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LEGISLATION

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 3, 2014

    Congressional lawmakers last week approved language authorizing state universities and agriculture departments to move forward with programs to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes.

    The language, included in the final version of the omnibus federal Farm Bill, was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to sign off on the measure imminently.

    The provisions allow 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.

    Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Farmers worldwide grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food. However, US federal law makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) — who advocated on behalf of the language to the 2014 Farm Bill conference, the group federal of lawmakers charged with finalizing the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill – called the bill’s expected passage “an important victory for … farmers.”

    A 2013 white paper published by the Congressional Research Service concludes: “[T]he US market for hemp-based products has a highly dedicated and growing demand base, as indicated by recent US market and import data for hemp products and ingredients, as well as market trends for some natural foods and body care products. Given the existence of these small-scale, but profitable, niche markets for a wide array of industrial and consumer products, commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”

    The agency notes that the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.

    Also last week, the American Farm Bureau Federation at its annual meeting approved a new policy resolution urging for the repeal of the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance under federal law stating, “At a time when small farms are innovating and diversifying to remain competitive, we should provide every opportunity to increase farm incomes and allow the next generation the ability to continue living off the land as their families have for generations.”

    Federal legislation to reclassify industrial hemp and to allow for its commercial cultivation remains pending in both the United States House and Senate.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    Hawaii voters overwhelmingly support legalizing and regulating the adult use of cannabis, according to just-released statewide survey data by QMark Research and commissioned by the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group.

    Sixty-six percent of respondents said they endorsed legalizing cannabis, an increase of nine points since pollsters last posed the question in 2012.

    Seventy-seven percent of respondents separately said that jail time is an inappropriate sanction for those found to be in violation of the state’s existing marijuana possession laws. Under present law, possessing any amount of cannabis for non-medical purposes in Hawaii is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    Eight-five percent of those polled also backed the establishment of licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. Hawaii lawmakers legalized the possession and cultivation of medicinal cannabis by state-qualified patients in 2000, but did not provide for dispensaries.

    Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, DC now have licensed medical cannabis dispensaries up and running. (California dispensaries are not licensed by the state.) Similar dispensary outlets are in the process of opening in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

    Summaries of various pending bills to liberalize Hawaii’s marijuana policies are available online here and here.

    The QMark poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.

    For those keeping score, recent statewide polls in Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Texas all show majority support for legalizing the adult consumption of cannabis.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 24, 2014

    The Florida Division of Elections today confirmed that proponents of a 2014 statewide measure to allow for the physician-supervised use of cannabis have gathered sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

    The measure seeks to authorize doctors to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients at their discretion and authorizes the state Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

    Backers of the measure, United for Care, turned in over 683,000 valid signatures from Florida voters to qualify the measure. The initiative seeks to amend the state constitution.

    Survey data released in November by Quinnipiac University reported that 82 percent of Florida voters support reforming state law to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. Because the proposed measure seeks to amend the state constitution, 60 percent of voters must decide in favor of it before it may be enacted.

    Proponents of the measure still await a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court as to whether the measure will appear before voters this fall. State Attorney General Pam Bondi is contesting the language of the measure in a suit backed by House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz and Gov. Rick Scott.

    The state Supreme Court must decide on the issue by April 1.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

    Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.

    United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

    “You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”

    Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.

    In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director January 15, 2014

    After a heated and lengthy debate on the floor of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the lower chamber of New Hampshire’s legislature today voted 170 to 162 in favor of House Bill 492, which seeks to legalize under state law the personal use and home cultivation of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older and establish regulations for the retail production and sale of cannabis.

    The historic vote makes the New Hampshire House the first state legislative chamber to ever vote in favor of regulating cannabis.

    House Bill 492 had initially received a “Ought Not to Pass” report from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. However, in New Hampshire legislative rules permit all House measures to receive floor votes by the full House. This afternoon, House lawmakers debated the measure for more than three hours before voting 170 to 168 to accept the committee report. But this was just the beginning.

    Members of the House of Representatives voted 173 to 165 to reconsider their actions and hold a revote. On their second vote, a majority 170 members voted to reject the “Ought Not to Pass” report. House lawmakers then voted to adopt amendments to adjust minor details of the bill. More debate ensued, but when the final vote was held 170 voted in favor of approving HB492 as amended and sending it to and 162 voted in opposition.

    “This vote is historic,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Today’s vote approving House Bill 492 is the first time a chamber of a state legislature has ever approved of legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana for all adults. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support ending our prohibition on marijuana and the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ actions today signal that politicians are finally beginning to acknowledge the will of their constituents.”

    Tax issues pertaining to the bill will now be debated by the House Ways and Means Committee. A second House floor vote is anticipated in the coming months. However, Democrat Governor Maggie Hassan has already stated her opposition to this measure.

    NORML will keep you updated on this evolving situation.

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