Members of the New Orleans city council voted 7 to zero in favor of legislation permitting police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (defined as those who possess 14 grams or less), including repeat offenders. First-time violators are subject to a $40 fine while subsequent offenders may face fines of up to $100. Under state law, first-time possession offenders are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution (punishable by up to 15 days in jail) while repeat offenders face up to eight years in prison.
Members of the Tampa city council voted 5 to 1 to amend local laws so that the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis within city limits is a non-arrestable, fine-only offense. First-time offenders face a $75 fine, while multiple offenders could face fines up to $450. By contrast, Florida law defines similar possession offenses as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Tampa’s pending law is similar to those recently enacted in a number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, West Palm Beach, and Volusia, as well as in several other metropolitan areas, such as Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
After months of delay, members of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives finally approved legislation to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients.
House members decided yesterday in favor of an amended version of Senate Bill 3. The measure passed by a vote of 149 to 43.
The amended bill permits state officials to license up to 25 marijuana cultivators and up to 25 dispensaries to provide cannabis products to qualified patients who possess a recommendation from select physicians. Qualifying conditions eligible to receive cannabis therapy include chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. The measure permits for the dispensing of herbal cannabis via vaporization, as well as the use of marijuana-infused extracts or oils, but it does not permit smoking.
Because the House-amended legislation differs from the version initially approved by the Senate, the bill must be re-approved by the Senate or it will be negotiated in conference committee. Governor Tom Wolf supports patients’ access to medical cannabis and has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
Derek Rosenzweig of PhillyNORML, which has been lobbying on behalf of medical cannabis access legislation since 2009, said: “This is a historic day in Pennsylvania. Hopefully during concurrence they can fix some of the flaws in the bill.”
Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.
Legislative sessions around the country are moving quickly with several already coming to a close. It’s important to stay updated on pending measures in your state because NOW is the time to contact your elected officials using our #TakeAction Center urging their support for marijuana law reform. Keep reading to get this week’s latest legislative highlights!
Florida: House and Senate lawmakers have approved legislation, House Bill 307, to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Florida law already permits for the production of strains of cannabis high in CBD to be dispensed to qualified patients with cancer, muscle spasms, and intractable seizures. However, to date, this program has yet to be operational. House Bill 307 seeks to expand state-licensed medical marijuana production to also include strains dominant in THC. The measure now awaits action from Florida Governor Rick Scott.
Maine: The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a ballot initiative that is seeking to put the question of marijuana legalization before voters in the state this November, is suing the state of Maine for invalidating 26,779 signatures. The campaign had originally turned in 99,229 signatures from registered voters by the February 1st deadline in hopes of meeting the required number of 61,123 valid signatures to make the ballot. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap invalidated the signatures because the signature of the notary who signed the petitions allegedly did not match the signature on file with staff.
Nebraska: Legislation remains pending, LD 643: the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act, to permit qualified patients to legally possess and cultivate cannabis. The measure permits patients permits patients to grow up to 12 plants and/or to possess up to six ounces of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The bill also establishes licensed compassion centers to provide cannabis to qualified patients. #TakeAction
New York: Legislation has been introduced, A 9510, to expand the pool of medical professionals who can provide written recommendations for marijuana to qualifying patients. If passed, the legislation would allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners who are in good standing with the state to provide written certifications to qualifying patients. New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Patients may only use non-smokable forms of marijuana and many are struggling to find physicians who can certify them access to medical marijuana preparations. This pending legislation would increase the number of medical professionals eligible to participate in the program, thereby increasing access to those patients who so desperately need it. #TakeAction
Oklahoma: House lawmakers have approved legislation, House Bill 2835, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. If passed, those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, chronic pain, neuropathic pain, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases, and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or bipolar affective disorder would be allowed access to CBD. The bill now awaits Senate action. #TakeAction
Utah: Lawmakers have adjourned for 2016 without taking action to expand medical cannabis access to seriously ill patients. Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 on Monday, March 7, against the passage of Senate Bill 73, the Medical Cannabis Act. A separate measure, SB 89, was approved by members of a House committee however, lawmakers ultimately failed to back the measure, alleging that the law would be too expensive to implement.
Vermont: Members of various House Committee are anticipated to begin taking testimony next week with regard to Senate Bill 241, to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Members of the Senate previously voted 17 to 12 in favor of the legislation, which is backed by Gov. Shumlin. Now the measure faces a potentially uphill battle in the House, starting with the House Judiciary Committee. It is vital that House representatives hear from you in support of SB 241. #TakeAction
Virginia: Members of the House of Delegates and the Senate have decided in favor of Senate Bill 701, which permits for the in-state production of therapeutic oils high in cannabdiol and/or THC-A (THC acid). The Governor has untilApril 11 to act on the bill. #TakeAction
Washington: Governor Jay Inslee decided on Wednesday, March 9th, to veto legislation, Senate Bill 6206, which sought to establish licensed hemp production. House and Senate lawmakers had previously approved legislation, which would have authorized “The growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program.
