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Europe: Scotland Ponders Move to Fines for Small-Time Marijuana Possession

In a report released Wednesday, the Scottish government is recommending that small-time marijuana offenders simply be handed on-the-spot fines of $67. The fines, or "fixed penalty notices," are already in effect for a number of public nuisance offenses, such as public drunkenness, vandalism, and urinating in public.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland (photo from Sam Fentress via Wikimedia)
Adding small-time marijuana offenses to the list won the support of 83% of police officers surveyed for the report. If adopted, the ticketing scheme would move Scottish practices closer to those in England or in limited parts of Scotland, where police officers have the option of issuing a warning to people caught smoking or in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"This was felt to be a proportionate means of dealing with a minor offence which would also save a lot of police time," the report said.

Handing out tickets instead of arrests for public order offenses freed up nearly 22,000 hours of police officers' time, said Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing. "It is right that anyone committing a serious crime should continue to be brought before a sheriff to face the full range of penalties available to the court," he said. "However for less serious offences, such as consuming alcohol in the street, these figures show that our police officers are punishing low-level antisocial behavior swiftly and effectively, hitting perpetrators in their pockets. This is swift and visible justice for those who commit acts of anti-social behavior in our communities and hits them in their pockets."

Under current United Kingdom drug law, marijuana is a Class B drug, with simple possession punishable by up to two years in prison. In practice, such harsh sentences are rarely imposed.

North Africa: Moroccan Human Rights and Drug Policy Activist to Remain Behind Bars

A Morrocan appeals court Tuesday rejected the appeal of a human rights activist who had publicly criticized the country's drug policy and was subsequently jailed for offending the authorities and alleged currency violations. That means Chakib El Khayari will continue to serve a three-year sentence handed down in June.
Chakib El Khayari
El Khayari heads a human rights group in the Rif Mountains, where marijuana growing has been a way of life for centuries. He had criticized inequities in the Moroccan government's crackdown on the cannabis industry there. El Khayari repeatedly told international conferences and foreign media outlets that he questioned the government's record on marijuana eradication and interdiction. He accused authorities of turning a blind eye to hashish smuggling to Europe while focusing their repressive efforts on poor farmers.

Prosecutors accused him of taking a bribe to focus a media campaign on some traffickers and not others. They also accused him of depositing money in foreign banks without approval from the country's Exchange Office. That charge was based on a payment he accepted for writing an article for a Spanish magazine. He was convicted in a court in Casablanca in June.

Even before his conviction, human rights and drug reform groups were calling his prosecution unjust. "It's pretty clear that the new charges against el-Khayari appear to be one more attempt to silence a critic on politically sensitive issues, and to intimidate other activists," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "El-Khayari's prosecution shows that despite Morocco's reputation for open debate and a thriving civil society, the authorities are still ready to imprison activists who cross certain red lines."

The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) has organized a campaign to seek his release. Click on the ENCOD link here to see how you can help.

Feature: Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization Bills at the Statehouse This Year

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 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.

Legal Marijuana: It's Coming, Whether You Like it or Not

Paul Armentano has an exciting summary of various marijuana reform legislation, initiatives, etc. that are moving forward around the country. Meanwhile, The Washington Post had a report Monday entitled Support for legalizing marijuana grows rapidly around U.S., celebrating the issue's forward momentum in terms of public opinion and political victories.

Looking around the room, it seems we've moved beyond the question of whether marijuana reform is possible, and everyone seems to be asking instead when the breakthrough will occur or what form it will take. And no, I don't think there's anything misplaced or unhealthy about this sudden sense of inevitability. Time has always been on our side and optimism is a very necessary virtue in the fight for social and political change.

A wise colleague (I think it was this guy) recently suggested to me that we should stop introducing our arguments with phrases like "if marijuana were legal…" and instead say, "when marijuana is legal…" and he's exactly right. One of our greatest obstacles has always been a widespread lack of faith that our politicians and fellow citizens would ever stand with us in great enough numbers to create a mandate for reform. That simple assumption stops untold numbers of potentially great activists dead in their tracks before they ever sign up for an email list, send a letter to the editor, or make a small donation. It also helps explain why the press spent decades fueling anti-drug hysteria and investing in the drug war doctrine, even after the case for reform had begun to bubble beneath the surface.

