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NORML

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Two marijuana reform bills were recently signed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), ending the state’s automatic six-month driver’s license suspension for first time possession offenders and allowing the production of CBD oil. This may look like a couple drops in a raging storm of national decriminalization, but NORML Executive Director, Erik Altieri, said it’s a huge accomplishment.

Altieri stated, “The two measures signed into law in Virginia this week may seem like baby steps, but they are the culmination of years of dedicated advocacy and legislative outreach. While neither of these bills will end the arrest of around 18,000 Virginians a year for marijuana possession or create an ideal, accessible medical marijuana program, they represent important progress in terms of growing legislative support for marijuana law reforms.”

When Senate Bill 1091 (which ends Virginia’s automatic ID suspension penalty) goes into effect at the beginning of July, it will be left at the court’s discretion whether or not to impose this condition as a term of probation, and convicts will still be subject to other conditions under Virginia law, including substance abuse screening, drug testing and community service. Minors are still subject to automatic license suspension under the new law.

For many years Virginia has all but topped the list of places you didn’t want to be caught with marijuana. In recent years Virginia has seen quite the increase in enforcement. According to data collected by the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana possession arrests increased from approximately 13,000 in 2003 to almost 23,000 in 2014, an increase that was especially pronounced in majority Black neighborhoods.

Now that McAuliffe’s put pen to paper, the state should begin to see continued progress in this area, which has already seen some improvement since 2014. This past December, Newport News reported that the number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses had fallen by 14% statewide over a two-year stretch. This is step in the right direction, but putting real decriminalization laws on the books is the real answer to ending the waste and social destruction of cannabis prohibition. Keeping strict laws on the books but applying lenient, quasi-enforcement standards creates the potential for serious trouble.

Under “selective enforcement,” those who are most affected and targeted by law enforcement now; communities of colors would continue to carry that burden. In the three years from 2011 to 2013, marijuana possession arrests increased by 1,987 in Virginia; black people accounted for 82% of that increase. The Marijuana Policy Project referred to SB 1027 as an “extremely narrow law.” It will allow those suffering from intractable epilepsy to access CBD oils produced in state by Department of Health-approved pharmaceutical companies.

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Colorado is advancing with the country’s first effort to allow cannabis clubs. However, the proposal that recently passed a Republican state Senate committee doesn’t go as far as some cannabis advocates hoped. The measure would permit on-site cannabis consumption at private clubs in willing jurisdictions. And those clubs may permit indoor marijuana smoking, in spite of health concerns about indoor smoking.

However, the proposal is far from allowing a statewide network of cannabis clubs. For one, it would permit any jurisdiction to ban them, same as they can currently prohibit retail marijuana sales. Also, the measure does not allow cannabis clubs to serve food or alcohol. Since the cannabis-legalization proposal passed in 2012, cannabis advocates have complained that tourists and people who don’t want to use marijuana in front of their children need places to consume pot. Ashley Weber of Colorado NORML, a marijuana-legalization advocacy group stated, “We’re legal and we need a place for people to go. We need social clubs.” Smoking pot is banned on sidewalks, in parks, and most Colorado hotels and car-rental companies.

Colorado law presently neither restricts nor allows pot clubs. The result is a patchwork of local statutes regarding cannabis clubs. Advocates of the proposal called it more of a first step toward establishing the nation’s first Amsterdam-like clubs. Though bars couldn’t allow pot consumption, yoga studios, art galleries, coffee shops, or other public event spaces could apply for licenses. Shawn Coleman, a lobbyist for a Boulder County marijuana company said, “I don’t have time for perfect when we have an opportunity to move forward.”

The city of Denver is working on its own rules for bring-your-own cannabis clubs. Denver’s proposal does not permit indoor pot smoking, but the drug could be smoked on outdoor patios in some cases. The statewide measure now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Even if Colorado’s cannabis club proposal clears the Senate and then the House, the proposal still faces an uncertain path to becoming law. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper opposed Denver’s cannabis-club measure last fall, and he has told reporters more recently that he’s not sure if a statewide pot-club law would invite federal intervention in Colorado’s cannabis experiment.

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Cannabis activists were celebrating Thursday while a new voter-approved law became effective in Massachusetts. The new law allows individuals over the age of 21 to possess, cultivate and use limited quantities of recreational marijuana. Licensed retailers in Massachusetts will still be waiting at least another year before they will be able to legally sell cannabis. Various supporters of legalization are skeptical over whether Massachusetts lawmakers may seek to change or delay the law’s full implementation in the coming months.

