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Updated: 2 weeks 4 days ago

Colorado: Marijuana Tax Revenue Surpasses Alcohol

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 19:48

State taxes specific to the production and retail sale of marijuana totaled some $70 million in Colorado over the past year — nearly twice the amount collected for alcohol during this same period.

Financial data released this week by the Colorado Department of Revenue reports that state regulators collected $69,898,059 from marijuana-specific taxes from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. This total includes the collection of $43,938,721 from the imposition of a 10 percent special sales tax on retail sales to adults, and $25,959,338 collected from the imposition of a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana intended for commercial sales. In comparison, the state raised just under $41,837,647 from alcohol-specific taxes during this same period, including $27,309,606 from excise taxes collected on spirited liquors, $8,881,349 from excise taxes on beer, and $5,646,692 from excise taxes collected on vinous liquors.

Additional revenue attributable to the imposition of state sales taxes (2.9 percent) on retail sales of cannabis and/or booze were not included in the Department’s calculations. The majority of Colorado voters approved the imposition of cannabis-specific taxes (Proposition AA) in November 2013.

According to market research reported recently by Marijuana Business Daily, the average amount spent on marijuana in states where the drug is legal is $1,800 per year versus only $450 for alcohol.

In Washington state, where retail cannabis sales began last summer, data released today estimates that marijuana-specific tax revenues have generated $90 million in the past 15 months.

Ohio: Toledo Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Municipal Depenalization Measure

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 18:52

By a margin of over 2 to 1, voters in Toledo, Ohio yesterday approved a municipal ballot measure removing criminal and civil penalties associated with minor marijuana possession offenses. The vote took place during a special city election.

Ballot Issue 1, the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance,” amends the city’s municipal code to eliminate the threat of jail or fines for those found within city limits to be in the possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana. The measure also prohibits the city from suspending one’s license as a punishment for violating marijuana possession laws.

Under Ohio law, any conviction for possession of a controlled substance is subject to driver’s license revocation for no less than 6 months and no more than 5 years.

A summary of the ordinance is available here.

Despite the measure’s popularity, both the city’s mayor and police chief have indicated their intent to charge minor marijuana offenders under the Ohio Revised Code rather than under the local ordinance. State law classifies classifies the possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis as a minor criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $150. Marijuana possession offenses involving more than 100 grams but less than 200 grams are punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Toledo is the fourth largest city in Ohio.

California: Legislative Package Seeking To Clarify, Regulate Medical Cannabis Sent to Governor

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 23:31

California lawmakers approved a series of bills in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session that seek to establish statewide rules and oversight governing the distribution of medicinal cannabis. The three bills — Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 643, and Assembly Bill 243 — now await final approval from Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown.

Much of the measures’ finalized language was amended and approved by lawmakers at the close of the session and was not subject to public testimony or significant floor debate.

Specifically, the legislative package creates a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs to develop rules and licensing procedures for authorized medical cannabis dispensaries. Dispensaries will be required to operate in accordance with local guidelines prior to receiving a state license. State-licensed dispensaries will be permitted to operate on a ‘for profit’ basis. However, the new regulations do not override municipal moratoriums that are already in place prohibiting such operations in various jurisdictions throughout the state, nor do they prohibit the collection of local sales taxes on marijuana purchases in communities that presently impose them.

Separate language in the bills seeks to regulate the licensed production of cannabis and imposes rules in regard to growing, testing, and labeling cannabis like other agricultural products. The bills also seek to provide additional oversight to physicians who recommend cannabis therapy. However, the measures do not limit physicians from recommending cannabis at their own discretion — activity which is codified under Proposition 215/the Compassionate Use Act.

Proposed language seeking to impose an excise tax on various cannabis products was not included in the final bill package.

If signed into law, the new regulations will take effect in 2017.

California voters initially approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which permits qualified patients to possess and/or grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes. However, the measure did not provide language explicitly providing for third-party providers outside of assigned caregivers, instead calling upon state lawmakers “to implement a plan of safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”

California NORML has additional information of the measures here and here.

Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 13:25

NORML Endorses the Ohio Legalization Initiative

The NORML board of directors voted to endorse Issue 3, the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot on November 3rd. The proposal would end marijuana prohibition in Ohio, legalizing both medical and recreational use, so NORML’s endorsement came as no surprise.

