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Marijuana: Connecticut Decriminalization Bill Dead in Water Following Arrest of Activist

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana is effectively dead after it was filibustered by a key opponent in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. With an early afternoon deadline for committee action Tuesday, Sen. Toni Boucher (R-New Canaan) railed against the bill until the deadline had passed.

"This legislative body is proposing to take a substance that is proven to be unhealthy and dangerous and illegal -- schedule one drug, still so at the federal level -- putting us in direct contrast. And slap the hand of one who uses it just like another parking ticket," Boucher said. "This is just a minor step in a long progression," she added, calling marijuana a gateway drug.

The bill, SB 349 would have made the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana an infraction with a maximum $250 fine. It was supported by the legislature's Democratic leadership and the advocacy groups Efficacy and A Better Way Foundation.

While the bill appeared poised to pass last week, Boucher garnered some sympathy and attention after an officer in the newly formed Connecticut state NORML chapter got himself arrested for allegedly threatening her in an email message. Chapter vice-president Dominic Vita, a 28-year-old veteran of the Iraq war who testified in favor of the bill earlier this year, sent an e-mail in which he said he was about to "go postal" on Boucher. He was arrested on disorderly conduct charges Friday.

While national NORML quickly closed down the Connecticut chapter, the incident had fellow Republicans rallying to Boucher's defense. Connecticut NORML did not play a leading role in pushing for marijuana reform in the state -- it was only a month old -- but the incident was grist for the media mill over the weekend.

In comments posted to a local talk show host's blog, family members of Vita said he showed "poor judgment" in venting his feelings in that manner in an e-mail, but criticized the media's portrayal of it. Vita intended the e-mail to go to a friend and colleague, they explained, but accidentally used "reply" instead of "forward," sending it to the state's legislative "bill-tracker" reporting service instead. The e-mail was written in reaction to an unfavorable amendment Boucher had filed to the decrim bill, which Vita felt would prevent patients from benefiting from it. The staff person who received the e-mail forwarded it to the Capitol Police.

The talk show host, Shelly Sindland, wrote that she was "shocked" and that Vita had been "very articulate and polite" when he appeared on her show.

Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- The State of Play

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/mnsenate.jpg
medical marijuana hearings, Minnesota Senate (the uptake.org via mnstories.com)
Medical marijuana is now legal in 13 states, and by year's end it could be legal in several more. Legislatures in at least 19 states are, have, or will be considering medical marijuana bills this year, and while in most of them efforts are just getting off the ground or stand little chance of passing this year, significant progress has already been made in at least five states and bills are just a handful of votes and a governor's signature away from passage.

More broadly, medical marijuana has become part of the legislative landscape. It is now either the law of the land or under consideration in more than 30 states. Most of the states where it is not on the political agenda are in the South. On the West Coast, it's a done deal; in the Rocky Mountain states, half are already there; in the Midwest, progress is slow but ongoing; and in the Northeast, the issue has been red hot in recent years.

Here's what things look like right now, followed by some discussion below. Note that this is the Chronicle's assessment, based on legislative histories and the analyses of the people we talked to below, among others:

States where a bill was introduced and is already dead:

Iowa
Kansas
South Dakota

States where bills have been in play, but are unlikely to pass this year:

Alabama
Connecticut
Massachusetts
Missouri
Ohio
Tennessee
Texas

States with bills either just introduced or not introduced yet, but promised, and thus unlikely to pass this year:

Delaware
Idaho
Pennsylvania
Wisconsin

States with the best chance of passage this year:

Illinois
Minnesota
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

"There are a couple of states where we are very close," said Dan Bernath, assistant communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is involved in all the states most likely to see a bill pass this year. "Medical marijuana activists are used to having their hearts broken in state legislatures, but there's a very good chance we will see something pass this year."

In Illinois, companion House and Senate bills are awaiting floor votes, but MPP reports that "they do not have enough committed 'yes' votes to be sent to the governor for approval." A similar bill was defeated in the Senate two years ago, but the House has never had a floor vote on it.

In Minnesota, the House version of the medical marijuana bill passed its final committee hurdle on Tuesday and heads for a floor vote. The Senate has already approved its version. But Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has "concerns" and has threatened a veto.

