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Connecticut Voters Support Marijuana Law Reforms

A Quinnipiac University poll released March 10 showed strong support for medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization among Connecticut voters. The poll comes at state legislators consider medical marijuana and decriminalization bills.

The plant is getting popular in Connecticut (Image courtesty of the author)
Medical marijuana had the support of a whopping 79% of respondents. Support was above 70% in every demographic, with even 72% of Republicans favoring it.

"There is a near consensus on the medical marijuana law with about eight in 10 voters supporting it," said Quinnipiac poll director Dr. Douglas Schwartz. "It's rare to see such a level of support for any issue."

Support for pot decriminalization wasn't as overwhelming, but still high -- and trending upward. Decriminalization was supported by a two-to-one margin, with 65% in favor and 32% opposed. That's up seven points from the 58% who supported it in last year's March Quinnipiac poll.

Decriminalization was also supported by every demographic, with even 53% of Republicans and 58% of voters over age 64 in favor. Support was at 70% among Democrats and voters 18 to 34 years old.

The poll was conducted March 1 through 7 by surveying 1,693 registered voters. The poll used live interviewers and called both land lines and cell phones. It a margin of error of +/-2.4% percentage points.

Connecticut voters have clearly signaled in this poll their policy preferences on medical marijuana and decriminalization. Now, let's hope the state legislature, and especially key committee chairs, are paying attention.

CT
United States

Is Hawaii One Step Closer to Legalizing Marijuana?

Location: 
HI
United States
After a state Senate session, Hawaii is arguably five steps closer. The Senate voted to pass five medical marijuana-related bills on to the House.
Publication/Source: 
Hawaii Island Journal (HI)
URL: 
http://www.hawaiiislandjournal.com/2011/03/is-hawaii-one-step-closer-to-legalizing-marijuana/

New Jersey's Medical Marijuana Muddle [FEATURE]

More than a year after then Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed New Jersey's Compassionate Use Act into law, it has yet to be implemented. Corzine's replacement, Gov. Chris Christie (R) first delayed implementing the program, then his Health Department promulgated draft regulations that the medical marijuana community and the legislature consider to be against both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Gov. Chris Christie (R) and bill sponsor Assemblyman Russ Gusiora (D)
It's unclear what will happen next. The Christie administration is moving forward with implementation, saying it is accepting applications for dispensaries, or alternative treatment centers (ATCs), although it won't name the applicants. But the legislature may move to invalidate all or part of the regulations, and if it does that, it isn't clear what that will mean for the program, either.

While the Assembly sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D), came to an agreement with Christie in December, the Senate sponsor, Sen. Nick Scutari (D) remains unhappy with the regulations. A call to his office Wednesday about his intentions had not been returned by press time.

The New Jersey medical marijuana law was already the most restrictive in the nation before the Christie administration moved to make it even more so. It allows patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It calls for the licensing of ATCs where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana. Patients cannot grow their own medicine.

A public hearing on the proposed regulations Monday saw almost unanimous condemnation of the regulations, as patients, providers, advocates, and family members lined up unleash volleys of criticism at the proposed rules. Only one person, a spokesman for Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, which has applied for an ATC permit, applauded the rules.

More typical was multiple sclerosis patient Sandy Faiola of Asbury Park. Riding a scooter to the microphone, Faiola asked why the state wants to limit the potency of medical marijuana to 10% THC, well below the levels obtained in medical marijuana strains used in other states.

Sen. Scutari and patient/activist Mike Oliveri after the January 2010 vote (cmmnj.org)
"Cannabis with THC levels of 10% or less may help some patient's needs, but not mine," she said. She also criticized a proposed $200 fee for caregivers as "excessive," especially since all caregivers can do in New Jersey is retrieve a housebound patient's medicine from the ATC. "My primary caregiver already spends many hours a month helping me do things like travel to appointments and pick up medicine, food and other things I need. Asking her to also pay $200 for a New Jersey permit in order to help me get this medicine is wrong," Faiola said.

