A Tennessee lawmaker blocked a resolution to honor the life of a 17-year-old black girl who was fatally shot in April because, he said, she was allegedly involved in a low-level marijuana sale prior to her death.
Rep. William Lamberth (R) said on the House floor on Tuesday that he couldn’t support the measure because of what “led to this young lady’s untimely demise,” referencing police reports that Ashanti Posey and a friend were involved in a cannabis sale before she was killed in her car.
“Due to the behavior—and I will say choices that she was involved in at the time—I cannot in good conscience vote in favor of this,” he said. “I rise to apologize to her family and friends and say that I do feel in my heart that I wish I could support this resolution, but I simply cannot, given the activity she was involved in that led to her demise.”
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said he could not support the resolution because of Posey’s “behavior” at time of her death. Police say Posey and a friend had just sold marijuana shortly before the shooting, according to our Nashville NBC affiliate. @WMCActionNews5 #tnleg pic.twitter.com/v4cAw0C3Ee
— Brandon Richard (@BrandonLRichard) June 17, 2020
The joint resolution, which had already passed the Senate and required unanimity, failed in the House in a 45-1 vote.
The measure recognized Posey’s academic and athletic accomplishments, volunteer work and advocacy for LGBTQ rights. It states that “we honor the memory of Ashanti Nikole Posey, reflecting fondly upon her impeccable character and her stalwart commitment to living the examined life with courage and conviction” and “we express our sympathy and offer our condolences to the family of Ms. Posey.”
But those aspects of the teen’s life, as far as Lamberth is concerned, are overshadowed by an alleged non-violent drug crime.
“My heart does go out to this family on the loss of life, but to applaud that individual on the House floor, I simply cannot support it,” he said. “Others may very well do so, but I wanted to share my reservations and explain because this family has gone through a loss, and I would probably vote in favor of something honoring them and mourning their loss. I simply cannot honor this young lady’s life, given what she was involved in.”
The lawmaker’s sole “no” vote immediately sparked backlash, with protestors chanting “black lives matter” before being removed from the chamber and arrested. Several lawmakers also walked out in opposition to the vote, according to News Channel 5.
Justin Jones and others in gallery began screaming “black lives matter” and now appear to be placed under arrest by troopers. Chaotic scene outside the House chamber. pic.twitter.com/elNui0aJwH
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) June 16, 2020
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) June 17, 2020
The controversy comes as nationwide protests over racial injustice following the police killings of unarmed black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
At the congressional level, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) similarly disparaged Floyd by writing that Democrats and the media are “deifying druggie & thug for political gain is wrong,” calling the man who died while being suffocated by an officer’s knee a “marijuana user.”
Other lawmakers and officials have taken the opposite approach, arguing that these deaths clearly demonstrate the need pursue drug policy reform and end criminalization in order to minimize police interactions, curb mass incarceration and treat substance misuse as a public health issue.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed the role of marijuana criminalization and the broader drug war in perpetuating racial injustices last week, and they remarked on how black people are significantly more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession compared to white people despite similar rates of consumption.
Two members of the House circulated a sign-on letter last week urging fellow lawmakers to keep marijuana reform in mind as a way to further promote racial justice while they debate policing reform legislation.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom described his states’s legalization of marijuana as a “civil rights” matter earlier this month.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that the passage of cannabis decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests in the wake of police killings of black people such as Floyd and Taylor.
Booker also recently said racial disparities in marijuana enforcement is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last month, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs.
That measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana.
The head of a federal health agency recently acknowledged racial disparities in drug enforcement and the harm that such disparate practices have caused—and NORML asked her to go on the record to further admit that this trend in criminalization is more harmful than marijuana itself.
Meanwhile, the Library of Congress recently posted a collection of racist news clippingss that helped drive the criminalization of marijuana a century ago.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/WMCAActionNews.
Arizona Marijuana Activists Turn In 420,000 Signatures To Qualify Legalization Measure For Ballot
Arizona activists behind an initiative to legalize marijuana have officially turned in what they say are more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Smart and Safe Arizona announced on Wednesday that they submitted 420,000 raw signatures to the secretary of state’s office—one day before the turn-in deadline. They need 237,645 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify.
This marks another drug policy reform success amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced campaigns in several other states to end due to social distancing and stay-at-home requirements.