Yet, the instant that spell is broken, you get the opposite result. People you'd never heard of prior to this year are leading legalization efforts in California. Journalists you've known for decades are speaking out about drug policy reform for the first time in their careers. And the leaders of the drug war army are experimenting with new language to replace the failed propaganda that so profoundly discredited their predecessors.

So those who have a problem with legalizing marijuana should really consider doing everyone (including themselves) a favor and refrain from spending the next several years trying in vain to prevent this from taking place. It's going to happen one way or the other and it's going to work, because we're all going to make sure it works.

Ten years after marijuana legalization takes hold in America, almost everyone will agree that it's an improvement, and those who most vigorously opposed it will probably deny ever having done so.

Will Foster is Free! He Walked Out of Prison in Oklahoma Today

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is a free man. According to a phone call I just received from his partner, Susan Mueller, Foster was released on parole and walked out of prison in Oklahoma today. As you who have followed the Will Foster saga know, he became a poster boy for drug war injustice when he was sentenced to a mind-blowing 93 years in prison in Oklahoma back in the 1990s for growing a closet-full of medical marijuana. Thanks in part to the efforts of (then known as DRCNet), Foster eventually got his sentence cut to a mere 20 years--for growing plants!--and was eventually paroled to the care of Guru of Ganja Ed Rosenthal in California, who had taken up his case. Last year, Foster was raided and charged with an illegal marijuana grow in California, although his grow was perfectly legal under the state's medical marijuana law. He spent a year in jail in Sonoma County before prosecutors dropped all charges, but by then, Oklahoma parole authorities demanded he return to the state to finish his sentence. Foster dropped his fight against extradition and returned in September. A good sign occurred a few weeks ago, when the parole board decided he had not violated his parole and should be released. This week, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry must have agreed--he had the final say in the matter. Right now, Foster is making his way to parole offices in Oklahoma City to sign the paperwork. He should be back with his loved ones in California in a matter of days. Thanks to everyone who agitated for his release. Every once in awhile, we win one.
Oklahoma City, OK
United States

LA City Council Okays Sales of Medical Marijuana; Ordinance Deliberations to Continue Next Month

