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U.S. Marijuana Lobby Sets Sights on Full Legalisation

Various strains of medical marijuana. Credit: scpr.kpcc/cc by 2.0

ATLANTA, Georgia, Jan 30 2013 (IPS) - Since the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington fully legalised marijuana via ballot initiatives in the November 2012 elections, efforts to medicalise, decriminalise, or legalise marijuana at the state level are sprouting up like so many hemp stalks on a sunny day.

Eighteen out of 50 U.S. states now allow medical marijuana, used to help cancer patients and others, and 15 others have decriminalised it, meaning that possession is a civil offence that carries no jail time.

“In terms of getting federal law change, we need to get maybe half of the states before we get congress to take some action,” Keith Stroup, founder and legal counsel of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told IPS.

“We tend to focus primarily on full legalisation, regardless of why one smokes,” he added. “The primary reason people smoke, 99 percent of them, is because they enjoy getting high. We’re not going to eliminate the high number of arrests until we completely legalise marijuana.”

In 2006, the group notes, more than 829,000 people were arrested in the United States for marijuana-related offences alone.

National organisations like the Marijuana Policy Project and NORML have both short and long-term strategies to press for continued policy change at the state level.

In the short term, MPP seeks to make New Hampshire the 19th medical marijuana state in the U.S., and to make Vermont the 16th state to decriminalise it.

Illinois is also believed to be on the verge of enacting medical marijuana legislation this year.

In the longer-term, MPP is eyeing ballot initiatives where citizens will have the opportunity to vote on whether to legalise marijuana like alcohol in 2016, including in such states as California and Oregon, two states which have declined to legalise marijuana in previous years.

MPP and NORML believe that it is better to wait until 2016 to attempt to pass these full legalisation initiatives because marijuana-related initiatives tend to do better in presidential election years, which also drive more young voters – who tend to support marijuana legalisation – to the polls.

In the meantime, bills to allow medical use of marijuana have already been introduced in 10 U.S. states, including Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, according to a list provided to IPS by MPP.

Legislators have already announced their intent to introduce medical marijuana bills in another six states, including Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

In the last Congressional Session, US Reps. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, introduced legislation to legalise marijuana at the federal level – meaning that states will get to decide their own policies altogether – but it only received 19 additional co-sponsors.

Frank and Paul both retired from the U.S. House at the end of last year. Numerous bills dealing with marijuana policy at the federal level have been introduced over the years.

“We’ve never had a hearing, or got them out of committee. This year we may get some hearings,” Stroup said.

“Every time a state supports medical use, it puts pressure on Congress to legalise it federally,” he said.

Stroup predicts that medical marijuana will be legal federally within three to four years, by the end of the Barack Obama presidency.

NORML expects to see between eight and 10 full legalisation bills in state legislatures this year as well, although it is not clear whether they will pass as soon as this year.

States where full legalisation is expected to easily pass include Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island. In California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon, the plan is to seek ballot initiatives for 2016.

“We’re waiting to see whether a bill will be introduced in Alaska, but if not we’re going to do a ballot initiative there,” Morgan Fox, communications director for MPP, told IPS.

In Hawaii, legislation to completely legalise marijuana at the state level has already been introduced in the State House by the House Speaker Joseph Souki.

In Rhode Island, MPP is lobbying the State Legislature to legalise marijuana, which it believes could happen as soon as 2014 or 2015.

A federal court ruling on Jan. 22 against Americans for Safe Access (ASA) presents a minor setback on the issue of federal policy and medical marijuana, but will have no impact on the various state and federal legalisation initiatives from going forward.

ASA had appealed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s refusal to grant its petition to recognise marijuana’s medical value and federally reclassify it from a “Schedule 1 substance” – which includes drugs like heroin and LSD – to a Schedule 3, 4, or 5 substance.

ASA can still appeal to a full appellate court panel and then to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The DEA also has the discretion to reschedule voluntarily at any time, even without congressional action or court order.

And if the U.S. congress passes legislation to legalise marijuana for medical purposes, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, it would make the ASA case and the other rescheduling petitions moot.

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  • Malcolm Kyle

    Legally regulated (manufacture, distribution and consumption) of marijuana is coming to a state near you in 2013:


    “These laws just don’t make sense anymore. It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users… these are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people.”

    —Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (preparing the way for Governor Jerry Brown to initiate proceedings to legalize and regulate marijuana through the state legislature)


    On January 18th, 2012, House Speaker Joseph Souki and majority leader Scott Saiki introduced legislation that would allow people 21 or older to buy possess and consume small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The bill also authorizes marijuana retail stores and cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities.

    Recent polls show that Hawaii residents are increasingly in favor of ending cannabis prohibition, the most recent found that 57% of Hawaii voters believe marijuana should be regulated, taxed, and legal for adults.


    Maine’s legislature is moving on a legalization-and-regulation bill that could bring the state $8 million a year in new revenue.

    ”The people are far ahead of the politicians on this. Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen the culture shift dramatically.”

