On October 2nd, 2013 I attended a NORML meeting in downtown Phoenix. The NORML committee stands for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. The organization has two main goals, the decriminalization of marijuana and the legalization of marijuana. As I entered the meeting, there was about fifty people in attendance ranging in age anywhere from eighteen to seventy.
The first speaker scheduled was a man named Al, who was going to be showing a demonstration on how to make Canabis oils. The NORML group also has weekly farmers markets where they can “donate” medicine to patients in the return of a set donation (because is not not legal to sell marijuana the terms are phrased as a donation to avoid legal intervention). The meeting then moved to an overview of one of the board members (Eric) trips to Amsterdam. He stated that Marijuana was not legal in Amsterdam, it’s just very very low on the police’s enforcement list. So low that it is overlooked and even sold in the local coffee shops. I also learned that Amsterdam’s prison population is so low (speculatively because of their relaxed drug laws) that they recently closed down four major prisons because there were not enough inmates. Might I add that their crime rates are shockingly low also. They then related this to Arizona where any possession of marijuana without a medical card is a felony charge, and that over 80,000 people spend the night incarcerated in Arizona each night. Recent studies show that our prison population is constantly climbing, yet the prison budget is not and it is our tax payers money paying to house these inmates (Pew Center on the States. 2009. One in 31. Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts). “Serious, chronic and violent offenders belong behind bars, for a long time, and the expense of locking them up is justified many times over. But for hundreds of thousands of lower-level inmates, incarceration costs taxpayers far more than it saves in prevented crime” (www.pewcenteronthestates.org/publicsaftey) . Being that marijuana use is generally a non-violent activity, how can we hold possession as a felony charge? Such a charge could ruin someones life simply for being in possession of a harmless plant just because somewhere, at one point, someone decided they didn’t like it.
Next, the board members reminded members of the petition they were gathering signatures for and gave them a few ideas on where to gather these signatures. ( the state fair, outside the DMV, outside concerts and events). They reportedly gathered 500 signatures outside the Dave Chapelle show (I wonder why they chose that event…), and they need a total of 300,000 signatures to get an initiative on the legislature ballot to legalize and or at least decriminalize marijuana. They are promoting “Marijuana is safer than Alcohol” as their slogan. Already, Arizona has a 59 percent approval rate for the legalization. They then brought up the current decriminalized laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where marijuana possession is considered a civil infraction. Fines range from 25$ to 100$ with no incarceration. Classifying possession of marijuana as a civil infraction is a great way to decriminalize if legalization is out of reach. Sure the fines are not outrageous, but they get the point across that the substance still isn’t legal and people would still think twice about using it. Not to mention the thousands of dollars it would save the states in legal, and prison costs!