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to continue to sell their products, but failed to reach a final vote on a medical marijuana ordinance that has been years in the works. The council will return to the ordinance at its December 2 meeting. Observers had hoped the council might pass the ordinance Tuesday, but progress was derailed by contentious debate over the sales issue. LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley had called for an outright ban on medical marijuana sales, saying that under their reading of the state's medical marijuana laws and court decisions, sales are not allowed. Cooley has threatened to prosecute dispensaries no matter what the city council does. Council members, caught between fear of legal problems and the expressed desire of constituents for safe access to medical marijuana, had some harsh words for prosecutors. Councilmen Ed Reyes, who has been the principal in trying to write the ordinance, protested that the City Attorney's Office was trying to impose "a political view that has nothing to do with objective advice." He wasn't the only one. "I think we're getting advice from one direction," said Councilman Paul Koretz. "I would like to see the City Attorney work with us to help us get to where we want to be." In the end, the council rejected the advice of the prosecutors, instead adopting an amendment that would allow for "cash contributions, reimbursements and payments for actual expenses of growth, cultivation, and provision […] in accordance with state law." "We have some very elegant and flexible language that will adjust as state law is defined," said Council President Eric Garcetti. While the council did not succeed in passing the ordinance, it did make substantial progress. In the seven-hour-long session, it dealt with more than 50 proposed changes to the ordinance. Among other amendments considered was one by council members Koretz and Reyes that would have required police to get a court order to review dispensary records. After Councilman Jose Huizar and other members objected, saying the amendment would hamper efforts to weed out "bad" dispensaries, the amendment failed. Reyes introduced an amendment eliminating the ordinance's requirement that dispensaries have no more than five pounds of marijuana on hand and grow it on-site, but Huizar objected, saying it would encourage a black market and was "a dangerous path." "I'm not advocating for the black market, gangs, cartels to take advantage of this," Reyes retorted, "but we can't choke it to the point where it does not function." Then, Reyes withdrew his amendment, asking Huizar to draft an alternative. The council also approved an amendment limiting patients and caregivers to membership in one collective, but with a provision allowing for emergency purchases. That didn't go over well with medical marijuana advocates, who complained that it would limit access for patients. The council also adopted a series of amendments from Councilman Koretz, based on West Hollywood's ordinance regulating dispensaries. Those amendments require dispensaries to have unarmed security guards patrolling a two-block area, to deposit cash daily, and to provide contact information to police and neighbors within 500 feet. The council squabbled over a number of amendments that sought to micro-manage the dispensaries, ranging from a $100,000 salary cap to restrictions on doctors writing recommendations. "This industry is rife with people ripping off money from people who are seriously ill," said Councilman Ricardo Alarcon, who offered the salary cap amendment. "We ought to cap compensation because I believe it will be abused, people will be making millions. Those amendments excited the wrath of Councilwoman Janice Hahn."We're going too far from what we need to be doing," Hahn said with some exasperation. "Now you're going after compensation, you're going after the doctors writing these notes. If you take the logic that people in compassionate professions shouldn't be making more than $100,000, we could go after every doctor in this city. This is not what we're here for, which is to regulate these dispensaries to make sure people have safe access," she said to loud cheers from the audience. "Let's stay focused." In the end, Alarcon withdrew his amendment. City staff will instead review compensation standards for non-profit organizations and return to the issue later. After heated debate, the council also deferred action on two contentious issues: a cap on the number of dispensaries to be allowed, and location restrictions that would bar dispensaries from operating within either 500 or 1000 feet of schools, parks, and other child-friendly locations. The council asked city officials to return next week with studies on caps and maps that would demarcate what areas within the city would be okay for dispensaries. Councilmember Reyes displayed one such map at the hearing, arguing that the location limits would dramatically restrict the areas where dispensaries could operate. While the ordinance anticipates setting a cap on the number of dispensaries at 70, or one for every 57,000 residents, there were indications during the debate that members could go for a cap as high as 200, but even that would reduce the number of dispensaries in the city by 80%. There are currently an estimated one thousand dispensaries in Los Angeles. There were four when the council began working on an ordinance way back in 2005. There were 186 when the council voted to institute a moratorium two years later. The City Council will return to the medical marijuana ordinance at its December 2 meeting.
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets. In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients. At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol. Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of his treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window. "We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking." Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harms to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients." Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five. Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.

Tommy Chong's Prosecutor Says He Should Have Gotten More Jail Time

Mary Beth Buchanan, easily the nastiest federal prosecutor in the nation, has finally resigned her post. Yet, even as lovers of justice across the country celebrate her long-overdue departure (and pray she won't run for elected office), Buchanan has managed to turn our stomachs for what will hopefully be the last time:

On her last day in office, Buchanan says her only regret during her tenure was accepting a plea from Tommy Chong. []

Such pure arrogance is really something to behold. Every legal textbook in the country should display her picture beside the term "malicious prosecution," as the railroading of Tommy Chong is a mere footnote within a career defined by gratuitous excesses.

Of course, Tommy was amused to hear that Buchanan still holds a grudge against him. The feeling is mutual:

"I'm honored to be Mary Beth's only regret. Now does she regret going after me? Or does she regret that I never got enough time? I tend to think she wishes she'd never heard my name. I have become her legacy. Mary Beth Loose Cannon is now looking for a job. She blew her last job busting me. Karma is so sweet! She's looking for a work while Cheech and I start our second multi-million dollar tour thanks to the publicity she created for us! Thank you Mary Beth - may you find peace and happiness in your search for your soul." [CelebStoner

I dunno, Tommy. You might wanna keep the floodlights on at night, just in case. If we know one thing about Mary Beth Buchanan, it’s that she never ever stops. She could be lurking in your bushes at this very moment, drunk with fury and looking to finish what she started.

