Tag Archives: Decriminalization

Tenn. Medical Pot Decriminalization Bill Passes Criminal Justice Committee

A significantly-amended reworking of the Medical Cannabis Only bill HB 1749 passed the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 9-2. The bill decriminalizes the possession of medical marijuana by individuals with qualified medical conditions and a doctor’s prescription, but falls short of providing access to the medication in-state.

Truth in Media reported last month that the more robust original version of the bill had passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee with Republican Speaker Beth Harwell’s tying vote.

The qualifying medical conditions under the bill include cancer, HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, severe arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, or chronic or debilitating diseases.

While the original version of the bill would have provided a legal marketplace for medical pot, bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) stripped the bill of language related to marijuana access and focused on decriminalization due to fears that he would not get the votes needed to pass the Criminal Justice Committee. “You’re always working to meet the needs of the individual committee that you’re in,” he told The Tennessean. Faison also complained that medical pot opponents in the state are “stuck in Reefer Madness.”

While speaking on behalf of the decriminalization bill at Wednesday’s committee meeting, Rep. Faison argued, “We have Tennesseans who are illegally alive today, and they’re doing well, but they’re breaking the law. My question is why would we want to have the law be able to arrest these type of individuals or put them in jail or give them a criminal record when they’re fighting to stay alive?”

Reps. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), and Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) voted in favor of the bill.

Reps. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) and Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) voted against the measure.

Lawrenceburg mother Andrea Houser testified at the committee that she needs THC-activated cannabis oil to deal with epilepsy and that alternative pharmaceutical drugs used to treat it had given her 19 kidney stones. “Because of cannabis, I felt normal again. I stopped because I didn’t want to break the law – but my seizures came back… It’s not fun when you’re having a seizure, biting your tongue and choking on blood in front of your kids,” she said according to Fox 13.

“I would rather be illegally alive than legally dead,” she added.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott testified against the bill and said that it would lead to an increase in impaired drivers. “Once you start down this slope, it is very difficult to stop the ball from rolling,” he said according to The Tennessean.

The Knox County Democratic Party issued a tweet criticizing the bill for not going far enough. “By removing all language that referred to the creation of a safe, transparent and accountable business and regulatory model for medical cannabis from his own bill, GOP Rep Jeremy Faison gives TN a choice: Leave to get a prescription or break the law by buying on the black market,” it read.

According to Fox 17, the bill now moves on to the House Health Committee.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said that the Tennessee Senate will delay considering the bill until it passes through committees in the House.

14 Years After Decriminalization, Portugal’s Drug Fatalities Rank Second Lowest in EU

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, replacing criminal penalties with civil penalties and court-ordered stints in drug treatment. As The Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham points out, supporters of the US War on Drugs have in the past offered up gloomy predictions as to the escalating rates of drug use that would eventually befall Portugal as a result of this policy change. However, new research into drug overdose fatality rates by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction demonstrates that Portugal has not suffered under the policy, but instead features the second-lowest drug overdose fatality rates in the European Union.


Meanwhile, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation notes that young adult past-year and past-month drug use, adult drug use, and HIV diagnoses among drug users have dropped since 2001.

Among Portuguese adults, there are 3 drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 per million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the UK, all the way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia. The EU average is 17.3 per million,” wrote Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.

Opponents of Portugal’s policy have in the past predicted that drug use rates would rise in the European country. Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan said of the move, “If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users.

Columbia University Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse founder Joseph Califano once argued that “vigorous and intelligent enforcement of criminal law makes drugs harder to get and more expensive” and that any similar effort to decriminalize drugs in the US “will make illegal drugs cheaper, easier to obtain and more acceptable to use.” Califano continued, “The US has some 60 million smokers, up to 20 million alcoholics and alcohol misusers, but only around 6 million illegal drug addicts. If illegal drugs were easier to obtain, this figure would rise.

Not only have Portugal’s drug use rates dropped and drug fatality rates remained among Europe’s lowest, but the use of unsafe drug alternatives like bath salts and synthetic marijuana has plummeted below use rates in other nations.

Portugal’s national drug coordinator Dr. Joao Goulao, whom Christopher Ingraham credited as the “the architect of the country’s decriminalization policy,” cautioned that “it’s very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalization by itself and the positive tendencies we have seen.” That said, these new numbers challenge the claims of decriminalization’s opponents, who said that Portugal would fall victim to rising drug use rates as a result of the policy.

In September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode challenging the US federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana prohibition and medical marijuana. Watch it in the below embedded video player.


NM Ex-Gov. Gary Johnson Feigns Heart Attack to Mock Anti-Pot Crusader at CPAC

At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference’s marijuana legalization debate, former Republican Governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for president Gary Johnson, a supporter of legalization, faced off against ex-Congesswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, a former nurse who opposes legal pot. In the above-embedded video, Buerkle said, “Let’s talk about marijuana. You have a 1 in 5 higher chance of having a heart attack within the first hour after you smoke marijuana. There are legitimate side effects to this drug.”

Before she could continue, Gary Johnson began clutching his chest and dropped to the floor, pantomiming a heart attack in an obvious mockery of Buerkle’s Reefer Madness-esque claim. The largely college-aged conservative crowd burst into laughter in response to Johnson’s joke.

Said Buerkle in response, “You know, I think the Governor has had great fun with his humor, but it isn’t funny that we’re putting our kids and the future of this country at risk.”

However, Buerkle’s argument that marijuana is putting college students at CPAC at a 1 in 5 increased risk of having a heart attack one hour after marijuana use is a significant mischaracterization of the findings of a Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School survey, published by Circulation, of 3882 acute myocardial infarction patients who were asked about their marijuana use around four days after suffering a heart attack. The study’s findings did not suggest that perfectly healthy college students have a “1 in 5 higher chance” of suffering a heart attack within an hour of smoking marijuana. A more realistic characterization of the study would be that its findings suggest that there may be a possibility that someone already at risk of heart attack could face an increased risk, similar to that associated with sexual intercourse or strenuous exercise, of that heart attack occurring within one hour of smoking.

Another study by Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, published in the American Heart Journal after the one mentioned by Buerkle, tested this theory further and found no statistically significant increase in mortality for acute myocardial infarction patients who habitually used marijuana.

Philly Mayor Says He Will Sign Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

In recent years, a tidal wave of public opinion has risen against the prohibition of marijuana, as more and more cities and states are considering decriminalization or even outright legalization of the plant. State after state has approved medical cannabis. Yet, despite this political movement, many harsh marijuana prohibition laws remain on the books, placing the US in the lead worldwide in imprisoning its own population as non-violent marijuana users continue to fill penitentiaries across the nation.

In response to this changing tide, Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney recently introduced a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $25 fine. In the original version of the bill, this penalty would have worked similarly to a parking ticket. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter asked the council to amend the bill such that marijuana possession would be considered a non-summary civil offense, meaning someone caught with pot would still have to stand before a judge. However, the infraction would not appear on the cited individual’s criminal record. CBS Philly is reporting that, on Monday, Mayor Nutter agreed to sign the amended bill if it passes.

The City Council will vote on Mayor Nutter’s amendment this Thursday and will then vote on final passage of the bill the following week. It is expected to pass. If it does, it will then be sent to Mayor Nutter, who has agreed to sign it into law.

Councilman Kenney described how the decriminalization bill would work in practice, “We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm. There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record. Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this. People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.” The bill would also adjust penalties for smoking marijuana in public, which would be punished with either a $100 fine or community service.

Kenney said, according to CBS Philly, “There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step. We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.” Councilman Kenney said the bill would help the city’s police force cut costs by nearly $4,000,000 and would reduce the number of arrests in Philadelphia by around 4,000.