- Published on 12 January 2015
- Written by Rob Ryan, Ohio NORML President
We are at the point in history where Marihuana Legalization is clearly foreseeable. I attended a forum in May 2014 on Marihuana Legalization sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court. The focus was not on “IF” or “WHEN”, it was all about “HOW”. That is the primary question facing us now. The first step one has to realize, is that there are some fundamental facts. The most important is that marihuana is not deadly, addictive, nor without medical use as the Ohio government currently says it is.
There are a whole range of uses for marihuana (AKA cannabis or hemp). On one end of the spectrum are the non-consumption industrial applications with the potential to fill in gaps of our industrial & farm economy. Textiles, plastics, fuel, and various oils are obvious uses of the plant. More interesting are the more advanced applications in energy storage such as specially coated nanotubes and the various applications in manufacturing automobiles. At the other end of the spectrum is the human consumption. Human consumption has many forms like food, medicine (an area rich in potential therapeutic application) and of course, smoking.
Opponents of legalization are correct in one respect. There will be large “BIG BUDS” companies, that should grudgingly share the market with “SMALL BUDS” (think Budweiser vs. micro breweries), hopefully ignoring the tiny amount of non-commercial home enthusiasts caring for their personal small garden. A visible legal company is a much better situation than a hidden underground criminal enterprise with no government controls.
The dividing line between the home grower and the “BIG BUD / SMALL BUDS” is that the home grower is not engaged in financial transactions. Consumers should have knowledge of the product they are purchasing with basic health and safety quality controls similar to commercially processed foods and beverages. One word of caution is towards the edibles. I would insert a production delay until product contents, packaging, and labeling requirements are settled; using experience and knowledge leveraged from other states that are further along on the legalization learning curve.
Adaptability is important element in any law, especially in the case of marihuana re-legalization. The Cannabis Control Commission in the recent medical marihuana ballot language has merit. That ballot language has a critical flaw in who chooses the commission membership. A commission should represent a diversity of specialists with knowledge and experience; and be free from financial interest of those making the appointments. A Lincoln-esque team of rivals, with members chosen from and by organizations representing prosecutors, defense attorneys, farmers, industrial, law enforcement, civil rights, marihuana advocates, substance abuse and government representation, would be an ideal group to formulate the rules of the road for marihuana re-legalization.
The cannabis market place should be divided into at least three segments. One proposed market segmentation that deserves consideration is composed of (1) producers, (2) wholesale/processor/distributor, and (3) retail operations. In-between these segments are where government control, taxation mechanisms, and product quality would be ideally located.
Funds generated by taxes will be subject of much discussion. The basic level of taxation should be targeted to eliminate or minimize the black market, and generate enough funds for our drug issues such as the heroin problem, treatment, and mental health needs. I would include a needs-based education grant system, as well as a source of much needed funding for state and local governments. Tax levels should vary based on the level of active content (beer-wine-whiskey analogy). Licensing fees should be tiered based on the size of the operation, along with local taxation and control that is subject to established zoning mechanisms. Financial transactions need to be transparent to eliminate black market influences. The potential dangers on this path to re-legalization are greed and ego.
Criminal record expungement and driver's license suspension are both very important elements of any re-legalization effort but are not addressed by any ballot type efforts I am aware of. Cincinnati City Council recently passed a resolution urging the state legislature and the Governor to consider the expungement of previous marihuana offenses. Additionally the path to removing to Driver's license suspensions has already started with the recent passage of SCR 27 and Governor Kasich letter to Washington. Both these issue can and should be addressed by legislative action in Columbus.
Your own vision may be different than that stated above. This is where various views have to find common ground. Overall a multi-faceted market with government control that is free of criminal black market criminals and corruption is much better than the current environment. But the future is certain; marihuana will be re-legalized, and it needs to be dealt with in a rational manner. Bringing an end to Marihuana Prohibition is the right thing to do, and the right thing to support.
- Published on 17 December 2014
- Written by Rob Ryan, Ohio NORML President
When it comes to Ohio’s marihuana policy, almost everyone left, right, or center agree on one drug war law reform that is long overdue in Ohio: driver's license suspension. Decades ago, Ohio accepted a 1992 federal mandate requiring a mandatory six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana possession. This provision was authored by New Jersey’s liberal Senator Frank Lautenberg, trying to prove that he was just as tough on the War on Drugs as conservatives.
