It was a productive week in the fight to legalize marijuana in the United States. Some of the most important news comes from the halls of Congress, where both chambers have finally agreed that veterans deserve hassle free access to medical marijuana. Other highlights include Louisiana becoming the twenty-fifth state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, as well as word that Illinois is on its way to decriminalizing marijuana possession.
Read all about these actions and more in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for May 23:
Federal: Congress Approves Measure Giving VA Doctors Permission to Recommend Medical Marijuana
The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have approved a measure aimed at preventing federal funds from being used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to stop VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana. Last Thursday, the House passed the amendment in a vote of 233-189, while the Senate did the same by a vote of 89-8. This is the first time in history that both chambers have agreed to an amendment of this kind – giving it a better than average chance at being attached to the 2017 Fiscal Year budget to be signed at the end of the year by President Obama. If this happens, veterans living in states where medical marijuana is legal would be able to receive recommendations from VA physicians.
Oklahoma: Signature Drive Begins for Medical Marijuana Initiative
An organization is working to put the question of medical marijuana on the upcoming November ballot. Oklahomans for Health recently announced that it has started collecting signatures for a proposed ballot measure that seeks to legalize cannabis for any condition, as long as it is approved by a physician. The initiative would allow patients to legally possess up to three ounces of weed and cultivate up to six full-grown plants at home. Around 66,000 valid signatures must be collected within the next 90 days in order got the group to qualify for the ballot. Also, a separate proposal is on the table that would allow organizations like Oklahomans for Health up to a year to collect the necessary signatures for ballot measures instead of the current 90 days.
Oklahoma: Governor Signs Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill
More Oklahoma patients will now be allowed to legally use cannabis oil to control the symptoms of their severe and life threatening conditions. Governor Mary Fallin recently signed a bill that eliminates the age restriction on a program that gives patients suffering from epilepsy, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, paraplegia and symptoms of chronic wasting disease access to non-intoxicating cannabis oil. Last year, Governor Fallin signed legislation giving children under the age of 18 permission to use cannabidiol. The latest action essentially opens up the program for adult patients.
Louisiana: Legalizes Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Program
Louisiana has become the twenty-fifth state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Last Monday, the State Senate voted in concurrence with recent House changes to a bill (Senate Bill 271) that would allow physicians to provide patients with recommendations instead of prescriptions. It was then sent to the office of Governor Edward, where it was signed into law. Although medical marijuana has been legal in Louisiana for around four decades, the language of the law has prevented anyone from benefiting from the program because it forced doctors to break the rules of the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act. The updated law eliminates the risk of a federal violation. However, patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis can still expect to wait at least 18 months before the program becomes fully functional.
Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Still Considering Marijuana Decriminalization
Harrisburg is still trying to decide whether it should join Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The City Council gathered last week to discuss a proposal put forth by Mayor Eric Papenfuse, which would replace the criminal penalties for pot possession with a $100 fine. However, the issue was tabled after some people expressed concerns for how to handle minors with regard to this offense. The City Council now wants to further research the concept of decriminalization before making a decision.
Alaska: Bill Would Allow Unincorporated Areas to Ban Weed
A proposal that would allow unincorporated communities to ban marijuana businesses is advancing through the state legislature. Last week, both the House and Senate pushed through the measure that would give voters in outlying neighborhoods the ability to decide whether to prohibit pot shops. The bill would also allow those communities to hold elections to reverse the bans. Earlier this month, the Marijuana Control Board made a policy revision in hopes of speeding up the licensing process. Reports indicate that some licenses could be issued sometime next month.
Kansas: Governor Reduces Some Pot Penalties
Kansas has reduced some of its penalties for marijuana possession. Governor Sam Brownback recently signed a bill that decreases the jail time for first-time pot offenders from one year to no more than six months. Second offenses will now be treated as low-level felonies with a punishment of up to a year in jail, while habitual offenders can face anywhere between up 10 to 42 months in prison.
Illinois: Set to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Illinois is on the verge of becoming the twenty-first state in the nation to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession. Last week, the House approved a measure in a vote of 64-to-50 that would all law enforcement to issue citations to anyone caught holding up to 10 grams of pot instead of dragging them to jail. The fine for this offense would range between $100 and $200. The bill, which was designed under the guidance of Governor Rauner, is now set to go before him for a signature.
Arkansas: Ballot Measure Making Progress
The organization hoping to legalize medical and recreational marijuana through an initiative slated for the November ballot is making some substantial progress in their efforts. Reports indicate that supporters of the Arkansas Cannabis Amendment (ACA) have already collected around 20,000 out of the 85,000 signatures needed to be certified for the November ballot. The ACA, which was brought forth by Summit resident Mary Berry, is one of the most comprehensive initiatives that we have ever watched emerge in the United States. The measure would essentially legalize the cultivation and retail sale of marijuana for adults 21 and over – dropping the tax for anyone with a recommendation from a doctor. The group must submit the signatures before July 8.
Ohio: Senate Makes Changes to Medical Marijuana Bill
A Senate Committee made changes last week to a proposal aimed at legalizing medical marijuana. The updated measure would give control of the program to the state Pharmacy Board rather than the Department of Commerce and allow growers to begin doing their thing six months earlier than what was outlined in the original bill. Other crucial changes include a provision that would allow patients to use medical marijuana from other states until the Ohio market it up and running, as well as one that would force each dispensary to be supervised by a licensed pharmacist. The current proposal, however, is sort of a wet dog in the grand scheme of pot legislation because it does not give patients the freedom to consume smokable marijuana or engage in home cultivation. Fortunately, if voters approve the comprehensive medical marijuana initiative slated for the November ballot, that action would take precedent over any bill passed by the state legislature.