Australian lawmakers are anticipated to approve landmark legislation in the coming months allowing for the production and use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
The legislation, which is backed by Australia’s Prime Minister, Health Minister, and leading political parties, amends national drug laws to permit for the licensed cultivation and distribution of medicinal cannabis.
The move by Parliament follows recent efforts by several Australian territories to provide patients participating in clinical trials with access to the plant.
“This government understands that there are some Australians suffering from severe conditions for which cannabis may have applications,” Health Minister Sussan Ley told Parliament this week. “[W]e want to enable access to the most effective medical treatments available.”
She added, “Allowing controlled cultivation locally will provide the critical missing piece for a sustainable legal supply of safe medicinal cannabis products for Australian patients in the future.”
To date, only Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands federally license private growers to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients. Colombia, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico are also expected to begin licensing medical marijuana manufacturing in the near future.
In 2013, Uruguay officials approved legislation authorizing the retail production and sale of cannabis to those age 18 and older. Consumers in that country are anticipated to be able to begin purchasing cannabis at state-licensed pharmacies by mid-2016.
Cannabinoids are safe and effective in the treatment of chronic pain conditions, according to a review of recent clinical trials published online ahead of print in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.
Investigators at the University of Montreal, Department of Anesthesiology evaluated the results of 26 clinical trials “of good or excellent quality” involving 1,364 subjects. Trials assessed the use of various types of cannabinoid preparations, including herbal cannabis, liquid and oral cannabis extracts, and synthetic cannabinoid agents in pain treatment.
Authors reported that cannabinoids were efficacious in alleviating various types of pain, including pain due to neuropathy, musculoskeletal disorders, fibromyalgia, HIV, and other chronic pain conditions.
They concluded, “Overall, the recent literature supports the idea that currently available cannabinoids are modestly effective analgesics that provide a safe, reasonable therapeutic option for managing chronic non-cancer-related pain and possibly cancer-related pain.”
Their conclusion mimics that of a 2015 systematic review published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology that reported, “[C]annabinoids are safe, demonstrate a modest analgesic effect, and provide a reasonable treatment option for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain.”
An abstract of the study, “Medical cannabis: considerations for the anesthesiologist and pain physician,” appears online here.
I am periodically amused when we receive an email or phone call at NORML from an enthusiastic, usually young, supporter, advising us he/she has found the missing link to marijuana legalization: come up with a new name for our favorite herb.
That’s right. Some who are new to the issue, when they first discover the racist under-pinning’s of both marijuana prohibition, and the word “marijuana” itself, naively think if we could just stop using the word “marijuana,” and instead use “cannabis” or some other synonym, our opposition would suddenly disappear, and we would have a clear path to legalization.
I wish it were that simple. But it is not the name we use that makes it difficult to legalize marijuana; it is the misinformation left from decades of government anti-marijuana propaganda. We are having to re-educate millions of Americans about marijuana, including especially those in the media and our elected officials.
At NORML we do not follow some stylebook, and we use all kinds of words to describe marijuana at different times. I’m an old-timer so I generally stick with “marijuana,” and I do not consider it a negative term. It’s the name most Americans use to identify the plant. But others at NORML prefer “cannabis”, and our political alerts, press releases and media interviews also frequently include the use of “pot” or “weed” or other popular slang terms for marijuana.
As an aside, it is a little strange that one would write NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, to suggest that we stop using the word “marijuana.” We are proud of the acronym NORML, a double entendre, which is also our registered service mark. We wanted to normalize marijuana smoking when we started the organization in 1970, and NORML seemed like the perfect acronym.
But more importantly, those who feel the term we choose to use in our advocacy is a primary obstacle holding the country back from legalizing marijuana, misunderstand the nature of our opponents.
Those who oppose marijuana legalization, and support prohibition, either have an exaggerated view of the potential dangers from marijuana smoking; or they have decided to oppose legalization for political reasons (e.g., they still identify marijuana smoking with radical, lefty politics).
