As we mentioned here previously, NORML has worked with Representative Diane Russell in Maine to draft and prepare for introduction a measure that would have legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana in the state. The proposed legislation would have legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 6 plants by individuals over the age of 21. It would have established marijuana retail outlets and cultivation sites across the state to create an aboveboard regulated market. To ensure that both those with experience and those with strong ties to the state of Maine were given priority, applicants who are already operating in Maine’s medical program and applicants with 2 or more years residency in the state were to receive the right of first refusal for retail licenses.
To be introduced, the measure had to be approved by Maine’s Legislative Council and was on track to do so until today. At the last minute, monied corporate interests representing established medical marijuana dispensaries came in and managed to flip one of the votes necessary to approve the bill for introduction. Their complaints were vague and they made the claim they were not invited to the table, despite the legislation being drafted to provide them with priority status when it came to applying for retail licenses. In truth, they walked away from the very table they said they were not invited to. In addition to providing deference to both medical dispensaries, registered caregivers, and applicants with real ties to the state, 5% of the taxes raised from the sales of retail marijuana would have gone to help low income patients who are suffering in Maine by subsidizing the cost of their medical cannabis.
“Today, corporate and profit-driven interests shunned Maine’s economic future and shut down the prospects of a new bill to regulate marijuana,” stated Representative Diane Russell, “For the record, 5% of tax revenue from the new bill would have gone to ensuring low income Mainers could afford their medical marijuana. Profits seem to be more important than patients – and that’s just wrong.”
With pressure from those with vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this proposed legislation ended up falling one vote short of what was required for its introduction, although we had enough votes.
Maine Residents: Please, take a moment of your day to contact Maine’s Legislative Council using our form linked below and let them know you disagree with their decision. The time is overdue for Maine to move towards a regulated system that puts the interests of Mainers before the interest of profits.
Very Disappointing: Please Reconsider LR 2329
I am writing to express my disappointment with the Maine Legislative Council for failing to approve Representative Diane Russell’s proposed legislation that would have legalized adult possession and limited cultivation of marijuana, while regulating its retail sale similar to how our state currently regulates alcohol.
For those who voted in support of Rep. Russell’s bill, I sincerely thank you. For those who voted in opposition to it, I write to respectfully request you reconsider your vote. I’ve outlined my reasons below and hope you will give serious consideration to the growing number of Mainers who want a Maine approach to marijuana policy.
Next Tuesday, Portland will be voting on a citizen referendum to legalize cannabis for adults. If this ordinance passes, there will be no vehicle to channel the growing momentum for legalization toward a constructive end. When 58% of Americans support replacing prohibition with regulation, the issue is no longer coming – it’s here. Regardless of the vote next week, we should be actively working to get ahead of this issue in a responsible, open manner.
Mainers are quickly realizing that prohibition has failed to protect kids. In fact, more than 80 percent of high school seniors attest to the federal government that they have easy access to marijuana – that statistic has remained constant for nearly four decades.
Further, Mainers are twice as likely to get arrested for possession if they are African American; York county residents are five times as likely. In 2010 alone, Maine arrested over 2,800 individuals for simple marijuana possession. The cost of enforcing these laws comes with an annual bill in excess of 8.8 million dollars a year, while doing nothing to create safer communities or dissuade use. Further, this system has only incentivized drug dealers and cartels who are currently profiting off prohibition.
This legislation was written with safe guards in place to give priority to in state residents and current medical marijuana dispensary operators when it comes to the distribution of retail licenses. Additionally, it would have taken the marijuana trade out of the hands of black market criminal elements and put it under the control of legitimate regulated business owners – from Maine – while raising substantial tax revenue for the state. The bill funded the hiring of new Drug Recognition Experts to help enhance highway safety, Drugs for the Elderly, addiction treatment, medical marijuana for low income people, and the launch of a marijuana youth prevention task force.
In short, this was a Maine approach to responsibly addressing a growing cultural shift. I ask you to reconsider this vote, and allow a new bill to move forward that truly reflects the direction Mainers want to go on this issue.
Marijuana law reform legislation still remains pending in several this 2012 legislative session. Is your state among them? Find out here.
More importantly, have you taken the time to call or write your state elected officials this year and urged them to support these pending reforms? If not, NORML has provided you with all of the tools to do so via our capwiz ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — where we spotlight specific examples of pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.
CALIFORNIA: State lawmakers have taken action in recent days on a number of important marijuana law reform measures. Below are some highlights:
1. Assemblywoman Nora Campos has withdrawn legislation, AB 2465, which sought to mandate that state-qualified medicinal marijuana patients obtain a state-issued identification card. Under present law, patients may voluntarily obtain county-issued identification cards, but no such mandate exists in the language of Prop. 215. California NORML, among other groups, objected to AB 2465 on the basis that it infringed upon patients privacy and was likely unconstitutional.
