News reports out of Vermont indicate that a major political shift has just occurred that well positions the state legislature to become the first in the nation to end cannabis prohibition and replace with tax-n-regulate policies.
The four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) that have chucked cannabis prohibition have done so by popular vote on binding ballot initiatives passed by citizens, not legislators. Historically, circa 1996, most all substantive cannabis law reforms at the state level have happened because of ballot initiatives, not legislation.
With national surveys and the vote totals in favor of legalizing cannabis in the four vanguard states equaling similar levels of support–54%–some elected officials have finally ‘got it’ about the need to end cannabis prohibition, if only because it is no longer politically popular.
A state legislature voting in the majority for cannabis legalization, with a supportive governor awaiting passed legislation to sign, has yet to happen in America. Arguably, once a state legislature passes cannabis legalization legislation, this action more so than voter initiatives placed on the ballot by stakeholders in reform (be them civil justice groups or business interests) will likely spark a ‘reefer revolution’ among states that want the revenue and public policy controls that the long-failed federal prohibition does not provide them.
With a largely supportive and anti-prohibtion legislature and governor (in Democrat Peter Shumlin) already in place in the Green Mountain state, the only political impediment was the Speaker of the House Shap Smith, who, in his run up to try to become the state’s next governor, has reversed his public stance on cannabis legalization from undecided to publicly endorsing Vermont legalizing cannabis:
“It’s clear to me in my discussions with Vermonters that in general, the people in this state probably favor legalization. And I certainly believe that we can legalize marijuana if we do it right.” – House Speaker Shap Smith
Will the Vermont legislature be the first one to officially legalize cannabis?
Yesterday’s policy reversal from Speaker Smith almost certainly places Vermont in the lead to do so.
Most of us were caught off-guard by the rush of states this year that approved the limited use of CBD-only marijuana extracts because these traditionally conservative states had heretofore rejected the medical use of marijuana. So it seems worth a moment to consider how this occurred, and what it means on a grander scale.
But first, a little recent history.
Throughout this year’s state legislative season, a total of 10 states enacted laws seeking to provide limited access to medical marijuana products that contain high levels of CBD and virtually no THC for qualified, typically pediatric patients suffering from severe and disabling seizures: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.
On one level, this unexpected embrace of the medicinal qualities of marijuana by states that previously rejected the concept must be seen as a favorable development. These serendipitous adoptions reflect a degree of compassion not obvious in the previous legislative debates in those states.
But it is far from certain that these laws will actually help the young patients they are intended to help.
First, such products are primarily only available in a handful of states like California and Colorado and none of these new state laws create a viable in-state supply source for such products. Further, even if a patient from out-of-state could find these products in California or Colorado, it would be a violation of federal law (and also likely state law) to take the medicine back to their home state.
And while some of these laws attempt to establish CBD research projects at their major universities or research hospitals, recent experience demonstrates that few universities or research hospitals are willing to enter this confusing field while marijuana remains a federal crime, and those that may be willing to take the bait will face a steep and long learning curve before the first patient will have high-CBD extracts available.
This legislative rush to CBD-only extracts also suggests (1) the degree to which elected officials are influenced by popular media, (2) their willingness to pick and choose the science they like (while ignoring the science they do not), and (3) the strong puritanical impulse that remains a factor with many elected officials.
And it all relates to the “Gupta Effect”. When CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report highlighting how high-CBD marijuana products control debilitating seizures among children suffering from Dravet’s syndrome (the most severe form of childhood epilepsy) went public, few Americans had even heard of cannabidiol. Most people were familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that principally accounts for the “high” that marijuana smokers enjoy, but had zero idea that CBD even existed.
Dr. Gupta, who had previously uncritically accepted the federal government’s consistent claim that marijuana had no legitimate medical use, when confronted with actual children whose lives had been transformed following their use of high-CBD marijuana extracts, understandably felt misled by the government’s anti-marijuana propaganda, and went public with two special programs introducing the importance of high-CBD extracts in reducing or eliminating seizures in these children.
In the second program Dr. Gupta made it clear that while CBD appeared to be the primary therapeutic ingredient for this class of patients, he also made the point that some level of THC was also required, because of what he termed the “entourage effect.” Without the THC, the CBD would either be less effective, or in some instances ineffective.
