Federal Marijuana Sentences Plummet: Report

 

Cannabis Penalties

by Paul Armentano,

NORML Deputy Director

March 23, 2017

The number of federal offenders sentenced for violating marijuana laws has fallen significantly since 2012, according to data provided by the United States Sentencing Commission.

Just over 3,000 federal defendants were sentenced for marijuana violations in 2016, according to the Commission. That total is roughly half of the number of federal defendants that were sentenced in 2012. The total has fallen year-to-year since that time.

The 2016 total is nearly equal to the number of federal defendants sentenced for violating powder cocaine laws, and less than the number of federal defendants sentenced for heroin. Some 96 percent of federal marijuana defendants were sentenced for trafficking, with an average sentence of 28 months in prison.

Of those sentenced, 77 percent were Hispanic, 11 percent were Caucasian, and eight percent were African American. Fifty-six percent were categorized as non-US citizens.

In 2015, over 5,600 federal defendants were sentenced for violating marijuana laws, a total equal to some 25 percent of all federal drug sentences.

Click here to email your lawmakers on various pieces of legislation related to marijuana reform.

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NORML Forms Multi-State Workplace Drug Testing Coalition

by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Coordinator February 14, 2017

The fact that 190 million Americans now live in states where marijuana has been legalized to some degree is raising a number of questions and issues about how to integrate the American workforce and marijuana consumers rights in regards to drug testing. With medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational marijuana for adult use in 8 states and Washington DC, millions of responsible and otherwise law-abiding adults remain at risk of being excluded from the workforce due to a positive drug test — even where the use does not affect an individual’s job performance or has taken place days or weeks prior to the test.

NORML believes that this practice is discriminatory and defies common sense. As a result, a growing coalition of NORML Chapters in California, Oregon, Colorado and Washington have come together to advocate for necessary legislative and workplace reforms to protect responsible marijuana consumers.

NORML’s Workplace Drug Testing Coalition’s efforts will focus on these four areas:

  1. Reform workplace drug testing policies
  2. Expand employment opportunities for marijuana consumers
  3. Clarify the difference between detection technology and performance testing
  4. Highlight off-duty state law legal protections for employees

“Even though marijuana is legal and readily available in several states, consumers are being unfairly forced to choose between their job and consuming off the clock as a result of out-of-date employment practices,” said Kevin Mahmalji, National Outreach Coordinator for NORML. “That is why many NORML chapters active in legal states are now shifting their attention to protecting honest, hardworking marijuana consumers from these sort of antiquated, discriminatory workplace drug-testing practices, in particular the use of random suspicionless urine testing.”

Employer testing of applicants or employees for trace metabolites (inert waste-products) of past use of a legal substance makes no sense in the 21st century.  This activity is particularly discriminatory in the case of marijuana where such metabolites may be detectable for weeks or even months after the consumer has ceased use.

With the 2017 Legislative Session underway, this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. Legislation has already been introduced in Oregon and Washington, and is gaining traction in those states.

“Random suspicionless drug testing of applicants or employees for past marijuana use is not just unfair and discriminatory, it’s bad for business,” said attorney Judd Golden of Boulder, Colorado, a long-time NORML activist and Coalition spokesperson. The modern workforce includes countless qualified people like Brandon Coats of Colorado, a paraplegic medical marijuana patient who never was impaired on the job and had an unblemished work record. Brandon was fired from a Fortune 500 company after a random drug test, and lost his case in the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015. The Court unfortunately found Colorado’s lawful off-duty activities law that protects employees for legal activities on their own time didn’t apply to marijuana use.

California NORML is also expecting legislation to be introduced this session to address this issue. Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML said, “One of the most frequently asked questions we have been getting since Prop. 64 passed legalizing adult marijuana use in California last November is, ‘Am I now protected against drug testing on my job?’ Sadly in our state, not even medical marijuana patients are protected against job discrimination, and it’s a priority of Cal NORML to change that. We are hoping to get a bill introduced at the state level and are working with legislators, unions, and other reform groups to make that happen.”

NORML Chapters across the country are advocating on behalf of the rights of responsible marijuana consumers against discrimination in the workplace. “Our coalition was formed with the intention of not only educating legislators, but also with businesses in mind.  It is important they know testing for marijuana is not mandatory, and that employers have testing options,” said Jordan Person, executive director for Denver NORML. The Denver chapter is currently working with companies that offer performance impairment testing of workers suspected of on-the-job impairment or use rather than unreliable bodily fluid testing to help provide options for employers.

