The fight to legalize marijuana across more of the United States continues to gain significant ground. Perhaps the most concrete progress of the past week comes from Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed a measure that will allow minor pot possession to be treated as a civil infraction throughout the entire state. Other highlights include the standoff between the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Chris Christie over whether to add PTSD to the state’s medical marijuana program, as well as several Ohio cities preparing to put decriminalization initiatives on the November ballot.
Read all about these developments and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for August 8:
Illinois: Governor Rauner Signs Bill Decriminalizing Minor Pot Possession
Illinois is now the twenty-first state in the nation to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession. A spokesperson for the office of Governor Bruce Rauner said a couple of weeks ago that the administration was in the process of reviewing Senate Bill 2228 with the Illinois State Police to make sure everyone involved was on the same page with the newly proposed decriminalization policy. Rauner signed the bill into law shortly thereafter. Now anyone caught holding up to 10 grams of marijuana will simply be fined between $100 and $200 – No arrest, no jail time. The law is effective immediately. A statement released by the Illinois States Police (ISP) attempts to make sure that people do not confuse the new law with legalization.
“The safety of Illinois citizens, and the motoring public, will always remain the utmost priority of the Illinois State Police (ISP). ISP officers will continue to enforce the law, while being mindful of the penalty changes for smaller amounts of cannabis,” said ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz. “The public is reminded that cannabis possession without a medical marijuana card is still illegal; the penalty and fines have changed. In addition, drivers under the influence of cannabis will still be arrested and prosecuted.”
Arkansas: Group Receives Extra Time to Collect Necessary Signatures
A group working to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot was awarded additional time last week to collect the required signatures. Secretary of State Mark Marton told Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana that because they managed to collect 75 percent of the necessary signatures, his office was granting them until the end of August to come up with the rest. A total of 84,859 signatures are needed to qualify for the ballot. David Couch, the main supporter of the proposal, told the Associated Press that he believes the group will be able to come through before the deadline.
Arkansas: Marijuana Proposal for 2018 Rejected
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected the Arkansas Cannabis Amendment last week for inclusion in the 2018 election, citing ambiguities in amended portions of the proposal. “[The] current proposal has substantive differences (specifically, the addition of section 4) from the proposal that resulted in certification. As explained below, these additions have caused ambiguities that require rejection of the popular name and ballot title. Moreover, since I am required to reject the popular name and ballot title due to ambiguities in the underlying proposal’s new section.” The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, headed up by resident Mary Berry, failed to collect the necessary signatures this year to be considered for the upcoming November election.
Berry told HIGH TIMES last month that while her group did not collect the 85,000 needed to put the issue in front of voters, “we have built a great group of folks that are ready to hit this thing hard for the next two years and they will not give up until the people and the cannabis plant are free.” The proposal is expected to be amended and then resubmitted for consideration. If passed in 2018, it would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.
New Jersey: Governor Christie to Decide on PTSD
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must decide whether patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should have access to medical marijuana. Last week, Senate lawmakers gave final approval on a measure intended to expand the state’s list of qualified conditions to include the severe anxiety disorder. The bill has since been sent to the office of Governor Christie for a signature or veto. Lawmakers say it should be a shame for Christie to miss an opportunity to help thousands of veterans that have been reduced to self-medication with prescription pills and alcohol.
“Veterans – especially post-9/11 veterans – are the group most affected by PTSD,” said Senator Vince Mazzeo in a statement. “The VA has stated that it wants each veteran to find the medication with the least amount of side effects that allows them the optimum level of independence. For many, medical marijuana is the drug that best fits that criteria.”
Governor Christie has not given any indication whether he will sign the bill.
Pennsylvania: Marijuana Possession No Longer Misdemeanor in State College
The criminal penalties for minor pot possession have been eliminated in State College. The Borough Council in the home of Penn State voted last week in favor of an ordinance that allows police to treat the possession up to 30 grams like a traffic ticket rather than a criminal offense. The ordinance comes with a $250 fine and a $350 fine for public consumption. In other parts of the state where similar ordinances have been put into action, like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, arrests for marijuana possession have dropped by 73 percent.
Ohio: Several Cities Voting to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Ohio marijuana activists are working to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in a number of cities across the state. Initiatives in Logan and Newark have already been cleared for the November ballot, while several others are still pushing to collect the necessary signatures in hopes of joining them. These types of measure have proven highly successful in the past. Last year, Toledo voters approved a measure by an impressive margin of 70 percent to 30 percent in favor of eliminating the criminal penalties associated with minor pot possession. Reports indicate that as many as eight cities could put similar measures in front of the voters in the upcoming election.