HI Legal Marijuana Bill Advances, San Francisco Voters Ready for Crime Crackdown, More... (2/14/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1205)

Marijuana-related legislation is popping up at statehouses around the country, North Carolina lawmakers ponder banning "gas station heroin," and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Marijuana Reform Bills Are Moving. Lawmakers in the Aloha State are taking up marijuana with alacrity. In the House, the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian affairs approved a pair of marijuana reform bills, House Bill1596, which reduces penalties involving the possession of marijuana (up to one ounce) and marijuana-related paraphernalia to a fine-only ($25) non-criminal offense, and House Bill1595, which facilitates state-initiated expungements for those with misdemeanor marijuana convictions. (Under existing law, only those convicted of possessing three grams of cannabis or less are eligible for expungement relief; moreover, those eligible must petition the courts themselves in order to have their conviction vacated.)

In the Senate, the Health and Human Services and Judiciary joint committee approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3335, which seeks to regulate the adult use cannabis market. Advocates have criticized some provisions of the bill, including sections that create a new criminal offense for minors in possession.

Idaho Bill Would Set Minimum $420 Fine for Small-Time Pot Possession. Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) filed a bill Tuesday in the House State Affairs Committee that would create a minimum $420 fine for possession of any amount less than ounces of marijuana. The crime would be a misdemeanor.

Possessing more than three ounces of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The committee voted to introduce the bill, paving the way for it to be brought back for a public hearing.

US Virgin Islands Marijuana Legalization Gets Big Push. The US territory approved marijuana legalization more than a year ago, but progress had been stalled by ambiguities in the law's language an the lack of quorum on an advisory board charged with developing rules and regulations. But now that board has approved a list of proposed rules and regulations, and a 30-day public comment period on the proposed regulations will begin soon.

"We have been waiting a very long time for this," Dr. Catherine Kean, the advisory board's chairperson, said.

The board is also completing a registration system for people who use marijuana for medicinal or sacramental reasons, who should be able to legally access by April. Businesses will be able to register by this summer, but cultivation and manufacturing licenses likely will not be granted before the end of the year.

The law allows adults ages 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, a half-ounce of cannabis concentrate and one ounce of products such as edibles for recreational, sacramental and other uses. Medical marijuana patients can have double those amounts.

Retail sales will be taxed at 18 percent, although medical marijuana patients are exempt.

Wyoming Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Albany County) has filed a bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession, House Bill 204. It has one House cosponsor and two Senate cosponsors.

The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three ounces, with a maximum fine of $100. Under current law, possession of less than three ounces of weed is a misdemeanor carrying a potential penalty of up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

It would also make possession of more than three ounces a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. Current law makes possession felony, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine or both.

Drug Policy

North Carolina Lawmakers Take Aim at "Gas Station Heroin.". A House committee on substance abuse issues met Tuesday to discuss the unscheduled drug tianeptine, which is marketed as a dietary supplement under brand names such as Za Za and Neptune's Fix. But tianeptine, and anti-depressant used medically in Europe, is also known as "gas station heroin" because it is often sold in gas stations and convenience stores because it is addictive and has been linked to medical emergencies.

Tianeptine is already banned in Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and the FDA has warned that it linked to seizures, overdoses, and even deaths.

"Tianeptine is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for any medical use," the agency said on its web site. "Despite that, some companies are illegally marketing and selling products containing tianeptine to consumers. They are also making dangerous and unproven claims that tianeptine can improve brain function and treat anxiety, depression, pain, opioid use disorder, and other conditions."

Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-Stanly) takes a prohibitionist approach, arguing that tianeptine should be added to pending legislation to regulate hemp products and other new drugs.

"We're outlawing kratom in that bill," he said. "And the Senate could add this drug to that bill very easily. I don't think we need to make it a controlled drug, we just need to outlaw it."

The legislature is now in recess and will not return until April, when the issue can be taken up again.

San Francisco Voters Appear Tired of Drugs and Crime. A new poll conducted by the city Chamber of Commerce ahead of local election on March 5 finds strong voter support for a pair of measures aimed at increasing police powers and requiring that people seeking cash welfare be drug tested and pushed toward drug treatment.

The poll found that a solid majority -- 61 percent -- would vote yes on Prop. E, which would expand the police department's surveillance capabilities and allow for more vehicle pursuits. And Prop. F, which would require screening and treatment for single adults suspected of being addicted to illegal drugs as a condition of receiving cash assistance, garnered similar support, with 61 percent approving.

"I think voters in San Francisco are looking for solutions to address the problems they see in the city," said Ruth Bernstein, CEO of EMC Research, which conducted 500 interviews for the poll. "They are seeing concerns about crime. They are seeing a number of challenges in the city. And they are open and supportive of changes that are going to address some of those problems."

"I think it's obvious that people are reacting to the news and information to the ongoing flash mob crimes event and the problem of open drug sales in the Tenderloin and SoMa areas," said University of San Francisco politics professor James Taylor. "And this was predictable, that the public would act in that particular way. It would be surprising if the public opposed any of the reforms."

"I suspect it reflects frustration and anger," said Stanford professor Keith Humphreys, an expert on drug addiction, about the public's support. "We're not a city overrun by right-wing people. They've just come to the end of their rope."

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