There is long awaited news from Pennsylvania, as the Keystone State is poised to become the 24th state to permit medical cannabis access and separate legislative efforts continue to move forward around the country. Keep reading below to get this week’s latest in marijuana law reform!
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment today, for the second year in a row, to expand medical marijuana access to United States veterans.
The amendment, sponsored by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a policy that prohibits the department’s physicians from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal. It will be attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
The bipartisan vote was 20 to 10, marking a slight improvement from last year’s 18-12 vote. Though a majority of the Senate passed the amendment in 2015, it was ultimately defeated in conference with the House.
Alabama: Legislation to protect qualified patients eligible for CBD therapy is gaining traction in the legislature. Both the House and Senate are considering similar proposals to expand patient access. While existing state law permits qualified patients to use CBD if they are part of state-sponsored clinical trial, these proposed measures would legally protect qualified patients who possess the substance outside of a clinical trial environment. #TakeAction
Florida: Another municipality in Florida is considering decriminalizing offenses involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana. On Monday, Orlando’s City Council will review an ordinance to make possession of 20 grams (about two-thirds of an ounce) or less a violation of city code, punishable by a fine of $50 for first-time offenders. Tampa and Volusia County both approved similar ordinances last month. NORML first reported this trend of Florida cities and counties adopting decriminalization policies last August.
If you live in Orlando, you can contact your City Council member to urge their support for this measure here.
Louisiana: House and Senate legislation is pending to fix and expand the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Existing law only permits for the patients’ use of medical marijuana in instances where the plant is ‘prescribed.’ However, under federal law, physicians cannot legally ‘prescribe’ cannabis or any schedule I substance. House Bill 1112 addresses these problems by: permitting physicians to recommend rather than ‘prescribe’ cannabis therapy; by licensing facilities to produce and dispense the product; and by expanding the pool of eligible patients to include ailments like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and intractable pain. Law enforcement groups have voiced disapproval of the proposed change, so it is important that lawmakers hear from you. #TakeAction
Maryland: Governor Larry Hogan has signed legislation to permit the Department of Agriculture to authorize institutions of higher education to cultivate industrial hemp for academic research purposes. Members of the Senate voted 45 to zero in favor of the bill. House members voted 136 to zero in favor of the measure. Maryland is the 26th state to enact legislation recognizing hemp as a agricultural commodity.
State lawmakers have also approved legislation to expand the pool of medical professionals who can provide written recommendations for marijuana to qualifying patients. Under the proposal, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, among other medical professionals, who are in good standing with the state will be permitted to provide written certifications to qualifying patients. The legislation awaits action from Governor Larry Hogan. #TakeAction
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown has signed legislation into law that seeks to encourage financial institutions to engage in financial relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses. The emergency legislation, House Bill 4094, “exempts financial institutions that provide financial services to marijuana related businesses, researchers and laboratories from any criminal law of this state.” The law took effect upon signing.
Pennsylvania: House and Senate lawmakers have given final approval to legislation, Senate Bill 3, to permit the production and use of medical marijuana products to qualified patients. Members of the Senate initially approved the measure in 2015. House leadership delayed acting on the bill for several months until finally passing an amended version of SB 3 in March. Senate and House members voted this week in favor of a concurrent version of the proposal. Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.
South Carolina: Members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee have defeated SB 672, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. However, identical legislation, H. 4037, remains pending in the House. The legislation would allow the use of medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions; it also permits a registered patient or caregiver to possess up to, “two one-ounce packages of marijuana in leaf form, one ounce of cannabis oil concentrate, or eight ounces of diluted cannabis oil.” #TakeAction
Vermont: Members of the House Judiciary moved away from Senate-backed legislation, S. 241, to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. On Friday, April 8, members of the Committee voted 6 to 5 on an amended version of S. 241 to establish a study commission to evaluate the matter of legalization. The vote came after members of the committee narrowly rejected an effort to amend the bill in a manner that would expand the state’s existing decriminalization laws.
Members of the Senate previously voted 17 to 12 in favor of the legislation in its original form, and it continues to be backed by Gov. Shumlin, state Attorney General William Sorrell, and a majority of Vermonters. It is vital that members of both the House and Senate continue hear from you in support of S. 241 so that lawmakers will be persuaded to once again amend this bill in a manner that seeks to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. #TakeAction
Members of the Senate initially approved the measure in 2015. House leadership delayed acting on the bill for several months until finally passing an amended version of SB 3 in March.