Law enforcement officials are confused as per what exactly is allowable under the law and they cautioned the public of a potential increase in people driving under the influence of marijuana. Keith Saunders; holding a container with what he claimed to be a little less than an ounce of marijuana flower, stated “yesterday this would have been a $100 fine.” Saunders, a board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), celebrated the new law outside the historic Massachusetts Statehouse along with other activists.

“Ultimately, we are moving toward taking the existing marijuana market in Massachusetts and bringing it above board,” he said.

Massachusetts is the only East side state where recreational cannabis is legal. Maine will soon follow if a recount upholds passage of a ballot measure there. Previously Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska legalized recreational marijuana and last month, voters in California and Nevada approved ballot measures as well. Adults can have up to an ounce of marijuana on them, outside their home, In Massachusetts. They can possess up to 10 ounces inside the home as well as cultivate a dozen pot plants per household. After spending nearly 30 years advocating for more lenient marijuana laws; Bill Downing admits to a mix of satisfaction and trepidation.

“I am both celebrating and worrying that the law might not be implemented properly,” says Downing, member liaison for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

His skepticism is a result of public statements made by Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker promising a review and possible changes to the law. A law which passed by over 240,000 votes out of nearly 3.8 million votes cast.

“It’s legal. I just hope everyone plays by the rules,” Baker stated Thursday.

Although the governor strongly opposed legalization; he pledged once again, that the will of the voters will be respected. He then went on to cite “ambiguities” in the law and said legitimate concerns were raised concerning public health and safety. Secretary of Public Safety Daniel Bennett; sent a memo to police departments in Massachusetts on Wednesday, saying the implementation of recreational pot “will create a complex web of different rules” that law enforcement must navigate.

“Within certain limits, the new law authorizes some conduct that had previously been prohibited. Beyond those limits, however, possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain illegal under state law,” wrote Bennett.

Cannabis activists dismissed critics who were saying legalization will lead to many social and public safety issues.

“The worst you could do is maybe listen to Pink Floyd for two hours rather than one hour,” joked a man playing the guitar as he serenaded supporters in front of the state Capitol building.

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Federal law prohibits illegal drug users from purchasing firearms; therefore, if you answer yes to question 11(e) on ATF Form 4473 (unlawful user of marijuana), your application to purchase a firearm will be denied even if the use of marijuana is legal in your state.

Currently 28 states and Washington D.C., allow the use of cannabis in one form or another; including eight states which allow recreational use. However, federal law still stands that anyone who uses cannabis, even for medical purposes, is doing so illegally and will be denied the purchase of a firearm.

“This idea that you somehow waive your Second Amendment rights if you smoke marijuana” is wrong, said Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, which advocates marijuana legalization. “In particular, if you are using marijuana as a medicine, the idea that you have to choose between your health and the Second Amendment is offensive.”

“The Gun Control Act prohibitions are governed by the Controlled Substances Act, and marijuana remains an illegal, controlled substance under federal law,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

Carr oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; which regulates licensed gun dealers as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation; which runs background checks and the Drug Enforcement Administration; which classifies drugs.

There are many conflicts of interest between state laws; which are increasingly allowing the use of cannabis and federal law; which maintains marijuana is illegal. The “firearm-cannabis” issue is by far the strangest conflict. As per ATF guidance distributed to gun dealers, if a dealer has reason to believe the applicant uses cannabis, it is the responsibility of the dealer to stop the sale of ammunition or a gun.

“There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by State law,” the guidance says.

Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that banning gun sales to medical cannabis users does not violate their Second Amendment rights. The court stated that cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law; therefore, having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” Last August the DEA reaffirmed that status.

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America’s legal Cannabis may be the big winner on election day with pot currently on the ballot in nine states. States that are having a hard time with budget deficits will definitely welcome the change considering legal markets are predicted to surpass $22 billion by 2020. The following five states: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will vote on recreational cannabis for adults. Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota are voting for medical cannabis. Advocates believe the cannabis laws will pass in Florida and California and possibly several other states as well.

“Legalization of cannabis is one of the greatest business opportunities of our time.”

“It’s well established that the majority of Americans now believe that the responsible use of marijuana by adults should not be a criminal offense,” stated Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The Pew Research Center released two national surveys in mid-October that confirmed 57 percent of U.S. adults say pot should be legal compared to 60 percent that were opposed a decade ago. Following the legalization of recreational use of weed in Colorado and Oregon 3 years ago; support for legalization reached an all-time high. The latest Gallup Poll reflected support for legalizing cannabis is at 60 percent reaching record heights. Tax revenue generated from legal sales surpasses predictions

It is way too early to officially rate the general impact to society in states where marijuana has been legalized. A recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance states that it has been “so far, so good” in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. They reported less cannabis arrests, young people smoking weed did not increase significantly and traffic fatality rates have remained stable.

