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LEGISLATION

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 19, 2014

    Lawmakers in four states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Utah — are poised to enact legislation in the coming days/weeks aimed at providing patients, primarily children with forms of intractable epilepsy, with strains of cannabis and/or cannabis extracts high in the compound cannabidiol (CBD).

    I have previously written why, in theory, these proposals will likely provide only limited relief for patients. A closer look at the text of these proposed laws indicates that, in fact, they are largely unworkable and will most likely provide no tangible relief or protection for the patient community they are intended to serve.

    Excerpt via Alternet.org. (Read the entire article here.)

    Alabama: Senate lawmakers unanimously approved SB 174, aka “Carley’s Law,” which seeks to allow investigators at the University of Alabama to study CBD in FDA-approved trials. But no change in state law is actually necessary to permit state university researchers to conduct clinical trials on cannabidiol. Such FDA-approved protocols are already permitted under federal law, but they require the added approval of regulators at the DEA, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), and PHS (Public Health Service). However, since CBD (like marijuana) is classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law, these agencies have historically been reticent to allow such studies to go forward, a fact that will likely remain unchanged even if House members similarly sign off on Carley’s Law.

    Georgia: A Senate panel last week amended and approved House Bill 885, aka “Haley’s Hope Act.” …The amended Senate plan … only provides for an exemption from state prosecution for those who obtain CBD oil from a legal medical marijuana state and transport it back to Georgia. In theory, this would allow Georgia parents to visit a state like Colorado to obtain medicine for their children. But in practice, Colorado’s medical marijuana law only allows those who are state residents and who possess a state-issued patient identification card to legally purchase such products. In other words, Georgia parents would have to violate Colorado law to obtain CBD-oils (which are likely to only be available from a medical dispensary, not a retail cannabis market). Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries would also be in violation of not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law by providing a product they know is intended to be transported across state lines—a clear violation of the guidelines put forward in the August 2013 Department of Justice memo which call for “preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal in some form to other states.”

    Kentucky: Senators last week gave unanimous approval to Senate Bill 124. Like Alabama’s proposal, the bill calls on University of Kentucky researchers to study CBD in clinical trials — something they could do with or without passage of a new state law, if the necessary federal agencies agreed to it. The measure also seeks to allow physicians at state teaching hospitals to recommend CBD to patients. However, past experience from other states indicates that this latter scenario is unlikely. In 2013, Maryland lawmakers enacted legislation to allow physicians at the state’s limited number of teaching hospitals to dispense cannabis. To date, no Maryland hospitals have taken up the state’s invitation to do so.

    Utah: House and Senate lawmakers have given final approval to House Bill 105. Utah’s governor is expected to sign the measure into law imminently. Like Georgia’s proposal, the Utah measure, which sunsets in 2016, provides protection from state prosecution for parents who can acquire CBD-oil for their epileptic children, assuming a neurologist has authorized the treatment. But, as will be the case in Georgia, Utah patients will likely only be able to obtain CBD from out of state, an act that would violate neighboring states’ medical cannabis laws. The Utah proposal also calls on the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for the purposes of one day producing cannabis medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether such industrial crops can yield therapeutically effective CBD-extracts or whether federal lawmakers would even allow such a state-sponsored research project to move forward.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    House and Senate lawmakers have signed off on legislation, Senate Bill 357, to reclassify and regulate industrial hemp.

    Members of the Senate had initially approved the legislation by a vote of 48 to zero. House members then voted 93 to 4 in favor of a slightly amended version of the measure. Lawmakers in both chambers agreed last week on a final version of the bill — sending it to Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who must either sign the measure into law or veto it.

    As passed, the measure reclassifies cannabis possessing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial crop. It also seeks to establish licensing requirements and regulations governing the production of and commerce in hemp, as well as for the scientific study of the crop. The proposal mandates state regulators to seek federal waivers by no later than January 1, 2015 so that officials can begin the process of licensing applicants to cultivate the crop.

    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. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant. Ten states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia — have enacted legislation reclassifying hemp as an agricultural commodity under state law.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director March 12, 2014

    Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 215 to 92 in favor of House Bill 1625. This legislation to significantly reduce marijuana penalties in New Hampshire.

    Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,000. Passage of this act would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100 — no arrest and no criminal record. It would lower the classification of cultivation of six marijuana plants or less to a Class A misdemeanor. You can read the full text of this measure here. House Bill 1625 now awaits action in the state Senate.

    New Hampshire Residents: Click HERE to quickly and easily contact your member of the state Senate and urge them to support this important legislation. You can also view how each member of the House of Representatives voted here.