Advocates joined with three separate campaigns in April to ask the state Supreme Court to order the secretary of state to allow electronic signature gathering, but the request was denied. Even so, the raw numbers signal the legalization effort is in a comfortable position to make the ballot once signatures are verified.
“Arizonans are ready to legalize cannabis and this is the right policy for our state,” Arizona Dispensary Association President Steve White said in a press release. “New jobs and revenue are even more critical, today, than when we embarked on this campaign last year.”
Hi friends! A whopping 420,000 (plus) of you helped us get here. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Next stop, November! pic.twitter.com/Opo8boV1Nh
— Smart & Safe AZ (@SmartandSafeAZ) July 1, 2020
The legalization petition would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
If the measure does make the ballot, recent polling indicates that it will prevail. In a survey of likely voters, about two-thirds (65.5 percent) of respondents said they would support the proposed initiative.
A 2016 legalization proposal was rejected by Arizona voters. But in the four years since, more states have opted to legalize and public opinion has continued to shift in favor of reform.
Here’s a status update on other drug policy campaigns across the country:
Idaho activists behind a medical cannabis initiative are hoping that a federal judge’s recent ruling that would extend the signature turn-in deadline for a separate campaign will apply to them. The state has indicated it will appeal, but if things go in their favor, they could start collecting signatures, including electronically, next week.
The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.
Another Oregon campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has already turned in signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot, though those submissions must still be verified by the state.
Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. They’re receiving assistance from activists who flew in from across the country, including leadership behind Denver’s successful psilocybin decriminalization initiative last year.
A Nebraska campaign plans to submit signatures this week that they hope will be sufficient to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the ballot.
Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate—for the November ballot. The state is currently validating those submissions.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.
Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Ohio Senate Votes To Expand Marijuana Decriminalization To Cover 200 Grams
The Ohio Senate has approved a bill to double the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized in the state and reduce criminal penalties for many other drug crimes.
Following months of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the measure cleared both a committee and the full body on Tuesday. The floor vote was 24–5.
While possession of small amounts of cannabis would still be illegal in Ohio, people caught with up to 200 grams of marijuana (about seven ounces) would face no arrest or jail time under the measure, SB 3. Instead, they’d receive a civil citation and pay a fine of $150.
“Among other criminal justice changes, SB 3 would reduce the sentences for several marijuana offenses, including by doubling the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized,” Karen O’Keefe, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of state policies, told Marijuana Moment.
Existing Ohio law already classifies possession of up to 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of marijuana as a “minor misdemeanor.” Offenses are penalized with citations and civil fines of $150. By law, officers are only supposed to arrest people for cannabis if they refuse to provide identification, won’t sign the citation or pose a health and safety risk, but critics note that those exceptions open the door to discriminatory police enforcement.
Under SB 3, simple possession would remain a minor misdemeanor, but the qualifying limits would increase. In addition to the new 200 gram cap for marijuana flower, the limit on hash would rise from 5 grams to 10 grams.
The bill states that citations for those offenses would not constitute a criminal record or need to be reported on “any inquiries contained in any application for employment, license, or other right or privilege.”
Anything over the decriminalized amount limits would still incur criminal penalties, such as arrest, possible jail time and a criminal record. SB 3 would, however, downgrade the criminal designations for greater amounts of cannabis.
For flower, 200 grams to 400 grams would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor under the bill, while 400 to 1,000 grams would be a first-degree misdemeanor. For hash, 10 grams to 20 grams would qualify as a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and 20 grams to 50 grams would be a first-degree misdemeanor.
Possession of other drugs would see downgrades under the bill, too, lessening many felony charges to misdemeanors. Judges in some circumstances would be able to pause criminal cases or even dismiss them entirely for defendants who complete drug treatment programs.
“We believe that we have found the appropriate mark in the sand,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Sen. Sean O’Brien (D), told The Columbus Dispatch a day before the vote.
“I think the overarching goal of the bill is to take small amounts of possession that are clearly for personal use and make that a misdemeanor,” Senate President Larry Obhof (R) said. “That’s really been one of the bigger sticking points over the last year as we’ve considered this. What is really the right amount for personal use versus at what number do we then say, ‘You’re not really using this. You’re a trafficker.’ We’re trying to work that out.”
O’Keefe at Marijuana Policy Project applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill Tuesday but lamented that lawmakers still see cannabis as a police matter at all.