Senate and House members voted this week in favor of a concurrent version of the proposal. The measure now goes before Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports patients’ access to medical cannabis and has pledged to sign the bill into law.
Senate Bill 3 permits regulators to license up to 25 marijuana cultivators and processors, and up to 150 dispensary locations to provide cannabis products to qualified patients who possess a recommendation from select physicians. Qualifying conditions eligible to receive cannabis therapy include intractable pain, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, seizure disorders, and autism, 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. (To date, only two other states — Minnesota and New York — impose similar restrictions regarding patients’ use of herbal cannabis.)
Once signed into law, Pennsylvania will become the 24th state to permit the use of physician-recommended cannabis.
Colorado: Denver NORML filed the Responsible Use initiative with the city of Denver. If passed by voters this November, it would legalize the establishment of private marijuana clubs for adults 21 and up. Passage of this ordinance would be a historic first step in moving toward normalizing the responsible, adult consumption of marijuana. The initiative would provide adults with a legally defined space where marijuana could be consumed and shared with other like-minded citizens — a simple, yet necessary accommodation for states that have passed some form of legalization. You can show support for the initiative by liking their page on Facebook.
Florida: On April 1st, the city of Tampa began implementing its new decriminalization law. Under the new ordinance, people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana will now only face a civil citation rather than a arrest, criminal prosecution, and a criminal record.
Also, The Florida Democratic Party has endorsed Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment to permit the physician-authorized use and state-licensed distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The initiative has also received recent endorsements from the Tallahassee Democrat, the Miami Herald, and the Bradenton Herald. Presently, 16 states explicitly exempt the use of CBD by qualified patients. But, to date, no of these states provide a regulated, in-state supply source for the product.
Maine: A superior court judge today overturned the Secretary of State’s ruling that a citizen petition seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine was invalid. The ruling mandates the Secretary of State to review the disputed signatures to determine whether petitioners submitted enough valid ones to qualify for ballot placement this November.
Missouri: This week, regulators at the Missouri Department of Agriculture granted licenses to two applicants seeking to grow CBD-dominant cannabis. Their products are anticipated to be ready for distribution this fall to state-qualified patients.
Pennsylvania: State lawmakers have unanimously passed separate pieces of legislation to establish “a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” Members of the Senate voted 49 to zero in March in favor of SB 50. House lawmakers more recently voted 187 to zero in favor of the House companion bill, HB 967. House Bill 967 will now go to the Senate for concurrence with SB 50 and then to Gov. Tom Wolf, who has expressed support for the legislation. #TakeAction
Members of the Pittsburgh City Council have approved a new ordinance imposing more lenient penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses. Under this ordinance, marijuana-related offenses will now be classified as summary offenses, punishable by a fine of $100 for public smoking or $25 for the possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Virginia: Governor Terry McAuliff has signed legislation, Senate Bill 701, into law to establish regulations governing the in-state production of therapeutic oils high in cannabdiol and/or THC-A (THC acid). Senate Bill 701 requires the Board of Pharmacy to adopt regulations establishing health, safety, and security requirements for pharmaceutical processors of oils high in CBD and/or THC-A. The measure takes effect on July 1, 2016.
Don’t forget to join us in Washington D.C. May 23rd and 24th for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day! Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a social marijuana consumer, or just someone who opposes prohibition, this is an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from across the country and get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process. It is an exhilarating experience for anyone who has taken the time to come to DC to lobby their members of Congress. Get your tickets today!
We receive a lot of inquiries (and some complaints) at NORML from those who favor legalization and wonder why we continue to focus on a state-based strategy instead of focusing on Congress. The belief is that Congress could legalize marijuana in one fell swoop if they wanted to do so.
It’s a reasonable question, but there are valid reasons for the current strategy.
Congress Is Not Yet In Play
Congress is comprised of 535 members elected from all parts of the country, representing a wide range of political views. Congress never leads the way on social issues. Historically, it’s an institution that changes slowly by increments and generally only after a majority of the states have already adopted those changes. Congress is always slower to embrace policy change than the American public.
Even if we wanted to convince Congress to legalize marijuana under federal law and take the issue out of the hands of the states (a strategy favored by only 34% of Americans; 60% favor allowing states to control marijuana policy), we simply do not yet have the political support in Congress to achieve that result. In addition, if we waited for majority support in Congress before we tried to move legalization forward, we would still have prohibition in effect in every state with no exceptions for medical use or full legalization. Without those experiments at the state level, we would have no real data regarding how legalization actually works, data that is driving the legalization movement forward.
