December 17, 1998
Increasing Marijuana Reform Legislation
In 1999 State Legislatures
December 17, 1998, Washington, D.C.:
Marijuana law reform will be a key issue of debate within several state
legislatures this year, NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. predicted today.
Stroup said that key political gains made by reformers in 1998 will likely persuade
many state legislatures to take a hard look at all aspects of marijuana law reform, including medical marijuana, industrial hemp, and decriminalization.
"The rising tide of public opinion in favor of reforming our nation's marijuana laws -- as was evident at the November elections and elsewhere -- will not go unnoticed by our state legislators," he said. "It is time for the marijuana reform constituency to reassert ourselves politically, and 1999 marks our best opportunity in several years to move forward with progressive legislation."
Already, several state legislators have announced their intentions to push for marijuana reform in 1999. In Hawaii, Gov. Ben Cayetano announced that he will back legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. New Hampshire Rep. Timothy Robertson (D-Keene) said he will spearhead similar legislation, and also endorsed a proposal to decriminalize simple marijuana possession. "It is silly to prosecute someone because they have a different lifestyle than I do," he said.
The following summaries examine some of the events of 1998 that may likely serve as catalysts for marijuana reform in 1999.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP REFORM
The hemp legalization movement took several pivotal steps forward this year. In Canada, for the first time in over 50 years, hundreds of farmers cultivated and harvested commercial quantities of hemp. In the United States, two large-scale research studies released this year definitively documented hemp's potential as an economically viable domestic cash crop. A state-sponsored study by North Dakota State University ("Agricultural Economics Report No. 402: Industrial Hemp as an Alternative Crop in North Dakota," Kraenzel, et al., July 23, 1998) recommended legislators amend state law to allow for the legal cultivation of hemp for research purposes. A second study by the University of Kentucky ("Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky," Thompson, et al., July 1998) concluded that legalizing hemp production in that state could lead to hundreds of full-time jobs and millions of dollars in worker's earnings. Authors speculated that hemp would rank second only to tobacco products as a cash crop to state farmers, and could yield profits as high as $600 per acre.
Legislators in twelve states debated reform bills this year. Proponents are hopeful that this year's political gains at home and abroad will persuade several states next year to finally pass effective hemp reform legislation. "The studies undertaken in North Dakota and Kentucky demonstrate that research supporting hemp legalization is sound, and the Canadian example serves as a model for implementation," NORML's Stroup said. "These developments provide an ample base for any supportive legislator who wants to enact domestic hemp reform."
MEDICAL MARIJUANA REFORM
Voters approved every medical marijuana proposal put before them on the November ballot, overwhelmingly demonstrating their support for legalizing medical marijuana in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state. This strong showing will likely inspire legislators in additional states to move forward with medical use legislation in 1999. It may also encourage legislators in those states with existing, yet dormant, medical marijuana laws, to devise ways to activate those laws to protect patients.
"National polls and the November vote clearly demonstrate that a majority of Americans from all political backgrounds support legalizing medical marijuana," Stroup said. "This is a politically safe issue for state politicians that is strongly supported by their constituents."
Voters in Oregon voted 2 to 1 in November to reject a proposal that sought to impose criminal penalties for the simple possession of marijuana. The voters retained a 1973 state law decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses.
"The resounding vote by Oregon's citizens rejecting criminal penalties for marijuana smokers should ignite a long-overdue national debate over our current marijuana policies that result in the arrest of over half a million marijuana smokers each year," Stroup said.
Presently, ten states have decriminalized minor marijuana offenses. These laws remove criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession and replace them with a small fine. The last state to approve decriminalization was Nebraska in 1978, and the last state to engage in any serious debate on the subject was New Hampshire in 1997.
NORML TO PLAY AN ACTIVE ROLE IN 1999
Stroup said that NORML plans to play a supportive role in several states' marijuana reform efforts next year, and anticipates providing guidance and expert witnesses at legislative hearings on the issue. Presently, NORML is mailing legislative handbooks outlining strategies on lobbying for effective marijuana law reform to sympathetic state politicians.
For more information on state marijuana reform legislation, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.