The fight to legalize marijuana continues to strengthen in more of the United States. Some of the biggest news of the past week comes from a federal court, where a panel of judges has officially determined that the Justice Department is breaking the law by prosecuting those members of the medical marijuana community operating in compliance with state policy.
Other highlights include efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession in two of the largest cities in Tennessee, as well as some powerful action in California geared toward the reform of the state’s civil asset forfeiture program.
Read all about these developments and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for August 22:
Federal: Court Bans DOJ From Messing With Medical Marijuana
A federal court has ruled that the Justice Department (DOJ) cannot continue bullying the medical marijuana community. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the DOJ and its cohorts over at the DEA could not use federal money to prosecute medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law. The ruling was issued after the court reviewed 10 federal drug cases that were supposed to be protected under a congressional rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. Although the DOJ argued that the rider only prevents them from stopping states from legalizing medical marijuana, a three-judge panel for the court disagreed.
“At a minimum, [the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment] prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote for the panel. “If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana.”
All 10 cases have been sent back to state court to determine whether any laws were actually broken.
Tennessee: Nashville Could Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Nashville could be one of the next cities in the United States to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with the possession of marijuana. A proposed ordinance was recently filed by several members of the Metro Council aimed at making possession of around 15 grams of pot a civil infraction with a $50 fine. As it stands, the offense is a misdemeanor in Tennessee—complete with the possibility of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. However, Nashville lawmakers argue that local resources could be spent more wisely without punishing people for a substance that is becoming increasingly more legal all over the country. Not surprisingly, local law enforcement opposes the measure. The Council approved the measure in its initial reading. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry “is still reviewing the proposed ordinance and its implications but is generally supportive of efforts to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and looks forward to hearing more about this specific proposal,” according to a statement. The proposal now goes before the council committee for consideration.
Tennessee: Memphis Will Also Consider A Decriminalization Ordinance
Memphis City Council Member Berlin Boyd is reportedly gearing up to introduce a proposal aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties for minor pot possession. Similar to ordinances that have passed in other major cities, the measure would allow the Memphis Police Department to simply issue a $50 fine to anyone caught with less than a half ounce of weed instead of dragging them to jail and jamming them up in the criminal justice system. At the state level, this offense is considered a criminal misdemeanor punishable with a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. The goal is to prevent people from having their lives sabotaged over a substance that 33 million Americans are currently using. It is not known yet just what kind of support the measure will receive from the Council, or whether it will be something embraced by Mayor Jim Strickland.
Texas: Lawmakers Vow To Better Marijuana Laws in 2017
The issue of marijuana reform in the Lone Star State is set to heat up during the 2017 legislative session. Reports indicate that the Marijuana Policy Project will bring up the issue of expanding the states low-THC medical marijuana program at the beginning of next year. As it stands, not a single patient can be certified for the program because the word “prescribe” appears in the language of the law. Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing cannabis, but recommendations are protected under the First Amendment. Heather Fazio with the MPP told HIGH TIMES in January that: “We are optimistic that we’ll be able to amend the language to correct this flaw in the law.”
Decriminalization is another issue that will be a hot topic of discussion in the next lawmaking session. Representative Joe Moody is expected to pre-file a bill that could force law enforcement officers all over the state to simply issue tickets for minor pot possession instead of taking people to jail.
California: General Assembly Moves to Change Asset Forfeiture
The California General Assembly recently voted in favor of a bill (Senate Bill 443) aimed at changing the state’s civil asset forfeiture program. The proposal is designed to prevent law enforcement agencies all over the state from taking over permanent possession of cash ($40,000 or less) and personal property without proving in a court of law that the owner is guilty of a crime. A similar measure was fought against in 2015 because law enforcement did not agree with the language. However, the current bill has been the subject of some negotiation, which has prompted police groups to back away from their mission to prevent its passage. Senate Bill 443 now heads back to the upper chamber for concurrence. If everything goes according to plan, it will be on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for a signature before the end of summer.
Wisconsin: Monona Decriminalization Initiative Fails
Voters in Monona will not get decide on the issue of eliminating criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession. The Madison chapter of NORML was unable to collect the 719 signatures necessary to get their proposal on the ballot this November. The ordinance would have allowed the offense of small time possession to be handled with a $1 fine. The group says it will launch another campaign in the near future.
Ohio: Athens Decriminalization Initiative Rejected
An initiative aimed at decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in the city of Athens will not appear on the November ballot. Reports indicate that the Athens Cannabis Ordinance came out two signatures shy of qualifying the proposal for the upcoming election. Supporters turned in over 500 petitions, but officials with the Board of Elections were only able to verify 317 of them—319 were needed to advance to the next level. There is a possibility that supporters will contest the Board’s decision.
Arizona: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Safe for November Ballot
A ballot measure headed up by the folks at Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been given the green light by a judge to proceed to the next phase of their campaign. Last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a case calling for the disqualification of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) initiative due to alleged questionable practices during its signature collecting process. The judge disagreed that the group had bamboozled the voting public in order to gather the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot—giving Proposition 205 the freedom to appear before the voters later this fall.
“We are pleased with the court’s ruling and that Arizona voters will be able to exercise their right to vote on Proposition 205,” said CRMLA Campaign Chairman J.P. Holyoak. “This was a frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit. If these county prosecutors dislike this ballot measure, they should take their arguments to the voters, not to our overburdened court system. We hope they will accept the court’s ruling and return to waging legal battles against dangerous criminals rather than citizen initiatives.”