Breaking marijuana reform news: Updates – PA Senate medical marijuana hearings; Philadelphia decriminalization; federal trials
Updated at 4:20PM Philadelphia – Marijuana law reform is rapidly gaining momentum in the Keystone State. Hearings at the Pennsylvania Senate Law and Justice Committee on the bi-partisan medical marijuana bill SB1182 commenced today at 10:30AM. Patients, advocates and medical experts offered heart-wrenching testimony; including USMC Veteran and PhillyNORML co-chair Mike Whiter.
“Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day because of PTSD,” said Whiter, “Marijuana can curb this epidemic and cut down on over prescription of narcotic pain killers and other harmful chemical medication.”
UPDATE 4:20pm – Senators John Blake (D), Donald C White (R), Michael Stack (D), John N. Wozniak (D), Christine M. Tartaglione (D), Judith L. Schwank (D) and Anthony Williams (D) signed on as new SB1182 medical marijuana co-sponsors today following the hearing. The bill now has fourteen co-sponsors.
Philly considering big shift for marijuana enforcement
President Obama recently alluded to the racial and class disparity of marijuana arrests. The issue has always been a core argument from NORML for full legalization. For the last seven years PhillyNORML has produced a report on local marijuana arrests and distributed it to city and state elected officials as well as the press. The disturbing trends in marijuana prohibition enforcement have been undeniable.
Read the most recent report: http://www.phillynorml.org/2013/09/26/media-alert-marijuana-arrests-philadelphia-2012-racial-disparity-continues/
Now Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney is taking much needed action, introducing a bill last week that could greatly alleviate the arrests and save the city millions of dollars every year.
Philadelphia has a mandatory custodial arrest procedure for any amount of marijuana. That means more than 4200 residents are handcuffed and taken to a holding cell for small amounts of marijuana. This harsh policy is almost unique to the city compared to the rest of the Commonwealth.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and District Attorney Seth Williams expressed support for the measure in recent interviews.
Kenney’s legislation would downgrade marijuana possession to a disorderly person’s offense; instead of an arrest offenders would get a ticket and a $200 fine. Hearings are expected in City Council and there may be a vote on the bill by spring.
“This could be a real, tangible change for marijuana consumers in Philadelphia,” said PhillyNORML co-chair Chris Goldstein, “There is no reason to put thousands of young black men into handcuffs every year over a small amount of cannabis.”
Smoke Down Prohibition trials continue
After several procedural delays PhillyNORML co-chair Chris Goldstein and military veteran activist Don DeZarn appeared before federal magistrate Judge Jacob Hart on Monday January 27, 2014.
The pair were issued second citations during the Smoke Down Prohibition marijuana legalization event on August 31, 2013 at Independence Hall National Historic Park. The US Attorney ordered the pair to appear in federal court in lieu of a simple fine.
After a brief hearing Judge Hart upheld the citations against both men. Judge Hart and the US Attorney, Richard Goldberg, refused to offer them a simple fine, instead a separate sentencing hearing will be set at a future date.
Goldstein and Don DeZarn were ordered into “pre-sentencing” evaluation and must perform a full financial disclosure, a 30-minute interview with a court officer and a visit to their homes.
Judge Hart took time to note that the federal sentencing regulations for the single joint included no “upward limit” to the possible fine imposed and that a sentence could include six months in federal prison.
The US Attorney attempted to have the pair banned from the park but that motion was denied.
Legal defense fund for attorney fees and fines here http://www.gofundme.com/sdp420
There are more than 750,000 marijuana possession arrests each year but less than 5% of those possession arrests occur on federal property.
Smoke Down Prohibition protests began as consistent, monthly gatherings in December 2012. The crowd assembled at an outdoor area of the park designated as “The People’s Plaza” within sight of the Liberty Bell, The Constitution Center, The First Presidential Mansion and Independence Hall. The hour-long events have always been publicly announced weeks in advance. The rally has been very consistent with forty-five minutes of speeches, music and comedy then fifteen minutes for a brief civil disobedience action.
Dozens of notable advocates have given spoken at SDP protests in 2013 including : PA gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis, National NORML Board member Diane Fornbacher, Neill Franklin from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Jim Miller and Ken Wolski RN from the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ), registered NJ medical marijuana patients Jay Lassiter and Rowyn Capers, Pennsylvania hemp advocate Les Stark, NJ state legislature candidate Don DeZarn, activist Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion and many more.
On April 20, 2013 more than five-hundred people peacefully gathered for the rally; hundreds participated in civil disobedience and then easily disbursed. Video: http://youtu.be/twa9_7_a_c4
From December 2012 until April 2013 the National Park Service Rangers showed tolerance for the group and there were no arrests or citations.
Then on May 18, 2013 there was a sudden shift in law enforcement action against the assembly. More than one hundred National Park Service Rangers, Philadelphia Police, SEPTA Transit Police, US Fish & Wildlife Officers and heavily armed Department of Homeland Security Agents surrounded the event. The US Attorney (federal prosecutor) set up a processing tent and stationed Deputy US Attorneys on site. Dozens of participants were tackled to the ground and aggressively detained on 5/18 simply for the act of lighting marijuana joints.
Undeterred by the encroachments and actions by law enforcement personnel the protesters bravely returned each month since. Participants showed a strong commitment to peaceful, non-violent action by continuing in a civil manner. The massive, multi-agency police response to the small group of marijuana advocates has re-appeared in June, July, August, September, October and November.
Approximately 30 citations were issued from May to December 2013 by Park Rangers. Thousands participated in the events.
CONTACT: Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731 firstname.lastname@example.org