Monday, June 20, 2016
The White House doesn't have much interest in medical marijuana legalization, but support is now coming from a surprising Congressional source. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a physician who strongly opposed D.C.'s legalization last year, is now leading efforts to ease restrictions that prohibit research on marijuana's medicinal benefits. From the Baltimore Sun:
Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist who hangs a white lab coat in his waiting room on Capitol Hill, has been working for roughly a year to build a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who want to ease restrictions on marijuana for the purpose of studying its effect on debilitating diseases.
Harris and other lawmakers intend to introduce legislation this week to create a less cumbersome process for marijuana researchers seeking Department of Justice approval to work with the drug.
Among other changes, the measure would require federal regulators to approve or deny research applications within two months.
. . .
“Part of my frustration in the entire debate around legalizing medical marijuana is that there really isn’t good scientific evidence about what it’s good for and what it’s not good for,” Harris, who still practices medicine, told The Baltimore Sun. “We really don’t have good data supporting widespread use.”
That position is uncontroversial — even some proponents of looser marijuana laws have lamented a lack of peer-reviewed research. The American Medical Association calls for “further adequate and well-controlled studies” in the opening lines of its formal policy on medical marijuana.
There is anecdotal evidence that the drug has helped patients who are suffering from seizures, Parkinson’s and other complex conditions. But Harris and others say states are making decisions about which types of disease can be treated with marijuana without a clear sense of the drug’s efficacy.
In that sense, both supporters of expanding the use of medical marijuana and opponents can find reasons to back the legislation. Both sides agree that one of the reasons there is so little data is because it’s been difficult for researchers to get their hands on the drug.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
This is good news for Arizona weed advocates. According to the Arizona Republic, "A marijuana legalization campaign is nearing its goal of gathering 150,000 valid signatures to get on the November ballot." Details:
The initiative would ask Arizona voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use and establish a network of licensed cannabis shops where sales of the drug would be taxed.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is a few thousand signatures short of gathering the 150,642 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, spokesman Barrett Marson said Wednesday. However, some of those signatures are likely invalid — gathered from people who cannot vote — and the group aims to collect 225,000 signatures, he said.
"Arizonans are clearly excited about this initiative," Marson added.
Many others are not, including one group that has been educating the public about harms of the drug on children and society. The Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has pointed to news articles and statistics and a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey that shows Colorado leads the nation in past-month marijuana use following its legalization of the drug in 2012.
Under the proposed Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, adults 21 and older could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes without obtaining licenses, as long as the plants are in a secure area.
It would also create a distribution system similar to Colorado's, where licensed businesses produce and sell marijuana.
The initiative also would create a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the "cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana" and would give local governments the authority to regulate and ban marijuana stores. It also would establish a 15 percent tax on retail sales, with proceeds going to fund education, including full-day kindergarten and public health.
Under the 2016 Arizona initiative language, driving while impaired by marijuana would remain illegal, as would consuming marijuana in public and selling or giving the drug to anyone under 21.
Taxation of the program would pay for the state's cost of implementing and enforcing the initiative. Forty percent of the taxes on marijuana would be directed to the Department of Education for construction, maintenance and operation costs, including salaries of K-12 teachers. Another 40 percent would be set aside for full-day kindergarten programs. And 20 percent would go to the state Department of Health Services for unspecified uses.
Revenue from the taxes could not flow into the state's general fund, which would allow it to be spent for other purposes.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Colorado Springs Gazette: Colorado Springs lawmaker joins marijuana social clubs bill:
Colorado lawmakers will bring bills next session to deal with unregulated social marijuana clubs where pot is both sold and consumed outside of the state's strict licensing regulations for recreational marijuana.
Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, confirmed Thursday that he and Rep. Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, are working on a bill to address the proliferation of pot clubs. He said many ideas are in the works.
"The first one is modeling something after what you saw with some of the dry towns, people paying an annual membership or a monthly membership to be part of a social club where they can safely consume cannabis," Singer said.
. . .
