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Marijuana Legalization Bill Moving in Oregon

An Oregon bill that would legalize marijuana was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a 6-3 vote after hearing testimony that same day. That marks the first time any Oregon marijuana legalization measure has won a committee vote. The bill now heads to the House Revenue Committee.

The bill, House Bill 3371, would legalize marijuana possession for adults 21 and over, provide for the cultivation of a small number of plants without regulation, and set up a system of taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. It was sponsored by the Revenue Committee.

"Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later," said Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, a group supporting legalization. "It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place."

The only opposition to the bill at the Wednesday hearing came from the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, which said it was concerned about drugged driving, underage use, and drug dependency.

"This act will not make the problems of marijuana abuse go away," said Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, speaking on behalf of the association.

Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. Last, the Measure 80 marijuana legalization initiative, poorly funded and hobbled by the mixed reputation of its proponent, Paul Stanford, managed to pull in nearly 47% of the popular vote. Activists have been discussing whether to go forward with another initiative in 2014, but if HB 3371 keeps moving, they may not have to wait that long.

Eugene, OR
United States

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dies

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana has died in the House. Legislators earlier killed a marijuana legalization bill.

The decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 472, passed out of the Senate a month ago and saw fervent debate in House committee hearings, but House leaders said there was not enough support for the bill to move forward.

Rep. Karl Rhoads (D-District 29), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee told the Associated Press Wednesday that there weren't enough votes to push the bill through. And although the state's two-year legislative session would allow the bill to be taken up again next year without having to pass the Senate again, Rhoads said he doubted that would happen.

"It was a moderate measure," Rhoads told the AP. "If this couldn't pass, I think it's very unlikely that anything is going to pass next year."

Marijuana reform supporters, including the ACLU of Hawaii and two new coalitions aimed at changing the state's marijuana laws, Fresh Approach Hawaii and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii, had been optimistic about the bill's prospects after it passed the Senate, but it ran into stiff opposition from law enforcement and community groups. Police testified that reforming the marijuana laws would make their job more difficult and increase crime.

Honolulu, HI
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana bills were laid to rest in two states this week, changes in the medical marijuana law went into effect in another, and Massachusetts now appears set to open dispensaries by year's end. There's more news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, a retired San Diego couple were bound over for trial on marijuana charges even though the presiding judge said he believed they were not selling the medical marijuana they grew. Deborah and Dennis Little were raided by DEA agents after a San Diego Sheriff's Department helicopter spotted their garden. Although the Littles are qualified patients, medical marijuana foe San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed criminal charges against them anyway. In binding the Littles over for trial, the judge noted that their medical marijuana recommendations were one month out of date.

Florida

On Monday, supporters conceded that medical marijuana legislation was dead for this year. The legislation has been bottled up by hostile or indifferent legislative leaders. "Shame on us as a legislature for not taking the opportunity to hear this bill this year," House bill sponsor Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation) said at a press conference on Monday.

Maryland

On Monday, the House of Delegates approved a bill extending protections to caretakers. The measure had already passed the state Senate, so it now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has not said whether he will sign it. Under a 2011 law, patients are allowed to use medical necessity as an affirmative defense if caught with marijuana. This bill would expand that same protection to their caregivers.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the Department of Public Health filed draft regulations for medical marijuana. Under the proposed rules, dispensaries (or "Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers") could open in the Bay State by the end of this year. Dispensaries would have to grow their own product and would not be able to sell wholesale to other dispensaries. The regulations aim to minimize home grows by various means, including discounted prices for low-income patients, allowing secure home delivery, and encouraging caregivers to pick up product instead of grow it. The regs would also define a 60-day supply of medical marijuana as 10 ounces.

Michigan

On Monday, changes to the medical marijuana laws passed last year went into effect. The law now defines and requires a "bona fide physician-patient relationship" -- which includes an in-person evaluation -- between a patient and recommending physician. Also, newly issued registry ID cards will be valid for two years instead of only one. A requirement that patients transporting marijuana by vehicle keep it in a case in the trunk took effect in January.

