Budgetary provisions enacted by Congress in 2014 forbid the Justice Department from taking action against medical marijuana providers who are operating in compliance with state law, a federal judge for the northern district of California determined earlier this week.
The ruling, issued by US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, rejects the Justice Department’s ‘tortured’ interpretation of the statute (Section 538 of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015) and affirms that the “plain reading” of the law prohibits the federal government from spending funds in a manner that interferes with a state’s ability to authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Consequently, the statute forbids the federal government from taking actions that would result in the closure of state-compliant medical cannabis facilities, the Court opined.
Breyer ruled: “It defies language and logic for the Government to argue that it does not ‘prevent’ California from ‘implementing’ its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these … dispensaries, whether one shuts down one, some, or all. … [C]ontrary to the Government’s representation, the record here does support a finding that Californian’s access to medical marijuana has been substantially impeded by the closing of dispensaries.”
He added: “[T]he legislative history of Section 538 points in only direction: away from the counter-intuitive and opportunistic meaning the DOJ seeks to ascribe to it now. … [T]he statutory language … is plain on its face [and] the Court must enforce it according to its terms.”
Breyer’s ruling removes an injunction that had forbidden the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana from operating. The injunction had been in effect since federal officials took action to close down the facility in 2011 as part of a statewide crackdown against dispensary operators.
Although Section 538 was included as part of a fiscal year 2015 spending bill, the language is expected to be renewed by Congress later this year as part of a FY 2016 appropriations measure.
While the Presidential candidates clarify their marijuana-centric positions and voters in one state (Ohio) prepare to decide on legalizing the plant, state and federal lawmakers continue to move forward with legislative reforms. Here’s a look at some recent, pending legislative developments.
To support the measures below, please use our #TakeAction Center to contact your state and federal elected officials! A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bills approved this year is also available here.
New Federal Bill Introduced:
Washington Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is sponsoring H.R. 3746, the State Marijuana and Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act, to protect medical patients, recreational consumers, and licensed businesses in states that regulate marijuana. Under this proposal, the US federal Controlled Substances Act would no longer be inapplicable in states that have legalized and regulated marijuana in a manner that addresses key federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors and drug-induced impaired driving.
State Legislative Developments:
California: Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a legislative package of bills that seek to provide statewide regulations for California’s medical cannabis industry.
The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which consists of three separate bills (Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643), creates a new state agency within the Department of Consumer Affairs to develop rules and licensing procedures for authorized medical cannabis dispensaries. Dispensaries must be compliant with local guidelines prior to receiving a state license. State-licensed dispensaries will be permitted to operate on a ‘for profit’ basis. However, the new regulations will not override existing municipal moratoriums, nor will they prohibit the collection of local sales taxes on marijuana purchases in communities that presently impose them.
Separate language in the Act seeks to regulate the licensed production of cannabis and imposes rules in regard to growing, testing, and labeling cannabis like other agricultural products. The Act also seeks to provide additional oversight to physicians who recommend cannabis therapy. However, it does not limit physicians from recommending cannabis at their own discretion – activity that is codified under Proposition 215/the Compassionate Use Act.
The new law takes effect on January 1, 2016. However, regulations imposed by the new law are not expected until early 2017.State licensing is anticipated to begin in early 2018.
Illinois: House members are considering House Bill 4276, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, to permit those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and/or to engage in the home cultivation of marijuana for non-commercial purposes (up to eight plants at any one time.) Adults would be permitted to possess the full harvest from their plants and would not be subject to any taxation or commercial fees for engaging in home cultivation. Existing criminal penalties involving the possession or cultivation of marijuana above these limits would also be significantly reduced under this measure.
Michigan: House members recently amended and passed legislation to expand Michigan’s existing medical marijuana law.
House Bill 4209 would license and regulate above-ground, safe access facilities for state-qualified patients seeking medical marijuana. Previously, lawmakers wanted to impose a special 8 percent excise tax on dispensary-related income; however, following the objections of advocates who argued that the imposition of additional fees would drive many patients to the black market, this proposed tax now been lowered to 3 percent.
House Bill 4210 would provide qualified patients legal protections for their use of non-smoked cannabis derived topicals and edibles, as well as cannabis-based extract products. Lawmakers also passed a third bill, HB 4827, which seeks to establish regulations tracking the production and sale of medical marijuana products.
