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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California lawmakers want to block police from helping federal drug agents take action against marijuana license holders

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Patrick McGreevy

With federal authorities hinting at a possible crackdown on state-licensed marijuana dealers, a group of California lawmakers wants to block local police and sheriff’s departments from assisting such investigations and arrests unless compelled by a court order.

A bill by six Democratic legislators has drawn strenuous objections from local law enforcement officials, who say it improperly ties their hands, preventing them from cooperating with federal drug agents.

“It really is quite offensive,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., who said he objected to lawmakers “wanting to direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”

But proponents say the measure is needed to assure marijuana growers and sellers that applying for state licenses will not make them more vulnerable to arrest and prosecution under federal law, which designates cannabis as an illegal drug.

“Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces … the will of our state’s voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.

The act of resistance is similar to legislation that would prevent California law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration officials in the deportation of people in the country illegally. Senate Bill 54 would address that concern and make California a so-called sanctuary state for immigrants, while Jones-Sawyer’s legislation would similarly make the state a sanctuary for the marijuana industry.

The immigration and marijuana issues have been given new focus by the administration of President Trump, who state officials fear is breaking from the policy of former President Obama, who took a more hands-off approach to both issues.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has indicated in public comments that he thinks marijuana is a danger to society. Last month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer caused a stir when he said, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement” of laws against the sale and use of recreational marijuana.

In November, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the growing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. State agencies plan to begin issuing licenses early next year.

The new legislation would prohibit state and local agencies, unless served with a court order, from using agency money, facilities or personnel to assist a federal agency to “investigate, detain, report, or arrest” any person for actions that are authorized by state law. California authorities would also be unable to respond to requests by federal agencies for the personal information of anyone issued state licenses.

The measure has angered some local law enforcement officials — including Youngblood, who sees it as improperly meddling in law enforcement decisions in the same manner lawmakers are proposing with immigration law.

“This is ridiculous that this looks like a solution to somebody,” he said.

The sheriff said his agency frequently works with federal drug agents in task forces targeting illegal marijuana grows in forested areas of the county. He said he doesn’t want to be prevented from working with federal authorities, even if the state starts licensing pot farms.

“[Growing and selling marijuana] is still a federal felony and we are still in the United States of America, and the state of California cannot take over the United States,” Youngblood said, predicting that “at some point the federal government is going to have to step in and say, ‘You can’t do that.’ ”

The legislation has garnered initial support from marijuana industry leaders, including Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Assn.

“The election of Mr. Trump as president, and subsequent confirmation of Mr. Sessions as attorney general, has been perceived by many of our members to have increased the risk of doing business,” Allen said. “Businesses will need to feel confident that the state will protect them from the federal government.”

Current protocol and law obligates local law enforcement to cooperate with federal drug agents, he said.

“It is very hard for federal agents to go into a rural county and kick down a bunch of doors and arrest a bunch of people without the local sheriff being a part of it.” Allen said. “It’s dangerous, actually. This is about giving them legal standing to actively not participate.”

Updates from Sacramento »

Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), a coauthor of the measure, said the legislation is needed because of a threat that the Trump administration might withhold federal funds from states that do not cooperate with federal authorities, although that threat has so far been limited to immigration enforcement.

“As this administration has threatened to defund California, we should not be expending scarce local and state resources to assist the federal government in ways that run counter to the crystal-clear wishes of California voters,” Bonta said, adding that the measure, Assembly Bill 1578, “will reassure responsible operators” that the state won’t turn them in to federal authorities.

The assemblyman said it is important that the bill also protects the personal information of license holders so that they are willing to share it with state regulators.

“California is committed to not sharing licensee information with the federal government and thereby upholding the will of the voters in creating a safe marketplace for medical and adult use,” Bonta said.

The current policy of the state Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation would be to treat any request for personal information as a formal request under the California Public Records Act. The agency “would determine, based on the information being requested, what is required to be released and what is exempt from disclosure under the law,” said Alex Traverso, a bureau spokesman.

