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Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Approved by House Committee

The Minnesota medical marijuana bill, HF 655 is on the move. In the bill's first House committee test, the Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday passed the bill on an 8-6 vote. It now heads for the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee.

A companion bill is the Senate is also moving. That legislation passed the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee on February 19 and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth), lead sponsor of the House bill, hailed the vote as a victory for humane, common-sense legislation. "Politicians in St. Paul should trust physicians to know what's best for their patients," he said.

Among those who testified in support of the bill was Shannon Pakonen, whose son was pulled out of class and interrogated about his medical marijuana use by schoolteachers earlier this week. Pakonen went public with his medical marijuana use by testifying about it before a Senate committee about how he uses it to treat involuntary tics related to his Tourette's Syndrome.

"My son should not have to be treated like a criminal on the basis that he is my son," Pakonen testified, adding that this incident is precisely why Minnesota needs a medical marijuana law to protect patients and their families from harassment.

With both the House and Senate versions of the medical marijuana bill moving, and a new bill in New Mexico on the way to the desk of a governor who pushed to get it there, Minnesota could be on the way to becoming the 13th state to recognize medical marijuana. It's already the law in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Second Time Around, House Okays Medical Marijuana

Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New Mexican
URL: 
http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/58547.html

NM: House approves medical marijuana bill

Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States
Publication/Source: 
KOBTV
URL: 
http://www.kobtv.com/index.cfm?viewer=storyviewer&id=31024&cat=NMTOPSTORIES

Vote Hemp Press Release: Hemp Farming To Be Studied In New Mexico

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 CONTACT: Robert Jones, NMHemp.org, 505-425-6825, [email protected] Hemp Farming To Be Studied In New Mexico SANTA FE, NM - The ditch weed whose name dare not be spoken can now be talked about openly in polite society. Lawmakers in Santa Fe have acknowledged and declared that hemp is not marijuana. The idea of industrial hemp farming and production has been given the stamp of approval and can now be considered mainstream in New Mexico. http://www.votehemp.com/state/new_mexico.html A memorial (HR49) has passed the New Mexico House of Representatives requesting and urging the New Mexico State Board of Regents to undertake a study on the viability of a legal industrial hemp industry in New Mexico. In addition, the memorial urges the U.S. Congress "to recognize industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity, to define industrial hemp in federal law as a non-psychoactive and genetically identifiable species of the genus Cannabis and acknowledge that allowing and encouraging farmers to produce industrial hemp will improve the balance of trade by promoting domestic sources of industrial hemp and [that hemp] can make a positive contribution to the issues of global climate change and carbon sequestration." Lawmakers urged that an "in-depth economic analysis address the benefits of a legal hemp industry in New Mexico and the long-term impacts of establishing proper permitting and licensing procedures. The economic analysis shall attempt to determine the costs and benefits associated with encouraging economic development in various areas, including textiles, pulping products for paper, biocomposites and building materials, animal bedding, nutritional products for livestock, industries related to seed extraction and resins for potential biofuels, lubricants, paints and inks, cosmetics, body care products and nutritional supplements." "The legislature has spoken," says Albuquerque attorney John McCall, "saying that New Mexico lawmakers are on-board in support of industrial hemp farming, and encouraging our scientists and educators to look at the subject without fear of retribution by law enforcement or negative conventional wisdom. All of the benefits of hemp can now be explored in a legal forum." "This will give people all over the country the ability to approach the federal Drug Enforcement Authority to demand that industrial hemp be removed from their schedule of narcotic drugs and be allowed to once again become one of our major cash crops in the United States," according to McCall. According to the bill that passed yesterday by a vote of 59-2, industrial hemp refers to varieties of Cannabis that have less than three-tenths of one percent THC, and that it is not to be confused with marijuana. Industrial hemp is currently produced in more than thirty nations, including Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Romania, Australia and China. The United States is, by far, the largest consumer of industrial hemp products. Our manufacturers import millions of dollars worth of hemp seed and fiber every year and annual sales of hemp foods in the United States is growing rapidly. The New Mexico legislature has recognized that industrial hemp is a high-value, low-input crop that is not genetically modified, requires no pesticides, can be dryland farmed and uses less fertilizer than wheat or corn - both of which are grown here. Eric Steenstra, the President of Vote Hemp, the leading national industrial hemp advocacy group, expressed his congratulations. "I want to thank Rep. Begaye and the states' industrial hemp supporters for making New Mexico the 15th state to take a position in favor of returning to commercial industrial hemp farming. I hope New Mexico's Congressional delegation acts on the overwhelming support the state has shown for hemp." More information about industrial hemp in New Mexico can be found on the NMHemp.org Web site.
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical marijuana debate returns to state Capitol

Location: 
Hartford, CT
United States
Publication/Source: 
Journal Inquirer (CT)
URL: 
http://www.journalinquirer.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18071618&BRD=985&PAG=461&dept_id=161556&rfi=6

Senate pending marijuana drug bill: Illinois may allow medicinal uses

Location: 
IL
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Daily Illini (IL)
URL: 
http://media.www.dailyillini.com/media/storage/paper736/news/2007/03/12/News/Senate.Pending.Marijuana.Drug.Bill-2771925.shtml

Bitter, who's bitter? On the New Mexico medical marijuana vote.

