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
California: NORML is opposing pending legislation in the Senate that seeks to impose retail sales taxes on the purchase of medical cannabis. Senate Bill 987 imposes a special 15 percent statewide tax upon medical marijuana sales, in addition to the imposition of existing state and local taxes.
While NORML generally does not oppose the imposition of fair and reasonable sales taxes on the commercial sales of cannabis for recreational purposes, we do not support such excessive taxation on medical sales. Laws enacted by the legislature last year to regulate medical marijuana explicitly did not include additional taxation, and lawmakers should not try to impose such taxes now.
The legislation is scheduled to be considered by members of the Governance and Finance Committee on April 6th. If you live in California, please #TakeAction and contact your lawmakers to urge them to reject this unnecessary measure!
Connecticut: Members of the House Public Health Committee have approved legislation to allow qualified patients under 18 years old to use medical marijuana to treat their debilitating illnesses. Patients who’ve met the necessary requirements would need the consent of a parent or guardian to receive the drug. Presently, Connecticut is the only medical marijuana state that explicitly prohibits use by minors.
Also, on Tuesday, April 5, Reps. Toni Walker and Juan Candelaria will hold an informational hearing on the merits of legalizing the adult use of marijuana. The hearing is open to the public and will take place at 10:00AM in hearing room 2E of the Legislative Office Bldg, 300 Capitol Ave, Hartford, CT 06106.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott signed legislation, House Bill 307, into law to permit medical marijuana access to people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. House Bill 307 expands the state’s so-called ‘Right to Try Act’ – legislation that permits terminally ill patients to experiment with non-FDA approved remedies – to include the use of medicinal cannabis. Under the new law, which takes immediate effect, qualifying patients are eligible to access both low-THC and high-THC strains of cannabis. The measure also seeks to expand a 2014 state law intended to provide low-THC varieties of cannabis to patients with pediatric epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, or cancer. However, this law is not yet operational.
Illinois: Senate bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of personal use quantities of marijuana, was approved by members of the Senate Criminal Law Committee. If passed, Senate Bill 2228 would amend state law so that the possession of up to ten grams of marijuana is no longer classified as a criminal offense. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. Under the proposal, offenders would instead be issued a civil citation and have to pay a fine of $100 to $200. The marijuana would be confiscated at the time of offense. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
The legislation is anticipated to be voted on by the full Senate in early April. You can #TakeAction to contact your state Senator and urge their support for this legislation!
Maine: House lawmakers voted ‘ought not to pass’ on legislation, LD 1628, to impose presumptive impairment standards in cases where low levels of THC is detected in the blood. NORML is actively opposing this measure, which states that the detection of 5 ng/ml or more of THC in a driver’s blood “gives rise to a permissible inference … that [a] person is under the influence of intoxicants.” NORML would like to thank those House lawmakers that recognized this legislation as an unscientific and disproportionate response to behavior that is already sufficiently addressed by present traffic safety laws.
Massachusetts: Legislation to regulate the cultivation and promotion of industrial hemp received attention this week when lawmakers hosted celebrity Tim Gunn at the Massachusetts State House so he could express his support for regulating the crop. If passed, the measure would establish policies and procedures to allow for the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp if/when federal law permits such activity. You can #TakeAction and contact your state lawmakers to urge their support for this common sense legislation.
New York: New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014, however the law is one of the most restrictive in the country. Lawmakers have introduced 11 separate bills this session to expand the program and significantly increase access to those patients who so desperately need it. To read more about these pending measures and to contact your lawmakers to urge their support, #TakeAction.
Ohio: On Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board certified an initiative to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. Proponents of the initiative must now collect 305,591 required signatures by early July in order to qualify it for the ballot. You can read the full text of the initiative here.
Oregon: Governor Kate Brown signed legislation, Senate Bill 1511, allowing adults 21 and older to immediately become eligible to purchase marijuana extracts and marijuana infused edibles from Oregon dispensaries. In 2014, residents in Oregon voted to legalize the adult use and retail sale of herbal marijuana. Senate Bill 1511 legally permits adults to also purchase limited quantities of cannabis-infused products, such as edibles and extracts.
Vermont: The House of Representatives continues to weigh Senate Bill 241, legislation to regulate the adult use, production, and sale of cannabis. Multiple House committees have held hearings in recent dyas to consider public testimony on the subject while Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly reaffirmed his support for the measure. In an interview released this week with TIME, Governor Shumlin discussed the merits of marijuana legalization and described the reform as something “enlightened states” do. You can read the full interview here.
Washington: House and Senate lawmakers voted 131 to 6 to override Governor Jay Inslee’s veto of Senate Bill 6206, which establishes limited licensed hemp production. The Governor had previously vetoed the bill, along with several others, in response to lawmakers’ failure to pass a comprehensive budget plan. Senate Bill 6206 authorizes “the growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program.
Don’t forget to buy your Early Bird tickets for our 2016 Congressional Lobby Day that is taking place May 23rd and 24th! The schedule will be released soon but rest easy it will be a full two day itinerary focused around marijuana consumerism, the 114th Congress, post prohibition concerns, marijuana in the media and more! We’ll hold our informational conference on Monday with moderated discussions between some of the most influential thought leaders in the movement and then on Tuesday we’ll #TakeAction and gather on Capitol Hill to lobby our elected officials for common sense marijuana law reforms.
We’ll also be hosting a NORML Social at O St. Mansion on Monday night for a special award ceremony to honor our most valuable marijuana activists! If you wish to join the party don’t forget to purchase a separate ticket at checkout.
