Despite the DEA’s recent refusal to downgrade the Schedule I classification of the cannabis plant, the fight to legalize the leaf in more of the United States remains strong. Strangely, the most concrete progress of the past week comes from North Dakota, where organizers have managed to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in the upcoming election. Other highlights include a fight to the death grudge match in Michigan over whether voters will get to decide on legal marijuana in 2016, as well as news that Arizona could be one of the next states to tax and regulate the herb in manner similar to beer.
Read all about these developments and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for August 15:
Florida: Gainesville Considering Marijuana Decriminalization
The Alachua County Commission is considering a proposal that would allow local law enforcement to treat minor marijuana possession as a civil infraction. The measure, which went before the commission last Tuesday, aims to eliminate the criminal penalties for anyone caught holding up to 20 grams of pot and slap them with a $100 fine instead. Second time offenders would be fined $150 and receive 12 hours of community service. The ordinance would allow offenders to buy themselves out of the community service for $12.50 per hour. Third time offenders would pay $200 and receive 16 hours of community service – the buyout would still apply. A number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, have implemented similar measures. If passed, Florida’s state marijuana laws, which come with penalties of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, would still apply if busted by State Police.
Missouri: Medical Marijuana Proposal Not on the November Ballot
New Approach Missouri, the group working to legalize a statewide medical marijuana program, announced last week that it failed to collect the necessary signatures to earn a spot on the ballot this November. Reports show the group fell short by about 2,200 signatures, which organizers are blaming on the disqualification of more than 10,000 signatures, earlier this year. Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for New Approach said the group plans to file a lawsuit in hopes of having the invalidated signatures reinstated. If this effort proves successful, the proposal would have enough support to go before the voters in the upcoming election. The group feels confident the initiative will be allowed to move forward.
Oklahoma: Medical Marijuana Initiative Gaining Ground
A group working to legalize medical marijuana in 2016 announced last week that it is about 10,000 signatures shy of qualifying for the November ballot. So far, organizers with Oklahomans for Health have collected around 50,000 signatures, while needing 66,000 to advance to the next level. The group was given until August 11 to submit all of its petitions. If they can find a way to pull it together before the deadline, it is possible that voters will be deciding on the issue of medical marijuana later this fall. The group plans to try again in 2018 if they fail to deliver enough signatures before the deadline.
Michigan: MILegalize Not Giving Up on Ballot Initiative
There is still a chance voters will get to decide on whether to legalize a recreational cannabis market later this fall. MILegalize, the group working to put an initiative in front of voters, told Michigan Radio last week that they are still working to cut through the controversy following a new law that disqualified all of their petitions over 180 days old. The group says it has until September to get on the ballot. However, the state argues that it is already too late.
Arizona: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot
A proposed ballot measure seeking to legalize recreational marijuana has been approved to go before the voters in the November election. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) received word from the Arizona Secretary of State that their proposal will move forward as Proposition 205. If it passes, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase legal weed in a manner similar to what they do now with beer. There is some opposition trying to sue the group because it has been suggested that they bamboozled the voters when describing the proposal during the signature collection process. A judge was scheduled to decide on whether to disqualify the effort last Friday. However, legal counsel for CRMLA argue that there is nothing the courts can do to prevent the initiative from going before voters.
“Eighty-three years ago, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure to repeal the failed policy of alcohol prohibition,” said J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Yes on 205 campaign. “This November, we will have the opportunity to end the equally disastrous policy of marijuana prohibition. Prop 205 would establish a more sensible system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”
South Dakota: Judge Denies Medical Marijuana Measure for Ballot
It appears as though medical marijuana has been defeated in South Dakota before it ever had a chance to get started. Last week, Circuit Court Judge Mark Barnett ruled that a medical marijuana initiative could not appear before the voters in the November election. Reports indicate that the court’s decision was based on insufficient signatures. Organizers say they are being short changed because of some alleged discrepancies at the hands of Secretary of States Shantel Krebs. However, the issue is far from dead.
“We are moving forward. This was not a failure, it was the start of a movement that had been dying away in our state,” Melisa Mentele, a key supporter of the initiative, told HIGH TIMES. “We have gained the support of voters in South Dakota and we have worked with the media to keep this issue in the news and fresh. New Approach will be resubmitting our bill with a few additions to the Legislative Research Council in the next 30 days. We have a twist coming though. That’s all I can say on the subject. South Dakota is not done. The women of New Approach will not stop until cannabis is legal.”
North Dakota: Medical Marijuana Will Be on November Ballot
We did not see this one coming. North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced last week that an initiative called the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act of 2016, which aims to legalize a statewide medical marijuana program, would appear on the November ballot. Organizers were challenged to collect more than 13,000 signatures in order to qualify. They managed to collect more than 18,000, with around 17,000 of them deemed good. If voters approve the measure, patients with a variety of conditions would have the freedom to purchase up to 3 ounces of marijuana every 14 days as long as they have as recommendation from a doctor. Supporters say they intend to spend the next few months familiarizing the voting public with the initiative.
California: No Tax for Pot Growers
A proposal aimed at taxing medical marijuana cultivators is dead. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted against Assembly Bill 2243, which aimed to tax pot farmers to the tune of up to $13.25 per ounce. The goal was to raise millions of dollars for law enforcement and the environment, but there was a significant amount of backlash over the proposal because some argued the tax rate was too high. There is no word whether this measure will be revisited in the future.