This past year was a historic one for the enactment of marijuana law reform at the state and federal level. While the passage of voter initiatives legalizing pot in Alaska and Oregon, as well as voters’ approval of a municipal measure depenalizing marijuana offenses in Washington, DC, will no doubt garner the top spots in most activists’ year-in-reviews (and deservedly so), let’s not overlook the many other legislative successes we enjoyed in 2014.
Feds Back Off Medical Marijuana
For the first time, Congress took steps to protect the sovereignty of state-sanctioned programs authorizing the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis. In December, Congress and the President signed off on a provision prohibiting the Justice Department from spending any taxpayers’ dollars for the purpose of interfering in the implementation of “state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Commenting on the measure’s passage, California Democrat Sam Farr – who co-sponsored the amendment along with California Republican Dana Rohrabacher said: “The federal government will finally respect the decisions made by the majority of states that passed medical marijuana laws. This is great day for common sense because now our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on prosecuting criminals and not sick patients.”
Congress Legalizes State-sponsored Hemp Cultivation
In February, members of Congress and President Barack Obama approved provisions in the federal farm bill permitting states to move forward with hemp cultivation research. Federal lawmakers, including (then) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), advocated for provision, which acts as an end-run around the federal government’s longstanding ban on industrial hemp production. It states, “The amendment authorizes an institution of higher education or State department of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes if the laws of the State permit its growth and cultivation.” Since the federal passage of the amendment, numerous state governments have enacted pilot programs enabling US farmers for the first time in decades to legally cultivate the crop.
Two of the Nation’s Largest Cities Decriminalize
Members of the Washington, DC city council overwhelmingly passed municipal legislation in March reducing minor marijuana possession violations in the District from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). The new law took effect this summer. City lawmakers in Philadelphia took similar action in September, voting 13 to 3 in favor of a local ordinance depenalizing minor pot offenses from a misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine.
So Does the State of Maryland
In April, Maryland lawmakers approved Senate Bill 364, which amends statewide penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving ten grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by arrest, up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record) to a non-arrestable, non-criminal, fine-only offense ($100 fine for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders). The new law took effect on October 1. An ACLU analysis of state-by-state marijuana arrests data reported that, prior to the change in law, Maryland possessed the fourth highest rate of marijuana possession arrests in the nation.
Colorado Funds Clinical Research Evaluating the Efficacy of Medical Pot
Colorado health officials approved an estimated $8 million in grant funding late this year to pay for a series of clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis therapy. Studies will evaluate the use of cannabis and/or CBD in the treatment of pain, cancer, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, and pediatric epilepsy. State lawmakers this spring approved legislation earmarking up to $10 million to fund the research.
States Recognize CBD
Eleven states in 2014 approved legislation seeking to permit the use of the cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), by qualified patients — primarily children with intractable epilepsy. Unfortunately, to date, normlnone of these nascent programs have yet to be successfully implemented. Only two of these states – Florida and Missouri – provide for a in-state source for CBD. The other nine states either rely on CBD from the federal government (administered to patients during the course of an FDA-approved trial) or expect qualified patients to acquire the cannabinoid from some other medical marijuana state, such as Colorado or California.