Politics 

The latest in cannabis legalization including laws and policies, legislators’ views, election coverage, and more.

Michigan Wants Cannabis Taxes Over Higher Sales Tax and Mississippi Tries to Legalize: The Leafly Cannabis Legalization Update

Cannabis supporters all across the globe are continuing to fight the good fight towards legalization. Here's a roundup of the good, the bad, and the unexpected in cannabis legislation this week:

U.S. Updates

 

ALASKA

Alaska lawmakers are hoping to fast track a decriminalization bill, but the language seems to be causing a ruckus among legalization advocates. Technically, cannabis has already been decriminalized in Alaska for private, personal use for years. The language of the new bill provides a legal defense in court for those who may prosecuted for possession, but also creates penalties for minors, as well as an “open container” law pertaining to open containers of cannabis in the car while driving.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is hoping to pass this bill before February 24th (when retail legalization officially comes into effect), but it looks to be on hold for a rewrite. But on the bright side, retail legalization in Alaska is less than a month away! That’s cause for celebration in my book!

 

DELAWARE

A multitude of legislators from Delaware have introduced legislation that would replace Delaware’s criminal penalty for marijuana possession with a simple civil fine, similar to a parking ticket. House Bill 39 was introduced by Representative Helene Keeley after a similar bill cleared the House committee but died in the House without being subject to a full debate before the end of the legislative session.

Governor Jack Markell has signaled his support for the measure alongside 12 other Democratic members of the General Assembly. The Cannabis Bureau of Delaware praised the support for the legislation, but said the ultimate goal is for a taxed and regulated market for cannabis.

 

ILLINOIS

Medical marijuana licensing in Illinois looks to be facing further delays in implementation. Former Governor Pat Quinn seems to have left office without awarding any promised state licenses to growers or dispensaries but, for one final act as governor, signed new legislation to impose stricter penalties on those found in violation of the new medical marijuana laws.

Previously, the only penalty would be to revoke one’s license. Now, the state can impose fines and harsher penalties, while anyone associated with medical marijuana, including patients and caregivers, must face thorough background checks before they are allowed access to cannabis. Adding insult to injury on the way out, huh?

 

KANSAS

Kansas legislators seeking to lower prison populations and reduce costs are now weighing a bill to lower the penalties for first and second-time cannabis possession. Scott Schultz, the executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, offered projections that a change in policy would result in 46 fewer prisoners per year and save the state more than $800,000 annually in cost.

This bill is supported by Republican Representative Tom Moxley and comes directly on the heels of a discussion in a Senate committee that would legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Cannabis supporters in Kansas, repeat after me: There’s no place like home and not in prison.

 

LOUISIANA

Governor Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals have banned several forms of synthetic marijuana in the past and recently expanded the ban to include the latest forms of the designer drug, Mojo and Blue Diamond. Consumers are often drawn to the substance, which is typically legal and marketed for sale as “incense” in smoke shops. The substance mimics the effects of cannabis, but with far deadlier repercussions – there have been reports of deaths, injuries and self-inflicted harm related to use of synthetic marijuana.

Great work, Governor Jindal, we support this move! Now how about lowering penalties for small amounts of cannabis possession?

 

MICHIGAN

A recent Survey USA poll commissioned by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Report found some surprising results. When asked if Michigan sales tax should increase from six to seven percent, only 43% Michigan voters were for raising sales tax to pay for roads and schools, while a whopping 64% of Michigan adults said they would likely vote in favor of taxing and regulating cannabis rather than taxing across the board. The polls showed a favor for taxing and regulating cannabis across demographics – Independents came in at 68%, Democrats were at 65%, and even Republicans showed a majority in favor with 57%.

With tough economic times hitting Michigan’s cities (Detroit has been hit especially hard), the economic prosperity displayed by legalized states like Colorado are looking mighty fine, and a hefty government refund from cannabis sales would be welcome in Michigan.

 

MINNESOTA

In a poll commissioned by the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, data gathered by Public Policy Polling show that nearly half of all Minnesotans believe cannabis should be legalized and regulated for social use in a similar manner as it is in Washington and Colorado. Another three quarters of respondents also favored the legalization of medical marijuana.

Last summer, a bill legalizing cannabis for seriously ill patients was signed into law, but the implementation has been arduously slow and the law is one of the most restrictive in the country – offering only two medical marijuana manufacturers, with specified forms of cannabis extracts only.