West Virginia

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died after it failed to get a vote in the House. This marks the third consecutive year that bills filed by Del. Mike Manypenny (D) have been snuffed out in the House. At least this year, Manypenny managed to find some cosponsors, including Republicans. Maybe next year.

Marijuana Possession Now Decriminalized in Rhode Island

Rhode Island became the 14th state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Monday as a law passed last year went into effect. As of now, it is no longer a criminal offense to possess up to an ounce of pot.

People caught with small amounts now face only a civil citation similar to a traffic ticket and a fine of up to $150. But get caught three times within 18 months and you will be facing a misdemeanor.

People under the age of 18 who are caught will have their parents notified. They could also be required to attend alcohol and drug education courses and perform community service.

Decriminalization legislation was introduced by state Rep. John Edwards in January 2011. It was approved by the legislature the following year and signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee last June. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) helped shepherd the bill through the legislative process.

"We applaud the legislature and Governor Chafee for answering Rhode Islanders' calls for a more sensible marijuana policy," said Robert Capecchi, MPP deputy director of state polices. "Nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol."

Providence, RI
United States

Kentucky Legislature Passes Industrial Hemp Bill

The Kentucky legislature approved an industrial hemp bill Wednesday in the final hour of the session, but only after last-minute negotiations brought it back from the dead. Whether Gov. Steve Beshear (D) will sign it remains to be seen.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.org)
]The bill, Senate Bill 50, would allow for industrial hemp production in Kentucky, if the federal government allows it, which it currently doesn't. It keeps the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which was created by earlier legislation, in the state Department of Agriculture and gives the University of Kentucky authority over hemp research.

Fighting over whether to shift the commission as well to the University of Kentucky nearly derailed the bill. The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) and its chief advocate, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, had to fend off efforts by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) to shift the commission to the university.

Once agreement had been reached, the bill passed the House on an 88-4 vote, and the Senate then approved the compromise language on a 35-1 vote.

The bill now goes to Gov. Beshear, who has said he shares concerns aired by the Kentucky State Police, who opposed it on the grounds that it could make enforcing the marijuana laws more difficult. Beshear has not said whether he will veto the bill or sign it into law.

The bill was also supported by the Bluegrass State's two Republican US senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. McConnell is also an original sponsor of this year's federal hemp bill, Senate Bill 359.

According to the industry group Vote Hemp, eight states have already passed laws removing barriers to hemp production, while others have passed bills establishing commissions or research activities or passed resolutions endorsing industrial hemp. Fifteen states have seen hemp bills introduced this year.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Welfare Drug Testing Bills Moving in Kansas, Texas

Bills that would force welfare applicants and recipients to undergo drug testing are moving in the state legislatures in Austin and Topeka. In Austin, a Texas Senate committee approved a drug testing bill, while in Topeka, the Kansas House approved a bill that would require drug testing of both welfare and unemployment recipients.

Both bills seek to avoid the constitutional problems that have plagued earlier welfare drug testing laws in Florida and Georgia. In those state, legislators passed bills calling for suspicionless mandatory drug testing of all recipients, which has been repeatedly blocked by the federal courts. The Kansas and Texas bills, on the other hand, only require drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion."

The Kansas bill, Senate Bill 149, says that reasonable suspicion may be based on any number of factors, "including, but not limited to, an applicant's or recipient's demeanor, missed appointments and arrest or other police records, previous employment or application for employment in an occupation or industry that regularly conducts drug screening, termination from previous employment due to use of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog or prior drug screening records of the applicant or recipient indicating use of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog."

The bill would require anyone who fails a drug test to get drug treatment and jobs skills training at government expense. Those who fail a second time would be ineligible for benefits for a year. The bill also would prevent anyone who is convicted of a drug felony after July from getting welfare for five years. A second conviction would mean a lifelong ban. House and Senate members also would be tested if there is a reasonable suspicion about their behavior.

