Cannabis progress continues to sparkle on the horizon, and we’re already eyeing November as a big chance for change. South Dakota is jumping into the cannabis game, Utah senators won’t give up pushing for a medical program, Australia’s politicians are seeing the light, and cannabis activists in England are using a certain plant as a political protest. All that and more in this week's roundup of marijuana legalization news — check it out!
U.S. Cannabis Updates
Colorado’s steady cannabis industry is setting records for its tax collection, having accrued more money in the first five months of 2015 than it did in the entire year of 2014. The 15 percent excise tax for school construction hit $3.5 million in May, bringing the year’s total to $13.7 million, edging out the $13.3 million raised for all of 2014. This increase is due in part to more marijuana retail shops, as well as a one-time tax-exempt transfer of medicinal plants to the recreational side that stores were allowed to take advantage of last year.
November will bring a vote on Proposition BB, which will determine whether the tens of millions of dollars in cannabis taxes from the last fiscal year will end up being refunded to businesses and citizens, or if the state will be allowed to keep the money and funnel it towards school construction, prevention, and youth services.
As expected, Governor David Ige signed House Bill 321, now Act 241, into law to legalize the infrastructure creating a system of medical cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries across the islands. The Department of Health will begin accepting applications January 11, 2016, and will award eight licenses for a total of 16 dispensaries. Approved licensees will be announced in April 2016.
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but there are more than 13,000 medical patients in the program who rely on home growing as there's never been a system of dispensaries to supply and dispense to the patients.
Under Louisiana's new medical marijuana law, two agricultural centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University have been designated to grow for the state-sanctioned program. The centers were also granted the right of refusal to hold the monopoly on production of legal medical marijuana, which would be available by public bid to a single provider if they refuse.
Drug policy experts and advocates say that by having publicly funded institutions grow and refine cannabis for a commercial medical marijuana venture, this could put the universities at risk for losing their federal research funding.
One of the groups seeking to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has already raised over $50,000 for their efforts. Marijuana Policy Project, a national group, funded much of the efforts and their campaign is leading the way, although they’re not the only ones with their eyes on the prize. Legalize Maine, a Maine-based group, raised over $25,000 during the same period of time.
Both groups are currently collecting signatures from registered Maine voters. In order to place the initiatives on the 2016 ballot, they’ll need to collect 61,123 signatures before February 1, 2016. May the best team win!
Despite the long-awaited rollout of the medical cannabis program in Minnesota, patients are finding it difficult, costly, and time-consuming to procure the legal medication now available through the state government’s new dispensary program. There are only two locations open, with another slated to open in Rochester this week. Even so, southwestern Minnesotan patients face a five-hour drive or more, which may prohibit those who are too ill to make the trip.
South Dakota is making headway for multiple marijuana proposals moving through the petition process. One medical cannabis initiative would legalize the possession of up to three ounces for medicinal use. Another initiative being pushed by the group South Dakotans Against Prohibition and would decriminalize up to an ounce of cannabis – instead of being jailed, there would be a civil fine of $100.
In South Dakota, it’s currently a misdemeanor to have two ounces or less of cannabis, and it's a felony charge to possess over two ounces. The majority of simple marijuana arrests in South Dakota involve a quarter ounce or less of cannabis, and this proposal could save the futures of thousands of low-level offenders.
In an attempt to encourage lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana, Utahns have taken to testifying to their own, illegal cannabis use for various medical ailments. This testimony came at the urging of Senator Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), who is drafting another medical marijuana bill to present to lawmakers in January. His last attempt during the 2015 legislature failed, although in 2014, Utah legislators passed a law allowing the use of CBD oil for severely epileptic children.
However, the restrictions leave out a great many Utahns who could benefit from a more robust medical law. Patients came forward to testify in the ways that the medicinal (albeit illegal) use of cannabis had benefited their lives and ended with a plea for a legal avenue to procure medicine. Senator Madsen’s bill would not allow smokeable forms of cannabis, and would place restrictions on packaging.
International Cannabis Updates
A former West Australian Liberal Member of Parliament, Dr. Mal Washer, recently revealed that he is pushing to grow Australia’s first legal cannabis crop. Dr. Washer is the chairman and shareholder of Auscann, a company that has been granted a license to grow a medicinal strain of cannabis for importation to Canada. However, the former politician has grown increasingly frustrated by the length of time the government is taking to review his company’s proposal to grow cannabis on the Australian territory of Norfolk Island.
A sleepy little Hertfordshire town called Welwyn Garden City just got a garden makeover thanks to a secretive group known as the Welwyn Garden City Cannabis Club. The group secretly implanted cannabis plants into the town’s public flower beds, aiming to spread awareness about the benefits of cannabis, saying, “These plants are the work of local activists as part of a movement which believes cannabis should be available for medical and recreational use, that we utilise and legalize hemp and replace our polyplastics industry and fossil fuel dependency.”
The plants have since been removed by the Welwyn Hatfield Council, but their memory will live on.
Don't forget to check out last week's cannabis legislation recap!