It was a productive week in the fight to legalize marijuana in the United States. Some of the most important news comes from Ohio, where the General Assembly has agreed to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Other highlights include some action in the North Carolina legislature to bring a more comprehensive medical marijuana program to the state, as well as some discussion over full-blown legalization in West Virginia.
Read all about these actions and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for May 30:
Nebraska: Group Backing Down From Medical Marijuana Campaign
Marijuana advocates in Nebraska have decided to terminate their efforts to legalize medical marijuana in 2016. The group simply does not have the funds — an estimated $1 million — to run a successful campaign. Instead, organizers say they will wait until 2018 to make another attempt. Shelley Gillen, one of the forces leading the campaign, told the Associated Press, “We just can’t count on the Legislature,” explaining that she has sat through three legislative sessions waiting for state lawmakers to legalize cannabis oil for her son. Earlier this year, the Legislature squashed a proposal sponsored by Senator Tommy Garrett after Governor Pete Rickets and Attorney General Doug Peterson expressed some concerns. To make matters worse, nine Senators who supported Garrett’s medical marijuana proposal will not return next session. Garrett says it will be challenging to convince the new Senators to side with the issue.
Rhode Island: Lawmakers Vote to Permit Medical Marijuana for PTSD
The Rhode Island Senate recently approved a measure that would allow patients suffering from PTSD to have access to medical marijuana – sending the measure to the House of Representatives for consideration. The bill, which was introduced by Senator Stephen Archambault, would simply add PTSD to the state’s list of qualified conditions. With Congress’ recent approval of an amendment that would allow veterans to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal, lawmakers want to add PTSD to the program before next year.
Michigan: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Could Be Sunk
MILegalize, the group pushing to get a recreational marijuana initiative on the November ballot, is set to submit the necessary signatures to the state to determine whether they will qualify for the next phase of their campaign. Although an earlier press release indicated the group had more than enough signatures to be certified for the ballot, Matthew Abel, who sits on the board of directors for MILegalize, recently told HIGH TIMES the group only has 240,000 of the required 253,000 signatures. But even if the group has managed to secure enough signatures within the past couple of weeks to qualify for the ballot, the state legislature just made a move that couple cripple the campaign. A bill was recently pushed through the state legislature that would clarify the state 180-day window for collecting signatures. If this measure happens to be signed by Governor Snyder, all of the signatures MILegalize has secured past the 180-day cutoff could be deemed invalid.
“The state legislature, and perhaps the governor, are trying to throw chaos into the election system by enacting SB 776,” said MILegalize Chairman Jeffery Hank. “We’ve got a potential legal battle on our hands. We may be going to court this week. We’re going to be going to court over it, assuming the governor doesn’t veto it, which we’re calling for him to do.”
Snyder has 14 days to make a decision on the bill.
Ohio: Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor
Ohio could soon be the next state to legalize medical marijuana. The Senate approved a proposal last week aimed at providing patients with more than 20 qualified conditions access to cannabis products. The final language was them approved by the House of Representatives, sending the proposal to the office of Governor John Kasich for a signatures or veto. However, this action is not stopping a group called Ohioans for Medical Marijuana from continuing in their effort to put a medical marijuana ballot measure in front of voters in the November election. Unlike the bill passed by the state legislature, the group’s proposal would provide access to more patients, while allowing them to smoke and cultivate their own medicine. If voters approve, the ballot measure would take precedence over the medical marijuana bill in front of the Governor.
UPDATE: Ohioans for Medical Marijuana announced over the weekend that it was suspending its campaign to put a ballot measure in front of voters this November. “The reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill,” the group said in a press release.
New Hampshire: Marijuana Decriminalization Debated
The New Hampshire House and Senate are discussing the language of a bill aimed at decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. So far, negotiators have determined the farthest they are willing to go is a proposal that reduces a first time offense for minor possession to a low level misdemeanor. However, pot proponents argue this version of a decriminalization bill is in no way a step in the right direction because it still comes with a criminal charge. Lawmakers are now trying to determine a fine to be associated with this offense. The Senate recently compromised on a measure that would charge first time pot offenders $350, but this is expected to increase when the House and Senate come to terms on the final plan later this week.
Louisiana: House Approved Medical Marijuana Defense Bill
Parents of children needing access to cannabis oil before the state’s medical marijuana law takes effect may soon have the ability to use their sick kids as a defense in a court of law. The Louisiana House recently approved a bill that would permit parents to use the medical marijuana defense if they happen to be arrested for possession of marijuana. The most recent medical marijuana bill signed into law by Governor Edwards did not address this issue, so lawmakers have lumped the bill into a larger medical marijuana package in hopes of getting it on the books in 2016. The goal, of course, is to ensure no criminal prosecutions happen to families for trying to help their sick kids.
West Virginia: Bill Introduced to Legalize Marijuana
West Virginia Delegate Mike Pushkin has introduced a bill that would legalize the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Although he does not have much faith that House Speaker Tim Armstead will allow the bill to move forward, he feels the time is right to open up the debate for marijuana as a potential solution to the state’s current financial crisis. If the bill does get a hearing, it will be discussed as part of the current special session.
North Carolina: Medical Marijuana Bill Considered
Lawmakers in North Carolina are working towards a more comprehensive medical marijuana program. Although CBD oil was legalized last year for epilepsy patients, lawmakers are trying to pass House Bill 983, which would create a program where patients with conditions ranging from cancer to chronic pain could have access to the herb. The bill is currently lingering in the House Health Committee. If it passes, it will move forward to the full House for consideration.
Massachusetts: Action to Waive Medical Marijuana Fees for Veterans
Veterans approved to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program would no longer be forced to pay the annual registration free if a new proposal is pushed through. Senate lawmakers approved a rider last week to be attached to its 2017 budget that eliminates the $50 medical marijuana participation fee for veterans of the United States military. The amendment, which was sponsored by Senators Jason Lewis and Vinny deMacedo, simply aims to make it more affordable for veterans to enroll in the program.