Delaware Attorney General Calls For Expanding Use Of Civil Penalties For Marijuana Violations

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DELAWARE: Delaware prosecutors will no longer be encouraged to pursue criminal charges against those who possess marijuana for personal use, according to guidelines issued last week by the state’s new Attorney General, Kathleen Jennings.

In a February 15th memorandum, Jennings called for sweeping changes to help prioritize resources toward the prosecution of violent criminal offenders and away from non-violent defendants. These changes include encouraging prosecutors and “police agencies to expand the use of civil citations [for] marijuana possession in lieu of criminal arrest.”

News radio station WHYY reports that the decriminalization policy will apply to possession cases involving up to 175 grams of cannabis.

Under state law, the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis is a civil violation. By contrast, offenses involving the possession of marijuana in greater amounts (between one ounce and six ounces) are classified as criminal misdemeanors — punishable by up to three months in jail and a criminal record.

The Attorney General’s actions to cease criminally prosecuting minor marijuana possession offenses are similar to steps recently taken by municipal law enforcement officials in other states, including BaltimoreSt. Louis, and Philadelphia.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500, or visit Delaware NORML.

Teens Living In US States Allowing Medical Marijuana Smoke Less Cannabis

MASSACHUSETTS: According to a large-scale study of American high school students, legalizing medicinal marijuana has actually led to a drop in cannabis use among teenagers.

The study, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse used the results of an anonymous survey given to more than 800,000 high school students across 45 states to calculate the number of teens who smoke cannabis.

It found that the number of teenage cannabis smokers was 1.1% less in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws (MML) compared to those that hadn’t, even when accounting for other important variables such as tobacco and alcohol policies, economic trends, youth characteristics and state demographics.

“We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws,” says Dr Rebekah Levine Coley, a Professor of psychology at Boston College, who led the study.

“When we looked at particular subgroups of adolescents, this reduction became even more pronounced. For example 3.9% less Black and 2.7% less Hispanic youths now use marijuana in states with MML”.

As the survey was administered over a period of 16 years, the researchers were able to compare the changes in teenager’s marijuana use in states that adopted MML with those that hadn’t, allowing them to more precisely pinpoint the effects of the legislation. Intriguingly, the study found that the longer the laws had been in place, the greater the reduction in teen marijuana use.

The results shine a light on an important debate taking place in America about the relative benefits and risks of decriminalizing marijuana.

“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful.” says Dr Rebekah Levine Coley.

“However, we saw the opposite effect. We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use.”

Importantly the study found that unlike medical marijuana laws, decriminalizing recreational marijuana had no noticeable effect on adolescents’ cannabis use, except for a small decline in marijuana smoking among 14-year olds and people from Hispanic backgrounds, and an increase in use among white adolescents. Neither policies had any effect on frequent or heavy users of marijuana, suggesting that these students are not easily influenced by state laws.

South Dakota Governor Noem Encourages Legislators To Table Industrial Hemp Discussions

SOUTH DAKOTA: Governor Kristi Noem asked the South Dakota legislature to table discussions on legalizing industrial hemp this legislative session.

“South Dakota is not ready for industrial hemp production,” said Noem. “There are still questions about the impact on public safety, enforcement, and costs to the taxpayers. We need to see federal guidelines when they are issued and then decide if this commodity is as promising as they say it will be.”

In December 2018, then-Congresswoman Noem voted in favor of the 2018 Farm Bill, a small section of which loosened regulations on industrial hemp. The crop is not currently authorized for growth in South Dakota under any state or federal program. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Governor Noem have discouraged producers from making plans to grow industrial hemp in the 2019 growing season.

Governor Evers Announces Proposal to Reform Wisconsin’s Marijuana Laws

WISCONSIN:  Governor Tony Evers today announced that his budget will include proposals to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, establish an expungement procedure for individuals who have completed their sentence or probation for possession, and align Wisconsin’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards.

The governor believes it is time for Wisconsin to join more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana. Last year, nearly one million voters in 16 counties and two cities in Wisconsin voted to approve non-binding referenda asking if marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. These referenda all passed by significant majorities.Under the governor’s proposal, a physician, or a practitioner under the direction of a physician, can recommend the use of medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms related to medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, severe nausea, and seizures.

The governor will also align Wisconsin’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards. CBD oil is made from marijuana and can be used to treat seizures in children. Currently, Wisconsin law requires families to possess CBD oil only with yearly certification by a physician. The governor believes that families and individuals should be able to obtain this treatment without additional barriers.