In either case, using another word in place of marijuana will have absolutely no impact. Those who ignore the science, and believe that marijuana is “the devil’s weed,” will not assume a more rational position, regardless of what we call it. And those who consider marijuana smoking to be anti-establishment behavior will continue to think of marijuana smokers as cultural rebels, even if we call ourselves “cannabis users.” The name is inconsequential.
It’s the level of public support that determines when and where we legalize marijuana. Public attitudes, in a country as large as the US, change slowly, and gradually, over a period of time. Because of the government’s “reefer madness” campaign of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, most older Americans were effectively “brain-washed” (another term from the 50s) into believing that marijuana was dangerous and evil, and would lead to depravity. Thus it is no surprise that when NORML was founded in late 1970, only 12% of the public favored legalizing the drug. It was only by advancing a more rational understanding of marijuana and marijuana smokers over several decades that we eventually began to see higher levels of support for legalization, bringing us to where we are today, with 58% of the country nationwide now favoring an end to prohibition and the establishment of a legally regulated market.
We are finally winning this long struggle, not because we came up with a new term for marijuana; but because we took the time and made the effort to re-educate Americans about the relative safety of marijuana, as well as the important medical uses of the drug. We have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the country, who now understand that marijuana prohibition causes far more problems than the use of the drug itself, regardless of what name one prefers to use for marijuana.
This week we have an array of legislative updates ranging from more bills being introduced, other bills stalling, and everything in between. We have news out of Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, Utah and Washington D.C.! Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform this week.
The Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act was introduced this week by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici. This legislation would “reverse the outdated declaration by the U.S. Postal Service in December 2015 that prohibited the mailing of newspapers with ads offering to buy or sell marijuana, even if the marijuana-related ad complies with state law.” Senator Wyden says, “Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana.”
Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made comments this week in response to a question at a town hall meeting from a medical marijuana patient who asked what she would do to decriminalize the drug. Clinton responded boldly saying, “She would do a lot.” She reiterated her support for states to decide the issue and reaffirmed that, if elected President, she would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act to a Schedule II substance. She stated, “I have no doubt there are very real benefits to people.”
Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also made comments this week related to marijuana policy when he addressed the question, “If elected, how would your administration address the current tension between state and federal marijuana laws?” Sanders responded, “As President, I would direct HHS and DOJ to immediately review if marijuana should be rescheduled or descheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, and I would instruct DOJ not to interfere with states who have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.”
Arizona: House Bill 2007, was introduced to defelonize minor marijuana possession offenses.Under present law, marijuana possession is classified as a felony, punishable by up to two years in jail. House Bill 2007 reclassifies minor marijuana possession offenses from a felony to a civil offense, punishable by a fine only — no arrest, no criminal prosecution, and no criminal record. #TakeAction
California: Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that seeks to dissuade California cities and counties from enacting municipal restrictions on the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana by amending a drafting error in the The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. It also removes objectionable language authorizing local governments to prohibit patients from cultivating, storing, donating, or processing marijuana for their own personal use, and by doing so, reaffirms that qualified patients have the right under state law to engage in personal cultivation absent a city or state license.
Florida: House legislation, House Bill 271, redefines industrial hemp as an agricultural crop and establishes licensing regulations to allow for the plant’s cultivation. A committee substitute version of the bill was unanimously approved by members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Tuesday, February 2nd. We’ll keep you updated as this legislation moves forward. #TakeAction
Hawaii: Objectionable legislation is pending in the House to eliminate patients’ longstanding rights to cultivate medical marijuana. House Bill 1680 repeals patients’ legal authority to cultivate personal use quantities of cannabis. Criminalizing the personal cultivation of cannabis is an arbitrary prohibition that has absolutely no basis in public safety. For sixteen years, thousands of Hawaii patients have possessed the ability to cultivate personal use qualities of medicinal marijuana. There exists no evidence that this law has led to any sort of widespread abuse or public safety threat.. #TakeAction
Illinois: Legislation is pending in the Senate to expand Illinois’ hemp law to promote hemp-related commerce. The act seeks to establish regulations for the Department of Agriculture to license persons “desiring to grow, process, cultivate, harvest, process, possess, sell, or purchase industrial hemp or industrial hemp related products.” #TakeAction
In separate news, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner this week rejected a recommendation from the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to expand the state’s medical marijuana program by adding eight additional qualifying conditions. For more information on organizing patients’ efforts in Illinois, please contact Illinois NORML.
