HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: April 11

It was a fully loaded week in the fight to reform unjust marijuana laws in the United States. Some of the most promising news comes from Maine, where advocates there recently learned that a proposed ballot measure aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana still has a chance of getting in front of voters this November. Sadly, there were also plenty of disappointments, namely a lethal dose of tomfoolery in the Vermont House, where committee chair Maxine Grad appears to be trying to prevent the state from legalizing in 2016.

Read all about these stories and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for April 11:

Florida: Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill
Governor Rick Scott has signed a bill into law that will change the way the state handles civil asset forfeiture cases. The measure, which earned a great deal of support in the House and Senate, would make it mandatory for a person to be convicted of a crime before law enforcement could permanently seize their possessions.

“The notion that police officers can take cash or other property from people never charged with any criminal wrongdoing and keeping any profits from the sale of seized property doesn’t sit well with the public,” said Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Voters want action on civil asset forfeiture and it was smart politics for Governor Scott to sign off on this.”

Other states considering similar measures include Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Nebraska and Ohio. 

Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Bill Lingers in the Senate
There has been some momentum for a medical marijuana bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature, but all is quiet now as the measure waits to be heard once again by the Senate. The latest word is that the House and Senate are currently negotiating changes to the bill, which after being approved by the Senate a year ago was finally passed by the House several weeks ago. But since the House made amendments to the proposal, the Senate must now approve the bill in its updated form or make additional changes – an action that will send it back to the House for a second time. If this happens, the bill is likely done for in 2016. Meanwhile, Governor Tom Wolf says he is prepared to sign the bill once it lands on his desk. 

Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Council Approves Decriminalization Bill
The Pittsburgh City Council voted 8 to 1 in approval of a bill last week aimed at decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would allow those caught with small amounts of weed to be issued a $100 ticket instead of going to jail. The offense would show up on a person’s record as being fined for “certain defined conduct,” rather than marijuana possession in an effort to protect them from missing out on career opportunities. The mayor is expected to sign the ordinance very soon.

Illinois: Medical Marijuana Warning Label Rejected
An Illinois lawmaker pushing for medical marijuana products to come with a warning label had his proposal rejected earlier last week by a key House committee. Representative Dwight Kay said he believes if other prescriptions contain warnings about the potential side effects of drugs than so should marijuana. However, the House Substance Abuse Special Committee was quick to deny his proposal on Monday on the basis that warning labels were unnecessary because physicians already discuss the possible side effects of marijuana with patients before providing them with a recommendation. 

Maine: Marijuana OUI Bill Stalls In House
Although the Senate recently put its approval on a bill aimed at establishing a standard for determining stoned driving, the House of Representative was not as quick to tender its support. Without a debate, the House rejected a measure that would have considered a driver impaired if he or she registered .05 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood – the same limit used in Colorado and Washington. The disagreement over this issue between the Senate and the House effectively kills this piece of legislation in the current session. 

Maine: Recreational Marijuana Initiative is Back On
It appears a ballot measure aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana in Maine this November is back in business. On Friday, a Kennebec County Superior Court judge found that state officials were wrong to disqualify thousands of signatures submitted by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. In March, the Secretary of State rejected the proposed ballot measure because a notary discrepancy, preventing more than 17,000 from being verified. However, Justice Michaela Murphy said the state erred when it made this decision. The initiative now goes back to the Secretary of State for approval. If all goes according to plan, which is expected, voters will get to decide whether the state should legalize a full-scale cannabis industry later this year.

District of Columbia: Superior Court Ruling Could Lead to Retail Sales
A D.C. Superior Court judge recently issued a ruling that may allow retail pot sales to happen in the nation’s capital in 2017. Judge Brian Holeman ruled in favor of upholding the Local Budget Autonomy Act, which will give District officials more power over the use of city funds. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, this means that in September, as soon as the Fiscal Year 2016 budget expires, the D.C. Council could begin working on legislation aimed at establishing a taxed and regulated pot market. As it stands, a Congressional rider, which was passed in 2014 and renewed again in 2015, prevents the District from using federal funds to enact legislation to legalize marijuana. Congress could attempt to pass legislation later this year in an attempt to stop the District from moving forward with retail sales, but the resolution would need to be signed by President Obama, a supporter of D.C.’s right to make its own pot laws, before it could take effect. 