Medical Marijuana: Battle Over Regulating Los Angeles Dispensaries Drags On, But Council Rejects Prosecutor's Advice

For four years, the Los Angeles City Council has been wrestling with how to regulate the city's rapidly growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries. When the council started, there were four dispensaries in the city. When it initiated a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, there were 186. Now, there are close to a thousand.
medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy
This week the council came closer to adopting regulations, but it isn't there yet, and a vote is now set for next week. But this week, medical marijuana advocates fended off what would have been a fatal blow when two council committees rejected language that would have barred the sale of medical marijuana.

That language came from the office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who, along with LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley, maintains that California's medical marijuana only allows collectives to grow marijuana -- not to sell it. That is not a widely shared interpretation of the law, and it was not a popular one, either with the city council or with the hundreds of medical marijuana supporters who jammed the council chambers during hearings this week.

Councilman Ed Reyes expressed frustration with the city attorney's office, saying, "I think they are very, very narrow in that they're taking their prosecutorial perspective."

Councilman Dennis Zine urged his colleagues to interpret state law in way that would not disrupt the way dispensaries currently operate. "Why don't we push the envelope to the edge and see what we can do?" he said.

After the council rejected the prosecutors' advice, DA Cooley reacted angrily and threatened to prosecute dispensaries regardless of what the council decides. "Undermining those laws via their ordinance powers is counterproductive, and, quite frankly, we're ignoring them. They are absolutely so irrelevant it's not funny," Cooley said, adding that state law and court decisions made it clear that collectives cannot sell marijuana. Most, if not all, dispensaries in the county were operating illegally, he said. "We don't know of one that's not engaging in just over-the-counter sales," he said.

Medical marijuana advocates beg to differ. The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients delivered a 23-page legal analysis of the issue to the city council that unsurprisingly came to a quite different conclusion from the prosecutors. "We're really disappointed because we have been thinking that the district attorney would have respect for what the City Council would come up with," said James Shaw, the group's director. "We're taking his threats as real."

Properly organized collectives can indeed sell marijuana, said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "The idea that a nonprofit collective can't sell things is just a bizarre interpretation of the law," he said.

The council was supposed to vote on the ordinance Wednesday, but postponed the vote until next week, saying they needed to study late amendments to it. One such amendment, from Councilman Jose Huizar, would cap the number of dispensaries at 70. Another, from Councilman Reyes would create a system to audit dispensaries. Reyes also proposed reducing the required distance between dispensaries and schools, parks, and other places where children gather from 1,000 feet to 500 feet. Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a series of amendments based on the ordinance in West Hollywood, in effect for four years.

Perhaps the city council will get it all sorted out and actually pass an ordinance next week. But if the rejectionist attitudes of city and county prosecutors are any indication, the battle over medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles is nowhere near over.

Feature: Medical Marijuana in State Legislatures -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Medical marijuana has gone mainstream. It routinely receives above 70% in public opinion polls, it has been legalized in 13 states, and this year 18 more states either tried or are still trying to pass medical marijuana laws. It was also the subject of legislative activity in four states that already have medical marijuana laws.
march in Madison, Wisconsin last month by the group ''Is My Medicine Legal Yet?''
But just because it's mainstream doesn't mean it's easy. The legislative process is notoriously slow, arduous, and fickle. At the beginning of the year, movement leaders thought we would see perhaps four or five states pass medical marijuana laws this year. That hasn't happened. This year, no state that didn't have a medical marijuana law has managed to get one passed, and in a pair of medical marijuana states that did pass additional legislation, recalcitrant governors proved to be obstacles.