There is; however, strong data on the total sales and tax revenue generated by this flourishing phenomenon. As per a recent report from the ArcView Market Research and New Frontier; sales from legal cannabis went up last year on a national level from $4.6 billion in 2014 to $5.7 billion. Recreational sales went up to $1.2 billion by the end of 2015, up from $374 million in 2014.

The report predicts heavy sales growth this year, with retail sales hitting $7.1 billion, up about 26 percent from 2015. By 2020, the report says, legal market revenue are forecast to surpass $22 billion.

“Legalization of cannabis is one of the greatest business opportunities of our time and it’s still early enough to see huge growth,” stated Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, in the report.

The legal marijuana business has also created tens of thousands of jobs nationwide.

“We’re seeing a massive transformation from an illicit economy worth tens of billions of dollars into a legal economy that will probably be worth even more than that,” stated Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports the legalization of cannabis.

Looking at the numbers

Tax income collected in Colorado ($121 million), Washington ($427 million) and Oregon ($40 million) have surpassed initial prediction. The report stated Cannabis tax revenue in Colorado was three times the amount that of alcohol and 14 percent more than casino revenue and they predict it will overshadow cigarette tax dollars by 2020.

The extra income is only a needle in the haystack according to Joe Henchman, vice president for legal and state projects at the Tax Foundation.

California; do or die

The focus is on California as voters there are asked to approve Proposition 64; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Medical cannabis has already been legalized there. This would allow individuals to grow marijuana at home and give municipalities the authority to allow recreational weed store-fronts. This election may be a significant factor in making it impossible for Congress to keep ignoring the issue. According to the most recent polls, Prop 64 is expected to pass.

Gallup noted, “If recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California this year, many other states will likely follow, because the Golden State often sets political trends for the rest of the U.S.”

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, believes this election will be “a tipping point” that makes it impossible for Congress to keep ignoring the issue. “If all nine initiatives were to pass, we’d have approximately 62 percent of the US population living in a state where medical or adult-use cannabis access is legal. That’s huge,” she said.

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America’s real-world trials and tribulations with controlling marijuana has been a success. Currently, there are Twenty-six states that regulate marijuana’s therapeutic use, and four states and Washington, D.C., allow its use and sale to all adults. Opposed to the concerns of some, these policy changes are not connected with increased marijuana use or access by young adults, or with conflicting effects on traffic safety or in the workplace. cannabis regulations are also linked with less opioid abuse and death. In jurisdictions where this retail market is taxed, sales revenue has considerably exceeded initial anticipations.

The enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil rights, which causes disrespect for the law and disproportionately affects young people and areas of color. It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco. A majority stand behind this policy change. Voters have become weary of seeing their fellow citizens arrested nearly 600,000 times in a year in just marijuana possession cases. According to Gallup this month, 60% of adults endorse legalizing the marijuana market for adults — the highest percentage ever recorded in polls.

But legalization does not mean replacing criminalization with a marijuana free-for-all. Rather, it means the enactment of a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults, but also restricts and discourages its use among young people. Such a regulated environment best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse. By contrast, advocating marijuana’s continued criminalization does nothing to offset the plant’s potential risks to the individual user and to society; it only compounds them. Despite nearly a century of criminal prohibition, marijuana is here to stay. America’s laws should reflect this reality, and they should regulate the marijuana market accordingly.

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Researchers at Stanford University have developed a “Potalyzer”-a device that can detect human THC levels, so cops can determine if a motorist is too impaired to drive. The hand-held device uses sophisticated biosensors to detect THC molecules in saliva.

Police officers will supposedly be able to collect a spit sample with a cotton swab and read the results on a smartphone or laptop in just three minutes. Using magnetic nanotechnology, a process developed to screen for cancer, the device can detect concentrations of THC in the range of 0 to 50 nanograms per milliliter of saliva.

The Satnford press release on the breakthrough, attributed chiefly to lead researcher Shan Wang, states: “While there’s still no consensus on how much THC in a driver’s system is too much, previous studies have suggested a cutoff between 2 and 25 ng/mL, well within the capability of Wang’s device.” A critical report on the development from Mashable notes that Paul Armentano, deputy director for cannabis advocacy group NORML, has expressed skepticism about the very concept of a “Potalyzer.” “We don’t have a consensus as to what levels of THC are consistently correlated with behavioral impairment,” Armentano said.

Colorado has set THC limits for drivers-five nanograms in blood content according to the state Transportation Department. Other states that have legalized have still no set limits. As Mashable notes, some have assailed the Colorado standard as arbitrary.

