Skip to main content

Feature: Medical Marijuana in State Legislatures -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #609)
Drug War Issues

Medical marijuana has gone mainstream. It routinely receives above 70% in public opinion polls, it has been legalized in 13 states, and this year 18 more states either tried or are still trying to pass medical marijuana laws. It was also the subject of legislative activity in four states that already have medical marijuana laws.

march in Madison, Wisconsin last month by the group ''Is My Medicine Legal Yet?''
But just because it's mainstream doesn't mean it's easy. The legislative process is notoriously slow, arduous, and fickle. At the beginning of the year, movement leaders thought we would see perhaps four or five states pass medical marijuana laws this year. That hasn't happened. This year, no state that didn't have a medical marijuana law has managed to get one passed, and in a pair of medical marijuana states that did pass additional legislation, recalcitrant governors proved to be obstacles.

Nevertheless, progress has been made, with prospects for more, whether this year or later. As 2009 enters its final weeks, here's where we stand:


Minnesota: In May, the Minnesota legislature approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, SF 97. The House version of the bill won on a 70-64 vote. The Senate, which had approved its version of the bill a month earlier, accepted the House version, passing it on a 38-28 vote. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing and most Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) members supporting the bill. In neither chamber was the margin of victory large enough to overcome a veto. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) quickly vetoed the bill. Blocked by a recalcitrant governor, Minnesota medical marijuana proponents are considering an end run around him next year. Under Minnesota law, the legislature can bypass the governor by voting for a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana use. If such a measure passes the legislature, it would then go directly to a popular vote. With support for medical marijuana at high levels in Minnesota, proponents believe the measure would pass.

New Hampshire: The legislature passed HB 648, which would have created three nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries for patients, but Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed it. In October, the House voted to override the veto on a vote of 240-115, but the Senate fell two votes short on a 14-10 vote.


Alabama: The Alabama medical marijuana bill, HB 434, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and died there without a vote when the session adjourned in May.

Connecticut: Two medical marijuana bills were introduced this year, HB 6156, introduced by Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Sommers), and HB 5175, introduced by Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford). Neither bill received a public hearing. No medical marijuana legislation is likely to move in Connecticut until Gov. Jodi Rell (R) is gone. In 2007, medical marijuana bills passed both the House and the Senate, only to be vetoed by Rell.

Iowa: Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) introduced a medical marijuana bill, SF 293, in March. That same month it got a hearing before the Senate Human Resources Subcommittee, but has had no action since.

Maryland: Maryland enacted an affirmative defense law for medical marijuana patients in 2003, but that doesn't protect them from arrest. HB 1339, sponsored by Delegate Henry Heller (D-Montgomery County), introduced this year, would have created a task force to make recommendations about changing the state's medical marijuana law. The bill received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but died when committee Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Calvert County) refused to schedule a vote on it.

Massachusetts: A medical marijuana bill, HB 2160, was filed in January and referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health, which held a hearing in May. Since then, no action.

Missouri: For the third year in a row, a medical marijuana bill was filed, but went nowhere. HB 277, introduced by Rep. Kate Meiners, was stalled by the House leadership and assigned to the Health Care Policy Committee too late to be scheduled for a hearing this year.

North Carolina: The North Carolina medical marijuana bill, HB 1380 was introduced in April by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford). It got a public hearing before the House Health Committee in June, but has not moved since.

South Dakota: A South Dakota medical marijuana bill, HB 1127, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Lange (D-Madison), managed to survive three restrictive amendments in the House Health and Human Services Committee before the committee voted to kill it on a 9-4 vote in February. The legislature will have one more chance to pass a medical marijuana bill early next year. If it doesn't, medical marijuana backers will place an initiative on the November 2010 ballot.
HB 1128, also sponsored by Lang, would have provided a medical necessity defense for medical marijuana patients. In February, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously killed it by referring it "to the 41st day." The session only has 40 days.

