Marijuana Legalization

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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

Marijuana Debate Reignites in Bay State

Location: 
MA
United States
A bill to legalize marijuana was quietly introduced last week. Sponsored by Amherst Democrat Ellen Story, the bill could reap thousands of dollars for the state in tax revenue. "Reps come up to me and say thank you so much for doing this Ellen. I support you, but I can't be public about it. Legislators are afraid of being seen as soft on drugs," Story says.
Publication/Source: 
WSHM (MA)
URL: 
http://www.cbs3springfield.com/news/local/Weed-117122948.html?skipthumb=Y

Rep. Barney Frank Speaks at Medical Marijuana Expo, Receives Award

Location: 
ME
United States
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank spoke at Maine’s first Medical Marijuana Expo and said that the current laws against marijuana use should be revoked. "People who make a personal decision to smoke marijuana should not be subject to prosecution," said Frank. "This is the kind of fight that's worth making. It's winnable. Most American people think it’s sensible, and are for it," said Frank to the standing-room only crowd as he received the first-ever Patients’ Choice Award — a glass trophy in the shape of a marijuana leaf.
Publication/Source: 
Boston Herald (MA)
URL: 
http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/2011_0228barneys_frank_talk_about_pot/srvc=home&position=also

Call for Release of Moroccan Marijuana, Human Rights Activist

Last week, Moroccan human rights activist, denouncer of corruption, and marijuana legalization advocate Chakib El-Khayari began his third year in prison for "offending the Moroccan state." El-Khayari, president of the Human Rights Association of the Rif region in Morocco, has been jailed since February 17, 2009, and now, European drug reform activists and international human rights groups are calling for his release.

Chaikh El-Khayari (encod.org)
El-Khayari, who is also known for defending the rights of the Amazigh (Berber) people and African migrants passing through en route to Europe, aroused the ire of the Moroccan state for declaring to the press that the Moroccan military and police are collaborating in the trafficking of hashish to Europe. In 2008, he also took the path-breaking step of initiating a national debate on the legalization of industrial hemp and medical marijuana.

El-Khayari was arrested on February 17, 2009, and has been jailed ever since. He was convicted of "offending the Moroccan state" for his statements about the involvement of high-ranking officials in the police, the army, and the government in the hash trade. He was also convicted of violating Morocco's foreign exchange laws for depositing in a bank in Madrid a check from a Spanish newspaper for an article he had written.

In an open letter to Mohamed VI, the King of Morocco, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) is calling for El Khayari's immediate release. It is also calling on activists to print out and sign the letter, sending copies to the king and to the Moroccan embassy in their countries.

"Nothing justifies the heavy sanction that has been applied to Chakib El-Khayari," the letter says. "It is a manifest act of repression that is contrary to the international instruments to protect human rights that were ratified by Morocco and in particular, the international agreement on civil and political rights between Morocco and the European Union. We denounce firmly the detention of Chakib El-Khayari and urge his inmediate and unconditional release."

It's not just drug reformers. Five months ago, Amnesty International called for El-Khayari's release, saying it considers him a prisoner of conscience, "solely detained for his anti-corruption statements and his human rights activities."

The call for El-Khayari's release comes as the Moroccan government teeters under the wave of popular unrest that is sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Five people were killed during widespread protests seeking constitutional reform Sunday.

Morocco

Zimbabwe MP Says Legalize, Export Marijuana

A member of parliament (MP) from Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwean African National Union -- Patriotic Front) has called for the legalization of marijuana cultivation for medicinal reasons and/or for export. That call was rejected by the country's agriculture minister.

Flag of Zimbabwe (Image via Wikimedia)
Uzumba MP Simbaneuta Mudarika suggested that marijuana be grown legally in "remote areas" as medicine and to export to countries where it is legal. According to New Zimbabwe News, the notion prompted prolonged laughter and uproar in the chamber.

"I would like to know from the Minister the national policy with regards to creating export processing zones (EPZ) in remote areas," said Mudarikwa. "The reason for creating the EPZs in those remote areas is so that we can grow marijuana. Other countries like California and Norway have legalized it," he added.

[Editor's Note: Mudarikwa is a bit confused here. California is a state, not a country, and Norway has not legalized it. Perhaps he was thinking of the Netherlands.]

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made was having none of it. "That crop is not authorized in this country, and from a policy point of view, this crop is prohibited," he responded.

ZANU-PF is the party headed by Zimbabwe's long-time authoritarian ruler, Robert Mugabe. Since February 2009, ZANU-PF has entered into a tense coalition government with Morgan Tsvangarai and the Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe remains as president, a post he has held since 1987, while Tsvangarai serves as prime minister.

Zimbabwe

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