The Smell Of Marijuana Should Not Be A Death Sentence

download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

“On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

They continue:

(T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

*  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

*  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

*  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

*  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

*  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

*  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

*  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)

 

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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Two Major Victories For Student Rights In Federal Courts

Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

Federal courts have recently rejected the actions of university and college administrators who sought to inflict suspicionless drug tests on students at a public college and to restrict the First Amendment rights of marijuana law reformers at a public university.  Both decisions have important national implications.

Linn Tech Student Drug Testing Case

In 2011, Linn State Technical College administrators declared that they intended to drug test every student who applied for admission to the small, state-funded college located in Osage County, Missouri, a short distance east of Jefferson City.  No other public college or university in America had pursued such a program.  It seemed clear to those who follow such matters that college and university students have the same rights as other adults to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  While private institutions are not bound by the restraints of the Fourth Amendment, public tax-supported institutions are.  Nonetheless, Linn Tech seemed determined to pursue inflicting random, suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Tony Rothert, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri, filed suit against Linn Tech.  I filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, working with Alex Kreit, a law professor from San Diego.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey, sitting in Jefferson City, subsequently issued a decision prohibiting such testing, with a few narrowly-drawn exceptions for those participating in training programs involving heavy machinery or high-voltage electricity.

Linn Tech appealed that decision to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  Legal scholars were shocked when a three-judge panel of that Court later sided with Linn Tech.  In a decision which many believed ignored legal precedent and logic, two of three judges on the panel which initially heard the case sided with Linn Tech.

Mr. Rothert then filed for a rehearing of the case by the full 11-judge Court.  Such hearings are rarely granted, but in this case, the Motion was granted.  Following that rehearing, all but two of the judges on the full Court sided with the students and the ACLU, overturning the decision of the three-judge panel.

Still not satisfied, Linn Tech squandered more public tax money pursuing a Petition for Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  Civil libertarians were concerned that the current high Court might indeed overturn the Eighth Circuit if it had accepted that Petition for review.  However, on June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review in this matter.  Therefore, the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court is now the final decision in this matter.  Linn Tech administrators have reluctantly acknowledged that they must now follow the Constitution and abandon their effort to impose suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Iowa State University NORML Censorship Case

In another important case closely watched by many across the nation, members of the NORML Chapter at Iowa State University in 2012 applied for approval to print t-shirts which contained the name of the university-recognized organization and included an image of the school’s mascot, “Cy, the Cyclone”.  University administrators first approved those t-shirts, but when the ISU NORML Chapter asked to reprint them, the university caved in to pressure from legislative staff people who had complained that it appeared the university was supporting marijuana legalization.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed suit on behalf of the officers of the Iowa State University NORML Chapter, alleging content and viewpoint discrimination.  The lawsuit sought to prevent university administrators from treating the NORML Chapter differently from other university-recognized student organizations.  The federal district court in Iowa sided with the students and against the university.  The university appealed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which issued a decision in February of this year upholding the federal district judge’s ruling.

Iowa State University administrators then asked the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court to reconsider its decision.  The Court did so, which caused many to fear that they might change their minds.

However, on June 13, 2017, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court reaffirmed its earlier decision and went even further, holding that university administrators who prevented the ISU NORML Chapter from using the university’s trademarked images were individually liable for their actions and could, therefore, be ordered to pay damages from their own pockets!

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

The federal appellate court sent a loud and clear message to university administrators that they are required to respect the Constitutional rights of students, including those who advocate for reform of the marijuana laws.

While Iowa State could do as Linn Tech administrators did and continue to squander more public tax money pursuing an ill-considered position, it is not at all likely the U.S. Supreme Court would grant further review in this matter.

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

These two decisions have reaffirmed the rights of college and university students to be free from random, suspicionless drug testing and to speak out for drug law reform without censorship by administrators..

 

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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Study: CBD Administration Reduces Blood Pressure

oil_bottlesOral CBD administration is associated with reduced blood pressure in healthy volunteers, according to clinical trial data published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Investigators from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom assessed the effects of a single oral dose of 600 mg of CBD extract versus placebo in nine male subjects.

Cannabidiol administration reduced resting systolic blood pressure and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart in one contraction). Compared to placebo, CBD intake was associated with reduced BP levels following exercise and in response to stress. Increased heart rate was observed following CBD administration, but no “adverse events” were reported by participants either during or following the study sessions.