Tennessee: The Tennessee Medical Marijuana Act of 2009, SB 209, sponsored by Sen. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis), and its companion measure, HB 368, sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) were assigned to their respective Health and Human Services Committees, where they were ignored and died a quiet death.

Texas: A Texas medical marijuana bill, HB 164, introduced by Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) was introduced in November 2008 and referred to the House Public Health Committee in February. No action has occurred since then.


Delaware: A medical marijuana bill, SB 94, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henley (D-Wilmington) passed the Senate Health and Social Services on a 4-0 vote in June. It awaits a Senate floor vote when the legislature reconvenes for the second year of its two-year session in January.

Illinois: The Compassionate Use of Cannabis Pilot Program Act, SB 1381, passed the state Senate by a 30-28 vote in May. It passed the House Human Services Committee on a 4-3 vote the next day, but has had no further action in the House. The bill may move when the House returns for the second half of its session in January. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will give "serious consideration" to a medical marijuana bill that reaches his desk.

New Jersey: The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which had already passed the Senate, was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on a 7-1 vote, but only after making it dramatically different from and more restrictive than the Senate version. At the behest of committee chair Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), who was responding to criticism that the bill's distribution and oversight provisions weren't tight enough, the bill was amended so that only "alternative treatment centers" could grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana. In the version passed by the Senate, patients could also grow their own or have caretakers grow it for them. In this latest version, there is no role for caretakers, because it also provides that only patients may pick up medical marijuana at a dispensary, or have a courier deliver it to them.The bill now heads for a floor vote in the Assembly. It also must go back to the Senate, which must approve the amended version.

New York: In New York, a medical marijuana bill, S4041, passed the Senate Health Committee in May, marking the first time a medical marijuana had ever passed the previously GOP-controlled state Senate. It must now pass the Senate Codes Committee before proceeding to a Senate floor vote. The identical House version of the bill, A7542, has been passed from the House Health Committee to the House Codes Committee. The bills are sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Senate Health Committee Chair Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) and would create state-registered dispensaries for patients. Patients could not grow their own. The legislature is expected to return for a special session later this year, and proponents are pushing for a vote.

Pennsylvania: For the first time in memory, Pennsylvania legislators have a medical marijuana bill, HB 1393 before them. Introduced in April by Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia), the bill has been in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee ever since. Just last week, however, the committee chair, Rep. Frank Oliver (D-Philadelphia), scheduled a December 2 hearing on the bill.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin medical marijuana bill, SB 368 was introduced late last month. Gov. Jim Doyle supports it. The bill is set for a December 15 hearing and could move quickly after that.


Hawaii: In July, the Hawaii legislature overrode Gov. Linda Lingle's (R) veto of SB 1058, which establishes a task force to examine problems and critical issues surrounding the state's medical marijuana law. The vote was 25-0 in the Senate and 38-9 in the House. Gov. Lingle has since refused to fund the task force, forcing interested legislators to create the informal Medical Cannabis Working Group to hear testimony.

Maine: In April, when faced with a citizen petition to amend the state's medical marijuana law, the Maine legislature punted, taking no action and leaving it to the voters in this month's election. The voters approved the measure allowing for the creation of dispensaries.

Montana: Montana already has a medical marijuana law, but several bills seeking to change it -- for better or worse -- saw action this year. SB 326, sponsored by Sen. Ron Erickson would have increased allowable amounts, added several illnesses to the list of qualifying conditions, and added child custody protections for patients. It passed the Senate 28-22, but failed on a tie vote to get out of the House Human Services Committee. Sponsors then tried a House floor vote to get the bill out of committee, but they needed 60 votes and only got 47. Similarly, HB 73, which would have allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend marijuana to patients, died in the House Human Services Committee on a tie vote.