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Jim Miller at Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey event
In New Hampshire, a medical marijuana bill easily passed the House in March and was amended and passed by the Senate last month, but Democratic Gov. John Lynch has "serious concerns" and said the Senate version is "unacceptable." The House has voted not to accept the Senate amendments and is calling for a conference committee to craft final language that could be acceptable to the governor.

In New Jersey, a medical marijuana bill passed the Senate in February, but has languished in the House, where it is stuck in committee. But a hearing will take place later this year, and the bill could move forward after that.

In New York, identical bills have been introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate. The House passed a bill last year, but it went nowhere under then Republican Senate leadership. Now, with both houses under Democratic control and a friendly Democratic governor, the bill has a real chance.

In Rhode Island, which has an existing medical marijuana program, a bill that would establish "compassion centers" for distributing it to qualified patients passed the Senate in April and is awaiting action in the House.

"This is a crucial time for a lot of bills we have in play," said Bernath, citing the far advanced bills in Minnesota and New Hampshire, both of which face reluctant governors. "In New Hampshire, we've passed both the House and Senate, and now the House is working to address some of the governor's concerns while still crafting a bill that will work with patients."

In Minnesota, Bernath noted, Gov. Pawlenty has opposed medical marijuana. "The governor has expressed concerns in the past, and our supporters in Minnesota have been working hard to address those," he said. "The governor has had the opportunity to get educated on medical marijuana over these past few years, but continues to say he sides with law enforcement. But law enforcement's credibility has been eroding, so there's some reason to hope the governor will come around."

In New Jersey, where the Drug Policy Alliance, MPP and NORML have a played a role, it may just be a matter of time. "It's headed for the Assembly Health Committee for a hearing, perhaps in June, but maybe in the fall," said Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "It really depends on the chairman of the committee, Dr. Herb Conaway (D-Delran). We've been in contact with him, but the problem is all the assemblymen are up for election in November, and they're nervous about what they consider a controversial medical marijuana bill. If not in June, it could be after the election."

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Rhode Island patient activist Rhonda O'Donnell, at DC protest
The assemblymen are mistaken if they think medical marijuana is controversial, said Wolski. "There is positive political capital in supporting medical marijuana -- it polls better than any of those legislators," he said. "Any legislator who puts his reelection chances ahead of suffering patients probably doesn't deserve to be elected anyway."

"New Jersey is going to be a long slog, it could go either way, but it looks like they'll sit on it through September, which gives both sides plenty of time to lobby," said NORML's Allen St. Pierre. "But with Gov. Corzine saying he will sign it; that gives it greater impetus, so I think New Jersey will end up with patient protection laws."

As for New York, the political stars could now be aligning, said St. Pierre. "It's not clear how far this will progress, but as in New Jersey, it's one of those rare times where the governor has effectively said he will sign a medical marijuana bill, and that helps."

Like New Jersey, New York has been the subject of years of work by DPA in Albany, and MPP has a hired lobbyist stalking those halls. "In both cases, there have been people working this for five to seven years," said St. Pierre.

"Things have never looked better in New York," said MPP's Bernath. "In the past, the problem was the Republican-controlled Senate, but now it's the Democrats in charge, and we have a lot of confidence that this will get through the Senate. The Assembly is already very supportive."

The state legislative process is agonizingly and frustratingly slow, but medical marijuana has already proven to be an issue that can win at the statehouse and not just at the ballot box. In 2009, only 13 years after California voters approved the first state medical marijuana law, about a quarter of the population live in medical marijuana states. Chances are that before the year is over, that percentage is going to increase.

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Heads to House Floor as Ways and Means Committee Passes Bill, 10-8

Minnesota Cares logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
MAY 12, 2009

Medical Marijuana Heads to House Floor as Ways and Means Committee Passes Bill, 10-8
Passage Sets Up First-Ever House Floor Vote on Medical Marijuana

CONTACT: Former Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover)......................................................(763) 439-1178

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA -- The House version of Minnesota's medical marijuana bill, H.F. 292, now moves to the House floor after clearing its final committee last night, passing the Ways and Means Committee, 10 to 8. Companion legislation has already passed the Senate.

     Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), sponsor of the bill, said, "I have been pleased with the increasing support in the latest committees. Public support for protecting patients who need medical marijuana is overwhelming, and the scientific evidence is clear that this really can help some very sick people. This is going to be the year that Minnesota joins the 13 states that have already acted to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest."