There are also historical reasons justifying the state-based approach. When we finally ended alcohol prohibition in 1931, the Congress did not simply declare alcohol legal throughout the country. They removed federal laws that conflicted with legalization and allowed the states to adopt whatever alcohol policies they wanted. Those that wished to legalize alcohol were free to do so, but, similarly, those states that wanted to continue the criminal prohibition of alcohol were free to do that. Alcohol policy was treated as a states’ rights issue, and it remains the same today. In fact, there remain a few “dry” counties in several states today, remnants of that earlier failed policy.
It is likely that when Congress does finally act, they too will respect the will of those states that may not yet be ready to adopt legal marijuana. They will almost certainly back the federal government out of the way and allow those states that wish to legalize to do so, free from federal interference. They will not attempt to ram legalization through as a federal policy that states have to follow, nor should they.
The New “States’ Rights”
For those of my generation and older, the term “states’ rights” is a loaded term that makes many of us nervous because, for many decades, it was used to justify racial segregation in the south. Only after the Supreme Court ended school segregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 did the states’ rights arguments begin to lose ground as a justification for the policy then called “separate but equal.” It is with some trepidation that those of us who support legalizing marijuana also find ourselves relying on the states’ rights argument to move the issue forward.
Nonetheless, the reality of today’s political environment is that we can continue to make substantial progress towards marijuana legalization, one state at a time, by picking and choosing the states with the strongest public support for legalization. Even if our goal were to achieve legalization under federal law, it would take several more years for any of that progress.
It’s Time To Get Serious With Congress
As I acknowledged, we do not yet have the necessary support in Congress to legalize marijuana federally or even to remove those federal laws that are in conflict with the various state legalization laws. These federal laws hang over state laws like the proverbial sword of Damocles. President Obama showed the courage to hold the Department of Justice back and to allow the states to implement their new marijuana laws without federal interference. A future administration, not as willing to permit the states that freedom, might well use the current federal law to roll back state legalization. We therefore absolutely must change federal law to protect these states that are willing to experiment with alternatives to prohibition.
Today, there are at least 14 marijuana-related bills pending in Congress, calling on Congress to reform or repeal different aspects of federal prohibition. These proposals would recognize the medical use of marijuana under federal law; allow legal marijuana businesses in the states to operate like other legal businesses, including the availability of banking and financial services; legalize industrial hemp, and remove marijuana altogether from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Here is a link to those pending bills, along with sample letters making it easy for you to contact your members of Congress to urge their support.
NORML’s 2016 Congressional Lobby Day
For those who are ready to get more personally involved in changing federal law, I would urge you to attend the two-day NORML Congressional Lobby Day scheduled for May 23 and 24 in Washington, DC. Whether you are a longtime activist, a young college student, a medical marijuana patient, a marijuana smoker, or someone who opposes prohibition, this is an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from across the country and get a glimpse into the Capitol Hill lawmaking process. It is an exhilarating experience for anyone who has taken the time to come to DC to lobby their members of Congress.
Changing federal law is never simple, and changing federal marijuana laws is especially challenging. But the necessary changes will not occur on their own, and you can make a real difference and help speed this process along by joining us in Washington, DC for the 2016 NORML Congressional Lobby Day.
Please register here and plan to join us in your nation’s capitol. It’s time to stop complaining and to roll-up your sleeves and get involved.
Hope to see you in DC to help send a strong message to Congress: there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana, and it’s time we ended prohibition and stopped treating smokers like criminals.
California: NORML is opposing pending legislation in the Senate that seeks to impose retail sales taxes on the purchase of medical cannabis. Senate Bill 987 imposes a special 15 percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales, in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.
While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Laws enacted by the legislature last year to regulate medical marijuana explicitly did not include additional taxation, and lawmakers should not try to impose such taxes now.
The legislation is scheduled to be considered by members of the Governance and Finance Committee on April 6th. If you live in California, please #TakeAction and contact your lawmakers to urge them to reject this unnecessary measure!
Connecticut: Members of the House Public Health Committee have approved legislation to allow qualified patients under 18 years old to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating illnesses. Patients who’ve met the necessary requirements would need the consent of a parent or guardian to receive the drug. Presently, Connecticut is the only medical marijuana state that explicitly prohibits use by minors.