2. On Thursday, April 19, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended AB 2552 to remove language that initially sought to expose marijuana consumers to enhanced DUI penalties based solely upon the presence of THC in their blood. Assemblywoman Torres struck this language after NORML and others roundly criticized the legislation as being discriminatory toward cannabis consumers, including those who use the substance therapeutically in compliance with state law. NORML argued that AB 2552 was unnecessary, unscientific, and would have exposed cannabis consumers to wrongful convictions. NORML wishes to thank those of you who took the time to contact your member of the Assembly to help us successfully derail AB 2552.
3. Last week, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved Sen. Mark Leno’s bill (SB 1506) to defelonize cases involving the simple possession of drugs (including hashish) to a misdemeanor offense. (Marijuana possession is already decriminalized under state law to a non-criminal infraction.) This measure is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU, and is supported by California NORML.
4. Finally, two separate bills seeking to clarify the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis under state law are moving forward in the legislature. On Tuesday, April 17, members of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety voted 4-2 in favor of AB 2312. The bill now awaits action from the Assembly Appropriations Committee. AB 2312 seeks to establish a state regulatory system for medical cannabis under the Department of Consumer Affairs. Under this proposal, medicinal cannabis dispensaries would become state-licensed. It would also require cities and counties to allow at least one marijuana dispensary for every 50,000 residents – unless local voters specifically approve a ban or tighter restrictions.
Separate legislation in the state Senate, SB 1182, was heard and approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday, April 24. SB 1182 seeks to bar from state prosecution those establishments that operate within the state Attorney General’s 2008 written guidelines for marijuana cooperatives and collectives. It further states, “This bill would exempt those entities and persons from criminal prosecution or punishment solely on the basis of the fact that they receive compensation for actual expenses incurred in carrying out activities that are in compliance with those guidelines.”
Supporters of these measures believe they will provide California dispensaries, the public, and law enforcement with needed clarity regarding how and where such facilities may operate. Doing so may also limit the federal government’s ongoing interference in California’s medical marijuana operations.
CONNECTICUT: Lawmakers in a pair of Committees in recent days voted in favor of Raised Bill 5389, which allows for the limited legalization of medical marijuana by qualified patients. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure imminently. [**UPDATE: ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26, THE FULL HOUSE PASSED THE MEASURE 96-51. THE MEASURE NOW AWAITS ACTION BY THE SENATE.] If you live in Connecticut and wish to receive future e-mail updates on the progress of this legislation and what you can do to assure its passage, please contact Erik Williams, Connecticut NORML Executive Director at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: On Wednesday, April 25, members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly 236 to 96 in favor of Senate Bill 409, which would allow for the limited legalization and cultivation of medical marijuana. The super-majority approval came following renewed veto threats by Democrat Gov. John Lynch.
SB 409 allows qualified patients to possess up to four cannabis plants and/or six ounces of marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
According to an MPP legislative update, the bill is expected to be referred to a second House committee for further consideration before returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote.
The Senate concurrence vote is pivotal. In March, member of the Republican-led New Hampshire State Senate voted 13-11 in favor of Senate Bill 409. (You can watch lawmakers reaction to the vote here.) Support from three additional senators will be necessary to override the Governor’s expected veto. Please check NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ for updates or visit NH Compassion here.
If Connecticut and New Hampshire both enact medical marijuana legislation this year, they will become the 17th and 18th states to do so since 1996.
On Tuesday, January 12, members of the California Assembly will hold a historic vote on statewide marijuana policy. Members of the Public Safety Committee will decide on Assembly Bill 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, which seeks to regulate and control the production, distribution, and personal use of marijuana for adults age 21 and older.
[UPDATE from Russ Belville: NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano and MPP's California director Aaron Smith join me this afternoon's NORML SHOW LIVE, airing at 1pm Pacific / 4pm Eastern, to discuss this historic vote in California. Call in with your questions to 347-994-1810]
Tuesday’s vote will mark the first time since 1913, when California became one of the first states in the nation to enact cannabis prohibition, that lawmakers have reassessed this failed policy.
If a majority of the Public Safety Committee votes ‘yes’ on AB 390, the bill will immediately face a separate vote in the California State Assembly Committee on Health. (I have been tentatively invited to testify before this committee; you can read my prepared testimony here.) In short, members of both committees will likely be voting on this historic measure next week. That is why we need your support in contacting the members of these legislative committees today!
To date, over 8,000 of you have contacted your California Assemblymembers via NORML’s Capwiz ‘Take Action’ Center. This is a tremendous outpouring of public support, but we need to ramp up our advocacy before next week’s vote.
If you reside in California please click here to find a list of Assembly members who sit on the key committees overseeing AB 390. Constituents in their districts are urged to phone or fax support their for AB 390 today. Lawmakers’ district phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail contact information appears here.
If your member of the Assembly does not appear on this list, please take a moment this week to call and leave a polite, concise phone message voicing your support for AB 390 with the Assembly Committees of Public Safety and Health. You can find the direct line for these committees, as well as for their Chair and Vice-Chairs, here and here.
Finally, Californians can also send a letter of support directly to their individual member of the Assembly by using NORML’s pre-written letter service here.
Let’s begin 2010 by letting California’s politicians know that the time to end the state’s nearly 100-year failed experiment with marijuana prohibition is now!