State & Local Legislatures

RSS Feed for this category

StoptheDrugWar.org Legislative Action Center

The links on this web page allow visitors to review the voting records of federal and state legislators on matters of importance to drug policy reform. Please note that this is a work in progress, and that so far it is only our federal voting scorecard that is officially ready for public consumption.

There is other information that can be found by following links -- bills of interest at the federal and state level, and voting records at the state level -- that has not yet gone through our review process for accuracy. Feel free to take a look, and let us know if you spot anything we've missed or gotten wrong.

Click here for our current action alerts.

Click here to see a list of federal votes we've tracked, with their outcomes, and follow the links on that page for details on the vote outcomes by member and state.

Click here to look up federal and state legislators, and their voting histories, by zip code.

Click here to read a list of current federal bills we are following.

Click here to read a list of state bills we are following (not yet proofread).

Click on the following links to look up members of Congress by name or state:
Scorecard: House of Representatives, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st session)
Scorecard: US Senate, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st session)
Scorecoard: House of Representatives, 2008 (110th Congress, 2nd session)
Scorecard: House of Representatives: 2007 (110th Congress, 1st session)
Scorecard: House of Representatives: 2005 (109th Congress, 1st session)

More is coming soon, including write-your-legislator web forms for a range of action alerts, federal bills of interest, state bills of interest, and state legislator voting records.

Public Hearings on HB 1393 - Medical Marijuana in PA

Advocates and patients with the group Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana (PA4MMJ) will testify before the PA House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee during hearings on HB 1393, The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. These will be the first public hearings on medical cannabis in the history of the Commonwealth. On April 29, 2009 Rep. Mark B. Cohen introduced the bill to legalize medical marijuana with PA4MMJ. HB1393 would allow registered patients to grow six plants or purchase cannabis through Compassion Centers. A provision in the bill allows these medical cannabis sales to be taxed. At a press conference at the bill’s introduction Cohen said, "It's time to create a new, honest image for marijuana. One as a form of treatment that when prescribed by responsible doctors could help thousands of patients across this commonwealth." Three newspaper Editorial Boards endorsed the bill immediately after it was introduced: The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pocono Record and the Daily Review of Towanda. Testifying in favor of the bill: Chris Goldstein and Derek Rosenzweig of PA4MMJ; Ed Pane of Serento Gardens Treatment Center; Bradley Walter who lives with HIV; Andrew Hoover of the ACLU-PA, Criminal Defense Attorney Patrick Nightengale; MS patient John Wilson of New Jersey; Brian Gralnick of JSPAN; Bob Ceppecio of The Marijuana Policy Project along with other local patients and professionals. Signed written testimony from 26 PA residents will be presented by PA4MMJ along with 19 written submissions sent anonymously. Expert written submissions and comments came from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the National Lawyers Guild Philadelphia Chapter, The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey and the National Organization for the reform of Marijuana Laws Deputy Director Paul Armentano. Several groups will testify in opposition to medical cannabis including the PA Elks Association. The December 2nd hearings are informational and will not see a vote. The twenty-six-member committee may ask questions of the presenters and PA4MMJ is expecting a lively and educational discussion. Please visit www.pa4mmj.org.
Date: 
Wed, 12/02/2009 - 11:00pm
Location: 
N. Third and State Streets
Harrisburg, PA
United States

Landmark Medical Marijuana Hearings Tomorrow in Harrisburg

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana

www.pa4mmj.org 

WHO: Pennsylvania House Health and Human Services committee

WHAT: Public Hearings on HB 1393, medical marijuana in PA

WHEN: December 2, 2009 Room 140 at 11AM, Main Capitol in Harrisburg

CONTACT: Chris Goldstein cellphone 505 577 5093 or email media@phillynorml.org

**UPDATE**

A Press Conference with Rep. Cohen and PA4MMJ patients will take place at 10:00AM at the East Rotunda

 

Landmark Medical Marijuana Hearings Tomorrow in Harrisburg

December 1, 2009

Philadelphia- Advocates and patients with the group Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana (PA4MMJ) will testify tomorrow before the PA House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee during hearings on HB 1393, The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.

 

These will be the first public hearings on medical cannabis in the history of the Commonwealth.

On April 29, 2009 Rep. Mark B. Cohen introduced the bill to legalize medical marijuana with PA4MMJ. HB1393 would allow registered patients to grow six plants or purchase cannabis through Compassion Centers. A provision in the bill allows these medical cannabis sales to be taxed.