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For decades drug testing companies and others have pushed their agenda through a campaign of misinformation. Until now there has never been an organized effort to challenge the profit- driven ideology of those who seek to benefit from intrusive drug screening. Mounting evidence continues to prove there is no logical reason why adult marijuana consumers should be treated with any less respect, restricted more severely, and denied the same privileges we extend to responsible adults who enjoy a casual cocktail after a long day at the office.

For legal questions, please contact Coalition spokesperson Judd Golden at [email protected] For other marijuana related questions or an interview, please contact Kevin Mahmalji at [email protected]

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2015: The Year In Review – NORML’s Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015: The Year In Review - NORML's Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

#1 Congress Reauthorizes Medical Marijuana Protections
Members of Congress approved language in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill that continues to limit the federal government from taking punitive action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provisions reauthorize Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which states, "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/17/congress-omnibus-spending-bill-reauthorizes-medical-marijuana-protections.

#2 Federal Judge Upholds Marijuana’s Schedule I Status
A federal judge in April rejected a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance. "At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional," Judge Kimberly Mueller said from the bench. "But this is not the court and not the time." Judge Meuller had presided over five days of hearings in October 2014 in a challenge brought by members of the NORML Legal Committee. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/04/16/federal-judge-upholds-marijuana-s-schedule-i-status.

#3 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Opioid Abuse
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank. The findings mirror those published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding, "States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws." Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-medical-cannabis-access-associated-with-reduced-opioid-abuse.

#4 DC Depenalizes Marijuana; Arrests Plummet
Despite threats from members of Congress, District officials implemented voter-approved legislation earlier this year eliminating penalties associated with the possession and cultivation of personal use quantities of marijuana by adults. Following the law’s implementation, marijuana-related arrests in the nation’s capital fell 99 percent. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/12/04/cities-see-major-decline-in-marijuana-possession-arrests.

#5 Marijuana Law Changes Don’t Change Youth Use, Attitudes
Rates of youth marijuana use are unaffected by changing laws, according to data published in July in The American Journal of drug and Alcohol Abuse. Investigators evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. "Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/07/16/study-changes-in-state-marijuana-laws-are-not-associated-with-greater-use-or-acceptance-by-young-people.

#6 Gallup Poll: More Americans Than Ever Say Marijuana Should Be Legal
Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to nationwide survey data released in October by Gallup pollsters. The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has been measuring Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis since the late 1960s. The percentage is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/10/22/gallup-support-for-legalizing-marijuana-at-historic-high-2.

#7 Study: Marijuana Use Not Associated With Changes In Brain Morphology
Marijuana use is not associated with structural changes in the brain, according to imaging data published in January in The Journal of Neuroscience. Investigators assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users. They found "no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest" after researchers controlled for participants’ use of alcohol. "[T]he results indicate that, when carefully controlling for alcohol use, gender, age, and other variables, there is no association between marijuana use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures," researchers reported. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/19/study-marijuana-use-not-associated-with-previously-reported-changes-in-brain-morphology.

#8 Marijuana Consumers Less Likely To Be Obese, Suffer Diabetes Risk
Those who consume cannabis are 50 percent less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome as compared to those who do not, according to findings published in November in The American Journal of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, which are linked to increased risk of heart disease and adult onset diabetes, among other serious health consequences. The findings are similar to those of previous studies reporting that those who use cannabis are less likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/11/19/study-marijuana-consumers-less-likely-to-suffer-from-metabolic-syndrome.

#9 NHTSA: THC-Positive Drivers Don’t Possesses Elevated Crash Risk
Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in their blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a case-control study released in February by the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for the presence of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/02/12/feds-thc-positive-drivers-no-more-likely-to-be-involved-in-motor-vehicle-crashes.

#10 Legal Marijuana States Collect Over $200 Million In New Tax Revenue
Taxes on the legal production and sale of cannabis in the states of Colorado and Washington have yielded over $200 million in new revenue since going into effect in 2014, according to calculations reported by The Huffington Post in September. Colorado collected more than $117 million dollars from marijuana sales while Washington collected over $83 million. Cannabis sales commenced in Oregon in on October 1, 2015 and have yet to begin in Alaska. Read the full story at: http://norml.org/news/2015/09/03/legal-marijuana-states-collect-over-200-million-in-new-tax-revenue.

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NORML Hesitantly Backs Ohio Legalization Initiative

A campaign to legalize medical and recreational cannabis in Ohio has garnered a big endorsement from NORML, but the marijuana lobbying organization isn’t thrilled with a key business-related aspect of the measure.

NORML decided to get behind Issue 3, the legalization measure being pushed by Responsible Ohio. However, it expressed concern that the initiative calls for just 10 legal cultivation sites, all of which would be owned by wealthy campaign investors.

