Progress, Progress, Progress: A Look At Marijuana Reform Across America
All around the U.S. and world, progress is being made towards ending a decades long and failed prohibition on marijuana. Individuals, and even elected officials, from all walks of life are continuing to stand up in support of reform. In America, the majority supports legalizing cannabis and moving past this disastrous and pointless war, which targets and persecutes nonviolent consumers of a nonlethal plant. Progress is being made everywhere, and legalization is more and more being seen as the inevitability that it is.
Below is a breakdown of current marijuana reform efforts happening across America.
An update from Ron Crumpton, Executive Director of the Alabama Safe Access Project:
“HB-2, The Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients’ Rights Act was killed in committee on February 6th. HB-315, the Alabama Medical Exemption Act, has not seen action in committee, and HB-550, The Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act was tabled in committee on April, 23.
Representative Patricia Todd and Alabama Safe Access Project are working to form a commission to discuss medical marijuana policy, and intend to bring back all three pieces of legislation next year, along with the Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Act and the Alabama Medical Marijuana Affirmative Defense Act.”
Now is an urgent time for residents of Alabama to contact their elected officials, asking them to support marijuana law reform. Residents can look up their district’s legislators by clicking here.
Alaska is poised to become one of the next battleground states in the movement to legalize marijuana. Activists in the state have recently began work on an initiative drive to legalize the possession, cultivation and state-licensed sales of cannabis for adults. The measure’s gotten national attention, and its momentum will surely continue to build.
Arizona is continuing forward with implementation of its medical marijuana law which voters approved in 2010. A study has recently indicated that the new law will help to create over 1,500 new jobs, as dispensaries, testing facilities, etc. begin to open.
In addition, Arizona’s House and Senate recently voted to approve a measure which allows marijuana research to occur on college campuses throughout the state. The bill is now in front of the governor, who has final say over the bill’s passage.
Activists in Arkansas continue to work towards medical marijuana legalization. This past November, voters narrowly voted down Issue 5, 49% to 51%, which would of legalized marijuana as a medicine. Advocates have filed a new initiative, and are working to put the question back in front of voters in 2014.
California remains a battleground for legalization with an initiative to repeal cannabis prohibition for adults, written by the late Jack Herer, beginning to collect signatures this month. Other activists, including those behind California’s Proposition 19, are formulating an initiative aiming for the next presidential election in 2016.
In the meantime, California’s Legislature is discussing putting the medical marijuana industry in the hands of the state’s Liquor Board – a move many in the movement and industry oppose, primarily based on the idea that a natural medicine shouldn’t be regulated by a board whose expertise is in alcohol.
We spoke briefly with Dale Gieringer, Director of California NORML, who let us know that the state is likely to approve a measure, this year, which legalizes industrial hemp. He also let us know that the state’s Senate recently defeated a zero-tolerance THC driving bill, which may get reintroduced.
On top of these continuing efforts, cities across the state continue to go back-and-forth with their medical marijuana regulations, some banning dispensaries, some embracing them. Residents of Los Angeles will have the challenging decision of deciding between three different medical marijuana ballot proposals this November, at least one of which would result in the closing of hundreds of safe access points (individuals can find a breakdown of these measures by clicking here).
Colorado lawmakers recently approved three measures which would regulate the newly-legal marijuana industry. These measures continue to move through the legislature as the legislative session nears an end and lawmakers lose their capability to establish regulations before retail sales begin, which is expected by the beginning of next year.
Some of the more noteworthy regulations that are expected to pass include allowing tourists to purchase and consume legally (albeit with a smaller purchase limit), setting a 25% tax (15% excise, 10% sales tax) on legal marijuana sales, reducing penalties for minors in possession of marijuana to be analogous to a minor in possession of alcohol, and giving medical marijuana dispensaries a jump-start on being licensed to sale recreational marijuana.
With the passage of Amendment 64, hemp was legalized, though a provision was included that requires legislative action before licensed cultivation of industrial hemp can begin. A couple weeks ago Colorado’s Senate approved a measure, 34-1, which would allow hemp cultivation. The bill is now in the House, where it recently passed its initial two committees unanimously, and now awaits a full House vote. Its passage in the House would send it to the governor for final approval.