At a press conference at the bill’s introduction Cohen said, "It's time to create a new, honest image for marijuana. One as a form of treatment that when prescribed by responsible doctors could help thousands of patients across this commonwealth."

Three newspaper Editorial Boards endorsed the bill immediately after it was introduced: The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pocono Record and the Daily Review of Towanda.

 

Testifying in favor of the bill: Chris Goldstein and Derek Rosenzweig of PA4MMJ; Ed Pane of Serento Gardens Treatment Center; Bradley Walter who lives with HIV; Andrew Hoover of the ACLU-PA, Criminal Defense Attorney Patrick Nightengale; MS patient John Wilson of New Jersey; Brian Gralnick of JSPAN; Bob Ceppecio of The Marijuana Policy Project along with other local patients and professionals. Signed written testimony from 26 PA residents will be presented by PA4MMJ along with 19 written submissions sent anonymously. Expert written submissions and comments came from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the National Lawyers Guild Philadelphia Chapter, The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey and the National Organization for the reform of Marijuana Laws Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Several groups will testify in opposition to medical cannabis including the PA Elks Association.

The December 2nd hearings are informational and will not see a vote. The twenty-six-member committee may ask questions of the presenters and PA4MMJ is expecting a lively and educational discussion. Please visit www.pa4mmj.org

MEDIA MAY CONTACT CHRIS GOLDSTEIN DIRECTLY media@phillynorml.org

Location: 
Harrisburg, PA
United States

Feature: Los Angeles Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance Battle Continues

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.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/ventura-dispensary.jpg
medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
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 for the city 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%.

"We're fairly pleased by the progress that has occurred in the council over the past week or so, and we're certainly pleased the city decided to allow sales of medical marijuana," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "We are concerned that any limit on dispensaries not be an arbitrary cap, and that the council decide on based on what patients need and where they need it."

ASA's Hermes said there was still work to be done, especially on the issue of a cap on the number of dispensaries. "There are a few more days left yet to lobby the council and urge them to move ahead cautiously in the area of capping or limiting the number of dispensaries," he said. "If the demand is there, there should be sufficient facilities to meet that demand. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the way the council's going."

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.

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.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sacramentohearing1.jpg
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.

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.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Budget Crunch: Tennessee Could Free 4,000 Prisoners in Bid to Cut Costs

Faced with a demand from Gov. Phil Bredesen (R) that all state agencies slash their budgets by 9%, the Tennessee Department of Corrections has responded with a plan to free somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 prisoners before they have finished serving their sentences. Those eligible for release under the plan would be nonviolent offenders, including drug offenders.

According to a TDC statistical report, drug offenders make up 19% of all Tennessee prisoners and serve an average of 10 years. The state prison population has increased by 80% since 1993, with some 28,000 people now behind bars in the Volunteer State. This year, the TDC's budget is $700 million.

The department would have no recourse but releasing prisoners early if it were to implement the cuts called for by Gov. Bredesen, said Corrections Commissioner George Little. The department has scaled back spending and has 400 positions it is leaving unfilled he said. "This isn't scare tactics," he said. "We've got to make ends meet... We would not propose these sorts of very serious and weighty options if we were not in such dire circumstances. We've, frankly, exhausted all of our options other than, frankly, prison population management," Little said.

Little's remarks came on the first day of state budget hearings and were intended to show how the TDC would proceed if Bredesen went ahead with his plan to slice 9% from all state department budgets. Bredesen has said that declining tax revenues and the end of the federal stimulus program may force the state to reduce spending by up to $1.5 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

Before the hearing, Bredesen told reporters he would try to avoid letting prisoners out early. "I obviously am not interested in returning hardened criminals back to the streets," he said. "But I've told each of them (departments) to come in and tell me, if I say you've got to have 9%, tell me how you can get it... The best thing to do is to get all the possibilities on the table and sort through it."

To achieve a 9% reduction, the TDC could simply release about 3,300 prisoners held in local jails at a cost of $35 to $42 a day. Or it could close one or two of the state's 14 prisons, which would result in the release of about 4,000 prisoners.

Prohibition: Kansas Politician Hears of New Drug, Responds with Plan to Ban It

An herbal preparation containing synthetic cannabinoids has show up in Kansas, and a prohibitionist Kansas politician has a reflex response: Ban it. The preparation, sold under the name K-2 is available over the Internet and at selected shops in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas.

