Decriminalization

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Mayor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Into Law

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Measure replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday signed a bill into law that replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

After stalling for much of the summer, the mayor agreed to sign a compromise bill approved on September 18 by the Philadelphia City Council. The new ordinance will take effect on October 20.

The initial version of the bill approved by the council on June 19 makes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. Following negotiations between Mayor Nutter and members of the council, the bill was amended to include a $100 fine for public consumption.

Current Philadelphia law requires police officers to make custodial arrests when they encounter people in possession of any amount of marijuana, and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $200 fine, and compulsory participation in a drug treatment program. Under current Pennsylvania state law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Maryland: Marijuana Decriminalization Bill To Take Effect Wednesday

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Criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession will be replaced with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket

Legislation adopted this year to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Maryland will go into effect on Wednesday, October 1.

Maryland joins 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana possession. In addition, Missouri passed a similar bill this year, which will make it the 19th state to do so when it goes into effect.

Senate Bill 364 makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program.

“Decriminalization will free up law enforcement officials’ time and allow them to focus on more pressing issues than marijuana possession," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police.

"It will address some inequalities in our justice system, but, until we fully legalize and regulate marijuana, sales will continue to be conducted by criminals in an underground market," Franklin said. "Until that happens, we are not going to see the public safety benefits that are possible in a post-prohibition world.”

U.S.: Cannabis Expert Urges Voters To Look At 3 Points of Proposed Marijuana Laws

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3 Points for Voters to Consider When Reviewing Proposed Marijuana Laws

Cannabis Industry Expert Looks at Pros & Cons

Voters in seven states, one U.S. territory, and at least 17 cities and counties across the nation will face a marijuana initiative when they go to the polls in November. For some, the question is easy: They’re either for some level of legalizing marijuana or against it.

But for others, the issue is not so cut and dried. Decriminalizing marijuana can be good for the country – and it can be potentially dangerous, says Wall Street commodities expert Steve Janjic, CEO of Amercanex (www.amercanex.com), an electronic marketplace exchange for the cannabis industry.

“I’m a part of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of every measure to legalize pot,” Janjic says. “We need to proceed with care and thoughtful consideration of possible consequences, intended and unintended, of the decisions we make.

“We have the opportunity to fix some problems through decriminalization, but we don’t want to end up with even bigger problems down the road,” Janjic said.

The November initiatives range from legalizing recreational marijuana sales and use for adults in Oregon and Alaska to permitting it for medical purposes in Florida and Guam, to decriminalizing possession of small amounts in cities and counties in Maine, Michigan and New Mexico. Californians will decide whether to downgrade possession to a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania: Philly Becoming America's Largest City To Decriminalize Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Mayor Michael Nutter and City Councilman James Kenney have reached a compromise on a bill which will make Philadelphia the largest city in America to decriminalize marijuana.

People caught with fewer than 30 grams of marijuana, just over an ounce, would only be issued a citation and fined $25 under the plan, reports Chris Hepp at Philly.com. They would face no criminal charge or arrest.

The compromise calls for a separate offense and penalty for public use of cannabis. Those caught using marijuana in public would be charged with a noncriminal summary offense, and would face a $100 fine or up to nine hours of community service, according to Kenney.

The compromise ends a conflict between Councilman Kenney and Mayor Nutter which began following the Philadelphia City Council's 13-to-3 vote in June to pass Kenney's marijuana decrim bill.

Kenney argued that cannabis arrests are disproportionately affecting African Americans. Philly police arrested 4,336 people for marijuana possession last year, 83 percent of them black.

But Mayor Nutter called the legislation "simplistic" and declined to immediately sign it. This week, with the deadline for his signature approaching, Kenney and and mayor began meeting to work out a compromise.

Global Leaders Call For Ending Criminalization of Drug Use and Possession

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The Global Commission on Drug Policy on Tuesday will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report at a press conference in New York City.

The event will be live-streamed and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others.

The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference.

The report reflects the evolution in the thinking of the Commissioners, who reiterate their demands for decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, and greater emphasis on public health approaches and now also call for permitting the legal regulation of psychoactive substances. The Commission is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes.

In 2011, the Commission’s initial report broke new ground in both advancing and globalizing the debate over drug prohibition and its alternatives. Saying the time had come to “break the taboo,” it condemned the Drug War as a failure and recommended major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime.

New Mexico: Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Marijuana Decrim Bill

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico's biggest city, on Friday vetoed a measure that would have allowed voters to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana possession in much the same way that the Santa Fe City Council did in the state's capital city two days earlier.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said in a video message posted on YouTube that he vetoed the bill because marijuana is illegal, and decriminalizing it would pose conflicts with state and local laws, reports Russell Contreras of the Associated Press.