The New Mexico House killed the medical marijuana bill there today on a vote of 36-33. The debate was filled with the usual bigotry, hypocrisy, and ignorance parading as expertise. I'm particularly irritated with Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), who, because he works as a pharmacist, apparently thinks he is an expert on medical marijuana. Here's what he had to say as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Opponents disputed that marijuana was an effective medicine. "Medically it just really has no value. For us to approve a drug like this tells our children and tells the rest of the people in this state that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug," said Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad and a pharmacist. "That is absolutely wrong for us to do." He described marijuana as "the No. 1 gateway drug to abusing other drugs in our society."
Heaton, who makes a living pushing pills, tells us authoritatively that marijuana has no medical value. Does he cite the scientific literature? No. Has he ever read the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics? Not as far as we can tell. What is the basis for his claim of no medicinal value? There is none, except for his appeal to authority as a pharmacist, and therefore, someone who presumably knows about such things. Heaton also argues that approving the medicinal use of marijuana "tells the children…that we, somehow as leaders, give tacit approval to the use of this drug." Oh, really? Does that mean when he is dispensing prescription opiates like Oxycontin he is giving "tacit approval" of their recreational use? Or does he mean that his opposition to medical marijuana is so ideologically driven that he would rather forego its healing and ameloriating effects than risk having young people know it can be used medicinally? If it's the former case, Heaton is a hypocrite of the highest order. If it's the later, he is a demagogue pretending to be an expert. Take your pick. The New Mexican also noted another argument often trotted out in opposition to state medical marijuana laws:
Opponents of the bill said marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and patients in New Mexico could be subject to potential federal prosecution.
I really don’t understand why this argument should sway anyone. My response is, "Okay, let the DEA come in and start arresting patients, then." My second response is to wonder incredulously at the concern displayed by people who make this argument. Let me get this straight: They are so concerned that patients could be arrested under federal law that they would rather have them be arrested under state law? Gee, thanks for all that concern. If I sound just a bit grumpy, it's because I am. I spend my working life trying to end this stupid drug war. Every week, I write stories like the following about a Brazilian governor who wants to legalize drugs to fight crime, a high-level British panel calling for a complete rewriting of the drug laws, or a Scottish politician calling for the decriminalization of drugs. There are also similar stories from the US (although not this week)—a politician or an academic or an ex-cop calling for the end of the drug war. Yet although our anti-prohibitionist position is well justified both pragmatically (in terms of policy results) and philosophically (in terms of morality and ethics), not only do we seem not to be progressing toward our goal of a sensible and compassionate policy surrounding the use of drugs, we can't even get a goddamned measly little medical marijuana bill passed in a state where the public says it wants it, the governor says he wants it, and the state Senate voted for it. Sometimes I just want to chuck it all and move to my own sovereign island republic. But since there don’t seem to be too many of those available right now, I guess I'll keep slogging away. Today, however, I remind myself of Woody Harrelson's Woody the Bartender character in the 1980s sit-com "Cheers." At one point, when Woody is feeling betrayed by his rich girlfriend, Kelly, Sam accuses him of being bitter. "I'm not bitter, Sam," Woody replies. "I'm just consumed by a gnawing hate that's eating away at my gut until I can taste the bile in my mouth."
Location: 
United States

NM: House rejects bill to legalize medical use of marijuana

Location: 
NM
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Santa Fe New Mexican
URL: 
http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/58263.html

Maryland: Drug Reform Efforts Picking Up in the Terrapin State

The Terrapin State is this year seeing increasing efforts to reform drug policy. As discussed in another article this issue, the Maryland Compassionate Use Act (HB 1040) would expand on a state medical marijuana law passed in 2003. Late last month -- perhaps preluding some larger effort -- the respected Justice Policy Institute issued a report, Maryland's Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Laws: Their Impact on Incarceration, State Resources and Communities of Color.

Also last month, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Delegates heard HB 283, a bill sponsored this year and last by Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Bethesda) that would require the state's education agency to provide state scholarships to students who qualify under the state's own standards but are ineligible for federal aid because of federal laws (like the Higher Education Act's drug provision). Currently such students may lose state as well as federal aid, but the decisions are delegated to individual school financial aid offices. HB 283 again did not make it through committee this year, though other avenues such as a Senate bill could be possible.