“While these are welcome reforms, Ohio lawmakers should listen to their constituents and legalize marijuana,” she told Marijuana Moment. “There is no need for any police-civilian interaction around simple possession of marijuana. Issuing fines for cannabis possession wastes governmental resources and opens the door to unequal policing and abusive encounters. Ohio should follow Michigan’s lead and legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adults.”
Advocates at the beginning of the year intended to put legalization on Ohio’s ballot this November, filing a formal initiative proposal in early March. The effort stalled, however, as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting social distancing measures made signature gathering all but impossible.
Another group of activists, working to put marijuana decriminalization measures on 14 municipal ballots in Ohio, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force state officials to allow electronic signature gathering during the pandemic, but the justices did not take up the case.
Ohio voters in 2015 roundly rejected a push to legalize marijuana for adult use, but some think that’s a poor indicator of the state’s interest in legalizing commercial cannabis. The 2015 measure drew criticism at the time even from traditional allies of reform, many of whom criticized the proposal’s licensing provisions that would give a near monopoly on cultivation to the same investors who had funded the ballot initiative.
“Ohio has once again shown that it is committed to bipartisan solutions to the state’s greatest problems, serving as an example for the rest of the country." @holly_harris on the passage of Senate Bill 3 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. https://t.co/FsgkLYa1sK
— Justice Action Network (@USJusticeAction) June 30, 2020
Despite the slow progress on cannabis reform represented by Senate Bill 3, criminal justice reform advocates praised the bill’s passage by the Senate as a timely response to the issues facing American communities today. Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, said the measure “was not written in this moment, but it is the rare bill that is truly meeting the moment.”
“It will help reduce the prison population, leaving far fewer people at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harris said. “It will save up to $75 million in critical taxpayer dollars as the state deals with a fiscal crisis, and it will eliminate unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses as we work to improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Oregon Drug Decriminalization And Treatment Measure Qualifies For November Ballot
It’s official: Oregon voters will decide in November whether to pass a measure to decriminalize drug possession while using marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded substance misuse treatment services.
The secretary of state’s office announced on Tuesday that activists behind the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act have collected enough valid signatures from registered voters to place the measure on the ballot.
The news comes one day after organizers of a separate Oregon measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use announced that their petitioning drive earned enough support for ballot access, though the state has yet to formally verify those submissions.
Officials said that out of the 163,473 total signatures the drug decriminalization campaign turned in, 116,622 were valid —putting them just over the 112,020 needed to qualify.
“This initiative will save lives, and we urgently need it right now because the pandemic has exacerbated Oregon’s addiction epidemic,” Janie Gullickson, who is a chief petitioner for the measure and is the executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, said in a press release.
BREAKING: IP 44 has qualified for the ballot! Oregon voters will now have the chance to vote for a more humane and effective approach to drug addiction. More here: https://t.co/sD5dWeSaZS #orpol #moretreatment pic.twitter.com/mGB5GOsbih
— More Treatment. A Better Oregon. (@moretreatment) July 1, 2020
The proposal places an emphasis on expanding drug treatment programs through the use of funds derived from existing cannabis tax revenues. It would also reframe drug addiction as a health issue by decriminalizing illegal substances. Low-level possession would instead be considered a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine and no jail time.
There were 8,903 drug simple drug possession arrests in the state in fiscal year 2018, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission—or more than one every hour.
“Oregon law enforcement need to stop making these kinds of arrests, targeting our communities, and ruining lives by giving people criminal records,” Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon, which is endorsing the measure, said. “The need for this measure is more urgent right now more than ever, because jails and prisons have turned into contagion hotspots during the pandemic.”
The initiative has also been endorsed by more than 50 other organizations, including ACLU Oregon, United Seniors of Oregon, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Oregon State Council For Retired Citizens, the NAACP of Eugene, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Action. Two currently serving district attorneys and two former U.S. attorneys have also backed the measure.
Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last week that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
In Washington, D.C., a campaign to decriminalize a broad range of psychedelic substances is nearing the end of its signature drive.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative could get a second wind after a federal judge said last week that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives for the November ballot.
Nebraska activists are approaching a deadline this month to submit signatures for a proposed medical cannabis initiative.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort asked the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office. That request was denied, but advocates are still optimistic about the chances of making the ballot.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.