  • by Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women's Outreach March 6, 2014

    pot_shopOn Sunday February 16th, I bought legal weed for the first time from a recreational cannabis store in Denver, Co.  I spent a few minutes speaking with some of the employees, as I was eager to hear how things were going under this newly sanctioned marijuana market.  Unsurprisingly, business was great.  Some items were selling quicker than others, but everyone was in agreement that the rollout of Colorado’s legal cannabis retail system had been a great success, except for one crucial component that was as unsettling as it was expected – we were standing in one of a few dozen high profile stores, well-known for having excessive amounts of cash on hand (in the first week of sales, businesses generated $5 million in cash-only transactions) and no where to put it, because the banks won’t take it.

    Clearly, denying these pot stores the ability to safely deposit their earnings poses an imminent threat to public safety.  These shops are easy targets for robbery and assault (as well as other forms of criminal activity), which puts customers and employees at serious risk.  Some of these shop owners are considering banning backpacks or other large bags – others are arming their workers.  Neither of these options are a viable solution.

    This problem isn’t new however, nor is it going unnoticed.  On February 14th, the Department of Treasury released a nonbinding memorandum, in conjunction with the Justice Department stating that banks may consider working with pot retailers without fear of prosecution – so long as they remain in compliance with state laws, and followed other instructions outlined in the memo.  Though a truly historic and progressive action by the federal government’s leading financial regulatory body, these guidelines are largely symbolic, providing no actual legal protection to banks working with cannabis shops.   As such, most financial companies remain skeptical about getting involved with a market existing under so many contradictory laws.

    According to federal law, these banks could technically be found guilty of money laundering (among other offenses) for handling the proceeds of what the US government still considers an illegal drug.  The Colorado Bankers Association rightly notes that the guidance issued by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury “only reinforces and reiterates that banks can be prosecuted for providing accounts to marijuana related businesses.”  The Association further criticizes these new guidelines, stating that “Bankers had expected the guidance to relieve them of the threat of prosecution should they open accounts for marijuana businesses, but the guidance does not do that.  Instead, it reiterates reasons for prosecution and is simply a modified reporting system for banks to use. It imposes a heavy burden on them to know and control their customers’ activities, and those of their customers.”

    Is it any surprise then that these guidelines – which include a multi-tiered labeling structure and a requirement for banks to maintain ‘suspicious activity reports’ – have left many financial institutions with cold feet?  Two of Colorado’s largest banks, Wells Fargo and FirstBank have already announced they won’t work with weed-related enterprises.  In fact, most financial trade associations have widely rejected these latest overtures because there are no tangible, legal policies in place.

    Despite the skepticism held by many federal administration officials and other politicians, the government can and should be doing much more to enable the success of this new, legal market. Unfortunately, many are sitting on their hands, and holding their breath – hoping to quietly ride out this growing wave of support for legalization, which shows no sign of subsiding.  Over 50% of the US population supports a regulated marijuana retail system for adults.

    Its time for these officials to concede to the will of the electorate, and address the legitimate needs of this new industry. Lawmakers now have an opportunity to show true leadership in this changing political landscape by supporting legislation that would give states and businesses the resources necessary to enable a responsible and successful implementation of this new “great experiment.” Specifically, they should get behind the “Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act,” introduced by Colorado representative Ed Perlmutter.  This bill (HR 2652), already endorsed by the Colorado Bankers Association, would alter various banking laws to protect banks providing services to marijuana-related businesses from the threat of federal prosecution and other penalties.

    Financial institutions don’t operate off good-faith statements (including non-binding memorandums) – even those from the Department of Treasury, or any other enforcement agency.  They operate under explicit legal authorization.  Only when the laws change will the banks truly be free to provide the services these businesses so desperately need, and their communities rightly deserve.

     

    takeactionban

     Contact your representative today and tell them to support HR 2652

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 4, 2014

    Members of the Washington DC City Council gave final approval today to legislation reducing the District’s marijuana possession penalties to a fine-only violation.

    District lawmakers voted 10 to 1 in favor of “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013,” which amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). Democrat Mayor Vincent C. Gray said that he intends to sign the measure into law.

    Offenses involving the public consumption of cannabis remain classified as a criminal misdemeanor under DC law, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine. The possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia will be re-classified as a violation, not a criminal offense.

    Once signed into law, the measure faces a 60-day review period by members of Congress.

    The District measure is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.

    Five additional states – Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.

    Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

    A 2012 analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reported that the District possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.

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