District of Columbia: Permanent Ban on Social Marijuana Consumption
The D.C. Council recently voted 7 to 6 in favor of a measure that would permanently ban social marijuana consumption in the nation’s capital. Although lawmakers voted earlier this year to let the ban expire, the influence of Mayor Muriel Bowser forced them to reverse this decision. A task force was then established to determine whether the District should allow cannabis clubs. But the report never saw the light of day. There is some hope that the D.C. Superior Court’s recent decision to uphold the Local Budget Autonomy Act will give the council the power to overturn the ban.

“It’s a shame that the council didn’t allow the task force, which they created, to do its job,” said Kate Bell of the Marijuana Policy Project. “At the hearing last year, council members heard how the ban hurts people who live in public housing or apartments where they cannot use marijuana or don’t wish to consume it at home in front of their children. And now, we have clear data showing that the law criminalizing public consumption is disparately enforced, with African Americans constituting 84 percent of the arrests last year even though they are only 49 percent of D.C.’s population. 

Vermont: House Takes Pot Legalization Back to the Drawing Board
The Vermont House is sabotaging the state’s momentum to establish a legal cannabis trade. While a bill aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana recently made its way through the Senate, the House has decided to scrap the bill, removing legalization from its core, only to assemble a completely new measure aimed at decriminalizing home cultivation. Reports indicate that this snag could ultimately end up preventing a marijuana legalization bill from landing on Governor Shumlin’s desk in 2016. 

Alabama: CBD Oil Decriminalization Bill Advances
Representative Mike Ball’s proposal aimed at decriminalizing the possession of CBD oil throughout the state of Alabama has advanced in the state legislature. The proposal, which is currently in action under slightly different versions in both the House and Senate, would allow specific patients to smuggle low-THC cannabis oil into the state. But the bill, which was essentially worthless from the beginning, has now been amended enough times to officially be considered a bad joke. Although it was originally intended to make drug traffickers out of patients with a variety of conditions, the bill now only applies to those with epilepsy. 

Nebraska: Lawmakers Kill Medical Marijuana Bill, Initiative On Deck
Although the wheels of the state legislature have stopped turning this year for a bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana, pot advocates are hoping to bring to life a ballot measure to get the job done at the hands of voters. Last week, lawmakers shot down Senator Tommy Garrett’s proposal (LB 643), which would have allowed patients with various conditions to have access to non-smokable cannabis products. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis said they had backed off a campaign aimed at putting the question of legalization up to the voters in order to help push through Garrett’s bill. But now that his bill has failed, supporters say they will try to raise enough money to get an initiative on the ballot in 2018. 

New Orleans: Bill Introduced to Remove Pharmacy Cap
Representative Tanner Magee has introduced a piece of legislation aimed at eliminating the 10-pharmacy cap the state has imposed on medical marijuana dispensaries across the state. Although the state has not yet started the process of licensing dispensaries, the Board of Pharmacy has reportedly heard from a significant number of applicants interested in participating with the program. The latest proposal was drafted out of concerns that the 10-dispensary limit could give way to a monopoly. 

Alaska: Marijuana Taxes Could Go Toward Substance Abuse Programs
Senator John Coghill has introduced a bill that would allocate half of the state’s marijuana excise tax to pay for various programs aimed at stopping repeat offenders. Senate Bill 91 would channel 50 percent of the tax revenue into a recidivism reduction fund intended to help people with substance abuse problems. The proposal could provide the fund with up to $6 million annually.

South Carolina: Lawmakers Reject Medical Marijuana
A South Carolina Senate committee has rejected a measure that would have legalized a statewide medical marijuana program. Last Thursday, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 7 to 4 against allowing patients suffering from conditions such as cancer and chronic pain from having access to cannabis medicine. Although there is a companion measure progressing slowly though the House, there is still not much hope that medical marijuana will see the light of day in 2016. Even if the House bill goes the distance, the Senate would still need to approve the measure before it would have a chance at being signed by the Governor. 


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