To say 2011 was a busy year would be an understatement. Following up on the strong but losing campaign of the Prop. 19 legalization initiative, Cal NORML began the year with statewide activist conferences to plan the future of marijuana reform in California. As the year progressed, our energies were increasingly tied up in defensive efforts to combat mounting challenges from local, state, and federal authorities: bans and restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation, hostile legislation in Sacramento, and a full-fledged federal crackdown from the Obama administration. Prospects for reform nonetheless strengthened as legalization picked up unprecedented support from the California Medical Association, the national Gallup poll, and the first-ever prohibition repeal bill in Congress.
This year started off with Cal NORML’s “Next Steps for Legalization” conference in Berkeley, where activists and officials from across the state were invited to a post-Prop. 19 discussion. Response was so favorable that we held a follow-up conference in LA co-sponsored by DPA, ASA and MAPS. By year’s end, participants in the conferences had submitted no less than five initiatives for the 2012 ballot.
Reform efforts fared disappointingly in Sacramento this session. While the legislature failed to pass two bills (SB 129 and AB 1017) strongly supported by Cal NORML, it handily passed a pair of anti-dispensary bills. AB 1300, by Assemblyman Blumenfield (Van Nuys), which gives local governments unambiguous power to restrict and regulate medical cannabis collectives, was signed by Gov. Brown. Thankfully, Brown vetoed the second bill, SB 847 by Sen. Lou Correa (Anaheim), which would have banned collectives near residentially zoned areas.
Cal NORML was invited to testify in support of another bill by Sen. Ron Calderon (Montebello), which would have created a commission, including patient advocates, to propose a legal, regulated system for medical marijuana distribution analogous to that in Colorado. The bill didn’t pass, but California NORML worked to organize activist groups and allies throughout the state to develop a unity proposal for a legal distribution system for medical marijuana, in the hopes of pre-empting other, more hostile proposals from law enforcement and local officials.
Hostile local governments mounted an escalating offensive against Prop. 215, enacting a flock of nuisance ordinances to restrict or ban patient cultivation and collectives. NORML activists fought cultivation bans or restrictions in the city of Redding and the counties of Butte, Fresno, Tehama, Kern, Lassen, and elsewhere. In an important test case, Cal NORML attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging a Tehama County ordinance severely curtailing patients’ right to grow for personal use. The ordinance was upheld by a lower court, but is being appealed by attorneys J. David Nick and Edie Lerman, who argue that it is an unconstitutional violation of Prop. 215. In other cases, Cal NORML deputy director Ellen Komp lobbied local officials against cultivation bans, successfully scotching a proposed outdoor ban in Roseville.
Elsewhere, Cal NORML supported local activists in referendum drives aimed at repealing restrictive ordinances. In San Diego, where Cal NORML testified against a highly restrictive ordinance that would have outlawed almost all of the city’s collectives, local activists launched a referendum drive that succeeded in forcing the city to repeal the ordinance. Cal NORML supported a similar petition drive by Butte County activists, who succeeded in forcing the county to hold a June 2012 ballot referendum on a controversial ordinance sharply restricting collectives and cultivation. NORML members also assisted with successful referendum drives in San Jose, and Kern and Lake Counties.
The ongoing federal war on marijuana took most of our attention this year. In Congress, the year began on a positive note with the introduction of the first-ever bill to legalize marijuana, the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act” by Rep. Barney Frank (MA) and Ron Paul (TX), along with Californians Rep. Barbara Lee (Oakland) and Dana Rohrabacher (Orange County). However, prospects for passage of any reform measure remain firmly blocked by the conservative Congressional leadership.
In May, Cal NORML organized a protest in Sacramento against the imprisonment of Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, who were sentenced to a five year mandatory minimum for three modest gardens totaling 100 plants.
Meanwhile, the DEA flatly rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use. The petition, filed in 2002 by the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis, of which Cal NORML is an active member, was rejected only after the sponsors sued in federal court for regulatory delay. The CRC is planning to appeal the DEA’s decision imminently. In an important new development, the governors of Rhode Island, Washington, and Colorado announced that they are filing rescheduling petitions as well. Cal NORML is calling on Governor Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris to join in support.