US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) give ATTN an interview on medical cannabis, calls for federal reforms and the need for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ‘to do their homework…meet with the parents of children who need access to medical marijuana’.
The federal ban on medical marijuana research is outrageous.
— Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand
Posted by ATTN: on Wednesday, March 9, 2016
At NORML we were once again reminded this past week of the pervasive prejudice against marijuana, and marijuana smokers, that remains in the general American culture. Yes, a majority of Americans now oppose marijuana prohibition and favor the legalization and regulation of marijuana. But there remain numerous obstacles and penalties that continue to deny fair and equal treatment to marijuana smokers, and those who are associated with marijuana.
I have previously written about the urgent need to protect responsible marijuana smokers from job discrimination (requiring a showing of impairment on the job before an employee can be terminated); from unfair child custody laws (requiring a showing of abuse or neglect before removing minor children from the custody of their marijuana smoking parents); and unfair DUID laws (requiring a showing of impairment before charging a marijuana smoker with driving under the influence of drugs). These are three areas of the law where we will continue to fight for fair and equal treatment for marijuana smokers.
More Subtle Biases
But today I want to discuss another, more subtle bias that can unfairly impact those of us who support full legalization. These involve the refusal of banks and credit card processing companies to offer their services to businesses and non-profits that are somehow connected to the newly emerging legal marijuana industry in several states.
Initially I presumed these problems were unique to those who actually held licenses to commercially cultivate or sell marijuana. Most of us are familiar with the enormous challenges these banking and financial limitations cause for those who have invested their time and resources to start a new business legal under state law. Today, most are forced to operate on a cash-only basis; no bank accounts or credit cards allowed.
The Obama administration has reassured the banking and related industries that they will not be penalized by the feds for providing necessary and usual business services to those businesses operating legally under state law. But the banking industry realizes this policy could be reversed under another, less marijuana-friendly president, and largely has refused to budge until particular provisions of federal law, which they feel put them in legal jeopardy, have been changed.
Proposed Federal Reforms Pending
There are serious efforts underway in Congress to fix these banking problems, and support is clearly growing among the members. HR 2076/S 1726, The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015, sponsored by a bi-partisan group of legislators, would fully protect financial institutions providing services to legitimate marijuana business. Many observers, myself included, expect this area of federal reform will be the first to be approved by the Congress, among the several federal marijuana proposals pending. (You can register your support for these measures from the NORML website.
NORML has been supportive of these reforms, believing they are necessary for the newly legal marijuana industry, and because it is in the best interest of consumers that the legitimate industry operate in a transparent manner, as other industries do.
Suddenly, NORML Loses Credit Card Services
But now we have a more personal reason to fight for this change. NORML has abruptly lost our ability to accept credit or debit card donations on our website. Without advance notice, NORML was notified by registered mail this past week that the company that processes our debit and credit card donations, TransFirst, had decided, apparently based on their review of our website, that we no longer qualify as a client, and they immediately ceased processing our credit card traffic. As with many non-profits, we depend to a large degree on donations from our website to fund our organization, so this (hopefully temporary) glitch presents a serious threat to the organization.
NORML is a not-for-profit public-interest lobby that represents the interests of responsible marijuana smokers. We do not grow or sell marijuana, nor do we have any financial interests in the marijuana industry. Nonetheless, when I asked TransFirst what rule we had violated, they said we were part of the “marijuana industry.”
Our advocacy is First Amendment-protected activity; marijuana legalization is our policy goal, and we work every day to nudge the country a little closer to that policy.
But now, when someone with the TransFirst financial services corporation decided to visit our website, and discovered that we are a pro-legalization lobby, we are suddenly found to be unsuitable as a client. We are denied the same business services routinely provided to tens of thousands of other non-profits, many of whom also focus on controversial social issues, simply because we have a website that promotes the legalization of marijuana!
We are working now to identify another company that will not be frightened by our political views, that will step in to provide these necessary services. And unlike most of those in the legal marijuana industry, at NORML we have never had problems finding banks willing to handle our accounts. For that, I suppose, we should be grateful.
But that is not what I am feeling right now. I am angry that some mid-level executive at TransFirst was able and willing to disrupt our work at NORML based on the content of the advocacy on our website. That represents a totally unnecessary act (there is no theory under federal law that would penalize a company for providing financial services to NORML), and one that smacks of an anti-marijuana prejudice that is reminiscent of the days of “reefer madness.” We are being penalized for our political views.
It is time for all of us to stand-up and say, loudly and clearly, “Get over it. There is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana and it’s time we began treating people who smoke, and corporations that work in and around the marijuana industry, in a fair manner.”
It is time we, as a society, overcome our anti-marijuana prejudices, once and for all.