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West Virginia Voters Reject Marijuana Decriminalization Measure

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Residents of Salem, West Virginia, voted to reject a local marijuana decriminalization measure during a city election on Tuesday.

The defeat, in a vote of 114 to 45, follows a brief legal battle that ensued after city officials removed the measure from the ballot in March, citing concerns that it would conflict with state laws prohibiting cannabis. In response, organizers filed a lawsuit stating that they collected sufficient signatures before the deadline and that the ordinance’s removal constituted a violation of free speech.

A federal judge sided with activists from Sensible Salem WV and ordered the city to put the measure back on the ballot, but he also required the proposal’s backers to pay a $500 cash bond to cover the reprinting costs.

If approved, the measure would have made it so that possession of any amount of cannabis would not carry any fines or jail time as long as the person’s was within city limits. It would still have been considered a misdemeanor, but the ordinance sought to suspend the punishment and also any court fees associated with the charge.

The defeat is not what advocates were hoping for, but they say that it won’t slow their plans to pursue cannabis reform elsewhere.

“We are very disappointed with the results, obviously, however the war is not won or lost in a single battle,” Chad Thompson, executive director of the Sensible Movement Coalition, which is coordinating similar measures across the country, told Marijuana Moment. “The positive here is that we were able to even have this conversation with West Virginians. Clearly that conversation needed to be started. Just like with the rest of America, it will only take time until ignorance is replaced with knowledge and this is where that starts.”

“We are excited to be doing positive education here which will lead to many future victories,” he said. “We currently are working with local activists in four states that are working to organically build grassroots movements and enact policy that stops harm to regular marijuana users.”

If the Salem measure had been approved it likely would have been challenged further in courts, as some argue that individual jurisdictions cannot supersede state law.

The West Virginia Secretary of State signaled that that was the case in a March memorandum, which advocates suspect was the source of the measure’s removal from the ballot. The office determined that “it is likely that an ordinance which otherwise removes penalties for such possession would violate the [West Virginia] Constitution.”

Attorneys representing the campaign said during their court case that the conflict “presents a difficult question under West Virginia law.”

“Plaintiffs do not pretend to know the answer,” they wrote. “Even West Virginia’s secretary of state is uncertain. He is only willing to tentatively say it ‘likely’ does not have that power.”

“What is certain, however, [is] that local elections officials cannot constitutionally and conclusively solve this ‘riddle that even the state’s top lawyers struggle to solve’ before the matter is put to a vote. That is an unconstitutional prior restraint. And it is just as unconstitutional in a non-public form as in a public forum.”

But that memorandum was not legally binding and instead represented an informed prediction about what would happen if a city sought to change local laws that run counter to state law.

Efforts to change marijuana policy locally have been successful elsewhere in the country. The Sensible Movement Coalition has made gains in Ohio, for example, and it’s also targeting South Carolina and Missouri for future measures.

Five Ohio cities voted to decriminalize possession during the November 2018 election, despite the state’s law treating possession a misdemeanor offense.

“The Sensible Movement Coalition originally wrote the no fine, no time language for Toledo,” Thompson said. “It passed over 70 percent. There had not been a ticket written in Toledo for up to seven ounce possession in three-and-a half years.”

“That is why we are spreading across the country, because we are enacting language that is effective,” he said. “We are only enacting ordinances that must be followed by the local law enforcement.”

Read the full text of the defeated Salem, West Virginia marijuana measure below:

Salem WV Ordinance Initiative by on Scribd

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization

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Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.

In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.

NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.

Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.

Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit

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The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.

This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.

The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.

“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”

“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”

Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit  below: 

Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.

The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.

“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.

“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”

“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”

Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”

Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.

“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”

While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.

“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”

A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.

This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.

“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”

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Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot

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Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.

Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.

The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.

Via MedCannabis.

Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.

Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

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