Nevertheless, progress has been made, with prospects for more, whether this year or later. As 2009 enters its final weeks, here's where we stand:


Minnesota: In May, the Minnesota legislature approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, SF 97. The House version of the bill won on a 70-64 vote. The Senate, which had approved its version of the bill a month earlier, accepted the House version, passing it on a 38-28 vote. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing and most Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) members supporting the bill. In neither chamber was the margin of victory large enough to overcome a veto. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) quickly vetoed the bill. Blocked by a recalcitrant governor, Minnesota medical marijuana proponents are considering an end run around him next year. Under Minnesota law, the legislature can bypass the governor by voting for a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana use. If such a measure passes the legislature, it would then go directly to a popular vote. With support for medical marijuana at high levels in Minnesota, proponents believe the measure would pass.

New Hampshire: The legislature passed HB 648, which would have created three nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries for patients, but Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it. In October, the House voted to override the veto on a vote of 240-115, but the Senate fell two votes short on a 14-10 vote.


Alabama: The Alabama medical marijuana bill, HB 434, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and died there without a vote when the session adjourned in May.

Connecticut: Two medical marijuana bills were introduced this year, HB 6156, introduced by Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Sommers), and HB 5175, introduced by Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford). Neither bill received a public hearing. No medical marijuana legislation is likely to move in Connecticut until Gov. Jodi Rell (R) is gone. In 2007, medical marijuana bills passed both the House and the Senate, only to be vetoed by Rell.

Iowa: Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) introduced a medical marijuana bill, SF 293, in March. That same month it got a hearing before the Senate Human Resources Subcommittee, but has had no action since.

Maryland: Maryland enacted an affirmative defense law for medical marijuana patients in 2003, but that doesn't protect them from arrest. HB 1339, sponsored by Delegate Henry Heller (D-Montgomery County), introduced this year, would have created a task force to make recommendations about changing the state's medical marijuana law. The bill received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but died when committee Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Calvert County) refused to schedule a vote on it.

Massachusetts: A medical marijuana bill, HB 2160, was filed in January and referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health, which held a hearing in May. Since then, no action.

Missouri: For the third year in a row, a medical marijuana bill was filed, but went nowhere. HB 277, introduced by Rep. Kate Meiners, was stalled by the House leadership and assigned to the Health Care Policy Committee too late to be scheduled for a hearing this year.

North Carolina: The North Carolina medical marijuana bill, HB 1380 was introduced in April by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford). It got a public hearing before the House Health Committee in June, but has not moved since.

South Dakota: A South Dakota medical marijuana bill, HB 1127, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Lange (D-Madison), managed to survive three restrictive amendments in the House Health and Human Services Committee before the committee voted to kill it on a 9-4 vote in February. The legislature will have one more chance to pass a medical marijuana bill early next year. If it doesn't, medical marijuana backers will place an initiative on the November 2010 ballot.
HB 1128, also sponsored by Lang, would have provided a medical necessity defense for medical marijuana patients. In February, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously killed it by referring it "to the 41st day." The session only has 40 days.

Tennessee: The Tennessee Medical Marijuana Act of 2009, SB 209, sponsored by Sen. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis), and its companion measure, HB 368, sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) were assigned to their respective Health and Human Services Committees, where they were ignored and died a quiet death.

Texas: A Texas medical marijuana bill, HB 164, introduced by Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) was introduced in November 2008 and referred to the House Public Health Committee in February. No action has occurred since then.


Delaware: A medical marijuana bill, SB 94, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henley (D-Wilmington) passed the Senate Health and Social Services on a 4-0 vote in June. It awaits a Senate floor vote when the legislature reconvenes for the second year of its two-year session in January.

Illinois: The Compassionate Use of Cannabis Pilot Program Act, SB 1381, passed the state Senate by a 30-28 vote in May. It passed the House Human Services Committee on a 4-3 vote the next day, but has had no further action in the House. The bill may move when the House returns for the second half of its session in January. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will give "serious consideration" to a medical marijuana bill that reaches his desk.