“Typically, if you have five nanograms in a regular smoker, you probably won’t see any behavioral effects,” Columbia University psychologist Carl Hart told the Atlantic.

“Whereas, with five nanograms in someone who’s never smoked, you might see a lot of effects.” Furthermore, the question of “Marijuana-impaired driving” is widely misunderstood.

A recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that high drivers are much safer than those who drive drunk. The Washington Post summarized the study thusly: “After adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving.” It may be politically taboo, but it is science.

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A member of NORML’s National Legal Committee has put in a lawsuit to remove a medical cannabis measure from Arkansas’s November ballot. This seems entirely confusing; why would a member representing a group that supports marijuana legalization try to stop a cannabis ballot? That’s what many were wondering when Kara Benca, a lifetime member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’s attorneys panel, put in her lawsuit to invalidate signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (AMCA).

The ballot is one of two different medical marijuana measures that have made it onto the November ballot. It, unlike the other Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (AMMA), would permit confirmed patients to develop therapeutic cannabis at home. It additionally takes into consideration a more extensive rundown of medicinal conditions that qualify patients for lawful access to weed. David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer behind the more prohibitive AMMA, admitted in an interview that he “provided information” to bolster Benca’s suit, however, didn’t react specifically to questions about whether he just agreed to demands for help or was included in starting the case from the earliest starting point.

“We are a small town,” he added. “I’ve worked with them and knew them. I don’t think anyone contacted anyone.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director for NORML, stated that his organization has not “picked a side among these dueling initiatives.” When questions on whether or not Benca should be able to keep her position with the organization’s Legal Committee after pulling this stunt, Armentano stated that he was not at all aware of the attorney, who is one of more than six-hundred that paid to be listed on the site.

“I have raised this as a matter of concern to other senior staff, as well as those on the ground in Arkansas, and I would imagine the matter will be formally discussed ASAP sometime next week,” he added.

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At the moment, more than fifty percent of the country has decided to legalize medical marijuana, and there are another six that might do the same in November. With that in mind, it may be time to talk about why non-violent cannabis offense is still the reason behind a majority of the drug arrests that occur in the United States. Out of the 8.2 million cannabis rests made between 2001 and 2010, eighty-eight percent were just for possession, the ACLU reports, and not even for large amounts. These numbers have not changed much in the last years.

This leads to one question: why are non-violent cannabis offenders still being incarcerated in four states where recreational marijuana is absolutely legal? The main answer is that the war on drugs failed. Taxpayers spent more than a billion dollars a year to put cannabis offenders in jail, about forty-four percent of which never had a criminal history, and thirty-three percent are over the age of forty, according to a report from NORML. Stephen Downing, an old L.A. Deputy Police Chief, wrote that, in the past, police only locked up true offenders.

“Rapists. Murderers. Bank robbers. Prison was a place for bad guys. These senseless laws that over-criminalize drug use was passed in haste amid a climate of fear and benefit no one.”

To add to pardoning criminals put into jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses, it is also vital to give them the chance to get rid of their criminal records. A cannabis conviction follows someone for life and affects just about everything one needs or might want to do. For instance, they won’t be bale to buy a house, get a job, or a loan. This is where California’s Prop 64 might be able set a national precedent. Proposition 64 reads “individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure would be eligible for resentencing.”

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At the moment, public support for cannabis legalization is the highest it has ever been. However, this does not mean that everyone wishes to legalize. There are certain industries that wish to keep marijuana illegal. For instance, prisons and even law enforcements both fight legalization. However, there is one more player that people often forget: the drug-testing industry.

Everyone knows that drug testing is extremely expensive and that it unfairly singles out cannabis users. Even so, the drug-testing industry is still a major advocate of keeping cannabis illegal. Why? Well, the industry has a lot to lose. There are some who believe that the industry is selfishly going against legalization efforts and just trying to keep its revenue up.

In order to understand how and why various members of the drug-testing industry seem to be working against the cannabis legalization movement, studies looked at federal lobbying records and spoke to professionals about the science and economics behind drug testings.

“If you take marijuana out of the equation of the standard drugs that are screened for, you’re going to have a very, very small percentage of employees ever flunking drug tests,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said. “In fact, that percentage might be so small that employers rethink their cost-benefit analysis on whether the cost of doing all of these tests are worth the reward of finding a very small minority of employees who may be testing positive.”

Another expert spoke out on not just the science and economics, but the fairness of it.

“Someone passing or failing a drug test has no bearing on whether or not they’re going to be impaired at the job two weeks later,” Jason Williamson, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said. “I think that’s a huge piece of the puzzle that I’m sure drug-testing companies don’t need or want to talk about, but that public institutions and private industry should be considering.”

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