US States Not Canada Led Way in Decriminalization

US States Not Canada Led Way in Decriminalization
Posted by CN Staff on June 02, 2003 at 08:26:35 PT
By Estanislao Oziewicz
Source: Globe and Mail 
U.S. critics of marijuana decriminalization in Canada are suffering from collective amnesia about the situation south of the border, where a dozen states have decriminalized it, a Washington-based lobby group says. "There seems to be a terrible lapse of memory here," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.U.S. officials, including John Walters, White House director of drug-control policy, have said that liberalizing marijuana laws in Canada will result in more pot crossing the border and will increase drug use.
But Mr. St. Pierre said that beginning in the 1970s, a number of U.S. states, some of them bordering Canada, started moving toward eliminating criminal penalties for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana.A number of studies, including a 1982 report of the U.S. National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, showed no discernible difference in marijuana use in a state that decriminalized it and an adjacent state with harsh penalties."The important point is that the legal change to decriminalization does not, in itself, appear to lead to increases in use," the report says.Under legislation introduced last week by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, possession of up to 15 grams -- enough to roll about 15 or 20 joints -- would be a minor offence punishable by a fine.Young people could face fines of up to $250 for minor possession; adults could be fined $400.According to a state-by-state analysis compiled by NORML and published on its Web site -- -- 12 U.S. states representing about one-third of the U.S. population -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon -- have in effect decriminalized minor marijuana offences.The laws vary, but decriminalization usually means no prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount for personal consumption.The conduct is generally treated like a minor traffic violation: Offenders are given a citation and fined, and their marijuana is confiscated.Colorado law, for example, counts possession of 28 grams or less as a petty offence, which carries no jail time and a $100 (U.S.) fine.In 2000, the latest year for which figures are available, a record 743,000 people were imprisoned in the United States for marijuana offences, 90 per cent for simple possession.All but one of the 12 states have possession thresholds far higher than the proposed 15-gram limit in Canada.Ohio has a 100-gram limit, and all four of those states that bordering Canada (Alaska, 227 grams; Maine, 35 grams; New York, 25 grams; Minnesota, 42.5 grams) have higher thresholds than Canada proposes.Possession of larger amounts is still a criminal offence because it implies an intent to sell.While NORML lists Alaska as having decriminalized, the situation there is confusing.For years, based on a 1975 decision, Alaska's Supreme Court ruling held that under the state constitution an adult could possess marijuana for personal consumption in the home.In 1990, Alaskans voted in a ballot initiative to recriminalize the possession of marijuana, but the result remains cloudy.Subsequent court rulings have upheld the 1975 decision, but the state's highest court has not ruled on the matter, so the law remains ambiguous.According to NORML, this means users are treated leniently even though possession of less than 227 grams may be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000."Clearly, America has had a long, long history with decrim," Mr. St. Pierre of NORML said. "This is nothing new. And the idea of the U.S. drug czar's office portraying this as terrible and culturally shocking is just one of the many disingenuous things about this whole debate."Mr. St. Pierre said that several U.S. municipalities, particularly those with large universities, have also decriminalized simple marijuana possession."For example, Ann Arbor in Michigan has had a $25 fine for an ounce of marijuana or under since 1972," he said. One ounce is equivalent to 28 grams.While marijuana laws can be enforced by both the federal and state governments, states usually prosecute marijuana offences unless federal property is involved or very large quantities and border crossing come into play.U.S. federal law has treated marijuana as a dangerous narcotic, in the same class as heroin, since 1937. It defines marijuana as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.Nevertheless, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California, Nevada and Maine all have legalized medical marijuana. Maryland has reduced the maximum penalty for possession from a year in state prison and a $1,000 fine to a $100 fine in cases of "medical necessity," such as to relieve suffering from cancer treatment and other illnesses.In addition, 21 states have approved resolutions recognizing marijuana's medicinal value.Complete Title: U.S. States, Not Canada, Led Way in Decriminalization, Critics ToldSource: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author: Estanislao OziewiczPublished: Monday, June 2, 2003 - Page A8Copyright: 2003 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Articles & Web Site:NORML Francisco Weeds Out Prison Time for Pot Half-Measure Will Fail Report on Cannabis: Get Whole Story
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #2 posted by u2desire on June 03, 2003 at 07:41:02 PT
Hey is pot still legal in Alaska for personal use?