 

MISSISSIPPI

Initiative 48 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to legalize the use, taxation, medical use, cultivation, and sale of both hemp and cannabis for adults 21 years of age and older. Supporters of Initiative 48 are gathering signatures to get it on the 2016 ballot for the upcoming presidential election. The group needs 21,433 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Are you a Mississippi resident? Do you believe in the legalization of cannabis? Then do your part – sign the petition for Proposition 48! Sign it, send it, and don’t forget to vote!

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

House Bill 618 was introduced by state Representative Adam Schroadter with a group of six bipartisan co-sponsors. The bill would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2014 but died in the Senate. The bill would replace the current criminal penalties with a civil fine of up to $100 and make the cultivation of up to six plants a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony, as it currently is.

Another cannabis bill on the table, introduced by Representatives Larry Phillips and Renny Cushing, seeks to study the effects of cannabis legalization, but advocates have said that the decriminalization bill will be the push and focus for this legislative session. Considering that New Hampshire is the only state in New England to have a criminal penalty for the possession of small amounts of cannabis, wouldn’t you say it’s time for a change?

 

NEW YORK

Boo-yah, New York! After the November announcement for a change in policy in regards to arrests for low-level cannabis possession, arrests in New York City have plummeted! Comparing the arrest rate in December of 2013 to the same period after the policy change in 2014 saw a 75% drop, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Statistics, from about 1,820 arrests to just 460. The change in policy allows possession of less than 25 grams “in public view” to be punishable with a civil fine and a court summons rather than an arrest, making it a civil violation instead of a criminal one. This could be a promising new turning point for the once-spiking arrests that have plagued New York for more than a decade.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

State Senator Tom Davis and Representative Jenny Horne are planning to introduce identical bills in February allowing cannabis to be grown and prescribed for certain illnesses, with the focus of the bill is to provide access in a controlled, regulated way. The two sponsors of the bill are also co-chairs of a medical marijuana study panel.

In 2014, the Legislature passed a bill allowing the use of non-psychoactive cannabis oil for patients suffering from severe epilepsy, but intense restrictions banned the production of cannabis oil within the state and federal restrictions do not allow for the shipments of cannabis oil across state lines. This bill aims to address those issues, in particular the growth, testing, and dispensing of the oil.

While it sounds like there may be plans in the future to expand the medical uses of cannabis, it will inevitably face harsher backlash from the South Carolina Senate. Sigh. We can dream, can’t we?

 

TENNESSEE

House Bill 197 has been introduced by House Representative Jeremy Faison, in conjunction with the Department of Safety, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Health. Good on you, Rep. Faison – you did your homework! The bill would change Tennessee law to allow for the use of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes.

An identical bill will be submitted to the Senate for review with Senator Becky Duncan Massey as a co-sponsor. If passed, this bill would make a big difference for at least one little girl.

 

VERMONT

Vermont lawmakers are considering whether to become the first state Legislature to legalize cannabis. While Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have all technically legalized retail cannabis, it was the voters, not the lawmakers, who changed the law. Vermont’s Constitution prohibits referendums and initiatives, which means that all state decisions must come directly from the lawmakers.

A big factor in this debate was an independent report commissioned by Governor Peter Shumlin that projected between $25 and $75 million annual revenue collected from legalized cannabis sales (and Colorado’s first year of sales pretty much confirmed these numbers).

 

VIRGINIA

Alas, a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession has been snuffed out by the Republican-controlled Senate Courts of Justice. May this bill rest in peace in the graveyard of long-dead cannabis legalization efforts, never to be resurrected…until next legislative session, perhaps? Senator Adam Ebbin – we’re looking at you!

 

WYOMING

Another attempt to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana bites the dust. Simple cannabis possession will remain a criminal offense in Wyoming for another year, and another 2,000 souls will wither in jail for the possession of cannabis. In a double-whammy, Wyoming lawmakers also rejected a bill last week that would have allowed limited access to cannabis oil for sufferers of long-term pain, glaucoma, or migraines. You have to wonder who the lawmakers are representing, if not the critically ill constituents in their state.

International Updates

 

AUSTRALIA

A large Australian study found that the use of cannabis for pain relief is common among sufferers of chronic pain. The study, led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW, found that 1 in 6 patients were technically breaking the law by using cannabis, despite findings that cannabis users report greater pain relief in combination with prescription opiates than with opioids alone. This means that at least 1 in 6 sufferers of chronic pain must go to extreme lengths to find pain relief.

The findings from this report are expected to influence future clinical trials of cannabis for medical use and, with any luck, the eventual transition to legalized medical marijuana in Australia.

 


Can't get enough of these legislative updates? Visit our State of the Leaf interactive map to see a breakdown of each state's cannabis laws.