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.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is pleased to announce our endorsement of the MI Legalize 2016 initiative to regulate the adult use, production and retail sale of marijuana in Michigan.
MI Legalize, also known as the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, has collected more than 270,000 signatures in its effort to legalize marijuana via the petitioning process. The grass-roots effort has been collecting signatures from registered voters since June, 2015, and represents the best opportunity to enact a regulatory system in Michigan, a state where it is highly unlikely the state legislature will take any similar action.
Recent polling in Michigan indicates growing public support for marijuana law reform, including the plant’s full legalization. An EPIC-MRA poll conducted in March found 53% support for legalization, up from 50% in 2015. That poll was commissioned by Michigan NORML.
Michigan NORML’s goal is to make Michigan the first Midwestern state to legalize the adult use of marijuana. If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by the voters in the November general election, the MI Legalize proposal will be the most liberal marijuana legalization law in the United States.
We invite marijuana law reform advocates across America to contribute to the MI Legalize campaign via the organization’s website, www.milegalize.com. A Michigan angel donor has made a matching funds pledge, and for a limited time all contributions received by the MI Legalize campaign up to $100,000 will be matched, and your contribution will have twice the impact.
Please support the MI Legalize marijuana legalization campaign in Michigan.
I cringed last weekend when I saw news photos of a protest and demonstration in front of the White House in which the most notable image was a 51-foot inflatable “joint.”
That’s right. Here we are in 2016 on the verge of finally ending marijuana prohibition, and some activists seem caught in a time warp, using tactics more suitable for the 1960s and 70s. I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.
This latest example of street theater came courtesy of DCMJ, the local group in DC who led the successful voter initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia in 2014. They deserve our appreciation for helping move reform forward in DC, where adults are permitted to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants for their personal use, and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult for no remuneration.
This latest protest, though, was both misguided and counter-productive.
The Wrong Target
First, the stated purpose of the protest was to put pressure on President Obama, whom the group claimed had done nothing to legalize marijuana. “The Obama administration has been a big ZERO on cannabis reform,” the organizers of the event alleged in their press release announcing the White House protest.
Apparently they are unaware of the extraordinary action taken by President Obama to instruct his Department of Justice to step aside and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference. That unprecedented action was an enormous gift to the legalization movement and permitted us to demonstrate that marijuana can be successfully legalized and regulated with no significant unintended consequences.
Under any prior administration, the DOJ would have filed for an injunction in federal court, seeking to use federal law to enjoin the provisions in these new state laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Most legal observers agree they would have been successful, based on the “supremacy clause” of the US Constitution.
It is the experience of these first few states that allows us to argue with authority that legalization is a legitimate option to prohibition. Ignoring the significance of this decision by President Obama, in order to justify some street theater, suggests a lack of political sophistication.
Also, President Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 200 federal drug prisoners, including a number of people serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, and promises additional non-violent offenders will be pardoned or otherwise released from prison over the remaining months of his administration. It is difficult to imagine a public protest intended to embarrass the president would be a helpful tactic at this juncture.
The Wrong Time
Public protests have at times played a powerful role in our country’s history, most notably in building public opposition to unpopular wars, including especially the Vietnam war. However, those demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, and demonstrated mass support for ending the war.
The latest protest at the White House involved perhaps 100 protesters, and rather than demonstrating mass opposition to President Obama and his marijuana policies, showed a handful of activists more concerned with seeing themselves on the evening news than engaging in the hard work of actually changing public policy. The utilization of the 51-foot inflatable “joint” left the impression this was more about fun in the park and less about serious political change.
Keep in mind that the City Council in the District of Columbia has been actively discussing the need to license commercial growers and retail sellers of marijuana. They would have done this earlier but for a provision attached by Congress on the District’s budget (Congress retains the right to review and possibly reject actions of our elected City Council).
Under the terms of a recent court case in DC (Council of the District of Columbia v DeWitt) , it now appears the Council may adopt a legally regulated market for marijuana, if they use only money raised from DC residents, excluding money provided to the District by Congress. The Council members understand they need to tread carefully in this area to avoid a backlash from the more conservative members of Congress, but a clear majority want to move forward.
Witnessing the juvenile demonstration at the White House could only complicate this delicate dance the DC City Council is trying to take regarding marijuana policy in the District. Instead of (symbolically) blowing smoke in their faces, these local activists could have been meeting with our supporters on the City Council to discuss how best to move forward with the least resistance from Congress.
Apparently, that would not have been nearly as much fun, nor would it have resulted in their being covered in the local news. All of us who engage in public advocacy for legalization need to be sure we are taking actions that move the legalization movement forward and not confusing media coverage with political progress. All news is not good news, and some news coverage definitely sets us back.
This latest street theater at the White House was one of those times. Though few of us were involved (none of the national reform organizations), it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization in the District, or to encourage President Obama to push marijuana law reform further under federal law.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com:
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!