GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin have a track record of opposing efforts to reform marijuana laws in the Badger State, but a recent comment from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has some marijuana advocates hopeful for progress during the 2017 legislative session.
“If you get a prescription to use an opiate or you get a prescription to use marijuana, to me I think that’s the same thing,” Vos said, a surprising position after years of GOP opposition to legalizing any form of marijuana. “I would be open to that.”
Of course this came as a surprise to many, especially after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Governor Scott Walker have both repeatedly stated that they will continue to oppose any effort to advance the issue in the state of Wisconsin. Regardless of the lack of support from GOP leadership, Sen. Van Wanggaard is expected to sponsor legislation that would make it legal to possess cannibidiol (CBD) – the marijuana extract known for treating seizures associated with epilepsy – during the upcoming legislative session.
This Sunday, Nevada will become the seventh US state to eliminate criminal penalties specific to the adult possession and personal use of cannabis.
“What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “Voters in the western region of the United States are leading the way toward the eventual nationwide re-legalization of marijuana by responsible adults. Federal laws need to reflect this reality, not deny it.”
On Election Day, 55 percent of Nevada voters approved Question 2, the Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The law permits adults who are not participating in the state’s existing medical cannabis program to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and/or up to 3.5 grams of cannabis concentrates. An adult may also lawfully grow up to six plants in their home if they reside 25 miles or more away from a marijuana retailer. Provisions in the law also permit for the possession and sale of marijuana-related paraphernalia as well as the gifting of small amounts of cannabis for no financial remuneration. Public use of the plant remains a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $600.
Separate provisions in the statute also license the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis, which will be subject to a 15 percent excise tax. Those regulations do not take effect until January 1, 2018.
Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington have previously adopted voter-initiated laws legalizing the private consumption of cannabis by adults. The District of Columbia also permits adults to legally possess and grow personal use quantities of marijuana in private residences. Similar legislation in Maine is anticipated to go into effect later next month.
The vote sets the stage to delay the establishment of state-licensed marijuana retail facilities from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2018. Governor Charlie Baker, who campaigned against the initiative, must still sign off on the law change. [UPDATE: Gov. Baker signed the language into law on Friday, December 30.] Separate provisions in the law eliminating penalties for adults who privately possess or grow personal use quantities of cannabis took effect on December 15.
According to The Boston Globe, the “extraordinary move” by lawmakers took place in an “informal” legislative session with “just a half-dozen legislators present.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri called lawmakers’ decision a “slap in the face” to the nearly two million Massachusetts voters who decided in favor of Question 4 on Election Day.
“The arrogance and hubris lawmakers are showing toward voters is remarkable,” he said. “The voters have spoken and it is incumbent on legislators to carry out their will. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to impose criminal penalties on marijuana – doing so in 1914. After more than a century of this failed policy, it is time to bring prohibition to an end in Massachusetts.”
The move by lawmakers to delay aspects of the law’s implementation is not altogether surprising, as politicians and bureaucrats had previously discussed restricting home cultivation as well as raising the proposed sales taxes rate on marijuana sales.
Members of Congress have re-authorized a federal provision prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering in state-authorized medical cannabis programs. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, was included in short-term spending legislation, House Resolution 2028, and will expire on April 28, 2017.
Initially enacted by Congress in 2014, the amendment maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the language bars the federal government from taking legal action against any individual involved in medical marijuana-related activity absent evidence that the defendant is in clear violation of state law.
Because the provision is included as part of a Congressional spending package and does not explicitly amend the US Controlled Substances Act, members must re-authorize the amendment annually. However, House leadership may prohibit federal lawmakers from revisiting the issue when they craft a longer-term funding bill this spring. Such a change in House rules would require members of the Senate to pass an equivalent version of the legislation, which would then need to be approved by House leaders in conference committee.
Looking ahead to 2017, marijuana law reforms face an uncertain future. Therefore, it is more important than ever that this federal protection remains in place to ensure that these patient programs and those who rely upon them are not subject to federal interference.
Petitioners seeking to decriminalize municipal penalties specific to the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana have gathered sufficient signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, a representative from the Kansas City Clerk’s office confirmed today.
The proposal, spearheaded by Kansas City NORML, amends citywide penalties from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine, punishable by a $25 fine. Similar municipal measures are currently in place in St. Louis and in Columbia, Missouri.
Members of the city council have 60 days to either act on the measure or to place it before voters this spring in a special election.
Under state law, the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. On January 1, new sentencing provisions will take effect reclassifying the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana as a Class D misdemeanor, punishable by a fine but no jail.