Medical Marijuana

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Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- The State of Play
medical marijuana hearings, Minnesota Senate (the via
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:

South Dakota

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


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


States with the best chance of passage this year:

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.
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."
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.

Medical Marijuana Comedy Show ExtravaGANJA

SNL's Drunk Girl himself, Jeff Richards headlines...ExWWE Wrestler Rob Van Dam makes his comedy debut! The show will feature the comedic talents of host Howard Dover (, ?Drunk Girl? himself, Jeff Richards, the only cast member of both MadTV and SNL, (, WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam (, Barry Diamond (Tom Hank's buddy in Bachelor Party,, Rick Overton (, Laura Levites (, Frazer Smith ( and much more! Show time is 9:00 pm. Doors open at 8:00 pm. Tickets are only $20 available at the door, (cash only), or in advance for $15. Tickets are also available through Marijuana Policy Project by contacting Sarah Lovering at, or through Americans for Safe Access by visiting LAPCG at 7213 Santa Monica Blvd., or from your local compassion club. This is a 21+ event with a 2 drink minimum. * Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of the substance." -- Francis L. Young, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988
Sun, 05/17/2009 - 9:00pm
8433 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
United States

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

Minnesota Cares logo

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.


St. Paul, MN
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.
Mon, 07/20/2009 - 8:30am
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: US 9th Circuit Upholds 10-Year Sentence for Bryan Epis, First California Supplier Tried on Federal Charges

In an unpublished opinion issued last month, a three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has upheld the 10-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence of Bryan Epis, the first medical marijuana supplier prosecuted in federal court after the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, though not the first convicted.
Bryan Epis reunited with his daughter, Ashley, on being released in 2004 following an initially favorable ruling on medical marijuana by the 9th Circuit
Epis, of Chico, was arrested by Butte County officers in June 1997 and ultimately convicted by a federal jury in 2002 of conspiring to grow more than a thousand marijuana plants. Authorities only seized 458 plants from his home, but presented records suggesting more plants had been grown there.

Epis had a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana for chronic back and shoulder pain. He said he was growing for a Chico patients group and admitted selling some plants at cost to co-op members. But federal prosecutors portrayed him as a drug dealer with dollar signs in his eyes.

He and his attorney, Brenda Grantland, appealed the sentence on various grounds, but the three-judge panel didn't go for any of them. Epis had no reason to believe Prop. 215 would shield him from federal law, especially because "a large-scale marijuana operation can have an impact on interstate commerce," they wrote, harking back to the Supreme Court decision in Raich v. Gonzalez that established federal primacy over state law. Epis served a little over two years on his sentence before being released on bail in 2004 as he appealed his case. Grantland will request that his bail be continued pending an appeal to the full 9th Circuit.

Epis supporters expressed shock and outrage at the decision. "This is an egregious miscarriage of justice with no conceivable benefit to the public," said California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "Bryan Epis believed he was acting lawfully. To imprison him for 10 years is the kind of sentence one might expect only from judges who countenance torture," Gieringer added, taking a direct swipe at panel member Judge Jay Bybee, now infamous as one of the authors of the Justice Department memos justifying torture during the Bush administration.

Marijuana: Pot Continues to Climb in Public Opinion Polls -- Zogby Goes Over 50%

Support for marijuana legalization or decriminalization among the American public continues to climb and may now be a majority position, if a pair of recently released polls are any indication. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released April 30 found that 46% of those surveyed supported "legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use," or decriminalization, while a Zogby poll released Wednesday found that 52% supported the legalization, taxation, and regulation of pot.

The 46% figure in the ABC News/Washington Post poll is the highest since the poll first asked the question in the 1980s, and more than double what the figure was just a dozen years ago. Support for decriminalization hovered at around one-quarter of the population throughout the 1980s, and was at 22% as recently as 1997. By 2002, support had jumped to 39%, and now it has jumped again.

When it comes to political affiliation, support for decrim is at 53% for independents, 49% for Democrats, and 28% for Republicans. Since the late 1980s, Democratic support has jumped by 29 points and independent support by 27. Even among Republicans, support for decrim has increased by 10 points.

Support was highest among people reporting no religious affiliation, with 70%, and lowest among evangelical white Protestants, at 24%. People under age 30 supported decrim at a rate of 57%, nearly twice that of seniors, at 30%. People in between the young and the old split down the middle.

The numbers were even better in the Zogby poll. Confronted with a straightforward question about marijuana legalization, 52% of respondents said yes, 37% said no, and 11% were not sure.

The pollsters asked: "Scarce law enforcement and prison resources, a desire to neutralize drug cartels and the need for new sources of revenue have resurrected the topic of legalizing marijuana. Proponents say it makes sense to tax and regulate the drug while opponents say that legalization would lead marijuana users to use other illegal drugs. Would you favor or oppose the government's effort to legalize marijuana?"

The poll was commissioned for the conservative-leaning O'Leary Report and published Wednesday as a full page ad in the Washington, DC, political newsletter The Hill. In that poll, the sample of respondents was weighted to reflect the outcome of the 2008 presidential race, with 54% Obama supporters and 46% McCain supporters.

"This new survey continues the recent trend of strong and growing support for taxing and regulating marijuana and ending the disastrously failed policy of prohibition," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project."Voters are coming to realize that marijuana prohibition gives us the worst of all possible worlds -- a drug that's widely available but totally unregulated, whose producers and sellers pay no taxes but whose profits often support murderous drug cartels," Kampia said. "The public is way ahead of the politicians on this."

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.

Another Medical Marijuana Raid in California

This is interesting/disturbing:

Kern Sheriff’s deputies and agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency were searching a medical marijuana store in east Bakersfield Wednesday afternoon.

Calls to the sheriff’s department were not immediately returned. A spokesman from the DEA said that agency was there only to assist. The spokesman said the sheriff’s department was the lead agency in the case.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood said his office will not interfere with the operation of non-profit medical co-operatives run by patients for patients. But, he said, dispensaries that sell marijuana for a profit should be expected to be treated like other drug dealers. [KGET]

DEA explained that they're "only there to assist," but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of federal charges down the road. This isn’t the first time DEA has "assisted" local law enforcement during a dispensary raid. I just spoke with Caren Woodson at Americans for Safe Access and they're waiting to learn more about the situation.

I'll update as details emerge.

Update: ASA just informed me that this appears to be a DEA raid being assisted by local authorities, rather than the other way around.

Update 2: Turns out it really was a state raid, based on a state warrant. ASA got some mixed messages from the PR dept. at DEA.

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.
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."

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