The DEA announced that they will amend their quotas for 2017 regarding the cultivation of research-grade marijuana and hemp legalization bills in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have been signed into law! We also have updates from Illinois, Florida, and Ohio. Keep reading to learn the latest in marijuana law reform news from around the country and to find out how you can #TakeAction!
In a notice published in the Federal Register, Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg proposed amending the amount of marijuana that may be produced under federal license in 2017 to approximately 1,041 pounds. The agency alleges that this quantity will be sufficient to provide for the “estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States.”
The US Drug Enforcement Administration is also preparing to respond to an administrative petition calling for the reclassification of marijuana as a schedule I prohibited substance. Their determination was originally expected in the first half of 2016 but it has yet to be released.
Florida: Next Tuesday, the state’s first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary will open to the public. Trulieve, a licensed cannabis cultivator and distributor, will provide a high CBD, low THC strain of the plant to patients that are registered with the state. However, as of today not a single eligible patient is registered with the state to legally access the product. This is because Florida’s law, initially passed in 2014, is among the strictest in the country. Under the law, patients diagnosed with cancer, seizures, or intractable muscle spasms are eligible for CBD-dominant cannabis, while those diagnosed with a terminal illness are eligible for THC-dominant cannabis. To date, however, only 15 physicians in the state are participating in the program.
Illinois: Two months ago lawmakers voted in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But Governor Bruce Rauner has yet to sign the measure into law. The bill makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1,500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
#TakeAction and contact Governor Rauner to urge him to sign this legislation into law.
Ohio: Governor John Kasich has signed legislation so that certain drug offenses are no longer punishable by a mandatory loss of one’s driver’s license. Under previous law, any drug conviction carried a mandatory driver’s license suspension of at least six months, even in cases where the possession offense did not take place in a vehicle. Senate Bill 204 makes such suspensions discretionary rather than mandatory. The law will take effect September 13th, 2016.
Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, July 20th, Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation, House Bill 967, to establish “a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” The new law took immediate effect. Twenty-eight states have now enacted similar legislation.
Rhode Island: Governor Gina Raimondo has signed legislation, H8232, to establish rules for the commercial, licensed cultivation of hemp in the state. The legislation creates the “Hemp Growth Act” to treat hemp as an agricultural product that may be legally produced, possessed, distributed and commercially traded. The Department of Business Regulation will be responsible for establishing rules and regulations for the licensing and regulation of hemp growers and processors.
Over the weekend the Democratic National Committee voted to endorse a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” of marijuana and called on the federal government to downgrade marijuana from it’s current Schedule 1 of the United States Controlled Substances Act.
In an 81-80 vote, the following language was added as part of the Democratic party’s official 2016 platform:
“Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
Previously, a 15-person panel of the Democratic National Committee voted to include the following language which will also be included in the party platform:
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites, despite similar usage rates.”
While the language that was originally approved by the panel sufficiently addressed marijuana law reform as a party priority, the additional amendment which nods towards future legalization, bodes well with advocates all around. This is surely a large step in the right direction by one of our country’s main political parties.
As the Democrats worked to finalize what faction of marijuana law reform they would like to endorse, the Republicans had a different debate on the subject.
On Monday, the Republican party voted not to endorse medical marijuana in their 2016 platform. And throughout the debate some of oldest marijuana myths were spouted as fact. Delegates contested that marijuana is linked to mental health issues, that mass murderers are all smoking pot, and that the heroin epidemic is a result of teenagers smoking weed. While there were some pro-medical marijuana delegates present and who attempted to push back at the theories, it was not enough to result in a medical marijuana endorsement by the party.
The Republican party missed their opportunity to endorse any language related to marijuana law reform which could have ranged from medical marijuana to simply endorsing the conservative principle of limited government, allowing states to move forward with their reforms free from federal interference.
It’s a wonder how one political party has come so far in acknowledging scientific fact and public opinion, which puts voter approval for medical marijuana at 78 percent and voter approval for adult marijuana use at 61 percent, while another political party seems so far from that same point.
Adult use legalization initiatives in Arizona, California and Massachusetts are moving forward and Illinois has expanded its medical marijuana program. Keep reading to get the latest news and to find out how you can #TakeAction.
On Wednesday, July 13th the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism is holding a hearing titled, “Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana.” The Congressional hearing follows the recent introduction of House Bill 5549 and Senate Bill 3077 – which would expedite the federal review process for clinical protocols involving cannabis. Contact your federal lawmakers today to encourage them to support this common sense legislation. #TakeAction
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s office affirmed on Thursday that proponents, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, submitted sufficient signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act establishes a statewide program for the licensed production, analytic testing, and distribution of medicinal cannabis. Under the program, patients diagnosed by a physician with one of over 50 qualifying conditions may obtain cannabis from one of up to 38 licensed non-profit care centers. Qualified patients who do not have a center operating in their vicinity will be permitted to obtain a ‘hardship certificate’ in order to cultivate their own medicine at home. A similar initiative narrowly failed in the state in 2012, garnering over 48 percent of the vote.