"These regulations are unconstitutional; they are arbitrary and capricious," said attorney Justin Escher Alpert, a patient from Livingston. "They are against the spirit of the law."

"There's a big difference between ensuring that only qualified patients have access and ensuring that qualified patients do have access," said Jim Miller, whose late wife Cheryl died of multiple sclerosis and used medical marijuana for relief.

But while the public hearing sent a powerful message to the Christie administration, it is not clear that anyone is listening. Health Department representatives at the hearing took no questions, and the department has said only that it will review the testimony before making the regulations final in April.

"It's very disappointing," said Roseanne Scotti, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office. "I don't know if the health department heard what got said, but they certainly got an earful."

"We don't expect any changes to come out of that hearing," said Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "The administration has demonstrated pretty clearly that Gov. Christie is making the decisions, and it doesn't really matter what we say."

"We hope the legislature will continue to follow through with what they started in December, when they passed resolutions saying the regulations were not consistent with the spirit or the the letter of the law," said Wolski. "The next step is for them to invalidate all or part of those regulations. We've already told the legislature exactly what is unacceptable."

"The administration is saying it isn't going to change anything, so the only thing that would radically change the regulations is if the legislature takes the next step and moves to invalidate them," said Scotti. "There is probably something going on behind the scenes between the administration and Scutari, but we don't have a definite answer on whether they will move to invalidate."

It is also unclear what would happen to the program if the legislature does move to invalidate some or all of the regulations. As noted above, the health department is taking applications for ATCs and will soon begin registering patients, so the program is moving toward implementation, even if it is badly flawed.

"We don't have a clear answer as to how this might play out," said Scotti. "The legislature can rewrite the regulations if they choose to, but they would still have to go through a process, and it could be a huge fight between the administration and the legislature. It could end up in a huge court battle."

"There is a provision in New Jersey law that would let the legislature invalidate part of the regulations," said Wolski. "If you took out the unacceptable parts, you would wind up with a much better program. It's incumbent on the legislature to really take charge here and show the department what are acceptable regulations."

"We are continuing to do everything we can to make our voices heard, we've turned out large numbers of people, but its looks like it's going to be a much longer battle than we thought it would be last January," said Scotti.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Bill Threatening to End NM Medical Marijuana Program Will Not Advance (Press Release)

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

For Immediate Release: March 9, 2011                       

Contact: Emily Kaltenbach at 505-920-5256 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 

House Bill Threatening to End New Mexico’s Medical Marijuana Program will Not Advance

 Bill’s Sponsor Pulls Legislation in Lieu of a Memorial to Study Program’s Effectiveness

Santa Fe - Today, freshman Representative Jim Smith confirmed he will be pulling his legislation to end New Mexico’s Medical Marijuana Program.  House Bill 593 was scheduled for debate in the House of Representative’s Consumer and Public Affairs Committee this Saturday.  Instead, he has introduced a memorial to study the effectiveness of the program.

“Seriously ill and vulnerable New Mexicans can breathe a sigh of relief today,” said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico. “We will continue to fight to protect thousands of sick New Mexican’s legal right to the most appropriate medication to relieve their symptoms and suffering.”

The Drug Policy Alliance mobilized over 500 supporters who contacted House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee members asking them to vote no on House Bill 593.

New Mexico’s vital Medical Marijuana Program is serving close to 4,000 patients diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and epilepsy.

Representative Smith has stated that he believes there are alternative medications to medical marijuana.  However, Marinol, an alternative medication, is not a viable solution for many patients.  Research has shown that Marinol is often poorly absorbed and the dosage is hard to monitor and control.  For most patients, medical marijuana has fewer side effects than other heavy pain and nausea medications.  Thousands of studies have proven that medical marijuana is safe and effective.