Things are looking better for a University of Maryland effort to reduce the penalties for students caught possessing marijuana in campus dorms. Currently, pot possession in the dorms is considered a Class A infraction of university rules, along with arson, assault, and similar violent crimes, and results in automatic expulsion from campus residence halls.

But after a year-long campaign by UMD SSDP and NORML chapters that saw a successful student voter initiative calling for the equalization of penalties for pot possession and underage possession of alcohol (a Class B infraction) and a subsequent Residence Hall Association Senate resolution calling on the Department of Residence Life to reclassify first-time pot possession to Class B, activists are now eagerly awaiting a decision by department director Deb Grandner on whether to accept the resolution's recommendation.

"I'm really optimistic about this," said UMD SSDP chapter head Anastasia Cosner. "I'll be meeting with Grander on Friday, and I'm going to tell her this has been approved by the students and by the residence halls, so she should probably just go ahead and approve it now."

Grandner is under some pressure to accede to the demand, said SSDP national executive director Kris Krane. "The student newspaper has done three stories on this in the past couple of weeks," he noted, "the Residence Halls Senate has called for the change, the president of the student government supports it, and now even a member of the House of Delegates has weighed in with a letter to Grandner."

"Failure to enact the recommendations of the RHA Senate by your office could have more serious implications than would result from a change in residential policy," warned Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate who sponsored HB 283. "Students who are forced to leave the residence halls during the semester often are not able to complete coursework, and may leave school altogether. Students who consequently abandon their goals for completing a college education are more likely to engage in less productive behaviors including abusing drugs in the future."

There is no firm deadline for Grandner to act, but activists say they are prepared to go to the next level if she demurs or delays. Hopefully they won't have to and a battle on the University of Maryland campus will be won sooner rather than later.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Goes Mainstream in the States

(Breaking: New Mexico effort still alive...)

Only a dozen years ago, no state made provision for the medicinal use of marijuana. Now, eleven years after California led the way with 1996's Proposition 215 initiative, patients have legal access to marijuana in 11 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington), while Maryland allows patients to mount an affirmative defense to marijuana charges. Arizona voters also passed a medical marijuana initiative in 1996, but because of its wording requiring a doctor's prescription (instead of a recommendation), the law there is essentially inoperative.

While in most medical marijuana states, the laws came about through the initiative and referendum process -- only Hawaii, Vermont, and Rhode Island have legalized medical marijuana through the legislature -- medical marijuana bills are pending this year in more than 20 states, according to a list provided to Drug War Chronicle by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). While advocates concede that given the cumbersome process of making law in the country's state houses, actual passage of medical marijuana legislation is likely this year in only a handful of states at best, it seems that medical marijuana has come in from the cold and is now a thoroughly mainstream issue.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mauricehinchey.jpg
Rep. Maurice Hinchey addresses 2005 medical marijuana press conference as Montel Williams awaits his turn at the podium
"There have been a bunch of bills introduced this year, with more to come," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "While in many cases we don't know off-hand what their chances are and many of them don't have a serious, professional effort behind them to get them passed, this is a good sign that this is no longer a fringe issue," he said.

"It is now clear that medical marijuana is increasingly a mainstream issue that is not terribly controversial anymore," Mirken continued. "Slowly but surely, legislators around the country are coming to realize this is something the public supports and that they can safely support."

"Many of these states have had about 10 years to vet this, there have been multiple bills introduced, multiple hearings, the first time out, they're generally not so successful, but the second time out, they get a little more traction, and by the third time it is almost self-evident that something has to be done," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "A few years ago, it was hard to point to a medical marijuana model, but now there are lots of models. At this point, legislators have no excuse for dragging their feet; they feel the moral imperative of responding to people who are sick and dying."

In several states with already existing medical marijuana laws, efforts are underway to expand those programs. Those states include Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In other states, efforts are afoot to enact medical marijuana laws for the first time. Here are some of the highlights:

In Illinois, a medical marijuana bill, SB 650, was passed Tuesday by the Senate Public Health Committee and now awaits a third reading next week. It is expected to get a Senate floor vote within a month. Introduced by Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the bill would allow people diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition and their primary caregiver to register with the state for permission to possess up to 12 marijuana plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana.

Despite concerns voiced by law enforcement and social conservatives, legislators in the committee voted 6-4 to approve the measure. They were swayed in part by testimony from the group Illinois Drug Education and Legislative (IDEAL) Reform, as well as citizens like Gretchen Steele of Coulterville. Steele, a registered nurse and multiple sclerosis sufferer, told the committee marijuana was able to effectively and safely treat her symptoms when other, more dangerous drugs had failed.