California: It was announced this week that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) initiative will appear on the ballot as Proposition 64. This pending proposal, if approved by the voters, will permit adults to legally cultivate up to six marijuana plants and to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates; and it will license the commercial cultivation and retail sales of marijuana products to adults. The measure prohibits localities from preventing responsible adults from possessing and cultivating cannabis for non-commercial purposes in the privacy of their own homes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” You can read more about the proposal here.
Georgia: Members of the Clarkston City Council voted this week in to approve an ordinance reducing the penalties for simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The amendment makes simple possession a citable rather than an arrestable offense, punishable by a $75 fine. Mario Williams, Public Safety Committee chairman said, “It is a proven fact that arresting people … for simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana has damaging effects long-term and short-term on their lives and that’s why we took a step forward and mitigated those effects today.”
Illinois: Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation to expand and extend the state’s medical marijuana program to 2020. Legislation initiating the program was set to expire in 2018. Other changes to the program include adding post-traumatic stress and any terminal illness as qualifying medical conditions; extending the lifespan of state-issued registry cards from one year to three years in duration; and amending the requirement that physicians must explicitly recommend cannabis therapy. Instead, physicians will only be required to certify that there exists a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and that the patient possesses a qualifying, debilitating medical condition.
These new changes in law took effect upon the Governor’s signature.
Massachusetts: Proponents of a statewide marijuana legalization initiative effort moved one step closer this week to qualifying for the ballot in November. On Tuesday the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 25,000 additional signatures from registered voters to the Secretary of State’s office. The state required an additional 10,792 signatures. Proponents this week also gained a legal victory from the state’s Supreme Court, which rejected a challenge that sought to remove the language from the state’s ballot.
Pennsylvania: Members of the Harrisburg City Council this week voted unanimously in favor of a municipal ordinance to reduce penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure reclassifies cannabis possession as a summary offense punishable by a $5 fine. Pennsylvania’s capital city now joins Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in treating minor marijuana possession offenses similar to a traffic citation.
Representatives within the Democratic National Committee have approved provisions specific to marijuana law reform as part of the party’s 2016 platform.
A 15-person decision-making panel unanimously voted to adopt the following language:
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates.”
Though the language falls well short of calling for an end to federal cannabis prohibition, it nonetheless marks a stark contrast between the two major political parties.
Last week, Republican leaders in Congress quashed a number of proposed marijuana law reforms. Specifically, provisions previously voted on by Congress to expand medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans were removed by leadership during the conference committee process and earlier there was a decision to deny members the opportunity to vote on a Democrat-sponsored amendment that sought to permit banks and other financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses.
With many Congressional Republicans actively discouraging marijuana related reforms at the federal level, it’s motivating to see Democrats pro-actively finding ways to include the need for cannabis policy reform in the party’s national conversation.
As predicted, 2016 is turning out to a historic year for the marijuana legalization movement. With three statewide initiatives already cleared for the November ballot (Florida, Nevada, Maine) and several other initiative campaigns awaiting certification, there has never been a greater need for grassroots marijuana activism. From gathering signatures and making volunteer recruitment calls, to data entry and talking face to face with voters, there is still plenty of work to be done. To get involved today, simply follow the three easy steps below!
First, please consider becoming a member of our organization (NORML Membership). In addition to being a part of the nation’s longest serving marijuana law reform group and getting a great membership package, we have compiled an extensive collection of fact-based information that you can use to support your efforts as you engage lawmakers in your community. Regardless of the point you’re trying to make (recreational, medical, hemp, CBD, etc.) you’ll find recent studies, articles and other resources that will help reinforce your argument (NORML Library).
Second, if there isn’t already a NORML affiliate in your community (Chapter Locator), I encourage you to begin the process of forming your own chapter. For more than 40 years, NORML affiliates and chapters have been leading reform conversations on the local and state level, and they continue to be the driving force behind policy decisions regarding marijuana. If this is something that you’d like to be a part of, please take a few minutes to review NORML’s new Chapter Starter Packet. It will serve as your number one resource as you get started. If you need help finding others to join you, I’m happy to help connect you with people in your area.
Third, start contacting your local, state and federal representatives about pending marijuana-related legislation by using our online Action Alert Center. We’re constantly monitoring dozens of marijuana-related bills from around the country so we’re able to provide you with the most up-to-date legislative alerts and talking points. In addition to advocating for marijuana law reform using the legislative process, we also welcome the opportunity to work with your organization to draft a municipal ordinance, similar to the ones recently adopted by local governments in Ohio and Florida.
I look forward to working with you to establish a new community of marijuana activists in your state! For more information about forming a NORML chapter or getting involved with marijuana law reform efforts, please email KevinM@NORML.org or visit NORML.org.