Kansas: Members of the Senate voted 38 to 1 on Wednesday, February 3, in favor of a Committee substitute version of HB 2049 to reduce criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. The amended language now returns to the House for a concurrence vote. #TakeAction
Maine: Marijuana legalization advocates turned in more than 100,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office this week in hopes of meeting the 60,000 requirement to qualify for the 2016 ballot. Read more about this campaign here.
Maryland: House Bill 443 is pending in the General Assembly to permit the Department of Agriculture to authorize institutions of higher education to cultivate industrial hemp for academic research purposes.This legislation is scheduled to be heard Wednesday, February 10th by members of the Environment and Transportation Committee at 1:00PM. #TakeAction
Separate legislation, House Bill 665, seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot to regulate adult marijuana use. If approved by lawmakers, the bill would allow voters to decide if they wish to regulate the commercial cultivation, processing, and retail of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. You can read the full text of this proposal here. #TakeAction
New Jersey: Assembly Bill 2050, legislation to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses in New Jersey, is pending in the General Assembly. If approved, the legislation would remove criminal penalties for those who possess 15 grams of marijuana or less. New Jersey’s 24,765 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013 was the state’s highest number in 20 years. #TakeAction
Rhode Island: Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed that a new tax be imposed upon state qualified patients who choose to cultivate their own cannabis. The proposed taxes range from $150 per plant for an individual patient up to $350 per plant for growers with cultivator licenses. The proposed tax is rightfully drawing fire, from patients and other concerned citizens. For more information on efforts to oppose this change, please visit the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.
Utah: On Thursday, February 4th, members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee moved SB 73, the Medical Cannabis Act, to the Senate floor. The legislation seeks to amend state law to permit for the state-licensed cultivation of cannabis, including strains with higher THC content, for the manufacturing of medicinal products and/or herbal preparations. We’ll keep you updated as this measure continues to move forward. #TakeAction
Virginia: House and Senate lawmakers set aside legislation that sought to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses. On February 3rd, Senate Bill 104, was passed by indefinitely by the Courts of Justice Committee in an 11-4 vote. This action stalls any legislative progress for now, but allows for the committee to reconsider legislation at a later meeting. It is apparent by these actions that Virginia lawmakers need to hear from constituents that marijuana law reform ought to be a legislative priority. #TakeActionWashington D.C.: A bill aimed at permanently banning private marijuana clubs in the District was pulled on Tuesday and instead Council members passed an amendment to create a seven member taskforce to look into the issue more closely. The taskforce will be made up of two members from the D.C. Council, one from the Office of the D.C. Attorney General and five from city agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Health Department, who will be appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
LATEST NORML NEWS
State and Local:
Everyday NORML Affiliates and Chapters from around the country invest countless hours into contacting representatives, hosting events, and talking to voters, all with the hope of passing meaningful marijuana reforms on the local, state and federal level! In an effort to highlight their hard work and accomplishments, we will feature their stories on NORML.org and promote the content through our social media channels. To get involved in your area, please send an email to KevinM@NORML.org to get started today!
California NORML’s executive director questioned a recent report produced by an anti-tobacco organization that encouraged municipalities to ban the use of marijuana in public areas or in locations that must adhere to clean indoor air regulations.
“The report vastly inflates the health hazards of smoked marijuana, but concedes that it shouldn’t be criminalized. Rather, it calls for stigmatizing it as much as possible,”
As California gets closer to approving a legalization measure for this November’s ballot, some activists are raising concerns about the impact it will have on the state’s medical marijuana program.
