HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: February 8

It was a busy week in the fight to reform the marijuana laws in the United States. Some of the biggest news comes from Maine, where organizers working to bring full legalization to the state have submitted the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot in the November general election. Other highlights include a decision that could eventually lead to cannabis clubs in the nation’s capital and the repeal of a law in California giving local governments additional time to decide their participation in medical marijuana.

Read all about this and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for February 8:

Federal: Bill Introduced to Allow USPS to Carry Marijuana Ads
Oregon lawmakers are working to eliminate the conflict that prevents the USPS from handling advertisements dealing with marijuana. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have introduced a measure that would make it acceptable for the postal service to deal with marijuana advertisements in states where weed is legal. The mission is to amend the portion of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that makes it illegal to ship advertisements for a Schedule I substance through the mail.

“This USPS policy is outdated and ignores reforms happening in Oregon and across the country,” Blumenauer said. “The federal government must stay out of the way of these state legalization efforts.”

Unfortunately, it is not likely that any amendments to the CSA will happen under the rule of the Republican dominated Congress. 

Maine: Voters Will Likely Get to Decide on Full Legalization in 2016
Maine is one step closer to deciding whether to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol recently announced that they had collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2016. The organization has turned the signatures over to the state in hopes that at least 61,123 are verifiable. If the initiative is successful, the state would establish a cannabis industry similar to what is being done in Colorado—taxing retail cannabis to the tune of 10 percent. In addition, the measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed and engage in home cultivation.

“This initiative will replace the underground marijuana market with a tightly controlled system of legitimate, taxpaying businesses that create good jobs for Maine residents,” said campaign manager David Boyle. “It will also make Maine safer by allowing enforcement officials to spend more time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws.” 

Maine: Bill Introduced to Increase Penalties for Drug Offenders
While cannabis activists are working to end prohibition across the state of Maine, some lawmakers are taking a different approach to drug reform—considering a bill that would increase the penalties for people caught in possession of illegal substances. The shoddy philosophy behind this proposal is that the threat of incarceration is the only thing that motivates people to confront their addictions. If passed, possession of 30 grams or more of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and other substances would become a felony offense.

District of Columbia: Pot Consumption in Private Clubs
Although the DC Council committee recently made a move to impose a ban that would permanently prevent marijuana from being consumed in private clubs, the full Council passed a unanimous vote last Tuesday that will allow the issue of social use to be researched to determine whether it is something the city wants to give further consideration. A task force has been assembled to conduct a feasibility study over the course of the next few months to gauge if temporary legislation banning pot consumption in private clubs should be made permanent or released altogether.

Louisiana: New Orleans Considers Decriminalization
A New Orleans lawmaker is hoping to decriminalize minor pot possession in 2016. Councilwoman Susan Guidry recently introduced a bill that would expand on the current policies against small time possession by putting into place permanent rules that make this offense a civil infraction. As it stands, it is up to the discretion of the cops in New Orleans to decide whether to ticket a person for pot or cart them off to jail. Guidry’s proposal would eliminate the discretionary factor and simply apply decriminalization across the board. If the measure is approved, first time offenders would receive a verbal warning; second time offenders a written warning; while third time offenders would be slapped with a $50 fine. Any additional offenses under this proposal would simply be handled with a $100 fine—no jail time. 

Illinois: Governor Rejects Additional Conditions
Governor Rauner’s administration announced last week that it would not be expanding the state’s medical marijuana pilot program to include PTSD and chronic pain. The news of this rejection came from Illinois Department of Public Health director, Dr. Nirav Shah.

"As patients have just started purchasing medical cannabis, the State has not had the opportunity to evaluate the benefits and costs of the pilot program or determine areas for improvement or even whether to extend the program beyond its pilot period," he told the Chicago Tribune. "At this time, it is premature to expand the pilot program before there is the ability to evaluate it under the current statutory requirements."

So far, Illinois has only around 4,000 registered patients. Advocates for the expansion have voiced concerns that without additional patients, the entire market stands to come crumbling down before it has an opportunity to get underway. 