Singer said a bill that's in the works would likely allow consumption at clubs but ban sales. Singer said statewide guidelines are needed on such clubs, but local municipalities would have final say on the issue.
He said he's also working to allow consumption on the premises of licensed recreational and medical retail stores. Singer said it'd be similar to alcohol tastings at a craft brewery or winery. He said consumption would have to comply with the clean indoor air act, so likely edibles or vaporizers would be used.
"Everyone agrees there is a problem," Singer said of the conundrum of where to consume cannabis other than a private home. "Tourists come to Colorado, buy our marijuana, and we say 'by the way don't smoke it in the hotel, don't smoke it on the street, don't smoke it in bars ... and make sure you consume it before you leave the state."
The 2016 session begins Wednesday. Lawmakers have spent time drafting bills, but none have been officially introduced to receive bill numbers and titles.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
A Georgia legislator has announced details of a new bill he plans to introduce Monday, when the new legislative session starts. State Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon) made the announcement on an Atlanta television station.
On Monday, Peake will begin to introduce new legislation that builds on House Bill 1 which passed in 2015. "We're treating it like medicine which is the way it ought to be treated," said Peake. The representative is pushing for more patients to have access to medical cannabis, and to allow for highly regulated medical marijuana to be grown in the state.
Currently only eight diseases and illnesses are on the list of approved conditions to qualify for medical cannabis in Georgia.
In the new legislation, Peake aims to add Alzheimer's, Epidermolysis Bullosa, Aids, Tourette's syndrome, and intractable pain. Intractable pain will be the most controversial because it will allow the greatest number of patients to have access to cannabis.
Currently, there are 465 patients on the medical marijuana registry in Georgia.
As part of the legislation, Peake is also pushing for a limited number of licensed growers to provide the state's patients with medical cannabis. Peake foresees anywhere from two to six licenses being issued depending on a number of qualifying factors.
According to the bill, marijuana would be grown and dispensed to patients in the same location to attempt to keep the product from ending up in the wrong hands."We'll have a seed to sale tracking system too on any plant from the moment it's put in the ground to the moment when it's dispensed, law enforcement will be able to track that product," said Peake.
Dosage and actual administration will be controlled by an on-site pharmacist.
Currently, patients in Georgia on the approved medical marijuana registry have to buy their cannabis oil in other states where in state cultivation is legal.
The medical cannabis currently allowed in Georgia can only be of the low THC variety. Peake would like to strip away the THC limits and allow doctors and pharmacists to prescribe medicine based on need.The bill would also allow patients to administer the product through vaporization."This is the logical next step for our citizens. We brought our medical refugees home let's keep them here and let's keep providing an option for hurting citizens as well too," added Peake.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Doug Berman asks that question over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform. My answer is the same as his. No. Here's his quick take:
But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front. Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies. And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).
He's hoping he's "missing something" in that assessment, but I don't believe he is. I don't see anybody at the federal level moving to do anything this year.
The Administration? President Obama has had seven years to start the process of rescheduling cannabis, and has shown absolutely no interest in doing it. Given that he's spending his last year doing a victory lap of world capitals and top golf courses (and spending whatever political capital he has left on making it harder for people other than drug lords and gangbangers to get guns), it's hard to see him suddenly get interested. Attorney General Lynch is an old-line drug warrior whose troops are still busy denying that Rohrabacher-Farr amendment limits them from prosecuting medical marijuana growers. Think she'll suddenly see the light?
Congress? It's an election year, which means that despite lots of promises to various constituent groups, virtually nothing will get done.
The presidential candidates? On the Democratic side, Hillary is an old drug warrior who had eight years as First Lady, eight in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State to do something about it, and has never made the slightest attempt to do anything. Sure, for enough money she'd come out in favor of it, but compared to investment banks and Silicon Valley, the marijuana industry is small potatoes. As for Bernie, he'd probably support it as President, but he doesn't seem capable of even talking about any issue that isn't out of Class Warfare 101.