Allen expects California to follow the lead of states such as Colorado, which makes public on a website the names of businesses and addresses of those who are given licenses to grow and sell marijuana.

The Colorado website lists growers and sellers by the names of limited liability corporations and does not list who the individual investors and partners are.

Allen said industry attorneys have advised him that some basic information about license holders will have to be made public.

The bill’s provision on personal information “is good symbolically and well-intentioned,” Allen said, “but we are not relying on anonymity as our pathway forward.”

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Nevada bill would allow medical marijuana users to carry guns

Jenny Kane , jkane@rgj.com Published 4:09 p.m. PT March 20, 2017

Nevada lawmakers are trying to address everything from marijuana users’ gun rights to the danger that edible marijuana products pose to children.

On Monday, a wide array of marijuana-focused bills were introduced to both members of the Nevada Senate and the Assembly to help regulate the drug that’s now legal for recreational use in Nevada (and has been legal for medicinal use since 2000).

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, introduced a bill, SB 351, which would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a conceal and carry permit. Sheriffs currently are required to deny an application for a permit to carry a concealed firearm or revoke an existing permit if someone is a medical marijuana card holder.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, co-sponsored a separate bill, SB 344, with Sen. Patricia Farley, Nonpartisan-Las Vegas, that revises the standards for the labeling and packaging of marijuana for medical use.

Map: A quick guide to all of Nevada’s marijuana dispensaries

Nevada bill would allow marijuana use in public

Get in trouble for marijuana before this year? Nevada bill could help you get off the hook

The proposed legislation establishes limits on how much medicinal marijuana may be sold in a single package and prohibits candy-like marijuana products that appeal to children. The bill also would prevent edible marijuana products that look like cookies or brownies to be sealed in see-through packaging, or any kind of packaging that children might be attracted to.

Segerblom introduced a separate, 147-page bill, SB 329, that would allow for medical marijuana research and hemp research. The same bill would add post traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that could qualify a patient for medicinal marijuana consumption.

Under Segerblom’s bill, non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries could accept donations of marijuana, and all medical marijuana establishments would have to install video security which law enforcement could remotely access in real time.

He also is proposing a bill, SB 321, that would allow American Indian tribes in Nevada to make agreements with the Governor that would allow the tribes to follow state law as related to both medical and recreational marijuana.

Segerblom and Farley also introduced a bill, SB 236, that would allow money raised from medical marijuana establishment applications to be spent not only on government costs and schools. Segerblom and Farley believe that the money should also be spent on programs used to educate people about the safe usage of marijuana.

Segerblom and Farley’s bill also suggests prohibiting counties and incorporated cities from imposing requirements upon marijuana establishments that are not zoning related. The bill also would limit the license tax that a county or city could impose upon a marijuana establishment.

Assemblywoman Brittney Miller also introduced a bill to the Assembly on Monday that would vacate the sentences of offenders who were convicted of possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana before legalization was effective Jan. 1. Assemblyman William McCurdy II introduced a similar bill last week to the Assembly’s Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation.

The legalized marijuana industry is growing more than

The legalized marijuana industry is growing more than pot. Analysts say it could create over a quarter of a million jobs while other industries decline. (Photo: USA TODAY video still)

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Top 6 Marijuana Bills to Follow

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by Nanette Porter on March 11, 2017

 

Lawmakers have been busy introducing a variety of marijuana bills since the election. While there is no guarantee that any of these bills will actually become laws, a perusal of the bills introduced offers useful insight into how the decisions made regarding cannabis might affect our lives more immediately than the slow churn of Washington, D.C.

In the current political climate, it more important than ever to spend some time getting familiar with these bills. Please click on the links to get more information about each proposed bill. We strongly encourage you to get in touch with your elected representatives to express your views and opinions.

Below are six (6) cannabis-related bills that are worth following closely:

H.R. 975 – Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been law since 2014 and prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute individuals who are acting in compliance with a State’s laws. Unfortunately, it was passed and signed into law as part of an omnibus spending package, and to remain legally binding it must be included in the end-of-year spending package for FY2017. The spending restriction is temporary and Congress must act to keep it in place.