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is one of the most tightly run programs in the country and has helped thousands.  Repealing the New Mexico Medical Cannabis legislation would have had a devastating impact on New Mexico’s patients, economy and state budget.  If passed, House Bill 593 would have negatively impacted New Mexico by eliminating access to appropriate medication by 3,779 patients, eliminating approximately 100 jobs in the small business/non-profit producing sector, and decreasing Department of Health’s budget by $300,000 as a result of decreased revenue collected from renewal fees of licensed producers.

A New Mexico Drug Policy Reform study found 81% of New Mexico voters support making medical marijuana available to seriously or terminally ill patients in order to reduce their pain and suffering.

New Mexico was the first state to establish a state-licensed medical marijuana distribution system. New Mexico passed its medical cannabis bill in early 2007 with overwhelming bi-partisan legislative support, including a Senate vote of 32 – 3. The program is a model for the rest of the country.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights. 

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Location: 
NM
United States

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee in 14-3 Vote (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                           MARCH 9, 2011

Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee in 14-3 Vote

CONTACT: Kirk McNeil, NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy …(603) 845-6279

CONCORD – The House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee brought seriously ill Granite Staters closer to relief today with a 14-3 “ought to pass” vote on a bill to allow the medical use of marijuana. H.B. 442, which creates a narrow exception in New Hampshire law for people with certain qualifying conditions to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a doctor’s recommendation, will now move on to the full House for a vote.

Introduced by Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-), herself a cancer survivor, the bill has 5 Republican cosponsors, including the chair of the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, Rep. John Reagan (R-Deerfield).  HB 442 also enjoys strong support among voters; a 2008 Mason-Dixon poll showed that 71% of New Hampshire voters are in favor of allowing the use of medical marijuana, with only 21% opposed.

“Today’s vote once again shows that when legislators learn the facts about medical marijuana, they are motivated to allow its use by seriously ill patients,” explained Kirk McNeil, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

The bill would create a tightly regulated ID system for all patients, as well as establish state-licensed alternative treatment centers to provide safe access to medical marijuana. It also includes strict rules regarding public use, impairment, and driving under the influence.

The General Court approved a medical marijuana bill in 2009, but it was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch. The House voted by more than two-thirds to override the veto, but the effort in the Senate fell two votes short. Washington, D.C. and fifteen other states, including Vermont and Maine, have enacted laws protecting patients whose doctors recommend medical marijuana.

Location: 
NH
United States

Illinois Lawmaker Determined to Breathe New Life Into Medical Marijuana Debate

Location: 
IL
United States
Nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries could soon be supplying patients in Illinois, if state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, is successful in his latest push to get the long-awaited measure through the state legislature. Lang said that he plans to place tighter restrictions on the amount of medical marijuana distributed to patients and take out the grow-your-own provisions that opponents railed against during the last General Assembly. If he is successful, the bill could be out of committee and on the state House floor late this week.
Publication/Source: 
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
URL: 
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/article_d4e6e692-490e-11e0-937a-00127992bc8b.html

Kentucky Cuts Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Kentucky has become the latest state to enact sentencing reforms in a bid to rein in skyrocketing corrections costs. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law HB 463, a comprehensive corrections bill that will save the state millions of dollars a year, in part by sentencing drug possession offenders to probation instead of prison.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Image courtesy Gage Bradshaw)
The bill was based on a multi-year collaboration between the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and state officials. State officials and legislators working with the project convened a Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act and issued a January report that was the basis for the legislation.

"This overhaul of Kentucky's penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches," said Gov. Beshear. "Over the last three years, we've made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky's penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime."

The new law calls for sentences of "presumptive probation" for small-time drug possession offenders, meaning they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available for drug offenders. It reduces penalties for small-time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. And it shrinks "drug-free" zones from 1,000 yards to 1,000 feet.

The law also reduces sentences for small-time drug dealing. Sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.

"Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that's a Class C felony," said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you'll be looking at one-to-five," he told the Chronicle.

The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.

It also requires reforms of the probation and parole system. It will create "graduated sanctions" for parole violators, allowing authorities to impose short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison for technical violations. And it removes drug offenses from consideration when judges impose sentencing enhancements based on previous felony convictions.