     Medical marijuana bills are now moving forward in a number of states, including Illinois, New Jersey and New Hampshire, where medical marijuana legislation has passed both legislative houses and is awaiting a conference committee to reconcile differences. Rhode Island legislators are presently considering a measure to expand that state's medical marijuana law, first adopted in 2006.

     Thirteen states, comprising approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population, now permit medical use of marijuana under state law if a physician has recommended it. The newest such law was enacted by Michigan voters last November, passing with a record-setting 63 percent "yes" vote.

     Medical organizations which have recognized marijuana's medical uses include the American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, and American College of Physicians, which noted "marijuana's proven efficacy at treating certain symptoms and its relatively low toxicity," in a statement issued last year.

####

Location: 
St. Paul, MN
United States

DrugSense ALERT: #402 Governor Asks: What If Pot's Legal and Taxed?

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #402 - Monday, 11 May 2009 Last Wednesday morning the readers of the The Sacramento Bee were treated to the front page article, below. Since then the press articles and editorial page content have been slowly increasing. The items can be accessed at http://www.mapinc.org/people/Schwarzenegger. The news clippings are worthy of letters to the editor. As this is sent the largest California newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, has not mentioned Governor Schwarzenegger' comments. Thus a message to the newspaper may also be appropriate. See http://drugsense.org/url/bc7El3Yo for contact details. ********************************************************************** GOVERNOR ASKS: WHAT IF POT'S LEGAL AND TAXED? As California struggles to find cash, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday it's time to study whether to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use. The Republican governor did not support legalization - and the federal government still bans marijuana use - but advocates hailed the fact that Schwarzenegger endorsed studying a once-taboo political subject. "Well, I think it's not time for ( legalization ), but I think it's time for a debate," Schwarzenegger said. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it. And I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?" Schwarzenegger was at a fire safety event in Davis when he answered a question about a recent Field Poll showing 56 percent of registered voters support legalizing and taxing marijuana to raise revenue for cash-strapped California. Voters in 1996 authorized marijuana for medical purposes. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has written legislation to allow the legal sale of marijuana to adults 21 years and older for recreational use. His Assembly Bill 390 would charge cannibis wholesalers initial and annual flat fees, while retailers would pay $50 per ounce to the state. The proposal would ban cannibis near schools and prohibit smoking marijuana in public places. Marijuana legalization would raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, according to a February estimate by the Board of Equalization. That amount could be offset by a reduction in cigarette or alcohol sales if consumers use marijuana as a substitute. Besides raising additional tax revenue, the state could save money on law enforcement costs, Ammiano believes. But he shelved the bill until next year because it remains controversial in the Capitol, according to his spokesman, Quintin Mecke. "We're certainly in full agreement with the governor," Mecke said. "I think it's a great opportunity. I think he's also being very realistic about understanding sort of the overall context, not only economically but otherwise." Schwarzenegger previously has shown a casual attitude toward marijuana. He was filmed smoking a joint in the 1977 film, "Pumping Iron." And he told the British version of GQ in 2007, "That is not a drug. It's a leaf." Spokesman Aaron McLear downplayed the governor's comment as a joke at the time. Even if California were to legalize marijuana, the state would hit a roadblock with the federal government, which prohibits its use. Ammiano hopes for a shift in federal policy, but President Barack Obama said in March he doesn't think legalization is a good strategy. Any study would find plenty of arguments, judging by responses Tuesday. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, said he's open to a study, but he remains opposed to legalization. He warned that society could bear significant burdens. He downplayed enforcement and incarceration savings because he believes drug courts are already effective in removing low-level offenders from the system. "Studies have shown there is impairment with marijuana use," DeVore said. "People can get paranoid, can lose some of their initiative to work, and we don't live in some idealized libertarian society where every person is responsible completely to himself. We live in a society where the cost of your poor decisions are borne by your fellow taxpayers." But Bruce Merkin of the Marijuana Policy Project said studies show alcohol has worse effects on users than marijuana in terms of addiction and long-term effects. His group believes marijuana should be regulated and taxed just like alcoholic beverages. "There are reams of scientific data that show marijuana is less harmful than alcohol," Merkin said. "Just look at the brain of an alcoholic. In an autopsy, you wouldn't need a microscope to see the damage. Marijuana doesn't do anything like that." Schwarzenegger said he would like to see results from Europe as part of a study. The Austrian parliament last year authorized cultivation of medical marijuana. But Schwarzenegger talked with a police officer in his hometown of Graz and found the liberalization was not fully supported, McLear said. "It could very well be that everyone is happy with that decision and then we could move to that," Schwarzenegger said. "If not, we shouldn't do it. But just because of raising revenues ... we have to be careful not to make mistakes at the same time." ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post copies of your letters to the sent letter list ( sentlte@mapinc.org ) if you are subscribed. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches. To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see http://www.mapinc.org/lists/index.htm#form Suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center http://www.mapinc.org/resource/#guides ********************************************************************** Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor www.mapinc.org === . DrugSense provides many services at no charge, but they are not free to produce. Your contributions make DrugSense and its Media Awareness Project (MAP) happen. Please donate today. Our secure Web server at http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm accepts credit cards and Paypal. Or, mail your check or money order to: DrugSense 14252 Culver Drive #328 Irvine, CA 92604-0326 (800) 266 5759 . DrugSense is a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the expensive, ineffective, and destructive "War on Drugs." Donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Location: 
CA
United States

