A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults and depenalize the possession of up to a half pound of pot narrowly passed the New Mexico House Tuesday. The measure was approved on a vote of 37-33.
Introduced by Rep. Emily Kane (D-Albuquerque), House Bill 465 would decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces. Possession of between four and eight ounces would be a petty misdemeanor, but the maximum sentence would be a fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is petty misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time, while possession of between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
"Why on God's green Earth would we want to spend money throwing college kids in jail for having a few joints when we could be spending that money on early childhood education?" asked Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) during the debate. Criminalizing marijuana users is "institutional state stupidity," he added.
"Spending $5 million a year to arrest people with small amounts of marijuana is a waste of resources," said Rep. Kane. "We could put that money to better use."
"Why are we not legalizing it?" asked Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), unwilling to stop with half-measures. McCamley laughed at the notion that marijuana users were a threat to public safety. Instead, he said, they typically "watch PBS, laugh, eat some Cheetos and go to bed."
Speaking in opposition to the bill was former police officer Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), who said he had seen "the bad side" of marijuana. He said he had once stopped a car full of teen pot smokers who then attacked him with a screwdriver.
The bill now heads to the Senate, which has only a handful of days to act on it. Even if the bill were to pass the Senate, it still faces an uphill fight. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she would veto the bill if it reached her desk, and the margin of passage in the House isn't enough to override that veto.
"As a prosecutor and district attorney, the governor has seen firsthand how illegal drug use destroys lives, especially among our youth, and she opposes drug legalization or decriminalization efforts," her office said in an earlier statement re-released on Monday. "Proponents of these efforts often ignore the fact that the vast majority of people convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana are diverted to treatment programs and those who are sentenced to prison are individuals with long criminal records with convictions for things like assault, burglary, and other crimes."
If decriminalization is going to happen in New Mexico this year, it's going to require quick action in the Senate and the rapid building of veto-proof majorities in both houses.
A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults and depenalize the possession of up to a half pound of pot narrowly passed the New Mexico House Tuesday. The measure was approved on a vote of 37-33.
Legislatures are in session across the land, and that's reflected in our update this week. Bills are moving, generally, though not always in the right direction. Meanwhile, Arkansas looks ahead to 2014, and Oakland wants back in the Harborside case. Let's get to it:
Last Monday, activists submitted a medical marijuana ballot initiative to the state attorney general's office. Arkansans for Medical Cannabis plans to try again in 2014 after their 2012 initiative surprised just about everybody by coming up just short with 49% of the vote.
Last Wednesday, the city of Oakland filed notice that it will appeal a federal magistrate's decision to dismiss its lawsuit in support of Harborside Health Center in its ongoing battle with the federal government. Oakland sued after federal prosecutors moved to seize the property where Harborside is located.
Also last Wednesday, Butte County prosecutors dropped charges against a dispensary operator in the wake of Fourth District Court of Appeal's reversal of the conviction of San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson. That decision held that members of a collective do not need to actually work growing plants. Prosecutors said they were dropping a case against dispensary operator Rick Tognoli because the Jackson ruling "has made it almost impossible to prosecute dispensaries that are disguised as collectives and making supposedly no profit."
On Tuesday, the House passed two medical marijuana bills. House Bills 667 and 668 are designed to improve the state's existing medical marijuana program. They now go before the state Senate.
On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was pronounced dead even though it was approved by a Senate subcommittee. The chairman of the subcommittee, Sen. Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City), said the bill is unlikely to advance because it lacks support in the full committee. A similar bill was rejected by a House subcommittee earlier this session.
On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. The bill, House Bill 1, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on an 11-4 vote and now goes before the full House. Qualified patients would be able to obtain marijuana from one of up to 60 dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from up to 22 cultivation centers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation would regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
Last Thursday, two minor players in a dispensary were sentenced to time served by a federal judge. Doran Leslie Hewitt had kept patient records and Travis Birdinground had delivered medical marijuana to patients. They had worked for Eastern Montana Cannabis. The judge in the case has sentenced all five Eastern Montana Cannabis defendants to terms shorter than the federal guideline ranges.
