State & Local Legislatures

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Texas Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Passes

The Texas legislature last week approved a bill that would require some applicants for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing, but another bill that would have required drug testing for some welfare applicants (Senate Bill 11) died in the House after Democrats managed to block it from coming to a vote.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) had called on the legislature to pass both bills. It is almost certain that he will sign the unemployment drug testing bill into law.

The unemployment drug testing bill, Senate Bill 21, would require some unemployment applicants to undergo a written screening for substance abuse, and if the written screening indicates likely drug use, the applicant would have to pass a drug test to receive benefits.

The bill singles out workers in occupations that already require drug testing. Those occupations are those listed by the US Department of Labor as "an occupation that regularly conducts pre-employment drug testing."

Applicants who are already enrolled in drug treatment programs or who enroll in such programs after a failing a drug test would still be eligible for benefits.

"The intent of this bill is to help lift people up and help them towards a better way," said Republican Brandon Creighton, the House author of the bill, "and at the same time making sure that the unemployment benefits fund is solvent and there to help those that need it the most."

Democrats argued that there is no reason to think people who are laid-off from their jobs are more likely to use drugs than anyone else, to no avail.

"Losing a job is a very traumatic thing," Democratic Rep. Chris Turner said during debate in the House last week.. "Aren't we just adding insult to injury in what is a very traumatic situation already?"

Eight states have passed legislation requiring drug testing for public benefits recipients. They are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah. In most of those states, drug testing is required only if state officials suspect possible drug use. Florida and Georgia laws both mandate suspicionless drug testing, but the Florida law has so far been blocked by the courts, and the Georgia law is on hold pending resolution of the Florida case.

Austin, TX
United States

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Bills

In a public ceremony at the state capitol in Denver Tuesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law four bills that will establish a legal, regulated marijuana market for adults and begin the development of a regulatory framework for industrial hemp production.

The package of bills had passed the legislature earlier this month in accord with the requirements of Amendment 64, which won with 55% of the popular vote last November. That groundbreaking vote led Hickenlooper to sign an order legalizing marijuana possession and to appoint an Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force late last year, which provided guidance to the legislature. That guidance informed the legislation that followed.

House Bill 1317 and Senate Bill 283 create the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing. Under the provisions of Amendment 64, the Colorado Dept. of Revenue has until July 1 to develop the specific regulations necessary for implementation.

House Bill 1318 enacts a 10% special sales tax on retail sales of non-medical marijuana (in addition to standard state and local sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana. Voters must approve the new taxes this November in accordance with Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). More than 75% of Colorado voters would support such a proposal, according to a survey conducted last month by Public Policy Polling.

Senate Bill 241 initiated the development of a regulatory framework for the commercial cultivation, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp.

"We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for the initiative he has taken to ensure the world's first legal marijuana market for adults will entail a robust and comprehensive regulatory system" said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent of Amendment 64 and co-director of the campaign. "This marks another major milestone in the process of making the much-needed transition from a failed policy of marijuana prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation."

"Despite not supporting Amendment 64, our governor has shown true leadership by ensuring his office and the general assembly implemented the will of the voters," said Art Way, senior drug policy manager for Colorado for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These implementing pieces of legislation signed by the governor are the beginning of statewide efforts to bring marijuana above ground in a manner beneficial to public health and safety."

"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to adopt a marijuana policy that reflects the public's increasing support for making marijuana legal for adults," Tvert said. "Marijuana prohibition is on its way out in Colorado, and it is only a matter of time before many more states follow its lead."

"The governor has signed off for Colorado to take the lead on taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use," said Way. "I'm confident our state has, and will continue to do it responsibly. After all, we have experience and expertise in comprehensively regulating medical marijuana on a large scale. We have a blueprint."

Denver, CO
United States

NH Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But...

The New Hampshire Senate last Thursday approved medical marijuana legislation, but removed language allowing patients to grow their own and protecting them from arrest before state ID cards are issued. The House in March had approved the bill with those provisions, so now it goes before a conference committee to try to reconcile differences.