"I can tell you from firsthand experience that marijuana works better to control the spasticity, neuropathic pain, and tremors than do any of the myriad prescription medications that I currently take," she told the committee. "The fact that it is perfectly legal for my doctors to prescribe morphine, OxyCodone, diazepam, hydrocodone, and other drugs that are not only highly addictive but have many unpleasant side effects, yet it remains illegal to recommend marijuana, is beyond reasoning."

In Minnesota, SF0345 would allow patients suffering from a debilitating medical condition and who have a doctor's recommendation to register with the state to be protected from prosecution. Patients or caregivers could possess up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana.

The bill has already passed the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee on a bipartisan voice vote and now awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the measure "stands a good chance of passage in the Minnesota Legislature this year."

While the usual suspects -- law enforcement and social conservatives -- strongly oppose the bill, the Star-Tribune reports that half of House Republicans could vote for it. "Ten years ago it would have had no chance," said Rep. Steve Sviggum, who introduced a companion bill in the House. "Two years ago I probably would have been in opposition. This is a very emotional issue, but hopefully facts and information will come to the forefront."

In New Hampshire, Rep. Tim Robertson (D-Keene) announced this week that the medical marijuana bill he is sponsoring, HB 774, will get a hearing in the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee next Monday. Also this week, supporters in the Granite State released a poll showing 68% approval for medical marijuana there.

"This poll is just another indication that New Hampshire's medical marijuana bill is not only sensible, compassionate legislation -- it's also politically popular," said Robertson. "Voters are sending us a clear message: Give us a humane medical marijuana law now."

"I'm not at all surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of Granite Staters support people like me who only want the freedom to make the best medical decisions possible," said Ian Taschner, who suffers from severe nausea. "I should be able to battle my debilitating symptoms and lead a semi-normal life without having to worry that using my doctor-recommended medicine makes me a criminal."

In New Mexico, proponents came closer than last year, picking up the support of Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who signaled his support for the bill. With time running out on this session -- it ends within two weeks -- he called Tuesday for the legislature to get moving on several of his pet projects, including medical marijuana. "We've only got a few days to go, and I'm urging very quick action on the ethics package," Richardson told local reporters. "I'm urging very quick, strong action on predatory lending. I want that cockfighting bill, I want medical marijuana, I want my tax cuts."

Late Thursday night when this article was finalized, Drug War Chronicle reported here that a vote was still pending and chances seemed good. Friday morning we received the news that the Lynn & Erin Compassionate Use Act (SB007), failed a House vote 36-33 on Thursday afternoon.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, advocates of the legislation have vowed to continue their efforts. Erin Armstrong, a 25-year-old cancer victim after whom the bill was named, told the New Mexican, "We'll try it till it gets through. We're not going to give up on the state's patient community."

On Sunday it was reported that the issue was saved from legislative oblivion through efforts by Gov. Richardson and that the Senate had passed a modified version of the bill that will now in turn go before the House.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana proponents in states that already have such laws are looking to either strengthen or expand them:

In Maryland, the Maryland Compassionate Use Act (HB1040) was the subject of a Tuesday hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. While Maryland has a 2003 law that allows limited protection for medical marijuana patients, the new measure would allow patients to use the herb without fear of arrest or prosecution. It would create a registry, allow patients or caregivers to possess up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana, and bring Maryland fully into the ranks of the medical marijuana states.

The Maryland effort is supported by MPP, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access. "The science to support medical cannabis is overwhelming, yet the current law continues to treat patients like criminals. What seriously and chronically ill patients in Maryland need is assurance that their rights as patients will be protected," said Caren Woodson, Government Relations Director, Americans for Safe Access.

In Rhode Island, where the legislature last year overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to approve a medical marijuana bill, supporters are back this year to remove a sunset provision which would see the program expire on June 30. Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), who, along with Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), spearheaded last year's successful effort, is also behind the move to make it permanent.

"This is my third year involved with this bill," Slater said. "The first year we didn't really get anywhere. The second year we were very successful. It was overridden by the governor's veto but we were able to get the final vote. Now what we're trying to do is keep the marijuana bill alive to relieve patients' vomit [and] nausea, and to help people with cancer and muscular dystrophy. Right now we have 52 signatures, so I don't think we'll have any trouble passing it," he said. "If the governor vetoes, we're hoping to override that decision."

The states mentioned in this article aren't the only ones with medical marijuana legislation either introduced or pending, but they are the ones with the best chances of success this year. Still, given the difficulties of moving bills of any type through state legislatures, it would be a good year indeed if the number of medical marijuana states were to expand by three or four.

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