On the GOP side, many of the candidates are conservative drug warriors who are philosophically opposed to legalization. Of the others, I suspect that they took note of the huge boost that coming out for legalization did not give to Rand Paul. The number of Republic primary voters whose choice will depend on the candidate's position on marijuana is probably somewhere between "almost none" and "zero." And in the general election, issues like immigration, the Islamic State, Obamacare, North Korean hydrogen bombs, and Hillary's record will trump (no pun intended) minor stuff like marijuana. Again, enough campaign cash could change that, but it's hard to see how the industry could come up with enough to make it worthwhile.
So I'm even less optimistic than Doug. Of course, if Rand Paul does win the Republican nomination, and a brokered Democratic convention gives us Rocky de la Fuente, things might change.
Monday, January 4, 2016
No, the federal government did not legalize medical marijuana in recent omnibus budget bill. The bill reiterated language from last year's omnibus bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to prevent a state from "implementing" its medical marijuana laws. But while various news sites trumpeted this as effectively ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, Reason's Jacob Sullum, in a piece titled The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted, argues that the ambiguous language in the Amendment isn't stopping the Justice Department from prosecutions.
The problem with the Amendment is its language. The Justice Department interprets it to mean that it cannot use federal funds to prosecute state employees who are involved in medical marijuana licensing, taxation, and regulation -- that is, those who are actually implementing the state program. There seems to be a difference between implementing a law (for example, being a state employee who sets or enforces speed limits) and merely obeying a law (a driver who follows the speed limit). If Congress had wanted to ban individual prosecutions, the most natural way to do so would have been to bar DOJ from prosecuting individuals and businesses who are licensed by state medical marijuana offices and who are in compliance with those regulations. While it's true that the authors of the Amendment hoped it would ban individual prosecutions (and while one federal judge has said it does) the DOJ argument is, from a pure statutory construction perspective, perfectly reasonable.
Sullum concludes that even if the Amendment did bar DOJ from individual prosecutions, its effects are still very limited:
The rider has no impact in the 27 states that do not have medical marijuana laws, and it applies only to the Justice Department, so it has no effect on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services.
More fundamentally, the amendment, which has to be renewed every fiscal year, does not change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no legal uses. Because marijuana is still prohibited by federal law, people who grow and sell it, no matter the purpose and regardless of their status under state law, commit multiple felonies every day. If no one is trying to put them in prison right now, that is only thanks to prosecutorial forbearance that may prove temporary.
Anyone who provides services to marijuana businesses is implicated in their lawbreaking. Last week a Colorado credit union that wants to specialize in serving state-licensed marijuana businesses tried to persuade a federal judge that it is legally entitled to participate in the Federal Reserve's payment system, without which it cannot operate. The judge did not seem inclined to agree, saying, "I would be forcing the reserve bank to give a master account to a credit union that serves illegal businesses." The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that periodicals containing marijuana ads are "nonmailable," citing a CSA provision that makes it a felony to place ads promoting the purchase of illegal drugs. An accounting firm and a bonding company hired by a Colorado marijuana merchant recently paid $70,000 to settle a federal racketeering suit filed against them by a hotel whose owners were upset about plans to open a pot shop near their business.
Problems like these cannot be solved without changing marijuana's status under federal law. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment does not do that, no matter how many hopeful headlines it generates.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Louisiana's new medical marijuana law is moving forward after signature by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Like the Texas version passed earlier this year, advocates are concerned that it uses the term "prescription" in the text instead of the usual "recommendation," which can leave physicians open to having their licenses to prescribe drugs yanked by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
David Brown, the director of a group called Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, said changing out "prescription" for "recommendation" allows doctors and pharmacists to get marijuana to patients without risking their federal license with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The federal government, under President Barack Obama's administration, has taken a hands-off approach regarding enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where it's legal. But the word "prescription" automatically triggers certain federal oversight from the DEA. Marijuana, after all, is still considered a schedule I controlled dangerous substance. As far as the technical law is concerned, it would be analogous to writing and filling a prescription for LSD or peyote, other schedule I drugs.
"It's a big problem," Brown said. "It renders the new law structurally flawed and unworkable in its current form."