The Senate version also came with several other amendments, including reducing the number of state-licensed dispensaries, requiring that patients get written permission from a property owner before being able to use medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the list of eligible conditions for marijuana use.

Sponsored by Rep. Donna Schlachman (D-Exeter), House Bill 573, would allow state residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patients would be able to obtain their medicine through one of four non-profit, state-licensed dispensaries.

The Senate changes to the bill were made to assuage the concerns of Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who has said she supports medical marijuana legislation, but who heeded the fears of law enforcement officials that allowing patients to grow their own could result in diversion and make law enforcement's job more difficult.

According to advocates, the Senate version of the bill not only regresses from the House version, but it also contains errant language that would render the program unworkable. The conference committee will seek to address those problems.

"We applaud the senators for adopting this compassionate and much-needed legislation despite its imperfections," said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "In time, if a few simple problems are fixed, this bill will give patients much-needed relief. The amendments made at the behest of our governor will leave patients out in the cold for at least two years, having to choose between needlessly suffering or turning to the underground market to find their medicine. Patients will continue to make the case to Gov. Hassan for why this bill needs to be substantially improved, and she has said she will continue to listen."

"After waiting years for legal protections and access to medical marijuana, New Hampshire patients are grateful for the legislature's action and hopeful that this time the governor will make it a reality," said Mike Liszewski, policy director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Patients, however, still intend to urge members of the conference committee to consider the importance of patient cultivation, especially as the program gets up and running over the next 18 months."

Now, it's up to the conference committee and the governor.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Concord, NH
United States

Illinois Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

With a final vote by the state Senate Friday, the Illinois legislature has finally approved a medical marijuana bill. It only took ten years.

medical marijuana (Colorado DOT)
If Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) signs it into law, Illinois will become either the 19th or the 20th medical marijuana state, depending on whether similar legislation in New Hampshire gets approved first. Quinn has signaled that he approves of medical marijuana, but has made no definitive statement about whether he would sign or veto the bill, so Illinois activists and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are calling on supporters to keep up the pressure. On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she supported the bill.

If the bill is signed into law by the governor, Illinois will become the first state in the Midwest to approve medical marijuana through the legislative process. Michigan approved it in 2008, but that was via a voter initiative.

The bill, House Bill 1, would allow patients with qualifying medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana and purchase it through a network of up to 60 state-regulated dispensaries. The state will also allow up to 22 growers to supply the dispensaries. There are no provisions for patient or caregiver home cultivation.

"We applaud the Illinois legislature for taking action and adopting this widely supported and much-needed legislation," said Dan Riffle, MPP deputy director of government relations. "The final product is a comprehensive and tightly controlled system that will allow individuals with serious illnesses to safely and legally access medical marijuana with their doctors' supervision."

The bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and in the Senate by former state’s attorney Sen. William Haine (D-Alton). It designates the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation to  regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.

 "We are hopeful that Gov. Quinn will join legislators and the vast majority of Illinois voters in supporting this proposal," Riffle said. "Marijuana has proven medical benefits, regulating it works, and there is broad public and legislative support for doing it. This is a no-brainer."

Springfield, IL
United States

DC Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Likely Coming

Faced with the prospect of having District of Columbia marijuana policy determined directly by voters through the initiative process, at least two members of the DC Council are considering introducing legislation that would decriminalize possession in the nation's capital. The Washington Post reported that Council members Marion Berry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are formulating a decriminalization bill.

"Absolutely, it's time we look at decriminalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia," said Wells, who is chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and who is running for mayor next year. "It's time we enter the 21st century and stop criminalizing people... for what is not really a major crime."

Wells and Barry aren't the only council members who are thinking decrim. Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said she is also considering drafting a decriminalization bill.

And Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he could get behind decriminalization, but that he wanted to broaden the discussion to include legalization.

