HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: April 25

It was a solid week in the fight to legalize marijuana in the United States. Some of the most exciting news comes from Pennsylvania, where the state has officially become the twenty-fourth state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Other highlights include momentum in the Illinois General Assembly to decriminalize marijuana possession, as well as news that Vermont may be back on track to legalize marijuana in 2016.

Read all about these actions and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for April 25:

Federal: U.S. Senate Approves Rider to Protect Medical Marijuana States
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed a rider last week intended to prevent the DEA from busting the medical marijuana community. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski, would stop the Department of Justice from spending federal funds to prosecute businesses, patients and doctors in compliance with their respective state medical marijuana law. Similar measures have been part of the federal budget for the past two years. 

Pennsylvania Becomes the 24th Medical Marijuana State
Pennsylvania has become the twenty-fourth state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Governor Tom Wolf recently put his signature on a bill that will allow patients with 17 qualified conditions to have access to cannabis products. Although the new program will not allow patients to smoke marijuana, it will give them access to full strength pills, oils, tinctures, and liquids that can be used in vaporizers. Unfortunately, there is also no home cultivation included in the new law – all pot products will need to be purchased from the 50 licensed dispensaries. The program could launch sometime in late 2017. 

Florida: Orlando City Council Approves Decriminalization
The Orlando City Commission recently approved a new proposal aimed at decriminalizing marijuana. Last Monday, city lawmakers signed off on a deal that would allow local police to simply issue a ticket to anyone caught in possession of 20 grams of marijuana or less. Several other Florida municipalities have decriminalized marijuana in this manner over the past year, including Tampa and Palm Beach. The Orlando Commission is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance again in early May. 

Vermont: Committee Passes Bill, Brings Legalization Back
The House Ways and Means Committee recently voted 6-to-3 in favor of a bill that would allow residents to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without fines as well as give them the freedom to grow up to two cannabis plants for personal use. The proposal is an improvement over one introduced earlier this month by the House Judiciary Committee, which stripped the concept of legalization out of Senate Bill 241 and replaced it with an enhanced scheme of decriminalization. However, the two competing House measures will now have to battle it out in order to come up with a compromise. Policy experts say Vermont could still become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana by way of the state legislature, and that they may even end up passing a bill that includes both retail sales and home cultivation. 

District of Columbia: City Council Approves Ban on Cannabis Clubs
The D.C. Council voted last week 7-to-6 in favor of a permanent ban on cannabis clubs. The vote finalized a temporary ban on private cannabis clubs throughout the District, eliminating the potential for some social use. A task force has been put into place to determine whether cannabis clubs should be allowed, but the DC Council ended up voting to make the ban permanent before the group ever had a chance to meet. There is speculation that a ballot measure could be launched in the near future in an attempt to overturn the ban. 

Illinois: Decriminalization Measure Advances
The Illinois Senate voted 40-to-14 in favor of a bill aimed at decriminalizing marijuana in small amounts. The proposal – Senate Bill 2228 – is a rework of bill that made it through the General Assembly in 2015, but got vetoed by Governor Rauner because he felt it was too conservative in its approach. The latest measure takes the Governor’s concerns into consideration by decreasing the possession limit from 15 grams to 10 grams and it jacks up the fines from $55-$125 to $100-$200. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. If all goes well, the measure could land on the Governor’s desk sometime in May.

Hawaii: Lawmakers Support Drug Decriminalization Research
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor signed off on a deal last week intended to conduct a feasibility study on the decriminalization of all drugs. The House of Representatives approved the measure last month, and it now goes in front of the full Senate for a vote. If passed, the state would study Portugal’s decriminalization policy in an effort to determine whether Hawaii should adopt a similar approach. The proposal has not yet been schedule for the Senate floor. 

Louisiana: Bill to Expand Qualified Conditions Fails and Then Passes
A measure seeking to expand the list of qualified conditions for Louisiana’s medical marijuana program failed on Tuesday, only to end up being met with approval on Wednesday. The proposal, introduced by Senator Fred Mills, would allow more patients suffering from “cancer, HIV, AIDS, cachexia, seizure disorders, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis” to use medical marijuana. The measure fell short of passage on Tuesday, but only because a few Senate members were not present. It was approved on Wednesday in a vote of 21-to-16. The bill must now go before the House of Representative for consideration. 

Montana: Ballot Initiative Announced
Although they are getting a late start, marijuana advocates in Montana hope to get an initiative aimed at legalizing medical marijuana on the November ballot. Organizers with the Montana Cannabis Industry Association learned last week that their ballot measure had been approved. They now have just about two months to collect the necessary 24,000 signatures to get their proposal in front of voters. Although Montana legalized medical marijuana in 2004, the state legislature passed a bill in 2011 restricting access to the herb. The Montana Supreme Court supported this action in February. The latest ballot measure would overturn these actions. 

Connecticut: House Approves Medical Marijuana for Children
Last week, the House of Representatives voted 129-to-13 in favor of a proposal aimed at allowing children suffering from seizure disorders to have access to medical marijuana.  Although Connecticut has a medical marijuana program, there is nothing written in the language of the law that allows minors to participate. This legislation would establish a separate program for seriously ill children. The proposal must now go before the Senate. 

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