HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: March 14


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It was a week full of ups and downs in the fight to reform marijuana laws in the United States. Some of the most promising news comes from New Hampshire, where a bill aimed at decriminalizing pot possession is advancing nicely through the state legislature. There was also some progress in Oregon and Florida in the areas of medical marijuana and civil asset forfeiture reform, as well as significant momentum in Virginia to bring cannabis oil production to the state. Unfortunately, efforts were not quite as successful in the states of Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah.

Read all about went down over the past week in the wild world of cannabis reform in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for March 14:

Idaho: Decriminalization Initiative Withdrawn
Due to a language error, an initiative seeking to decriminalize up to three ounces of marijuana and legalize it for medicinal purposes has been withdrawn from action. Apparently, in a petition put forth by New Approach Idaho, it inaccurately claimed that the American Academy of Pediatrics “endorsed medical access to marijuana.” The APP retaliated against the ballot measure, demanding the organization discontinue using its name in their materials because they remain opposed to marijuana legalization across the board. State officials have accused the group of lying to voters in an effort to collect signatures. Representatives from New Approach Idaho told HIGH TIMES the oversight was not intentional. 

Louisiana: New Orleans to Vote on Decriminalization
New Orleans could be well on its way to loosening its policy on petty marijuana offenses. District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry recently introduced a measure that would allow police to issue citations to those people caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana: $40 for a first offense, $60 for a second, $80 for a third and $100 for fourth and subsequent offenses, according to the proposed ordinance. As it stands, anyone busted for this offense at the state level can be incarcerated for 15 days and pay a fine of up to $300. The City Council is expected to vote on this measure on March 17. 

Florida: Medical Marijuana for Terminally Ill Head to Governor
The Florida Senate passed a version of a House bill last week that would give terminally ill patients access to full-strength cannabis products. The measure (House bill 307) seeks to expand the state’s “Right to Try Act” by allowing people who have been given less than a year to live the freedom to use an unlimited amount of cannabis in the spirit of experimental medication. The bill is also an attempt at repairing some of the regulatory snags that have prevented the state’s low-THC program from getting underway in a timely manner. It would allow an additional three licenses to be issued after the state registers 250,000 patients, with one guaranteed to go to black farmers. The bill is now headed to the office of Governor Rick Scott for a signature or veto. He has seven days to make a decision, or else it automatically takes effect. 

Florida: Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Goes Before Governor
A bill that would make it illegal for Florida law enforcement to seize property without making an arrest is now on its way to Governor Rick Scott’s office for a signature or veto. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives put their seals of approval on Senate Bill 1044 (Contraband Forfeiture Act), which aims to prevent police organizations from unjustly taking control of Floridians’ property. The measure has the support of the Florida Sheriffs Association, which was instrumental in getting the measure passed. The organization recently issued a statement encouraging Governor Scott to sign the bill into law.

Massachusetts: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Hearing
The possibility that voters may get to decide on marijuana legalization this November is creating some controversy within the state legislature. Ahead of a hearing on a proposed ballot measure put forth by the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMA), a special Senate committee released a report last week outlining their findings from a recent trip to Colorado, begging “Massachusetts to take a cautious approach to considering marijuana legalization.” In its report, the committee expressed a number of concerns and offered recommendations for home cultivation, policing stoned driving, edibles and taxes. The proposal in question would allow people at least 21 years of age to purchase retail marijuana in a manner similar to beer. Cannabis products would be taxed at a rate of 3.75 percent in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. However, the state legislature – together with Governor Baker’s administration – are working to persuade voters to reject the proposal in an effort to pass more conservative legislation down the road. Organizers with CRMA do not expect the state government’s reefer madness tactics will have a negative influence on voters. 

West Virginia: Bill Aimed At Raising Marijuana Penalties Tabled
A proposal aimed at increasing the penalties for marijuana-related offenses in West Virginia has been tabled after one lawmaker shared his experience using medical marijuana with the rest of the room. Republican Delegate Bill Flanigan testified before the House of Delegates that he used marijuana illegally in the state while he was going through chemotherapy, and that he didn’t feel people should be treated like criminals for using a substance that has medicinal benefits. The lawmakers testimony was in protest of House Bill 4576, a measure that would have would have raised the state’s most severe pot penalty – a five-year prison term – to 15 years. Fortunately, the bill was later tabled in a vote of 59 to 40.  

Utah: Medical Marijuana Bills Dead
As expected, the House Health and Human Services Committee attempted last week to merge two competing medical marijuana bills into a single proposal, but the committee ultimately ended up taking an axe to the one (Senate Bill 73) championed by Senator Mark Madsen. All that remains now is Senate Bill 89, which would allow physicians to recommend CBD oil, while only specialists could offer recommendations for THC. The proposal, which is considered the weaker of the two bills, is now headed to the House for consideration.

UPDATE: On Thursday, Senate Bill 89 died on the House floor. 