But our endorsement — made at a meeting recently in Portland, Ore. — came with a caveat: The board expressed concern over investor-driven initiatives where the investors will profit from the passage of the initiative. And because of that concern, the endorsement was less than unanimous; a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.

NORML is a single-issue, public-interest lobby. We focus on ending prohibition and the practice of treating marijuana smokers as criminals, and the establishment of a legally regulated market, so there was little doubt that we would endorse Issue 3 in Ohio once it had qualified for the ballot. But we also felt we should acknowledge that this specific version of legalization – in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal – is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.

Initiatives Intended to Benefit Ordinary Americans

Voter initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy (policy decided by an elected legislature), procedures first adopted during the Progressive Era intended to eliminate corruption in government by taking down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access to ordinary Americans in the political system. Yet in this instance, the initiative process is being used to try to make the rich and powerful even more rich and more powerful.

Using the cover of badly needed criminal justice reform, the investors, operating under the name of Responsible Ohio, are seeking what is clearly an unfair advantage in the “green rush” that is certain to follow marijuana legalization when it is adopted in Ohio. For these individuals, who have not previously been involved in the legalization movement, this exercise is only incidentally about ending prohibition and stopping the arrest of marijuana smokers; it is really about getting rich in a newly legal industry. Big money has now entered the picture, and this will not be the last time we have to deal with the issue of greed.

It’s The Only Current Option in Ohio

But currently Issue 3 is the only option available to stop the senseless and destructive practice of arresting marijuana smokers in Ohio. The state legislature is unwilling to seriously consider the merits of legalizing and regulating marijuana, despite polling showing a slim majority of Ohioans support full legalization. Each year nearly 20,000 Ohio residents are arrested on marijuana charges. That’s an enormous price to pay when we have the ability to end prohibition now, albeit with some undesirable provisions.

So the NORML board felt obliged to hold our noses and endorse Issue 3 in Ohio. It was, as the saying goes, “a bitter pill to swallow,” and the board wanted to make it clear we do not consider the Ohio proposal the best model for other states to follow. There are far better ways to legalize marijuana.

Most of us would prefer to keep the focus on protecting personal freedom and ending marijuana arrests. Greed is a common motivator in our free-market system, but it would be preferable to keep it out of our public policy debates.

But in some states, where the elected officials are not responsive to the will of the voters, we may have to accept legalization that is profit-driven, as the most realistic way to end prohibition. That was the conclusion we reached regarding Ohio, and I believe it was the right decision.

But it surely does feel like the loss of innocence.


This column first appeared at


Federal Survey: Teen Marijuana Use Flat, Use of Alcohol and Cigarettes at Record Lows

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 22:49

Current use of marijuana by those between the ages of 12 to 17 has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, while young people’s self-reported consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has fallen to record lows, according to federal data compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of respondents ages 12 to 17 who reported past-month use of marijuana remained steady from 7.6 percent in 2004 to 7.4 percent in 2014. By contrast, teens’ use of tobacco, cigarettes, and alcohol fell dramatically during this same period. Over the past ten years, adolescents’ use of tobacco fell from 14.4 percent to 7 percent, their use of cigarettes fell from 11.9 percent to 4.9 percent, and their use of alcohol fell from 17.6 percent to 11.5 percent. Binge drinking by young people fell from 11.1 percent in 2004 to 6.1 percent in 2014.

Self-reported marijuana use by older respondents, particularly among those age 26 and older has increased in recent years. By contrast, since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington decided to permit the commercial production and sale of cannabis to adults, youth marijuana use in the past 30 days is virtually unchanged (7.2 percent in 2012, 7.4 percent in 2014).

Of all estimated past-month illicit drug consumers, 82 percent are users of marijuana, the survey reported.

The data once again undermines the concern that liberalizing marijuana laws for adults will inherently increase youth marijuana use and indicates that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults but restricts its use among young people — coupled with a legal environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and children about cannabis’ potential harms — best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse.

Nonetheless, marijuana law reform opponents are refusing to acknowledge these positive trends, instead falsely stating that marijuana use is “continuing to rise among youth.”