The sponsor of the bill (SB 143), state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, is aware of the concerns of Brown and other advocates. He said, however, that Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Director Malcolm Broussard has assured him the issue of prescription versus recommendation could be "worked through" during the rule-making process.
Jacob Irving, a medical marijuana advocate and recent graduate of LSU, suffers from spastic quadriplegia -- a rare form of cerebral palsy that causes chronic muscle stiffness and has been effectively treated with marijuana. If the law in its current form is properly enacted, his disease is on the list of those that would quality for medical marijuana. Irving was the one who convinced a House panel to change the wording to "recommendation," before it was stripped out of the bill on the House floor.
The Louisiana Family Forum, the state's most influential conservative Christian group, requested the word "prescription" be put back into the bill before it reached the House floor. Even the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, who had expressed strong opposition to the bill last year, were OK with "recommendation," Fred Mills said. Family Forum Director Gene Mills said early this month he told Fred Mills putting the prescription language in the bill was a requirement for his group to remain neutral on the bill. Opposition from the Family Forum could have hurt the bill's chance of passing and might have drawn a veto from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who closely follows Mills' guidance on social policies. Jindal, too, had requested the term prescription be used.
Gene Mills said the prescription requirement keeps the proposed law in the realm of medical practice, subjecting it to the oversight and "necessary safeguard."
"That's why we're in the neutral zone," said Gene Mills, days after the House passed the version of the bill with "prescription" included.
Brown said the Louisiana Family Forum and Jindal's hardline position on calling it a prescription provides more evidence that the wording neuters the bill.
"Why on earth would you insist so hard on that language being included (in the bill) unless you were fully aware, like we are, that by including it you've essentially gutted the bill?" he said.
While Irving is hopeful the wording won't cause a problem as the bill's sponsor has suggested, he can't ignore the potential threat it has to thwart access to patients.
"If a doctor writes a prescription, he may go to jail or lose his DEA license," Irving said.
Brown said there's no pharmacist willing to put his or federal license at risk by signing off on dispensing a schedule I substance. By doing so, they would be "risking their whole livelihood -- for just that one prescription that they write."
Broussard, however, acknowledged in an email provided by Mills that the use of the word "recommendation" has been suggested by other states to reduce risk to doctors and pharmacists. But he also indicated it made little difference.
"The outcome of the process -- whether it is a 'recommendation' or a 'prescription' -- remains the same," Broussard said. "It is an order generated by the physician for filling at the pharmacy."
Unfortunately, while I'm sure Dr. Broussard is a very fine pharmacist, he's not a very good lawyer, and his view that a "recommendation" and a "prescription" are "the same" is simply wrong under Conant v. Walters. To put it simply, under DEA regulations a prescription is an "order" to a pharmacy to fill a prescription for a patient. A recommendation is merely the doctor's opinion, sent to a state-licensed facility, that the patient would benefit from the substance. The former specifically falls within DEA jurisdiction, and prescribing a Schedule I controlled substance is illegal. The latter is protected speech under the First Amendment and the DEA cannot punish it.
I suspect there are good reasons why opponents of the bill gave in after the word "prescription" was added . . . because they know it will be extremely difficult to make the system work.
Not impossible, though. Assuming they get some lawyers involved in analyzing the issues, it's possible to work out a system under which physicians could comply with the statute without triggering license revocation by the DEA. We'll keep watching.
The marijuana legalization ballot measure sponsored by "Responsible Ohio" -- the proposal that would grant a monopoly on marijuana sales to the wealthy backers of the measure and lock it in the state constitution -- is facing blowback from the state legislature. Ohio legislators yesterday put forth their own ballot measure that would block the prospective monopoly.
A campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio took a step closer to making November’s ballot Tuesday, after its promoters turned in more than twice the required number of signatures.
But the measure will face competition at the polls. Ohio legislators also approved their own ballot measure on Tuesday to undermine the pot plan, which lawmakers worried would amount to a “marijuana monopoly” because of its provision that only 10 growers would control the wholesale pot market. The lawmakers’ measure would block other measures that benefit select economic interest groups.