“If you look at the ballot initiative that’s circulating right now, it doesn’t give a lot of incentives to the medical marijuana industry except that you can avoid some of the (proposed 15 percent excise and extra cultivation) taxes if you go to some trouble.”
“We are calling for locals to repeal the bans in favor of meaningful land regulations that will enact the statewide licensing standards … in order to protect public safety, the environment and patients’ rights,”
Last week, Denver NORML announced they will be leading a Responsible Use initiative that will allow the limited consumption of marijuana in the City of Denver. Details are still being worked out with NORML’s national office.
“We are willing to work with them on this issue — we just really want something to happen, we want action to take place,”
“Denver NORML announced that it would be filing its own initiative to put a limited social use of marijuana item on the ballot in 2016.”
Medical marijuana patients in Illinois experienced another setback after lawmakers rejected a proposal that would have expanded access to the state’s medical marijuana program.
“My concern is first and foremost for patients to have access to this medicine and if shops are closing then patients will have to go farther distances to get access to this medicine.”
“By having the Illinois Department of Public Health deny the eight conditions that the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board approved to be added to the list of debilitating conditions for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, this administration has turned their back on veterans suffering from PTSD”
After a long court battle, Iowa State University NORML won a first amendment lawsuit against school administrators after an attempt to censor a marijuana leaf printed on a t-shirt.
“Members of ISU NORML weren’t keen on being censored. They felt the administration was discriminating against their group. So on July 1, 2014, they filed a lawsuit alleging that school administrators had violated their constitutional rights.”
NORML KC is working hard to push an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana in Kansas City.
“Once you start talking to people about cannabis reform, you’d be surprised how many people are for it,” Kacz said. “It doesn’t have to be Democrats or liberals, it’s Republicans, it’s religious people, it’s elderly people.”
New Hampshire NORML urged lawmakers to support a bill that would add PTSD to the state’s list of ailments for medical marijuana.
“By stuffing opiates down people’s throats, it’s going to create a problem. You guys are going to have a heroin epidemic. You’re going to see it. And in the last two years, it is just out of control,”
With some of the stringent marijuana laws in the country, Virginia NORML continues to work with state lawmaker on a wide range of marijuana reform bills.
“We will continue to work educating lawmakers who wish to learn more about cannabis science and widely accepted medical applications, the successful decriminalization legislation in 21 states and successful medical legislation in 24 states.”
Washington NORML is encouraging lawmakers to support a bill that would permit the home cultivation of marijuana.
“NORML Washington is doing a great job leading this fight to grow your own marijuana. They have even made it possible for you to help the movement from your computer/tablet/phone. Here’s a letter they’ve put together for you to send to your representatives and urge their support for personal cultivation”
After going through a much needed reorganization, Wyoming NORML has assembled a strong team who are dedicated to passing the Peggy A. Kelley Wyoming Cannabis Act of 2016.
“We haven’t stopped on that from day one, but in the same process we just had to get things a little more organized and get a better structure in here.”
“NORML Wyoming spokeswoman Carrie Satterwhite said the group has the fewest number of volunteer petition circulators in the conservative northeast part of the state, but that region will be targeted in the upcoming months”
“Even though Wyoming NORML didn’t get enough signatures this year, members say if they have enough signatures for the 2018 ballot, medicinal marijuana could help Wyoming in the long run.”
NORML’s deputy director, Paul Armentano recently spoke to reporters about the need for a common sense approach to ending the prohibition of marijuana in America.
“This administration clearly recognizes that the present enforcement of marijuana prohibition and marijuana criminalization is out of step with both public opinion and common sense,”
NORML board member and passionate marijuana advocate will prove to be one of this year’s most effective weapon in the war against the prohibition marijuana.
“Steves has been on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for years and he has worked closely with Washington pot initiative author Alison Holcomb, who now heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice”
During a recent interview, NORML’s deputy director, Paul Armentano shared his thoughts on a recent study about the health risks associated with marijuana use.