Poll: Michigan Voters Back Legalization Alternatives

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 22:24

A majority of Michigan voters endorse legalizing marijuana and having its sales regulated by state or local governments, according to statewide polling data released today.

Fifty-six percent of respondents backed some form of legalizing cannabis. Of these, 27 percent endorsed a proposal to allow for both the commercial production and home cultivation of the plant. Twenty-one percent endorsed state-imposed regulations but opposed home cultivation. Eight percent supported legalization but endorsed local controls, not state controls, in regard to how the plant ought to be regulated.

Forty percent of respondents said “Recreational marijuana use should not be legalized in Michigan.”

The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Previous statewide polls from 2013 and this past spring also show majority support for ending marijuana prohibition.

Michigan is one of several states where advocates are considering 2016 ballot initiatives to regulate the adult use of cannabis.

Poll: South Carolina Voters Oppose Federal Interference In State Marijuana Laws

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 18:29

South Carolina voters, including some two-thirds of Republicans, do not believe that the incoming administration ought to interfere with the enactment of state laws legalizing marijuana, according to polling data conducted by Public Policy Polling and published today by

Sixty-five percent of South Carolina believe “[S]tates should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” Seventy-three percent of Independents endorsed the notion, as did 66 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats.

Only 16 percent of voters agreed that the federal government should continue to “arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws.”

Similar support has been voiced among voters in the other early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where super-majorities oppose federal interference in state marijuana laws.

Nationwide polls have reported similar results. Gallup pollsters reported that 64 percent of respondents oppose federal interference in state laws that allow for the legal use of cannabis by adults, while a poll commissioned by the think-tank Third Way found that six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy. Most recently, a 2015 nationwide Pew poll reported that a strong majority of Americans — including 64 percent of Independents, 58 percent of Democrats, and 54 percent of Republicans — believe that the federal government should not enforce laws in states that allow marijuana use.

Washington: Marijuana Law Changes Not Associated With Increased Teen Use

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 18:11

Changes in marijuana laws are not associated with increased use of the substance by teens, according to data compiled by Washington’ Healthy Youth Survey and published by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy.

State survey results from the years 2002 to 2014 show little change in cannabis consumption by Washington teens despite the passage of laws permitting and expanding the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes during this time.

Self-reported marijuana use fell slightly among 8th graders, 10th graders, and 12th graders during this period. Young people’ self-reported access to cannabis also remained largely unchanged during this time period, although more 8th graders now report that marijuana is “hard to get.”

The passage of voter-initiated legislation legalizing the adult use of cannabis in 2012 is also not to associated with any increase in consumption by youth. Between 2012 and 2014, self-reported lifetime marijuana use and/or use within the past 30 days either stayed stable or fell among all of the age groups surveyed.

The report concluded, “[C]annabis use and access among students in 6th through 12th grades have changed little from 2002 through the most recent survey in 2014.”

The findings are consistent with those of previous assessments acknowledging that liberalizing state marijuana laws does not stimulate increased use among young people.

Back the PAC Today!

Tue, 09/08/2015 - 17:27

So far this year, the top 20 Political Action Committees have raised more than $12 million for candidates running for elected office.

It’s time for elected officials and candidates to recognize that marijuana law reform is a priority for voters. Four states and the District of Columbia have LEGALIZED the personal use of marijuana, 23 states have LEGALIZED medical marijuana programs, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of local municipalities opting to DECRIMINALIZE the possession of small amounts of marijuana. When will politicians and candidates recognize that campaigning in favor of reforming America’s archaic and failed marijuana laws is smart politics? When we, the cannabis community, puts sufficient pressure on them to do so.

We all know money talks. And with other PACs routinely raising millions of dollars to donate to and endorse candidates, the NORML PAC needs to become more influential. But we can’t do so without your support!

Make a donation to the NORML PAC today and you’ll be helping to elect and re-elect candidates that recognize the benefits of marijuana legalization. Recipients of a NORML PAC donation and endorsement speak out publicly for policy changes that benefit the millions of Americans who choose to enjoy cannabis responsibly. Help us support those candidates that will push marijuana law reform to the forefront of politics.

