Politics 

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

State of the Leaf: As Opinions Shift, Unlikely States Weigh Legalization

U.S. News Updates

Arkansas

The Arkansas House has voted to delay the launch of a medical marijuana program approved by voters in November. The delay will push the start date from March to May of this year. The House also voted to delay the date the state will begin accepting dispensary applications, pushing it from June 1 to July 1, 2017. The delays are designed to give officials more time to draft rules and regulations for the program. While legislative delays have aroused suspicions in others states that officials could be trying to hobble the new legalization, the author of the Arkansas amendment, Little Rock attorney David Couch, says he doesn’t see the delay as an effort to sabotage the program. Creating infrastructure for the state’s medical marijuana program, he acknowledged, would likely take more time to implement.

Illinois

Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs publicly urged President Donald Trump’s administration to give clear guidance to the banking industry regarding medical marijuana. Federal law prohibits banks from processing money from the cannabis industry, regardless of whether or not it’s legal at a state level. As a result, many businesses are unable to secure loans or other financial services. The restriction can also creates security risks by forcing businesses to deal exclusively in cash. The letter from Frerichs asks Trump to assure responsible financial institutions that the new administration will not penalize or prosecute the banks for doing business with state-licensed cannabis companies.

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Indiana

This could be the year for cannabis reform in Indiana, with state lawmakers considering multiple bills to allow cannabis for medical use. Senate Bill 255, introduced by Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage), would legalize cannabis for patients with a doctor’s recommendation, allowing them to possess up to eight ounces of dried flower or “an adequate supply for treatment as set forth in physician recommendation.” Home cultivation would also be allowed, with patients allowed to grow up to 12 plants. Senate Bill 15, introduced by Sens. James Tomes (R-Posey County) and Blake Doriot (R-Elkhart County), would legalize hemp oil for the treatment of children with intractable epilepsy and encourage research into the benefits of hemp oil. For Tallian, who introduced SB 225, this marks the seventh time the lawmaker has introduced a medical marijuana bill. But with the recent spate of legalization measures recently approved across the country, this may the first time such a bill has a fighting chance.

Maine

Maine residents voted in November to legalize cannabis for adult use, but the change is coming more slowly than expected. Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeu (R-Winterport) and Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth) have introduced a bill, Legislative Document 88, that would add three months to the already-established nine-month timeline for implementing the state’s new adult-use law. Advocates have been waiting with bated breath to see whether Gov. Paul LePage, who has been vehemently against cannabis, would stand in the way of the measure. After a recount effort failed, the governor eventually signed off on the vote, paving the way for a legal retail market in the Pine Tree State—eventually. Despite the delay, home cultivation and private possession will become legal in Maine at the end of the month.

Massachusetts

Advocates are in an uproar after lawmakers quietly passed a bill to delay the opening of retail cannabis stores. Just two state senators were in attendance when the bill passed, and the vote—with zero public input—was over in less than a minute. The timeline for implementation of the state’s newly approved adult-use law was already fairly padded compared to other legal states, with stores planned to open no earlier than January 2018. The new delay means that stores will not be able to open until July 2018 or later.

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New Hampshire

Patients with chronic pain and PTSD are asking New Hampshire lawmakers to make it easier for them to obtain medical marijuana, the AP reports. A House committee is taking testimony on several bills to expand who is eligible for medical marijuana under a state law that passed in 2013. PTSD isn’t on the existing list of qualifying conditions. The law also says someone must have a symptom and a condition, such as cancer or glaucoma, to qualify. That means someone who experiences chronic pain but doesn’t have one of the illnesses listed can’t get medical marijuana. Supporters say expanding the use of medical cannabis could prevent pain patients from becoming addicted to opioids. But opponents say there is no concrete evidence to suggest marijuana is an appropriate treatment for opioid addiction.

North Dakota

North Dakota lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 2154, an emergency measure, to suspend the North Dakota Department of Health’s ability to register patients as well as issue dispensary applications. The   law, passed by voters in November, took effect on Dec. 8, 2016. The suspension, however, will pause the program until July 31, 2017 or until the Legislature passes a full set of medical marijuana regulations during the legislative session, whichever comes first. “This in no way is to try to stop the process,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner told the AP. Patient advocates have complained that the delay is unnecessary, noting that numerous other states have workable medical marijuana programs already in place. The legislation comes immediately after an announcement from major North Dakota that insurance will not cover the cost of medicinal cannabis for patients. This isn’t unusual, as not a single medical marijuana state so far has seen insurers cover cannabis treatment. Even if an insurer wanted to cover cannabis, the fact that the drug has not been evaluated by the federal Food and Drug Administration and remains federally illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act would create significant obstacles.

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South Dakota

The advocacy group New Approach South Dakota began circulating petitions in support of both a medical marijuana measure and an adult-use legalization initiative. The group is emphasizing the tax revenue and jobs created so far in legal cannabis states, with supporters noting that the state is currently missing out on a legal industry now estimated to be worth $6 billion nationally. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he would oppose even efforts to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, stating his  belief that medical legalization is simply “recreational marijuana dressed up as medicinal.”

Texas

Lawmakers this legislative session have already introduced three bills to reform cannabis policy in the Lone Star State:

  • Senate Bill 269 would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to receive medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.
  • House Bill 81 would reduce criminal penalties for individuals who possess an ounce or less of cannabis, replacing the punishment with a civil fine.
  • Senate Bill 170 would also decriminalize possession of a small amount of cannabis and replace criminal penalties with fines.

Decriminalization seems to be catching on in some parts of Texas. New Houston District Attorney Kim Ogg said this month that her office would no longer seek to put small-time cannabis offenders in jail. Houston is shaping up to be the center of cannabis policy reform in Texas and could influence the rest of the state with its actions. In the state capital of Austin, advocates will hold a Constituent Lobby Day for cannabis reform at the Capitol on Feb. 8.

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Vermont

After a failed effort last year to legalize adult-use cannabis through the Legislature, the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana has joined forces with Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, the ACLU of Vermont, and the Marijuana Policy Project to renew the effort and urge legislators to pursue legalization. Cannabis is currently decriminalized under Vermont law, with possession of up to an ounce of cannabis carrying a $200 fine for the first offense. However, after successful legalization pushes in Maine and Massachusetts, Vermont is looking to the future and seriously considering legalization (again).

Wisconsin

The possibility of legalizing CBD oil is causing a flap among Wisconsin lawmakers. Sen. Van Wangaard (R-Racine) is planning to introduce a bill that would legalize the possession of cannabidiol oil. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) told reporters that he would consider supporting the measure, although Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker have said they would oppose it. Wangaard has said that he would consider introducing a broader medical marijuana bill under the right circumstances. A similar CBD-only bill passed the state’s Assembly last legislative session, but it died amid fears from Republican senators that it would lead to full legalization in the state.

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International News Updates

Brazil

Brazilian healthcare regulator Anvisa issued the first license in Brazil for the sales of a cannabis-derived drug approved to treat multiple sclerosis. The drug, Sativex, is an oral spray developed by Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals and will be sold under the brand name Mevatyl. The move to import the cannabis-based drug came after several patients went to court in an effort to gain access, despite the murky legality of cannabis in Brazil. Anvisa loosened restrictions within the past two years to allow patients with certain medical conditions to personally import drugs derived from cannabis. São Paulo-based Beaufour Ipsen Farmacêutica Ltda will hold the Brazilian distribution license for Sativex, which is already sold in 28 other countries, according to Anvisa.