It was a busy week in the fight to reform the marijuana laws in the United States. Some of the biggest news comes from the U.S. Supreme Court, where the decision was made to reject a lawsuit against the Colorado cannabis industry. There was also some progress to bring medical marijuana to Arkansas, as well as a new ordinance signed by the mayors of New Orleans and Tampa that decriminalizes marijuana possession.
Read all about went down over the past week in the world of cannabis reform in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for March 28:
Federal: U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Colorado Marijuana Case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday the dismissal of a lawsuit by Oklahoma and Nebraska that suggested the Colorado cannabis industry had caused the states to suffer “a direct and significant detrimental impact.” The complaint said that Amendment 64 was a direct violation of the Controlled Substances Act and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and it called for the Court to shut down the state’s retail pot market indefinitely.
However, the majority of the Justices seemed to side with a recent briefing from the U.S. Justice Department asking the Court not to entertain the case. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only two who offered a dissenting opinion, arguing, “The plaintiff states have made a reasonable case,” and therefore should be heard.
Some legal experts believe it is possible the two states could try the case in federal district court, but no further action has been filed.
Maryland: Decriminalization Reversal Passes House of Delegates
Maryland lawmakers are working to make marijuana possession a criminal offense once again. Last week, the House of Delegates approved a measure that would roll back the state’s decriminalization law, which was passed in 2015, giving way to another chapter of criminal penalties and increased fines. In a vote of 102 to 34, the bill intended to make petty pot possession a misdemeanor offense instead of a civil infraction advanced to the next level.
Interestingly, Leigh Maddox, a retired captain with the Maryland State Police, recently penned an opinion against the proposal for The Washington Post, calling recriminalization “a solution in search of a problem.” Pointing to 15 other states that have implemented similar decriminalization measures, Maddox said, “If smoking marijuana in public is such an issue, we would see negative results in those states. We have yet to hear of any real consequence.”
The bill needs the support of 60 percent of both chambers to pass.
Connecticut: Medical Marijuana for Minors Passes Committee
A bill that would allow minors with specific conditions to have access to medical marijuana has advanced in the State Legislature. On Monday, the Public Health Committee approved the measure in vote of 20 to 7 – giving way to the possibility of a “marijuana minors” program that would allow patients with around six serious or life threatening conditions to use cannabis products.
Although Connecticut has a medical marijuana program in place, the current law does not allow patients under the age of 18 to participate. Parents with children suffering from seizure disorders have argued the need for cannabis because other legal medications often come with severe side effects.
The bill must now go before the full House for consideration.
Alabama: CBD Bill Still Undecided
A proposal submitted by Representative Mike Ball intended to allow specific patients to have access to low-THC cannabis oil is still lingering in the State Legislature.
Two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from a number of parents of children suffering from seizure disorders. The goal of Ball’s proposal is to give those qualified patients who did not make it into last year’s CBD study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham an opportunity to gain access to cannabis oil from legal states without legal repercussions.
It is not known when the committee will take a vote on the bill.
Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Bills Slows
Although there was a great deal of excitement last week with the passing of a bill in the House intended to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, some new reports indicate that the Senate, which must approve the amendments, is holding off for a few weeks before considering the revision.
In addition, it is expected that the Pennsylvania Senate will show up in April with additional amendments to the bill, which could effectively kill the measure once more. The House majority leader said last week that he couldn’t guarantee the bill would get a another look if the Senate sent an amended version back to the House for second approval.
Governor Tom Wolf told reporters last week that he was concerned Senate Bill 3 was going to get tied down in political purgatory between the two chambers. He urged the Legislature to get the bill to his desk as quickly as possible.
Ohio: Medical Marijuana to Be Introduced
Senator Kenny Yuko plans to introduce a bill sometime within the next few weeks aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio. The lawmaker told Cleveland.com that the proposal would allow patients with specific conditions to purchase marijuana from dispensaries across the state.
At first glance, the goal of this effort appears to be to pass a measure before the legislature breaks for summer. There is some concern that if no action is taken, one of the ballot measures up for consideration in the November election could stifle any hope of medical marijuana being decided in the state legislature. However, as marijuana advocates have pointed out in the past, Ohio lawmakers have had every opportunity to pass legislation on this issue, but have done nothing.
There are three initiatives working to get on the ballot this November, including one supported by the Marijuana Policy Project.
Ohio: Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana/Hemp Initiative
Attorney General Mike DeWine has rejected yet another proposal aimed at legalizing medical marijuana and hemp production in Ohio.
Last week, the Ohio Rights Group received word that their initiative had been denied by the state because of a couple discrepancies in the summary. Organizers must now make some adjustment to the language and resubmit the proposal.