“Ultimately, this study’s findings are consistent with the notion that while cannabis is not altogether harmless, its potential risks to health relative to other substances — including legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications — are not so great to warrant its continued criminalization,”
NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day at the United States Capitol is scheduled for May 23rd and 24th. Hundreds of marijuana consumers, activists, patients and business owners are expected to attend a day-long training and informational conference on Monday and re-convene on The Hill Tuesday to personally lobby their elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Whether you’re a longtime activist, young college student, medical marijuana patient or simply just a marijuana consumer and NORML supporter, consider taking the next step and travelling to Washington D.C. to directly lobby Congress in support of common sense marijuana law reform. You’ll meet like minded activists from across the country and you’ll get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process!
Scheduling and registration information will soon be posted to norml.org, and promoted as well across NORML’s network via listservs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Please save the dates and participate in this historic lobbying effort in our nation’s capital at this crucial time in the law reform effort as cannabis prohibition increasingly gives way to legalization!
For planning purposes you can look up hotel information. Our day-long training and informational conference on Monday will be held at 1957 E Street if you wish to look for something close to the planned activities. Last year, participants also benefited from booking with AirBnb.
Exciting news from across the country with NEW legislation being introduced and promising legislation moving forward! This week we highlight Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, New
Mexico, New Orleans, and Vermont. Plus our lawmakers in Congress and lawmakers in Puerto Rico took action this week too! Keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform.
Puerto Rico: Health Department officials have signed off on regulations overseeing the licensed production and distribution of medical cannabis within the US territory. The new program is anticipated to be operational by year’s end.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro J. Garcia Padilla signed an executive order in May calling on health officials to adopt regulations permitting medical cannabis production and access. Under the new plan, patients who possess a physician’s authorization will be able to obtain cannabis-infused products, such as oils and pills, from state-licensed facilities.
Patients will not be permitted to cultivate their own marijuana and herbal formulations of medical cannabis will not be permitted.
Federal: On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers signed on to a letter addressed to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) requesting a policy change be made to allow veterans to access medical marijuana.
Current law prevents VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana to patients, even in states where it is legal for qualified patients to possess it. Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Daines (R-MT), Merkley (D-OR), and Reps. Blumenauer (D-OR), Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Titus (D-NV) are leading the efforts in reforming this nonsensical policy. If these Senators and Representatives are from your state, consider giving their office a call and thanking them for their work on medical marijuana! You can find your lawmakers contact info here.
Arizona: After a Republican lawmaker this week received hundreds of complaints, he withdrew his bill that aimed to restrict access to medical marijuana in the state.
The bill would have denied physicians practicing alternative medicine such as naturopathy and homeopathy the ability to recommend cannabis therapy.
California: Legislation that seeks to dissuade California cities and counties from enacting municipal restrictions on the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana has been approved lawmakers and awaits the Governor’s signature. Once signed into law, the bill will take immediate effect.
Assembly Bill 21 amends a drafting error in the The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act by removing an apparent March 1, 2016 deadline for localities to establish their own cultivation regulations or else forfeit that authority to the state. It also removes objectionable language authorizing local governments to prohibit patients from cultivating, storing, donating or processing marijuana for their own personal use.
In recent months, numerous California cities and counties have hastily enacted provisional bans on medical marijuana-related activities out of fear that the state would become to sole authority on the issue following the March 1 deadline. Passage of AB 21 states that localities retain the ability to regulate medical marijuana production and commerce in the manner that they see best. The hope is that localities will halt efforts to impose restrictions, and will reconsider existing moratoriums, now that it is clear that local lawmakers will continue to possess the authority to legislate the issue beyond March 1, 2016.
Further information on both pending and enacted local ordinances, as well as talking points to best address them, is available from California NORML here.
Florida: Floridians will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment this November that seeks to permit the physician-authorized use and distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Passage of the amendment would permit qualified patients to possess and obtain cannabis from state-licensed facilities.In November 2014, Floridians narrowly rejected a similar amendment, which received 58 percent of the vote.
Hawaii: Legalization, decriminalization, and hemp measures are all pending in the Hawaii state legislature.