California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has sponsored H.R.975 to limit federal power on marijuana. Rohrabacher is a Republican and professed Trump-guy, but feels the government has become too involved in States’ rights and asset seizures, and believes this is the best way to proceed.

The Rohrabacher-Farr provision comes up for renewal on April 28, and rather than trying to convince the new administration to renew, he says he hopes this paves the way for them to leave it up to the States. If passed by Congress, it will then move to the Senate, and hopefully on to the President’s desk for signature to become law.

H.R. 1227 – Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017

Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett introduced legislation aimed at federally decriminalizing marijuana. H.R. 1227 asks that marijuana be removed from the federal controlled substances list, in essence putting it in the same arena as alcohol and tobacco.

“Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.” – Congressman Garrett

Garrett claims “this step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth…something that is long overdue. Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.”

H.R. 331 – States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act

Sponsored by California Rep Barbara Lee, H.R.331 seeks an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so as to prevent civil asset forfeiture for property owners due to medical marijuana-related conduct that is authorized by State law.

H.R. 714 – Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act (LUMMA)

Virginia Rep H Morgan Griffith introduced H.R. 714 to provide for the legitimate use of medicinal marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various States by moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.

The bill also includes a provision that, in a State in which marijuana may be prescribed by a physician for medical use under applicable State law, no provision of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act shall interfere with such State laws. (This provision is also included in H.R. 715.)

At present, no U.S. healthcare professional can legally prescribe cannabis. Several states have laws on the books that were passed many, many years ago in expectation that federal law would change; but until then, doctors even in these states are legally prohibited from prescribing it. Doing so, would expose medical practitioners to prosecution and loss of his/her license.

H.R. 715 – Compassionate Access Act

Also sponsored by Griffith is H.R. 715. This bill asks for “the rescheduling of marihuana (to any schedule other than I), the medicinal use of marihuana in accordance with State law and the exclusion of cannabidiol from the definition of marihuana, and for other purposes,” and that cannabidiol (CBD), derived from the plant or synthetically formulated and containing not greater than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis, be excluded from the definition of “marihuana.”

The bill also calls for control over access to research into the potential medicinal uses of cannabis be turned over to an agency of the executive branch that is not focused on researching for the addictive properties of substances, and empower the new agency to ensure adequate supply of the plant is available for research. It further asks that research performed in a scientifically sound manner, and in accordance with the laws in a State where marijuana or CBD is legal for medical purposes, but does not use marijuana from federally approved sources, may be considered for purposes of rescheduling.

California AB 1578

California lawmakers quickly got to work and proposed AB 1758, aiming to have California declared as a “sanctuary state” from federal enforcement. If passed and signed into law, state or local agencies would be prevented from taking enforcement action without a court order signed by a judge, including using agency resources to assist a federal agency to “investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity that is authorized by law in the State of California and from transferring an individual to federal law enforcement authorities for purposes of marijuana enforcement.”

AB 1758 is pending referral and may be heard in committee on March 21.

30+ bills have been introduced in California since voters approved Proposition 64 in November. Most of these have been submitted to help clean-up the administration and the complex and inconsistencies that exist between the medical and recreational systems.

Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high

Cannabis has long-established medical uses as an effective treatment for ailments that include HIV/AIDS, inflammatory and auto-immune diseases, gastro-intestinal disorders, PTSD, chronic pain, and many others.

According to a Qunnipiac poll released February 23, 2017, U.S. voters say, 59 – 36 percent, that marijuana should be legal in the U.S.; and voters support, by a whopping 96 – 6 percent, legalizing cannabis for medical purposes if prescribed by a doctor; and an overwhelming 71 -23 percent believe the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.

Twenty-eight (28) states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam, either through ballot measure or legislative action, have approved the use of medical marijuana when recommended by a physician. An additional seventeen (17) states have approved use of low THC, high CBD products for medical reasons in some situations.