The bill passed the Senate at the beginning of March, but the House version contains some minor changes that will have to be reconciled before final passage.

The Texas bill, Senate Bill 11, was introduced by Sen. Jane Nelson, the Republican chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which approved it Tuesday. It would require applicants to the state's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for drug use. Those who appear to be using drugs or who have a previous drug conviction would be subject to drug testing. Applicants who tested positive would loss TANF funds for a year.

"Drug abuse destroys families, harms children and prevents individuals from living healthy, independent lives," Nelson said in a press release on Tuesday. "Because TANF is a direct cash assistance program, we have a responsibility to ensure that these funds are not being used to support a person’s drug habit."

The bill has the support of Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R). "Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse," Perry said in a statement in November. "Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine."

Medical Marijuana Update

There is plenty of action in state legislatures, the battle over rescheduling continues, a Maine dispensary gets called out for using pesticides, and much more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Friday, Americans for Safe Access petitioned the DC Circuit Court for a rehearing before a full panel in its fight to force the federal government to reschedule marijuana. The move comes after a three-judge panel in January granted plaintiffs standing, but denied the appeal on its merits. In so doing, it set a near impossible standard for forcing rescheduling.

California

Last Thursday, prosecutors in Vallejo dropped charges against dispensary operator Matt Shotwell. The move marked an ignominious end to a series of a dozen dispensary raids conducted by Vallejo Police in early 2012. At least six dispensaries were raided, some repeatedly, but now cases against all six have now been dropped. The police raids came after the city council voted to impose taxes on dispensaries.

On Tuesday, the Concord city council approved an outdoor cultivation ban. The ban came despite only 14 complaint calls in the city of 120,000 residents. Council members cited concerns about public safety and "odiferous blight." Officials did say enforcement of the ban would be "complaint driven."

Colorado

On Tuesday, an audit found problems in the state's medical marijuana enforcement division. A report from the state auditor found that a lack of funding for the program led to a lack of consistent enforcement and a nearly two-year delay in reviewing license applications. Problems mentioned included a failure to quickly review applications, a failure to follow state law, and removing marijuana from dispensaries under disciplinary review and a failure to make sure seized marijuana is destroyed properly. The report also criticized the Department of Revenue for spending too much on capital projects and then laying off staff members, leading to long delays and mistakes in reviewing applications.

Florida

On Wednesday, activists were meeting with House Speaker Will Weatherford in an effort to get a pending medical marijuana bill moving. Weatherford has been blocking the bill, House Bill 1139, from getting a hearing or moving forward. No word at press time on the meeting results.

Illinois

Last Friday, the sponsor of a medical marijuana bill said it was just "one or two" votes shy of passing in the House. Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is the author of the medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1.

Maine

On Monday, state regulators said a dispensary was violating state rules by using pesticides on plants it was growing. Wellness Connection of Maine was ratted out by one of its own employees at its Auburn grow site, and investigators subsequently found pesticides present, as well as 20 other violations of the rules for growing marijuana. Wellness Connection said it would stop using pesticides and make other changes, too. State regulators will allow the dispensary to sell the pesticide-treated plants, but it must inform patients that chemicals were used in their growth. Wellness Connection, which runs half of the state's medical marijuana clinics, must now contact all prior and current patients to tell them pesticides were used in the products they purchased or are purchasing, and that they have stopped using the chemicals designed to keep bugs away.

Maryland

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill passed in the House. The bill, House Bill 1101, would set up a medical marijuana commission to which the academic medical centers could apply for permission to administer marijuana to patients within a research-focused program. Marijuana would be grown either by state-licensed growers or by the federal government.The bill now goes to the Senate.

Michigan

Last Friday, the Ypsilanti planning commission approved a new cultivation facility. It will be the second to operate in the city. The grow op won unanimous approval from the commission, on the condition that it construct a sidewalk and close a curb cut. Another facility has already been approved by the commission, but is awaiting site plan approval.