The marijuana ballot measure campaign, dubbed Responsible Ohio, is just one of many ballot measures in recent history that are designed to benefit their backers. The companies funding the Responsible Ohio campaign would control — and likely profit from — the marijuana growth sites should the measure pass.
As detailed by the Center for Public Integrity, the campaign’s director, Democratic activist Ian James, came up with the idea and is planning to pay his own firm $5.6 million to push the ballot initiative.
Ohio Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat, said he sponsored the anti-monopoly measure because he opposes the way Responsible Ohio is using the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, not because he opposes pot legalization.“Are we going to allow a small group of investors, who have literally no background in drug policy… to carve themselves a special niche in our state’s founding document?” he said. “To me it’s galling. It’s nauseating.”
But James said voters should have the right to decide the issue.
“Some statehouse politicians believe the voters are smart enough to elect them, but they aren’t smart enough to decide ballot issues like marijuana legalization,” he said in an earlier statement.
Well, to be fair to the politicians, Mr. James himself doesn't appear to think Ohio voters are smart enough to understand the issues on their own, so his backers have a $20 million war chest to try to convince them through advertising.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Colorado employees who demand drug-free workplaces can fire employees who test positive for marijuana, even if the employees have a medical marijuana authorization and consume the weed in their off-duty hours.
That's the ruling in Coats v. Dish Network, a much-watched decision, in which the Centennial State's highest court upheld an earlier decision by the state's court of appeals. The unanimous opinion (Justice Monica Márquez did not participate) was written by Justice Allison Eid, a former law professor.
At issue in the case was a state law prohibiting employers from terminating employees for engaging in "lawful" activities in their off-hours. The plaintiff argued that using marijuana was "lawful" under Colorado law.
The decision is a pretty straightforward application of statutory construction. The court finds that the word "lawful" means "not . . . prohibited by law." Marijuana possession is explicitly prohibited by federal law -- the Controlled Substances Act -- and so would generally not be considered "lawful." The court went on to consider whether the legislature, in using the word "lawful," meant only things prohibited by Colorado law. But the language, the court found, is not restricted. Ordinarily, something is not lawful if it is prohibited by any level of government. Thus, employers presumably can fire employees for engaging in federal crimes (such as tampering with the U.S. mail or violating customs laws) that are not expressly illegal under state law.
The case is a blow to MMJ patients whose employers have drug-free workplaces. They will have to decide whether to use their medication or find alternate employment. It's a win for employers who face pressure from the feds to be drug-free and faced the possibility of being whipsawed between state and federal law.
Because the court's opinion involved interpreting a statute, the Colorado legislature could reverse the decision simply by passing a new law saying that Coloradoans cannot be fired for using medical marijuana on their own time.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The best way to stop a black market is to allow legal prices to fall to black market levels, and Colorado has taken a step in that direction. Forbes reports that the rate will be cut from 10% to 8%. Gov. John Hickenlooper notes that this will reduce the retail price of state-legal marijuana.
The same article reports that the state is doing is best to avoid having to give excess taxes collected back to taxpayers instead of spending them itself. The state is putting out a ballot initiative to avoid having to rebate excess taxes collected, something which is required under the state constitution.
Monday, June 8, 2015
On the other side of the Sabine River, Louisiana Close to Legalizing Medical Marijuana, Better Legislation than Texas:
On Thursday, the House of Representatives put their seal of approval on a bill that would allow patients suffering from specific, serious conditions to have access to the herb. The measure was pushed through in a vote of 70 to 29. It now heads back to the Senate for approval over an amendment that would make the bill functional once it is signed into law.
Louisiana legalized medical marijuana 24 years ago, but it has since been a worthless law because the language only allows physicians to prescribe the herb rather than offer recommendations. As we learned earlier this week with the recent legalization of cannabis oil in Texas, physicians are forced to violate the Controlled Substances Act by writing "prescriptions" rather than provide certifications, meaning patients can not get their hands on the medicine once it is made available.