Delaware lawmakers legalized medical marijuana in 2011, but quickly put a halt to its implementation after receiving a letter from the feds threatening any state official who participated in the program. Since then, numerous other locations have began to license medical marijuana facilities, and recreational marijuana has been legalized in two states. Given this, lawmakers, including the state’s governor, have began legislative talks to end the halt, and to relight the state’s medical marijuana law, which allows three state-licensed dispensaries to distribute marijuana to qualified patients.
The District of Colombia is moving forward with its medical marijuana law, which was approved in 1998 and only recently began implementation (because of a congressional ban that’s been overturned). Adding to the conflict between local and federal law, one of the dispensaries is opening within blocks of the White House, and with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Residents of D.C. are in strong support of marijuana law reform, even higher than the national average. Recent polling shows that 64% in the district support legalizing marijuana possession, and 75% support marijuana decriminalization.
We spoke recently with the Executive Director of NORML, Allen St. Pierre, and he let us know that the next step for activists in the district is a decriminalization initiative, stating, “The in-between step before legalization is formalized is an official decriminalization initiative. A recent poll shows that support in D.C is as high as everywhere else in the world for decriminalizing marijuana. Considering the size of D.C. and the minimum amount of media that would be required, compared to most of the country, running an initiative in D.C is relatively inexpensive”.
Florida has quickly become a battleground state in the movement to end prohibition on medicinal marijuana. Recent polling shows 70% of Floridians to be in support of medical marijuana legalization, which is important as People United for Medical Marijuana continue working on an initiative aiming for the 2014 ballot. The campaign recently received a massive boost from a former fundraiser of President Obama, who has vowed to financial and politically support the measure.
The recently launched Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (Georgia C.A.R.E. Project) is continuing its education campaign to bring marijuana law reform to Georgia. There’s nothing particularly new in the way of legislation, but having an organized body for activists to spread their message is vital to bringing mainstream attention to the issue.
A lot of movement was made in Hawaii’s Legislature in regards to marijuana reform this session, including the state’s Senate unanimously approving marijuana decriminalization, although unfortunately the efforts stalled in the House. However, advocates and lawmakers remain optimistic that efforts this year will result in victories in the upcoming legislative session.
Hawaii’s Legislature was able to agree upon, and approve, a measure which increases the quantity of medicine that a patient may legally possess and cultivate in the state, in what would be the first alteration to the state’s medical marijuana law since its passage in 2000. It now heads to the governor for consideration.
With a close 61-57 vote, the Illinois House of Representatives approved a measure which legalizes medical cannabis, allowing qualified patients to possess marijuana, and purchase it through state-licensed dispensaries. The vote came just one day after a press conference was held, announcing that over 200 state physicians have signed on to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
Even further progress in the state: The state’s House Rules Committee recently approved legislation, unanimously, which would legalize hemp.
Earlier this year Senate Bill 0580 was introduced by Senator Karen Tallian, which would decriminalize up to 2 ounces of marijuana, making it a simple ticket rather than an arrestable offense, though unfortunately the bill has had little movement thus far.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, out-of-touch elected officials in the state are working to actually increase marijuana possession charges – anything over a third of an ounce – making it a felony charge, rather than a misdemeanor. Constituents should contact their elected officials, urging them against this ridiculous move.
Although it was subsequently voted down in committee, H.F. 22 was introduced this session which would have legalized the possession and state-licensed sale of medical marijuana to qualified patients. Although it was defeated, this bill gives activists something to urge their elected officials towards.
Kentucky’s Legislature, after a long, heated debate, approved a measure which legalizes (or better yet, re-legalizes) industrial hemp in the state. The measure was signed by the governor, and is now law. Unfortunately, the measure requires a change of federal law, or a federal waiver, before licensed production can begin. However, both of the state’s U.S. Senators, including the U.S. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, support the measure and are working at getting a federal waiver granted to Kentucky to begin industrial hemp production.