New York: Medical Marijuana Expansion Up for Consideration
Several bills aimed at expanding New York’s restrictive medical marijuana program are up for consideration in the state legislature.
Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried recently introduced several proposals that they hope would improve on the state’s current program. One bill would increase the number of qualified conditions, while another seeks to give nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants the authority to provide patients with recommendations. There is also a push a double the number of dispensaries across the state from 20 to 40, as well as another that would give out-of-state patients permission to purchase cannabis products in New York.
If this legislation manages to pass, Governor Cuomo’s office has said they “will review the bills.”
Indiana: Gov. Reestablishes Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders
Governor Mike Pence signed a bill into law last week that forces drug offenders to spend at least 10 years in prison.
House Enrolled Act 1235, which was introduced by Representative Greg Steuerward, eliminates the possibility of a judge suspending the sentence of anyone with a prior drug conviction that is found guilty of dealing meth or heroin.
“We need to make it clear that Indiana will not tolerate the actions of criminals, and I’m pleased to sign into law HEA 1235 to increase penalties on drug dealers,” Pence said in a statement.
The new law does not apply to marijuana.
Colorado: Medical Marijuana Ban Could Be Extended in Colorado Springs
The Colorado Springs City Council is considering an extension on its ban against medical marijuana businesses. Last Monday, council members proposed lengthening the ban from its original six months to maybe a year. A task force charged with assessing the issue is expected to have some recommendations prepared sometime in May of 2016.
Colorado: Colorado Springs Upholds Ban on Recreational Marijuana Clubs
Last Tuesday, the Colorado Spring City Council voted 6 to 3 in favor of upholding a ban on cannabis clubs.
The decision eliminates the possibility for any new clubs from being established, while phasing out the existing ones within the next eight years. Also, clubs currently in operation will be forced to start paying licensing fees until they are officially run out of town.
Although there was some hope the council would reconsider the ban, the ordinance will remain as it was originally passed.
Hawaii: Proposal to Decriminalize All Drugs
Hawaii lawmakers are pushing to decriminalize all illegal drugs.
A proposal was discussed last week by the House Judiciary Committee, seeking to conduct a feasibility study on the decriminalization of all drugs in a manner that allows these violations to be treated as civil infractions.
If they approve the resolution, the state would begin exploring Portugal’s model for decriminalization as a blueprint later this summer.
Louisiana: New Orleans Mayor Signs Decriminalization Ordinance
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed a new ordinance last week that decriminalizes small time pot possession.
Last week, the NOLA City Council unanimously voted 7 to 0 in favor of an ordinance to decriminalize less than 15 grams of weed. Although city police already have the freedom to issue citations to first time offenders, the new ordinance would allow the same courtesy to be offered to habitual offenders. The fines would begin at $40 and cap out at $100 after a third offense.
The ordinance is expected to take effect in April.
Florida: Tampa Mayor Signs Decriminalization Ordinance
On Monday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed an ordinance decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in small amounts.
Instead of taking pot offender to jail, the new law will allow Tampa police to simply issue citations to those caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Fines would start at $75 and cap out at $450 for habitual offenders.
The ordinance is expected to take effect in April.
Louisiana: House Approves Bill to Establish Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
A bill aimed at establishing fees for medical marijuana dispensaries is making its way through the state legislature.
Last week, the House Health and Welfare Committee spent some time debating House Bill 446, a proposal that would create a $5,000 licensing fee for dispensaries interested in selling cannabis products.
Officials with the state Pharmacy Board anticipate the fee will be used to conduct inspections, background checks, and other administrative affairs.
Governor Bobby Jindal signed a restrictive medical marijuana law last year, but the state has yet to put together a system to distribute the medicine to patients.
HB 446 is now set to go before the full House for consideration.
Arkansas: Group Collects Enough Signatures to Get MMJ on the Ballot
The organization Arkansans for Compassionate Care recently announced that they have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in the November election. However, supporters say they will make an effort to collect thousands more before officially submitting them to the state.
The goal is to collect in upwards of 85,000 signatures, according to Northwest Arkansas Regional Director Julie Yell.
The “Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act,” would give patients suffering from a laundry list of qualified conditions access to marijuana, provided they have a doctor’s permission.
Texas: Dallas Rejects Cite-and Release Program
In a vote of 10 to 5, the Dallas City Council rejected a proposal last week that does away with the potential for a marijuana possession cite-and-release program to be implemented across the city.
Although the measure seemed to have a significant amount of support, in the end the issue was snuffed out over concerns that it would cost too much money to set the court system up to handle marijuana tickets. Council members were also worried there would be confusion since the ordinance only applied to Dallas County.
As it stands, possession of two ounces of marijuana or less is a criminal misdemeanor in Texas, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.
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