The fight to legalize marijuana in the United States was a bit of a bloodbath last week. In Washington D.C, congressional leaders shot down a number of marijuana-related amendments, including one that would have allowed veterans to gain access to medical marijuana. At the state level, the scene was a little less gruesome—at least to some degree—with marijuana initiatives in Arkansas and Massachusetts on the verge of being cleared for the November ballot.
Read all about this news and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for June 27:
Federal: Congressmen Introduce Marijuana Research Bill
Congressional lawmakers introduced a bill last week aimed at changing the federal government’s policy on researching marijuana. The measure is called the “Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016,” and it is designed to tear down the barriers that have prevented the scientific community from exploring the therapeutic benefits of the cannabis plant for the past several decades. At its core, the bill would force the federal government to allow more growers than just the University of Mississippi to supply research marijuana. It would also eliminate the red tape currently involved in the application process and require the Justice Department to approve every study as long as it is in the interest of the American public. Versions of the bill were submitted in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
“Despite the fact that over 200 million Americans now have legal access to some form of medical marijuana, federal policy is blocking science. It’s outrageous,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “We owe it to patients and their families to allow for the research physicians need to understand marijuana’s benefits and risks and determine proper use and dosage. The federal government should get out of the way to allow for this long overdue research.”
Federal: Congressional Republicans Stop Marijuana Measures
The U.S. House Rules Committee snuffed out the possibility of two crucial marijuana-related amendments making it on the next federal budget. One would have allowed the cannabis industry easier access to banking services, while the other would have given the District of Columbia the freedom to use its own funds to legalize retail pot sales. However, as Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority pointed out in his analysis of the actions, the congressional committee’s vote “doesn’t necessarily mean that progress on those two issues is dead” because there are additional measures out there that could lead to these reforms.
Federal: Congress Blocks Medical Marijuana for Veterans
Veterans will not be getting Uncle Sam’s permission to use medical marijuana anytime soon. Although both the House and Senate supported measures earlier this year that would have allowed vets to secure recommendations for medical marijuana through the Department of Veterans Affairs, congressional gatekeepers have apparently blocked those amendments from seeing the light of day. Reports indicate that the final Veterans Affairs spending bill does not include any mention of medical marijuana for those who have served out country—giving way to at least another year of vets being forced to seek outside medical counsel in order to get their hands on the herb.
“We hope that this is an oversight. Not only does this issue have wide bipartisan support in both chambers, it has overwhelming public support as well,” the Marijuana Policy Project wrote in a recent Facebook post. “It’s crazy to think that the few individuals who make up the conference committee would knowingly work against that kind of support.”
New Jersey: Push to Legalize Recreational Marijuana
Senator Nick Scutari believes New Jersey could run a legal pot market just as efficiently as Colorado, which has prompted the lawmaker to get serious about introducing legislation to bring this concept to fruition. Although the details of Scutari’s bill have not yet been revealed, the lawmaker is expected to introduce something soon. Unfortunately, even if the measure is well received, the trick will be getting Governor Chris Christie, who rabidly opposes this type of reform, to get onboard with the plan. Reports indicate that there is currently a push to get around Christie’s anti-pot attitude by way of a voter referendum, but there does not appear to be much faith that this option will pay off.
Michigan: Lawsuit Filed to Continue Legalization Campaign
MILegalize recently filed a lawsuit against the Board of State Canvassers for rejecting its initiative aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana. At the heart of the controversy is a new law clarifying a 180-day window for groups to collect the necessary signatures for ballot measures. MILegalize’s time ran out at the end of December 2015—putting the group over a hundred thousand signatures short of making the ballot. The lawsuit is asking the courts to rescind Senate Bill 776, which was recently signed by Governor Snyder and to allow MILegalize to proceed with its campaign. If the lawsuit proves successful, Michigan voters would get to decide this fall whether to legalize weed in a manner similar to what is going on in Colorado.
Ohio: Pot Decriminalization Petition Circulates in Athens
Marijuana advocates in Athens have started collecting signatures for a proposed ballot measure aimed at decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. A report from Athens News indicates that the initiative would create a fine of zero dollars for low-level possession, and no more than $1 for possession of felony amounts. The ordinance would eliminate criminal penalties. Organizers must collect 317 signatures by the middle of July to get the issue in front of the voters in the November election.
Rhode Island: PTSD Bill Heads to Governor
Veterans suffering from PTSD could soon qualify for Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program. A bill was recently sent to Governor Gina Raimondo that would expand the state’s list of qualified conditions to include this common anxiety disorder.
“Veterans and others who suffer from psychological trauma have fought for years to add PTSD to the list of state-approved criteria for medical marijuana,” said Jared Moffat, political director for the Rhode Island chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Once this bill becomes law, these patients will no longer be forced into an illegal market to access the medicine that relieves their symptoms.”
There is no word yet if Governor Raimondo plans to sign the bill.
Missouri: Columbia Marijuana Initiative Suspended
Mid-Missouri NORML has suspended its campaign to decriminalize the cultivation of marijuana in Columbia, Missouri. The goal of the initiative was to replace the criminal penalties for those busted growing up to six cannabis plants with a small fine. Reports indicate that the group is pulling the plug on its campaign until the outcome of a statewide medical marijuana initiative is realized this November.
Arkansas: Medical Marijuana Could Be on the November Ballot
Arkansans for Compassionate Care recently submitted 117,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office in hopes of getting its medical marijuana initiative in front of voters this November. The group needs 68,000 verified signatures in order to make this happen. Two other groups are also working to get their respective initiative in front of the voters, including one seeking to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use.
Massachusetts: Marijuana Legalization Likely on November Ballot
Massachusetts is one step closer to ending prohibition. Last week, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced that it had submitted 25,000 signatures to officials across the state in an effort to qualify its ballot measure for the November election—roughly 14,000 more signatures than what is required for the second phase of this signature gathering effort. If voters approve the proposal, marijuana would be legal throughout the state in a manner similar to what is currently underway in Colorado. Unfortunately, there is a lawsuit still pending in the Supreme Judicial Court that could sabotage the campaign.