Lawmakers across the United States brought out the big guns again last week in an attempt to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. Perhaps the most talked about piece of legislation is one introduced to Congress that would change the reach of medical marijuana nationwide, as well as several initiatives seeking to legalize recreational markets in 2016.
Read all about what went down last week in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for March 16:
Federal: Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced to Congress
A historical bill has been introduced in Congress, which aims to legalize medical marijuana on a national level. Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand submitted the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States, or CARERS, Act earlier last week, which would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a statement. In addition, the bill would also downgrade the DEA’s Schedule I classification for cannabis to a Schedule II.
Perhaps the most crucial element of this bill is that it permits states to opt out of the Controlled Substances Act as it pertains to medical marijuana – eliminating the DEA from having any authority over statewide medical marijuana programs. If passed, it would provide banking solutions, expansion of research and access for Veterans.
Utah: Medical Marijuana Fails by Single Vote
Legislation that would have established a medical marijuana program in Utah was defeated last week in a vote of 15 to 14. Until then, Senate Bill 259 had been progressing nicely through the Senate, and it appeared as if the bill had the potential to go all the way. Unfortunately, a deciding vote from Senate President Wayne Niederhauser dictated the end of its momentum. Senator Mark Madsen, who proposed the bill, said he will keep pushing to pass this legislation, and intends to file it again next year.
Texas: Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced
Texas lawmakers have introduced a proposal aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in Texas. House Bill 3785 would allow patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as cancer, post traumatic stress disorder, and epilepsy to have access to cannabis. The law would put the Department of State Health Services in charge of regulating every aspect of the program from cultivation to dispensary.
"The law currently does not reflect marijuana's legitimate medical use and denies access to patients, such as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, citizens suffering with cancer, and severe ailments of the aging," said State Representative Marisa Marquez, a sponsor of the bill. "By continuing to deny access to patients, we limit the rights of families to seek the best possible treatment for conditions that do not respond to other drugs or therapies. We should create paths, and not obstacles, in allowing doctors to recommend medicine that has been shown to work."
Similar legislation was introduced this year, but that bill only focuses on the legalization of CBD, a non-intoxicating derivative of the marijuana plant. The latest proposal is full plant legislation.
Missouri: Four Bills Move Forward
Several marijuana-related bills progressed in their respective committees last week. The first, House Bill 978, which aims to free Jeff Mizanskey, who is serving life for a three strike pot offense, received approval by the House Corrections Committee on Wednesday.
In the hours to follow, the House Emerging Issues Committee approved House Bill 800, which would legalize a restrictive medical marijuana program that would allow patients to receive up to 30 grams of cannabis each month.
The House Economic Development and Business Attraction and Retention Committee approved House Bill 830, which aims to legalize the production of industrial hemp.
And finally, the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee approved Senate Bill 386, which would expand on the list of qualified conditions for which CBD oil can be prescribed. The bill would also increase the number of state cultivators from two to ten and dispensaries would be increased from six to 30.
Oregon: Senate Approves Measure to Expunge Cannabis Convictions
A measure to expunge the records of some marijuana convictions has been approved in Oregon. Senate Bill 364 would assist in clearing the records of those convicted of marijuana possession before 2013 when marijuana-related offenses were reclassified. In addition, judges would be allowed to reclassify Class B felonies for possession of marijuana to misdemeanors. The Senate approved this measure by a vote of 26 to 3, and it now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Tennessee: Cannabis Oil Bill Advances
Legislation to legalize cannabis oil in Tennessee has received approval by a key subcommittee. House Bill 109, which was introduced by state Representative Jeremy Faison, advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week after an amendment was made to the bill requiring physicians to specify that “a patient suffers from seizures” before they can be granted access to medicine. The bill will now go before the full committee, where it is expected to pass. Unfortunately, even if this legislation goes the distance, the law would do nothing in the way of helping patients gain access to cannabis oil. If passed, patients would be forced to smuggle CBD in from “legal states,” which would put them at risk of federal prosecution.
Ohio: Initiative to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Certified
A group attempting to legalize a cannabis industry in Ohio will be allowed to proceed with their campaign. Last week, Attorney General Mike DeWine gave his seal of approval on ResponsibleOhio’s proposal to legalizing marijuana. DeWine had previously rejected the ballot initiative because he said the group failed to collect the necessary signatures. The latest proposal must now go before the Ohio Ballot Board for consideration. If the language is approved, ResponsibleOhio will need to collect 305,000 valid voter signatures before July 1 to qualify for the ballot in 2016.
North Carolina: Another Attempt at Legalizing Medical Marijuana
State Representative Kelly Alexander has filed a measure to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina. This latest proposal (House Bill 78) is the lawmaker’s fourth attempt at getting the issue of cannabis for medicinal purposes passed before the state legislature. Although his previous attempts have been unsuccessful, Alexander believes there is enough support this year from Governor Pat McCroy as well as the Senate and House of Representatives to finally see the bill to fruition.
New Mexico: Decriminalization Measure Up for Vote
New Mexico is one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana across the state. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill, by a margin of 7 to 3, that would strip the criminal penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana and replace them with a fine. Under the measure, an individual could be caught with as much as eight ounces of weed before being charged with a felony. Otherwise, the fines would range between $50-$300 depending on the frequency of the offense. The bill is now set to go before the full Senate for a vote. Yet, even if it passes, the measure could face some obstacles with the House and Governor Susana Martinez.
Michigan: Ballot Initiative Planned to Legalize Marijuana in 2016
Michigan could be one of the next states to legalize recreational marijuana. A ballot measure, which is being overseen by the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee, aims to put the question of a recreational pot market to voters in the 2016 election. In addition to legalizing a cannabis market similar to Colorado, the bill would allow people to cultivate as many as 12 plants for personal use.
Nevada: Recreational Marijuana Ballot Initiative 2016
Nevada is on its way to a fully legal cannabis market. Earlier last week, the state became the first to secure an initiative to legalize marijuana on the 2016 ballot. Because Nevada lawmakers failed to take up a vote on a proposal aimed at legalizing a statewide cannabis industry, the initiative has been, automatically, added to the ballot in next year’s presidential election. The Marijuana Policy Project, which is the same group that helped successfully pass initiatives in Colorado and Alaska, is spearheading this effort.