MPP and Institute for Justice Fight for Free Speech in Alabama


Recently when attempting to lobby for marijuana policy reform in Alabama, MPP legislative counsel Maggie Ellinger-Locke discovered that she would have to travel to the Yellowhammer State and take an ethics class before she could speak with any lawmakers on the subject. This is a clear violation of free speech, and Institute for Justice is helping us fight back.IJ logo

Alabama Today reports:

Virginia-based public interest law firm Institute for Justice filed a new federal lawsuit on behalf of Maggie Ellinger-Locke and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

At issue is an Alabama law requiring all registered lobbyists to attend an ethics class offered only four times a year and in only one place – Montgomery.

Part of Ellinger-Locke’s job, says IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman in a recent op-ed, is to talk with legislators and government officials in nearly a dozen states on ways to make marijuana policy “more just, sensible and humane.”

“Unfortunately for her,” Sherman writes, “all lobbyists in Alabama are required to take an in-person ethics class.” The problem is, Ellinger-Locke lives in Arlington, Virginia and works at the MPP headquarters in Washington DC.

Sherman also points out that mayors, city and county council members, as well as members of local boards of education, are each required to take similar training – a program that could easily be offered online.

Nevertheless, Sherman adds that such a requirement is not only bad public policy but also unconstitutional. That is why IJ filed a First Amendment challenge in federal court.

“If a person wants to talk to an elected official about a matter of public policy,” Sherman concludes, “they shouldn’t have to take a government-mandated class. Instead, the only thing they should need is an opinion.”

We will post updates as they happen.

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D.C. Department of Health Recommends Regulating Marijuana Like Alcohol


Flag_Map_of_Washington_DCIn an exciting new development, the District of Columbia Department of Health issued a report that, in its conclusion, recommends the legalization of the sale of marijuana within D.C.  The 32-page report calls on the District to “[i]mpose state taxes on production, distribution, and sales along with a licensed market participation, age restriction, and prohibitions on advertising and marketing to minors” and to “[u]se current regulatory models for tobacco and alcohol to base legislation to enact effective marijuana controls under District of Columbia laws”.

Additionally, the report urges the strengthening of addiction recovery programs, the improvement of marijuana education–especially for expecting and new mothers–and the monitoring of alcohol and tobacco use among both users and non-users of marijuana.

The D.C. Department of Health’s recommendation is highly encouraging, but is currently met with obstacles put in place by Congress. Check out our D.C. page to learn more about the situation

You can read the full D.C. Department of Health report here.

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D.C. Council Primaries Bode Well for Marijuana Policy


The District of Columbia held its Democratic primary yesterday, and the results are mostly good news for supporters of marijuana policy reform.Flag_Map_of_Washington_DC Below are the (unofficial) results, along with the grade the council candidates received in MPP’s voter guide:

Ward 2: Jack Evans (A+) won (unopposed)

Ward 4: Incumbent Brandon Todd (F) beat challenger Leon Andrews (A), 49% to 41%

Ward 7: Challenger Vincent Gray (C+) beat incumbent Yvette Alexander (D), 60% to 33%

Ward 8: Challenger Trayon White (C+) beat incumbent LaRuby May (D), 51% to 42%

In the at-large race, all the candidates received an A or A+ from MPP. Challenger Robert White beat incumbent Vincent Orange 40% to 37%.

As the general election on November 8 approaches, MPP plans to update our voter guide to keep you informed on all the candidates’ positions, so stay tuned!

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MPP’s Voter Guide for D.C. Council Primary June 14


MPP has just released our first-ever voter guide for D.C. Council elections. We hope that D.C.’s Democratic voters will find this guide useful as they prepare to vote in D.C.’s Democratic primary elections on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. There are big differences between the candidates, whose grades range from A+ to F based on their responses to our survey (and, for sitting council members, key votes on marijuana policy reform).Flag_Map_of_Washington_DC

D.C. Council elections are important because the nation’s capital can serve as an important model of sensible marijuana policy. In addition, each member of the council has a lot of influence since there are only 13 council members, while most state legislatures have over 100 members.

Some of these races are expected to be very close. For example, the last time that current Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May and challenger Trayon White faced each other (in a special election), the race was decided by only 78 votes. 

We have also included information about how to register to vote, update your registration information, and find your polling place.

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Court Ruling Allows D.C. to Pass Marijuana Regulation Bill


On Friday, the District of Columbia Superior Court upheld the Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, which 82% of D.C. voters approved in spring of 2013. Then, on Tuesday, D.C.’s Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer said they would not appeal.Flag_Map_of_Washington_DC

Now, instead of having to wait for Congress to appropriate funds to D.C., the budget will simply be reviewed in the same way as every other law passed by the D.C. Council. So, the appropriations rider that has blocked the council from making any improvements to D.C.’s marijuana policies will expire on September 30, 2016. This means that the council can move forward to determine how to tax and regulate marijuana and pass a law to do so this fall.

