Back in 2014, Missouri lawmakers enacted SB 491 — a bill to reduce penalties for possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana. That law finally took effect on January 1, 2017. Congratulations to Missouri for joining the 20 other states that have ended cannabis prohibition or replaced jail time with a fine! The new law institutes a fine of $250-$1,000, replacing the prior penalty of up to a year of incarceration and a fine.
While this is far better than current law, the hefty fine is still very harsh for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Worse yet, possession of over 35 grams remains a felony, subjecting marijuana consumers to a prison sentence of up to seven years and a $5,000 fine.
While lawmakers should be applauded for enacting marijuana reduction penalties, we hope you will let them know that the time to end prohibition is now. If you are a Missouri resident, please send an email to your state representative and senator and tell them you want to tax and regulate a substance that is safer than alcohol.
Recent polling released by the Marijuana Policy Project found more than two-thirds of Delawareans support replacing criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a $100 civil fine. The poll also found a majority of voters (51%) support making marijuana legal for adults, and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.
Under current Delaware law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and fined up to $1,150. Additionally, a conviction or even an arrest record can make it difficult to find a job, obtain educational opportunities, or even find adequate housing.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail for possession of marijuana, including Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is now legal for adults 21 and older. Twelve other states are currently considering legislation to reduce penalties to a fine. Measures similar to those adopted in Colorado and Washington, which regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, have been or will be introduced this year in 18 state legislatures plus the District of Columbia Council. In addition, one has been placed on the August ballot in Alaska.
On Tuesday, MPP unveiled its billboard in support of boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., who was fined $900,000 and handed a nine-month suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) for testing positive for marijuana.
Located at 2001 Western Ave., Las Vegas, Nevada, the graphic proclaims, “A majority of Nevadans support Julio’s SAFER choice,” referencing a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. “Stop driving athletes to DRINK!”
“Marijuana is far less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violent and aggressive behavior than alcohol,” stated MPP’s director of communications, Mason Tvert. “The NSAC should change its marijuana policy and stop driving athletes to drink.”
The billboard and the NSAC’s illogical policy have garnered much attention. After waking up Tuesday morning to find his name splashed across MPP’s billboard, Chavez’s attorney Donald Campbell released a statement on his client’s behalf:
“In response to the many press inquiries regarding the Marijuana Policy Project’s billboard, we wish to reiterate that our client, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., does not encourage the illicit use of marijuana. That having been said, he is, nevertheless, most grateful for the very visible and vocal support of [MPP] as well as that of the many news and sports commentators nationwide who have condemned the unconstitutional, and indeed, draconian fine of $900,000 leveled against him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for having smoked a marijuana cigarette nine days before the Martinez fight.”
MPP is calling on the NSAC to drop the excessive penalties against Chavez and change its policy so that it no longer steers athletes toward using alcohol by threatening to punish them if they choose to use the less harmful substance – marijuana. The request will be delivered to the NSAC in the form of a Change.org petition.
Stand with Julio and add your name.
Tomorrow, the Texas State House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence will hold a hearing on legislation that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. MPP's executive director Rob Kampia will be testifying at the hearing.
H.B. 184, which was introduced by Rep. Harold V. Dutton Jr. (D-Houston), would remove the threat of jail and set the maximum penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana at $500.
No one deserves to go to jail for marijuana, but under current Texas law, possession of two ounces or less can get you up to 180 days in jail and up to $2000 in fines.
After a long delay in New Jersey, many medical marijuana patients are still waiting for their medicine. Then-Gov. John Corzine first signed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in January 2010, but since then, implementation of the measure has been slow. Although the state originally planned to have the necessary alternative treatment centers open in July 2011, the state’s first licensee, Greenleaf Compassion Center, is not scheduled to open until September of this year. A total of only five other planned facilities have been approved, four of which still have no approved location. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has even called for a hearing into the cause of the delays, protesting that there is “no adequate explanation” for the current situation. Difficulties with organization, vetting the necessary officials, and objections by local authorities have all been cited by the Star-Ledger as causes.
Dr. Walter Husar, a neurologist from Rockaway, complains that along with disorganized lists of participating physicians, strict regulations are another barrier to safe access to the drug. Under the current system, patients must have an existing “bona fide” relationship with one of the limited number of participating physicians, as defined here. The physicians must then submit an official statement recommending the patient. The doctor must then transfer a unique reference code to the patient, who can then use it to register him- or herself. The registration of a patient is only valid for 90 days, after which the doctor and the patient must repeat the process. According to Chris Goldstein with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, this is the only state where only the doctors on an official list can prescribe marijuana. Sixteen other states, plus the District of Columbia, have medicinal marijuana programs. Access to marijuana in New Jersey is also limited to patients with one of a set list of serious medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, with use for some conditions only permitted when other treatments have failed or particular complications are present.
Husar and other doctors report themselves flooded with calls from potential patients. However, in a stark demonstration of the difficulty of joining the program, more physicians than patients have been registered. Approximately 50 patients have been recognized as eligible for medical marijuana, while only around 150 physicians are participating, out of over 30,000 in the state.
Husar agrees that marijuana can be helpful for multiple sclerosis sufferers in particular, citing his 25 years of experience with such patients, some of whom obtained the drug illegally. He is, however, concerned that since there is still no legal source of medical marijuana, even the patients who are already registered with the program may be subject to legal penalties if they are caught with their medicine. Under New Jersey’s current laws, this is a serious risk. Possession of even the smallest amount is punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, while those caught growing even a single plant could be subject to a felony conviction, a fine of up to $25,000, and a prison sentence of up to five years.
Today, the City Council of Chicago voted 43-3 to amend the city’s code to direct police officers to cite, rather than arrest, individuals in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. Under the proposal, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police could still arrest those who cannot produce identification or present a threat to public safety. Those cited would face fines of $200 to $500 dollars and up to 10 hours of community service; however, there would be no risk of jail time.
Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to obtain employment, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like the city’s soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38% over the last year.
Chicago now joins over 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states across the nation in removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Since enacting laws replacing arrest and jail with fines for such violations, there has been no appreciable increase in marijuana use in those areas, either among adults or young people. The move follows a recent trend in marijuana reforms, including a similar penalty reform in Rhode Island and medical marijuana legislation in Connecticut this May and June. Legislative chambers in New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey also approved marijuana policy reforms in recent weeks. This trend reflects growing public consensus that harsh marijuana laws are ineffective, and scarce law enforcement resources should not be used to arrest adults for using a substance safer than alcohol.
If only President Obama's former colleagues, like his good friend the Mayor of Chicago, could convince him that people are ready for real marijuana policy change, and that we need it more than ever.
If you were worried about going to prison for getting caught with marijuana in Arkansas, you can breathe a little easier today.
Back in March, the Arkansas Legislature, backed by Gov. Mike Beebe, passed a law to reduce the penalties for possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Starting today, a judge may place a person under probation for a year without formal charge, instead of the regular sentence of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. This option is at the discretion of the judge, so be nice in court, and don’t count on this offer if you have prior convictions.
Still, it represents a huge leap forward. Until now, possession of anything over an ounce got you four to 10 in jail and a $25,000 fine. I’ll take a year of probation and no criminal record over that any day!
And while not being decriminalization, the probation option is pretty close, and the possession limit of four ounces is one of the highest of any decriminalized state in the country.
The law also makes intent to deliver small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor instead of a felony and lessens the penalties and status of subsequent possession violations.
The fact that this is happening in Arkansas of all places is clear evidence that this country as a whole is moving in the right direction. Marijuana reformers in every state should take note and keep working hard with their local and state lawmakers to maintain this momentum. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.