The Dallas Observer has an article with the scary title, Texas' New Medical Marijuana Law Could Send Doctors to Jail.
The story under the headline doesn't really match the scare, though. The fact is that any physician anywhere in the country who is involved in helping a patient get marijuana -- a Schedule I controlled substance -- could be thrown in jail at any time, regardless of what any state law says. The problem with the new Texas law -- as I wrote in an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News before the bill passed -- is that its wording misses a chance to decrease the risk that physicians will lose their rights to prescribe controlled substances if they prescribe cannabis for patients.
It's extremely unlikely that a Texas physician who complies with the new state law will go to jail. As my colleague Chris Lindsey wrote:
The question as posed is "could it?" and the answer is yes, it could. If the question were "would it?" the answer depends not on the law as it was written, but on prosecutorial discretion. Clearly it is illegal for doctors to prescribe a Schedule 1 substance, as both the federal courts and the DEA have explained in response to the first medical marijuana law passed. For all the several states that have used the term "prescribe," none of them have functioned, so we don't actually know what federal prosecutors would do - likely because doctors are not inclined to take the risk.
The problem is that "very unlikely" isn't "no chance at all," and physicians who have spend their lives building up a substantial practice treating epilepsy may not want to run even the slightest risk of jeopardizing their practices.
On the other hand, my talks with various folks here in Texas suggest that there are, in fact, some physicians who are already planning to start prescribing the low-THC product when the system is up and running. That's good news.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
It may be the reddest state in the Union, but the Texas Legislature has just given final approval to a limited CBD oil bill that will for the first time allow marijuana to be grown and distributed in the Lone Star State. Governor Greg Abbott has not indicated whether he will sign the Texas Compassionate-Use Act, but it was sponsored by GOP legislators and had strong bipartisan support.
The bill has drawn praise as a good first step, and criticism as being essentially unworkable. It's true, that as I noted in a Dallas Morning News op-ed on Sunday, virtually no patients will actually be able to get marijuana under the bill, because it requires (unlike in most other states) physician prescriptions and those are prohibited by the DEA under 21 C.F.R. parts 1300-1321. But it's still got people here excited because MMJ proponents now have the beginnings of a future infrastructure that will be in place when the bill is later fixed.
The Texas Cannabis Industry Association, which lobbied hard for the bill, even with its flaws, is excited. The Texas Compassionate-Use Act allows for creation of state-licensed, nonprofit "dispensing organizations" to "cultivate, process, and dispense low-THC cannabis." While they won't be able to "dispense" much, the experience in the first two categories gained over the new two years should be helpful in the long-run.
Friday, May 8, 2015
I wouldn't exactly call it a "broad" bill as this story does, but it's something: Kansas House approves broad marijuana bill.
The Kansas House has approved a measure that would decrease penalties for marijuana possession, allow the limited use of medical marijuana and study the use of industrial hemp.
House members voted 81-36 Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for consideration.
First- and second-time marijuana offenders without serious prior convictions would avoid jail time under the bill. That would decrease the population in the state's overcrowded prisons and save more than $1.7 million over the next two fiscal years, according to state estimates.
Two amendments to the bill also would legalize the sale and production of hemp oil for seizure treatments and initiate a state study into industrial hemp.
Opponents say they're worried that the bill would open the door to wider marijuana legalization.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Texas could be on board with legalized cannabidiol before the end of this session, as the Texas Senate voted 26-5 to approve SB 339, a limited CBD bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler). A companion house bill, HB 892, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), was passed out of committee and is now before the House.
The bill is very limited, but it's impressive that the Republican-dominated legislature (the GOP has a nearly 2/3 majority in each house) has taken any steps It.s a tribute, in my view, to the fact that several Texas legalization groups understood that working with sympathetic Republicans to get something moving was an important first step. A baby step, certainly, but a step. Here's the Texas Tribune's take on the story:
Epilepsy patients in Texas would have access to medicinal oils containing a therapeutic component found in marijuana under legislation the state Senate passed Thursday.
