It’s now month three of the 2017 legislative sessions around the country and NORML activists are still at state capitols fighting for cannabis rights. This month’s national NORML chapters conference call featured updates from Colorado, Delaware, Wisconsin, Georgia, Washington state and Washington DC.
Denver NORML executive director, Jordan Person, reported the most exciting activist news out of Colorado has to do with senate support for SB184, a bill to allow cannabis social clubs with onsite consumption. After a mixed result in last year’s local Denver elections for Initiative 300, a local Denver cannabis club ordinance, activists had not expected to gain traction at the state capitol. Person called the bill “a godsend.”
Denver and state chapter NORML members joined other activist groups at the capitol for their annual Lobby Day on March 7th. Over 30 activists showed for the event and every state senator got at least one visit. While none of the participants had prior lobbying experience, the sheer number of visits had tremendous impact. Influential Republic party leader, Senator Chris Holbert, a longtime opponent to the cannabis movement, made a public about-face after meeting with the NORML delegation. “I now have to admit I was wrong about this issue,” Holbert acknowledged and joined in supporting the bill.
Whether coincidence, or by design, the full Senate voted on the bill the following day. The measure won overwhelming approval with a 25-10 vote. The cannabis club bill now heads to the Colorado state House of Representatives where it has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
In Olympia, where local activists employ a full-time lobbyist to advance legislation, NORML activists reported on the progress of two bills. HB1212, an employee rights bill, prevents people from being fired for off-hours cannabis use; and HB1092, which allows Washington residents to grow up to 6 plants and keep up to 24 ounces of usable marijuana at home. Washington NORML executive director and national board member, Kevin Oliver, explained this is the first time their group has seen a home-grow bill get so much positive attention.
As could be expected, local marijuana industry groups have challenged the bill, citing law and order concerns. Though neither bill has yet to be assigned to committee, Oliver points out that even if the bills do not succeed in the 2017 session, they will be considered pre-filed for the 2018 term. “We are prepared to spend a lot of time and energy this summer working on the legislators to get them on board for next year,” Oliver assured the chapters.
Last week, during their lobby day in Olympia, 50 people attended Washington NORML’s lobby training and over 60 showed up altogether. Oliver warned that the capitol now has outside lobbyists trying to work the legislators to remove the residency requirement for owning Washington cannabis operations.
National chapter coordinator, Kevin Mahmalji, echoed Oliver’s concern about changes to the residency requirement. Mahmalji cautioned allowing out-of-state ownership of Washington-based cannabis companies could draw unwanted attention from the DOJ, since such a move might be seen as violating the Cole Memo requirements that state-sanctioned marijuana programs stay within their borders. Denver-based Mahmalji acknowledged that Colorado had originally had a similar residency requirements, which they have since dropped.
Delaware and Wisconsin
In Delaware, Mahmalji noted, NORML activists also held their lobby day this past week and met with Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Margret Rose Henry, who is working on a yet-to-be-filed legalization bill.
Meanwhile in Wisconsin, strong polling for full legalization led to several bills being filed this session. The majority of attention is focused on Assembly Bill 49, a Republican bill lead by state Senator Van Wanggaard and state Representative Scott Krug, and supported by literally dozens of co-sponsors. The measure expands Wisconsin’s restrictive 2014 CBD oil-only medical program. The 2014 bill, known as “Lydia’s Law” was named for Lydia Schaeffer, a child who died before she could try cannabis oil. Though a similar bill died in committee in 2016 after initial broad support, in early February the bill had near-unanimous support in the Senate and passed 31-1, and then passed through the state Assembly this week, 98-0. Governor Scott Walker has said he will sign the bill.
Mahmalji rounded out the state updates with news from Georgia. Peachtree NORML’s Sharon Ravert reported a total of 97 Georgia activists attended their lobby day, February 27th, to promote Representative Allan Peake’s HB65, a bill expanding Georgia’s extremely restrictive cannabis oil laws. As we reported last week, the bill cleared the Georgia House after dropping PTSD and chronic pain from the list of qualifying conditions. AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, autoimmune disease, epidermolysis bullosa, HIV, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome are still included.
Ravert notes that several NORML members were able to give testimony on HB65 during the hearings, but notes the organization is also increasing its focus on the criminal justice aspect of Georgia’s marijuana laws and hoping to include medical card reciprocity into the next wave of reform. Among bills that have already stalled this year, HR36 could give the public a chance to vote on creating a full-fledged state medical program, and SB105 which aimed to defelonize possession up to 2 ounces. The medical program bill is now prefiled for the 2018 session and will get another chance next year.
While Peachtree NORML is still facing stiff opposition at the capitol, the organization made recent progress at the municipal level in the Atlanta area. Thanks to their efforts the City of Clarkston, GA recently decriminalized possession of up to one ounce with a $75 fine. Ravert and crew have also spent the past seven months with the Atlanta City Council trying to get them to follow Clarkston’s example. She expects the new provisions to be in place by April and is already working to add expungement of previous cannabis arrests to next year’s crop of legislative proposals. Lastly, Ravert added Georgia Democrats are widely expected to make cannabis reform a key issue in next year’s gubernatorial race.
After the state-level lobby day wrap up, business moved on to updates on last month’s announcement launching NORML’s new Workplace Drug Test Coalition. The working group is still holding weekly conference calls to work out the complicated messaging, but activists look to Oregon’s SB301 as a model of employee protections. In Colorado, activists are already circulating the current draft of NORML’s upcoming white paper on the topic.
At the national level, NORML is, of course, closely working with the newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus on the five federal bills currently idling in subcommittees at the capitol. NORML political director, Justin Strekal reported the two bills of greatest interest right now are H.R. 1227, a bipartisan effort to remove cannabis from the Federal Controlled Substances list and Dana Rohrabacher’s refiled H.R. 975, which calls for the federal government to respect states’ rights when it comes to marijuana law.
Strekal explained that House Judiciary Chair, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte has stymied progress thus far this session. The next big focus will be on renewal of the annual Appropriations Bill and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which currently prevents funding for federal enforcement of cannabis laws on companies participating in state-sanctioned marijuana programs. The amendment expires at the end of April. Strekal believes it will be extended till September when Congress takes up the Appropriations Bill as a whole. In its next iteration, Strekal noted the amendment would be known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, after Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Rohrabacher’s co-founder of the Cannabis Caucus.
Chapters coordinator Mahmalji reminded listeners that NORML posts Action Alerts on state and federal legislation and, in addition to promoting HB1227 and HB975, there is a new action alert asking more congressmen to join the Cannabis Caucus. Finishing up, Mahmalji encouraged NORML chapter leaders and members to prepare for next fall’s National NORML Lobby Days Sept 11th and 12th. The event should take place right in the middle of an anticipated budget battle.
Until then, if you would like to know more about the NORML chapters in your area, try the link below.