On Monday, a Senate committee approved a bill to protect medical marijuana patients on organ transplant lists. The bill would ensure that a person's use of medical marijuana would not prohibit him from receiving needed medical care, including organ transplants. It was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. The bill, S-1220, would provide that a registered, qualifying patient's authorized use of medical marijuana would be considered equivalent to using other prescribed medication rather than an illicit substance and therefore would not disqualify the person from needed medical care, such as an organ transplant. It now heads to floor vote in the Senate.
Last Thursday, a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying debilitating medical conditions passed the Senate Health and Healthcare Committee. It now goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 281 passed out of committee on a 4-1 vote.
The Hawaii Senate Tuesday voted unanimously to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure now goes to the House.
Bill supporters said it was aimed at reducing congestion in the state's criminal justice system.
Earlier this session, the House defeated a marijuana legalization bill. Whether it will embrace decriminalization remains to be seen.
The bill is being supported by a newly formed group, Fresh Approach Hawaii, which aims at lobbying the legislature on marijuana reform issues. The group said it will work with House members to reduce the fine and add other desirable provisions.
The Kansas Senate Thursday approved a bill requiring welfare and unemployment benefits recipients to undergo drug tests if there is "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. But the definition of "reasonable suspicion" includes having worked in a field where drug testing is prevalent.
The Republican-backed bill, Senate Bill 149, passed on a 31-8 vote, largely along party lines.
According to the bill, reasonable suspicion may be arrived at, but is 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 unlawful use of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog or prior drug screening records of the applicant or recipient indicating unlawful use."
People who fail the drug test would lose benefits until they complete drug treatment and job training programs.
Republicans argued that the bill would help people with addictions kick their habit and prevent state tax dollars from being spent on drugs. But according to a legislative fiscal analysis, the bill would create "a net fiscal effect of increased expenditures of $1,095,468 in FY 2014" and create no net benefit to state coffers in years after that.
The bill now goes before the state House.
A bill that would legalize marijuana possession and create a state-regulated system of legal marijuana commerce was introduced in the Oregon legislature Monday. That makes Oregon the eighth state to either see such a bill this year or have one pending. The others are Hawaii (already dead), Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The bill would legalize the possession of up to six plants and 24 ounces of marijuana "on the premises" of non-commercial home grows. The bill does not otherwise set possession limits, but leaves them to the Oregon Health Authority to regulate.
The bill would also direct various state agencies to regulate, control, and tax marijuana commerce, with the tax set at $35 an ounce. Marijuana commerce would include "edibles." The bill would also legalize industrial hemp.
Last year, a marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 80, was defeated at the polls, gaining 46.3% of the popular vote. Oregon activists are currently debating whether to move forward with another initiative in 2014 or wait for the next presidential election in 2016. [Ed: Presidential years are considered more favorable with respect to the type of voter turnout.] But Oregonians need not have to wait even until 2014, if the legislature acts on HB 3371.
From the village board to the halls of Congress, medical marijuana is popping up all over. And there's action at various state houses, too. Let's get to it:
Last weekend, Americans for Safe Access hosted the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference featured numerous panelists, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.
On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act (House Resolution 689) at a press conference surrounded by attendees at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference. The bill would get the federal government out of states where medical marijuana is legal.
Last Thursday, an unapproved dispensary was shut down in Kingman and its proprietors arrested on a variety of marijuana-related and weapons charges. Police seized several pounds of marijuana, $7,000 in cash, and a shotgun.
Earlier this month, Shasta County moved a lawsuit filed against it by a medical marijuana collective from state to federal court, and the attorney representing county supervisors has already filed a motion there to dismiss it. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation sued in state Superior Court in January, naming the supervisors, the county sheriff, and three deputies as defendants. The suit charges that the county conspired to deprive the collective of its contractual, constitutional and state rights by enacting a ban on dispensaries. The collective closed its Main Street doors in May 2011 after being evicted following implementation of the ban in 2010 and its finalization the following year.
Last Thursday, the LA city council voted to approve a third dispensary measure for the May ballot. This third measure is the council's own and would allow about 100 dispensaries to stay open, restrict them from locating near schools and churches, and increase taxes on them. One of the other measures would allow a similar number of dispensaries to stay open, while the other would allow most of the hundreds of currently existing dispensaries to stay open. The initiatives come after the council tried to impose a total ban last year.