Senators voted 26-5 to pass Senate Bill 339, by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, which would legalize oils containing cannabidiol (CBD), a component found in marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. If the measure passes the House, by 2018, the state would be able to regulate and distribute the oils to patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.
"While the bill is not the full-scale medical marijuana bill that many advocate for, we recognize that change takes time and this is certainly a step in the right direction," Phillip Martin, deputy director of the liberal group Progress Texas, said in a statement. "These bills are an important step and we are eager to see them set promptly on the calendars so they can be considered by the full Texas Legislature."
Eltife's proposal is the second marijuana-related bill to receive votes of support in as many days. On Wednesday night, a House committee voted 5-2 in favor of a measure that would legalize the possession and delivery of marijuana — a measure that looks unlikely to make it to the full House for a vote.
Meanwhile, a companion to Eltife's bill – House Bill 892 from Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth – passed out of a House committee earlier this week.
Some medical marijuana advocates are reluctant to support Eltife's bill, which would not offer access to cancer patients or veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Eltife's Senate proposal also limits the presence of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive element in marijuana — in the oils to a level critics have said is too low to help many epilepsy patients.
In a committee hearing on the bill, opponents said they feared it could lead to an increased recreational use of marijuana. Others worried about public safety, believing that the products would be hard to regulate.
Texas is one of 16 states where marijuana is illegal for medical and recreational use. In recent years, 13 states have legalized CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing broader use of medical marijuana.
Last year, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll showed that 77 percent of Texans believed that marijuana should be legalized in at least some circumstances.
Here's another positive reaction:
"This is a historic day for Texas," said Sindi Rosales, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundaton Central and South Texas. "The Senate brought us one step closer to helping to save the lives of people with intractable epilepsy."
Meanwhile, just on the other side of the Sabine River: Marijuana sentencing reform clears first hurdle in Louisiana Legislature. Details:
A New Orleans lawmaker easily moved his bill reducing penalties for simple marijuana possession past its first hurdle in the Louisiana Legislature Wednesday (May 6).
State Rep. Austin Badon's legislation, House Bill 149, drops the maximum sentence for second-offense marijuana possession from five years in prison to two years. It would also drop the maximum sentence for third-offense possession from 20 years to five. Subsequent convictions could allow for a maximum sentence up to eight years.
"This is a well-studied measure to produce reform and reduce recidivism," Badon said.
Badon has brought the same or similar legislation to the Legislature for nearly a half decade. It advanced Wednesday from the House's Administration of Criminal Justice by a vote of 10-4 and now heads to the House floor before moving to the Senate side for consideration.
Under current law, a first-time offender could be jailed up to six months -- that sentence would stay the same under Badon's proposal. Fines would be also be reduced. Maximum fines for second offenses would be reduced from $2,000 to $500; and for subsequent offenses from $5,000 to $2,000.
The bill could save taxpayers approximately $12 million over five years, Badon said.
. . .
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said while she supports lowering marijuana penalties, she opposed Badon's bill because it "doesn't do enough."
"This will do nothing for the woman who testified about her son...whose serving 15 years at Angola," Esman said, noting the legislation is not retroactive would not apply to inmates who are already incarcerated based on the current law.
Directors of two influential lobby groups, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and the District Attorneys Association, appeared at Badon's side and complimented his collaboration with them to get the legislation is an acceptable posture. The groups took a neutral stance on the bill but removed their opposition. Opposition from those groups on criminal justice is a bill killer in many cases.
Badon said his amendment removing the habitual offender application was a compromise he made with the lobbying groups after he learned simple marijuana possession was rarely a factor in the application of three-strikes sentencing.
State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said the legislation most affects poor citizens of Louisiana. He commended the associations and Badon for working together and indicated further reform must occur.
"It's not working for us -- locking them up and throwing away the key. We have to be progressive, and we have to think outside the box," Landry said, to cheers from spectators at the hearing.
. . .
Another bill on the Senate side, also sponsored by a New Orleans Democrat, seeks to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well.
J.P. Morrell's legislation, Senate Bill 241, carves out a new section of the law that deals strictly with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or synthetic marijuana -- all the offenses would be considered misdemeanors.
