The fight to legalize marijuana in the United States was at full throttle last week, with advocates seemingly dominating the opposition. Even though there were some major disappointments, like veterans refused medical marijuana as a treatment option, there was a significant amount of success to declare progress -- mostly in the realm of medical marijuana and CBD bills.
Here is a closer look at what your pot-friendly lawmakers were up to last week:
Federal: No Medical Marijuana for Veterans
It does not appear that federal doctors will be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to patients anytime soon. Last Wednesday, the House rejected a proposal that would have allowed doctors working with the Veterans Administration in legal marijuana states to discuss cannabis as a treatment option.
While some state lawmakers argued that veterans deserve for VA physicians to be empowered to do their jobs, others argued that the decision should be left up to the state, and federal employees should not be pushing the use of a federally banned substances.
In the end, the bill was rejected by a vote of 222 to 195.
New Mexico: Alzheimer’s Disease Could Be Qualified Condition
Last week, a Medical Advisory Board with the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program gave a unanimous vote to add Alzheimer’s disease to its list of qualified conditions. The proposal now goes before the Secretary of Health for final approval.
“The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board’s action not only recognizes the debilitating impact neurodegenerative diseases have on New Mexico’s increasing elderly population, it recognizes that medical marijuana should be part of a larger comprehensive approach to support our elders’ quality of life,” said Emily Kaltenbach, with the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico chapter. “New Mexico has a long history of respecting our elders and the Board’s compassionate recommendation to add these conditions is clearly rooted in the great values of our state.”
Florida: CBD Bill Passes Senate
Last Monday, the Senate passed a measure that would allow children suffering from epileptic seizures to access a CBD strain of marijuana. Although some lawmakers were leery about passing the bill, 11-year-old RayAnn Moseley and her mother helped persuade the majority to vote 36-3 in favor of the issue. The bill must now go before the House.
"The strategy is to pass a good bill that helps as many people as we can possibly help. I would like to cover more ailments than just children with intractable epilepsy," said Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the bill. "I have no doubt the governor will sign any non-euphoric cannabis bill we send him."
Vermont: Medical Marijuana Dispensary Improvement Bill to Be Signed
Last Wednesday, the Vermont Senate approved a measure to grant access to medical marijuana for more patients. Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign Senate Bill 247 into law. The measure will remove patient caps currently imposed on medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as increase their possession limits.
The bill will initiate two studies: one to consider adding post traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualified conditions, and one to explore the possibility of a tax and regulatory system.
“We’re pleased to see legislators are beginning to explore the possible benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol,” said Matt Simon with the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is strong public support in Vermont and around the nation for ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”
Minnesota: Medical Marijuana Bill Approved
A bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The measure would allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana for qualified conditions.
Ohio: Medical Marijuana Initiative
Ohio could be the next state to legalize medical marijuana. Last week, pot proponents introduced the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment, which aims to make medical marijuana legal accessible by amending the state’s constitution in the November election.
Now, the initiative is challenged in obtaining 365,000 valid voter signatures to get question of medical marijuana on the ballot in November. A recent poll indicates that 87% of Ohioans would support legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Iowa: CBD Bill Passes
Last Thursday, the Iowa legislature passed a bill that would allow cannabis oil access to children suffering from seizures. The bill must now go before Governor Terry Branstad for his signature. Although this law would allow the possession of up to 32 ounces of CBD oil, it does not allow Iowans to cultivate at home. Unfortunately, this means parents will have to attempt to import the medicine from out of state, which could prove costly and illegal under federal regulations.
Illinois: Research Hemp Approved
Industrial hemp has been approved in Illinois. The House recently voted in favor of a bill that would allow universities to cultivate and study industrial hemp. The bill has now been forwarded to the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee.
In other news, Democratic lawmakers are calling for a task force to be created in order to decriminalize marijuana in Illinois. The issue is slated to be discussed next month during a Cook County Board meeting. Although Chicago police have been given the option to issue tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana, that option is not available statewide.
"This is not something that's going to happen in weeks or months, but it's something that's never going to happen unless we start to take affirmative steps now," said Commissioner John Fritchey.
Virginia: Marijuana Rescheduling Bill
A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I dangerous substance to a Schedule II. Representative Morgan Griffith says his measure would allow medical professionals to prescribe marijuana.