Two bad bills also died. HB 473, sponsored by Rep. Tom Berry (R-Roundup) would have barred anyone with a drug felony from ever becoming a registered patient. It died on a tie vote in the House Judiciary Committee. And SB 212, introduced by Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), attempted to force patients with more than a specific amount of THC in their system to prove their innocence if accused of driving under the influence. It was killed by a unanimous vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island: In the only medical marijuana victory at the statehouse so far this year, the Rhode Island legislature in June overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of a bill to create a system of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The override vote was a unanimous 68-0 in the House and a punishing 35-3 in the Senate. Rhode Island thus became the first state to expand an existing medical marijuana program to allow for state-licensed dispensaries.

Statehouse legislation is only one measure of progress in the drive to fully legalize medical marijuana use. Initiative victories, such as Maine's mentioned above, is another, as is the expansion of the dispensary supply infrastructure to states like Colorado or Montana is another. Increased mainstream support, such as last week's bombshell from the American Medical Association certainly bodes well for the future, as does the Obama administration's formalized policy of not targeting medical marijuana providers that are obeying their states' laws. But statehouses make state law -- for better or for worse -- and they are a place where reforms need to be taken, as well as an opportunity for them. By that measure 2009 has been a slower year than hoped -- but not a bad one.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Ii Obama really wants to make change and not keep hurting people, he would order HUD to stop throwing people out of their homes when a Dr. Places them on this drug.

It happened to my family with a BOGUS letter from a guy by the name of Mark Alper who does NOT work for HUD but in my case HUD lied to the court and used this letter anyway.

Now the letter is main stream for others to use and HUD will not correct the LIE!

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:46pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

Bills like the above will be more popular with government types if written in a way to give the government lots to REGULATE (especially Democrats like that, but Republicans too)-- and lots of regulation for users and providers to do and government to... regulate.

There is reasonable grounds to increase the regulation of cannabis: the vast majority of the user population, poisoned like everybody by trillions of dollars of nicotine $igarette propaganda since 1853, uses harmful hot burning overdose, high-carbon-monoxide smoking procedures resulting in effects that look bad and reflect on the cannabis rather than on the faulty use technology.

Institutions like the recently started cannabis cafe in Portland, OR. and the dispensaries in medical-marijuana states should take this opportunity to be the caretakers who advise patients or customers on how to use a vaporizer, or if they must smoke, a long-stemmed one-hitter with dosage limitation of 25-mg. (screened 1/4"-diameter crater), and after inhaling, rebreathe numerous times with an airbonnet to capture more THC and reduce need for extra tokes.

The herb production centers in Oakland, CA, should research injecting THC formula into e-cigarette cartridges, and thus provide an inexpensive portable vaporizer that can be used in smoking restriction areas.


(a) to reduce gross amount of herb used (wasted);

(b) to reduce exposure to heat shock, carbon monoxide and other toxins which cause harm ignorantly blamed on cannabis;

(c) to increase amount of THC obtained per toke;

(d) to permit more precise titration of dosage than ever achieved with big fat $igarettes (including as reportedly provided to certain patients by NIDA).

Regulation is conservative and hard to stay excited about if you've had a toke, so maybe our task is to find a sneaky way to hire rightwingers to do some of it for us and that way everybody will get what they want.

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 2:47pm Permalink
New Jersey (not verified)

"It also must go back to the Senate, which must approve the amended version."

That part isn't quite true. The Assembly can amend the bill to match the Senate version. There would be no need for a concurrence vote, thus the final vote would be on the Assembly floor. In a lame-duck that might be a good strategy...

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 4:02pm Permalink
nottinghamtop (not verified)

The budget battle stalled everything in Harisburg .

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 6:04pm Permalink

Well, 2009 has been a tremendous year for NJ's bill, and the year's not over yet. The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" was originally introduced in January 2005, but it languished in the Senate & Assembly Health Committees for about four years.

A significant breakthrough in the legislative process occurred on December 15, 2008 when the Senate Health Committee conducted a hearing and then voted to release the bill. On February 23, 2009, the entire State Senate approved the bill by a vote of 22 – 16. (This had significant regional impact as bills were subsequently introduced in PA & DE.)

On June 4, 2009 the New Jersey Assembly Health Committee passed a much more restrictive bill, forwarding it to the full Assembly for a vote. We expect the vote by the full Assembly to take place in December 2009, and we are cautiously optimistic that the bill will pass, though at this point we are not sure what version of the bill will pass. Gov. Corzine said he would sign the bill into law when it gets to his desk, and we're very hopeful that we can get it there by the end of the year.

For more info, see:

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 8:15pm Permalink
DamianN (not verified)

Here in the Aloha State the entire Cannabis Issue, Medical or Otherwise is in the doldrums. Stuck in the Sargasso so to speak. While the residents of the Big Island passed a County Referendum last fall to permit adult possession and cultivation on private property, Big Island PD still target non-violent "legal" and medical "offenders".
On Oahu, where I live there is NO word to spread. The Panel mentioned above has conviened and supposedly will continue to meet. No mention in the media recently of any progress if any.
Out here in the Pacific (ON A FRIKIN ISLAND) State officials continue to let huge organised crime syndicates i.e. Japanese, Samoan, Philipine control our herb distribution. If theres anywhere in the US that could regulate the cannabis trade it Hawaii. Corruption in the city, county and state among Law Enforcement prevent that. Think those 2 cops busted in Vegas were an isolated segment of our force? Think again. Theres a reson they felt comfortable enough to 1.Transport WEED interstate. 2.Cruise around DRINKING and BURNING. 3. Park in an EMPTY lot in a RENTAL car! These guys have been on the force for a long time. Not rookies who mad an infraction.
Its these examples that lead our fair state to be at or near top of the list for chronic Meth-amphetamine related issues while regular stoners like me have to pay into the corruption pool for a crappy $60 eighth.
-end rant-

Sat, 11/21/2009 - 1:08am Permalink
LEAP_Speaker (not verified)

Arizona has passed several medical marijuana laws, only to be stopped by the legislature. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP) is gathering signatures to pass a medical marijuana initiative in November 2010.

They have over 125,000 signatures, and have only gathered signatures in Tucson, and I think Phoenix. I know a lot of people here in N/W Arizona would like to sign the petition, but as far as I can find, there's no way for supporters in smaller towns, and rural areas of Arizona to sign the petition without driving hundreds of miles.

Hopefully supporters in rural areas of Arizona to sign the petition and show their support soon. It's long time Arizona stop attesting patients for using their medicine.

E. Jay Fleming
LEAP Speaker
[email protected]
Mohave Valley, AZ

Sat, 11/21/2009 - 3:19pm Permalink
ezrydn (not verified)

ROAD TRIP!! What you need is a Harley.

Sat, 11/21/2009 - 4:13pm Permalink
Bryan (not verified)

I'm so tired of having to deal with the government anytime i feal like lighting up. if those stupid government officials would pull their head out of there ass for longer than it takes to brown nose another politician they would noticed that we could accttually fix about 80% of this countries problems just by legalizing marijuana all togeather. if they were to allow people the right to toke, and just tax it like they do everything else, then the 2.7 billion dollars that americans spend on marijuana each year would not be going into the drug dealers pockets but back into the communities in which we are all striving to just make better. if our government were to acctually listen to us FELLOW AMERICANS, instead of turning there back on us and pretending that we are to stupid to understand their political standpoint on it, then they would understand that we americans see what it is that they are trying to say, but we get to see everything from a point that they would be afraid to be in. us americans get to see what their policies are doing out in the real world. we get to watch our friends, brothers, mothers, sisters, dads, grandparents. and many more go to jail because they have problems that marijuana seems to fix. anyway i have said most of my peace and i am sure that most of you other americans agree with me full heartedly. but we are in a long battle with the government to get our nation back to the way it was set up by the four fathers. (who might i add were very avid pot smokers too.). the only way for us to get our nation back is to fight against our own government which will be a long hard battle but in the end our children will look up to us in thanks because we will be the generation who took our country back into our own hands to right the wrongs that have been done to her.
your pot smoking american friend,
the bud man
chronic chapter 13 north AL.

Thu, 01/07/2010 - 5:01pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.