This week’s legislative roundup indicates a substantial wave of progress across America, with more states making efforts to not only decriminalize marijuana, but also make it available for more patients suffering from serious illnesses.
Here is what our pot-friendly lawmakers were up to last week:
Washington DC: Decriminalization Is Highly Likely
Lawmakers in the District of Columbia approved a measure last week that would decriminalize marijuana in the US capitol, making a minor weed violation punishable with a fine the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
The DC city council unanimously passed a measure last Wednesday, which serves to reduce fines for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to only $25. If this measure garners the support of the full council, which is likely, the District will join the ranks of 15 states and a few cities across America that have decriminalized marijuana possession.
Possession of marijuana in the District of Columbia, regardless of the amount, is currently punishable with a fine of up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Indiana: Three Lame Bills Introduced
Indiana lawmakers will review three bills this legislative session aimed at changing the state’s marijuana laws.
Senator Karen Tallian recently introduced Senate Bill 314, which serves to decriminalize marijuana possession, making up to two ounces a misdemeanor offense. The bill also allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp and possession of small amounts of marijuana for research purposes.
Senator Tallian introduced a similar bill in 2013, but it did not receive a hearing in the Senate committee.
In addition to Indiana’s decriminalization bill, Representative Sue Errington has introduced a bill allowing anyone prosecuted for marijuana possession to use a medical necessity defense. If passed, the bill would permit “a defense to prosecution for marijuana possession if the person who possessed the marijuana did so under a valid prescription or order of a practitioner who acted in the scope of the practitioner’s professional practice.”
Another piece of legislation aimed at legalizing industrial hemp is Senate Bill 357, which was introduced by Senator Richard Young and would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp.
New Hampshire: Decriminalization Bill Passed But May Not Survive
New Hampshire’s house voted to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, but some believe the bill has a long, hard road before becoming a law.
After hours of debate, a vote to kill it, and a change of heart, the House finally voted 170-162 to have the bill reviewed by the tax committee before seeking final approval. However, considering the Senate’s rejection of a decriminalization bill in 2013, the likelihood of this one being passed is not good. And, if it does, Governor Maggie Hassan has vowed to reject it the minute it lands on her desk.
If the measure does find its way to becoming law, individuals over the age of 21 would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use and grow up to six plants.
Maryland: Legalization Bill to Be Introduced
Maryland lawmakers say they will soon introduce a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana.
This legislation, which will likely be sponsored by Republican Senator Allan Kittleman and Democratic Senator Jamie Raskin, will allow adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. The bill will also provide a statewide plan for the cultivation and sale of retail marijuana.
However, the bill could face some adversity. Governor Martin O’Malley has said in the past that he opposes marijuana legalization in the state. Not only that, but in 2013, a decriminalization bill passed by the Senate met its demise when it reached the House.
New York: Medical Marijuana Bill Approved a Second Time
For a second time, the New York State Assembly Committee approved a bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana. The Assembly passed the Compassionate Care Act last summer, but it did not garner enough support from the Senate.
Supporters hope that the changing national opinion will assist in bringing this legislation to life in 2014. “With the advantage of 20 states and the District of Columbia having gone before us, the Compassionate Care Act incorporates lessons learned and best practices from those states,” said the bill’s sponsor, Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.
Gottfried says this bill is necessary, regardless of Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement to permit medical marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses. He says the state needs a more comprehensive plan, because Cuomo’s proposal discounts many patients.
Louisiana: Bill to Reduce Penalties
State lawmakers are scheduled to meet in the near future to discuss the “feasibility and effectiveness” of legalizing marijuana in Louisiana. In the meantime, State Representative Austin Badon says he would like the state to decrease its penalties for marijuana possession.
Last week, Rep. Badon introduced a bill – House Bill 103 -- to substantially lower the state’s penalties for repeat offenders to no more than two years for a second offense, five years for a third, and no more than eight years for those convicted four or more times. Fines would also be reduced to $2,000.
Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Hearing Scheduled
Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate committee announced a hearing set for later this month to discuss the legalization of medical marijuana. However, a spokesperson for the Senate majority leader says that the meeting is not an indication the issue will receive a vote.
“Public opinion seems to be changing somewhat on this issue. I don’t think it reflects anything beyond the fact that Senators would like to get more information, understand it better and think about it. But we have no plans to bring the bill up for a vote this year,” said Eric Arneson, representative for Republican Dominic Pileggi.
Even they do, Governor Corbett will likely keep it from moving any further than his office. He has made it clear that he will veto the medical marijuana bill, at least until the FDA publishes positive evidence from clinical trials.
Kentucky: Second Committee Hearing
A second Senate committee hearing took place last week in Kentucky to further discuss the topic of medical marijuana.
Health and Welfare Chairwoman Julie Denton says she wants to learn more about the subject, specifically in regards to cannabis oil for treating sick children.
“There are some children with epilepsy and with seizure conditions that the medicines don’t stop the seizures,” Denton said. “And so there’s some anecdotal evidence out there that says it helps -- and it helps a lot -- and that there are families that are moving out of Kentucky to Colorado in order to be able get that for their children because it’s the only thing that’s working for them.”
Although the committee did meet, there was no vote expected to take place. However, Denton says she may file a bill on the issue later this year, but wants to learn more about the issue from the people it affects.