New Jersey: The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which had already passed the Senate, was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on a 7-1 vote, but only after making it dramatically different from and more restrictive than the Senate version. At the behest of committee chair Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), who was responding to criticism that the bill's distribution and oversight provisions weren't tight enough, the bill was amended so that only "alternative treatment centers" could grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana. In the version passed by the Senate, patients could also grow their own or have caretakers grow it for them. In this latest version, there is no role for caretakers, because it also provides that only patients may pick up medical marijuana at a dispensary, or have a courier deliver it to them.The bill now heads for a floor vote in the Assembly. It also must go back to the Senate, which must approve the amended version.

New York: In New York, a medical marijuana bill, S4041, passed the Senate Health Committee in May, marking the first time a medical marijuana had ever passed the previously GOP-controlled state Senate. It must now pass the Senate Codes Committee before proceeding to a Senate floor vote. The identical House version of the bill, A7542, has been passed from the House Health Committee to the House Codes Committee. The bills are sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Senate Health Committee Chair Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) and would create state-registered dispensaries for patients. Patients could not grow their own. The legislature is expected to return for a special session later this year, and proponents are pushing for a vote.

Pennsylvania: For the first time in memory, Pennsylvania legislators have a medical marijuana bill, HB 1393 before them. Introduced in April by Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia), the bill has been in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee ever since. Just last week, however, the committee chair, Rep. Frank Oliver (D-Philadelphia), scheduled a December 2 hearing on the bill.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin medical marijuana bill, SB 368 was introduced late last month. Gov. Jim Doyle supports it. The bill is set for a December 15 hearing and could move quickly after that.


Hawaii: In July, the Hawaii legislature overrode Gov. Linda Lingle's (R) veto of SB 1058, which establishes a task force to examine problems and critical issues surrounding the state's medical marijuana law. The vote was 25-0 in the Senate and 38-9 in the House. Gov. Lingle has since refused to fund the task force, forcing interested legislators to create the informal Medical Cannabis Working Group to hear testimony.

Maine: In April, when faced with a citizen petition to amend the state's medical marijuana law, the Maine legislature punted, taking no action and leaving it to the voters in this month's election. The voters approved the measure allowing for the creation of dispensaries.

Montana: Montana already has a medical marijuana law, but several bills seeking to change it -- for better or worse -- saw action this year. SB 326, sponsored by Sen. Ron Erickson would have increased allowable amounts, added several illnesses to the list of qualifying conditions, and added child custody protections for patients. It passed the Senate 28-22, but failed on a tie vote to get out of the House Human Services Committee. Sponsors then tried a House floor vote to get the bill out of committee, but they needed 60 votes and only got 47. Similarly, HB 73, which would have allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend marijuana to patients, died in the House Human Services Committee on a tie vote.

Two bad bills also died. HB 473, sponsored by Rep. Tom Berry (R-Roundup) would have barred anyone with a drug felony from ever becoming a registered patient. It died on a tie vote in the House Judiciary Committee. And SB 212, introduced by Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), attempted to force patients with more than a specific amount of THC in their system to prove their innocence if accused of driving under the influence. It was killed by a unanimous vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island: In the only medical marijuana victory at the statehouse so far this year, the Rhode Island legislature in June overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of a bill to create a system of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The override vote was a unanimous 68-0 in the House and a punishing 35-3 in the Senate. Rhode Island thus became the first state to expand an existing medical marijuana program to allow for state-licensed dispensaries.

Statehouse legislation is only one measure of progress in the drive to fully legalize medical marijuana use. Initiative victories, such as Maine's mentioned above, is another, as is the expansion of the dispensary supply infrastructure to states like Colorado or Montana is another. Increased mainstream support, such as last week's bombshell from the American Medical Association certainly bodes well for the future, as does the Obama administration's formalized policy of not targeting medical marijuana providers that are obeying their states' laws. But statehouses make state law -- for better or for worse -- and they are a place where reforms need to be taken, as well as an opportunity for them. By that measure 2009 has been a slower year than hoped -- but not a bad one.

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