Wyoming: Proposal to Legalize Medical Marijuana Fails
Medical marijuana is a no-go for Wyoming in 2016. Organizers with the Wyoming chapter of NORML announced last week that they failed to collect the necessary signatures to put their initiative on the ballot in November’s general election. The group only managed to secure around 7,000 of the required 25,600 signatures before the February deadline. However, the group plans to retool and try again in 2017. 

Arkansas: Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Proposal Again
Marijuana activists in Arkansas cannot seem to get past the gatekeeper in order to get a marijuana initiative on the ballot this year. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has once again rejected a proposal introduced by resident Mary Berry, citing “ambiguities in the proposal’s text” as her reason for not authorizing the measure for the next phase. The proposal, which is titled “The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment,” has been denied more times than we can remember ever happening in any other state. 

Ohio: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Too Broke to Move Forward
The possibility of Ohio legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes is not likely to happen in 2016. Ohioans to End Prohibition, the group currently collecting signatures to get their proposal on the ballot this November, are reportedly too broke to continue their mission. An article from Cleveland.com indicates the organization is currently sitting on less than $300 in the bank, which is less than sufficient to get a voter initiative pushed through. Historically, ballot measures have cost advocacy groups millions of dollars to simply earn a 50/50 chance at meeting voter approval.

Without a serious investor swooping in soon to catapult this initiative forward, we anticipate this may be the last time you hear about this particular organization. However, the Marijuana Policy Project is about to launch a campaign aimed at legalizing medical marijuana, a development that may prevent Ohioans to End Prohibition from even attempting to secure the proper financing to keep their effort afloat. 

Alabama: Medical Marijuana Possession Bill Introduced
Representative Mike Ball has formally introduced a proposal that he believes will help seizure patients get their hands on cannabis oil. It is being called “Leni’s Law,” and it would essentially allow those patients with a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor to have in their possession an amount of low-THC cannabis oil. However, the bill does not come with a cultivation and distribution provision, so patients would be forced to break federal law transporting the medicine across state lines. 

Tennessee: Pot Prosecution Bill Moves Forward
Lawmakers are working to eliminate felony convictions for habitual marijuana offenders. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee put their stamp of approval on a bill that would make three or more convictions for petty pot possession a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The reform is expected to decrease the state’s prison population, as well lead to a savings of nearly $2 million annually. Unfortunately, there is some opposition. Some argue that lessening the penalties for this offense will give people no incentive to obey the law. The bill is now set to be heard before the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the next few weeks. 

Colorado: New Bill Defines “Open and Public” Pot Consumption
Despite a couple of groups working to put social use initiatives on the ballot in 2016, lawmakers are working to address the issue in the state legislature. Representative Jonathan Singer will submit a bill that would clarify “open and public” consumption, while also legalizing cannabis cafes. Basically, the proposal gives retail pot shops the opportunity to apply for a separate license that would permit customers to smoke weed on the premises. Singer recently told CBS Denver that while he expects the legislation will be amended, he believes his bill stands “a fairly high chance of passing.” 

Michigan: Detroit Pot Shops Can Apply to Stay in March
Detroit medical marijuana dispensaries will be given 30 days beginning on March 1 to submit an application to operate under the city’s updated law. This means the hundreds of pot shops currently open across the city could face closure if they are unable to meet the latest requirements. Among the changes, the city will no longer allow dispensaries to operate within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and parks. As for now, no one seems to have any idea how many of these businesses will be run out of town as a result of this ordinance. 

Florida: Tightening Regulations on Non-Existent Medical Marijuana Program
Lawmakers are working to impose additional restrictions to Florida’s non-existent, low-THC medical marijuana program. House Bill 1313, which is an attempt at strengthening security requirements for productions facilities, as well as limit the types of physicians allowed to offer patient recommendations, was passed unanimously last week by the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. The bill seems to be an effort to prevent doctors practicing naturopathy and homeopathy from participating in the program.