New York: Buffalo Seeks to Decriminalize Marijuana
The City of Buffalo is considering an ordinance that would decriminalize marijuana in small amounts. The proposal (Buffalo Marijuana Act) introduced by the Buffalo Cannabis Movement seeks to remove the criminal penalties associated with carrying two ounces of marijuana or less. The BMA would also give residents of the city the ability to grow up to six plants for personal use. The issue has been tabled for now, but it is expected to be discussed again in the near future. 

Virginia: Cannabis Oil Production Approved by General Assembly
Cannabis oil production could soon be legal in Virginia. The Senate gave final approval on a measure last week that would allow the production of THC-A and CBD oils that can be distributed to patients with seizure disorders. Although the possession of these oils has been legal for about a year, the law didn’t offer program participants any way of obtaining the medicine without breaking federal drug trafficking laws. The bill now heads to the office of Governor Terry McAuliffe for a signature or veto. 

Oregon: Medical Marijuana Bills Signed by Governor
Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed several pieces of medical marijuana legislation into law. The first – House Bill 4014 – makes a number of adjustments to the program: It allows veterans to obtain their medical marijuana cards for $20 instead of the $200 rate; it allows patients under pre-trial release to continue participation; and allows marijuana business to deduct expenses on state tax returns. Another bill – Senate Bill 1598 – would allow the smaller growers in the medical sector to dip into the recreational without being required to submit zoning documents. Basically, the law gives medical marijuana growers some of the same protections as those in the recreational sector. Additional bills are expected to be signed in the near future.

South Dakota: House Kills Medical Marijuana Bill
South Dakota will not see even a restrictive medical marijuana program in 2016. Last week, the House of Representatives snuffed out a proposal (Senate Bill 171) that would give people with seizure disorders access to CBD oil. Although supporters testified that there was no way the type of medical marijuana they were proposing could get anyone high, the House voted 43 to 25 against allowing the bill to proceed to the office of Governor Dennis Daugaard for his consideration. 

Colorado: Colorado Springs Bans Cannabis Clubs
After hours of testimony from both sides of the issue, the Colorado Springs City Council voted last week 6 to 3 in favor of banning cannabis clubs. The decision eliminates the possibility for any new clubs to be established, while phasing out the existing ones within eight years. Also, clubs currently in operation will be forced to start paying licensing fees until they close their doors. A final vote on the issue is scheduled in two weeks. Supporters believe they have a fair shot at appealing the decision.

New Hampshire: Decriminalization Bill Being Considered
The House of Representatives approved a measure last week aimed at decriminalizing marijuana possession in small amounts. House Bill 1631, which was introduced by Representative Adam Schroadter, would eliminate the criminal penalties by replacing them with a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third and each subsequent offense. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

Illinois: Decriminalization Bill Revived
Marijuana decriminalization is once again being discussed by the state legislature. A new bill was introduced last week by Senator Heather Steans that would eliminate criminal penalties for anyone caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana. A similar measure gained some momentum last year, but Governor Rauner thought the language was too loose. It would have decriminalized up to 15 grams of weed and allowed drivers have 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in their system before being charged with DUI. While all of those concerns have been addressed in the updated draft, the fines are more costly – increasing the range of fines to between $100 and $200. Steans believes the bill provides “more consistent and fair enforcement and prosecution of cannabis possession across the state.” The Senate Criminal Law Committee has approved the bill. 

North Dakota: Ballot Measure Approved for Circulation
Marijuana legalization could be on the ballot in North Dakota later this year. Secretary of State Al Jaeger has approved a petition put forth by a 26-member committee seeking to legalize a recreational cannabis industry. The proposal would allow adults 21 and over to cultivate a specific amount for personal use, while also creating a retail market. The group has until July 11 to collect the 13,452 signatures needed to qualify for a spot on the November ballot. 

Missouri: Medical Marijuana Bill Advances
A bill that would legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program in Missouri has advanced through the state legislature. Already, two key House committees have approved House Bill 2213, which was introduced by Representative Dave Hinson, and it set to go before the full House for consideration. The proposal would give patients suffering from around 10 “debilitating conditions” access to cannabis products, provided they have a recommendation from a doctor. If it survives the House, it will head to the Senate. 

Maine: Ballot Measure Organizers File Lawsuit Over Disqualified Petitions
Organizers with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol have filed a lawsuit challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to disqualify thousands of voter signatures over a technical error. Two weeks ago, the campaign learned that only 51,543 of the 61,123 signatures needed to earn on a spot on the ballot in the November election were verifiable. This determination was made over a notary discrepancy. In the lawsuit, which was filed last Thursday, organizers with the campaign argue that the Secretary of State only reviewed a portion of the signatures before discounting them all of those under notary Stavros Mendros. Supporters believe the lawsuit will ultimately lead to the ballot measure going before voters later this year.

Maine: OUI Bill Stalls
The Maine legislative panel rejected a bill last week intended to set a blood-level standard that could be used to convict people of driving under the influence of marijuana. The bill would have imposed a 5 nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood limit, but many opposing forces argued that this common gauge for OUI was not an accurate determination of impairment. Unfortunately, there is still a possibility the bill will get picked back up when it hits the full Legislature. It is there that the House and Senate will have to decide whether to accept the panel’s vote.