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by FoM on June 02, 2003 at 15:52:26 PT
Press Release from The Marijuana Policy Project
Federal Office Legalizes Drug Czar's Corrupt Campaign Tactics Date: Mon, 2 Jun 2003
 Dear Friend:Even as the Marijuana Policy Project continues to hammer the White House drug czar's office in the halls of Congress, we just lost our second legal battle in our ongoing "war on drug czar" campaign.The federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) finally issued its ruling in response to our December 4 complaint, in which we charged that federal law prohibits the drug czar from campaigning against marijuana ballot initiatives, as he did this past fall against MPP's initiative in Nevada. We cited the 1939 Hatch Act, which prohibits federal executive branch officials from using their official authority and influence to affect the outcome of an election.The OSC is ostensibly an independent agency that is charged with investigating malfeasance and campaign violations by executive branch officials. Unfortunately, it did not appear to be so independent when it ruled that votes on ballot initiatives are not "elections" and, furthermore, that the Hatch Act only applies to partisan activities. Consequently, the OSC ruled that federal officials can campaign as much as they want on ballot initiatives and -- presumably -- bills in state legislatures.In addition, the OSC stated -- incredibly -- that the drug czar may use taxpayer money to bribe local officials and private organizations to oppose drug policy reform measures in their states. (The ruling found nothing wrong with the drug czar's steering a $3 million grant to Nevada this past fall.)We plan to appeal the OSC ruling.Please visit to view MPP's original complaint and the recent OSC ruling against us.This public battle between MPP and the drug czar is garnering substantial media coverage, including a story today on and a stinging editorial in yesterday's St. Petersburg Times. Please see As luck would have it, the U.S. House Government Reform Committee is expected to vote on Thursday, June 5, on an MPP amendment that would correct the OSC's bad ruling by stripping the drug czar of his power to campaign against future ballot initiatives. If you live in the district of one of the committee members, you should have received a special action alert earlier today that asked you to visit our Web site to fax your U.S. House member.Regardless of where you live, please make a donation to our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill at: The lobbying battle I described above is in addition to the other one we announced two weeks ago, when we alerted our nationwide membership that the drug czar was attempting to grab authority (in the same congressional bill) to use his $195 million TV ad budget for partisan and political purposes. The response from you and other MPP members -- as well as supporters of the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance -- overwhelmed Capitol Hill, causing the committee to postpone its vote by two weeks (from May 22 to June 5).If we lose the vote on these two amendments on Thursday in committee (and then later on the House and Senate floors), this terrible piece of legislation will turn the drug czar's office into the largest campaign operation in the history of the country. And you, an American taxpayer, will be paying for it.If we lose the amendment votes and the bill is allowed to become law, the drug czar will be able to (1) spend $195 million annually on TV ads that explicitly oppose marijuana policy reform initiatives and bills, (2) campaign personally in state after state, and (3) direct federal money to state government officials and private drug treatment people to bribe them to campaign against MPP's legislation and ballot measures. In short, there will be no limit to what the drug czar can do with your money.If you haven't already, please consider donating to our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill at Thank you in advance for your help.Sincerely,Rob Kampia, Executive Director, Marijuana Policy Project, Washington, D.C. P.S. We lost our first legal battle on April 23, when the Nevada state government found that the drug czar is probably exempt from filing any campaign finance reports on the money his office spent to defeat MPP's ballot initiative this past November. We plan to appeal this ruling also.P.P.S. A third -- and perhaps the most promising -- legal battle is still pending. On April 2, Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) filed a complaint against the drug czar with the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. As a result, the GAO is now investigating whether the drug czar's office has illegally used taxpayer money to inspire local law-enforcement officials to lobby in favor of harsher marijuana penalties. MPP is working closely with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who continues to be one of MPP's strongest allies on Capitol Hill.
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment