The marijuana reform group NORML is leading an effort to encourage states to deprioritize the enforcement of cannabis criminalization amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, more than 4,000 constituents across the country have participated in the organization’s action campaign launched on Wednesday by sending messages to their governors, urging them to take steps to minimize the spread of the virus by avoiding unnecessary marijuana arrests.
NORML created customized email blasts to supporters in all 39 states that have yet to legalize marijuana for adult use. Each one contains a link to a suggested prewritten letter asking the governor to abide by the group’s public health recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Beyond deprioritizing marijuana enforcement, the organization said states should also drop existing charges for nonviolent cannabis violations “in order to reduce non-essential interactions,” review and release those currently incarcerated for marijuana convictions and waive pending probation requirements for cannabis-related cases.
“Enforcing marijuana prohibition is in itself unfair and unnecessary. Enforcing marijuana prohibition during a global public health crisis, even more so,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator at NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “At a time when stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is at an all time high, no one should have the added fear of arrest or expensive fines as a result of low-level possession of a plant during a time when many are experiencing extreme economic hardship.”
“Law enforcement and other correctional personnel are being forced to make physical contact with members of the public solely to enforce an ineffective policy, requiring them to violate social distancing guidelines and in turn detrimentally affect the health and wellbeing of many vulnerable communities. Instead, more common sense, evidence based policies should be put in place to protect the health of everyone, not just some. It’s absolutely essential that state officials deprioritize marijuana enforcement, release those currently serving time for minor possession, and waive and withdraw all pending charges and probation requirements for those solely convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.”
A memo that the group put out in late March made similar points, and it also made recommendations for legal states on how cannabis businesses can safely operate. It also stressed the need to provide the industry with access to federal coronavirus relief funds and banking services. That memo came after NORML issued advice to consumers about best practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of deprioritization, so far no states where cannabis remains illegal or where only medical cannabis is allowed have taken the measure of formally instructing law enforcement to avoid pursuing marijuana offenses.
“I strongly encourage governors and other state officials to work alongside law enforcement agencies to ensure that these emergency actions are taken immediately to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Wolf said.
NORML’s online action page has links to the state-based opportunities to contact governors about reduced cannabis enforcement.