Since California voters made it the first medical marijuana state in 1996, other states have come on board at a rate a little better than one a year. Now, 15 years later, 16 states and the District of Columbia have effective medical marijuana laws, and by year's end, we could have 17, 18 or even more.
While there are a number of states that allow initiatives left, those early victories have removed the low-hanging fruit. Medical marijuana initiative campaigns are underway in some of the remaining states, such as Massachusetts and Ohio, but increasingly -- and out of necessity in states without the initiative process -- patients, advocates, and activists have turned to the legislative process to pass medical marijuana bills. The first state to do so was Hawaii in 2000, followed by Vermont (2004), Rhode Island (2006), New Mexico (2007), New Jersey (2010), and Delaware (2011).
This year, legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana has been (or will be) filed in 18 states. Some have good prospects of passage, some have been percolating for years but are still unlikely to pass this year, and some are a first stab at what are usually frustrating multi-year educational efforts.
The Chronicle talked to a number of people at national drug and marijuana reform groups to try to get a sense of where the prospects are best and what impact the Obama administration's crackdown in recent months could have at the state house. The early favorites look to be Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
"Connecticut has a good chance of becoming the next medical marijuana state," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Our Connecticut NORML chapter is very active and helped get it decriminalized last year. This year, they have legislation already written and the governor lined up with a pen. Can Connecticut not only pass medical marijuana legislation, but actually implement it by July 1? It looks like it could happen," he said.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) also thought Connecticut's chances were good this year. Jill Harris, the group's managing director for strategic initiatives, said it was working with the local group A Better Way Foundation to get a bill passed there.
"A Better Way is on the ground there, and they are coming back with a bill this session," she said. "The governor is likely to support it this time."
"Connecticut is one of the states with the best chance," concurred Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Both chambers passed a medical marijuana bill there, only to see it vetoed. But the new governor looks to be on board; he sponsored the decriminalization legislation last year."
"Most recently, we've been involved with advocates in New Hampshire and Indiana," said Mike Liszewski, policy director for Americans for Safe Access. "The New Hampshire bill looks like it has a solid chance of getting adopted in some form, but Connecticut also looks like it has a good chance, and Massachusetts is one that could pass."
"In New Hampshire, an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature passed it only to fall two votes shy of overturning a veto in 2009," said O'Keefe. "We're very excited that this time around, the House has already passed it, and now we're working on the Senate."
All of this legislative work will be taking place against the backdrop of DEA raids on dispensaries, threat letters from US Attorneys to state officials, and the specter of federal agents swooping in on staid, state-employed regulators.
The federal clampdown wasn't helping, DPA's Harris said. "The more threatening the administration acts, the more difficult it is," she noted. "The argument that 'We can't do this because it's against federal law' is pretty potent," she said. "We've sent our legal staff to different states to testify that states can enact their own laws, but a lot of officials believe that notion that they can't do it because it's against federal law."
"We've seen this federal clampdown hurting with legislators," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're seeing this have effects throughout the country. Even though some states are still moving forward, it really comes down to whether individual politicians are feeling brave and are willing to put the interests of patients above federal intimidation."
But for MPP's O'Keefe the hostility emanating from the Obama Justice Department is nothing new and nothing especially intimidating.
"The federal government has, by and large, been hostile to medical marijuana since the first law was passed in 1996," she said. "Remember, the Clinton administration threatened doctors and had to be slapped down in federal court. Although there was a brief period where we thought Obama would live up to his pledge, federal policy has always been a challenge. It would be easier if the federal government was not so obstinate, but I don't think the federal attitudes are decisive."
Time will tell about that, but in the meantime, here are the states where passing medical marijuana is on the agenda at the statehouse [compiled via StoptheDrugWar.org's Legislative Action Center, MPP's medical marijuana legislation list, and the Procon.org list of medical marijuana bills]:
[Editor's Note: This list does not include pending legislation to modify (for better or worse) existing state medical marijuana laws, symbolic measures in support of medical marijuana, or other medical marijuana miscellanea.]
No bill has been formally filed yet, but one is expected shortly. Medical marijuana passed the state legislature in 2007, only to be vetoed by then Gov. Jodi Rell (R), who is not around to veto legislation this year.
