HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: January 25

Cannabis activists are working harder than ever to legalize the leaf in various regions of the United States. Some of the biggest news this week comes from Ohio, where it was announced that a national marijuana advocacy group will work to get an initiative on the ballot in the 2016 election. Also in the Midwest, the word on the street is that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is on the verge of making a decision on whether to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, while it appears Indiana will have to wait another year for a chance at passing even a modest reform. Other highlights from the past week, include public hearings in Vermont, Utah’s fight for a comprehensive medical marijuana law, and a new proposal aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties for those caught with weed in the streets of Tampa, Florida.

Read all about this and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for January 25:

Virginia: Several Bill Aimed at Decriminalization Up for Consideration
Virginia, a state where police arrest more than 22,000 people a year for pot possession, could be on the verge of replacing the criminal penalties for this offense with a small fine. Senator Adam Ebbin recently introduced Senate Bill 104, a proposal that would allow minor marijuana possession to be punished as a civil infraction instead of jail. In addition, there are a couple of other bills lingering in the House of Delegates aimed at doing the same thing. According to NORML, both House Bill 997 and House Bill 1074 aim to decriminalize simple marijuana possession, both with civil penalties of varying expense. The passage of one of these bills is absolutely crucial this year. A 2015 report from the Drug Policy Alliance indicates that while arrests for petty pot possession are on a national decline, they are actually increasing in Virginia. 

Vermont: Hearing Held on Recreational Marijuana Proposal
A series of public hearings were held last week in Vermont in an effort to gauge the support for a proposal aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana. During the testimony, some residents argued that decriminalization was enough, and that full legalization would only increase problems, such as stoned driving. Many others came out in favor of the measure.

Pointing out concerns with the black market drug trade, Governor Peter Shumlin recently told lawmakers that he wanted them to come together on a proposal to tax and regulate marijuana. Shumlin said, “I will work with you to craft the right bill that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably.”

Many have predicted that Vermont will become the first state to accomplish legalization by way of the state legislature. Yet, there is still some concern that the Senate might botch the attempt and leave the issue hanging for another year. If the measure passes, however, there is a distinct possibility residents will be planting seed later this summer, with a retail market on the horizon in 2017. 

Florida: Tampa to Consider Decriminalization
A group of Tampa attorneys have drafted an ordinance aimed at decriminalizing marijuana possession. The proposal, which would eliminate the criminal penalties for this offense and replace them with a civil penalty, is set to go before the City Council in the next couple of weeks. Essentially, this ordinance aims to adopt similar reforms that have been implemented in other jurisdictions throughout the state, giving police the freedom to issue citations for petty pot infractions rather than make arrests. 

Ohio: Senate Holds Medical Marijuana Hearings, But MPP is Coming
Nearly a week after the Ohio House announced the launch of a medical marijuana task force, the Senate has revealed that it will embark on a fact-finding mission across the state in an effort to learn more about medical marijuana. Lawmakers plan to tour the state in an effort to determine how establishing a safe medical marijuana program. 

However, the House and Senate will need to hurry if they want to get a jumpstart on another medical marijuana effort preparing to launch in February. The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group that has helped a number of states legalize for medical and recreational use, will soon introduce a ballot measure that they hope to put on the ballot in Ohio’s general election. Mason Tvert, the organization’s director of communications, confirmed the news, saying “We are looking forward to working with our allies in Ohio to produce the most effective and responsible medical marijuana system possible.”

In the meantime, a group known as Ohioans to End Prohibition (Legalize Ohio) is on a mission to collect the more than 300,000 signatures needed to get their initiative on the ballot this November. Their proposal seeks to create a medical marijuana program under the guidance of the Ohio Department of Health, while also establishing a free market recreational cannabis industry. Industrial hemp is also included in the mix. So far, the group has managed to collect 80,000 signatures. They have until the beginning of July to gather the rest.