Solidarity Event to Protect Safe Access

It's back....the Colorado Board of Health is once again considering restricting patient access to medical marijuana. At the upcoming July hearing, the Board will be voting on a rule which would rip patients out of safe caregiver relationships and force them onto the streets in search of medicine. Show your support on July 20th by attending the Hearing and Board vote. This is NOT a rally. This is a formal Hearing and we need supporters to dress nice and act in a professional manner. NOTE - Many have already submitted written comments to the Board of Health. Thank you. Any new or additional comments need to be submitted by May 15.
Date: 
Mon, 07/20/2009 - 8:30am
Location: 
900 Auraria Parkway Tivoli Student Union, Conference Room 250
Denver, CO 80204
United States

Medical Marijuana: Petition Drive Gets Underway for 2010 South Dakota Initiative

In 2006, South Dakota became the only state to defeat an initiative legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, with proponents coming close, but ultimately short, with 48% of the vote. Now, after the state legislature ignored an opportunity to act on the issue this year, activists are ready to try the voters once again.

South Dakotans for Safe Access filed papers Monday to put its proposed initiative on the 2010 ballot. Supporters need to gain 16,776 valid signatures of registered voters by next April 6 to make the ballot.

Under the proposed measure, patients with debilitating medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation -- or their designated caregivers -- could possess up to six plants and one ounce of usable marijuana, as well as incidental seeds, stems, and roots. Patients would register with the state and be issued ID cards.

The movement is in stronger shape in South Dakota this time, organizer Emmett Reistroffer of Sioux Falls told the Rapid City Journal. It has more patients, doctors, former law enforcement officials, and others than in 2006, he said. "They know this law is best for South Dakota versus what we have now, which calls these patients criminals," said Reistroffer.

The effort will run up against a Republican political establishment implacably opposed to medical marijuana. Attorney General Larry Long earlier this year refused the opportunity to work with proponents to address law enforcement concerns and objections. But at least one thing will be different: In 2006, the Bush administration sent the drug czar's office to South Dakota to energize opposition to that initiative. There is little indication the Obama administration will go to the same effort to interfere in state medical marijuana initiatives.

Medical Marijuana: Another California Dispensary Raid

A Bakersfield medical marijuana dispensary was raided Wednesday afternoon by Kern County sheriff's deputies and DEA agents. Three men were arrested, and police said they seized two pounds of marijuana and two loaded handguns.

The target of the raid was the Green Cross Compassionate Co-op at 309 Bernard Street in east Bakersfield, one of the first to open in the city since Sheriff Donny Youngblood raided a half-dozen dispensaries in 2007. Youngblood has said he will not interfere with the operation of nonprofit medical marijuana co-ops, but he has also said that dispensaries for profit should expect to be treated like drug dealers.

It is unclear at this point how Youngblood determined the Green Cross Compassionate Co-op was not a legal co-op under California law and guidelines issued by the state attorney general.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Department would not act against California dispensaries unless they violated both state and federal law. At least one dispensary, Emmalyn's in San Francisco, has been subjected to a DEA-led raid.

But Wednesday's Bakersfield raid appears to have been led by the crusading Sheriff Youngblood. A DEA spokesman told local media its agents were there only in a backup capacity.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Calls for Marijuana Legalization Debate

Considering that he vetoed a hemp bill in 2006, this is about as good a statement as I would expect from him:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says California should study other nations' experiences in legalizing and taxing marijuana, although he is not supporting the idea.