Last month, Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow) introduced House Bill 370, which would create state-regulated dispensaries to serve registered patients. The bill has been referred to the State Affairs Committee.
House Bill 30, which was introduced last year by House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would create a three-year pilot program allowing registered patients to grow up to six plants or obtain marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. A similar bill passed the Senate in the 2009-2010 session, but HB 30 fell shy during a floor vote in May 2011. Because Illinois has a two-year session, HB 30 is still alive, as is its companion measure, Senate Bill 1548, introduced by Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton). SB 1548 passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote last year.
Last month, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-House District 55) introduced House Bill 1370, which would allow patients to obtain marijuana from state-registered dispensaries. There is no provision for patients to grow their own. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Public Policy.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) introduced Senate File 266 in February 2011, and the bill was referred the Human Services Committee and then to a Human Services subcommittee that same month. Because Iowa has a two-year legislative session, the bill is still alive. It would allow patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana, obtained from growing up to six plants or by buying it at a nonprofit dispensary.
Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) introduced House Bill 2330 a year ago this week, and it remains alive because Kansas has a two-year legislative session. It was referred to the House Committee on Health and Human Services a few days later, and had an informational hearing last month. The bill would allow registered patients to grow their own or buy it from state-registered dispensaries. Last month, Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), introduced identical legislation, Senate Bill 354, which has been assigned to the Committee on Federal and State Affairs.
In January 2011, Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) introduced House Bill 625, which would allow registered patients or their caregivers to possess up to four ounces of usable marijuana and up to 24 plants or to obtain their medicine from registered dispensaries. Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) introduced a companion bill, Senate Bill 1161 at the same time. The two bills were referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health and received hearings in July. Also, Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) introduced Senate Bill 818, which would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to four ounces and 10 plants. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. All three bills are still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.
Last month, Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-Pass Christian) introduced Senate Bill 2252, which would allow allow qualifying patients to cultivate and use medical marijuana. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Division A.
Last month, Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) introduced House Bill 1421, which would allow people with a debilitating medical condition and a doctor's recommendation to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and seven plants (three mature) or obtain it from registered nonprofit dispensaries. The bill has had its first and second readings, but has not been referred to a committee.
Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) has pre-filed Senate Bill 2994, which would allow the medical use of marijuana and permit a limited number of state-regulated dispensaries. The House approved a similar bill, House Bill 442 eleven months ago on 221-96 vote. That bill is still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.
A year ago, Sen Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) introduced Senate Bill 2774, which would allow pharmacies, nonprofits, and health departments to dispense marijuana cultivated by registered producers. Patients could not grow their own, but could possess up to 2 ½ ounces. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session and was re-referred to the Senate Health Committee last month. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) last year introduced a similar bill, Assembly Bill 7347, which passed the Assembly Health, Assembly Codes, and Ways & Means Committees in May and June 2011. It, too, is still alive.
In April 2011, Rep. Kenny Yuko (D-Euclid) introduced House Bill 214, which would allow the medical use and cultivation of marijuana by qualified patients. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.
A year ago, Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) introduced Senate Bill 573, which would remove criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of marijuana from patients and caregivers who cultivate marijuana for a patient’s medical use, upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee and remains alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Norristown) introduced Senate Bill 1003, in April, and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) filed a companion bill, House Bill 1653 in June. The bills would allow qualified patients to possess and grow their own medical marijuana, or obtain it from one of three dispensaries. SB 1003 was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health and and HB 1653 was referred to the House Health Committee. Both bills carry over because of the state's two-year legislative session.
A year ago this month, Rep. Mike Manypenny (D-Morgantown) introduced House Bill 3251, which would allow patients registered with the state to grow their own medical marijuana or obtain it from dispensaries. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.
Last month, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middletown) introduced Senate Bill 371, the Jackie Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 475. The bills would allow patients registered with the state to possess and cultivate medical marijuana or obtain it from regulated dispensaries. The two bills have been referred to their respective health committees.
There you have it. Eighteen states that could pass medical marijuana through the legislative process this year. We will be watching with great interest as these bills move forward (or not) and in hopes that we can actually add one, two, three, or more this year.