Nevada

Last Monday, Sen. Richard Segerbloom introduced a bill that would allow dispensaries to operate in the state. The bill, Senate Bill 374, would regulate dispensaries. Under the state's current medical marijuana law, there is no provision for dispensaries.

New York

On Tuesday, matching medical marijuana bills were introduced in the Assembly and Senate. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried filed Assembly Bill 6357 and Senator Diane Savino filed companion legislation, Senate Bill 4406. The bills would create a tightly regulated system of medical marijuana supply, complete with patient registries, but would not allow patients or designated caregivers to grow their own medicine. Patients would be limited to possessing no more than 2.5 ounces.

West Virginia

Last Thursday, Del. Mike Manypenny introduced a medical marijuana bill. In previous years, he has gone it alone, but this time around he has nine cosponsors. The bill is House Bill 2961.

New York Medical Marijuana Bills Introduced

New York has become the latest state to see medical marijuana legislation introduced this year. On Tuesday, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried filed Assembly Bill 6357 and Senator Diane Savino filed companion legislation, Senate Bill 4406.

The bills would create a tightly regulated system of medical marijuana supply, complete with patient registries, but would not allow patients or designated caregivers to grow their own medicine. Patients would be limited to possessing no more than 2.5 ounces.

Drug reform and marijuana advocacy groups welcomed the introduction of the bills, but some expressed concerns that the measures as written do not provide enough protection for patients.

"Patients and their families in New York have suffered far too long because New York continues its retrograde approach to marijuana policies, even as other states move forward with more sensible approaches," said Julie Netherland, deputy director of New York policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Drug Policy Alliance stands with hundreds of patients, healthcare providers, and organizations across New York in calling for the legislature to pass this sensible and humane legislation as soon as possible. A growing body of research shows that medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for a number of serious conditions. People living with multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson's, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions should not have to wait any longer to get access to a medicine that may help alleviate their pain and other symptoms. There is simply no sensible reason for patients and their families to wait any longer for relief."

"Empire State NORML welcomes the long awaited introduction of S. 4406/A. 6357," the group said in a statement Tuesday. "We support the bill, and will work hard with Compassionate Care NY, the New York Cannabis Alliance, and other allies for Senate passage for the first time and Gov. Cuomo’s signature."

But while supporting the bills, Empire State NORML expressed two reservations. It noted that the bills have no affirmative defense provision for patients possessing more than 2.5 ounces for medically necessary reasons and asked that such provisions be added. And the group expressed concern over the lack of a patient or caregiver cultivation provision.

"Empire State NORML strongly supports the right of certified patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate their own medicine," the group said. "But there should at least be a hardship provision for certain certified patients with transportation, physical or financial difficulties or their designated caregivers to cultivate their own medicine instead of having to rely on registered organizations."

Will this be the year New York joins its neighbors in embracing medical marijuana? The state shares borders with Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as Canada. All but Pennsylvania have already enacted medical marijuana laws.

Albany, NY
United States

Maryland Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House

The Maryland House of Delegates Monday approved a bill that would allow academic medical centers to provide medical marijuana to patients whose doctors recommend it. The measure passed easily on a 108-28 vote and is expected to pass the Senate as well.

The bill, House Bill 1101, would set up a medical marijuana commission to which the centers could apply for permission to administer marijuana to patients within a research-focused program. Marijuana would be grown either by state-licensed growers or by the federal government.

Sponsored by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore), the bill would require the academic medical centers to specify qualifying medical conditions for treatment; treatment duration and dosage; where marijuana would be obtained; sources of funding; and a plan for monitoring data and outcomes, among other things. Programs would initially be approved for one year but could be extended.