Back the PAC today! For a limited time, those of you who respond with a donation of $100 or more will receive a NORML & Rick Steves Travel Hemp Backpack. These unique backpacks are made available by Rick in support of NORML’s longstanding law reform efforts and are only available from NORML.

This premium will only last for one week so be sure to make your $100 donation as soon as possible before the backpacks run out! Any donation is greatly appreciated.

As always, thank you for your support and generosity. NORML wouldn’t be here today without you!

The Fiasco in Denver: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Thu, 09/03/2015 - 17:39

The embarrassing episode this week in Denver, when the sponsors of a city-wide initiative to legalize marijuana smoking in some bars and lounges withdrew their initiative, even after qualifying for the ballot, reminds us of the need to thoroughly vet these types of projects – especially those with the potential to set-back the legalization movement if they fail – before moving forward. This was an impulsive act that should never have seen the light of day – at least not in 2015.

While I am not privy to the actual discussions that led to the launch of this ill-fated campaign in Denver, one can imagine a couple of friends sitting around one night, smoking some good weed, and convincing themselves that now is the time to expand on the legalization plan in effect statewide in Colorado, by allowing for smoking in bars in Denver. It is a natural next-step for Colorado and the other legalization states.

Most smokers favor the option of bars or lounges where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize outside the home, so the intent of the initiative was admirable. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes. There is no valid reason for such a limitation, and it really reflects the remaining stigma many non-smoking Americans still associate with the use of marijuana – that it may be tolerated in the home, but is somehow an offense to society to permit smoking in a public venue.

But these public policy changes are always challenging, and generally before going public with their proposal, proponents fully consider both the electoral timing of the effort and the level of public support for the proposal. Did no one realize that 2015 is an off-year election, when all voter turnout is low, and especially the youth vote, where support for legalization is the strongest? Did no one undertake advance polling to determine whether a majority of the public would support such a proposal? Or was this initiative a reflection of the arrogance that sometimes comes with a big victory, such as A-64, that leave those sponsors believing they can do no wrong?

The Spin

The official announcement from the Campaign for Limited Cannabis Social Use, a spin-off of the two groups, Sensible Colorado and SAFER, that were behind the successful Amendment 64 campaign approved by the Colorado voters in 2012, was one of the more creative attempts to try to turn an embarrassing defeat into a victory, but hardly convincing.

Claiming their decision to withdraw was based on a desire to work cooperatively with elected city officials to accomplish their goals “without a contentious ballot initiative fight,” the sponsors said they are now willing “to give the collaborative process a shot.”

“We are optimistic about these discussions, but also know that we can return to the ballot in November 2016 – when the electorate will be far more favorable to our case,” the group said.

In other words, they realized what other observers had seen from the start – this was the wrong time to be mounting this voter initiative. Truly amazing that this conclusion was only reached after squandering tens of thousands of dollars and enormous political credibility.

Their conclusion: “Today is not the end of a campaign; it is a transition from a ballot initiative process to a lobbying effort.”

Perhaps a lobbying effort in 2015 would have made sense all along, as some have been doing, and only if that effort were unsuccessful, and advance polling indicated a voter initiative would enjoy the support of a majority of the public in 2016, should the discussion have shifted to an initiative. The sponsors clearly had the cart before the horse, and we are now paying the price.

I appreciate the need to minimize the damage from withdrawing the initiative, and to attempt to salvage their political credibility, but somehow I doubt those who contributed either money or time to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot will consider this a victory. And if one were forced by the reality of the situation to pull the plug, even at this late date, it would have been refreshing to at least see the sponsors acknowledge the obvious – that this decision was based on low polling results indicating their proposal could not win at the polls in November.

Let’s hope this was a lesson well-learned, and we can now move forward in a more reasoned manner.


This column was originally posed on



National Council of State Legislatures Passes Resolution “In Support of States Determining Their Own Marijuana and Hemp Policies”

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 16:09

The National Council of State Legislatures passed a resolution yesterday urging the federal government to amend the Controlled Substances Act and to refrain from interfering with state laws permitting the legal production and use of cannabis.

The National Council of State Legislatures is a bipartisan, non-governmental organization founded in 1975 to unite members of legislature’s from around the United States. The council works to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures, promote innovative policy and communication among state legislatures, and to magnify their voice in the federal system.