“As a cancer survivor, I know the side effects of a major illness can make everyday tasks a challenge. People shouldn’t be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately-needed medication that can alleviate their suffering,” Gov. Evers said. “Wisconsinites overwhelmingly agree that this is a critically important issue. But it’s not just about access to health care, it’s about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity.”

Reforming Wisconsin’s marijuana laws to align with the people’s support for medical marijuana is an important part of the governor’s plan. But so, too, is addressing the social and racial justice aspect of marijuana use. Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for Black men, and drug-related crimes account for as many as 75-85 percent of all inmates in our prisons.

That is why the governor will also decriminalize possession, manufacturing or distribution of marijuana for amounts of 25 grams or less. This language would also prevent localities from establishing their own ordinances or penalties for possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana. The governor’s plan will also establish an expungement procedure for individuals convicted of possessing, manufacturing or distributing less than 25 grams of marijuana who have completed their sentence or probation.

“Too many people, often persons of color, spend time in our criminal justice system just for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That doesn’t make our communities stronger or safer,” Evers said. “This shouldn’t be a Republican issue or Democratic issue, and I look forward to working on both sides of the aisle to pass this proposal in my budget.”

 

Kaine Introduces Bill To Allow Veterans To Access Medical Marijuana Through The VA

VIRGINIA: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, joined Senator Brian Schatz to introduce legislation to allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss and potentially recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that have established medical marijuana programs. The bill will create a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for veterans who use medical marijuana and their doctors and direct the VA to research the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain as well as the relationship between medical marijuana programs and a potential reduction in opioid abuse among veterans.

“Right now, in the 33 states where it is legal, doctors may recommend medical marijuana to help eligible patients. Our bill ensures that doctors who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs can discuss and potentially recommend medical marijuana to their patients that are veterans in accordance with state law. To do otherwise amounts to unfairly punishing the men and women who served in our military. The bill would also take an important step in further exploring whether medical marijuana can be a viable tool to help veterans in pain and reduce opioid abuse,” Kaine said.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is supported by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Pain Society, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Medical Cannabis Association, NORML, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Americans for Safe Association, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

“Our members have spoken loud and clear on this issue,” said Tom Porter, Legislative Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  “Eighty-three percent of respondents to our recently-released member survey approved of cannabis use for medicinal purposes. With such overwhelming support, we need to be removing barriers to care for veterans, not maintaining them. IAVA applauds Sen. Schatz for introducing the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to do just that.”

“When nearly one in four veterans report that they are consuming cannabis for therapeutic purposes, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country. It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who stepped up to protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home simply for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option under state law,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senator Schatz in putting forward this legislation.”

Report: Retail Cannabis Tax Revenues Surpass $1 Billion In 2018

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: State and local excise tax collections on retail adult-use cannabis sales surpassed $1 billion in 2018 — a 57 percent increase over 2017 levels, according to data compiled by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Annual excise tax revenues on adult-use cannabis sales ($1.04 billion) rivaled those for all forms of alcohol $(1.16 billion), the group reported. State-specific sales taxes on retail cannabis purchases also yielded an addition $300 million in revenue in 2018.

Authors of the report estimated that cannabis-specific taxes would raise an estimated $11.9 billion annually if the product were legally available at retailers nationwide.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at: (202) 483-5500. Full text of the report is available online.

Maryland: Baltimore Prosecutor To No Longer Target Marijuana Possession Offenses

STATES ATTORNEY BALTIMORE

MARYLAND: Officials will no longer prosecute marijuana possession offenses in Baltimore, according to a newly announced public policy by the office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City.

Under the plan, which takes immediate effect, the office will also move to expunge the criminal records of an estimated 5,000 citizens previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses. The office’s decision to cease targeting minor marijuana violations is similar to actions recently taken by prosecutors in a number of other major cities, including St. Louis, MissouriWestchester, New YorkPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania; and Norfolk, Virginia.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that the new policy will provide “a major step forward in making Baltimore city safer, fairer, and more equitable, and even more just.”

The Office will continue to take action against felony cases involving the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, though prosecutors will refer all first-time offenders to diversion programs.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Hemp Growers Petition Montana Department of Agriculture To Create Hemp Advisory Committee

Meetings set for Jan. 31 in Sidney, Feb. 7 in Helena

MONTANA: The Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) has received a verified petition from 25 Montana hemp growers to create the Montana Hemp Advisory Committee. MDA will hold two listening sessions to receive input regarding the proposed checkoff committee. Meetings are scheduled for January 31st in Sidney and February 7th in Helena. Information on the meetings can be found below.

