Congressional leaders have moved in recent days to quash a number of proposed marijuana law reforms.
Specifically, provisions previously voted on by Congress to expand medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans were removed by leadership during the conference committee process. Members have yet to speak publicly as to why the language was removed. Both the Senate and the House versions of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill contained the marijuana-friendly provisions prior to the reconciliation process.
The move follows a decision earlier this week by Republican leaders on the House Rules Committee to deny members the opportunity to vote on a Democrat-sponsored amendment that sought to permit banks and other financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses. Senate Appropriations Committee members had approved a similar amendment last week by a vote of 16 to 14. That amendment, which is now included in the Senate’s version of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, awaits further action on the Senate floor. If approved, the Senate bill will ultimately need to be reconciled in conference committee with House leadership.
In April, NORML released a Congressional Scorecard assigning letter grades ‘A’ through ‘F’ to every member of the US House and Senate based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records. To see what grades your Congressional members received, please click here.
NORML members, supporters, and chapter leaders gathered in our nation’s capital this week, for NORML’s 2016 Conference and Lobby Day. The events were filled with education, activism, socializing, and plenty of marijuana smoking. For those who weren’t able to attend, keep reading below to find out what you missed and how you can get involved in next year’s events.
On Monday we held our educational conference at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. On the top floor, surrounded with ceiling to floor windows, the meeting room provided attendees a view of some of the district’s most iconic sights while hearing from some of the reform movement’s brightest minds.
Highlights on Day 1 included a presentation by Deputy Director Paul Armentano entitled, “We Don’t Know Enough About Cannabis? Think Again,” where he acknowledged that there are now more scientific studies and papers available specific to cannabis than most other conventional therapeutics.
John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brookings Institute discussed the successes we have seen from Colorado and the other pioneering states that have regulated marijuana for adult use.
Attendees also heard from Queens College professor Harry Levine and investigator Loren Siegel, who highlighted the continuing racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement — a disparity that continues to exist even in jurisdictions that have regulated cannabis-related activities. Their presentations were a stark reminder that even as we celebrate or successes, there is still plenty of work left to do.
A summary of many of the day’s presentations is online here.
Finally, in one of the more notable events of the day Eleanora Kennedy and Anna Kennedy Safir awarded longtime NORML Legal Committee member Gerald H. Goldstein with the first annual Michael John Kennedy Social Justice Award.
Events continued Monday night at the historic O St. Mansion where attendees gathered for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. NORML hosted our 2016 award ceremony, highlighting various attendees for their extraordinary activism, and political and cultural leadership in the field of marijuana and marijuana policy reform. Award recipients included:
- Outstanding Chapter Award to Norm Kent on behalf of Florida NORML
- Student Activist Award to Chris Thompson, Purdue NORML
- Lester Grinspoon Award to Harry Levine and Loren Siegel
- Hunter S. Thompson Award to Bruce Barcott, Leafly
- Pauline Sabin Award to Pam Novy, Virginia NORML
- Peter McWilliams Award to Ken Wolski, Coalition for Medical Marijuana – NJ
- Outstanding Cannabist Activist Award to Kevin Oliver, Washington NORML
On Tuesday attendees convened on Capitol Hill for a full day of lobbying. In the morning, attendees heard words of encouragement from five distinguished members of Congress: Reps. Sam Farr, Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis, Suzan DelBene, and Dana Rohrabacher. Congressman Farr (D-CA), who is the co-sponsor of legislation protecting statewide medical marijuana programs from federal interference, will be retiring this year so it was a privilege for our lobby group to hear from him.
NORML awarded Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR) our 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award for his continued leadership and focus on marijuana law reform throughout his career. Keith Stroup, NORML’s founder and legal counsel, spoke of the Congressman’s first days as a legislator in the Oregon State House of Representatives where he sponsored the state’s 1973 decriminalization law. Ever since then Congressman Blumenauer has continued to support our issue. Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment sponsored by the Congressman providing V.A. physicians the ability to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to U.S. veterans.
Congressman Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman DelBene (D-WA) encouraged attendees to continue their advocacy work. Congressman Polis is chief sponsor of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, legislation to to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference. Congresswoman DelBene is chief sponsor of the SMART Enforcement Act, legislation to make the US federal Controlled Substances Act inapplicable with respect to states that have legalized and regulated marijuana in a manner that addresses key federal priorities.