The NCSL resolves “[S]tates and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.” Members passed the resolution overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

The vote represents a strong consensus among state lawmakers that the federal government should embrace, not impede the progress states have made to amend their marijuana laws, and encourages federal lawmakers to consider rescheduling marijuana in order for states to safely and effectively move forward in their reforms.

Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books, and half of all US states recognize industrial hemp. Four states plus Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use.  There is no doubt states have recognized the failed efforts of marijuana prohibition and are eager to try out other policies. NORML commends the resolution adopted by the National Council of State Legislatures and will continue to advocate for the federal government’s compliance.

Reformers To JAMA: Don’t Generalize All Cannabinoid Data to Medical Cannabis

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 19:12

We read with interest the recent review of medical use of cannabinoids (1). As the authors attempt to emphasize, they focus on a heterogeneous collection of experiments that employed a range of treatments, including synthetic THC, CBD, and THC-mimicking drugs.

Lay readers might inappropriately generalize these results specifically to whole plant medical cannabis  But few (only two) of these experiments were conducted using medical cannabis; most of the studies reviewed focused on outcome measures that do not address the plant’s potential advantages over a single, compound agent in pill form.

For example, the authors conclude that evidence of individual, synthetic cannabinoids to help nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy was low in quality. Within hours of the publication of the paper, mainstream media coverage applied these conclusions to medical cannabis per se, not just medical cannabinoids (2). In fact, as the authors emphasize, only 6 of the 28 studies assessing nausea and vomiting used THC, and none of these actually employed vaporized or inhaled botanical cannabis. The dependent measures were also not sensitive to the key advantage of medical cannabis for nausea: speed of onset. (Inhaled medicines can work within seconds. Sprayed extracts require at least a half hour while cannabinoids in pill form can take multiple hours.)  The authors were generally careful about these caveats, but the disparate and inaccurate media coverage suggests that flagship journals in all fields now have to be even more diligent when cautioning readers about the inappropriate generalization of results. Despite increasing popularity, medical cannabis remains controversial and, apparently, newsworthy. As reviews of the effects of cannabinoids proliferate, authors, editors, journal staff, and journalists might welcome a reminder that cautions about interpretation need to be spelled out in more effusive, detailed, and thorough ways.

Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D.
University at Albany
Department of Psychology
Chair, NORML Board of Directors

Paul Armentano
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D.
Drug Policy Alliance

1) Whiting PF, Wolff RF, et al. Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA, 2015: 313(24):2456-2473

2) Seaman, AM. Medical marijuana: good evidence for some diseases, weak for others. Reuters. June 24, 2015.


Congress Misled by Justice Department on Marijuana Vote

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 17:20

As first reported by, a Justice Department internal memo distributed to U.S. House Representatives last year misinformed members on the scope of a medical marijuana amendment they were voting on.

Last year, lawmakers approved 219 to 189 an amendment aimed at prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

We have now learned that in the days before this vote, Justice Department officials distributed “informal talking points” incorrectly warning members that the amendment could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well.” The realization came from a footnote contained in the memo stating that the talking points previously released were, “intended to discourage the passage of the rider but does not reflect our current thinking.”

The talking points seemed to have an effect on several members, who prior to the final vote on the amendment, argued against it claiming the “amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.” Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) went on to claim, “The problem is that the way the amendment is drafted, in a state like Maryland which has medical marijuana, if we ever legalized it, the amendment would stop the DEA from going after more than medical marijuana.”

These statements coupled with the rest of the long debate that took place before the amendment, clearly signal that lawmakers on both sides of the argument believed the amendment to prohibit federal interference in states with medical marijuana.

However, in a very narrow interpretation of the amendment, the Justice Department memo claims that the restriction of federal funds for the use of interfering in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs is strictly for states and state officials implementing the laws themselves. That is to say, the federal government would still be allowed to arrest and prosecute people who grow marijuana and operate dispensaries but the state officials issuing the licenses are protected from federal intrusion. This explains the continued action taken by the federal government against individuals in states with legal medical marijuana laws on the books.

The same amendment protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention was passed again this year with a larger margin of support, 242-186.