"The original form of this bill actually has several measures that I really want to see the voters of Albuquerque weigh in on," Mayor Berry claimed. "Unfortunately, at the last minute there were measures added that I, in good conscience, cannot sign, including flying in the face of federal and state law."

Berry claimed he didn't want to get Albuquerque into a legal fight. Decrim supporters criticized the mayor for his decision.

"We're disappointed to see the mayor turn away from the opportunity to let city voters have a [say in] how our city deals with crime and justice issues," said Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico, one of the organizations that sponsored the campaigns to reduce marijuana penalties in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

New Mexico: Santa Fe City Council Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Santa Fe City Council, in a surprise move on Wednesday night, decriminalized marijuana possession. The city of about 70,000 residents became the first in New Mexico to decriminalize pot.

The resolution, passed on a 5-4 vote, changes the city's penalties for cannabis possession from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a $50-$100 fine and up to 15 days in jail, to a civil infraction and a $25 fine, reports Joey Peters at the Santa Fe Reporter.

It also instructs Santa Fe's police force to treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as the lowest law enforcement priority. The decrim measure applies to possession cases involving one ounce or less, and also decriminalizes marijuana paraphernalia.

The vote came after pressure from Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM to get decriminalization on the November general election ballot.

"Obviously from a policy perspective, this is incredible," said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico director of Drug Policy Action, affiliated with Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico. "The people have won tonight no matter what."

Kaltenbach added, though, that the Reducing Marijuana Penalties initiative was formed with the aim of getting decrim on the ballot so that voters could have a say on the issue. Petitioners submitted more than 11,000 signatures from residents to qualify for November's ballot.

New Mexico: Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Officially Certified In Santa Fe

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First Time in New Mexico History People will Vote on Marijuana Reform

The Santa Fe City Clerk on Monday announced the Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the city's citizen initiative process setting the stage to give voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a vote on reducing marijuana penalties.

The Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign, headed by Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM, submitted close to 11,000 signatures in 52 days, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The initiative now goes before the City Council where the governing body has two options, vote for the ordinance change outright or send the initiative to the people for a vote.

Not only will this be the first time in history that New Mexico's voters will cast their ballots on reforming marijuana laws, it is the first time that the people of Santa Fe brought forth an issue via the City’s citizen initiative process. The Santa Fe city charter permits voters to petition their government for changes to city ordinances, including those relating to marijuana.

Maine: South Portland Council To Consider Marijuana Legalization Measure

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The South Portland City Council will consider a citizen-initiated measure at its meeting Monday night that would make private marijuana possession legal for adults. The council can enact the proposed law or place it on the ballot.

Citizens for a Safer Maine submitted more than 1,500 signatures to place the measure in front of the council. Just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required.

Citizens for a Safer Maine qualified a similar measure for the ballot in Lewiston, and it is in the process of collecting the final signatures needed to place one on the ballot in York.

The initiative would make it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It would remain illegal to consume or display marijuana in public.

The measure also includes a statement in support of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol at the state level.

“This is a common-sense proposal,” said Marijuana Policy Project Maine political director David Boyer. “Adults who are of legal age to use alcohol should not be punished simply for consuming a far less harmful substance.

"We hope the council members will agree law enforcement officials’ time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes,” Boyer said.

WHAT: South Portland City Council hearing on a citizen-initiated measure that would make private marijuana possession legal for adults

WHEN: Monday, August 18, 7 p.m. ET

WHERE: South Portland City Hall, 25 Cottage Rd., South Portland

Kansas: Wichita Marijuana Supporters Not Giving Up, Despite Falling 47 Signatures Short

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Despite falling 47 signatures short of getting a marijuana decriminalization petition on the ballot in Wichita, Kansas, supporters aren't giving up.

Interim City Attorney Sharon Dickgrafe on Tuesday told the Wichita City Council that it could not legally put the issue on the ballot as a ballot petition, but the council then voted for city staff to work with the marijuana petitioners to address the language of a ballot petition that could be carried for a signature election, probably for a vote next spring when city elections are held, reports Kelsey Ryan at The Wichita Eagle.

But supporters also plan to fight the Wichita elections office on the signature count done last week during the primaries, and still hold the goal to meet the county deadline later this month to get the issue on the November ballot.

Initiative leader Esau Freeman said there have been concerns over two missing pages of signatures that were turned over to the county, with 2,928 valid voter signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot.

At least one of the missing pages contained the signature of his wife, Freeman said. He said petition gatherers weren't allowed to observe the counting, which was done by the Sedgwick County elections office.

