Welcome to the big show! We’re playing the game of “Who’ll Be The Next to Legalize?” and things are looking up, not just in the United States, but at an international level, with Italy making waves by signing a motion to legalize cannabis and Jamaica leading the way towards cannabis reform. Southern and Midwestern states are jumping into the ring as well and support for the cannabis movement is steadily increasing. Let’s check out the latest in legalization news!
The CARERS Act is gaining momentum! After gaining a second Republican backer a week and a half ago in Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), the act gained support from another western U.S. senator, Ms. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), bringing the tally of bipartisan support to:Democrats – 3, Republicans – 2. Senator Boxer has long been a strong supporter of medical marijuana in her home state, and she released a statement indicating that “she believes that patients, doctors, and caregivers in states like California should be able to follow state law without fear of federal prosecution.” Find out more about how you can support the CARERS Act!
Meanwhile, President Obama spoke up about cannabis in a recent interview, first admonishing the younger generation for prioritizing cannabis legalization by saying that young voters should focus on “climate change, the economy, war and peace.” I say, President Obama, why can’t we care about climate change and cannabis legalization? The economy could be boosted through the agriculture of an immensely successful cannabis market and would take a step towards ending the war on drugs. The president continued on to say that the criminalization of cannabis is another issue and that if enough states take action, perhaps Congress might re-schedule marijuana federally.
Speaking of California, those legislators have been busy! They’ve introduced about 20 bills pertaining to cannabis, many of them attempting to wrangle the state’s immense, billion-dollar medical cannabis industry.
Some of the most widely debated and heavily contested laws deal with cannabis DUIs — state lawmakers have introduced a variety of bills over the last few years to cut down on impaired drivers, but the current law at stake, Senate Bill 289, penalizes both those who have recently consumed cannabis, as well as those who simply have THC in their system (even if they have not consumed cannabis and are sober at the time of the test). One of the major points that advocates have used in their arguments against this law is that while cannabis consumption has increased significantly in the past decade, California traffic fatalities have decreased significantly in the same time period and are currently at their lowest rate since the 1940’s.
A Connecticut court ruling in favor of Bolton resident Nicholas Menditto has introduced the precedent to retroactively erase past marijuana convictions for anyone convicted of the possession of small amounts of cannabis, as the state decriminalized misdemeanor possession in 2011. Menditto was convicted in 2009 for a possession charge, but after the state decriminalized, he applied to have the conviction erased.
His first attempt brought him as far as the Appellate Court in 2013, where the three-judge panel voted to uphold the convictions. Not one to be deterred, Menditto took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, who came to the conclusion that “the state has failed to suggest any plausible reason why erasure should be denied.” Very nice ruling, Connecticut Supreme Court – there will surely be thousands who benefit from this decision.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has begun the process of handing out permits to medical marijuana growers despite a growing docket of failed applicants suing the state for a court review. This is a smart move on the state's part because, let’s face it, lawsuits can drag on for months with little to no progress and the medical marijuana industry has already faced unnecessary delays. Even with the permits, these growers will still have a tough time pushing out any product before fall of this year.
Apparently, the approval process started by former Governor Pat Quinn’s office had created “a risk of substantial and costly litigation,” according to his successor, newly appointed Governor Bruce Rauner. This decision has created a source of contention among those applicants who were rejected or wait-listed at the last minute. A tip o' the hat to Governor Rauner and the keen eyes of his staff – we feel for those applicants, but let’s do this by the book.
Good news for Iowans: medical marijuana legislation moved forward for review from a Senate subcommittee! Iowa legalized the use of cannabis oil for certain seizure disorders, but didn’t establish any way for patients to access the medicine. This legislation would establish a system of state-run dispensaries for doctor-approved patients to procure their medicine. C’mon, Hawkeye State!
Two cannabis-related bills survived the February legislative deadline for bills to be passed, abandoned, or preserved. One would decrease penalties for the first two possession convictions and the other would allow certain patients to use cannabis oil as a treatment. Under current Kansas law, a second marijuana possession charge is a felony that can result in up to 42 years in prison. We're glad to see Kansas trying to craft legislation that would legalize cannabis oil as well as lessen such severe penalties. Keep that ball rolling, Kansas!
