HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: August 29

The fight to legalize marijuana continues to strengthen in more of the United States. Some of the biggest news of the past week comes from Oklahoma, where a group has come from out of nowhere to secure enough signatures to get medical marijuana on the November ballot.

Other highlights include some positive recommendations from New York’s leading health agency for improving the state’s medical marijuana program, as well as news that the anti-pot car salesman from Montana has dropped his latest fight to ban marijuana in the state.

Read all about these developments and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for August 29:

New York: Medical Marijuana Upgrade Recommended
Although there is no serious push yet by the state’s legislative forces, a new report issued by the New York State Department of Health has recommended the expansion of the statewide medical marijuana program. A two-year analysis finds that while the program is doing better than some, it could be vastly improved with a few crucial changes, including the approval of more qualified conditions, access in schools, and a home delivery system for patients who are either incapacitated or living in rural areas. The NYSDOH also suggests allowing more marijuana businesses to get involved to provide a wider variety of cannabis brands and products for those certified for participation. But before any of this could happen, the General Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo would have to work together to pass legislation.

Arkansas: Attorney Rejects 2018 Recreational & Medical Marijuana Initiative
Arkansas’ best chance for legalizing marijuana in a manner that would allow access for both patients and the average toker continues to be denied by the state. The state’s Attorney General Leslie Rutledge recently rejected a proposed initiative aimed for the 2018 ballot that would give adult residents the freedom to grow and buy medicinal and recreational marijuana. Once again, Rutledge cited ambiguities in the text of the proposal as her reason for not allowing the measure to move on to the next phase. But the ballot measure’s mastermind, Summit resident Mary Berry, is expected to tweak the language and resubmit the proposal again in the coming weeks.

Arkansas: Competing Medical Marijuana Initiatives Likely on Ballot
Arkansas voters may be choosing between two competing medical marijuana ballot measures in the upcoming November election. Reports show that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which was brought forth by Little Rock attorney David Couch, and the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, a proposal supported by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, will likely go up against each other in the polls later this fall. Unfortunately, there are concerns that having two medical marijuana questions on the ballot might confuse voters enough to sabotage legalization altogether. If Couch’s proposal officially qualifies for ballot, neither group will have the ability to withdraw – making it impossible for them to join forces to put a single initiative in front of voters. To complicate the situation even more — Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana announced last Wednesday that it was filing a lawsuit with the Supreme Court in hopes of blocking medical marijuana from appearing on the ballot.

Tennessee: Memphis Votes to Consider Marijuana Decriminalization
Memphis is considering a decriminalization ordinance that would eliminate the criminal penalties for possession of up to half-ounce of marijuana. Last week, the City Council gave initial approval for a proposal brought forth by Councilman Berlin Boyd that seeks to replace the misdemeanor for this offense with a $50 fine. The proposal was drafted under the guidance of a proposed ordinance recently submitted in Nashville. The only difference is the Memphis plan would allow local police to exercise their own discretion when determining whether to take someone to jail or hand them a ticket. The measure must now go before the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee for further consideration.

Oklahoma: Medical Marijuana Campaign Collects Enough Signatures
While the odds seemed stacked against it, Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge announced last week that a proposed ballot measure aimed at legalizing medical marijuana had collected enough signatures to be added to the ballot in the upcoming November election. The constitutional amendment, if passed, would give patients with a recommendation from a doctor the ability purchase up to three ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. But it’s not exactly a done deal. There is a possibility that the attorney general or the public could contest the ballot measure or its signatures. However, if it survives this process, it will appear before voters this fall.

Michigan: Recreational Marijuana Initiative Doomed for 2016
Michigan voters will not likely get to decide on marijuana legalization this November. A Michigan judge dismissed a lawsuit last week intended to get the bulk of the MILegalize petitions reinstated. Judge Stephen Borrello with the Michigan Court of Claims said the lawsuit filed by the folks of MILegalize did not hold any weight because the state was not obligated to give any consideration to the 200,000 signatures the group collected outside of the 180-day time frame. MILegalize is planning to file an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court in hopes of keeping the measure alive, but there really doesn’t appear to be much hope of the last ditch effort ending in success. The group could be forced to retool and try again in 2018.

Montana: Group Attempting to Ban Medical Marijuana Gives Up
The attempt to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law is no more. Reports indicate that the people working to bring back total prohibition have decided not to appeal a judge’s decision against their ballot measure. However, the group, which is headed up by Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa, still plans to try to sabotage a separate initiative looking to resuscitate the state’s medical marijuana program. Zabawa told reporters that he will lobby the state legislature next year to pass a bill that does what his initiative set out to do in the 2016 election.

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