On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors adopted a cultivation ordinance. The measure prohibits outdoor marijuana gardens on lots smaller than 0.5 acre. It allows up to 12 plants (six mature and six immature) on parcels larger than 0.5 acre but smaller than 1.5 acre. On parcels smaller than 3 acres, 36 plants (18 mature and 18 immature) are allowed. The total allowable number of plants tops out at 99 on property larger than 40 acres. The gardens have set-back requirements that increase as the lots grow, and the plants have to be screened from view with fencing. Grows are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The growers have to be able to prove they have been county residents for a year, and there has to be written proof the landowner is aware of the garden and approves of its existence. The ordinance allows indoor gardens in free-standing buildings of 120 square feet on lots anywhere in county jurisdiction.
On Tuesday, a statewide poll had support for medical marijuana at 69%. The poll showed strong support among Democrats and independents and even among Republicans, 56% of whom said they supported marijuana. The poll comes as its sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana, pushes for medical marijuana to come to the Sunshine State.
On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. The bill is Senate Bill 1250.
On Sunday, a statewide poll found that 58% support legalizing medical marijuana. That's down six points from a similar poll in 2010. The poll comes as the Iowa legislature considers medical marijuana bills.
On Tuesday, the Westborough Board of Health supported zoning for dispensaries. The board did not reach agreement on whether Westborough should ban dispensaries or whether to zone or ban home grows for medical use. The town planning board has already proposed a zoning bylaw that would ban both dispensaries and home grows. It goes before voters at the annual town meeting on March 16.
Last Thursday, two more medical marijuana providers were sentenced to federal prison terms. Ross Pattison and Brandon Strecker were partners in Eastern Montana Cannabis. Pattison got 20 months and Strecker got a year and a day. They are only the latest Montana medical marijuana providers to be sent to federal prison after a spring 2011 crackdown by the DEA and the Justice Department.
Last Friday, legislators held a hearing on problems with access to medical marijuana. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members acknowledged that it is almost impossible for the state's 3,600 card holders to acquire their medicine. Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said after the hearing that he soon will introduce a bill to set up a regulated system where marijuana is grown at farms and then distributed and taxed through licensed dispensaries.
Last Thursday, a House committee held a hearing on a pending medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 573, would allow patients to grow up to four plants or obtain their medicine through one of five state-licensed dispensaries. Similar bills have twice passed the legislature since 2007, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch (D). New Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) supported the bills as a legislator, but has expressed concerns that the system be tightly regulated.
On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 710, would have allowed patients to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to 12 plants. It would also have allowed state-sanctioned collectives. It was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee after members heard testimony. The bill was defeated 6-2 in a party line vote.
On Monday, the Spokane city council approved a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries. The council feared a proliferation of marijuana businesses before the state finishes writing its rules for legal non-medical marijuana commerce. Spokane currently has about a dozen dispensaries.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Tuesday upheld a preliminary injunction blocking Florida's 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to take and pass a drug test. The court held that mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures.
Federal courts have generally found random, suspicionless drug testing to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but have carved out two "special needs" exceptions: for public safety (allowing testing of pilots, truck drivers, and police doing drug enforcement) and children (allowing testing of students involved in athletic or extracurricular activities). The 11th Circuit held that the Florida law did not fall within those exceptions.
The state of Florida "presented no empirical evidence to bolster its special needs argument that suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants is in any way warranted," the court held. "There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment."
"Today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in affirming a preliminary injunction halting Florida's law mandating suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants, set important precedent, which will hopefully curtail other states from following in Florida's stampede over individuals' Fourth Amendment rights, said Shawn Heller, a co-counsel on the case. "As Judge Jordan succinctly stated in his concurrence, 'constitutionally speaking, the state's position is simply a bridge too far.'" (Heller first joined the case while on staff at the Florida Justice Institute, which argued the case as co-counsel to the ACLU of Florida.)
"The 11th Circuit's decision deals a devastating blow to any state's attempt to impose suspicionless drug testing as a condition of receiving governmental benefits," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, which had filed an amicus brief in the case. "We hope that lawmakers will choose to honor the constitution rather than scapegoat poor people in efforts to address perceived drug problems."