He says it's time to debate proposals such as a bill introduced in the state Legislature earlier this year that would treat marijuana like alcohol.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, says taxing marijuana at $50 per ounce would bring more than $1 billion a year to the state.

Schwarzenegger said during a Tuesday news conference that "it's time for debate" on the idea. [NBC]

I like what's happening with this "let's debate it" line we keep hearing lately. It's a way for public officials to show interest in the subject without alienating anyone who feels strongly about the issue. Perhaps it has come to the Governator's attention that 56% of Californians support legalizing marijuana.

Considering the famous Schwarzenegger-smoking-pot video that's all over the web, some will accuse him of hypocrisy should his position ultimately fall anywhere short of outright support for legalization. Still, it's notable in and of itself that we're beginning to see politicians shifting away from knee-jerk opposition to reform, in favor of the more open-minded position of endorsing a debate on the subject.

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Dispensary Bill Passes Senate

For the second time, the Rhode Island Senate has approved a bill that would allow dispensaries to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's existing medical marijuana law. The bill now heads to the House, where a committee vote was scheduled for Thursday.

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Gov. Donald Carcieri, unsuccessful medical marijuana foe
Rhode Island approved a medical marijuana law in 2006, but that law did not provide a legal avenue for patients unable to grow their own medicine or find a caregiver to grow it for them to otherwise procure it. The bill would create "compassion centers" for the distribution of marijuana to people with severe, debilitating illnesses, including cancer, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Some 681 people are already registered with the Rhode Island Department of Health under the state's medical marijuana program.

The Senate approval of the compassion center program came on a 35-2 vote Wednesday. The vote came after bill sponsor Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence) told her colleagues support for the bill was growing and it appeared the state police had dropped their opposition.

The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, which has lobbied hard for medical marijuana, praised the Senate for passing the bill. Spokesman Jesse Stout said it would make Rhode Island the second state after New Mexico to authorize nonprofit dispensaries for patients.

The Rhode Island Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it didn't make it through the House. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) has vetoed medical marijuana bills twice, but was overriden by the legislature. A spokesman for the governor told the Providence Journal he continued to have "serious concerns with how the compassion centers would be set up and regulated."

Canada: Provincial Court Rules Ontario Benefits Law Discriminates Against Alcoholics, Drug Addicts

An Ontario law that bars alcoholics and drug addicts from receiving long-term disability benefits violates the provincial Human Rights Code, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled last Friday. The ruling effectively strikes down a provision of the Ontario Disability Support Program enacted by the former Conservative government in 1997 that barred people from receiving long-term benefits if their "sole impairment" was addiction.

Last week's ruling was the latest in a 10-year legal struggle by two Ontario men, Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski, who suffer from alcoholism. The pair were denied long-term assistance under the Disability Support Program and were instead found to be eligible only for Ontario Works benefits.

Unlike the disability program, the employment program requires recipients to be involved in "employment assistance activities." Ontario Works also offers substantially smaller benefits, $536 a month, compared to $959 a month under the disability program.

The pair lost when they appealed the ruling to the provincial Social Benefits Tribunal, but in 2006, the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the tribunal to reconsider the case with an eye toward seeing if the law violated the Human Rights Code. The tribunal did so, and found that the exception for addiction disability indeed violated the code.

The Ontario government appealed that ruling, and a hearing was held in December. There, government witnesses argued that almost all addicted people could work and that lower payments could provide an incentive for recovery. But medical experts for the two men retorted that addicts are in a better position to recover if their lives are stable, with low stress, and adequate income to support themselves.

The Ontario Divisional Court justices sided unanimously with the two men. The government failed to provide a "tenable justification" for its decision to treat addicts differently from other people with disabilities, wrote Justice Denise Bellamy for the court. The Ontario law "promotes a stereotypical attitude towards addicted persons. It suggests that those who do not suffer from an additional medically recognized disorder are not genuinely disabled, or in any case are not as disabled as persons with concurrent disorders," wrote Judge Bellamy.

"The Human Rights Code does not permit us to choose between the disabilities we like and those we do not," said attorney Lesli Bisgould. The Ontario government should now "move on" and not bother to appeal any further, she told the National Post.

Ontario is pondering whether to pursue the appeal, government lawyers said.

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