K-2 is one of a number of compounds that have appeared on the market in the past couple of years containing synthetic cannabinoids. Another popular compound containing the synthetic cannabinoids is sold under the name Spice. According to Clemson University chemistry professor John Huffman, at least one of those synthetic cannabinoids, JWH-018, was created by one of his graduate students doing pharmaceutical research.

Who manufactures K-2, Spice, and similar products is unclear, as is where they are coming from.

Spice has already been banned by a number of European countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Poland, and Russia, as well as South Korea. While Spice, K-2, and other products containing synthetic cannabinoids are not listed as controlled substances in the US, there is some debate about whether they fall under the Controlled Substances Act's provisions banning analogues of controlled substances.

Kansas state Rep. Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) had never heard of K-2 before being approached by a local newspaper reporting on the phenomenon last week, but that didn't stop here from being ready to criminalize it. "I would be very happy to sponsor a bill to make this illegal," she said.

In an interview this week, Mast elaborated. Little is known about K-2, she said. It's dangerous, she added, without explaining how she knows it is dangerous given that little is known about it. "And that makes it potentially dangerous," said Mast. "I'm really concerned about the effect it can have on young people."

If there's one thing Mast does know, it's what to do when confronted with a substance about which you know little: Ban it. Mast sponsored successful legislation to do just that with jimson weed and salvia divinorum a few years ago. "I don't think the public should have ready access to anything that has not been studied," Mast said.

But until Mast gets around to introducing and passing a bill, K-2 remains legal in Kansas. And places like Sacred Journeys in Lawrence are selling it.

"A lot of people get a marijuana-like buzz when you smoke it, and that seems to be why a lot of people are afraid of it and attack it," said Rob Bussinger, a consultant at Sacred Journey. "We have teachers that come in and buy it, we have police officers that come in and buy it, military people who buy it," said Bussinger.

For chemist Huffman, banning new substances is a futile pursuit. "You ban one and they'll come up with another," he said.

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.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wisconsin-medmj-demo-2009.jpg
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:

PASSED BUT VETOED:

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.

DEAD OR DORMANT:

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.

STILL ALIVE:

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.

VOTES IN MEDICAL MARIJUANA STATES:

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.

Sentencing: Era of Mandatory Minimums for Drugs Comes to an End in Rhode Island

As of last week, Rhode Island sentencing reforms that eliminate mandatory minimums for drug offenses have taken effect. The sentencing reforms were embodied in H 5007 and its companion bill, S 039, which were passed by the General Assembly on October 29 and went into effect two weeks later without the signature of Gov. Donald Carcieri.

The new law strikes previous language mandating 10-year mandatory minimums for possession, manufacture or sale of between an ounce and a kilogram of heroin or cocaine, between one and five kilos of marijuana, and between 100 and 1,000 tablets of LSD. It also strikes 20-year mandatory minimums for quantities greater than those just listed.

It's not like it'll be a drug dealers' holiday, though. While it eliminates the old law's mandatory minimums, it keeps its maximums of up to 50 years in the first instance and up to life in prison in the second. And while it also eliminates minimum fines of $10,000 and $25,000, it raises maximum fines to $500,000 and $1 million.

Still, legislators and reform advocates were enjoying a hard-fought and long-sought victory. "I am thrilled that our hard work has finally paid off," said Rep. Joseph Almeida, sponsor of the House bill. "These sentences were enacted in a different era, at a time when policymakers around the nation believed that long sentences would act as a deterrent against drug use and drug dealing. Twenty years down the road we have seen that these policies are a failure. They have devastated our communities and driven up the prison population, costing tax-payers millions of dollars."

"It's a shame it took a disastrous economy and horrific state budget deficits for the evidence to finally sink in, but politicians at last are realizing that we as a society can no longer afford to pay for our prejudices," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's nice to see elected officials providing real leadership in rolling back the excesses of 1980s drug war hysteria."

For Rhode Island nonprofit Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), victory was sweet, but there are more battles to be fought. "We have always looked at this legislation as a starting point," said DARE's Executive Director Fred Ordonez. "Our hope is that this will help spark a trend among Rhode Island decision-makers to shift away from a tough-on-crime approach and towards a smart-on-crime approach."

Reform proponents led by DARE grafted together an impressive coalition of state and national organizations, including the Rhode Island ACLU, the Rhode Island Public Defender's Office, the Rhode Island Family Life Center, RICARES, the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of Rhode Island, the Roger Williams Law School, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School