This package of bills now goes before the Senate Judiciary committee for consideration.
Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!
California lawmakers approved a series of bills in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session that seek to establish statewide rules and oversight governing the distribution of medicinal cannabis. The three bills — Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 643, and Assembly Bill 243 — now await final approval from Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown.
Much of the measures’ finalized language was amended and approved by lawmakers at the close of the session and was not subject to public testimony or significant floor debate.
Specifically, the legislative package creates a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs to develop rules and licensing procedures for authorized medical cannabis dispensaries. Dispensaries will be required to operate in accordance with local guidelines prior to receiving a state license. State-licensed dispensaries will be permitted to operate on a ‘for profit’ basis. However, the new regulations do not override municipal moratoriums that are already in place prohibiting such operations in various jurisdictions throughout the state, nor do they prohibit the collection of local sales taxes on marijuana purchases in communities that presently impose them.
Separate language in the bills seeks to regulate the licensed production of cannabis and imposes rules in regard to growing, testing, and labeling cannabis like other agricultural products. The bills also seek to provide additional oversight to physicians who recommend cannabis therapy. However, the measures do not limit physicians from recommending cannabis at their own discretion — activity which is codified under Proposition 215/the Compassionate Use Act.
Proposed language seeking to impose an excise tax on various cannabis products was not included in the final bill package.
If signed into law, the new regulations will take effect in 2017.
California voters initially approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which permits qualified patients to possess and/or grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes. However, the measure did not provide language explicitly providing for third-party providers outside of assigned caregivers, instead calling upon state lawmakers “to implement a plan of safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”
California NORML has additional information of the measures here and here.
Today a Blue Ribbon Commission led by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom released a report providing a total of 58 recommendations for advocates to consider as they move forward to place a legalization initiative on the statewide ballot in November 2016.
California will be joined by a number of other states hoping to legalize marijuana in 2016.
This report seeks to provide regulatory guidance for the state’s forthcoming legalization effort. The commission prefaced its report by stating: “Legalization of marijuana would not be an event that happens in one election. Rather, it would be a process that unfolds over many years requiring sustained attention to implementation.”
The 93-page report addresses policy options on a myriad of subjects, ranging from commercial production to taxation and everything in between. Authors advocate that the four core goals of legalizing cannabis are: promoting the public interest, reducing the size of the illicit market, offering legal protection to responsible actors, and capturing and investing tax revenue. Another predominant theme throughout the report is youth safety. The Commissions states, “A Tax and Regulate policy legalizing marijuana use by adults has the potential to reserve sufficient revenue to provide universal access to programs such as Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) that emphasize learning skills, remediation of academic performance, improved school climate, school retention, peer group interventions, family engagement and more effective drug education, prevention and counseling programs. ”
Notably, the report acknowledges that if California voters were to legalize in 2016, “state officials should engage the federal government, both to ensure compliance with these federal enforcement priorities and to help change other federal rules that may be obstacles to safe legalization at the state level,” signaling that lawmakers intend to bring immense pressure to federal authorities to accommodate state legalization efforts. Specific changes the report wishes to see on the federal level are amendments to banking regulations and IRS rules.
While the report itself avoids explicitly endorsing or opposing marijuana legalization, Lieutenant Governor Newsom has been an outspoken critic of prohibition and is currently the highest office holder in California calling for the plant’s legalization.
Six separate initiatives have been filed in California so far in hopes of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Voters rejected legalization previously in 2010 but a recent poll performed by the Public Policy Institute of California puts support among likely voters at 56%.
Fifty-four percent of Californians support legalizing marijuana for adults, according to polling data commissioned by the Public Policy Institute of California and released today.
The percentage of respondents agreeing that “the use of marijuana should be legal” increased three percent since 2014. Fifty-four percent is the highest level of support for legalizing cannabis ever reported in a PPIC poll.
Among likely voters, 56 percent favor legalization (versus 41 percent opposed).
Democrats (65 percent), Californians age 18 to 34 (62 percent), Independent voters (61 percent), and whites (60 percent) were most likely to favor legalization. Sixty percent of Latinos and 57 percent of Republicans opposed legalization.
The complete PPIC poll is online here.
California is one of several states where voters are anticipated to decide whether or not to legalize and regulate the use, production, and retail sale of the plant in 2016.