"[Kansas Secretary of State] Kris Kobach says we have open and fair elections, but I think the first case of voter fraud has been perpetrated by the Sedgwick County election office," Freeman said.

Kansas: Marijuana Decriminalization Petition Falls Short In Wichita

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Supporters of a petition to decriminalize marijuana in Wichita, Kansas, have come up just short of the number of signatures they needed to force the city to put the issue to a vote.

Organizers got word late Thursday that the Sedgwick County Election Board has ruled they were just 41 signatures short of the 2,928 needed to qualify, reports KAKE.com.

Around 3,500 signatures were disqualified by the office, although reasons weren't immediately given. One possibility is that the election office wouldn't accept signatures from people who were newly registered by the petition circulators, or that those registrations were delayed at the office by proof-of-citizenship requirements, according to petition drive leader Esau Freeman, reports Dion Lefler at The Wichita Eagle.

"This is exactly what I expected from the election office," Freeman said, adding that he was "terribly disappointed" but isn't giving up.

The signature count was supposed to have been completed a year ago, but was delayed by the need to recheck rejected signatures and to conduct Tuesday's primary election.

Petition supporters said they'll be at Tuesday's city council meeting to encourage the council to put the measure on the ballot. The drive had been organized towards getting the decrim question on the November 4 general election ballot.

U.S.: Senators Ask White House To Clarify Federal Marijuana Laws

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Senate delegations from Colorado and Washington are seeking clarification from the Obama Administration on the regulations which will impact the legal marijuana trade in those two states.

Democratic Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington on Monday wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for "a clear, consistent and uniform interpretation and application" of federal marijuana laws in relation to their home states, reports Jonathan Topaz at Politico. The letter warns about the current uncertainty surrounding federal cannabis laws.

"We believe the federal government should support Colorado and Washington state's effort to establish a successful regulatory framework in a way that achieves greater certainty for local officials, citizens, and business owners" in the marijuana industry, the senators wrote.

The uncertainty regarding the implementation of federal cannabis laws "may undermine our states' ability to regulate the industry adequately," the senators said.

All four Democrats said they look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to ensure lawful and successful implementation of marijuana legalization in their states.

Kansas: Wichita Marijuana Advocates Turn In Petitions To Reduce Penalties

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Marijuana advocates in Wichita, Kansas on Thursday turned in petitions with nearly twice as many signatures as they need to put decriminalization on the November ballot.

City officials in Wichita said they may have questions and concerns about the wording of the measure, but they have no immediate plans to go to court to try to block the initiative, reports Dion Lefler at The Wichita Eagle.

Organizers Esau Freeman and Janice Bradley went to Wichita City Hall at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday and presented City Clerk Karen Sublette with a thick sheaf of papers. According to the advocates, those papers contain the names and signatures of more than 5,800 people in favor of decriminalizing possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.

They need 2,928 valid signatures of registered Wichita voters to put the issue on the ballot.

"We didn't verify every single one, but we're pretty confident with what we have," said Bradley, who added that an intern with the Peace and Justice Social Center had checked a large sample of the signatures.

The petition has garnered support from at least two state legislators and the Community Voice, a newspaper focused on Wichita's black community.

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization and Broad Drug Policy Reforms

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In a report published earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a clear call for broad drug policy reforms, including decriminalization of drug use, harm reduction practices such as syringe exchange and opioid substitution therapy, and a ban on compulsory treatment for people who use drugs. This report by the United Nations’ leading health agency focuses on best practices to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV among key populations.

In a section titled “Good practice recommendations concerning decriminalization”, the WHO report makes the following recommendations:

• Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.

• Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programs]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.

• Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.

D.C.: What You Need To Know About The New Marijuana Decrim Law

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A far-reaching marijuana decriminalization law took effect on Thursday in the District of Columbia that replaces jail time with a $25 fine for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. However, advocates emphasize that there is still more work to be done in the nation’s capital to reduce severe racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement by D.C. police officers.

The Drug Policy Alliance has published an online resource that explains what the public needs to know about D.C.’s new marijuana decriminalization law.

Here are a few highlighted facts from our new overview of D.C.’s new decriminalization law:

• Under the new law, a person found in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is issued a notice of violation that imposes a $25 fine for marijuana possession as well as forfeiture of any visible marijuana and any paraphernalia.

• Police officers are prohibited from using the smell of marijuana as rationale for conducting criminal searches. D.C.’s decriminalization law is the first in the country to provide this protection in statute.

• The possession of marijuana remains unlawful in D.C., and possession of marijuana weighing more than one ounce is still a crime in the District.

• Smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana in a public space is still a crime.

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