Representatives Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA) (sponsors of the medical marijuana amendment) requested last week the Department of Justice’s inspector general hold an internal investigation into the continued action taken by the federal government. They feel Congress has made it clear by passing the amendment two years in a row, federal funds should no longer be used to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with their state laws.

Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Check out our State Info page to check on your state’s current marijuana laws.


The NORML Nation Membership Drive is LIVE! Join Today!

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 19:25

The NORML Nation Membership Drive went live this morning, and will run until August 12th!

Click HERE to go the the NORML Nation Membership Drive page, where you can join the NORML Nation and fight for legalization in 2016!

NORML has big things planned for the 2016 election season, and we need more grassroots volunteers to help us fight for cannabis legalization!

We’re working with multiple partners in the cannabis industry to build NORML’s ranks. The goal of this membership drive is to add 1,000 new members to NORML! We’re offering three ways to participate:

If you’re already NORML Chapter Leader or Member, you can earn money for your local NORML Chapter through the NORML Nation Chapter Contest! The top three chapters with the most referrals to the NORML Nation will earn $1,000, $500, and $250!

Thank you in advance for helping us make this a successful membership drive. You can help us reach our goal by encouraging others to become members of NORML and to donate to our work. You can also join the NORML Nation Membership Drive Facebook event, and invite your friends!

Will DC Be Next With Recreational Dispensaries?

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 13:16

Our nation’s capital may well be the next jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries. And if that occurs, it will inevitably help shape the debate in Congress over marijuana policy.

That is, of course, important for the 658,893 people who live in the District, and the 6,033,737 people who live in the metropolitan area, but it will also be a helpful step in eventually persuading Congress to remove federal impediments to full legalization at the state level.

Every member of Congress, all 435 House members and 100 senators, maintain two homes: one in the home state district where they were elected, and a second in DC, where they spend at least three days each week when Congress is in session. And while many of these elected officials from around the country currently hold exaggerated views of the dangers of marijuana smoking, simply living here and seeing the sky doesn’t fall when prohibition is ended and marijuana is legalized, is likely the most effective way for us to continue to build support for legalization in the Congress. There is nothing more persuasive than personal experience.

Many in Congress have made their reputations and based their election campaigns on the backs of the victims of the long war on marijuana smokers, and they are not likely to change overnight. Indeed, most will continue as long as they think it is a winning political argument in their home district. But seeing the nation’s capital embrace legal marijuana with few, if any, unintended consequences, and lots of measurable improvements in the criminal justice system, the police-community relations, and the quality of life in the District, will help temper the perspective of all who live here, including those members of Congress.

The Tortured History of Marijuana Policy in the District

Constitutionally, the District of Columbia is controlled by the US Congress, and since 1973, when Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, the city has enjoyed a degree of local control, electing a mayor and a 13-member City Council to determine local laws and policies. However, each new law is subject to a 30-day review by Congress before becoming effective. Should the Congress wish to override a local law, they have that legal authority.

While the Congress does not often directly override a District law enacted by the elected City Council, they do on a more regular basis use the budget process to stop the District from adopting a policy opposed by a majority of the party then in control of Congress, by enacting a rider to the DC appropriations bill that bars the District government from spending any money to advance the targeted issue. And marijuana policy in the District has at times been the target of the anti-marijuana zealots in Congress.

When DC residents originally passed Initiative 59 in 1998 with 69 percent support, legalizing the medical use of marijuana, Congress, led by Republican Rep. Bob Barr from Georgia, at the time a leading anti-marijuana crusader, quickly passed a budget amendment banning the District from spending any money to implement the measure. That ban was repeatedly renewed with each new budget and stayed in effect for a decade, until 2009. Following the lifting of the ban, the City Council passed legislation licensing medical dispensaries, three of which currently operate in the District.

Similarly, when Initiative 71 was approved by 70 percent of the voters in 2014, legalizing marijuana for all adults in the District, Republican Rep. Andy Harris, an anti-drug warrior from rural Maryland, led a successful effort, supported by top congressional Republicans, to add a rider to the DC appropriations bill banning the use of any money to implement legalization, a ban that remains in effect until October 1, 2015.

