The battle to legalize marijuana across the United States is now just as bizarre as it is interesting. While Congress is semi-prepared to treat drug addiction as a health issue, supporters of cannabis reform have waged a war against each other over the true definition of “legalization.” In Arizona, one pro-pot organization has filed a lawsuit against another in hopes of preventing its initiative from making it on the ballot this November. Meanwhile, North Dakota voters are in a good position to decide on medical marijuana this fall, while Kentucky lawmakers are still struggling to determine whether cannabis has any medicinal value. Other highlights from the past week include Hawaii’s new law allowing nurses to provide patients with recommendations, as well as some good news from Montana that could lead to the full restoration of its decimated medical marijuana program.
Read all about these developments and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for July 18:
Federal: Congress Votes to Make Addiction Health Issue
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week in favor of a bill intended to make drug addiction more of a health issue rather than one handled through the criminal justice system. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which President Obama has said he will sign, is designed to prevent low-level drug offenders from going to prison, while making more treatment programs and medication available to those in need. Obama originally proposed spending $1 billion to get a grip on the national opioid crisis, but Congress didn’t even come close to approving that steep of a budget. Supporters are asking Congress to ensure CARA is properly funded.
North Dakota: Medical Marijuana Supporters Submit Petitions
The question of whether North Dakota should legalize medical marijuana will likely go before the voters in November. Last Monday, a group hoping to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot this fall submitted around 17,600 signatures to the Secretary or State’s office. As long as 13,500 are verified, voters will get to decide whether qualified patients should be permitted to purchase up to three ounces of medical marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries and engage in home cultivation. Another proposal seeking to legalize for recreational use failed to collect the necessary signatures.
Kentucky: Medical Marijuana Being Discussed in State Legislature
Kentucky is once again considering the legalization of medical marijuana. Last week, advocates gathered in Frankfort to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 13, which seeks to create a comprehensive statewide medical marijuana program. Prior to the hearing, The Kentucky Nurses Association endorsed the bill, saying “providing legal access to medicinal cannabis is imperative,” while other medical experts testified at the hearing that more research was needed before the state took such a bold leap. Most of the opposition believes marijuana shouldn’t even be considered before the FDA determines it has medicinal value. The bill is still lingering in committee.
Hawaii: Governor Signs Bill Allowing Nurses to OK Medical Marijuana
Governor David Ige signed a bill last week that will expand the state’s medical marijuana program by allowing nurses to provide patients with recommendations to participate in the program. Supporters believe this will provide more patients with the opportunity to use medicinal cannabis since there has been a shortage of doctors on the island willing to offer certifications. In addition, the bill also repairs a tax loophole that would have allowed some dispensaries to operate under a tax exemption. After 16 years, Hawaii recently legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, but none are expected to be functional until later in the year.
Arizona: Marijuana Supporters Sue Group Trying to Legalize
Due to their disdain for the language of the well-funded Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative, organizers from a competing campaign, one that has since been suspended, have filed a lawsuit against the CRMA, alleging that its supporters bamboozled the voting population when selling them on its concept of legalization. A motion has been filed asking the judge to find the campaign’s collected signatures invalid because the group left out crucial information about the ballot measure during the signature collection process. A court hearing is schedule for Tuesday.
Missouri: Organizers Moving Forward With Decriminalization Initiative
The Kansas City chapter of NORML is in the process of collecting signatures in hopes of putting an initiative aimed at decriminalizing marijuana possession on the ballot this November. The proposal seeks to eliminate the criminal penalties for anyone caught with less than 35 grams of weed by replacing them with a $25 fine. The group must submit 1,708 valid signatures before the end of August to earn a voice in the upcoming election.
Colorado: Group Seeking to Limit THC Potency Cancels Campaign
A group seeking to restrict the THC limit of all marijuana products across the state has suspended its campaign. The proposal – Amendment 139 – would have made any cannabis over 16 percent THC illegal for retail sale. It also would have passed regulations requiring all pot products to be branded with warning labels suggesting that weed causes a variety of health conditions. Fortunately, a well-funded group emerged to fight the initiative head on – raising over $300,000 out of the gate to ensure the anti-pot proposal never saw the light of day. And it worked. Amendment 139 was shutdown shortly after the funding was revealed.
“The commercialized marijuana industry once again showed that they are willing to put their profits ahead of the safety of our children and our communities,” Ron Castagna, a key supporters for Amendment 139, said in a statement. “At least for now, the racketeers have won. The Marijuana Moguls put a pile of campaign cash on the table and won. Our kids, and our communities are in crisis, for now.”
Maine: State Rules Medical Marijuana Cannot Be Used to Treat Addiction
The State Department of Health and Human Services denied a petition last week that would have allowed medical marijuana to be used to treat “Addiction to Opiates and drugs derived from chemical synthesis.” Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced that she was rejecting the petition because there is not enough scientific evidence available that show cannabis is effective in treating addiction. Some lawmakers responded by calling out the DHHS for missing an opportunity to help Mainers struggling with an addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers. Many believe a decision in favor of medical marijuana could have helped curb the opioid crisis currently sweeping the state.
Montana: Proposal Aimed at Reviving Medical Marijuana Qualifies for Ballot
A group working to revive the state’s medical marijuana program will have their chance this November. It was announced last week that Initiative 182, a proposal aimed at reversing the recent restrictions applied to the program, has been approved to go before the voters in the upcoming election. If it is approve, a number of bans would be lifted, including one restricting the number of patients that caregivers are allowed to service. Supporters say if the initiative is successful, the law would not just go back to its original design — it would be vastly improved.
Rhode Island: Governor Signs Bill Allowing PTSD
Governor Raimondo recently signed a bill into law that will allow patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program. The new law officially classifies this severe anxiety disorder as a debilitating condition under the program’s list of qualified conditions. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Stephen Archambault, recently told the press that, “Medical marijuana is already the law of Rhode Island. We’ve already established that it works in treating certain conditions… It is unconscionable that we would not add PTSD to the list of medical conditions that would benefit from it. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real psychological problem, particularly among our veteran community, and it’s our responsibility to provide them with treatment options that can alleviate their suffering.” Although VA hospitals will not recommend medical marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD, other doctors in the private sector may be able to help.