Missouri: Lawmakers Reduce Marijuana Possession Penalties, But Legal Relief Still Remains Years AwayMay 21, 2014
Legislation revamping Missouri’s criminal code became law last Tuesday, absent the signature of Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon.
Lawmakers and advocates spent some eight years drafting the legislation, Senate Bill 491, which significantly revises the state’s criminal code for the first time in over 30 years. Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets served on the Missouri Bar Association Committee that authored many of the criminal code revisions.
Provisions in the measure amend marijuana possession penalties. At present, the possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis is classified as a Class A criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a one-year incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Under SB 291, the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis will be reclassified as a Class D misdemeanor (the lowest criminal classification available), punishable by a fine, but not the possibility of jail time. However, the possession of greater quantities of cannabis will remain a Class A misdemeanor offense.
In 2010, Missouri police made nearly 18,500 criminal arrests for marijuana possession offenses, one of the highest totals in the country.
Separate provisions in the bill amend Missouri’s “prior and persistent drug offender” law. The changes eliminate the mandate that persons convicted of a drug felony offense for the third time are not eligible for probation or parole.
Unfortunately, despite the passage of SB 491, Missouri residents ought not to expect legal relief any time soon. That is because the changes to the Missouri criminal code do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. Consequently, local activists are continuing their push for a potential 2016 legalization initiative.
State lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 155, to fund observational and clinical research assessing the safety and therapeutic efficacy of cannabis. Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law today.
The measure establishes a subaccount of up to $10 million within the state’s medical marijuana program fund to be utilized specifically for the purpose of conducting state-sponsored cannabis research. The intent of this new research program is to “gather objective scientific research regarding the efficacy of administering marijuana and its component parts as part of medical treatment.” The law also establishes a ‘scientific advisory council,’ which may include expert participants from around the nation, to evaluate research proposals and make recommendations in regards to funding requests.
“SB 155 invests the dollars collected from medical marijuana fees into a meaningful effort to study the therapeutic and medical benefits of the drug,” stated Democrat Rep. Crisanta Duran, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Huffington Post. “Patients will benefit from this investment and Colorado will become a national leader in developing medical marijuana research.”
In recent years, only one state — California — has previously earmarked state funding to explicitly sponsor clinical cannabis research. That program, established at various universities statewide, funded numerous clinical trials over the past decade evaluating the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. A review of these trials published in The Open Neurology Journal concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
Earlier this month, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publicly announced in the Federal Register that it is increasing its marijuana production quota from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms (about 1,443 pounds) in order to meet increasing demand for the plant from clinical investigators.
Federal regulations permit a farm at the University of Mississippi to cultivate set quantities of cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. Regulators at the DEA, the US Food and Drug Administration, PHS (Public Health Service), and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse must approve any clinical protocol seeking to study the plant’s effects in human subjects — including those trials that are either state or privately funded.
South Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 839, reclassifying varieties of cannabis possessing minute quantities of THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The measure states, “It is lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce, or otherwise grow industrial hemp in this State to be used for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to, the manufacture of industrial hemp products, and scientific, agricultural, or other research related to other lawful applications for industrial hemp.”
Members of the Senate voted 42 to zero in favor of the bill. House members late last week also approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 28. Senate Bill 839 now awaits action by Republican Governor Nikki Haley.
In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill (aka the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since that time, lawmakers in five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation allowing for state-sponsored hemp cultivation.
On Monday, Illinois Senate members unanimously approved similar legislation, House Bill 5085, in their state. Members of the House had previously voted 70 to 28 in favor of an earlier version of the bill. Once both chambers agree to concurrent language, the measure will go to the Governor’s desk.
In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.
Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. State officials designed the program to be compliant with Section 7606 of the federal farm bill. A federal hearing in the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, May 21.
According to the U.S. Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.
Minnesota House and Senate lawmakers, along with Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton, agreed late last week to legislation that seeks to provide access to limited preparations of cannabis to qualified patients.
The finalized language represents a compromise between dueling House (House File 1818) and Senate bills (Senate File 1641), both of which had passed their respective chambers. On Friday afternoon, House lawmakers approved the compromised bill by a vote of 89 to 40. Members of the Senate voted 46 to 16 for the amended measure, sending it to the Governor’s desk.
Under the plan, state regulators intend to license two producers of cannabis and up to eight distribution centers. To be eligible to participate in the state’s program, patients need to possess a physician’s recommendation and be diagnosed with one of eight qualifying conditions (cancer/cachexia, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, seizures — including those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms — including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis, and/or Crohn’s Disease) and/or a terminal illness, and be registered with the state Department of Health.
Unlike other state medical cannabis programs, the Minnesota plan does not permit qualified patients to possess or obtain whole-plant cannabis. Instead, the forthcoming law mandates that state-licensed distribution centers provide oils, pills, and/or extracts prepared from the plant. Such products would be subject to laboratory testing for purity and potency. Patients’ health care provider must compile ongoing reports in regards to their patients’ progress.
Cannabis-based preparations are expected to be available to qualified patients by no later than July 1, 2015. Additional details on the forthcoming program are available here.
Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration ordered that 250 pounds of hemp seed be seized at Louisville Airport in Kentucky. The seeds were being imported by the Kentucky government from Italy to plant at state universities in their hemp pilot program. Kentucky legalized industrial hemp in 2013 and the federal government approved legislation this year that allowed states to engage in limited hemp cultivation.
When the DEA refused to return the seeds under reasonable conditions, the Kentucky Agriculture Department filed suit against the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Attorney General Eric Holder.
On Friday, there was a preliminary hearing regarding the lawsuit. During the hearing, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II stated that the DEA must explicitly state what would need to be done for those participating in the pilot program to have the seeds returned. Federal officials responded that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture must fill out a narcotics license in addition to providing memorandum of agreement with the departments of universities planning to cultivate the crop.
In an interview discussing the hearing with the Huffington Post, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stated, “It sounds like a victory, but I’m not going to declare victory until those seeds go in the ground. It was very positive today. But we’ve felt pretty good throughout this entire process over the last several weeks, and the DEA would come back and change again. I’m not celebrating. It will be a victory when I have those seeds in hand.”
Elected officials across the state have voiced their support for the hemp program and decried the actions of federal officials. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated, “It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds.”
According to the Congressional Resource Service, the US is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant.
The next court hearing is expected to occur on Wednesday, May 21. NORML will keep you updated as the situation evolves.