The Louisiana House Committee on Criminal Justice recently approved a measure, with a unanimous 14-0 vote, which significantly reduces the penalties associated with certain marijuana possession charges. On top of removing mandatory minimums, the measure would make the maximum charge for someone’s 2nd marijuana possession offense a year in jail, and subsequent charges 2 years. Current law can net someone up to 20 years in prison for these same charges.
Maine’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety recently held a 6 hour public hearing on LD 1229, a measure which would legalize the possession, private cultivation and state-licensed sales of recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older. The measure is expected to pass out of committee, sending it towards a full House and Senate vote.
Maine’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee approved a measure last month which would explicitly allow hemp cultivation in the state, allowing it to occur prior to a federal change takes place.
On Thursday, May 2nd, Maryland became the 19th state to legalize some form of medical marijuana, as the governor signed legislation allowing academic medical centers to legally distribute marijuana to certain qualified patients.
Unfortunately, although it did have a strong showing, a measure to decriminalize marijuana was recently defeated – activists remain optimistic of the measure’s chances in the next legislative session.
Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana this past November, legalizing state-licensed dispensaries. The Department of Health has recently released draft regulations for the medical marijuana industry, and is in the process of taking public input and finalizing the draft. If all goes as planned, Massachusetts will have safe access points by the end of the year.
Furthermore, Massachusetts Supreme Court has recently ruled that, given marijuana possession is decriminalized in the state, passing a joint to another individual doesn’t constitute a crime.
Legislation has recently been introduced in the state’s legislature which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, making it a simple ticket rather than a misdemeanor. The legislation is being discussed as multiple cities in the state, such as Grand Rapids, have decriminalized or are working to decriminalize marijuana possession.
St. Louis lawmakers voted recently to reduce marijuana penalties, and others such as Kansas City are working towards decriminalization. Recent polling showing a majority of Missouri residents to be in support of full legalization will add momentum to efforts by the organization Show-Me Cannabis, which is working on a legalization measure aiming for the 2014 or 2016 ballot.
Nebraska NORML is in the pprocess of running an initiative, aiming for the 2014 ballot, which would make Nebraska the 20th medical marijuana state in the U.S.
Those interested in helping with this effort should contact Nebraska NORML, which they can do by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling 402-953-2053, or messaging them on their Facebook account.
In Nevada, medical marijuana is a constitutional right, though safe access points aren’t legal, leaving most patients with a difficult time finding their medicine. To remedy this, Nevada’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted last month, unanimously, to approve a measure legalizing for-profit dispensaries. The bill currently awaits a full Senate vote.
With a 286-64 vote, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives approved a measure in March which would legalize medicinal cannabis. The measure currently sits in the Senate Health, Education & Human Services Committee.
The House also approved House Bill 621, which would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, though it’s unfortunately stalled in the Senate.
In March New Mexico’s House of Representatives approved a measure, with a tight 37-33 vote, which would decriminalize up to a quarter pound of cannabis, making it a simple $100 ticket. Although the measure has stalled in the Senate, it’s been an inspiration to activists, indicating that meaningful marijuana law reform is right around the corner.
New York is on track to be the 20th medical marijuana state, with a legalization measure recently passing through two House committees. The measure, Assembly Bill 6357, is expected to pass the House, and has enough votes to pass the Senate according to the measure’s primary sponsor. The governor, who will likely have final consideration over the bill, isn’t supportive, but has an “open mind”.
House Bill 637 was filed last month in North Carolina, and passed its first reading in the House the following day. If passed, it would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, making it a simple ticket (its currently a misdemeanor). In addition to decriminalizing possession, the measure would allow those prior convicted of a marijuana possession misdemeanor to have it expunged from their record. The measure currently sits in committee.
Lawmakers in Ohio have filed two pieces of marijuana legislation this month: House Bill 153 would allow qualified patients to legally posses and use marijuana, while House Joint Resolution 6 would put marijuana legalization to a vote of the people if it’s approved by the state’s legislature and governor – the measure is modeled after Amendment 64, and would legalize the possession, private cultivation and state-licensed sales of marijuana to adults.
