The Utah Patients Coalition held a news conference on Thursday to announce the official launch of signature gathering efforts to get a medical marijuana initiative on the Nov. 2018 ballot. Volunteers began collecting signatures in downtown Salt Lake City immediately following the event.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act received approval from Lt. Governor Spencer Cox on August 10 to begin gathering signatures after supporters held 10 public hearings across the state and met with various state departments and stakeholders. More than 113,000 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot.
Good 4 Utah reports:
They are due April 15, 2018, but this group wants to get all the signatures turned in before the 2018 Legislative Session starts.
"The legislature has had an opportunity for the last three or four years to make substantive policy on this and has failed to do so, so now I think it's time for the people to decide on this issue," said DJ Schanz, Utah Patients Coalition Campaign Director.
The initiative would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to legally and safely access medical cannabis with the recommendation of their doctor. It limits the number of dispensaries and cultivators, allows local zoning for medical cannabis facilities, prohibits using medical cannabis in public view, maintains the illegality of driving while intoxicated, and closely mirrors the legislation passed by the Utah Senate in 2016. Home cultivation and smoking medical cannabis would not be permitted.
At a press briefing Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
“Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition," said MPP director of federal policy Dan Riffle. "The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana.
“We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision. It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation's broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
While the memo reiterates that marijuana use and distribution are still in violation of federal law, it lays out the priorities for the Department of Justice in states where marijuana policy differs from federal law:
- the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
After the last memo issued by Cole regarding state medical marijuana law and federal enforcement, states with very clear policies in place to control and regulate marijuana distribution saw little or no interference. This latest memo seems to echo that position in the cases of Washington and Colorado for adult use, so hopefully we can expect the Department of Justice to continue this trend moving forward.
On Tuesday, a group of doctors held a news conference to announce the support of nearly 250 Illinois physicians for allowing patients with serious illnesses to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
Specifically, the doctors signed on to the following statement:
Licensed medical practitioners should not be punished for recommending the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill people, and seriously ill people should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if their medical professionals have told them that such use is likely to be beneficial.
Their endorsement comes just as the Illinois House of Representatives prepares to vote on House Bill 1, which would allow patients with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians.
The bill would also establish a network of state-regulated cultivation centers and dispensaries to provide marijuana to qualified patients.
If passed, Illinois would become the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana.
The FBI released their annual Uniform Crime Report yesterday, and the results are anything but surprising. Across the country, people continue to be arrested for marijuana-related violations at an alarming rate, despite the steadily decreasing stigma associated with it and increasing efforts at reforming our irrational marijuana laws. And guess what? It still isn’t working. Our esteemed leaders claim otherwise, even while admitting that they need to change their tactics!
Over the past year, the Obama administration stated that the “war on drugs” is over, and that the government was going to shift its focus away from law enforcement and interdiction and instead put more effort toward public health and education with regard to drugs. At a press conference just last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske stated that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.
If these statements are true, then how do they justify the arrests of more than 853,000 people for marijuana-related violations in 2010? That’s one person arrested every 19 seconds! The Drug Czar maintains that law enforcement protocols are still considered a useful tool for eliminating suppliers and dealers as a way to decrease overall use.
Okay, that seems like it makes sense. So how many of those 853,000 arrests were for sale or manufacture of marijuana? The answer is just over 103,000. That means that more than 750,000 people were arrested last year for simple possession! A remarkably small number of people who may have distributed marijuana were arrested last year, along with three quarters of a million simple users, in an effort to curb marijuana use nationwide.
Were those people “useful tools” in preventing marijuana use? Absolutely not. According to the government’s own data, marijuana use actually increased last year.
Now, we’ve seen that Kerlikowske is correct when he says that we can’t arrest our way out of this “problem.” We can see that arresting people for marijuana, even for marijuana sales, has no effect on marijuana use rates. This glaringly obvious fact makes such statements from the federal government even more confusing, given their continued trend of upholding the status quo at all costs.
Let’s look at some slightly more disturbing aspects of this report.
Arrests for simple marijuana possession accounted for 5.7% of all arrests in 2010! That is a significant percentage of our law enforcement efforts devoted to punishing people for a victimless crime. It seems that there are better ways to use those resources, especially considering that there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes. How many violent acts occurred last year that did not result in an arrest? How many rapes and murders went unsolved due to lack of funds or personnel?
The Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that we need to rethink our approach to drug problems. If it really means this, it needs to seriously consider the most obvious starting point: taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. It is time we stop spending billions of dollars ruining people’s lives in a vain attempt to prevent them from using a plant that humans have used safely for thousands of years.
On Thursday of last week, I represented the Marijuana Policy Project in a historic press conference in Los Angeles, joining fellow panelists Melissa Etheridge, Danny Glover, Hal Sparks, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and LEAP representative Steve Downing to endorse California’s Proposition 19, the measure to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use. This was the first time world-renowned celebrities have spoken out in favor of Proposition 19, decrying the failed policy of prohibition.
Melissa Etheridge, a breast cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, called on the federal government to authorize further research of marijuana’s medical applications. Danny Glover talked about the prisoners he has seen, in the course of his lifetime of activism, who are locked up for non-violent marijuana offenses. Gary Johnson cited our nations’ culture of incarceration, locking up more of our own people than any other industrialized nation.
At one point, a reporter asked the celebrities if they had been paid by the Proposition 19 campaign to deliver their endorsements. They each replied “no” but then Hal Sparks offered this caveat, “I will benefit financially if Proposition 19 passes, in that my tax dollars will no longer be wasted on a policy that doesn’t work.” So true! The whole state will benefit to the tune of at least a billion dollars a year, the amount California currently spends enforcing marijuana prohibition. (And that doesn’t include the tax revenue that would be generated!)
I closed my own statement by reading a quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
Let’s be that courageous state. Vote yes on Proposition 19!
(Pictured above, from left: Danny Glover, Melissa Etheridge, Hal Sparks, and MPP's Sarah Lovering.)