The meetings will give growers the opportunity to learn about upcoming changes to the Montana State Hemp Program due to the 2018 Farm Bill, hear about the process of establishing a commodity advisory committee, and provide input regarding a proposed assessment and method of collection. Producers present at the meetings will vote to determine whether to hold a referendum by paper ballot of all known hemp growers in the state. If that referendum passes, MDA will propose a hemp research and market development program for adoption by administrative rule.

Hemp Listening Sessions

  • January 31st, 2019 – Sidney, MT
    • 10:00 am – MonDak Heritage Center (120 3rd Ave. SE)
  • February 7th, 2019 – Helena, MT
    • 9:00 am –  Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Sanders Auditorium (111 N. Sanders)

MDA currently administers the Montana Potato Advisory Committee and the Montana Alfalfa Seed Committee along with the statutorily enabled Montana Wheat and Barley Committee and Montana Pulse Crop Committee. In total, these programs annually contribute over $8 million in checkoff funds towards research, marketing, and education.

The Montana Department of Agriculture’s mission is to protect producers and consumers, and to enhance and develop agriculture and allied industries.

US Virgin Islands Enacts Medical Cannabis Access Law

USVI: Democratic Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed legislation into law last week establishing a regulated medical cannabis market in the US Virgin Islands.

The Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act permits qualified patients to possess and access cannabis and cannabis-infused products from licensed dispensaries. Specified patients will also be permitted to cultivate their own marijuana.

Under the law, regulators must finalize rules governing the program within 180 days.

The Virgin Islands is the third US territory to legalize medical cannabis access — joining Guam and Puerto Rico.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

 

Governor Cuomo Announces Plan For Marijuana Legalization, Calls For Automatic Record Sealing And Economic Justice

Statement from DPA’s Kassandra Frederique: New York Can Atone For Mass Criminalization By Passing Most Progressive Legalization Bill in U.S.

NEW YORK: Governor Cuomo called for effectively ending marijuana prohibition in New York State and creating a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol for adults over the age of 21. Advocates have emphasized the need for reform be rooted in racial and economic justice—not solely a cash grab—and highlighted that legalization must center those who have been impacted.

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Members of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) – which is comprised of organizations and advocates dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, public health, and community-based organizations who support legalization – affirmed that legislation must center the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition.  This means reinvesting new tax revenues in these communities and remedying problems that stem from biased enforcement, which disproportionately affects Black and Latino New Yorkers. This reinvestment must be community-led, responsive to the harms caused, and accountable to communities.

Statement from Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“Repairing the damage done by marijuana prohibition is not negotiable.  Restitution to communities most impacted by marijuana prohibition is the starting line.  Legalization in New York must be as comprehensive as the damage that has been done throughout the state.”

“We have the chance to pass the most progressive marijuana legalization bill in the U.S.  Given New York’s appalling history with racially biased marijuana enforcement, we must be bold and innovative in creating justice and equity. We want to see a policy that is responsive to the lives of New Yorkers, not solely business interests.  Legalization can be an economic engine driving wealth and equity in marginalized communities and providing space for alternative economic systems—if we work intentionally.”

The Governor’s proposal would:
•    Reduce impacts of criminalization affecting communities of color.
•    Automatically seal certain cannabis-related criminal records.
•    Implement quality control and consumer protections to safeguard public health.
•    Allow counties and large cities to opt out.
•    Restrict marijuana access to anyone under 21.
•    Generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs.

Advocates are awaiting the full bill text. In the meantime, the Start SMART coalition calls for these provisions in any legalization initiative:
•    Making revenue available for efforts that will invest in communities harmed by the war on drugs and mass incarceration through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
•    Banning vertical integration to provide the maximum amount of space for new companies to develop and contribute to a New York–focused market.
•    Establishing a licensing structure designed to create a favorable environment for small businesses and family-scale farmers, which creates space for entrepreneurial efforts to be launched in small towns and rural areas, as well as disproportionately impacted communities across the state.
•    Including a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
•    Establishing a small business incubator program to provide direct support to small-scale operators who are marijuana license holders in the form of legal counseling services, education, small business coaching, compliance assistance, and funding in the form of grants or low- or zero-interest loans.