Senate Bill 873 amends the criminal code to remove criminal penalties specific to the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use by those age 21 or older. The measure is presently pending before the House Judiciary Committee.
Senate Bill 596 SD 1 reclassifies possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to a civil violation, punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest and no criminal record.
Senate Bill 2787 encourages the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp for “research and development purposes.”
To find more information on all of these measures, check out our #TakeAction Center here.
Kansas: Members of the Senate will take a floor vote on legislation, HB 2049, to amend various penalties and regulations specific to marijuana possession and use.
House Bill 2049 seeks to a) establish a statewide research program to oversee the production of industrial hemp, b) authorize the limited use of cannabidiol for therapeutic purposes, and c) reduce criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor(punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. Members of the House approved the measure last year.
Maryland: Legislation NORML opposes is pending in the Maryland General Assembly. House Bill 183 and House Bill 334 both seek to recriminalize offenses involving the public use of small amounts of marijuana. While NORML is generally supportive of efforts to dissuade the use of marijuana in public or in a vehicle, these measures are both unnecessary and overly punitive.
Under present law, it is not permissible to consume marijuana in public view. Those who do so are subject to a civil violation punishable by a fine of up to $500.00.
New Mexico: New Mexico has both legalization and hemp measures pending.
House Bill 75 regulates and controls the commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. You can read the full text of this proposal here. Senate Joint Resolution 5 is pending action by the Senate Rules Committee.
For more information on these measures or to take action and contact your lawmakers urging their support for these measures click here.
Vermont: Members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary voted 4 to 1 on Friday, January 29, in favor of pending legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. NORML wishes to thank those of you who contacted the Committee and urged their support for this important and historic legislation.
Senate Bill 241 makes it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and regulates its commercial production and retail sale.
New Orleans: City Councilwoman Susan Guidry has proposed an ordinance change to treat minor marijuana possession offenses the same as minor traffic infractions. Under the proposal, officers would have the option of issuing verbal and written warnings before any penalties kick in. Subsequent offenses would be dealt with through fines that would be capped at $100.
At this time of the year it’s hard to keep up with all of the newly introduced and pending marijuana related bills. Even this week, it was impossible to include every piece of legislation that moved so if you think there was action in your state, be sure to visit our #TakeAction Center to see an update.
I just returned from attending the wake and memorial service held in New York for the legendary civil rights and criminal defense attorney, Michael J. Kennedy. It was truly an inspiring experience, and underscored the crucial role of criminal defense lawyers in society
Kennedy was a giant in the legal profession, a brilliant, creative and compassionate attorney who was drawn to those cases that seemed hopeless and unwinable, because he saw injustice and was compelled to try to help the victims. He had empathy for the less fortunate among us and saw the humanity in even the most despised defendants. They were all created equal in God’s eyes, and in Kennedys mind and soul, they deserved equal treatment.
And he was an unabashedly outspoken “lefty,” as we were called during the contentious cultural battles that led the country out of the war in Vietnam, and provided African Americans the opportunity to claim an equal role in society.
Kennedy was involved in many of the high-profile, political cases arising out of the tumultuous decades that ended the 20th Century. And the wonderfully consistent point of most all of his cases was protecting the individual against the awesome power of the state. He provided a voice for the underdog and the oppressed, and he did it with elegance and style.
The list of his clients during those decades reads like a “Who’s Who” of radical politics. For those younger readers who may not immediately recognize the names or the cases, I encourage you to do a quick Wikipedia search, and learn just how important those people and their causes were at that time.
For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam war, and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, no case was more important than the case of the Chicago 8, the anti-war activists who had been charged with inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The defendants were all prominent anti-war radicals including Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin from the Youth International Party (the Yippies); Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers; and David Delinger from the National Mobilization Committee (NMC). Kennedy represented Rennie Davis in the Chicago conspiracy trial, as well as when he was subpoenaed to testify before the US House Un-American Activities Committee.