In that amicus brief, the Drug Policy Alliance was joined by the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, the Legal Action Center, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, National Employment Law Project, Child Welfare Organizing Project, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
The brief argued that Florida’s drug testing scheme does not achieve any of its purported goals of protecting the well-being of children, promoting the employability of person on public assistance and assuring fiscal integrity, and does not pass the "special needs" test that is required to justify otherwise unconstitutional searches by government officials.
The ruling comes as public benefits drug testing measures continue to be introduced -- and sometimes advanced -- in states across the country. Some of those bills attempt to overcome the Fourth Amendment obstacles cited by the appeals court here by attempting to set up a "reasonable suspicion" assessment before mandating drug testing.
The Republican-controlled Indiana House voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a "reasonable suspicion" drug testing bill for welfare recipients. House Bill 1483 advanced to the state Senate on a 78-17 vote.
People who fail the drug test would lose their benefits unless they enrolled in a drug treatment program and produced negative results on future drug tests. Repeated positive drug tests could result in the permanent loss of benefits.
The bill defines "reasonable suspicion" as having been charged with a drug offense, having previously presented positive drug test results, or having been assessed as a likely drug user by the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory test, a commercial test that claims a 90% accuracy rate.
The House approved the bill despite a legislative staff financial analysis that showed the state would spend $2.7 million on the program to possibly the save the state $1.5 million in denied benefits. That means the state would lose $1.2 million next year if the bill were to become law.
A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing died Friday in the North Dakota House. It was defeated soundly on a 72-19 vote.
The North Dakota bill, House Bill 1385, originally would have required all welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing at their own expense as part of the application process. Those who failed the drug test would have lost benefits for one year, or six months if they completed drug treatment and passed a drug test. The bill was amended in committee to require drug tests of applicants only upon "reasonable suspicion."
Mandatory suspicionless drug test bills have become law in Florida and Georgia, but have been blocked or put on hold by legal challenges. Federal courts have repeatedly held that a drug test constitutes a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and a search requires either a warrant or probable cause. Some states have sought to address that legal problem by calling for an initial assessment to see if there was evidence that would support a drug test, as North Dakota legislators did in committee.
But that was not enough to keep the bill alive. It was opposed by state social services officials, who said it was probably unconstitutional and unfairly targeted the poor. Legislators also balked at the potential costs, which a legislative fiscal analysis put at $595,000 in program costs for the first two years, as well as $125,000 in anticipated legal costs.
The state only has 1,800 participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and 45% of those are children.
Members of the Missouri legislature have introduced three different marijuana law reform bills this month -- one to decriminalize possession; one to expunge misdemeanor offenses, including possession, from the record after five years; and one to legalize industrial hemp.
Perhaps decriminalization is not quite the right word."Depenalization" would be more correct.
"Every year, nearly 20,000 Missourians are put in chains and then relegated to second-class citizenship by a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana," said John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, who addressed the press conference. "This policy costs Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, but does nothing to decrease marijuana use or eliminate the harms associated with the black market. There are no other proposals before our legislators that can do so much good so easily."
At the same press conference, Rep. Ellinger also introduced the expungement bill, House Bill 511. Under current Missouri law, only a very few specified offenses can be expunged. This bill would allow expungement for all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia offenses, except for violent or sex offenses.
"Although these measures may seem like long shots, one year ago, no one would have predicted that the Republican majority in both houses would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine or reduce the term of probation in most felony drug cases by one half, especially during an election year," said Dan Viets, a veteran attorney with Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. "Those reforms passed with bipartisan support, and these bills can too. That means we will do everything we can to make it happen in 2013."
And this week, Sen. Jason Holsman (D-South Kansas City) introduced an industrial hemp bill, Senate Bill 358. It would exempt industrial hemp -- defined as containing less than 1% THC -- from the state's controlled substances act and allow anyone not convicted of a drug-related crime to grow it. An identical bill was introduced in the House last year, but didn't move.
After the snow melts in Missouri, legislators will be getting back to work. It would be nice if the Show Me State could show the rest of us the way forward.