"The people on the streets dealing are the nonviolent drug offenders who are going to jail for dealing drugs," said Grosso, who got busted for marijuana possession as a young man in Florida two decades ago. "I think that's a serious problem.”

But council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) may prove an obstacle.

"I don't think it's the right time," said Mendelson, citing congressional opposition that blocked the city from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana program for more than a decade. "I don't think decriminalization of marijuana will go over easily with Congress."

If the council doesn't act, District marijuana reform activists are ready to step up to the plate. They have already been engaged in discussions about a possible November 2014 initiative and whether it should be a decriminalization measure or go for the fence with a legalization measure.

If activists try to take the issue to the voters, they appear to be well-positioned. A Public Policy Polling survey last month showed three-quarters of DC residents supported decriminalization and nearly two-thirds (63%) supported legalization.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds stay on the attack in California, and fallout mounts from last week's state Supreme Court decision allowing local dispensary bans. There's news from other states as well. Let's get to it:

California

Last Monday, US Attorney Melinda Haag moved to seize a building housing a San Francisco dispensary. Targeted is the Shambala Healing Center, a city-approved dispensary. Under federal pressure, Shambala's landlords earlier sought to evict it, but failed because it complies with state laws. While Haag has moved to seize buildings in Oakland, Berkeley and Marin County because they housed cannabis dispensaries, this is the Justice Department's first forfeiture action against a San Francisco landlord. Shambala was one of eight San Francisco dispensaries whose landlords received asset forfeiture threat letters starting in the fall of 2011.

Last Tuesday, the city of Garden Grove told dispensaries in the city they must shut down. The city sent out a cease-and-desist notice to dispensary operators, warning they must close this week or face $1,000 a day fines. The city had banned dispensaries in 2008, but turned to a registration process in 2011, then stopping registering dispensaries last year as it awaited the state Supreme Court's ruling on whether locales can ban them. After the high court upheld local bans, Police Chief Kevin Raney sent out a letter calling on all of the more than 60 dispensaries within Garden Grove to close no later than Tuesday. Dispensary owners who do not comply could face criminal charges, the letter said, as well as fines or civil lawsuits.

Last Wednesday, US Attorney Melinda Haag defended her use of lawsuits against dispensaries. Lawsuits against landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries and letters threatening the landlords have been reasonable and are supported by educators, addiction specialists, police officers, clergy, parents and others who are "negatively affected by marijuana," Haag said in a statement. "The marijuana industry has caused significant public health and safety problems in rural communities, urban centers and schools in the Northern District of California. Because some believe marijuana has medicinal value, however, we continue to take a measured approach and have only pursued asset forfeiture actions with respect to marijuana retail sales operations very near schools, parks or playgrounds, at the request of local law enforcement, or in one case, because of the sheer size of its distribution operations."

Also last Wednesday, the Berkeley Patients Group vowed to fight Haag's efforts to shut it down. "We intend to vigorously defend the rights of our patients and the citizens of Berkeley to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, licensed dispensary," said Sean Luse, the chief operating officer of the Berkeley Patients Group. The previous week, Haag filed suit against the dispensary's landlord seeking to seize the San Pablo Avenue retail space. Haag had previously forced the Berkeley Patients Group to move by threatening to seize its old locale because it was too close to a school. The Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999, is the oldest  continuously operating medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area and  serves more than 10,000 patients.

Also last Wednesday, a Thousand Palms dispensary shut down after last Monday's state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries, and the owner of the Hazy Colitas dispensary said he was closing his doors on his attorney's advice -- before Riverside County sheriff’s deputies did it for him. In nearby Palm Springs, the owner of the CCOC dispensary said he feared he would have to close his doors as well. Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows dispensaries, but it limits the number of city-approved permits to three. Plans to allow a fourth are on hold. The city has already shut down 12 non-permitted operations and will continue to work on closing five dispensaries still operating without proper permits, said Palm Springs City Attorney Doug Holland. CCOC doesn't have a permit.