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Democrats Call For Attorney General Sessions To Resign

Image result for SESSIONS RESIGN

March 2, 20175:08 AM ET

Heard on Morning Edition

Democratic leaders want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after news reports that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. twice last year.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is defending his meetings with a Russian diplomat The Washington Post reports Sessions met twice with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign and did not disclose it.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now some Democrats want the attorney general to resign or at least keep away from the FBI investigation he’s overseeing into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

INSKEEP: Here’s what we know. Sessions was a senator at the time of the reported meetings, and he was also advising presidential candidate Donald Trump.

MARTIN: The Post found Sessions met twice with Russia’s ambassador, including once in September, the height of the campaign. After the election, at his Senate confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sessions said he didn’t know of any Trump campaign meetings with Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn’t have – not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.

INSKEEP: Sessions was answering Senator Al Franken, who now says if The Post report is true, Sessions must recuse himself from any decisions about the Russia probe. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the same last night on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: If there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. So they may be not – there may be nothing there, but if there is something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor.

MARTIN: Attorney General Sessions and other officials do not appear to explicitly deny meeting Russia’s ambassador. They do suggest the meetings were not relevant to the election. In a statement last night, Jeff Sessions said he has, quote, “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is all about. It is false.”

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Congressional Republicans Vow To Block Marijuana Amendments

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By Tom Angell on December 5th, 2016 at 10:33 am

Don’t count on there being any marijuana votes in the U.S. House next year.

That’s the message that Republican leadership in Congress is sending after blocking a number of cannabis amendments from reaching the House floor earlier this year.

“The chairman has taken a stand against all amendments that are deemed poison pills and that would imperil passage of the final bill,” Caroline Boothe, spokeswoman for House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), told Marijuana.com in an email on Monday.

The Rules Committee is responsible for deciding which submitted amendments are allowed to be considered on the House floor.

In recent years, Congressional leadership has taken up spending bills under relatively open rules whereby almost any amendment could be debated and voted on as long as it was germane to the overall legislation. But due to unrelated disputes over gay rights, gun policy and the right of transgender people to access public bathrooms, House Republicans began locking down the amendment process earlier this year so that only certain approved amendments can come to the floor.

While marijuana law reformers have been able to pass amendments in recent years — such as a rider preventing the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws — the new approach has impeded efforts to demonstrate that there is majority support in Congress for scaling back prohibition.

Earlier this year, for example, the Rules Committee blocked House floor votes on amendments concerning marijuana businesses’ access to banking services and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. The committee also prevented two measures to expand medical marijuana research from being considered.

But despite Boothe’s reference to “poison pills,” the House approved a version of the banking amendment in 2014 by a vote of 231 – 192, and the overall bill was later passed as well. Similarly, the measure to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference was approved with strong bipartisan House votes in 2014 and 2015, and the overall spending bills were also passed once the marijuana measures were attached.

Boothe did not respond to a request for clarification about her boss’s position on the broadly popular medical marijuana measure.

The restricted amendment rules put in place this year left marijuana law reformers much less confident about the ability to enact and extend their legislation, which must be approved each year because appropriations measures only apply to specific fiscal years.

But until now, it was not known that there is in effect a blanket ban on measures concerning cannabis policy.

The notion of an outright prohibition on any marijuana amendments was first reported Monday by Politico Magazine. Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY), who has sponsored industrial hemp measures, told the magazine that the new operating procedure is “an affront to regular order” and “a travesty to our democracy.”

As a result of the inability to take marijuana votes on the House floor, reformers must increasingly rely on the Senate to include cannabis language in its versions of appropriations bills. If efforts succeed there, it is left up to conference committees of members from both chambers to decide whether to include marijuana language in the final enacted versions of spending bills.

Current spending levels for the federal government — along with the state medical marijuana protections that are current law — expire this Friday. It is expected that Congress will pass a short-term measure before then extending funding and policy riders until next spring.

But Sessions, who has been selected to continue chairing the Rules Committee for the next Congress, seems poised to continue the policy of blocking marijuana amendments from coming to the House floor. That, combined with uncertainty about how the incoming Trump administration will handle marijuana, leaves advocates in a precarious position even at a time when a growing number of states are ending prohibition.

