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LEGISLATION

  • by NORML June 1, 2020

    House and Senate lawmakers have approved a series of bills to facilitate patients’ access to medical cannabis products.

    On Sunday, legislators finalized HB 819, which expands the discretion of physicians so that they can recommend cannabis therapy for “any condition” that he or she “considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat.” Under the current law, doctors may only recommend medical cannabis products to those patients with a limited number of select conditions, such as HIV and cancer.

    Commenting on the measure, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients. Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines – many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis – the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.”

    If signed into law, Louisiana will join a handful of other states — such as California, Maine, and Virginia –- that have enacted similar measures providing physicians with the ability to recommend medical cannabis preparations to any patient who they believe may benefit from them.

    House and Senate lawmakers also approved House Bill 418, which provides immunity from prosecution to “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana.” Legislators also approved HB 211, which seeks to encourage banks and other financial institutions to provide services to state-licensed medical cannabis businesses.

    All three measures now await action from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

    State lawmakers enacted a limited medical cannabis access law in 2016. However, the program did not become operational until last year.

  • by NORML May 28, 2020

    Adults who consume cannabis are no more likely to experience injuries at work than are those employees who abstain from the substance, according to the findings of a new literature review published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.

    A team of researchers affiliated with the University of British Columbia conducted a systematic review of scientific papers assessing any potential links between cannabis use and occupational accidents.

    Investigators determined that most of the existing literature on the subject suffers from poor research designs. Specifically, few studies “employed research designs that ensured that cannabis use preceded the occupational injury outcome.” Others failed to adequately assess or control for confounding variables, such as the concurrent use of alcohol or other psychoactive substances.

    Due to these limitations, authors concluded, “[T]he current body of evidence does not provide sufficient evidence to support the position that cannabis users are at increased risk of occupational injury.”

    Their finding is consistent with that of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which conducted its own literature review in 2017 and concluded, “There is no or insufficient evidence to support … a statistical association between cannabis use and … occupational accidents or injuries.”

    The study’s publication comes at a time when many local and state officials are re-examining workplace marijuana testing policies. Commenting on this trend, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Suspicionless marijuana testing never has been an evidence-based policy. Rather, these discriminatory practices are a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality.”

    In recent weeks, local lawmakers in several municipalities –- including Rochester, New York and Richmond, Virginia -– have moved to eliminate marijuana screens for certain prospective employees. These moves follow the enactment of similar policy changes in larger cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC.

    Lawmakers in Maine and Nevada have enacted similar, statewide legislation barring certain employers from refusing to hire a worker because he or she tested positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug screen.

    The abstract of the study, “Systemic review of cannabis use and risk of occupational injury,” appears online here. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, “Marijuana Legalization and Impact on the Workplace.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 27, 2020

    medical cannabis oilSenators on Wednesday passed legislation to significantly expand the pool of patients eligible to qualify for medical cannabis access.

    Members voted 28 to 6 in favor of an amended version of House Bill 819, which expands the discretion of physicians so that they can recommend cannabis therapy for “any condition” that he or she “considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat.” Under the current law, doctors may only recommend medical cannabis products to those patients with a limited number of select conditions, such as HIV and cancer.

    A handful of states, such as California, Maine, and Virginia, have enacted similar measures providing physicians with the ability to recommend medical cannabis preparations to any patient who they believe may benefit from them.

    Members of the House previously passed the measure by a vote of 77 to 15. As amended by the Senate, state-licensed dispensaries will be mandated to “comply with the reporting requirements of the [state’s] prescription monitoring program.”

    House Bill 819 is scheduled for a concurrence vote on Friday.

    Other bills before the Senate include HB 792, which establishes regulations permitting the home delivery of medical cannabis products to registered patients, and HB 418, which provides immunity from prosecution to “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana.”

    The state’s legislative session concludes at 6pm on Monday, June 1, 2020.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 7, 2020

    Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has vetoed legislation, House Bill 83, which sought to prohibit “the Maryland Judiciary Case Search from in any way referring to the existence of a certain case in which possession of marijuana is the only charge in the case and the charge was disposed.” The database provides public access to the case records of the Maryland Judiciary.

    The legislation, if enacted, would have shielded an estimated 200,000 low-level marijuana convictions from public view.

    In a prepared statement, the Governor acknowledged that he was vetoing HB 83, along with several other criminal justice reform measures, because House lawmakers failed to pass a separate bill, the Violent Firearms Offenders Act of 2020.

    “While the Senate approved the package by a wide margin, the House failed to act upon it [the Violent Firearms Offenders Act of 2020],” Gov. Hogan wrote in his veto message. Therefore, … I have vetoed … House Bill 83.”

    As initially drafted and passed by the House, HB 83 sought to review and automatically expunge past, low-level marijuana convictions. State law currently allows those previously convicted of a marijuana possession offense to petition the courts to have their criminal record expunged.

    Maryland lawmakers adjourned the 2020 legislative session nearly three weeks early as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director April 12, 2020

    Richmond, VA: Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has approved legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. Northam also recommended technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before the new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

    The law reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    “Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Governor Northam’s signature turns that public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

    The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

    The bipartisan, bicameral effort to amend the state’s marijuana possession penalties was led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46). Commenting on the bills’ final passage, Sen. Ebbin said, “This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.

    Delegate Herring added: “[This] is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam had previously gone on record in support of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions, as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    In March, the General Assembly approved multiple bills calling on officials to further study marijuana legalization and to make recommendations to lawmakers in advance of the 2021 legislative session.

    In addition to approving marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also signed Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year. Northam also approved Senate Bill 976 expanding and improving this program, and suggested technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    Added NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini: “Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation. Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”

    In total, sixteen marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.

     

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

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