Wrapping up the morning reception, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) made news when he acknowledged successfully using a topical marijuana treatment for his shoulder arthritis. His admission marked quite possibly the first time ever a sitting member of Congress has admitted using marijuana while serving in office! Congressman Rohrabacher is one of our most valuable leaders at the federal level and NORML wishes to thank him for not only addressing our group but for sharing with us his candid and personal testimony. You can listen to the archived audio from NORML’s Capitol Hill reception here.
Throughout the three day event, attendees were able to network with fellow activists, learn from leaders in the reform movement, and relax with some of best locally grown marijuana in Washington D.C. NORML would like to thank those of you who attended and contributed to this successful event and we look forward to seeing you all again next year.
Federal lawmakers pressured President Obama this week to take executive action to reform marijuana policy. Meanwhile, state legislative reforms are still moving forward throughout the country. Keep reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.
Fourteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter this week to President Obama urging the administration to enact various marijuana law reforms.
The letter requests the administration to reschedule marijuana under federal law to Schedule III or a lower category, or to deschedule it altogether; to license additional growers of cannabis for research purposes; to extend protections for secondary and tertiary businesses that serve the medical marijuana industry, and to ensure that the Justice Department better respects Congressionally-enacted legislation preventing it from interfering with well-regulated state medical cannabis programs.
The letter comes after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced recently that it will soon issue a decision on pending petitions seeking to reclassify marijuana. However, lawmakers cautioned that reclassification is only one of many changes needed with regard to federal marijuana regulations. The letter reads, “We would like to caution against adopting the assumption that rescheduling alone is the panacea to the difficulties currently facing businesses, practitioners, and consumers. As such, we implore your Administration to investigate additional reforms that may be made administratively.”
California: The Public Policy Institute of California released new polling information Thursday showing “broad and increasing support for a legal, regulated system of adult-use marijuana in California.” The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), which is expected to appear on the November ballot, permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possession and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes.
Sixty-nine percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans support regulating the adult use of marijuana, according to the poll, In each demographic, support has increased in recent months. National NORML has endorsed the AUMA, along with California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu and Dana Rohrabacher, the California Council of Land Trusts, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the California Medical Association, and the California NAACP.
Ohio: Lawmakers in both chambers have approved legislation, House bill 523, to regulate the use of medical cannabis preparations by qualified patients. The bill authorizes the use of various forms of cannabis preparations for the physicians-authorized treatment of nearly two-dozen conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and Crohn’s. It calls on the state to license the production, distribution, and testing of cannabis products. Home cultivation is not allowed. Products may be dispensed as oils, tinctures, edibles, patches, or as plant material. However, smoking herbal cannabis is not permitted under the measure. Vaporizing medical cannabis products is permitted. Similar restrictions exist in three other states: Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The measure now awaits action from Gov. John Kasich, who may be contacted here.
Proponents seeking to place a separate, broader medical marijuana measure on the 2016 ballot announced on May 28 that they were suspending their campaign, stating, “[A]ll in all, it is a moderately good piece of legislation passed by lawmakers who were pushed hard by the patient community. We plan on continuing forward as an advocacy effort to ensure that the State of Ohio lives up to the promises contained in HB 523, but also working to better the program utilizing our amendment as a roadmap for those improvements.”
Pennsylvania: Representative Ed Gainey has introduced legislation, House Bill 2076, to amend the state’s controlled substances act so that minor marijuana possession offenses are considered a non-criminal offense. The legislation would impose a fine and a summary conviction for an individual possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of hashish. Offenders would no longer face criminal arrest, incarceration, or a criminal record. The bill is now pending before the House Judiciary committee. #TakeAction
West Virginia: Legislation was recently introduced to decriminalize the possession and cultivation of limited quantities of marijuana in West Virginia.
House Bill 114 permits the personal use, growth and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by persons over the age of twenty-one who have acquired a “tax stamp” from the state. It removes marijuana from the state list of schedule I drugs and decriminalizes first-time marijuana distribution offenses involving under 30 grams of marijuana. Adults will be allowed to transfer to another person twenty-one years of age or older, without remuneration, one ounce or less of marijuana.