Georgia: Several Marijuana Bills Being Considered in State Legislature
In addition to Georgia Representative Allen Peake’s latest proposal (House Bill 722), which aims to expand on the Haleigh’s Hope Act, several other bills designed to reform the state’s law against marijuana are waiting for action. One of the most popular is Senate Bill 254, a proposal begging the elimination of felony marijuana charges. Under this proposal, all marijuana offenses would be considered misdemeanors – still a criminal offense with fines of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. A handful of additional proposals have been lingering unresponsive in the state legislature for the past year. The bills seek various reforms ranging from the legalization of industrial hemp to a proposed constitutional amendment that would voters to decide whether the state should legalize a recreational cannabis industry.

Illinois: Will Medical Marijuana Expansion Be Approved?
Patients across Illinois are expected to learn soon, perhaps even sometime this week, whether Governor Rauner will expand the medical marijuana program to allow for eight more qualified conditions. The Medical Cannabis Alliance recently launched a petition asking the governor and Public Health director Dr. Nirav Shah to “Please adopt the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board's recommendation to add osteoarthritis, various types of chronic pain, autism, IBS and PTSD as approved conditions under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.” The group still needs more than 6,000 signatures to reach their goal

Some dispensaries fear they will be forced into bankruptcy if the Rauner Administration does not expand the program. 

Indiana: Medical Marijuana Snubbed Again
All of the marijuana-related bills submitted to the Indiana legislature for consideration in the 2016 session are already dead and buried. Proposals introduced by Senator Karen Tallian and Representative Sue Errington aimed at passing restrictive medical marijuana programs were denied hearings once again this year. Sources indicate that the Republican dominated Senate simply cannot produce enough votes to get any medical marijuana legislation through the gate. The proposals were rejected in two voice votes, effectively killing the issue until 2017.

Arizona: Republicans Messing With Medical Marijuana
Republican lawmakers are working to put a tighter leash on the state’s medical marijuana program. Representative Kelly Townsend has introduced a bill that would disqualify pregnant women from participating in the program. Another proposal, which was introduced by Representative Jay Lawrence, would place tighter restrictions on what types of doctors could issue medical marijuana recommendations – eliminating those who practice naturopathy and homeopathy. The bill would also force patients to get recertified every six months. The good news is this measure will only pass if the voters approve it, while Townsend’s proposal needs a three-fourths majority in both chambers of the legislature to get her amendment pushed through. 

Kansas: Lawmakers Working to Reduce Marijuana Penalties
Kansas is one step closer to some minute level of drug reform. State lawmakers gathered last week to consider a bill aimed at easing the penalties associated with marijuana possession. The proposal, which was approved last year, would allow first time misdemeanor offenders to receive a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail, as opposed to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail. There are also addition provisions attached that would establish industrial hemp production for research purposes in an effort to study the effects of cannabis oil on seizure patients. 

Utah: Medical Marijuana Bill Released
Senator Mark Madsen has introduced a bill that would allow patients suffering from a number of qualified conditions to get their hands on medical marijuana products. Senate Bill 73 would establish a program where patients with “AIDS, Alzheimer's, ALS, cancer, Crohn's disease, Epilepsy, MS, PTSD related to military service, or chronic pain,” could purchase cannabis oils, edibles and vapor juices from state licensed dispensaries. Similar to New York, physicians would be required to complete a training course before providing recommendations for their patients.

Governor Gary Herbert has said that the time has come to engage in a deeper discussion on the issue of medical marijuana, but that he would likely only support a very controlled measure. At a press conference last week, Herbert said that he wasn’t “interested in having Dr. Feelgood” give people their “doobie for the day,” but he was open to “find a pathway forward.”

Colorado: Proposal Would Enforce Pesticide-Free Marijuana Labeling
In response to Colorado’s apparent pesticide issue, Representatives Jonathan Singer and KC Becker have submitted a measure that would force the Colorado Department of Agriculture to develop a labeling system that indicates cannabis is pesticide-free. Essentially, the lawmakers are looking for an alternative method of saying a product is “organic” without actually using the word – a violation of federal law.



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