Authors concluded: “Our data show that a single dose of CBD reduces resting blood pressure and the blood pressure response to stress, particularly cold stress, and especially in the post-test periods. This may reflect the anxiolytic and analgesic effects of CBD, as well as any potential direct cardiovascular effects. … Further research is also required to establish whether CBD has any role in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders such as a hypertension.”

Full text of the study, “A single dose of cannabisiol reduces blood pressure in healthy volunteers in a randomized crossover study,” is online here.

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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New York: Legalization Measure Introduced to Legislature

Update: A newly formed campaign, Start Smart NY, was launched on June 12 to support legalization. Empire State NORML is a member of the coalition supporting it’s efforts. 

Update: The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, State Senate Bill S3040, has been referred to the Finance Committee.

Senator Liz Krueger (D) has introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is making its way through the New York General Legislature.

The act legalizes possession and cultivation, and would establish a market for legal marijuana for adults 21 and older. 

The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.

Enter information below to contact your lawmakers and urge them to support this important legislation. 

Plug in with Empire State NORML via their website, Facebook, and Twitter

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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Weekly Legislative Update 6/17/17

revolutionbumperWelcome to this week’s edition of the NORML legislative roundup!

At the Federal level, the biggest news this week was two-fold. First, in a letter made public by Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment, it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote a private message to Congressional leadership requesting that they lift restrictions on the Department of Justice’s ability to prosecute medical marijuana in states that have legalized. This would overturn years of precedent and could result in the shutdown of lawful state medical programs, depriving patients of the ability to make healthcare decisions with their doctor. This revelation came the day before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before Congress and stated “The question of whether it’s legal under federal law is resolved because Congress has passed a law — it’s illegal. Scientists have found that there’s no accepted medical use for it.”

Which rolls us right into the second biggest Federal development: the reintroduction of the CARERS Act, which would codify protections for lawful state medical programs. Passage of CARERS 2017 would exempt from federal prosecution those who are engaged in the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing, recommending use, or delivery of medical marijuana” in instances where these activities comport with state law.

At the state level, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed HB 157 into law on June 16. The law adds “moderate to severe chronic pain” as a qualifying illness for medical cannabis. The new law takes effect in 60 days.

Following are the bills from around the country that we’ve tracked this week and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.

Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.

Thanks for all you do and keep fighting,
Justin

Priority Alerts

Federal
Join The Caucus: With public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all time high, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK) earlier this year formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.

Click here to email your Member of Congress to urge them to join the Congressional Cannabis Caucus

Protecting Patients: Legislation has been reintroduced in the Senate, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2017, to strengthen protections for those compliant with their state’s medical marijuana laws and to impose various changes to federal law.

Passage of CARERS 2017 exempts from federal prosecution those who are engaged in the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing, recommending use, or delivery of medical marijuana” in instances where these activities comport with state law. Separate provisions in Act exclude cannabdiol from the federal definition of marijuana, permit VA doctors to authorize medical cannabis access to qualified patients, and remove undue federal barriers to clinical trial research to better assess the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis.

Click here to send a message to your Senators urging them to support and possible co-sponsor the CARERS Act of 2017

Maine
Legislation (LD 764) is before Gov. Paul LePage that will prohibit medical cannabis patients from being denied organ transplants.

The measure “prohibits a transplant evaluator from determining a qualifying patient to be unsuitable to receive an anatomical gift solely because the qualifying patient uses medical marijuana.”

ME resident? Click here to send a message to Gov. LePage urging him to sign the bill. 

Massachusetts
Members of the House put forward amendments to The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. Among proposed changes to the law would more than double taxes on retail cannabis sales, from 12 percent to as much as 28 percent, strip local control away from municipal voters and unilaterally give local government officials the power to decide whether or not to ban marijuana facilities in their communities, and restrict the kinds of marijuana edibles products that may be sold and purchased by adults.

MA resident? Send a message to your lawmakers telling them to enact Question 4 as passed in a timely manner. 

 

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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California: Marijuana Regulation Implementation Bill Sent to Governor

Members of the state assembly and senate have passed legislation, Senate Bill 94, regarding the implementation of the Adult Use Marijuana Act and make amendments to the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.

The legislation imposes various regulatory changes surrounding the licensing of medical and retail facilities.

A summary of some of these changes appears here.