Florida: Marijuana for the Terminally Ill Advances
A proposal aimed at providing marijuana for the terminally ill has advanced in the state legislature. The proposal—House Bill 307—was drafted as an attachment to a new state law referred to as the “Right to Try Act,” which gives terminally ill patients permission to use experimental medications that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Essentially, the bill, which was introduced by Senator Rob Bradley, seeks to allow dying patients to have access to all forms of marijuana as long as they can secure the approval of two licensed physicians. The bill now has two committee stops before it advances to the floor. 

California: Governor Repeals Marijuana Participation Deadline
Governor Jerry Brown signed a piece of emergency legislation last week intended to prevent local governments from banning medical marijuana before having a chance to explore other options. The new law completely does away with the previous March 1 deadline, which forced hundred of localities to outlaw cultivation rather than rush to develop policies of their own. Now, local officials should have enough time to make a decision on this issue before the regulations take hold in 2018. 

Kansas: Senate Approves Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties
Although Kansas lawmakers refuse to decriminalize marijuana possession, the Senate did put its approval on a bill last week aimed at reducing the penalties for minor possession. House Bill 249 would simply make this offense a class B misdemeanor for first time offenders rather than a class A. Second offenses would be a misdemeanor instead of felony. If the bill passes, people convicted of pot possession could face up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, rather than the current one-year jail term and a fine of up to $2,500. 

South Dakota: Medical Marijuana Proposal Rejected
There is not much of a chance that medical marijuana is going to happen this year in South Dakota. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs recently rejected a proposal aimed at legalizing marijuana for medicinal use because the group behind the effort failed to collect enough signatures. Organizers were challenged to submit over 20,000 signatures, but Krebs says only 9,000 were valid. They now have until March 4 to contest the state’s decision.

Oregon: Bill Introduced to Provide Financial Services
Oregon lawmakers are working to provide banking services for the marijuana industry. Representative Tobias Read introduced a bill last week that would allow the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and other state agencies to share information about marijuana businesses with banks that could help decrease the liability risk. The bill would also force the Department of Consumer and Business Services to research additional methods for getting around the barriers that prevent the cannabis industry from using banks. So far, this legislation has picked up some support in the House, but has received no attention in the Senate. 

New York: Medical Marijuana Upgrades Being Considered
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried plans to introduce several bills this session that he hopes will lead to an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program. Among the proposed reforms is one that would allow patients to smoke marijuana rather than being forced to use oils, tinctures and vapors. Another bill begs to add “Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, dystonia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus” to the list of qualified conditions. A third measure would bring on more cannabis producers by allowing the Health Department to select five more companies from last year’s list of failed applicants. All of the proposals are part of a larger bill that was introduced last year but didn’t gain much traction. Gottfried believes that by submitting each item individually, he stands a better chance at getting some of them approved. 

Utah: Medical Marijuana Bills Advance
Two medical marijuana bills with separate agendas have advanced in the state legislature. Senate Bill 89, introduced by Senator Evan Vickers, would allow cultivation and distribution of low-THC cannabis products to specific patients; while Senate Bill 73, submitted by Senator Mark Madsen, would create a more comprehensive medical marijuana program—allowing whole plant access. Both measures passed through key committees last week after several hours of testimony. They are expected to receive more attention later this week. So far, Governor Herbert has not voiced support for either proposal.

Delaware: Bill Would Allow CBD Oil in Schools
Lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at allowing children with epilepsy to consume cannabis oil in school. Senate Bill 181 would set up a system where caregivers would administer the medicine to those students needing CBD oil to control seizures. The concept is to ensure kids can get their medicine “like a nurse administering an EpiPen” for an allergic reaction. The proposal has been sent to the Delaware Association of School Nurses and Delaware Association of School Superintendents for their opinion.

Rhode Island: State Looking to Tax Home Grows
Governor Gina Raimondo is looking to tax medical marijuana patients for the plants they grow at home. A proposed budget seeks to levy a tax of $150 on patients and $350 for caregivers who engage in home cultivation. Under this plan, the state predicts it will generate $8.4 million in cultivation taxes. However, marijuana advocates argue the state should simply look towards full legalization if it is interested in generating additional revenue from marijuana.

(Photo Courtesy of Salon)

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