alliance.

· Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation’s leading organization calling for alternatives to the drug war and policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights.

· Daniel Jabbour, New York State Coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society.

· Chris Goldstein, Board Member, NORML-NJ/Coalition for Medical Marijuana-NJ (CMM-NJ). Chris is a radio broadcaster and marijuana advocate. Chris is considered an expert on the topic of marijuana and can comment on New Jersey and national issues regarding cannabis.

###

Location: 
Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side) City Hall Park
New York, NY 10007
United States

Support for Marijuana Legalization Creeping Up

Public support for marijuana legalization continues its upward trend and has "never been higher," according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The poll had support for marijuana legalization at 45%, up four points from the same poll a year earlier.

Half of respondents (50%) still opposed legalizing pot, but that number is down two points from last year and continues a two-decade long trend of declining opposition. In 1990, 81% opposed legalization; by 2000, that number had declined to 63%, and has continued to drop since then.

The upward trend line for legalization and the downward one opposing legalization are nearing the convergence point, and support for legalization will soon surpass opposition, if current trends continue.

Pro-legalization sentiment was strongest among 18-to-29-year-olds (54%), Democrats (53%), and people with some college education (50%). Among liberal Democrats, support rose to 66%.

Keeping marijuana illegal got the strongest support from Republicans (67%) and people over 65 (66%), and women (54%). Men were evenly divided on the issue.

The new Pew poll is in line with other polls in recent years showing a steady increase in support for marijuana legalization, but that we're not quite there yet nationally. Still, we are getting tantalizingly close. You can review our archive of Chronicle articles about polls here.

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.

Rallies to Legalize Marijuana in Louisiana

Location: 
LA
United States
A group called Legalize Louisiana is leading statewide marches seeking to change Louisiana laws and legalize marijuana.
Publication/Source: 
WWL (LA)
URL: 
http://www.wwl.com/pages/9312746.php?contentType=4&contentId=7752024

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