It’s embarrassing that so many of our elected officials would get their scientific understanding of the medical properties of marijuana from a popular television doctor, instead of conducting their own research into the available science, before moving legislation forward. But better they be motivated by a celebrity doctor than continue to ignore the benefits of medical marijuana altogether.
Of which there are a myriad.
The marijuana plant is one of the most studied biologically active substances of modern times. A search on PubMed, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, using the term “marijuana” yields nearly 20,000 scientific papers referencing the plant and/or its constituents, nearly half of which have been published just within the past decade. In addition, more than 100 controlled trials, involving thousands of subjects, have evaluated the safety and efficacy of cannabis and/or individual cannabinoids.
Most recently, a review of FDA-approved marijuana plant trials conducted by various California universities concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification (for cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.” The best summary of this research can be found in the publication Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, available on the NORML website. So the basic research is available for all who care to learn.
But few elected officials appear to be aware of this considerable body of science. Rather, the common refrain is to claim they cannot support the medical use of marijuana because the only evidence is “anecdotal”. These officials prefer to remain ignorant because it reinforces their preconceived notion that medical marijuana is a hoax perpetuated by those who simply wish to get “high”.
So what this latest rush to approve CBD-only marijuana products demonstrates, more than anything else, is the degree to which our public policy can frequently be influenced by a strong strain of puritanism that remains alive among our elected officials. If it feels good, it must be bad!
These many state legislators were willing to show some compassion by allowing the medical use of marijuana by these poor children suffering from multiple, disabling seizures, so long as the marijuana did not make them feel “high” (i.e., feel better!). These legislators are against pleasure, and if the use medical marijuana includes the feeling of pleasure, then it cannot be approved.
Excuse me, but is that not the purpose of using medicine when one is ill – to feel better?
Admittedly, for some of these puritans, the association of the word “high” with the use of marijuana may lie at the heart of the problem for them. Marijuana has long been demonized by conservatives, law enforcement, and many in the medical community, and that has spilled-over to the marijuana “high”.
If they understood that the marijuana “high” makes the user feel better, and that seriously ill patients almost always want (and need) to feel better, perhaps they could overcome their fear of medical marijuana. But for now at least, it is clear that in their view the marijuana “high”, like marijuana itself, is something to be avoided by responsible Americans, even if that precludes the use of medical marijuana by seriously ill patients.
It is time we moved beyond the notion that pleasure is bad, and stopped treating the marijuana “high” as something to be avoided, when it makes patient feel better. For them, feeling better and feeling high is often the same.
Today, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 215 to 92 in favor of House Bill 1625. This legislation to significantly reduce marijuana penalties in New Hampshire.
Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,000. Passage of this act would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100 — no arrest and no criminal record. It would lower the classification of cultivation of six marijuana plants or less to a Class A misdemeanor. You can read the full text of this measure here. House Bill 1625 now awaits action in the state Senate.
New Hampshire Residents: Click HERE to quickly and easily contact your member of the state Senate and urge them to support this important legislation. You can also view how each member of the House of Representatives voted here.
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.
This morning, the Maine Legislative Council voted 5-5 on whether or not to allow Rep. Diane Russell’s marijuana legalization to be introduced.
A tie vote means the motion has failed and the legislation will NOT be introduced this session. Included in the ranks of those voting “No” was Senate President Justin Alfond, who represents Portland…a city that just overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana.
Mainers, please take a moment of your time today to contact your lawmakers at the phone numbers below and tell them:
“I am extremely disappointed with the Legislative Council’s vote this morning on Rep. Diane Russell’s marijuana regulation bill. This issue isn’t just important to Rep. Russell, but to all of us who live in the state. This legislation would have fostered an important discussion on marijuana legalization and laid out a framework for regulation that benefited the people of Maine. The vote this morning is a disservice to the state and the residents these officials are supposed to be representing.”
Please call: Maine Senate President Justin Alfond: (207) 287-1500 and Maine Speaker of the House: (207) 287-1300 to voice your concerns.
The bill would have allowed anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana, cultivate up to 6 plants, and purchase marijuana from established retail outlets. It also contained key provisions in place that ensure individuals with several years residency in Maine and experience as a current medical marijuana dispensaries or caregiver are given priority on business licenses, explicitly leaves the current medical marijuana law in place for patients, and directs tax revenue to help low income patients be able to afford their medicine.