A bill that is backed by more than a dozen Massachusetts lawmakers would legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. The proposed piece of legislation would also create a system of regulated retail stores, cultivation, processing, and testing facilities for recreational cannabis. The bill is sponsored by two Democrats, Representative David Rogers and Senator Pat Jehlen. This is hugely exciting, but Massachusetts’ track record for cannabis remains super spotty – the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative was approved in 2012, but now, three years later, Massachusetts has yet to open a single dispensary.
Senator Richard “Tick” Segerblom is sponsoring a bill that would allow you to procure cannabis products for your pet if a veterinarian certifies that your animal has conditions that are not relieved by traditional means and would benefit from cannabis products. While it may seem farfetched, cannabis can be very effective at managing certain disorders in animals.
Workers from a medical marijuana dispensary in New Jersey filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) citing unfair tactics to discourage unions and reducing hours/pay in retaliation. If the NLRB takes these claims seriously, it could set a very important precedent for how businesses in the cannabis industry are run. It also signals a huge shift in how canna-businesses are regarded as an established, legitimate company with the same rights for workers as in any industry. One small step for workers, a huge step for the cannabis movement.
Critics of New York’s stalled medical marijuana program are starting to see major problems with the framework as it was approved. The law allows for only five growers and 20 medical dispensaries for a population of over 40 million. Aside from that, the list of qualifying conditions is incredibly restrictive in allowing only 10, which will severely limit the number of patients who qualify for legal access. Most business owners looking to invest in New York's medical marijuana market are starting to realize that they could potentially lose money on their venture. Could Senator Gillibrand and her CARERS Act help with New York's medical cannabis policy reform?
Representative Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) is one of the most persistent cannabis supporters in the South, submitting a fourth attempt to legalize medical marijuana with the belief that this attempt will have the most support and credibility, particularly from Governor Pat McCrory as well as 14 sponsors who have already signed on. The bill would establish a framework for cultivation, processing, and setting up medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as allowing the state to benefit from lucrative taxes, effectively establishing a million dollar industry (or at least, that’s what Rep. Kelly is proposing). Wow, what a change of tune we’ve seen in the past decade!
Oregon’s recreational legalization is under attack! House Bill 2041 was introduced by lawmakers, it would seem, solely for the purpose of shutting down recreational cannabis before it has even begun. The bill would undermine the will of the clear majority of the voters (56%) who favored recreational legalization by restricting the allotted areas for the sale of cannabis (both medical and recreational) so severely that it would be completely prohibited in some communities. If you want to support cannabis in Oregon, join with New Approach Oregon and let your voice be heard!
Tennessee’s medical marijuana support has seen a surge lately! First, a House bill to legalize cannabis oil for use by those with qualifying medical conditions moved forward for further consideration (woo hoo!). Now there are rumors flying that a Republican member of the House will be releasing a medical marijuana proposal. Representative Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has been pushing for the Medical Cannabis Access Act in some form or another for the past decade and said she would support any proposed cannabis legislation, but that the alleged upcoming proposal will not be as comprehensive or allow for as many medical conditions.
Wyoming’s two senators have taken it upon themselves to actively oppose the proposed CARERS Act. Senator John Barasso (R-WY) is actually an orthopedic surgeon who has dealt with patients in chronic pain, but stated that he believes there are “better legal and proven ways to safely address pain.” Senator Mike Enzi made the outdated statement that marijuana is a gateway drug, despite reports showing that correlation does not equal causation. Well, I say to you, sirs…..I disagree (and I'm sure many of you do, too)!
Lawmakers in Italy have taken a bold stance by signing a motion to legalize cannabis across the country. A group of 60 politicians signed on to the measure, led by Senator Bendetto Della Vendova. “In view of the failure of prohibition, the group will draft a pragmatic, non-ideological bill regulating the use of the weed, thereby syphoning [sic] profits away from organised [sic] crime,” Della Vendova told a group of Italian deputies. A parliamentary group will convene soon to discuss a draft of the new bill.
Additionally, Turin, a northwestern city, voted last month to legalize medical marijuana. The decision didn’t make it legal to sell or buy, but made it easier for patients to access it. Bravissimo!
In an international conference on cannabis, Jamaica is hoping to be the leader of the discussion. The country's Minister of Industry and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, said that he would lead the charge to affect changes to international treaties regarding cannabis in the United Nations, using Jamaica’s reputation as a legal nation to start the conversation among the top leaders of the world. Part of his aim will be to change the international narcotics treaties to acknowledge the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of cannabis.