Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation late yesterday significantly reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses.
House Bill 149, which took effect upon signing, amends the state’s toughest-in-the-nation repeat offender laws for marijuana possession offenses.
Under the previous law, second-time possession offenders faced up to five years of hard labor in prison. Third-time offenders faced up to 20 years hard labor in prison.
Under the revised law, two-time marijuana possession offenders face a maximum sentence of six-months in prison. Three-time offenders face a maximum sentence of two-years in prison. Those convicted of marijuana possession for a fourth time face up to eight years in prison.
First-time offenders found in the possession of 14 grams of cannabis or less now face a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail (reduced from six-months). House Bill 149 allows offenders to apply to have their record expunged if they aren’t convicted of a marijuana violation within two years of the first offense.
According to an analysis by the ACLU, Louisiana ranks #14 in the nation in per-capita marijuana possession arrests.
Gov. Jindal also signed separate legislation, SB 143, amending the state’s dormant Therapeutic Research Act. Specifically, the measure asks the state to adopt rules and regulations “relating to the dispensing of prescribed marijuana for therapeutic use” for patients with glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, or who are undergoing cancer chemotherapy. However, because this language directly conflicts with federal regulations prohibiting doctors from ‘prescribing’ schedule I controlled substances, it remains to be seen whether any licensed Louisiana physicians will agree to participate in the state’s proposed program.
Members of the US Senate at a hearing yesterday expressed skepticism in regard to federal policies limiting the ability of investigators to engage in clinical studies of marijuana’s health benefits.
Senators heard from representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), University of Mississippi Medical Center, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Project SAM on a variety of issues
The hearing’s most noteworthy moment came when Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, acknowledged that the monopoly on marijuana cultivation for research purposes ought to be amended. Currently, NIDA contracts strictly with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies. This has led to a cannabis supply that is often delayed significantly and lacking in quality.
Dr. Volkow was supported in her acknowledgement by Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research with the FDA who answered, “Yes, I think there are advantages to a broad supply of varied marijuana.”
When questioned on whether or not other drugs in the Schedule 1 classification experience this same monopoly, Dr. Volkow said no and there was no scientific reason to treat them differently.
This acknowledgement by Dr. Volkow falls in line with a previous ruling by a DEA administrative law judge in 2007 which was later set aside by former DEA Director, Michele Leonhart.
Other topics discussed at the hearing included expanded access programs which have currently authorized treatment for 400 patients in the U.S. using Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a formulated product containing cannabidiol (CBD) that possesses orphan drug status from the FDA to treat pediatric epilepsy.
While it is clear that Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Booker (D-NJ) are making strides to reform federal medical marijuana law, it remains to be seen if Senator Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) will also take action.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation today decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.
Members of the Senate voted 12 to 9 in favor of the measure, House Bill 39, this afternoon. The Governor signed the measure into law this evening.
House and Senate members approved the measure despite vocal opposition from law enforcement and Republicans. No Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill.
Under state law, the possession of personal use quantities of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $575 fine, and a criminal record. House Bill 39 reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record.
The use of marijuana in public or in a moving vehicle will remain a criminal offense.
The new penalties take effect six months from today.
According to the ACLU, Delaware police arrest more than 2,500 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. Delaware ranks #17 in the nation in per capita marijuana possession arrests. Blacks in Delaware are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Delaware’s decriminalization law mimics similar laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — each of which treat minor marijuana possessions as a civil violation. Similar legislation in Illinois is awaiting action from the Governor.
Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio classify marijuana possession as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, DC previously enacted marijuana decriminalization policies, but have since amended their laws to legalize the plant’s possession and use.
Members of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee voted by a margin of 2 to 1 today in favor of language limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states. The provision was offered as an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.
The Senate amendment mirrors language approved by the House last week in their version of the CJS bill.
Passage of the provision reauthorizes protections signed into law last year, but which are set to expire this September.
A vote by the full Senate and reconciliation with the House is necessary before the 2016 spending bill is transmitted to the President.
A majority of the US House of Representatives voted today to reauthorize legislation limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
House members voted 242 to 186 in favor of the amendment, offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. Sixty-seven Republicans joined 175 Democrats in favor of the provision; 176 Republicans and ten Democrats voted against it.
A similar amendment was signed into law last December. Because that language was included as an amendment to an annual spending bill, it must be reauthorized by Congress or else it will expire in September.
Representative Rohrabacher recently introduced similar stand-alone legislation, H.R. 1940: Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015, after Justice Department officials questioned the extent to which their actions may be curtailed by budgetary amendments.
House members narrowly failed to pass a separate, broader amendment, offered by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that sought to halt the Justice Department from interfering in states that have legalized the plant’s production and retail sale for adults. That measure failed by a vote of 206 to 222. (See how your US Representative voted here.)
The Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill will now go before members of the US Senate for further debate.