Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far; none have legalized it. This year, marijuana legalization bills have been filed in two states -- California and Massachusetts -- and decriminalization bills -- loosely defined -- were introduced in six states and passed in one, Maine. In Virginia, a bid to create a new marijuana offense was defeated.
press conference for California AB 390 hearing -- Assemblyman Ammiano at right
We have tried to create a comprehensive list of marijuana reform legislation in the states -- not medical marijuana, we did that last week
-- but we can't be absolutely certain we've covered everything. If you know of a bill we missed, please email us
with the details and we'll add it to the list. (We compiled this list from our own coverage and a variety of other sources. The Marijuana Policy Project's state pages
were especially useful.)
California: San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) introduced a landmark legalization bill, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, AB 390, in March. Under the bill, the state would license producers and distributors, who would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, or about $1 per joint. Anyone 21 or over could then purchase marijuana from a licensed distributor. The bill also would allow any adult to grow up to 10 plants for personal, non-commercial use. AB 390 got a hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee in October, but has not moved since.
Connecticut: Senators Martin Looney (D-New Haven), the Senate Majority Leader, and Toni Harp (D-New Haven), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced a marijuana decriminalization bill, SB 349, in January. It would have made possession of less than half an ounce an unclassified misdemeanor with a maximum $250 fine. The measure passed the Joint Judiciary Committee in March on a 24-14 vote, but it was filibustered to death in the Senate Finance Committee by Sen. Toni Boucher (R-New Canaan) in May.
Maine: The legislature passed in March and Gov. John Baldacci (D) signed in May LD 250, which increases the amount of marijuana decriminalized in the state to 2.5 ounces. Previously, possession of up to 1.25 ounces was a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, but possession of between 1.25 and 2.5 ounces was a misdemeanor that could get one six months in jail. Unfortunately, the bill also increased the penalty for possession of more than eight ounces from six months and a $1,000 fine to one year and a $2,000 fine.
Massachusetts: -- At the request of former StoptheDrugWar.org and NORML board member Richard Evans, Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) introduced another landmark legalization bill, AN ACT TO REGULATE AND TAX THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY -- H 2929, that would remove marijuana offenses from the criminal code and allow for the licensed production and sale of marijuana. The bill was assigned to the Joint Committee on Revenue, where it got a public hearing in October.
Montana: A marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 541, was introduced by Rep. Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman). It would have made possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction punishable by only a $50 fine. Under current law, that same amount can get you up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The bill got a House Judiciary Committee hearing in March, but failed to get out of committee on a straight party-line 9-9 vote.
New Hampshire: In January, Rep. Steven Lindsey (D) introduced a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 555, persons over the age of 18 would face no more than a $100 fine. Simple possession would also be decriminalized for minors, but they would be subjected to community service and a drug awareness program at their own expense or face a $1,000 fine. While the House passed a similar measure last year (it died in the Senate), this year the bill never made it out of committee. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee deemed it "inexpedient to legislate" in February.
Rhode Island: In July, as the General Assembly rushed to adjourn, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The resolution, which did not require any further approval, set up a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana," which is charged with issuing a report by January 31. The panel met for the first time last week.
Tennessee: -- A bill, SB 1942, that would have made possession of less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $250 and $2500 died after being deferred by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Companion legislation, HB 1835, met a similar fate in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Practice and Procedure in March.
Vermont: Led by Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington), 19 members of the Vermont legislature introduced in February a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 150, small-time possession would have become a civil infraction with a maximum $100 fine. But the bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has languished ever since.
Virginia: It was not decriminalization but increasing marijuana penalties that was on the agenda in the Old Dominion. Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) introduced HB 1807, which would create a new felony offense for people caught transporting more than one ounce but less than five pounds of marijuana into the state. The bill was filed in January and sent to the Committee on Courts of Justice, where it died upon being "Left in Courts of Justice" on February 10.
Washington: A bill, S 5615, that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana was introduced in January and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee a week after a public hearing in February. It then went to the Senate Rules Committee, where it stalled. A companion bill in the House, HB 1177, was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness, which effectively killed it by refusing to schedule it for a hearing before a legislative deadline in March.