Harris had initially claimed his amendment blocked Initiative 71 from taking effect, and threatened to have the mayor arrested should she implement the new law. But the DC Attorney General held the initiative took effect despite the budget amendment (allowing the new law to take effect did not require the expenditure of any funds), although the amendment would preclude the City Council from moving forward to establish recreational dispensaries. The question now is whether the anti-marijuana coalition in Congress will have the votes to include the ban in the appropriations bill currently being considered. At least for now, it appears likely they will not.

The Budget Battle Ahead

When Obama sent his proposed 2016 budget to Congress earlier in the year, he did not include any ban on spending District funds to legalize marijuana (the ban against using federal funding was retained), taking the position that this is a matter for the District to decide, not the Congress.

And while the latest House Appropriations Committee budget did contain the ban, when the Senate Appropriations Committee recently completed their District appropriations bill, the ban was not included.

So the issue will be resolved in conference committee, where the real behind-the-scene horse-trading often occurs, and there is a fair chance the ban will not be included in the new budget.

If that occurs, you can expect the DC City Council to move expeditiously to establish a system to license commercial growers and retail recreational marijuana shops. There is near unanimous support for this step among the council, and from Mayor Muriel Bowser. And it is helpful that DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier has been a public supporter of marijuana legalization, stating at a press conference that marijuana is no big deal, and that “alcohol is a much bigger problem.”

So whether Congress likes it or not, their members may soon be spending roughly half of their time living under full marijuana legalization, including retail stores. This is a development that can only be helpful to speed along changes in federal law.


This column originally was published on


Support the NORML Nation!

Fri, 07/31/2015 - 22:43

Join the NORML Nation HERE!

One of the most valuable resources that NORML possesses is our members. They are our lifeblood and the driving force behind the multitude of statewide and local reform efforts taking place around the country. That’s why NORML is pushing to build our ranks in advance of the 2016 election by launching the weeklong NORML Nation Membership Drive. As many of you know, presidential elections tend to attract a larger pool of younger and more politically progressive voters. We hope to tap into this expected voting block to achieve unprecedented successes in 2016.

2016 will be a watershed year for ending marijuana prohibition at the local, state and federal level. NORML and NORML chapters are engaging in multistate strategy to assist with marijuana-related ballot initiatives and legislative reform efforts, and we and the NORML PAC are pushing for federal reform by lobbying members of Congress in support of The CARERS Act, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, and The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, as well as additional budgetary amendments and regulatory reforms.

Funds that we raise through this membership drive will help us cover costs related to our ongoing lobbying efforts and expand our network of NORML Chapters. Also, a portion of the proceeds will be used to establish our Chapter Grant program which will dedicated to directly supporting NORML-led local reform efforts.

If you’re already NORML Chapter Leader or Member, you can earn money for your local NORML Chapter through the NORML Nation Chapter Contest! The top three chapters with the most referrals to the NORML Nation will earn $1,000, $500, and $250! I’ll be sending around an email to Chapter Leaders with more information about the NORML Nation Chapter Contest.

Thank you in advance for helping us make this a successful membership drive. You can help us reach our goal by encouraging others to become members of NORML and to donate to our work. You can also join the NORML Nation Membership Drive Facebook event, and invite your friends!

You can read more about NORML’s ongoing legislative efforts by visiting our ‘Take Action Center’ here, and/or the NORML PAC here.

New DEA Leader Suspects Marijuana Is Not As Bad As Heroin

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 14:39

Newly appointed head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, says that marijuana is “probably” not as dangerous as heroin.

Rosenberg’s comments, issued Tuesday, are seemingly in conflict with marijuana’s Schedule I classification under federal law, which places it in the same category as heroin and is a lesser category than cocaine. The law defines cannabis and its dozens of distinct cannabinoids as possessing “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”

Predictably, Rosenberg did emphasize that he believed cannabis posed potential harms, stating:“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”

However, Rosenberg acknowledged that he has asked DEA offices “to focus their efforts and the resources of the DEA on the most important cases in their jurisdictions, and by and large what they are telling [him] is that the most important cases in their jurisdictions are opioids and heroin.”