Adults who choose to grow their own marijuana will be permitted to cultivate and harvest up to six pants. #TakeAction
This was a huge week for marijuana law reform. Congress voted for the first time to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans, and Governors in numerous states signed cannabis legalization and depenalization measures into law. Keeping reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.
Members of the US House and Senate voted yesterday for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it. House members voted 233 to 189 last week in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. The amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients. Members of the US Senate Appropriations Committee previously voted in April in favor of a similar provision and the full Senate also signed off on their version of the bill yesterday. The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.
Colorado: House and Senate lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved legislation, House Bill 1373, to permit qualified patients access to the use formulations of medical cannabis while on school grounds. The measure now awaits action by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who indicated that he would sign the bill into law. Once enacted, a primary caregiver may administer non-inhalable formulations of medical cannabis to a qualifying patient while that patient is on the grounds of a pre-school, primary, or secondary school in which the student is enrolled. Medical marijuana patients may not be denied eligibility to attend school because of their cannabis use.
Connecticut: Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy this week signed legislation expanding patients’ access to the state’s medicinal cannabis program. House Bill 5450 permits qualifying patients under the age of 18 to possess and consume medical cannabis preparations. The proposal also expands the list of qualifying illnesses eligible for cannabis therapy to include: ”uncontrolled intractable seizure disorder,” ”irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity,” “cerebral palsy,” “cystic fibrosis,” or “terminal illness requiring end-of-life care.” Other provisions in the bill seek to establish a statewide clinical research program, and protect nurses from criminal, civil, or disciplinary sanction if they choose to administer marijuana to a qualifying patient in a hospital setting. The new law takes effect on October 1, 2016.
Illinois: Members of the House voted 64 to 50 on Wednesday, May 18, in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Members of the Senate had previously voted 44 to 12 in favor of the measure, which makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record.
Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law. Senate Bill 2228 now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Last year, the Governor issued an amendatory veto to a similar bill. However, this year’s language addresses the Governor’s past concerns.
Kansas: Governor Brownback recently signed House Bill 2462 into law to amend marijuana possession penalties. The law reduces criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. You can read the full summary of the engrossed bill here. The sentencing changes take effect imminently.
Louisiana: Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation yesterday amending the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Maine: Governor Paul LePage has signed legislation, LD 726, into law permitting qualified patients to use medical marijuana while admitted in Maine hospitals. This measure does not require hospital staff to administer medical marijuana to a patient and will only allow for patients to consume cannabis preparations in a smokeless form. The law also establishes licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities and the labeling of medical cannabis products.
New Hampshire: Members of the Senate on Thursday, May 19, sent House-backed decriminalization provisions to conference committee rather than engage in an up/down vote of the bill. Members of the House previously voted 298 to 58 to amend Senate Bill 498 to make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. In past years, the Senate has been consistently hostile to any House efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties.
The conference committee, consisting of members of the House and Senate, will now try to agree upon a finalized version of SB 498. It is important that Senate members hear from you and are urged to keep the House provisions in SB 498. #TakeAction
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation into law on Friday, May 13, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. House Bill 2835 extends existing legal protections to the following patients: those with “spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases.” The measure also removes the age requirement limitation from existing law so that adults with various forms of epilepsy are eligible for CBD therapy. The expanded law takes effect on November 1, 2016.
Rhode Island: On Thursday, May 19th members of the Senate approved legislation, Senate Bill 2115, to make post-traumatic stress patients eligible for medical cannabis treatment and to accelerate access to those patients in hospice care. The measure will now be sent to the House for consideration. #TakeAction
Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis.”
The bill does not amend language in the state’s Therapeutic Research Act limiting the preparation of medicinal cannabis products to non-herbal formulations, nor does it address provisions limiting state-licensed cannabis cultivation to a single provider, or the dispensing of cannabis products to no more than ten licensed pharmacies. Those restrictions were put in place by legislation signed into law last year. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Senate Bill 271 does include language requiring the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center to decide whether or not they wish to seek licensing to grow medical marijuana for the state’s program by September 2, 2016.
You can read the enrolled measure here.
Louisiana is set to become the 25th state to permit for the physician-supervised use of medical cannabis and/or cannabis-infused preparations for qualified patients.