There has been so much excitement in the last month over the cannabis movement and marijuana prohibition reform. Who is legalizing marijuana? Who is not? What are the new laws and how will they affect the cannabis industry? There were significant victories and celebrations over them. It has been a very exciting time for sure. We are all aware by now that 8 more states passed marijuana laws this last election. When coupled with the 2 states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, that passed legislation earlier in the year, 10 more states were added to the count of total states that have some form of cannabis legalization. The grand total is now 29 plus Washington DC, and that doesn’t count the states that have CBD-only laws. But, there are also a lot of important things happening off the radar as well.
Decriminalization, a quiet but stealthy movement towards cannabis reform.
Decriminalization doesn’t get as much face time as a state legalizing marijuana, or voting to open Marijuana Social Clubs might. It’s not seen as exciting or groundbreaking. Nonetheless, it is still a very important part of the plan. There were quite a few laws in various other states that changed this last year, whether through legislation or on election day. Small movements and changes to existing laws that aren’t catching as much attention in the media, but are still very positive step forward in our fight for cannabis reform and I want to tell you about them.
Some states such as Alabama and Louisiana, expanded their current CBD-only laws to try to make the medication more available to patients. Some of the laws lift restrictions that made it difficult for patients to qualify for the medicine or even added new ailments to their overly restrictive lists of approved illnesses. Some made it easier for doctors to “recommend” the treatment to patients.
Many states and individual provinces have also been taking steps towards marijuana decriminalization.
In Kansas City, a measure will go before voters this spring, if the city council doesn’t act on it first, to ease the law and fines for possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana. Currently the possession of up to 35 grams would carry with it a misdemeanor that is punishable by 1 year in jail and $1000 fine. The new law lowers the criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine of $25 with no jail time.
As many as 10 states that are currently operating a medical marijuana program have also decriminalized the personal possession of marijuana if not for medical use. States like Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio have all removed jail time as a penalty associated with small amounts of possession.
Even states where cannabis possession and consumption is still completely illegal they are making headway towards decriminalization.
Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and North Carolina all removed the mandatory jail time provisions from their laws. Decriminalization efforts vary from state to state, but for the most part they all have lessened the severity of the crime by making it a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor as well as lowering the fines that are imposed. This is a big step for a state like Missouri, where a man was finally released, just last year, from jail after serving 21 years of his life imprisonment sentence for possession of marijuana.
When this many different law enforcement entities in all of these different places across the United States are making changes it indicates an overall voice of change in the way that people are thinking. It means that public opinion is changing. And not just that, but that opinion is influencing officials all over the Nation.
Almost two years ago now, in early 2015, Benenson Strategy Group conducted a poll to find out if a measure that “downgrades possession of small amounts of marijuana from arrest and possible jail times to a $25-$100 fine” were available in their respective state, would Americans support it? What they found was that 72% of Americans do believe that decriminalization is a good thing.
The Human Rights Watch group in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union just released a 180 page report showing that the criminalization of drug use is “not the solution” and imploring the Government to “undertake meaningful criminal justice reform’. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that “Roughly two dozen countries, and dozens of U.S. cities and states, have taken steps toward decriminalization”. If we stop focusing our attention on the incarceration of people for the crime of possession, a practice that disproportionately affects people of color and lesser economic status and does nothing to heal the case of problematic drug use, then law enforcement can turn those efforts towards focusing on more serious and violent crimes. Studies have also shown that countries have not experienced any significant increases in drug use after implementing less punitive penalties toward drug possession when compared to countries that still have strict laws.
Considering that, in the United States, someone is arrested for possessing drugs for personal use every 25 seconds these seemingly small baby steps that these states are taking towards marijuana reform are a very important.
These baby steps can still end up making a significant impact on society and to public safety.
It’s good to remember that it is all of the small steps that lead up to the big, monumental progress we make.