Last Thursday, San Bernardino police raided and closed one dispensary and raided a second only to find it had already shut down. City officials reported that 18 of the 33 dispensaries in the city had already shut down in the wake of last week's California Supreme Court ruling. The city had ordered them to close last Tuesday. City officials vow to shut down the rest, too.

Also last Thursday, the Stockton city council took its first step toward banning dispensaries just three years after it moved to allow them. The council moved after city staff warned that by allowing dispensaries the city could leave itself open to federal enforcement measures. At the Thursday meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the ban. One already permitted dispensary may be allowed to stay open.

Last Friday, San Bernardino police raided a dispensary that had previously been ordered to close but had quietly reopened, staying closed during the day, but doing business in the evening. City officials said they weren't interested in making arrests, but in closing down dispensaries.

On Monday, the Riverside County Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution calling on state legislators to "enact statewide regulations and licensing requirements that will provide for the safety and concerns of local communities as well as fulfill the mandate of Proposition 215... 'for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.'" The committee said strong community support is needed to boost statewide regulation efforts at the capitol in Sacramento.

Also on Monday, San Diego's draft law on dispensaries was given to the mayor and city council. The proposal builds on an ordinance passed two years ago. Medical marijuana advocates considered the zoning law component too restrictive, however, and collected enough petition signatures to get it rescinded, but ended up with dispensaries being made illegal in the city. Mayor Bob Filner has made getting regulated dispensaries back in the city a priority. The newly drafted ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate legally for five years under a conditional use permit. A 100-foot buffer would be required between dispensaries and residential zones. It also forbid dispensaries within 1,000 of public parks, playgrounds, child care centers, schools, churches, municipal libraries, residential care facilities and other pot shops.

Illinois

On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon came out in favor of a pending medical marijuana bill, saying that testimony from seriously ill veterans and other patients helped change her mind. The bill has passed the Illinois House and awaits a Senate vote. The bill would allow patients with more than 30 medical conditions to seek recommendations for medical marijuana, but also requires background checks of both caregivers and patients, limits patients to purchasing 2.5 ounces at a time, and bars them from growing their own. They would have to go to state-regulated dispensaries.

Maine

On Monday, a dispensary workers union filed a complaint against Wellness Connection of Maine, the state's largest dispensary operator. The complaint filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers with the National Labor Relations Board accuses the company of subjecting employees to unfair labor practices, including retaliation for participating in union activity. The NLRB’s regional director in Boston will investigate the claims and determine whether they should lead to formal action.

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, the Public Health Council finalized medical marijuana regulations. They are set to go into effect May 24. The regulations leave the determination of appropriate medical marijuana use to doctors and patients, rather than restricting it based on an arbitrary list of conditions, restricts patients to 10 ounces every two months (but allows doctors to recommend more), allow patients to visit doctors other than their primary care physician for recommendations, allow patients to use multiple dispensaries, and sets a financial hardship threshold at 300% of the federal poverty line. Dispensaries are set to open next year.

Michigan

Last Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette ruled that parents who use medical marijuana aren't disqualified from child custody or visitation. That immunity isn't absolute, however, Schuette clarified. Judges can determine if use presents unreasonable dangers to children, but they can't independently decide if a parent is qualified to use medical marijuana. Schuette's opinion came in response to a question from a state legislator.

On Monday, it was revealed that the state Medical Marijuana Review Panel was dissolved after the state admitted it erred in setting it up. "After a careful review of the Medical Marihuana Act… the make-up of the current Medical Marihuana Review Panel does not meet the administrative rule requirements… As a result, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will be appointing a new panel that complies with the law. No further meeting of the review panel will be held until the new panel is appointed," the state said.

VT Marijuana Decriminalization Heads to Governor

A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana has made it through the Vermont legislature, winning final approval Monday. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he supports it. If he indeed signs it, Vermont will become the 17th state to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning, and House Bill 200, sponsored by Rep. Chris Pearson, would impose a civil fine on possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under H. 200, a person under 21 who is found in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would have to undergo substance abuse screening and possible treatment. That language was carried over in the final votes.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

"We applaud the Vermont Legislature for adopting this much-needed legislation and setting an example for other states in the region and around the country," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The exceptionally broad support demonstrated for this measure reflects the progress our nation is making toward adopting a new and more sensible approach to marijuana policy."

