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

D.C. and Alaska Officially Legalize: The Leafly Cannabis Legalization Update

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a historic bill titled “The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act” that proposes six key changes to federal marijuana policy. Learn more about the CARERS Act and how you can support it.


The last two weeks brought us legislative updates full of monumental moments for cannabis legalization in the United States, including Alaska and Washington, D.C. both officially legalizing recreational cannabis. Two more dominoes have fallen in the everlasting quest to end prohibition, so let’s take a look and see who might just be next:

 

U.S. Updates

 

ALASKA

Alaska officially legalized cannabis for personal use, possession, and cultivation on February 24th, making history as the third state to enact recreational cannabis laws. As a follow up, two regulatory measures are being considered by the Senate. Senate Bill 60 creates the Marijuana Control Board to be in charge of all future regulations in the nine months to come before implementation is complete. Senate Bill 30 removes cannabis as a controlled substance, effectively freeing officials' hands to consider cannabis in the same category as alcohol or tobacco. Congratulations, Alaska, and welcome to the rec club!

 

COLORADO

Colorado’s medical marijuana program may be getting new regulatory measures to clamp down on unlicensed medical marijuana caregivers. Senate Bill 15-014 would require all medical marijuana caregivers to be registered and licensed by the state health agency, have specified growing amounts, and would require caregivers to disclose to patients any possible contaminants. Many caregivers grow for multiple patients at a time, with the logic being that these are patients who would be unable to grow for themselves. However, the lack of regulatory oversight has allowed some growers to take advantage of the law and grow well beyond the required amount.

The Centennial State is and will continue to be an excellent model for recreational cannabis, taking even more steps to address the slowly dwindling black market, which makes it all the more ridiculous that they’re being sued YET AGAIN for their legalization.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Washington, D.C. also officially legalized the personal possession, use, and cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes at midnight on Thursday, February 26th; however, the official decision was embroiled in drama until the very last minute. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. law enforcement worked together to create an outline of rules for adults to follow in accordance with Initiative 71, but within hours, Republican Representatives sent an official letter reminding Mayor Bowser of the federal law, citing the Anti-Deficiency Act and all but threatening to have her arrested. Nonetheless, Mayor Bowser, tough and true to her D.C. roots, would not be deterred, saying, “We believe we are acting lawfully.”

Sure enough, when the legalization took effect at midnight, the city did not burn to the ground. People continued as they always have: peacefully, quietly, and lawfully. Kudos to the District for a seamless transition!

 

FLORIDA

Florida lawmakers have created a bill to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and impose a $50-per-ounce tax on growers, producers, and retailers. Senate Bill 1176 would legalize the possession, use, transport, and giving away of up to 2.5 ounces and the cultivation of up to six seedlings of cannabis for personal use. Senator Dwight Bullard, who sponsored the bill, acknowledges that it is unlikely to pass, but that he was inspired by his mother, also a Florida legislator, who fought for medical marijuana in 2011.

 

GEORGIA

Georgia’s most unexpected champion for cannabis, Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon), has introduced yet another bill legalizing cannabis oil for his constituents in the state, this time tinkering with the list of qualifying medical conditions and specifying amounts. This newest bill would legalize the possession of up to 20 ounces of low-THC, high-CBD strains of cannabis.

At the behest of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, Representative Peake included sickle cell anemia as a qualifying condition, as sickle cell anemia is more prevalent in African-Americans. Unfortunately, the original edit, which included 17 qualifying conditions, had to be pared down to only nine medical conditions.

The great news, however, is that House Bill 1 passed through the Georgia House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority vote, 158-2! The bill now moves to the Georgia Senate and then onto the desk of Governor Nathan Deal.

Another Georgia lawmaker, Senator Curt Thompson, introduced Senate Resolution 6, which would legalize recreational cannabis (with nearly no restrictions), as well as Senate Resolution 7, which would legalize medical marijuana. Representative Peake remains apprehensive to support legislation for recreational legalization, and is concerned whether House Bill 1 will gain support in its current form, but made it clear that his efforts should not be seen as a “slippery slope,” but rather, “a confirmation of our compassionate reach.” Hats off to you, sir.

 

IDAHO

The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee was leaning towards relaxing Idaho’s strict marijuana prohibition law with a new bill that would legalize the use of cannabis oils for certain illnesses (such as seizure disorders). The measure, sponsored by Senator Curt McKenzie, would amend the Idaho law to clarify that cannabidiol oil shall not be considered in the same definition as “marijuana” as defined by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

This measure was up for consideration by the Senate, who unanimously voted to put the bill on hold until the next legislative session, leaving patients wondering if they’ll ever see legalization in the state. Idaho has some of the toughest penalties in the country when it comes to cannabis – the possession of any amount under three ounces is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Even being under the influence of cannabis in Idaho carries a severe penalty – up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

ILLINOIS

Three Illinois doctors are facing a unique dilemma as the new Medical Cannabis Pilot Program slowly gains speed. These doctors have invested in the burgeoning medical marijuana system, but according to the rules of the state as they currently exist, they cannot make recommendations for medical marijuana, as it presents an ethical challenge since they would be profiting from the system.

Katherine Katsoyannis owns 10 percent of MedMar, which was recently declined a dispensary license; Paul Manganelli, another licensed physician, is the manager of Mapleglen Care Center, LLC., which will be opening in the Rockford area; and Christine Heck is the CEO of Progressive Treatment Solutions, LLC., a recently-licensed producer of medical cannabis.

The state rules specify that “A dispensary can’t “allow a physician to hold a direct or indirect economic interest in the dispensary if the physician recommends the use of medical cannabis to qualifying patients.” This is an unfortunate dilemma, as it would make logical sense to have doctors with medical expertise making these decisions, but they may only be able to lend expertise as consultants only.