Regulations permitting state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries to also engage in retail sales to those ages 21 or older take effect on Thursday, October 1. An estimated 200 facilities are anticipated to begin providing cannabis to adults.
Customers will be permitted to purchase up to a quarter ounce of herbal cannabis daily, as well as up to four non-flowering plants, but they will not be allowed to obtain cannabis-infused products until early next year.
Legislation approved by voters in November and enacted on July 1 allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). Separate provisions in the law license, regulate, and tax retail sales of cannabis beginning next year. However, separate legislation (Senate Bill 460) signed into law in August permits licensed medical dispensaries the option to engage in provisional, tax-free retail sales of cannabis until January 4, 2016.
Colorado and Washington presently permit retail sales of cannabis, while similar regulations are forthcoming in Alaska. (A voter-initiated law in the District of Columbia permits adults to possess and grow marijuana legally, but does not provide for a regulated commercial cannabis market.)
For those of us who have spent years in the trenches of marijuana policy reform, it has been a rare sight to see elected leaders actually lead. It has been the voting public who have paved the way.
But there is a glimmer of hope in Oregon.
In the four states, and the District of Columbia, that have legalized marijuana in the face of federal prohibition, those courageous and innovative steps were taken by the voters, not the elected officials in those jurisdictions.
In fact, not only were most elected officials unwilling to seriously consider enacting legalization legislatively, most also publicly opposed the proposals and urged their defeat at the polls. Fortunately the voters led the way, and left their “leaders” to follow.
So we are accustomed to the challenge of moving progressive marijuana legislation forward despite the active opposition of most politicians. It means we mostly focus on those states that offer a voter initiative as a way to change public policy by going around the legislature. And it sometimes results in constitutional amendments being proposed, despite higher approval requirements in some states, to protect against the possibility that the legislature might simply ignore the will of the voters and reverse a legalization initiative by a vote of the out-of-touch legislators still holding on to their war-on-marijuana mentality.
But there are some new signs that this overwhelming opposition of elected officials to marijuana legalization may be coming to an end, at least in some states, and that some elected officials are now deciding to embrace these new changes and to take steps to implement them in a common-sense manner, to serve the public interest.
I am referring specifically to the recent decision of the Oregon legislature to begin offering legal recreational marijuana sales a year earlier than had been expected. They had no legal requirement to make this change, but they decided to accept the will of the voters and to implement the new law sooner rather than later. They acted like leaders, rather than sore losers.
SB 460 Approved by Legislature, Signed by Governor
Measure 91, the legalization initiative that was approved by 56 percent of Oregon voters in November of 2014, would have been implemented in two-steps. First, as of July 1, 2015, it became legal for those 21 and above to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, to possess up to 8 ounces in the home, and to privately cultivate up to four plants. But provisions in the initiative that gave the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the authority to begin issuing licenses for commercial growers and sellers, delayed this process until January 4, 2016, and legal dispensaries were not expected to be operational until October of 2016.
The result, like the current situation in the District of Columbia, is that recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon, but there is no legal market. But unlike the District, where the City Council has been hamstrung by Congress in their efforts to establish licensed growers and sellers, the Oregon legislature decided to fix the problem with a short-term solution – they enacted emergency legislation allowing the existing 300-plus licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, which are regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, to begin selling to adult recreational smokers on October 1, 2015.
Recreational consumers will also be able to purchase marijuana seeds and up to four non-flowering plants. (In a nod to local control, counties that opposed Measure 91 with at least 55 percent of the vote, all located on the east side of the state, were given the right to ban recreational sales during this interim program.)
That’s right! The legislature enacted, and Gov. Kate Brown promptly signed, SB 460, bringing full legalization to Oregon a full year ahead of schedule. For once, instead of trying to undermine the new law, they have embraced it and elected to try to make it work as intended by the voters.
Gov. Brown’s office called the measure “a smart solution to a short-term logistical problem,” adding, “If marijuana is legal to use, it shouldn’t be illegal to buy.”
The new law will permit recreational users to purchase up to one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana per transaction from any of the licensed medical dispensaries. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will continue forward with the process of issuing recreational licenses after the first of the year, and when those new recreational dispensaries are up and running, consumers will be permitted to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana per transaction.
A Model for Elected Officials Moving Forward
One admirable, common sense step by one state legislature does not make a trend, but it does establish a powerful example of how elected officials can get ahead of the curve and work cooperatively to implement these new laws, without delay, and one that can be the model for elected officials in the states that are expected to adopt legalization in the coming months.
A majority of the voters nationwide now support full legalization, and that support appears to be growing. They understand that prohibition is a failed public policy and legalization with regulation is a better option for everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike. When voters clearly register their approval for marijuana legalization, it’s time for the politicians to acknowledge that change, embrace it, and take steps to implement the new laws in a timely and responsible manner. It is time to lead, for a change.
This column first appeared @ marijuana.com.
Senate Bill 460 permits state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to also engage in cannabis sales to non-medical persons beginning on October 1, 2015. Adults will be allowed to purchase up to one-quarter ounce of cannabis per visit per day.
Initiated legislation approved by voters in November and enacted on July 1 allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). Separate provisions in the law permitting the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults were not anticipated to go into effect until next summer. Senate Bill 60 permits adults to legally obtain cannabis from dispensaries during this interim period.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington permit adults to legally possess and purchase limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. The District of Columbia also allows adults to possess and grow marijuana legally, but does not provide for as regulated commercial cannabis market. All of these measures were enacted by the passage of voter initiatives.