House Bill 1835 passed unanimously out of its committee in February. The measure, which sits in the House, would get rid of the law that makes a subsequent cannabis possession charge a guaranteed felony of 2-10 years. It also makes it so that simple cannabis possession on the first offense is just a misdemeanor, whereas now you can be charged with a felony.
In addition, an Oklahoma State Senator is continuing to consider running an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Oregon continues as one of the most active states in the marijuana reform movement, after voters narrowly defeated a measure this past November to legalize cannabis for adults. Last month, Oregon’s Senate Judiciary Committee took a historic step by approving House Bill 3371, a measure to legalize marijuana for adults. If the state’s legislature fails to act on this measure, proponents behind last year’s legalization initiative, Measure 80, will be running new initiatives aiming for the 2014 ballot.
Last week Oregon’s full Senate voted to approve two measure which would significantly reduce the penalties associated with marijuana possession, including altering possession of up to an ounce from a misdemeanor, to an infraction, and making possession of 1-4 ounces a maximum of 6 months in jail, whereas currently it’s a maximum of 10 years.
Oregon’s Senate also approved a measure recently, which heads to the House, which would add post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of conditions that qualifies an individual to become a medical marijuana patient.
New polling in the state shows that not only do a majority of Oregonians support legalization, but 81% feel that despite their personal feelings on the matter, legalization is inevitable.
Both measure currently sit in committee – residents should be contacting their elected officials, urging them to support these measures.
Recent legislation filed in Puerto Rico would legalize marijuana for adults. On 4/20, advocates marched through Puerto Rico’s capital in support of the measure. The bill has caused quite a stir among the other elected officials who represent the area, some of which have gone as far as saying that the bill’s sponsor is betraying his constituents.
Rhose Island’s first medical marijuana safe access point has recently opened, finally providing patients in the state with a means of obtaining their medicine, other than growing it themselves or purchasing it from the black-market.
As of April 1st, 2013, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Rhode Island is officially decriminalized, and carries with it no possibility of jail time, nor a criminal record.
The Grand Jury in Hamilton County has recently sent a petition to the state’s legislature, urging them to legalize marijuana in order to free up the courts to focus on more serious cases, stating, “In order to reduce the number of cases heard by the Grand Jury, and reduce the number of cases proceeding to Criminal Court, the State Legislature should consider legalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana”.
Texas lawmakers are considering, and recently held a public hearing on House Bill 594. The measure would protect qualified patients in the state by adding an “affirmative defense” if they possess and use marijuana. This law, which is similar to affirmative defense laws in places like Washington State, gives individuals who receive an authorization from a physician a legal defense from prosecution – it also adds firm arrest protection for physicians who recommend that their patients use marijuana.
This week Vermont’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 in favor of a measure to decriminalize the possessing of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older, making it a civil infraction – like a traffic ticket – rather than an arrestable misdemeanor that carries with it the possibility of jail time. The measure, which now heads to the full Senate, was approved last month by the state’s House with a 98-44 vote.
In Washington, the Liquor Control Board is continuing to work on regulations for cannabis retail outlets. If all goes as planned, legal marijuana retailers will begin operation some time next year. Multiple marijuana-related measures, such as a measure to clear those with a marijuana misdemeanor, progressed in the legislature, but eventually stalled. Look for the 2014 legislative session to be another busy one in Washington.
House Bill 2961 was filed in March, sponsored by 10 state legislators, which sets out to allow qualifying patients in the state (and their caregiver) the ability to purchase, grow and possess cannabis. The measure would provide arrest protection for patients, and would also establish non-profit medical cannabis dispensaries. Patients would be authorized to possess up to 6 ounces, and cultivate up to 12 plants. The bill has since stalled in committee, but has garnered a large amount of much-needed debate surrounding the issue.
The marijuana reform movement is growing and progressing rapidly. The majority of Americans support legalization, and are beginning to understand how devastating this prohibition really is.
As support continues to grow, activists are continuing their fight for justice. They’ll do so until cannabis prohibition is over.