2017 Year In Review: NORML’s Top Ten Events In Marijuana Policy

#1: Public Support In Favor Of Adult Use Legalization Reaches All-Time High

Sixty-four percent of US adults – including for the first time a majority of self-identified Republicans – believe that the adult use of marijuana should be legal, according to nationwide polling data published in October by Gallup. The percentage is the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has polled the question since 1969. Gallup’s results came just two months after a national Quinnipiac poll reported that 61 percent of voters support adult use legalization – the highest percentage ever reported in that poll’s history.

#2: Legal Cannabis Industry Responsible For 150,000 Full-Time Jobs

The legal cannabis industry is responsible for the creation of an estimated 150,000 full-time jobs, according to state-by-state data published in September by the content provider Leafly.com. The total represents a 22 percent increase in the number of full-time cannabis-related jobs created since 2016. States reporting the largest number of cannabis-related jobs were California (47,711) Colorado (26,891), and Washington (26,556).

#3: Adult Use Laws Do Not Adversely Impact Traffic Fatality Rates

The enactment of statewide laws regulating the adult use and sale of cannabis is not associated with subsequent changes in traffic fatality rates, according to an analysis of traffic safety data published in June in the American Journal of Public Health. “We found no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization,” authors concluded. Another study published last year in the same journal reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.

#4: Canadian Lawmakers Pledge To Legalize Adult Use By 2018

Liberal Party members introduced comprehensive legislation in April to regulate the use, cultivation, and sale of marijuana by those age 18 and older. Members of the House of Commons overwhelmingly approvedthe measure in November. The legislation now awaits action from the Senate. Liberal Party members have pledged to enact the legislation by summer 2018.

#5: Presidential Commission Ignores Evidence That Cannabis Mitigates Opioid Abuse

A final report issued in November by a Presidential commission on opioids refused to acknowledge scienceestablishing that legal cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opiate usehospitalization, and mortality. Members of the commission had received over 10,000 communications from the public urging them to consider the role of legal cannabis in addressing the opioid crisis.

#6: Medical Marijuana Access Linked To Lower Medicaid Costs

Patients use fewer prescription drugs in states where access to medical cannabis is legally regulated, according to data published in April in the journal Health Affairs. Researchers reported, “[T]he use of prescription drugs in fee-for-service Medicaid was lower in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without such laws in five of the nine broad clinical areas we studied. … If all states had had a medical marijuana law in 2014, we estimated that total savings for fee-for-service Medicaid could have been $1.01 billion.” The findings are similar to those of a 2016 study which reported that medical cannabis access was associated with significantly reduced spending by patients on Medicare Part D approved prescription drugs.

#7: Anti-Cannabis Zealot Jeff Sessions Named US Attorney General

Members of the US Senate in February confirmed the nomination of Republican Congressman Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. As a member of the US House of Representatives, Sessions once supported the death penalty for certain marijuana offenders and stated publicly, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” As Attorney General, he has aggressively lobbied leadership to reject legislation protecting the rights of patients and providers in medical cannabis states from federal prosecution, and continues to mischaracterize as a substance that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

#8: Vermont Governor Vetoes Marijuana Depenalization Measure

Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation in May that sought to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for the adult possession and cultivation of marijuana. However, a slightly amended version of the measure (S. 22) is likely to once again go before the Governor early next year – at which point he indicates his intention is to sign the bill into law. Vermont would be the first state to legislatively pass reforms protecting adults from both civil and criminal sanctions for possessing or growing small amounts of cannabis.

#9: New Hampshire Decriminalizes Minor Marijuana Offenses

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed marijuana decriminalization into law in July. The law took effect in September. Under the act, the possession of up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis and/or up to five grams of hashish by those age 18 or older is no longer criminal. New Hampshire was the only remaining northeastern state where minor marijuana violations were classified as criminal offenses.

#10: World Health Organizations Says CBD Is Safe, Should Not Be Restricted

Use of the naturally occurring cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) possesses no likely abuse potential and should not be subject to international drug scheduling restrictions, according to recommendations issued in December by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” WHO determined.

NORML Responds To Steve Cook Addressing Marijuana Policy At The Department Of Justice

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: In response to the Department of Justice detailing Steve Cook to address marijuana policy, Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML stated:

“Steve Cook and Jeff Sessions are advocating for the failed policies of the “Just Say No” era — policies that resulted in the arrests of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens who possessed personal use amounts of marijuana. At a time when the majority of states now regulate marijuana use, and where six out of ten votes endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective to try to put this genie back in the bottle. It is high time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”

The Cole Memo, a Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

During a Q and A with reporters in Richmond, VA in March, Jeff Sessions  said “The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid,”

But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, state politicians are taking action. Recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a letter to the new U.S. Attorney General and to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin calling on them to uphold the Obama Administration’s largely ‘hands off’ policies toward marijuana legalization, as outlined in the Cole Memo.

“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

“Given that Sessions has recently reiterated that the Cole Memo is valid, Steve Cook would be wise to maintain the current interpretation and not interfere with the right of states to set and enforce their own marijuana policies,” concluded Justin Strekal, Political Director of NORML.

Marijuana Policy In 2015: Eight Big Things To Watch

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  One certainty about 2015 is that it marks the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. As Democrats wait to hear about Hillary Clinton’s decision, a slew of Republicans are lining up (quietly or otherwise) to succeed Barack Obama. The next president can have a substantial impact on marijuana policy in the United States. Right now, the experiments in Colorado and Washington continue to proceed, without federal government intervention because of an informal agreement between the Justice Department and the states. Such a policy could be reversed on January 20, 2017, with a new president with a different position on marijuana.