Lautenberg’s highway transportation funding cuts were to be tied to state compliance with the federal mandate. There was considerable disagreement concerning this law by numerous states’ representatives, particularly from western states. As a compromise, an "OPT OUT" clause was added, which permitted the states to maintain their federal highway funds. The clause required state legislators to pass a resolution of their opposition to the Federal mandate and the governor to send the resolution to the Secretary of Transportation. Most states did exactly that. Today the majority of states do not suspend driver's license for drug offenses like pot possession. But Ohio still follows that 90's federal mandate and has one of the toughest laws in the country. Someone convicted of a minor misdemeanor simple pot possession in Ohio results in a minimum 6 months suspension; but can potentially result in having their license suspended for up to 5 years.
Ohio political leaders have stepped up to correct this overdue and sensible marihuana law reform. Ohio House & Senate legislators have passed resolutions HCR55 & SCR27 to “OPT OUT” of the federal mandate.
Ohio NORML is not alone in supporting ending Ohio’s adherence to the federal mandate. The Judicial Conference of Ohio Judges does not support driver license suspensions for drug offenses. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators – the national trade group for Department of Motor Vehicles, of which Ohio is a member supports ending mandatory drivers’ license suspensions for pot possession. In an 80-page report, the AAMVA summarizes how the research shows conclusively that suspensions not related to driving waste government resources, harm traffic safety and undermine goals such as getting child support paid.
A driver's license is critical to getting or keeping a job. National studies have shown that 42% of people lose their jobs when their license is suspended. Sometimes a judge will make an exception and permit the offender to drive to work and back home. But that does not cover going to the hardware store or the mall. Currently according to Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles records there are over one hundred forty five thousand Ohioans with license suspensions due to drug offenses. Overall the federal mandated sanctions have an unintended and negative impact on Ohio’s economy and jobs.
A secondary problem comes up when some of these people drive anyway. They either have a good reason or worse do it out of disrespect for a law that had no connection to their driving. This creates an even larger problem of people driving with a suspended license. Our courts have become clogged with driving under suspension cases; and also make an even deeper legal hole for someone to climb out of.
Now the next step is for Governor Kasich to send it to the Secretary of Department of Transportation in Washington. Then our state legislature is free to revise state law, removing the suspension language without losing any Federal Highway funds. Finally some common sense is being shown in this endless War on Drugs which really should be called Prohibition 2.0
- Published on 14 December 2014
- Written by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director
Washington, DC: Language approved by the US House of Representatives on Tuesday restricts the Justice Department's ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
The amendment, which states "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used ... to prevent ... states ... from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana" is included in a $1.1 trillion Congressional appropriations bill. Members of the Senate and the President are expected to sign off on the spending measure, which seeks to fund federal activities through the 2015 fiscal year, imminently.
Members of the House initially approved the provision in May by a vote of 219 to 189.
House lawmakers on Tuesday also gave final approval to a separate provision prohibiting the federal government from funding efforts to interfere with state-sanctioned industrial hemp programs, including those that allow for the plant's cultivation. In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant.
Neither provision explicitly addresses state regulations governing the licensed production and sale of cannabis for recreational purposes, which is now permitted in Colorado and Washington. Voters in Alaska and Oregon approved similar legalization measures in November.
At this time, it remains uncertain what implications the soon-to-be passed federal spending bill will have upon the District of Columbia. Although some 70 percent of DC voters in November approved a municipal initiative (I-71) removing criminal penalties for adults who possess or grow small amounts of cannabis, language included in the federal spending act seeks to limit the law's implementation.
Specifically, a provision introduced by Maryland Republican Andy Harris states that no funds "may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act ... for recreational purposes." While the Congressional intent of the language is to "prohibit both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District," it remains unclear whether the Congressional rider has the authority to halt District officials from depenalizing minor marijuana offenses.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of Congress, said that there exists "genuine disagreement" among lawmakers in regard to the extent to which the language interferes with the implementation of Initiative 71.