Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2005 -- An Overview of Progress So Far 2/25/05

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With medical marijuana already approved directly by voters in eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Montana) and by the legislative process in three more (Hawaii in 2001, and Vermont last year, plus a less far reaching bill in Maryland that provides a medical necessity defense), the push for medical marijuana in state legislatures is well underway this year. According to a DRCNet count this week, as many as 20 states may have (or have had) a chance to legislate on the issue this year. DRCNet counts eight states with bills introduced and still alive, four states where bills are either already dead or effectively so, and eight states where strong efforts are underway to get legislation introduced this session.

Rhode Island Senate
While the going is tough -- remember, only three states have recently okayed medical marijuana legislatively -- medical marijuana advocates hope to pick up some victories this year. Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) executive director Rob Kampia told DRCNet two weeks ago that he thought bills would pass in two states this year.

For some states, it is already too late. In Mississippi and South Dakota, bills were introduced but have already died, while an Iowa bill appears stymied by uncooperative committee chairmen. In New Hampshire, a bill has been introduced but was dead on arrival, according to MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. In other states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin, efforts to get legislation introduced by the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Drug Policy Alliance, and/or local activists are well underway but have not yet borne fruit. Here are the bills that are alive as of this writing:

CONNECTICUT: HB6578 is identical to the medical marijuana bill that passed the House last year. With strong bipartisan support, favorable editorials in major state newspapers, and the backing of the Connecticut Nurses Association and more than 300 Connecticut doctors, bill supporters are hopeful that this year the legislation will make it to the governor's desk.

The bill allows for the use of medical marijuana with a written doctors' recommendation for a "debilitating medical condition" including, but not limited to, cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, wasting, and muscle spasms. Patients would have to register with the state Department of Consumer Affairs. The bill allows a patient or designated caregiver to grow up to five plants and possess up to an ounce of marijuana without running afoul of the criminal law.

The bill is currently in the judiciary committee, where it was the subject of a hearing February 15. At that hearing, lawmakers heard from the doctor and widow of a cancer patient, a patient suffering from paralysis and spasms, and the head of Hartford Hospital's cancer center, with all urging legislators to pass the bill.

The bill's cosponsors include Reps. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Somers) and Melissa Olson (D-Norwich). Another supporter of the bill told the Hartford Courant the day of the hearings she thought chances for passage were good. "I think the fact that it passed the House last year will give it more momentum," said Sen. Toni Harp (D-New Haven). "There's a lot more energy around the issue this year than in the past."

ILLINOIS: As we reported last week, a medical marijuana bill that supporters thought headed for success was at least temporarily derailed by an unfavorable committee vote taken after an unannounced barnstorming visit to Springfield by Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters. The bill remains in the Human Services Committee as supporters attempt to rally their forces. The bill, HB0407, would allow patients suffering from a debilitating disease or condition to use marijuana upon a physician's written recommendation. Patients would register with the state Department of Human Services and would receive an ID card protecting them from arrest if the amount of marijuana they possess is within 12 plants and 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana.

In addition to legislative supporters, the Illinois bill is being pushed by Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform and the Marijuana Policy Project, who have enlisted medical organizations in support of it. In addition to drug czar Walters, his former henchperson Andrea Barthwell, who served as deputy drug czar until resigning last year, has been prominent in raising opposition to the measure. Illinois NORML has also been working on the bill in concert with Ideal Reform.

NEW JERSEY: Senate Bill 220, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, has been introduced by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex) with a companion bill set to be introduced in the House by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Patrick Township). The Senate bill currently awaits a hearing in the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

Under the bill, patients with a debilitating medical condition could, upon obtaining a written doctor's recommendation, possess up to six plants and one ounce of usable marijuana would not be subject to arrest or prosecution. Patients and caregivers would be issued registry cards by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Support for the bill is led by the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, which includes a former New Jersey NORML group and which has pushed for and received endorsements for the bill from a number of groups in the Garden State, including the New Jersey Nurses Association.

NEW MEXICO: Senate Bill 492, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is moving. The measure has been passed out of the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 5-0 vote and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The measure would protect medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution if they comply with regulations that must be written by the state Department of Health. Patients would seek a written recommendation from a physician and register with the state. The bill also provides an affirmative defense from prosecution for persons arrested who are in compliance with the act.

The Drug Policy Alliance and local activists are leading the charge in the Land of Enchantment.

OHIO: The Ohio Medical Marijuana Act was introduced February 17 by Sen. Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown). The bill would allow doctors to recommend marijuana for a variety of conditions, including HIV/AIDS and other wasting diseases, epilepsy, glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, muscle spasticity, cancer, cachexia, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Crohn's disease, nausea and chronic pain. Patients would register with the state Department of Health and receive an ID card protecting them from arrest. The Ohio bill does not set quantity limits; instead, patients may possess "an adequate supply" of marijuana, which the bill defines as "not more than is reasonably necessary to ensure the uninterrupted availability of marijuana for the purpose of alleviating the symptoms or effects of a qualifying patient's debilitating medical condition."