Full text of the bill is here.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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Nevada: Governor Vetoes Bill Vacating Past Marijuana Convictions

Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed legislation, Assembly Bill 259, that sought to allow minor marijuana offenders to vacate and seal their past convictions.

The measure stated: “If a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor for the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana in violation of subsection 4 of NRS 453.336 or for a violation of any other provision of law concerning an offense involving marijuana, if the act constituting such an offense is a lawful act in this State on or after January 1, 2017, the person may petition the court … for an order: (a) Vacating the judgment; and (b) Sealing all documents, papers and exhibits in the person’s record, minute book entries and entries on dockets, and other documents relating to the case in the custody of such other agencies and officers as are named in the court’s order.”

Members of the Assembly voted 27 to 15 in favor of the bill. Members of the Senate voted 12 to 9 in support of its passage.

Governor Sandoval vetoed the measure on June 12.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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Vermont: Governor Vetoes Marijuana Depenalization Measure; Says He Remains Open To Working With Lawmakers This Summer

Update: Lawmakers have sent a revised depenalization bill to Gov. Scott for his consideration during a special legislative session. The bill would eliminate criminal and civil penalities regarding the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and/or the cultivation of two mature plants. The bill also imposes civil fines for marijuana use while in a vehicle. 

Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday, May 24, vetoed legislation, Senate Bill 22 that sought to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for the adult use and possession of marijuana. 

The Governor said that he did not support the legislation as written, but that remains open to working with lawmakers over the summer on ways to amend the state’s cannabis policies. Make sure that he does so. 

Please contact the Governor, as well as your members of the House and Senate, in support of a legislative compromise that will free responsible Vermont adults from the threat of criminal arrest or civil fines for possessing personal use amounts of marijuana.

Fifty-seven percent of Vermont voters support “allowing adults who are 21 or older to use, possess, and securely grow marijuana.” Please continue to urge lawmakers to implement the will of the people.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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Massachusetts: Reject Tax Hike — No More Changes to Question 4

Massachusetts Question 4

Update: House leaders abruptly pulled the bill from the calendar after hearing complaints from constituents.

Update: Governor Charlie Baker has expressed skepticism regarding the proposed tax increase.

You have spoken. Are your elected officials listening?

On Election Day, 54 percent of voters decided in favor of Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act – permitting adults to legally grow and to possess marijuana for personal use, while also establishing regulations governing commercial cannabis cultivation and capping taxes on retail sales.

Your message could not have been any clearer: It is time to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana.

But it has become apparent that some powerful politicians and bureaucrats wish to ignore voters’ will and rewrite history.

Lawmakers have already unduly delayed the implementation of the law. Now they are moving to change the law altogether.

Members of the House on Thursday, June 15, are scheduled to hear and vote on legislation significantly amending The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. Among proposed changes to the law:

  • The bill would more than double taxes on retail cannabis sales, from 12 percent to as much as 28 percent.;
  • The bill would strip local control away from municipal voters and unilaterally give local government officials the power to decide whether or not to ban marijuana facilities in their communities;
  • The bill would restrict the kinds of marijuana edibles products that may be sold and purchased by adults.

The arrogance and hubris lawmakers are showing toward voters is shocking, and is typified by the comments of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg who earlier this year pronounced: “I believe that when voters vote on most ballot questions, they are voting in principle. They are not voting on the fine detail that is contained within the proposal.”

It’s time for you to send another clear message to your lawmakers: Abide by voters’ decision or suffer the consequences.

Voters knew full well what they were voting for on Election Day. And now it is time for politicians to respect it.

Visit Massachusetts NORML to learn more about what you can do in your state.

Please use the pre-written letter below to demand lawmakers and Gov. Baker abide by the will of the voters.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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Maine: Do Not Deny Medical Cannabis Patients From Receiving Organ Transplants

Legislation (LD 764) is before Gov. Paul LePage that will prohibit medical cannabis patients from being denied organ transplants.

The measure “prohibits a transplant evaluator from determining a qualifying patient to be unsuitable to receive an anatomical gift solely because the qualifying patient uses medical marijuana.”

No sound scientific evidence exists showing that medical cannabis patients are at any greater risk for adverse effects during transplant surgery. Patients should not be discriminated against solely because of their medical cannabis status. 

Please send the pre-written letter below and urge the Governor to sign this important legislation.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – Advocacy Campaigns

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