"People who use medical marijuana to treat illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis shouldn't have to resort to the illicit market to obtain doctor-recommended medicine," said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has worked with legislators in Annapolis to move the bill. "States around the nation are successfully implementing programs that provide patients with safe, legal, and reliable access to medical marijuana."

While the bill has its problems -- it doesn't let patients grow their own, it would take years to implement and would either require federal cooperation or the centers to violate federal law -- it is a start, and can amended down the road if it proves unworkable.

 "It may take several years for a program to get up and running, and federal policy presents a substantial obstacle to a law like this one ever being fully implemented," Riffle said. "Still, this bill gives us hope that patients could have safe, reliable access through programs that bear the imprimatur of some of the country’s most respected medical institutions."

Along with New England and the West, the Middle Atlantic region is one of the most medical marijuana-friendly in the country. If the bill passes the state Senate and is signed into law, Maryland will join neighbors Delaware and New Jersey as medical marijuana states, as well as Washington, DC, where the first dispensaries are set to open next month.

Annapolis, MD
United States

As NYC Pot Busts Continue, New York Punts on Marijuana Reform

People -- almost all of them young people of color -- are being arrested at the rate of a thousand a week in New York City for marijuana possession "in public view," but although a legislative fix was in sight this week, the state's political establishment couldn't come to an agreement on it. Instead, the legislature is going on vacation.

The New York City "in public view" arrests violate the spirit of the Empire State's 1977 marijuana decriminalization law, which made possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense, not a criminal one. They typically occur when the NYPD stops and frisks someone, then either reaches into his pockets or belongings or intimidates the detainee into pulling out his biggie himself and then charges him with the criminal misdemeanor of possession "in public view."

Through-out the legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Senate and Assembly leaders talked about fixing the situation as part of the budget process. During his State of the State address, Cuomo had called for decriminalizing the possession of up to 15 grams "in public view," but with smoking in public remaining a misdemeanor. But on Thursday, Cuomo and the legislative leadership announced they had reached a final deal on the budget, one that didn't include marijuana law reform.

That doesn't mean decriminalization reform is dead this year -- the session will resume after a three-week hiatus -- but it is certainly delayed and possibly derailed without having the impetus of the budget agreement behind it. In either case, legislators and community activists blasted the leadership for punting on the issue while the arrests (and the costs) mount by the day.

"I am gravely disappointed that this budget failed to enact justice for the more than 44,000 individuals arrested last year based on a flawed law. Not only does allowing these arrests directly impact the lives of individuals and their communities, they are a gross misappropriation of city and state resources, and a waste of officer manpower that can be spent on more pressing law enforcement matters," said Assemblyman Karim Camara, Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. "Changing this flawed law has the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC Police Commissioner Kelly, the District Attorneys of the five boroughs, and Buffalo and Nassau and Albany counties, the Police Benevolent Association and major law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Yet politics trumped the policy that would be best for New York City and our state."

"This is an issue that cannot wait. Our tens of thousands of youth arrested annually under unfair practices shouldn't have to wait," said Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez. "They deserve better -- they deserve justice and equality. And they deserve it now. We need to end this policy that has plagued our communities for too long  and make public view possession a violation."

"Why is it acceptable to kick the can down the road when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of young Black and Latino New Yorkers?" asked Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights community organizer for VOCAL-NY. "Getting this done is a test for the political leadership in Albany that right now they are failing. It's time to stop delaying justice when it comes to ending racially biased and costly marijuana arrests."

Since 2002, nearly 500,000 thousand people have been arrested in New York  for marijuana possession -- the vast majority of those arrests, 440,000, took place in New York City. Last year alone in the city, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in the city between 1981 and 1995. The cost to taxpayers is $75 million a year, and over $600 million in the last decade. A report released earlier this week found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.

"Behind the one million police hours spent arresting young Black and Latino men is the shameful truth of 21st Century racism. These are unlawful, racially biased arrests, plain and simple. We need our elected officials to stand up for civil rights for all people" said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator and Trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.

Albany, NY
United States

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