    —Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, District 120 (Occupation: Public Relations Consultant)


    “Today, marijuana possession is the number one arrest in New York City.” citing the harmful outcomes of these arrests – racial disparities, stigma, fiscal waste, criminalization – and calling on the legislature to act: “It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”

    —New York Governor Andrew Cuomo


    “Thinking we’re not going to have it is unrealistic. It’s just a question of how and when”

    —Assemblyman Richard (Tick) Segerblom of Las Vegas, elected to the Nevada State Senate in 2012


    “We have decades of evidence that says prohibition does not work and it’s counterproductive. it’s a matter of dollars and common sense. There’s a source of revenue that’s reasonable that is rational that is the right policy choice for our state. We are going to get there on legalization.”

    —Peter Buckley, co-chair of the Oregon state legislature’s budget committee.


    “Like alcohol, legalization and regulation will make marijuana safer. Each year we not only waste a similar amount ($325.36 million), we leave several hundred million dollars on the table in taxes that we do not collect because marijuana is illegal, rather than regulated and taxed. This horrific policy must end. It is a moral imperative that Pennsylvania wakes up and ends prohibition now.”

    —Democrat State Sen. Daylin Leach, while announcing plans to introduce legislation that would legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.


    Rhode Island is also expected to legally regulate marijuana through the state legislature instead of a popular referendum.

    ”Our prohibition has failed, Legalizing and taxing it, just as we did to alcohol, is the way to do it.”

    —Rep. Edith Ajello, chairs the House Committee on Judiciary and is a member of the House Oversight Committee.


    In November 2012, the state’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, cruised to re-election while strongly backing marijuana decriminalization. And the city of Burlington passed a resolution in November 2012 calling for an end to prohibition – with 70 percent support.


    Most Alaskans already have a clear view of things from their own back garden. Personal use and possession of Marijuana in Alaskan homes has been effectively legal since 1975.

  • Moc Te Zuma

    We can put a man on the moon, a robot on Mars, but we cant tax and regulate a plant here on Earth! Well hopefully Colorado or Washington can finally overcome that barrier

  • Joe Fischer

    Legalisation? criminalisation? uhhhhhhh……

    Anyways, I’ve been in contact with representatives here in PA and haven’t heard anything back from them…annoying

  • Chip Johnson

    Malcolm Kyle, I wish you where right! I live in southern Alabama, the chances of me finding “Legally regulated” pot are….remote at best, in my lifetime. I am 54, I have been debating, arguing and yelling for 40+ years, please, I’m getting hoarse. I’ll keep on the politicians, you keep up the idealism, mine’s running low…

  • zlop

    As long as dope smokers do not drive, own guns or fumigate normal people.

  • HmmmSaysDavidHume

    This is the reality: a total of 35 states – 70%! – either have fully legalized recreational and/or MMJ, introduced bills for one or both, or have decriminalized or are considering such. It’s clear that the public is sick and tired of this ridiculous prohibition and want it to end, and more importantly, legislators are FINALLY listening and catching up.

    So for everyone who remains despondent, especially in conservative communities where it seems such a steep climb, do not despair! Instead, PRESS! Change is in the air and it’s only a matter of time before the major politicians in each locale realizes this issue is not a political liabity, costing capital, but rather an opportunity that BUILDS it! The public now wants this prohibition to end. How could it be otherwise?

    Tell your representatives you support legalization and who you vote for will be directly connected to their stance on these issues. They are all trying to read the tea leaves. Help them help us all obtain liberty. Help them stop oppressing your fellow citizens. Help them do what’s morally right and bring this gross evil to and end.

  • Duncan20903

    A better idea is for the Ignorati to mind their own business. We’re not going to settle for being 2nd class citizens in a country that promises all of its citizens essential liberty as a birthright.

  • Duncan20903

    The article’s math is wrong. I’m not certain why it’s so hard for people to identify the decrim States. But take California as an example. California didn’t actually decriminalize petty possession for non-medicinal cannabis until 1/1/2011 but it’s been listed as a decrim State for decades. Until 1/1/2011 California still convicted people caught in petty possession as the lowest level misdemeanor and that conviction appeared on the convicted person’s criminal record for 2 years.

    There are 10 States which have actually decriminalized and all but 3 are also States with medicinal cannabis patient protection laws. Alaska is often referred to as a decrim State or even a State which has legalized but that’s just not true according to that State’s legislature and criminal code. Authorities in Alaska are not allowed to use evidence of petty possession or petty cultivation seized from a person’s private home but that’s because the State Constitution has very strong protection for a resident’s privacy rights. The criminal laws are still on the books. The 3 decrim States with no legal protection for medicinal cannabis patients are Mississippi, Minnesota and New York.

  • Duncan20903

    California and the Netherlands have both successfully collected taxes from the cannabis retail distribution chain. The Dutch collect €500,000,000 annually. That’s a hair under €30 for every on of the 17,000,000 residents of that Country.

    The claim that cannabis is not taxable is a genuine absurdity. Where in the world does that fantasy originate?

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