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  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate May 20, 2016

    map_leafThis was a huge week for marijuana law reform. Congress voted for the first time to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans, and Governors in numerous states signed cannabis legalization and depenalization measures into law. Keeping reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.

    Federal:

    Members of the US House and Senate voted yesterday for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it. House members voted 233 to 189 last week in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. The amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients. Members of the US Senate Appropriations Committee previously voted in April in favor of a similar provision and the full Senate also signed off on their version of the bill yesterday. The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.

    State:

    Colorado: House and Senate lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved legislation, House Bill 1373, to permit qualified patients access to the use formulations of medical cannabis while on school grounds. The measure now awaits action by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who indicated that he would sign the bill into law. Once enacted, a primary caregiver may administer non-inhalable formulations of medical cannabis to a qualifying patient while that patient is on the grounds of a pre-school, primary, or secondary school in which the student is enrolled. Medical marijuana patients may not be denied eligibility to attend school because of their cannabis use.

    Connecticut: Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy this week signed legislation expanding patients’ access to the state’s medicinal cannabis program. House Bill 5450 permits qualifying patients under the age of 18 to possess and consume medical cannabis preparations. The proposal also expands the list of qualifying illnesses eligible for cannabis therapy to include: ”uncontrolled intractable seizure disorder,” ”irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity,” “cerebral palsy,” “cystic fibrosis,” or “terminal illness requiring end-of-life care.” Other provisions in the bill seek to establish a statewide clinical research program, and protect nurses from criminal, civil, or disciplinary sanction if they choose to administer marijuana to a qualifying patient in a hospital setting. The new law takes effect on October 1, 2016.

    fifty_dollar_fineIllinois: Members of the House voted 64 to 50 on Wednesday, May 18, in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Members of the Senate had previously voted 44 to 12 in favor of the measure, which 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 $1500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law. Senate Bill 2228 now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Last year, the Governor issued an amendatory veto to a similar bill. However, this year’s language addresses the Governor’s past concerns.

    Kansas: Governor Brownback recently signed House Bill 2462 into law to amend marijuana possession penalties. The law reduces criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. You can read the full summary of the engrossed bill here. The sentencing changes take effect imminently.

    Louisiana: Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation yesterday amending the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.

    The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.

    Maine: Governor Paul LePage has signed legislation, LD 726, into law permitting qualified patients to use medical marijuana while admitted in Maine hospitals. This measure does not require hospital staff to administer medical marijuana to a patient and will only allow for patients to consume cannabis preparations in a smokeless form. The law also establishes licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities and the labeling of medical cannabis products.

    New Hampshire: Members of the Senate on Thursday, May 19, sent House-backed decriminalization provisions to conference committee rather than engage in an up/down vote of the bill. Members of the House previously voted 298 to 58 to amend Senate Bill 498 to make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. In past years, the Senate has been consistently hostile to any House efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties.

    The conference committee, consisting of members of the House and Senate, will now try to agree upon a finalized version of SB 498. It is important that Senate members hear from you and are urged to keep the House provisions in SB 498. #TakeAction

    cannabis_pillsOklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation into law on Friday, May 13, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. House Bill 2835 extends existing legal protections to the following patients: those with “spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases.” The measure also removes the age requirement limitation from existing law so that adults with various forms of epilepsy are eligible for CBD therapy. The expanded law takes effect on November 1, 2016.

    Rhode Island: On Thursday, May 19th members of the Senate approved legislation, Senate Bill 2115, to make post-traumatic stress patients eligible for medical cannabis treatment and to accelerate access to those patients in hospice care. The measure will now be sent to the House for consideration. #TakeAction

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 19, 2016

    US_capitolMembers of the US House of Representatives voted today for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it.

    Members voted 233 to 189 in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, that prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients.

    “We should not be limiting the treatment options available to our veterans,” Rep. Blumenauer opined on the House floor.

    Under the provision, military veterans who reside in states with active medical marijuana programs would be able to obtain a recommendation from their V.A. physician rather than having to seek out a private doctor.

    The vote is a marked change from last year, when House members defeated a similar amendment 213 to 210.

    You can watch today’s debate and vote here. A roll call of the amendment vote is here.

    Members of the US Senate Appropriations Committee previously voted in April in favor of a similar provision. This afternoon, legislation containing the amendment was approved on the Senate floor.

    The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill will now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate December 16, 2015

    Members of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year.  While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.

    In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.  

    Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.

    While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.

    No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate November 11, 2015

    pills_v_potOn the eve of Veterans Day, members of the US Senate adopted language to permit Veterans access to medical marijuana in states that allow for its use.

    On Tuesday, Senate members passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill,which for the first time includes language to allow Veteran’s Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal.

    The Daines/Merkley amendment had been previously approved by members of the US Senate Appropriations committee in May. By contrast, House members narrowly rejected a similar amendment this spring. House and Senate leaders will now need to reconcile the two versions of the FY2016 spending bill.

    Under current regulations, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs prohibits doctors from issuing cannabis recommendations even where it is legal. If the Daines/Merkley amendment is ultimately included in the reconciled version of the FY2016 spending bill, the Justice Department will be barred from spending any money to limit VA doctors from recommending marijuana, or to penalize veterans who choose to use medical marijuana in states that allow it’s use.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 23, 2015

    US CapitolThe majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.

    Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.

    Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.

    The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.

    Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.

    NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.

    To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

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