Rosenberg’s predecessor, Michelle Leonhart vigorously defended marijuana’s Schedule I classification. She oversaw dozens of raids on medical marijuana providers, criticized the President on his remarks of marijuana’s safety in relation to alcohol, and rejected an administrative petition calling for marijuana rescheduling hearings. NORML is pleased that although the new DEA administrator, by his own admission is not “an expert” on cannabis, he apparently possesses a better grasp on marijuana and it’s evident differences compared to other schedule 1 substances.

Rosenberg’s comments, coupled with those of NIDA Director Nora Volkow publically espousing the safety of CBD indicate that it may no longer be a question of if the federal government will move to reclassify cannabis but when.


NIDA Director Says Cannabidiol Is A “Safe Drug”

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 00:00

The director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Nora Volkow, believes that cannabidiol (CBD) – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid – is “a safe drug with no addictive effects.” Volkow made the comments in an op-ed published by The Huffington Post.

Volkow further acknowledged, “[P]reliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”

Preclinical studies have documented CBD to possess a variety of therapeutic activities, including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, and bone-stimulating activity. Clinical and observational trials have documented the substance to possess anxiolytic, anti-psychotic, and anti-seizure activity in humans. Safety trials have further concluded the substance to be “safe and well tolerated” when administered to healthy subjects.

To date, 15 states have enacted laws specifically permitting the possession of high-CBD formulated extracts for therapeutic purposes, primarily for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy.

In a recent Time Magazine op-ed, Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA) and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (IA) encouraged the Obama administration to “definitively determine if CBD has scientific and medical benefits,” and to “look at expanding compassionate access programs where possible, to benefit as many children as possible.”

Under federal law, CBD — like cannabis — is defined as a Schedule I controlled substance with “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”

Oregon: Retail Cannabis Sales To Begin October 1

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 21:14

Democrat Gov. Kate Brown has signed emergency legislation expediting the retail sales of cannabis in Oregon to those age 21 and older.

Senate Bill 460 permits state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to also engage in cannabis sales to non-medical persons beginning on October 1, 2015. Adults will be allowed to purchase up to one-quarter ounce of cannabis per visit per day.

Initiated legislation approved by voters in November and enacted on July 1 allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). Separate provisions in the law permitting the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults were not anticipated to go into effect until next summer. Senate Bill 60 permits adults to legally obtain cannabis from dispensaries during this interim period.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington permit adults to legally possess and purchase limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. The District of Columbia also allows adults to possess and grow marijuana legally, but does not provide for as regulated commercial cannabis market. All of these measures were enacted by the passage of voter initiatives.

NORML Nation Membership Drive

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 17:00

UPDATE: Join the NORML Nation HERE!

Hello NORML Supporters!

NORML has big things planned for the 2016 election season, and we need more grassroots volunteers to help us fight for cannabis legalization!

That’s why we’re announcing the NORML Nation Membership Drive, taking place from August 5th to August 12th!

We’re working with multiple partners in the cannabis industry to build NORML’s ranks. The goal of this membership drive is to add 1,000 new members to NORML! We’re offering three ways to participate:

$25 Donor Package

  • Green “I Leaf NORML” Shirt (New design!)
  • Merchandise from Hemp Wick, Weed Maps, Mass Roots, and more!


$50 Supporter Package

  • Limited Edition NORML Nation Shirt (Only available in this drive!)
  • Complimentary issue of Freedom Leaf Magazine
  • Everything in the Donor Package


$100 Advocate Package

  • 30% off 1 month of 420 Goody Box
  • Weed Maps T-shirt (For the first 250 Advocate members)
  • Free Vape Pen from Spliffin with Cartridge Purchase
  • Buy 1 Get 1 Half Off 8th from Preferred Organic Therapy
  • Everything in the Donor and Supporter Packages


In addition to all of the cool merchandise you will get with becoming a member of the NORML Nation, we are also going to help all new members get connected with their local NORML chapters! The best part about being a NORML member is getting involved in your local area to push for marijuana law reform. We’re also holding a contest for our local chapters, by offering monetary grants to the chapters that refer the most people to National NORML!

The NORML Nation Membership Drive starts next Wednesday, August 5th and goes for a week, until August 12th. The 2016 election season is right around the corner, so this is the perfect time to get involved with cannabis legalization and support NORML!

Stay tuned for more updates about the NORML Nation Membership Drive!

UPDATE: Join the NORML Nation HERE!