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Feds Advise Gun Dealers To Halt Sales To Possible Marijuana Users

November 15, 2016

Weapons for sale. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — The trend toward legalized marijuana in the U.S. now has more than half the states allowing either recreational or medicinal use of pot.

But federal laws have not changed—and anyone who acknowledges using marijuana can’t legally buy a gun.

The Wall Street Journal reports the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has advised licensed gun dealers that if they have any reason to believe a would-be buyer is a marijuana user, it’s the gun dealer’s responsibility to halt the transaction.

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, with no approved medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to federal law. The DEA reaffirmed the classification in August.

The situation has led to some unusual political alliances. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is a hunter who was surprised to find a question about marijuana use on the form she had to fill out to pick up a gift gun. And the pro-pot group NORML says people shouldn’t have to waive their Second Amendment rights to smoke marijuana.

However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that banning gun sales to medical marijuana users doesn’t violate their Second Amendment rights.

The Journal reported Sen. Murkowski wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier this year urging her to reconsider the policy.  A Justice Department spokesman told the Journal the department responded but did not reveal further details of the communication.

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693,482 individuals in the United States were arrested in 2013 and charged with marijuana violations

Why legalizing marijuana will be much harder than you think

 

 

By Erwin Chemerinsky April 27

Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week, we’re talking about drug scheduling. Need a primer? Catch up here.

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean and distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law

There are rumors that the federal government may soon lift its ban on marijuana, but that wouldn’t end marijuana prohibitions in the United States. This incongruity is the result of federalism: the ability of each jurisdiction — the federal government and every state — to maintain its own laws as to which drugs are illegal and which are not.

Completely legalizing marijuana in the United States would require the actions of both the federal government and every state government. If the federal government repealed its criminal prohibition of marijuana or rescheduled the drug under federal law, that would not change state laws that forbid its possession or sale. Likewise, state governments can repeal their marijuana laws, in whole or in part, but that does not change federal law.

[The paradox at the heart of our marijuana laws — and how to fix it]

When Colorado and Washington legalized the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, questions arose as to how this would interact with federal law. Specifically, the question was whether such state efforts are preempted by the federal law, which still prohibits marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin and cocaine.

The answer is clear: States can have whatever laws they want with regard to marijuana or any other drug. No state is required to have a law prohibiting or regulating marijuana. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that Congress cannot force states to enact laws; such coercion violates the 10th Amendment. A state could choose to have no law prohibiting marijuana, or a law prohibiting marijuana with an exception for medical use, or a law allowing possession of small amounts of marijuana, or anything else. In fact, across the United States today, this is exactly the situation — many states have very different laws concerning marijuana.

Similarly, if the federal government were to repeal the prohibition of marijuana or reschedule it under the Controlled Substances Act, that would not change state laws. States still could prohibit and punish the sale and possession of marijuana under state criminal statutes.

Contrary to what many believe, marijuana laws continue to be enforced by both states and the federal government. According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 693,482 individuals in the United States were arrested in 2013 and charged with marijuana violations. Of these, 609,423 — or 88 percent — were arrested for simple possession. There is an enormous cost in terms of law enforcement resources, the criminal justice system and people’s lives for marijuana to remain illegal. Even for those arrested and never prosecuted or convicted, arrest records have real harms in terms of the ability to get jobs, loans, housing and benefits.

Like all drug laws, the prohibition against marijuana is much more likely to be enforced against African Americans and Latinos than against whites. According to a 2013 study, whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana.

[Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn’t]

In Theory newsletter

Emerging ideas and arguments behind the news.

Yet there is little benefit to illegality. The primary argument for keeping marijuana illegal is that it is harmful. But as President Obama observed, pot is no “more dangerous than alcohol.” Many things are harmful — cigarettes, foods high in sugar and salt and cholesterol — but that does not mean that they should be illegal. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence that marijuana is significantly less harmful than tobacco or alcohol and that it has benefits in treating some medical conditions such as glaucoma and seizure disorders, and alleviating some of the ill effects of chemotherapy. That is why 24 states and the District allow medical use of marijuana.