The Marijuana Policy Project has spent years lobbying for marijuana reform in Vermont.

"The days of criminalizing people simply for using a substance less harmful than alcohol are coming to an end,” Simon said.

That's already the cost in most of the states in the region. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island have all decriminalized pot possession. In New England, New Hampshire is now the lone hold-out.

Montpelier, VT
United States

Colorado Legislature Passes Sentencing Reform

In the final week of Colorado's legislative sessions, while all the attention was focused on passing marijuana commerce regulations, the state legislature quietly passed a measure designed to reduce the number of drug offenders sent to prison and save the state money. Senate Bill 250 had passed the Senate in April, the House passed it with amendments last Friday, and the Senate concurred with the House version Monday.

The bill creates a separate sentencing system for drug offenders and allows people convicted of some felony drug charges to be sentenced to probation and community-based sentencing and see that felony charge changed to a misdemeanor conviction upon completion of probation.

It also creates an "exhaustion of remedies" requirement for some drug offenders. That means they must have already participated in several other forms of treatment and sentencing before being sentenced to prison.

Those and other reform provisions in the bill will save the state of Colorado $5 million a year, according to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Some 550 offenders a year will be able to avoid prison sentences for their drug offenses under the new law, according to a legislative analysis.

"It's been a long time coming," said Sen. Steve King (R), sponsor of the bill. "It starts to deal with addiction issues and getting them off drugs."

The governor is expected to sign the bill shortly.

Denver, CO
United States

Colorado Marijuana Commerce Bills Approved

The Colorado legislature Wednesday approved a pair of bills that will establish a regulated marijuana market for adults. The legislature was charged with doing so when voters approved the marijuana legalization Amendment 64 last November.

On the down side, the legislature earlier approved another bill, House Bill 1325, which would set a level of THC in the blood above which drivers would be presumed to be impaired. Drivers with 5 milligrams or more of THC per milliliter of blood would be considered to be impaired, but could challenge that presumption in court.

The marijuana regulation bills are House Bill 1317 and House Bill 1318. The former creates the framework for regulations governing marijuana retail sales, cultivation, and product manufacturing, while the latter enacts a 10% special sales tax (above and beyond standard sales taxes) and a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales.

Under Colorado law, the tax bill will have to be approved by voters in November. But three-quarters of Colorado voters support such pot taxation, according a Public Policy Polling survey.

"The adoption of these bills is a truly historic milestone and brings Colorado one step closer to establishing the world's first legal, regulated, and taxed marijuana market for adults," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who served as an official proponent and campaign co-director for the ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in November. "Facilitating the shift from the failed policy of prohibition to a more sensible system of regulation has been a huge undertaking, and we applaud the many task force members, legislators, and others who have helped effect this change," Tvert said. "We are confident that this legislation will allow state and local officials to implement a comprehensive, robust, and sufficiently funded regulatory system that will effectively control marijuana in Colorado."

Look for an in-depth analysis of the new regulations coming soon.

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana rescheduling is headed for the US Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court upheld local dispensary bans, the feds strike again in Berkeley and Washington state, and there is action in state legislatures, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, Americans for Safe Access announced it was appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Court of Appeals' ruling upholding the DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I. ASA's appeal to the Supreme Court asks that the DEA be required to apply the same standard to evaluating cannabis that it uses for other substances. The DEA claims there are no "adequate and well-controlled studies" that show cannabis has medical use, despite the many clinical trials and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show cannabis to be a safe and effective medicine for treating a wide variety of conditions.

Last Wednesday, a Fox News poll had support for medical marijuana at 85% nationwide. The figure included 80% of Republicans and is the highest level of support for medical marijuana ever in the Fox News poll.