As dozens of states have approved medical marijuana, and now four states and DC have approved recreational marijuana, cannabis policy will absolutely be part of the 2016 conversation—and that conversation will begin this year. What is so fascinating about marijuana policy is that, unlike most issues, it does not fall neatly along party lines. Some Democrats support it; some Democrats oppose it. Some Republicans support it; some Republicans oppose it. Thus far, prospective candidates have been tightlipped on the issue, with a few exceptions. Texas Governor Rick Perry has openly discussed decriminalization. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has talked about a need for drug policy reform. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that she is comfortable letting the states experiment as they have been.

Those considering a run for the White House have been able to remain mum or offer hints at their policy views on marijuana. However, as candidates declare, journalists begin looking for news hooks, voters start meeting those running, and debate moderators start peppering would-be presidents with questions, marijuana is sure to become a serious issue in a way that it has not in prior presidential campaigns. The next election will not simply be a discussion of whether a candidate has inhaled in the past, but about how a president will treat those who choose to inhale in the future.

Marijuana Growers Prepare For Next Legislative Session And Rule-Making For Recreational Market

OREGON:  A month after Oregon voters said yes to regulating the production and sale of marijuana, one thing is clear: the state’s marijuana growers are getting organized.

They’ve got a political action committee and hired lawyers and a lobbyist. They’re meeting regularly to talk about the upcoming session of the Oregon Legislature and how to make sure they get their message across to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency charged with implementing the new marijuana law.

Early Wednesday, about 30 medical marijuana growers and cannabis concentrates producers crowded into a U.S. Bancorp Tower with a view of the Willamette River to talk shop and policy. The group included cannabis producers from across the state, including outdoor marijuana growers from southern Oregon.

The group, formed by Portland criminal defense lawyer Amy Margolis, is part of the Oregon Growers PAC, a political action committee formed to influence statewide marijuana policy.


Where Marijuana Is Legalized, Decriminalized Or On The November Ballot

DISTRICT IF COLUMBIA:  Marijuana policy is nothing if not complicated.

A patchwork of laws governs its use, possession and sale. Federally, it’s illegal. But some states have decriminalized the drug, removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts. Some have allowed its distribution and sale for medical use. And, in Washington or Colorado, you can walk into any appropriately credentialed dispensary and buy it legally.

Oregon, Alaska and D.C. could soon join that pair of states in allowing recreational sales, if voters approve ballot proposals this fall. And a number of cities—two in Maine and about a dozen in Michigan—will consider proposals to liberalize pot laws locally, too. As our colleague Marc Fisher wrote in a piece this weekend: “[I]n the hazy world of marijuana law — an alternate reality in which two U.S. states have declared the substance legal even as it remains banned under federal law — nothing is simple.”

In an effort to add some clarity, our colleagues Denise Lu and Ted Mellnik put together the following guide to the state of marijuana policy in the states.


Legalization: The Way To Stop Pot Problems?

By Laura Chapman

The arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana in the USA continue to rumble on. For every argument countered against it, more evidence seems to stack up that backs its approval.

However, according to Professor Mark Kleiman, the majority of US citizens support the decriminalization of the drug. He states that if we focus on setting up a sensible and workable system of proper legalization for the drug then it will do less harm and cost less money than if we leave the current ideals in place and continue to forge ahead as we are.

Major forces within the world of current affairs, such as the New York Times have also come out in favor of the same process. Their argument counters that marijuana is likely to cause far less harm to individuals and society as a whole than alcohol.

Comparisons have been made to the early twentieth century when Prohibition came into force. This period, lasting some thirteen years, from 1920 to 1933 did nothing to solve crime rates or stop drinking. For the most part people continued to imbibe alcohol and would go to great lengths in order to obtain a drink.

Professor Kleiman opts for a sensible, controlled legalization of the drug. He points to similar schemes in states like Utah, where liquor can only be sold in state operated or controlled outlets. He counters that the same idea would work for marijuana too, safe “pot stores” in which people could go and buy properly controlled, legally grown strains of weed which would mean it would be easier to police and to keep an eye on.

There are a growing number of licenses being distributed for people who wish to become legal marijuana retailers in various states throughout the USA. Many of these citizens are people who have experience of using cannabis for legitimate medical purposes, such as pain relief, or who have had their own families touched by drug addiction and feel the need to try and make a difference and stop problems becoming any worse.

Whatever your views and whatever the answer, Professor Kleiman is convinced that lawmakers in Washington need to take a stand and act to do something. It isn’t simply about legalizing the drug and making it “OK” to buy, it’s about making sure pot is sensibly and properly monitored to make it safe for users everywhere.

Legalized Marijuana In Washington Could Hurt B.C.’s Multibillion-Dollar Pot Economy

CANADA:  B.C’s massive pot industry is in for some tough times because of changes in U.S. marijuana policy and a shrinking market south of the border.

The changes have raised questions about whether B.C.’s economy will take a hit.

Washington state’s liquor board is expected to issue the first wave of retail marijuana store licences on July 7, with some of the 334 outlets set to open the next day. Pot growers for recreational marijuana already operate legally in Washington state. Colorado began allowing the sale of recreational pot on Jan. 1.

Marijuana sales haven’t started in Washington but the effects of the loosened drug laws are already being felt in B.C., said Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd.