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WV Bill Refelonizes Drug Possession, OR Measure 110 Audit Released, More... (1/22/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1203)

Wisconsin Republicans are at an impasse over medical marijuana, a Hawaii civil asset forfeiture reform bill gets filed, and more.

A West Virginia bill would turn current misdemeanor drug charges into felonies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Bill to Allow Adult Use Sales Filed. State Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Aaron Rouse (D) have filed a bill to allow for the commercial legalization of marijuana, Senate Bill 423. Rep. Paul Krizek (D) has filed companion legislation, House Bill 698 in the House.

A Democratic legislature legalized marijuana possession in 2021, but when Republicans took control in 2022 and 2023 plans to advance legal sales at the statehouse stalled. Now, Democrats are again in control of both chambers of the General Assembly.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, however, remains opposed to commercial legalization, and Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a gubernatorial veto. "I just don't have a lot of interest in pressing forward with marijuana legalization," he said.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Bill Would Expand State Low-THC Medical Marijuana Program to Include Flower. A bill that would change the state's definition of "medical cannabidiol" to include forms of oral, topical, and inhalable cannabis, including raw flowers advanced in a subcommittee vote Tuesday. House Study Bill 532 now goes to the full Committee on Public Safety.

Current state law requires medical cannabis products to be extracts, but proponents of the bill say that process is costly and allowing the use of other forms of the drug would lower costs for patients.

"We are the only state really left in the country that is requiring extracts in their products," said industry lobbyist Dane Schumann. "The reason other states have moved away from requiring that is because of what I just described, it's very expensive to make patients have to buy that."

Wisconsin Republicans at Impasse over Medical Marijuana Proposal. A proposal from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) to create state-run medical marijuana dispensaries is "a nonstarter," Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said, leaving the party, which controls the legislature, at an impasse.

Vos said Tuesday that he would not compromise with Senate Republicans, saying that "months and months of negotiations" resulted in a "very detailed bill" he proposed that has the minimum 50 votes needed to pass among Republicans.

"Taking and renegotiating the bill means we probably lose votes in our caucus," Vos said. "So I'd rather get us through to keep the promise we made, which is to have a comprehensive bill that can actually become law as opposed to an ethereal idea that maybe somebody could support someday but it never actually makes it anywhere."

Vos's bill would have limited medical marijuana to people suffering from a list of specified medical conditions and it would not have allowed smokeable marijuana. Medical marijuana would have been dispensed in only five state-run dispensaries under the Vos plan.

Wisconsin is one of only a dozen states without some form of legal medical marijuana, and while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he would support a medical marijuana bill, he has been noncommittal on the Vos plan.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Bill Would Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture Process, Opt State Out of Federal Sharing Program. Sen. Joy San Buenaventura and two cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 2124, which would reform the state's asset forfeiture process to require a conviction in most cases. The enactment of this bill would also effectively opt the state out of a program that allows police to circumvent more strict state forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.

The legislation would restrict asset forfeiture to felony cases and would require a criminal conviction before prosecutors could proceed with the process in most cases.

Passage would effectively opt Hawaii out of a federal program known as Equitable Sharing that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws. This is particularly important in light of a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ) that remains in effect today.

The bill has yet to be referred to committee.

Drug Policy

Oregon Audit Rates Measure 110 Implementation As Shaky. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan (D) released an audit of the state's first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization last Thursday, saying it was too early to call it a failure. Voters approved drug decriminalization and the use of legal marijuana taxes to fund drug treatment in the 2020 election, but since then, a chorus of critics has risen against the move.

The audit found that while Measure 110 was supposed to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into drug treatment, prevention, and harm reduction programs, that has yet to translate into improved care networks in a state that ranks last in the nation in access to drug treatment and second in the nation in drug use disorders.

Efforts to amend or undo Measure 110 are currently underway in the legislature and via the initiative process.

"When Oregonians passed Measure 110, we expected that our loved ones battling addiction would have access to treatment and a chance for a better life," Fagan told reporters. "We expected there will be fewer of our neighbors struggling on the streets."

State auditors were split on how the program so far should be graded, with one saying "maybe a C," another giving it a D, and Fagan saying she would grade it "incomplete."

"I recognize that Measure 110's success depends on Oregon's ability to solve many larger challenges in the behavioral health system, such as the need to expand treatment capacity and better support counselors and other workers," said Oregon Health Authority Director James Schroeder, who was appointed this month by recently elected Gov. Tina Kotek.

The audit made a number of recommendations, including having the health authority publish a plan by September on integrating Measure 110 into the state's overall behavioral health system; improving data collection so the ballot measure's effectiveness can be tracked by policymakers and the public; and setting clear expectations, roles and responsibilities.

West Virginia Bill Would Bring Back Felony Charges for Drug Possession. Under current state law, the possession of small amounts of drugs is a misdemeanor punishable only by up to six months in jail, but a bill introduced in the current session, Senate Bill 154, would upgrade possession of hard drugs to a felony punishable with one-to-five years in prison. It's part of an across-the-board overhaul of the state's narcotics statutes, which also includes increasing the mandatory minimum for dealing drugs from one year to three years in prison.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year only to die in the House. It is one of a slew of "tough on crime" bills state lawmakers have introduced this year, including make second-offense fleeing an officer on foot a felony.

"We're trying to be proactive here," said bill sponsor Sen. Vince Deeds (R). "Right now, if you have someone go in for simple possession, they're back out and they're committing more crimes to feed their habits," Deeds said. "The idea here is to have early intervention with these end-level users."

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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.

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