While America’s public support for domestic prohibition of marijuana appears increasingly waning, quantifying the types of marijuana law reforms internationally could constitute a full time job for the eager.
This day’s news alone from overseas about cannabis law reforms strongly suggests that the contagion to end pot prohibition is hardly an America-only phenomena:
Israel – The country’s deputy health minister announced today that medical cannabis will be made available for retail access via commercial pharmacies.
Italy – Cannabis law reform group in Italy claims 250 out of 945 members of Italian Parliament support ending pot prohibition, which is a little more than twenty-five percent of the country’s elected policymakers. Drafted by the Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, the legislation would allow anyone over the age of 18 to cultivate as many as five plants at home. Italians could also team up to form a “cannabis social club,” with each having a maximum of 50 people growing as many as 250 plants.
Surveys in Italy indicate that nearly eighty percent of citizens support the country adopting marijuana laws similar to American states Colorado and Washington.
United Kingdom – A twenty-five year old economics student in the United Kingdom has forced the hand of parliament to debate the issue of marijuana legalization by submitting a petition with over one hundred thousand signatures.
Australia’s Queensland – Joining New South Wales, the Australian state of Queensland took steps to formalize a system by which qualified medical patients can access cannabis products via a series of research trials.
Portugal – California’s Press Enterprise’s editorial board reminds all that the week marks the fourteenth anniversary of the first nation, Portugal, to entirely decriminalize drug use and possession, which is serving as a ‘harm reduction’ model for numerous countries.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 today in favor of an amendment to allow state-compliant marijuana businesses to engage in relationships with financial institutions.
Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon and Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill prohibits the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.
Presently, most major financial institutions refuse to provide services to state-compliant operators in the marijuana industry out of fear of federal repercussions. Their refusal to do so presents an unnecessary risk to both those who operate in the legal marijuana industry and to those consumers who patronize it.
No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Further, forcing state-licensed businesses to operate on a ‘cash-only’ basis increases the risks for crime and fraud.
It is time for Congress to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Today’s Senate Committee vote marks the first step taken by Congress to address these federal policy deficiencies.
Although stand-alone legislation, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, is pending in both the House and the Senate, it appears unlikely at this time that leadership will move forward with either bill. This means that the Merkley/Murray amendment is like to be reformer’s best opportunity this Congress to impose substantial banking reform.
Keep following NORML’s blog and Take Action Center for legislative updates as this and other relevant reform measures progress. To take action in support of the Merkley/Murray amendment, click here here.
Today a Blue Ribbon Commission led by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom released a report providing a total of 58 recommendations for advocates to consider as they move forward to place a legalization initiative on the statewide ballot in November 2016.
California will be joined by a number of other states hoping to legalize marijuana in 2016.
This report seeks to provide regulatory guidance for the state’s forthcoming legalization effort. The commission prefaced its report by stating: “Legalization of marijuana would not be an event that happens in one election. Rather, it would be a process that unfolds over many years requiring sustained attention to implementation.”
The 93-page report addresses policy options on a myriad of subjects, ranging from commercial production to taxation and everything in between. Authors advocate that the four core goals of legalizing cannabis are: promoting the public interest, reducing the size of the illicit market, offering legal protection to responsible actors, and capturing and investing tax revenue. Another predominant theme throughout the report is youth safety. The Commissions states, “A Tax and Regulate policy legalizing marijuana use by adults has the potential to reserve sufficient revenue to provide universal access to programs such as Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) that emphasize learning skills, remediation of academic performance, improved school climate, school retention, peer group interventions, family engagement and more effective drug education, prevention and counseling programs. ”
Notably, the report acknowledges that if California voters were to legalize in 2016, “state officials should engage the federal government, both to ensure compliance with these federal enforcement priorities and to help change other federal rules that may be obstacles to safe legalization at the state level,” signaling that lawmakers intend to bring immense pressure to federal authorities to accommodate state legalization efforts. Specific changes the report wishes to see on the federal level are amendments to banking regulations and IRS rules.
While the report itself avoids explicitly endorsing or opposing marijuana legalization, Lieutenant Governor Newsom has been an outspoken critic of prohibition and is currently the highest office holder in California calling for the plant’s legalization.
Six separate initiatives have been filed in California so far in hopes of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Voters rejected legalization previously in 2010 but a recent poll performed by the Public Policy Institute of California puts support among likely voters at 56%.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with seven other Senators, has directed a letter to the Obama administration demanding regulators answer questions specific to the facilitation of research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
Senators acknowledged the need for unbiased research. They wrote, “While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana, there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana — despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible
by state law to use the drug for medical purposes.”
The Senators applauded a recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate the HHS Public Health Service review process. But they also acknowledged the drawbacks of NIDA’s monopoly on supply of marijuana for research purposes and the need for alternative providers.
Senators also questioned marijuana’s current classification as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law and its classification under international treaties and if the FDA is prepared to call for the reclassification of cannabidiol.
Addressed to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the letter signals to many that medical marijuana is becoming an even more important issue in the political sphere not only to voters but also to their elected officials.
Co-signing the letter with Senator Warren were Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The Senators are seeking a reply to their questions from the administration by August 31.
Legislation to establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state’s nearly 14,000 medical marijuana patients has become law.
Governor David Ige signed the measure, stating, “I support the establishment of dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients can legally and safely access medical marijuana. We know that our challenge going forward will be to adopt rules that are fair, cost effective and easy to monitor. The bill sets a timeline. We will make a good faith effort to create a fair process that will help the people most in need.”
House Bill 321 permits the state “to issue eight dispensary licenses statewide; provided that three dispensary licenses shall be issued for the city and county of Honolulu, two dispensary licenses each shall be issued for the county of Hawaii and the county of Maui, and one dispensary license shall be issued for the county of Kauai. … Up to two production centers shall be allowed under each dispensary license, provided that each production center shall be limited to no more than three thousand marijuana plants. A dispensary licensee may establish up to two retail dispensing locations under the licensee’s dispensary license.”
The state Department of Health has until January 4, 2016 to finalize rules governing the dispensary program. Licensed dispensaries are anticipated to be operational by July 15, 2016. Once operational, qualified patients will be able to obtain up to four ounces of cannabis or cannabis-infused products, such as oils, tinctures, or lozenges, from a licensed provider every 15 days.
A separate provision included in HB 321 also adds post-traumatic stress as a qualifying condition under the state’s medical cannabis law.
Legislation initially enacted by the legislature in 2000 provides qualified patients the legal right to possess and cultivate cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but did not allow for its production and distribution via dispensaries.