Also, on Tuesday, April 5, Reps. Toni Walker and Juan Candelaria will hold an informational hearing on the merits of legalizing the adult use of marijuana. The hearing is open to the public and will take place at 10:00AM in hearing room 2E of the Legislative Office Bldg, 300 Capitol Ave, Hartford, CT 06106.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott signed legislation, House Bill 307, into law to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. House Bill 307 expands the state’s so-called ‘Right to Try Act’ – legislation that permits terminally ill patients to experiment with non-FDA approved remedies – to include the use of medicinal cannabis. Under the new law, which takes immediate effect, qualifying patients are eligible to access both low-THC and high-THC strains of cannabis. The measure also seeks to expand a 2014 state law intended to provide low-THC varieties of cannabis to patients with pediatric epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, or cancer. However, this law is not yet operational.
Illinois: Senate bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of personal use quantities of marijuana, was approved by members of the Senate Criminal Law Committee. If passed, Senate Bill 2228 would amend state law so that the possession of up to ten grams of marijuana is no longer classified as a criminal offense. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. Under the proposal, offenders would instead be issued a civil citation and have to pay a fine of $100 to $200. The marijuana would be confiscated at the time of offense. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
The legislation is anticipated to be voted on by the full Senate in early April. You can #TakeAction to contact your state Senator and urge their support for this legislation!
Maine: House lawmakers voted ‘ought not to pass’ on legislation, LD 1628, to impose presumptive impairment standards in cases where low levels of THC is detected in the blood. NORML is actively opposing this measure, which states that the detection of 5 ng/ml or more of THC in a driver’s blood “gives rise to a permissible inference … that [a] person is under the influence of intoxicants.” NORML would like to thank those House lawmakers that recognized this legislation as an unscientific and disproportionate response to behavior that is already sufficiently addressed by present traffic safety laws.
Massachusetts: Legislation to regulate the cultivation and promotion of industrial hemp received attention this week when lawmakers hosted celebrity Tim Gunn at the Massachusetts State House so he could express his support for regulating the crop. If passed, the measure would establish policies and procedures to allow for the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp if/when federal law permits such activity. You can #TakeAction and contact your state lawmakers to urge their support for this common sense legislation.
New York: New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Lawmakers have introduced 11 separate bills this session to expand the program and significantly increase access to those patients who so desperately need it. To read more about these pending measures and to contact your lawmakers to urge their support, #TakeAction.
Ohio: On Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board certified an initiative to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. Proponents of the initiative must now collect 305,591 required signatures by early July in order to qualify it for the ballot. You can read the full text of the initiative here.
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown signed legislation, Senate Bill 1511, allowing adults 21 and older to immediately become eligible to purchase marijuana extracts and marijuana infused edibles from Oregon dispensaries. In 2014, residents in Oregon voted to legalize the adult use and retail sale of herbal marijuana. Senate Bill 1511 legally permits adults to also purchase limited quantities of cannabis-infused products, such as edibles and extracts.
Vermont: The House of Representatives continues to weigh Senate Bill 241, legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Multiple House committees have held hearings in recent dyas to consider public testimony on the subject while Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly reaffirmed his support for the measure. In an interview released this week with TIME, Governor Shumlin discussed the merits of marijuana legalization and described the reform as something “enlightened states” do. You can read the full interview here.
Washington: House and Senate lawmakers voted 131 to 6 to override Governor Jay Inslee’s veto of Senate Bill 6206, which establishes limited licensed hemp production. The Governor had previously vetoed the bill, along with several others, in response to lawmakers’ failure to pass a comprehensive budget plan. Senate Bill 6206 authorizes “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.
Don’t forget to buy your Early Bird tickets for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day that is taking place May 23rd and 24th! The schedule will be released soon but rest easy it will be a full two day itinerary focused around marijuana consumerism, the 114th Congress, post prohibition concerns, marijuana in the media and more! We’ll hold our informational conference on Monday with moderated discussions between some of the most influential thought leaders in the movement and then on Tuesday we’ll #TakeAction and gather on Capitol Hill to lobby our elected officials for common sense marijuana law reforms.
We’ll also be hosting a NORML Social at O St. Mansion on Monday night for a special award ceremony to honor our most valuable marijuana activists! If you wish to join the party don’t forget to purchase a separate ticket at checkout.