"Isn't it cruel to not allow real doctors, real drug companies and real pharmacists to use marijuana for legitimate medical reasons for real patients?" Griffith told the Washington Post. "We use all sorts of opioids under the same scenario that this bill would allow us to use marijuana."
New York: Medical Marijuana Coming?
There is speculation that medical marijuana could be approved in New York in the near future. As this legislative session comes to a close, lawmakers are considering new amendments to the Compassionate Care Act that could make the issue of medical marijuana more attractive to the State Senate.
Marijuana supporters say this is the closest the Senate has been to approving legislation for legal marijuana. In fact, over the course of the past 17 years, the Senate has never let a marijuana bill get close enough to the floor to receive a vote.
Some of the proposed amendments include: patients under the age of 21 would not be allowed to smoke marijuana and forced to seek alternative methods, as well as changes to the list of qualified conditions.
Hawaii: Hemp Bill Signed Into Law
Last week, it was reported that Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie was set to sign a hemp bill into law, which would allow the state to embark on a two-year industrial hemp research program overseen by the University of Hawaii at Mona.
“Hempcrete, a hemp and lime composite, is termite proof, making it an excellent choice for the construction industry,” said Representative Cynthia Thielen. “There is a huge global market for hemp and the U.S. is the largest consumer at nearly half a billion dollars per year. The passage of SB2175 is the first step for Hawaii to become a national and global player in the hemp market. We could profit hugely off this environmentally friendly crop.”
Nevada: Initiative Filed to Legalize Marijuana
Marijuana advocates recent filed a petition aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana in the state of Nevada. Campaign to Regulate Marijuana is now faced with obtaining around 102,000 verified voter signatures in order to get the issue put in front of state lawmakers in 2015. However, if the bill should be rejected, voters would have an opportunity to vote on the issue in the 2016 election.
Colorado: PTSD Rejected as a Qualified Condition
All previous attempts to get post traumatic stress disorder added to the state’s list of qualified conditions have failed, but state lawmakers had faith that a third attempt would prove successful… it did not. The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee denied a measure to add PTSD to the state medical marijuana program’s list of qualified conditions.
Representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health attributed the decision to the lack of research proving marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. Two physicians testified before the committee that marijuana can actually make PTSD worse, invoking violence and depression.
Marijuana edibles are under fire in Colorado. After the media blamed the THC-infused products for the death of a Denver man, state lawmakers are looking to control the amount of THC that goes into food items. They are considering limiting the legal amount of THC to 10mg per food item.
A bill that would seal marijuana convictions for offenses now legal under Amendment 64 received approval from the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill aims to forgive and forget past convictions by sealing conviction records. The measure was passed by a vote of 3 to 2, and now heads to the Appropriations Committee.
UPDATE: The Appropriations Committee killed this bill last Thursday in a vote of 4 to 3.
Pennsylvania: Sit In
In an attempt to get the issue of medical marijuana heard by Governor Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach is planning a “sit in” at the governor’s office. “We will stay there, we will sleep there, and these parents will care for their sick children there. If the governor forcibly chooses to remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave,” said State Senator Leach.
Last Monday, Senator Leach called on Governor Corbett to discuss a bill, currently stalled in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, that would legalize CBD oil for sick children. “We are asking him to agree to a meeting by May 2nd… The meeting itself does not have to be by May 2nd, but the phone call putting it on the calendar does,” said Leach. “Me and the parents of these sick children, along with the children themselves, will gather in Governor Corbett’s office, and we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled.”
Last Thursday, Governor Tom Corbett told The Associated Press that he has changed his position on medical marijuana and will finally approve cannabis oil to treat children suffering from seizures. However, the governor’s spokesman says his change of heart did not have anything to do with Senator Leach’s threat of a sit in.
Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill last week that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Philadelphia. Instead of pursing criminal charges, possession of small amounts of weed would be considered a civil infraction with a penalty of $25.
"With the passage of this legislation, Philadelphia will do its part to end the failed war on drugs by treating nonviolent, minor drug use as a public-health issue, not a criminal one,” said Kenney.
Louisiana: Medical Marijuana Proposal Rejected
There is little hope medical marijuana will be passed in Louisiana this year. Last week, lawmakers rejected a bill that would finally allow the state to take advantage of their medical marijuana program, which has been in place since 1991. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee killed a measure that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense weed to qualified patients. Concerns over the fact that marijuana is not FDA approved is what ultimately led to their decision to deny.