Things are moving quickly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in terms of marijuana law reform, and to keep our readers in those two states up to speed on developments, we contacted Chris Goldstein of Freedom is Green in Philadelphia to see what is coming from advocates in the area.
Chris says advocates in PA – and the Philly area in particular – are focused on three main efforts. “1) The Governor Raymond P Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act HB1653/SB1003: We are hosting info sessions, email days and legislative outreach. We do our work on behalf of patients under a statewide group that formed out of PhillyNORML called Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana www.pa4mmj.org . We work closely with local patients, the bill sponsors, the ACLU-PA, the AIDS Law Project along with other groups in our network. Polling shows 8 in 10 residents support the bill and we’re getting ready for hearings in the fall.
“2) Pushing for an end to custodial arrests for pot in Philly: The Small Amount of Marijuana program is a big step for the city and has been a real-world change for cannabis consumers here. So far, Philly has saved $2 million using the new procedure. Just yesterday Pew Research showed that Philly’s city jail population decreased 14% and researchers (as well as the District Attorney, Seth Williams) are crediting the SAM program at helping lower those numbers/costs.
“But when we started our discussions with Philadelphia’s city government in 2009 we pitched a cost savings of $6 million. The city uses a unique and harsh set of procedures for marijuana. No other county in PA requires police to perform a custodial arrest just 30 grams or less of weed. Everywhere else in the state authorities issue summary violations for possession as a ticket with a court date – no handcuffs. But not in Philadelphia. Due to an antiquated 1972 criminal code every summary offense or minor misdemeanor comes with bracelets and a photo downtown.
“Like most cities, Philadelphia also has a disturbing racial disparity to marijuana arrests. Men of color bear the brunt of this harsh prohibition enforcement. By stopping the prosecution of every pot case in the criminal courts with the SAM program the city is seeing about half the savings. If we could stop the custodial arrests Philly would come in line with the rest of PA and save millions more for the Public Safety Budget.
“We’ll continue our dialogue with city and state officials towards that goal.
“3) Diversity and chapter growth is also a major effort at PhillyNORML. We are a big city that is sprawled out. So we are working on more meetings in more places along with concerts and other events.”
“Patients still face a daunting process to get legal medical marijuana in New Jersey,” Chris told us. “Governor Christie’s suspension of the six Alternative Treatment Centers overshadowed an important effort by patients to change the regulations. The Gov’s rules for the program (these were things not in the original law) have removed provisions for home delivery, capped THC at 10% and limited strains to three per dispensary. The proposed and yet un-finalized regulations have also created the first requirement in the country that doctors must be registered with the state.
“The cannabis doctor list is not public. In order to be part of the registry physicians must take special classes in addictive medicines that are not required in NJ to dispense drugs like hydrocodone or morphine.
“There is no timeline yet on the when patient ID cards will be issued. But, under the proposed regulations, each patient must choose only one operating ATC to access all of their cannabis when they apply to the program.
“For patients the best case would be to have an existing doctor willing to fulfill the new registry requirements in order to get 2 ounces (or less) of raw marijuana per month that is 10% (or less) in THC content. Governor Christie has made a promise that the state regulated cannabis will be available to patients by December, but none of the ATCs have commented on the possibilities.
“We are hopeful that some of the most onerous parts of the regulations will change because the best case scenario for patients is to create a medical cannabis program that works.”
Activism moves at a rapid pace, as do political developments across the country. The 420 Times will continue to bring you reports and commentary on all the big stories in the cannabis community.