While Congress could still block a tax and regulate bill or a D.C. budget that includes funds for the regulation of marijuana sales, it would have to do so by passing a joint resolution in both houses that would be subject to presidential veto. Thanks to congressional gridlock and President Obama’s support for D.C. choosing its own marijuana policy, this would be much more difficult than simply adding a rider to a lengthy appropriations bill funding the federal government.

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D.C. Voters Want Mayor to Work Around Congressional Ban on Regulating Marijuana Like Alcohol


A survey release this week by Public Policy Polling showed that 66% of voters in the District of Columbia support Mayor Muriel Bowser pursuing legal methods to allow D.C. to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol despite a Congressional ban.Flag_Map_of_Washington_DC

Voters overwhelming approved Initiative 71 in 2014, which made marijuana legal in the nation’s capital, but Congress passed a budget rider that prevents the implementation of regulated commercial cultivation and retail establishments. Provisions related to personal possession and limited home cultivation were unaffected by the law and are currently legal in D.C.

This poll shows that the vast majority of D.C. voters would support the mayor using reserve funds to implement a system to tax and regulate marijuana. This would not only show that D.C. rejects Congressional interference with the will of the voters, but also bring the illicit marijuana market out of the shadows and reap millions in tax revenue.

In addition, 61% of voters are in favor of giving adults a safe and lawful place to consume marijuana outside their homes. Supporters including MPP met with the mayor last week, and she said she was open to working with us and our allies on the D.C. Council to move forward on a compromise that would end the blanket ban on use outside the home, currently set to expire on April 13. This will help restore the rights that D.C. voters supported when they voted yes on Initiative 71.

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D.C. Council Lifts Ban on Private Marijuana Clubs, Reverses Decision Moments Later


Even though marijuana is legal for adults to possess and grow in the nation’s capital, the only legal place to consume it is in a private residence. Public consumption was not made legal by voters when they approved Initiative 71 in 2014, and the D.C. Council passed an emergency measure that also made consumption at any non-residential private event or location illegal. After hearing complaints from business owners who wish to allow marijuana use their private functions and advocates who noted that a lack of options forced low-income consumers to break the law in order to avoid jeopardizing their public housing, the Council decided to lift the emergency ban.

Minutes later, several council members changed their votes.

Washington Post reports:

The D.C. Council briefly opened the door on Tuesday to legalizing the smoking of marijuana in specially designated areas of public restaurants, music venues and private clubs, by failing to extend a ban on such activity that was put in place when pot was legalized in the city last year.

Within minutes, however, the council reopened debate on the measure, and extended the ban on smoking in private clubs for 90 days.

Council members Ruby May (D-Ward) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) changed their votes after Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said he had just heard from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who was urging the council to continue the ban because the city would have no ability to license pot clubs that may spring up.

It is too bad that Mayor Bowser does not see how making these private gatherings legal will allow the city to regulate them much more quickly and effectively, and that illegal operations will proliferate in the vacuum created by this ban. Fortunately, there is still time to address the issue.

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Congress Renews Ban on Justice Department Interference in State Medical Marijuana Laws


The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the new federal spending bill unveiled late Tuesday night.

The compromise legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It stems from an amendment sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that was first approved in the House of Representatives in May 2014 and included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 signed by President Obama last December.

In April 2015, a Justice Department spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the department did not interpret the amendment as affecting cases involving individuals or businesses, but merely “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” In October, a federal judge ruled that interpretation was inaccurate and that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prevents the department from taking action against individuals who are acting in compliance with state laws.

Unfortunately, the new spending plan also includes an amendment, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved earlier this year, which prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. District voters approved a ballot initiative in 2014 to make possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.

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Advocates Urge D.C. Council to Ease Limits on Where Adults Can Consume Marijuana


Late last week, the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary met to consider B21-0107, which would make permanent an expansion of what is considered “open to the public” for purposes of banning marijuana consumption. This legislation is excessively broad and unnecessary.2000px-Flag_of_Washington,_D.C._icon.svg

Should B21-0107 fail, owners and operators of private clubs and event spaces will be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to allow marijuana consumption by adults 21 and older. Currently, District residents are legally allowed to consume marijuana only in private residences. Because of restrictions on public housing and by some landlords, this leaves some District residents with nowhere they can consume cannabis.

District code already prevents marijuana consumption “any place to which the public is invited,” so marijuana could still not be consumed in bars or restaurants if B21-0107 is defeated.

Congress has prevented the Council from taking further action to treat marijuana like alcohol, but that does not mean they have to adopt excessively broad legislation such as B21-0107. If you are a District resident, ask your council members to oppose advancement of B21-0107 thereby allowing social marijuana use in limited, non-residential, private spaces. Marijuana is safer than alcohol; help us continue to shape policy to recognize this.

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Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Introduced In Senate


Earlier today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in the Senate that would banks to do business with the marijuana industry in states where it is legal for medical purposes or adult use.

Politico reports:


Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.

Sen. Cory Gardner

Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law. That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry. Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.

The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview.

According to a press release from Drug Policy Alliance, “Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced the House version of this Senate bill earlier in the year, having also introduced a banking bill the previous session.”

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