November was one of the most successful months in the realm of marijuana reform in the United States. Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC all voted to legalize recreational marijuana, while several cities across the country passed measures to decriminalize. This was just the confidence builder proponents of pot needed to get amped up about going in for the kill in 2016, with several states, including California and Missouri, having already filed the necessary paperwork to launch initiatives to legalize the leaf in the next presidential election. One thing is certain, folks: it is about to get treacherous out there for the prohibitionists.
“Things are clearly headed in the right direction,” said Mason Tvert with the Marijuana Policy Project. “Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities.”
Unfortunately, federal legalization is still not likely to happen anytime soon. Drug policy experts believe it is going to take a lot more states legalizing marijuana before the government considers repealing prohibition – some of which is highly probable in the 2016 election.
Here is a closer look at what your pot-friendly lawmakers accomplished last week:
Federal: Bill to Allow Marijuana for Veterans
A couple of lawmakers introduced a bill last week aimed at allowing physicians employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss and recommend medical marijuana for their patients. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Dana Rohrabacher have sponsored a bill called the Veterans Equal Access Act, which would change the current VA policy and allow doctors to debate the issue of cannabis for medicinal purposes with veterans suffering from debilitating conditions.
“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”
Without the use of medical marijuana, many vets are self-medicating and becoming addicted to powerful painkillers to combat stress disorders and pain – a problem affecting nearly 1 million veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of these soldiers are deterred from participating in medical marijuana programs because of the conflict between state and federal law.
“Veterans must be given the same rights and health care options that we give other Americans, especially where medical marijuana is concerned,” said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access.
Georgia: Proposal for Full Legalization
A Georgia lawmaker has filed measures to implement a fully legal, statewide marijuana market. State Senator Curt Thompson recently introduced two proposals last week in hopes of having them heard during the next legislative session. The first, Bill 7, would establish a recreational pot market similar to Colorado, while also allowing a non-restrictive medical marijuana program. The other, Senate Resolution 6, aims to require voter approval to pass a statewide cannabis industry by way of constitutional amendment.
Massachusetts: Push to Legalize in 2016
Marijuana supporters want to put the question of legalized marijuana to the voters in 2016. Reports indicate that legislation is currently being drafted in Massachusetts that would allow recreational marijuana cultivation and use. The organization intends to introduce a ballot initiative for 2016 just in case lawmakers fail to move on the issue next year.
“If the Legislature doesn’t do anything, we’ll go to the voters in 2016,” said Richard Evans, chairman of the coalition. “We want to give lawmakers the opportunity to enact it. Voters shouldn’t be making laws like this, lawmakers should. But when the lawmakers won’t, voters must.”
Virginia: Proposal to Decriminalize Marijuana
A proposal was recently introduced that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. State Senator Adam Ebbin filed SB 686, which is similar to the one implemented in Washington DC earlier this year: it would strip away the criminal penalties associated with the offense a makes it a civil infraction, punishable with a fine up to $100. Ebbin hopes his bill will be heard once the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Washington DC: On Their Way to a Taxed and Regulated Market
District lawmakers have voted to work toward establishing a taxed and regulated recreational marijuana market in the nation’s capital. Last Tuesday, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs put their stamp of approval on a bill that would put retail marijuana in the hands of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. The group now has six months to draft regulations, which could put pot shops opening in the District sometime in 2016… that is, as long as the council gives final approval and Congress does not vote to kill it.