Like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, the prohibition of marijuana has been a failure. The drug is readily available and it is estimated that 30 million Americans used it in the past year. And similar to the prohibition of alcohol, it is a costly failure. In addition to the cost in enforcing the criminal laws, there is the loss of significant revenue that could be gained from taxation and legalization.

It is a question of when, not whether, marijuana becomes legal in the United States. A study by the Pew Research Center last year found that a majority of Americans now favor legalization and only 44 percent believe it should be illegal. Of those under 35 years old, 68 percent believe that marijuana should be legal. But there is no doubt that the confusion federalism entails will make legalizing marijuana much more difficult.

Explore these other perspectives:

Keith Humphreys: The paradox at the heart of our marijuana laws — and how to fix it

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Video’s of Marc Emery and Cannabis Culture


 
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Rule or Law? The Difference Matters For Your Marijuana Business

By Daniel Shortt on October 28, 2015 Posted in Legal Issues, States

This is for federal bills, but it nicely illustrates how complicated the process can be.

Laws are different than rules and understanding the difference between the two can be important to your marijuana business’s bottom-line. I will use Washington State as the example.

In Washington, laws are generally enacted through initiative or through the legislative process. Initiatives allow voters to pass laws directly by popular vote. Washington legalized recreational marijuana by popular vote — Initiative 502 in 2012. The legislative process requires a bill pass through both Washington’s Senate and House of Representatives and then garner the Governor’s signature before becoming law. Recently, SB 5052 and HB 2136 were passed through the legislative process and established new Washington State laws regarding medical cannabis.

As is the case with other states with “robust regulation,” Washington cannabis businesses are also subject to rules created by state agencies without the political protections provided by initiatives and the legislative process. State agencies, like the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), are government entities given the power to regulate and govern a specific area or industry. These agencies are typically run by unelected officials. Agencies arguably create more efficient government because they a focus on one discreet area or industry, with expertise not usually available to legislatures and lawmakers.

A rule is an agency order, directive, or regulation that applies to the public generally. Rules are similar to laws because those who violate them may be subject to penalties and sanctions. Rules can and do change constantly, whereas laws tend to remain more static. The LCB’s rule-making process may begin with an individual’s petition to the LCB, but often the agency itself initiates the process against a cannabis business if it sees a need to do so.

To enact a rule, the LCB must publish notice of the rule-making in the Washington State Register. The LCB then holds a public hearing at which citizens are given an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. Citizens can also submit written comments to the LCB about the proposed rule. The LCB must consider the public comments and then issue an order of adoption, which explains the new rule and the basis for its adoption.  Agencies can also institute emergency rules, which are not subject to the above requirements and become effective immediately. These emergency rules only last for up to 120 days and they must be in response to some immediate issue or danger. The Washington Department of Health recently issued emergency rules for medical marijuana, for instance.

Despite similarities to laws, LCB rules are not subject to the same type of political recourse as laws. This is significant because LCB regulations have huge impacts on the cannabis marketplace. For example, in Initiative 502, voters enacted residency requirements that restrict issuance of cannabis licenses only to those who can demonstrate having spent a certain amount of time in the state (see here and here). The Initiative never mentions “True Party of Interest.” In its rule making though, the LCB created the term, True Party of Interest, and defined it, and now applies the residency requirements to any party deemed to be a True Party of Interest. The definition for a “True Party of Interest” includes all investors and the spouses of any shareholders or principal. Though never contemplated by the voters, the “True Party of Interest” rule significantly restricts the marijuana marketplace by making it difficult for out-of-state investors to put their funds into Washington State cannabis businesses. Moreover, Washington voters who disagree with the “True Party of Interest” rule have little recourse beyond lobbying to get this rule changed.

One of the best ways for citizens to get involved with LCB rule making is to comment during the agency’s rule-making process. Currently the LCB and the Washington State Department of Health are holding hearings regarding medical marijuana regulations. If you care about the future of the marijuana industry in Washington State you should make your voice heard at one or more of these hearings.

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