 

IOWA

State Democrats are pushing for an expansive medical marijuana bill that would allow access for qualified patients from a state-run facility. Iowa passed a medical cannabis oil bill last year but did not establish a method for growing or distribution. Many patients have suffered as a result, including the Mackenzie family, who was prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for their angiosarcoma-stricken son, Benton. When the state confiscated his medicine, Benton went from stage one to terminal within a matter of months and recently lost his battle with cancer. Iowa Republicans, it’s too late for Benton, but not too late to ease the suffering of many more Iowans. Make it happen!

 

KANSAS

Kansas State Representative John Wilson (D-Lawrence) is the author of House Bill 2282, which would legalize the use of a specialized low-THC cannabis oil extract particularly for children suffering from seizure disorders. The bill has been embraced by the House of Health and Human Services Committee and would allow for in-state production, cultivation, and processing of hemp and low-THC cannabis varieties to be sold to sufferers of chronic seizures. Representative Wilson estimated that around 24,000 Kansas residents could benefit from this form of cannabis oil extract treatment. A huge step for cannabis progress in an unlikely place – kudos, Kansas!

 

NAVAJO NATION

The largest Native American Reservation has taken a firm stance against the legalization of cannabis, despite a blessing from the U.S. Department of Justice allowing cultivation on native lands. Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie introduced legislation reaffirming their stance against cannabis, saying that it goes against their Navajo values and traditions. There will be no action on the bill until other tribe members have a chance to debate it. The Navajo Nation extends throughout Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.

 

NEW JERSEY

New Jersey’s long-embattled medical marijuana program has been stagnating due to a lack of action in establishing the severely restrictive program. Qualifying patients have had such a difficult time accessing cannabis that many have taken it upon themselves to move to a state that will recognize their rights as a patient and allow access to the medicine they need (thanks, Colorado!).

Governor Chris Christie, who has admitted his vehement opposition to marijuana, signed a law that would expand the medical marijuana program to allow edibles (which has been a long-standing gripe for patients), yet now, 18 months later, patients still don’t have access to edibles and state-run dispensaries say that legal red tape and a lack of guidelines from the state is to blame. C’mon, Christie! Stand up for your constituents!

 

OHIO

Responsible Ohio, a group pushing for legalization in the Buckeye State, has submitted a constitutional amendment that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes and to grow up to four plants for personal use, with 10 proposed commercial grow sites made available in the state. The group has raised more than $35 million to put the amendment on the ballot this November, but the opposition is growing, with some criticizing both the proposal itself and the writer of the amendment for having ties to the casino industry.

Additionally, the director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program said that the amendment would encourage drug abuse. The leader of Responsible Ohio countered by saying, “marijuana will be here regardless of what the political policies are….rather than sticking our head in the sand, it’s time to figure out what we can do to make a more productive policy.”

 

RHODE ISLAND

A new law has been proposed in Rhode Island that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis like alcohol. The proposed law, the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and one mature plant for personal use. State Senator Joshua Miller (D-Providence), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, affirmed his belief that “marijuana prohibition is an ineffective and wasteful policy, and we cannot afford to ignore it anymore.” Preach it!

 

TEXAS

Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) introduced a bill that would legalize and regulate cannabis, but not like alcohol or tobacco. Rather, this bill would legalize cannabis in the same vein as any other produce, such as tomatoes or coffee. Rep. Simpson made the case for the legalization of cannabis with the religious argument that “All God created is good, including marijuana.” Read more about the new Texas bill here.

 

UTAH

Senate Bill 259 is being touted as a measure for “freedom and compassion,” and with that in mind, the bill just barely squeaked through the Utah Senate with a vote of 16-13. Senator Mark Madsen went to bat for the bill, calling medical cannabis a far less toxic alternative to addictive opioids, while other legislators accused him of trying to sneak the bill through the Senate without careful consideration. The bill would allow nine authorized qualifying conditions and would create a register for qualified patients. A measure for freedom and compassion, indeed!

 

VIRGINIA

Fantastic news from Virginia! Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed two bills into law: House Bill 1445 and Senate Bill 1235 decriminalize the use of CBD and THCA oils to treat certain seizure disorders and be distributed to those who need it most. The use of cannabis oil to combat seizure disorders has been a particularly hot button issue in Virginia this year after a young girl stricken with Dravet’s Syndrome suffered a seizure during a session of the Virginia General Assembly, bringing the “big picture” into view for many legislators and a reminder that medical cannabis patients are just that – patients with a serious need for medicine. With the governor’s signature, this bill contains a clause that would allow access for patients as early as April. Wahoo! You’ve got a ways to go, Virginia, but that’s progress, baby!

 

WASHINGTON

Senate Bill 5052, which aims to fold the vastly unregulated medical marijuana industry into the tightly controlled recreational scene, is causing Washington medical patients some serious anxiety. Currently, there are hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington and they cater to patients by carrying a wide variety of products – high-CBD strains, pills, patches, tinctures – all intended for specific medical needs and ailments.

The recreational market is so tightly regulated that the selection is extremely limited and does not contain any of these medical products. Patients are concerned for the loss of safe access points and the loss of selection they’ve grown accustomed to in the medical market. Fingers crossed for an amiable compromise!

 

International Updates

 

UNITED KINGDOM

A new political party in the United Kingdom is bound and determined to put cannabis at center stage in the spotlight during the next general election. Cista – Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol – will be screening more than 100 political candidates to determine who will support the issue of cannabis decriminalization and/or legalization.

The party’s election candidate includes Paul Birch, who will be investing up to £100,000 in the venture. Those leaning towards supporting the issue are the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. According to a recent poll commissioned by Cista, 44% of voters support the legalization of cannabis, with 42% opposed (and 14% undecided).