The number one highlight – or lowlight – of the year was undoubtedly the federal crackdown on medical marijuana, announced by the four U.S. attorneys of California. Cal NORML received word of the crackdown before it was announced on Oct. 7th and played a leading role in organizing protests in Sacramento and San Francisco. Cal NORML organized a call-in campaign to the White House, and rallied supporters to protest a fundraising visit by President Obama to San Francisco with reminders of his campaign pledge not to use Justice Department resources to circumvent state marijuana laws.
On Nov. 7th, a group of NORML attorneys including Matt Kumin, David Michael, Alan Silber and Eric Shevin filed a lawsuit against the crackdown in all four federal court districts of California. However, federal judges in Oakland and San Diego declined to block the crackdown, and legal experts concur that there is little chance of stopping it in federal court. The government has already filed forfeiture suits against at least two landlords and forced the closure of scores of facilities, among them the world’s longest-operating dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana.
Advocates point out that California has experienced similar crackdowns before, and that they have never caused more than a temporary disruption. The U.S. Attorneys publicly announced that they did not intend to close the whole industry. Attorney General Holder subsequently affirmed his policy of trying to respect state marijuana laws, especially where “people are acting in conformity with the law, not abusing it.”
The A.G.’s remarks highlight the need for improved state regulations regarding medical marijuana distribution in California, one of California NORML’s major priorities for 2012. Cal NORML helped organize a coalition of advocates to develop a statewide initiative for comprehensive, patient-friendly industry regulation. In the meantime, Attorney General Kamala Harris is reported to be developing a medical marijuana reform proposal for the legislature.
In other news this year:
• Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer was presented the Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in November.
• California NORML put up a Facebook page with the help of our outreach coordinator, Alexa Klingler. The page supplements our website, email alert lists and newsletter to keep supporters informed and activated.
• California NORML published a study estimating that there are now between 750,000 and 1,125,000 legal medical marijuana users in California, with a retail market between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion per year. Marijuana use by teens, highway fatalities, and workplace injuries are all down in California since medical marijuana was made legal in 1996.
• In conjunction with ProjectCBD.org, California NORML also conducted a “Ring Test” to assess the accuracy of the growing number of analytical laboratories that have arisen offering potency testing of cannabis. The study found that THC potency measurements of cannabis samples are generally accurate to within plus or minus 20%. However, the accuracy of measurements for liquid samples and edibles remains questionable. Seven out of the ten labs appeared to perform reasonably well, but three made substantial errors.
PLANS FOR 2012
California NORML fields dozens of requests for information and help by phone and email daily (including evenings and weekends). Many of the callers are not CalNORML supporters but are indigent, seriously ill, and facing the loss of their jobs, their housing, their parental rights, and their freedom.
NORML has been known since the 1970s as a reliable source of information and a resource for those in need. Members and supporters like you make that lifeline possible.
With proper funding, our plans for 2012 are:
• Push hard legislatively in January for SB129, Sen. Leno’s employment rights bill; and AB 1017, Rep. Ammiano’s cultivation decriminalization bill.
• Continue to challenge local cultivation bans.
• Support efforts in cities and counties with pending ballot measures.
• Press for federal rescheduling of marijuana.
• Campaign for employment rights by raising public awareness of the discriminatory nature of urine testing and its ineffectiveness in improving workplace safety. Inform unions, businesses, insurance companies, and government officials about alternatives such as performance testing.
• Support the child custody rights of medical marijuana-using mothers who are responsible parents; assist with legal cases and work towards more enlightened public policy with CPS at state and local levels.
• Redesign our website to make it more user-friendly.
It is Cal NORML’s view that fixing the state’s medical marijuana laws must be an urgent priority. Until the public is confident that the state can regulate medical marijuana, they are unlikely to back adult use legalization.
California needs clear and unambiguous laws legitimizing and regulating the distribution, production, and processing of medical marijuana. Local governments should retain the power to regulate and zone, but not ban, dispensaries.
With this in mind, Cal NORML is actively pursuing efforts to reform the state’s marijuana laws so as to fulfill Proposition 215’s mandate for a “safe and affordable” distribution system, most immediately by way of a 2012 ballot initiative or, failing that, future legislation.
Please give what you can towards our efforts. This is a critical moment for reform in California.
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