"This bill is about helping seriously ill and debilitated Ohioans get access to a treatment that will help them," Senator Hagan said. "I'm not trying to legalize marijuana. I just believe that allowing people to suffer needlessly when there is an effective drug out there to ease their symptoms is unconscionable."

The effort in Ohio is being led by the Ohio Patients Network and the Marijuana Policy Project with added assistance from Northern Ohio NORML. "Cannabis has been proven to be an effective medicine and this bill will protect patients and doctors. Hopefully this bill will pass and the sick and dying can finally be taken off the battlefield in the war on drugs," said Network president Joseph Zoretic upon the bill's introduction.

RHODE ISLAND: Senate Bill 710, the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act, was introduced February 17 by Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-3rd), with a companion bill introduced in the House by Rep. Thomas Slater (D-10th). The bill awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is the successor to an effort last year that came close but ultimately failed.

The bill allows patients registered with the state Department of Health to possess up to 12 plants and 2 ½ ounces of marijuana without fear of penalty. Patients must have a written recommendation from a qualified practitioner.

The companion Senate and House bills have broad bipartisan support, with a total of 68 cosponsors, as well as endorsements from Rhode Island Medical Society, Rhode Island State Nurses Association, AIDS Project Rhode Island, United Nurses and Allied professionals, Rhode Island ACLU, and more than 100 Rhode Island physicians. The local effort in Rhode Island has been championed by Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapters at Brown and the University of Rhode Island and MPP.

TENNESSEE: Earlier this month, Sen. Stephen Cohen (D-Memphis) and Reps. Rob Briley (D-Nashville) and David Shephard (D-Dickson) introduced companion measures -- HB0968 and SB1942 -- that would create the Tennessee Medical Marijuana Act. The measures currently are assigned to the House Mental Health Subcommittee of the Health and Human Resources Committee, which is chaired by Shephard, and the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee. The Tennessee measure follows the pattern of bills introduced in other states, with patients suffering from a debilitating medical condition allowed to possess up to six plants and one ounce of marijuana upon a written recommendation by a physician and registration with the state Department of Health. Caregivers receive the same protections. A newly formed Tennessee NORML chapter is heavily involved in that effort.

TEXAS: On January 28, two representatives from Austin, Terry Keel (R) and Elliot Naishtat (D), introduced HB 658, which would allow an affirmative medical defense for people arrested for marijuana possession if that person has a bona fide medical condition and a doctor's recommendation. The bill also explicitly protects doctors from harassment for recommending medical marijuana.

The substantive portion of the bill reads as follows: "It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a) that the person possessed the marihuana as a patient of a practitioner licensed to practice medicine in this state pursuant to the recommendation of that practitioner for the amelioration of the symptoms or effects of a bona fide medical condition. An agency, including a law enforcement agency, of this state or a political subdivision of this state may not initiate an administrative, civil, or criminal investigation into a practitioner licensed to practice medicine in this state on the ground that the practitioner discussed marihuana as a treatment option with a patient of the practitioner."

The prime mover behind the bill is the Austin-based Texans for Medical Marijuana. The Austin NORML chapter has also been involved in lobbying for the bill. The bill has been referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee where it awaits action.

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Issue #376 -- 2/25/05

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Editorial: PROOF | Campaign Against "Souder's Law" Progresses Forward and Outward in DC and the States | Ohio Drugged Driving Bill Hits Speed Bumps in House After Quick Senate Approval | Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2005 -- An Overview of Progress So Far | DRCNet Book Reviews: "Drugs and Democracy" and "Dangerous Harvests" | DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature Rep. John Conyers and Kemba Smith, March 9 in Washington, DC | This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: Bush All But Admitted Past Drug Use in Secretly Recorded Tapes | Newsbrief: Pushing National Drug Control Strategy, Drug Czar Calls for Drug War to Emulate Terror War | Newsbrief: Parents More Chill About Teen Drug Use, Study Frets | Newsbrief: In Latest Border Killing, Agent Shoots Unarmed Marijuana Mule | Newsbrief: More Meth Madness -- Iowa School District to Ban Homemade Goodies for Fear of Crank Contamination | Newsbrief: Marijuana Legalization to be Debated at Canadian Liberal Party Meet | Newsbrief: Singapore's First-Ever Cocaine Bust Prompts Ad Campaign Aimed at Elite | Newsbrief: Counterculture Icon Hunter Thompson Dead By His Own Hand | This Week in History | Job Openings with MPP Nevada Campaign, and Other Opportunities | The Reformer's Calendar

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