Roderer Correctional Complex
Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped, Kentucky's prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000. The state's corrections budget this year is $460 million, and Kentucky is set to save nearly that much over the next decade by implementing the new sentencing structure.

"Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex," Gov. Beshear said. "In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms."

"This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety," said Brown.

"House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law," said Speaker Greg Stumbo. "Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you're on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line."

"It is the most significant and meaningful piece of legislation that I have had the privilege to work on since being elected to the state legislature," said Sen. Tom Jenson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I am pleased that the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances is going to continue studying these issues. We have gotten off to a great start and we need to continue working to make things better where we can."

"I'm pleased we're making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code," Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. "With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I'm confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky."

"Senator Jensen, Representative Tilley, Senate President Williams and House Speaker Stumbo worked across party lines to look at the data and forge a comprehensive package of reforms that will get Kentucky taxpayers a better public safety return on their corrections dollars," said Richard Jerome, project manager of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. "The legislation employs research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state's limited financial resources."

Sentencing reforms are becoming increasingly popular as cash-strapped states face ever increasing budget pressures. South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Texas are among states that have reformed sentencing and other corrections practices to lower imprisonment rates and save money. Similar efforts are pending in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sentencing reforms don't end drug prohibition, but they do somewhat reduce its inhumanity and its costs to society, as well as to the people busted for drug offenses. That's a start.

Lexington, KY
United States

N.J. Patients, Advocates Criticize Proposed Rules on Medical Marijuana

Location: 
NJ
United States
For nearly two hours, dozens of patients and their advocates — some through tears, others at the top of their lungs — vented their frustrations over the state's proposed rules for New Jersey's yet-to-launch medical marijuana program. The hearing, though required before the state can adopt new rules, might be for naught. The Democrat-controlled Legislature are two votes away from overturning the health department's regulations and ordering them to start over or write the rules itself.
Publication/Source: 
The Star-Ledger (NJ)
URL: 
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/nj_patients_advocates_criticiz.html

New England New Hotbed for Marijuana Law Reform? (Opinion)

The northeast has historically been a hotbed for marijuana use — with five of the six New England states self-reporting some of the highest percentages of marijuana consumption in the nation. But recently New England has also become a regional leader in marijuana law reform. Lawmakers in every New England state are now debating marijuana law reform legislation. Paul Armentano of NORML offers a closer look at what is happening.
Publication/Source: 
Opposing Views (CA)
URL: 
http://www.opposingviews.com/i/new-england-new-hotbed-for-marijuana-law-reform

Washington Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill

The Washington state Senate last Wednesday night approved a bill that would allow for licensed medical marijuana dispensaries on a vote of 29-20. The bill, SB 5073, was approved only after lengthy debate and after several amendments opposed by supporters were adopted.

Moving toward dispensaries in the Evergreen State (Image via Wikimedia)
Under Washington's existing medical marijuana law, patients or caregivers can grow their own medicine, but there is no provision for sales. But not every patient can grow his or her own medicine, and some patients have formed collectives to grow cooperatively. Others have gone further, forming dispensaries that serve hundreds or even thousands of patients.

Since state law does not provide for dispensaries, some prosecutors have gone after them. The state itself sends mixed signals, with the Health Department saying they're not legal, but the Revenue Department seeking sales taxes from them.

The measure authorizes the Department of Health to license dispensaries and the Department of Agriculture to license growers. It also creates a registry when authorized users can enroll, providing them with greater protection from prosecution.

"My intention is to ensure patients who are qualified have safe, secure reliable source for the medication that works for them," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), one of the bill's sponsors.

The bill passed the Senate only after being amended to require dispensaries to be nonprofits, to ban dispensary advertising in newspapers, and to give municipalities the power of approving dispensary locations.

The measure now heads to the House. The House companion bill is HB 1100.

Olympia, WA
United States

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