HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: February 29

It has been a productive week in the fight to reform the ridiculous laws against marijuana that continue to plague United States. Some of the biggest news comes from Vermont, where the state Senate has given final approval to a proposal aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Another major development includes the passing of a measure in the Utah Senate that would establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program.

Read all about this and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for February 29:

Hawaii: Medical Marijuana Bills Up for Consideration
A number of proposals are on the table this session that would change the way medical marijuana is handled in Hawaii. Senator Russell Ruderman recently introduced Senate Bill 2523, which would allow different types of facilities, like greenhouses, to be considered medical marijuana cultivation centers. The measure would allow these types of operations to exist, as long as marijuana cannot be seen from the outside. Also up for consideration is House Bill 1829, submitted by Democrat Joseph Souki, which would reduce the penalties for certain marijuana offenses – making it impossible for anyone caught in violation of the state’s medical marijuana laws to end up with a felony. In addition, two other proposals advanced last week… Senate Bill 2176, designed to create a medical marijuana oversight commission to watchdog the dispensaries passed a second reading, as did Senate Bill 2384, requiring the Health Department to make unscheduled inspections. 

Georgia: Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed
Representative LaDawn Jones has introduced a proposal that would eliminate the criminal penalties for small time marijuana possession. House Bill 1046 would decriminalize up to an ounce of weed, doing away with the potential of jail time by imposing fines instead. According to the proposal, first time offenders would be charged no more than $250, while a second time offender could expect a fine of $500. A third offense would raise the penalty to $750, but no jail time would ever occur.

Georgia: Cultivation Aspect of New Bill Has Been Eliminated
A proposal aimed at expanding Georgia’s medical marijuana law lost a crucial feature last week – cultivation and distribution. House Bill 722, which would have prevented patients from becoming drug traffickers in the eyes of the federal government by establishing a system allowing them to obtain the medicine from state licensed dispensaries, was stripped of this provision because many lawmakers bought into the negative testimony provided by the Georgia Sheriffs Association. The bill now only expands the list of qualified conditions, still forcing those approved to possess cannabis oil to smuggle it in from a legal state. Lawmakers said they felt this amendment was the bill’s best chance of receiving a favorable vote before the February deadline. 

Oregon: Banking and Outside Investor Bills Moving Forward
Several marijuana bills are progressing swiftly through the Oregon Legislature. House Bill 4094 (banking solutions) was passed last week by the Senate, and now heads to the House for their consideration. Senate Bill 1511 (combine medical and recreational sectors) is expected to be heard before the Senate sometime this week. And House Bill 4014 (allowing outside investors), which has been approved by the House and the Senate, is now headed to the desk of Governor Kate Brown for a signature. 

Louisiana: State Legislature Considering Marijuana Legalization
Although the specifics of the bill have not been made public, a report by KLFY in Louisiana suggests that lawmakers will consider a proposal this session aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes — this in effort to use the tax revenue to appease an $850 million budget deficit. An email returned by the office of Senator JP Morrell did not confirm that a bill is being drafted, but suggested it was possible one could appear in March. Last year, a couple of pieces of marijuana reform were passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal. But it seems too much of a stretch to expect a state with some of the harshest laws against weed to become the first state in the south to open a cannabis industry. We shall see. 

Vermont: Full Senate Approves Recreational Marijuana
Vermont is one step closer to legalizing marijuana by way of the state legislature. Last week, the Senate put its final seal of approval on a bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, creating a taxed and regulated cannabis industry similar to Colorado. The proposal now goes before the House of Representatives for consideration. House Speaker Shap Smith, who supports legalization, said the bill is not necessarily a sure thing because it did not come blazing into the House with overwhelming support. Nevertheless the Judiciary Committee is expected to dig into the proposal sometime around the second week of March. If it clears the House, it will go to the desk of Governor Peter Shumlin, which he will inevitably sign into law. Earlier this year, Shumlin instructed lawmakers to get serious about passing a marijuana bill in the interest of ending the era of prohibition. 

Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Back in Action
A restricted medical marijuana bill has apparently resurrected in the Pennsylvania Legislature. According to a press statement provided by Senator Daylin Leach, the House has promised to hear a proposal that would allow a handful of patients to have access to low-THC marijuana. "I have heard the House leadership has promised the people desperate for medicine that there will be a vote the week of March 14. I believe and assume that the House leadership are men of their word. Unless SB3 passes identically to what the Senate passes, it will have to come back to the Senate. We will evaluate it carefully at that time." The updated bill would allow patients suffering from 15 conditions to purchase cannabis products with no more than 10 percent THC. 

Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Decriminalization Hearings
Two public hearings have been schedule in Harrisburg to discuss a proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance put forth by Mayor Eric Papenfuse. City Council members are wanting to gauge the public’s opinion on whether the city should reduce the penalties associated with this offense, fining first time offenders to the tune of $100; second time offenders $200, while slapping misdemeanor charges on habitual offenders. Mayor Papenfuse says he wants to take the heat off people caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana, so that police officers can focus on more serious crimes. The hearings are scheduled for March 10. 

Missouri: Medical Marijuana Bill Advances
A proposal that would allow Missouri voters to decide whether the state should legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program has reportedly advanced in the House of Representatives. The measure seeks to allow patients suffering from a variety of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer to have access to cannabis products. If the proposal goes the distance, it would create a ballot measure that would allow voters to respond to the issue in the forthcoming November election. 

Utah: Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill
The Utah Senate gave its final approval to a bill last week that would allow patients suffering from a variety of conditions to get their hands on medical marijuana. Senate Bill 73, which was introduced by Senator Mark Madsen, now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. Although the measure is expected to face opposition in the House, supporters feel confident in their ability to rally enough votes to ensure its passage. In addition, a competing, but less comprehensive medical marijuana proposal (Senate Bill 89) was also approved by the Senate this week. It too is set to go before the House for a vote.

Michigan: Bill Introduced to Legalize Recreational Marijuana
Senator Coleman Young has introduced a proposal, which he has deemed the “non-medical marijuana code.” Senate Bill 813 aims to legalize a taxed and regulated cannabis industry, with tax revenue being used to finance education and other public projects. Interestingly, the bill states that it was created “in the interest of allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes.” If approved, marijuana would be legal for adults 21 and over to purchase at retail outlets across the state. It would also permit “Marijuana Lounges,” similar to those popularized by the pot scene in Amsterdam. 

Wyoming: No Felony for Marijuana Edibles
Although the Wyoming Senate wanted to make it a felony for people to be in possession of marijuana edibles, an amendment by the House Judiciary Committee downgraded the severity of this penalty to a misdemeanor. At the core of this debate is whether people busted with edible forms of marijuana should be charged and punished by the total weight of the product. It is now up to the House to make a decision on the proposal before a separate committee can mediate the discrepancies between the House and Senate. 



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