And he represented Black Panther Huey Newton on murder charges in Oakland. And Bernadine Dohrn of the then-infamous Weathermen. And a Penobscot Native American arrested for assaulting an FBI agent in Wounded Knee. And members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (the LSD group to which Tim Leary also belonged). And seven young Mexican Americans (Los Siete de la Raza), charged with murdering a police officer in San Francisco.
The list goes on and on and includes many non-famous defendants as well, many of whom Kennedy represented pro bono, because he recognized they were being destroyed by a hostile government that wanted to silence their voices.
Tom Forcade and High Times Magazine
Kennedy also represented Tom Forcade, a marijuana smuggler who founded High Times magazine in 1974. Forcade, who also founded the Underground Press Syndicate to connect alternative newspapers, and whom I first met in Miami Beach in 1972 at the Democratic National Convention selling marijuana to demonstrators from the People’s Pot Tree, once famously said there are only two kinds of smugglers; those who need a fork lift, and those who don’t! Clearly Forcade needed the forklift, and he needed Michael Kennedy to stay out of jail.
Kennedy was the general counsel to High Times from it’s founding to the time of his death. And true to Forcade’s desire that the magazine always support NORML, he continued and expanded their support, making High Times the single largest financial supporter in NORML’s history. It was an enduring partnership that has served marijuana smokers well over these many decades.
In more recent times, as we began to enact legalization measures in more and more states, Kennedy was one of the strongest voices reminding everyone that we must not forget those prisoners who are still in prison on marijuana charges, including a petition for clemency he and his associate David Holland filed with the Obama Justice Department seeking clemency for a number of non-violent marijuana prisoners serving life sentences.
So we lament Michael Kennedy’s passing as a tremendous personal loss for those of us who were fortunate to know him and work with him over these many years, and even more importantly, for the loss of one of the truly great advocates for personal freedom and equality for all people. Michael had a quick Irish wit, and for those who came up against him, a quick Irish temper; but he generally spoke softly, with the knowledge that truth and justice are powerful allies in the struggle for freedom.
It is terribly sad to lose an old friend and political ally, but the memorial service was an appropriate reflection of a life well-lived. Michael Kennedy was an extraordinary individual who could not ignore injustice when he saw it.
This column first appeared on Mariijuana.com.
Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Returns Some Discretion to Judges, Makes Reductions Retroactive
Legislation Now Moves to the House Floor Amid Momentum to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by 30 other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.
“This vote today is a significant step toward reducing the federal prison population,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “We have a bill moving in the Senate, and now we have a companion bill moving in the House, so I’m optimistic we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk in a matter of months.”
The vote comes a few weeks after Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its sentencing reform bill by a 15-5 vote. The Senate bill includes provisions around reentry and recidivism, which the House is expected to address in a separate bill.
Tommy Chong’s “Choice” Cannabis Brand, Upper Playground, SPARC, Christopher Willits, Lynette Shaw Added to San Francisco’s Cutting-Edge Disrupt Conference
This Friday, nationally-renowned technologists, venture capitalists, media publishers, entertainment brands, and leaders in the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry will converge at the groundbreaking New West Summit.
Tommy Chong’s cannabis brand Chong’s Choice, the iconic San Francisco apparel brand Upper Playground, the award-winning SPARC dispensary, musician Christopher Willits, iconic activist Lynette Shaw, and California Assemblyman Rob Bonta are among the many highlights at New West Summit, this Friday and Saturday Nov. 20-21 at the Parc 55 Hotel San Francisco.
New West Summit’s complete program, curated by David Downs, editor of "Smell the Truth" on SFGate.com, includes 30 panels or keynotes, and approximately 80 panelists from across the spectrum of tech, finance, media and the $10 billion marijuana sector.
“The event’s tight focus and expert programming has garnered us significant buzz, and we’re ecstatic at how well this first Summit has come together," said Summit co-organizers Dean Arbit and Jim McAlpine in a press release. "There’s no better time or place in the world to be discussing the intersection of these industries.”
• Special guest and Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana founder Lynette Shaw will receive Lifetime Achievement Honors Friday.