Arizona

On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that will allow medical marijuana research on university campuses. Brewer had last year supported successful legislation that banned even medical marijuana on state college and university campuses, but the ban aimed primarily at students had the unintended consequence of blocking serious academic research being undertaken on medical marijuana and PTSD by University of Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley. The new law allows medical marijuana on campus for carefully controlled and approved studies.

California

Last Wednesday, prosecutors in Tuolumne County dropped marijuana trafficking charges against the owners of a local medical marijuana collective. Charges were dropped in the case of the Today's Health Collective, which had been raided in May 2011. Prosecutors complained that "inconsistencies in opinions from different courts have required a shift in the focus of law enforcement and jury instruction" and "the cumulative effect of evidence collected in 2011 has been weakened by this development."

On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the right of localities to ban dispensaries. Some 200 California towns and counties have already done so, but others had held off because of uncertainty over the legality of bans. The ruling means that patients' access to medical marijuana will depend in part on where in the state they live.

On Tuesday, the dispensary operator in the Monday Supreme Court case said he had closed his shop. Operator and medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said he would comply with the high court ruling and shut down Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.

Also on Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the most well-respected dispensaries in the state. The feds already forced BPG to move last year, saying it was too close to a school. The dispensary relocated to a site even further from schools, but US Attorney Melinda Haag filed the forfeiture suit without warning anyway.

Also on Tuesday, the Yuba City city council adopted a marijuana cultivation ordinance requiring people growing medical marijuana at home to register with the city and trim their plants out of public view. They also have to install security fences and carbon filtration systems to reduce odor. The ordinance had been in place on a temporary basis since March 2012, but became permanent with Tuesday's 3-2 vote.

Illinois

On Wednesday, a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was underway in the Senate Executive Committee. The bill would allow residents with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to access and use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it. If approved, the measure will be considered by the full Senate. It received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. O'Malley signed a medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, House Bill 1101, will allow patients to qualify for protections from arrest and prosecution if they are enrolled in a program administered by one of Maryland’s teaching hospitals. The law takes effect October 1. But it's not clear how many of the state's teaching hospitals will participate.

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, the Public Health Council approved medical marijuana regulations. The regulations include requiring doctors to complete a full clinical checkup before issuing a recommendations, recommendations will expire after one year, and patients will not be allowed to use medical marijuana at dispensaries. The regulations approved today will go into effect on May 25. They allow the department to establish a competitive application process for non-profits seeking certifications that will permit them to operate. DPH is required to certify at least 14, but no more than 35, medical marijuana treatment centers to open by January, 2014.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters outlined their bill, but conceded that no action on it is likely until next year. The measure dictates the amount of marijuana someone can possess, the types of health conditions that would permit use and the rules medical professionals must follow when issuing prescriptions. It would continue to bar smoking of marijuana on school buses and school grounds, on public transportation, in the presence of a child and while operating vehicles, boats or other transportation equipment.

New Hampshire

On Monday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Human Services approved a medical marijuana bill, but not before removing PTSD as a qualifying condition and removing a home cultivation provision at the insistence of Gov. Maggie Hassan. Other changes to the bill reduced the number of authorized dispensaries allowed statewide from five to four, added a requirement that patients get written permission from a property owner before using medical marijuana on privately owned land, and eliminated protections for out of state medical marijuana patients traveling with marijuana in  New Hampshire. The measure had already overwhelmingly passed the House. Medical marijuana advocates are continuing to fight for a better version of the bill.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said two more dispensaries will likely open soon. Years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, only one dispensary is open. The first dispensary opened in Montclair, Essex County, in December, but is limiting its clientele to North Jersey residents. A second dispensary operator is renovating a former warehouse in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, and plans an opening in September. A third dispensary operator is renovating its location in Woodbridge, O'Dowd said.

Washington

Last Wednesday, news broke that the DEA had sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 dispensaries. The agency complained in the April 29 letters they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.

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