Keith Stroup, who founded NORML in 1970 and is now legal counsel for the organization, wrote on the organization’s website that such a restriction is a “perversion of the initiative process,” and he called the ballot measure a “bitter pill to swallow.”

“In this instance, the initiative process is being used to try to make the rich and powerful even more rich and more powerful,” Stroup wrote. “But currently Issue 3 is the only option available to stop the senseless and destructive practice of arresting marijuana smokers in Ohio.”

The NORML board of directors therefore voted to support the measure, but some board members abstained to note their opposition for the record, and one even flat-out opposed the initiative, Stroup wrote.

Issue 3 will be on the ballot this November in Ohio.

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Ohio voters have 2 opposing marijuana issues on November ballot

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio voters will have to decide on two opposing ballot questions in November.

One issue would allow recreational marijuana use, but the other issue would take away most of the framework of that law.

The Responsible Ohio amendment is Issue 3 and would make growing, selling and using marijuana in Ohio legal. Backers say the new law would free up the courts and bring in millions in tax dollars. Growing would be done at 10 sites around the state. The locations of the sites have already been chosen.

The state assembly put their own issue on the ballot. Issue 2 would make the marijuana cartel illegal immediately.

What analysts do not know is what will happen if both issues pass.

“Now that’s a tricky question that not many people know the answer to. Some say one could trump the other. Some say the one with the most votes wins,” said Faith Oltman of Responsible Ohio.

If the anti-monopoly measure passes, Oltman said that will mean the end of voter’s say in legalizing marijuana.

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Buying the constitution

Big money, not popular demand, is what drives the marijuana proposal

The haphazard signature-gathering effort by backers of a marijuana-legalization ballot issue suggests something other than a grass-roots clamor to bring legalized pot to Ohio.

And the cities and townships where backers of the issue propose to set up their government-sanctioned-monopoly pot farms don’t seem exactly enthusiastic about that prospect.

All in all, the lurching campaign effort shows ResponsibleOhio’s proposal for what it is: a bid to use the mechanics of state government — and, thereby, voters — to create an insider business opportunity for a handful of people. The campaign is driven not by popular demand, but by the big money of the investors who stand to profit.

If a genuine grass-roots group of Ohioans wanted to see marijuana legalized for medical or recreational use, nothing would stop them from circulating petitions in support of that effort. But despite ResponsibleOhio’s complaint that lawmakers have been ignoring a burning desire for years, that supposed desire hasn’t inspired very many people to volunteer to pass petitions.

To get the proposed amendment onto the November ballot, the group is paying people to circulate petitions. To be fair, few groups could muster the hundreds of thousands of valid signatures needed by using volunteers alone; many turn to paid circulators. And ResponsibleOhio’s paid circulators certainly aren’t the first to turn in lots of flawed signatures.

But, a spot check at county boards of elections shows a remarkably shoddy effort by ResponsibleOhio’s circulators: As of Friday, major counties were finding more than half of the signatures invalid for one reason or another. At this rate, when the counting is done, the group won’t have the 305,591 valid signatures required to make the ballot, even though it collected more than double the number. (If that happens, Ohio law allows a 10-day “cure period” for petitioners to try to get the additional signatures needed.)

In Franklin County, as of Tuesday, only 40 percent of 113,000 signatures counted so far were valid. About 26,000 people weren’t registered to vote at the address they listed on the petition; 23,000 weren’t registered at all. About 7,800 were duplicates and 2,600 were deemed “not genuine."

Circulators with any commitment to the cause they’re pushing, beyond a per-signature payment, tend to try a lot harder to get valid signatures.

The pushback from communities that stand to host the constitutionally protected pot farms is more evidence that ResponsibleOhio’s heavy-handed approach is unwise. If the proposal was simply to make marijuana cultivation legal, prospective growers might emerge naturally and work with local officials and residents to win them over.

Instead, ResponsibleOhio’s investors secured rights to properties in 10 locations around the state and wrote a constitutional amendment that would give them exclusive rights and hamper local government’s ability to get in their way.

It’s no wonder Ohioans — those who actually have kept up their voting registrations and are concerned about their communities — aren’t the ones driving this self-serving scheme.

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US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

May 26, 2015

via NORML’s Deputy Director, Paul Armentano:

The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.

Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.

Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.

The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.

Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.

NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.

To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

More at: NORML Blog
Upcoming event: NORML Aspen Legal Seminar May 28-30, 2015 – Limited tickets available!

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White House: “We’re in the Midst of a Serious National Conversation on Marijuana”

by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director January 8, 2013

 

 

Ohhhh So Beautiful

In October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization.

 

Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”

Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.

Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske

Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.

At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.

Barbara Walters:

Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?

President Obama:

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.

…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.

When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.

Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.

“We the People” are already there.

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