The maximum penalty for first-offense possession of an ounce or less would be a $100 fine. The maximum penalty for second offense possession would be a $500 fine and 30 days in jail; and the maximum penalty for a third "or subsequent" conviction would be a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. The bill has not yet been given an initial hearing.
As in Texas, the Louisiana legislature is dominated by Republicans. The fact that the bill got some GOP support at the committee level is a good sign.
BTW, I disagree with the ACLU's opposition to the bill. It's not a great bill, certainly. But it would keep at least some people from getting caught up in the disaster that is the nation's drug enforcement policy. It seems to me the ACLU is willing to make those folks involuntary martyrs in the service of the ACLU's own larger cause.
Me, I think we've had enough martyrs, and even a few less would be a good thing.
There are several marijuana bills pending here in the Lone Star State this legislative session, and the one that everyone assumes is least likely to pass just got over a significant hurdle. The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted to approve a bill (HB 6125) by Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) to basically remove all marijuana-specific regulations -- to, in effect, regulate it like corn and tomatoes.
A proposal seeking full legalization of marijuana on religious grounds has cleared an unlikely legislative hurdle.
Republican state Rep. David Simpson of Longview argues marijuana comes from God and therefore shouldn't be banned by government.
The team party stalwart has repeatedly championed what he calls the "Christian case" for legalization.
Simpson's bill (HB 2165) languished for weeks before the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
Three committee Democrats and two Republicans surprisingly voted to support it Wednesday, though, and it passed 5-2.
That makes Simpson's bill eligible for consideration to reach the House floor before the legislative session ends June 1, although that's still highly unlikely.
State law currently makes no exceptions even for medical marijuana, making outright legalization unthinkable.
Still, advocates hailed the committee vote as "unprecedented progress" for Texas marijuana rights.
Nearly three out of five Texas voters (58%) support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol, according to a statewide survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in September 2013.
Four states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Two of them, Colorado and Washington, have established regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and sales.
Alaska and Oregon are in the process of implementing similar systems.
For those who don't know the Texas system, the legislature meets only every other year, and given that it's unlikely the bill can be voted on by both houses before the end of the session on June 1, it would be 2016 before the legislature would take it up again.
Still, things are moving more quickly in Texas than most have expected.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
From the Montgomery Advertiser: Medical marijuana bill still alive:
The [Alabama] Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would authorize the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.
The bill, which passed on a 4 to 3 vote, would authorize the use of marijuana to treat at least 25 different conditions. Those using marijuana to treat health conditions would be required to carry an ID card and would face limits on how much they could purchase.
Advocates of medical marijuana have for years introduced measures to bring medical marijuana to the state, but the efforts have generally failed to move out of committee. The legislation will likely face long odds of passage in the full Senate. However, Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, the sponsor of the legislation, said it would give those suffering from illnesses an option. Many medical marijuana supporters attended Wednesday's meeting.
. . .
The bill was opposed by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, who said he had worked for a number of years with many children who had developed addiction issues.
"I recognize you're talking about prescription-based (marijuana)," he said. "I have seen too many messed-up lives and seen the devastation that drugs, beginning with marijuana, cause for me to never feel good about this bill."
. . .
Singleton was optimistic about the bill's odds if it made the floor of the Senate. However, he said he was leaning toward converting the legislation into a constitutional amendment, which requires more votes to pass the Legislature and would ultimately put the decision on medical marijuana before the voters of the state.
Under the bill, patients seeking marijuana to treat certain illnesses would have to submit to a medical evaluation that would include discussion of all possible treatments for their conditions. Conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana under the bill range from AIDS, cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease to migraines, fibromyalgia and severe nausea.
The legislation would set up three classes of recommendation for the use of marijuana. Class I recommendations would allow a patient or caregiver to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana each month. Class II recommendations would allow the purchase of at least 5 ounces of marijuana each month, while those listed in Class III could purchase up to 10 ounces of marijuana a month.
Those looking to use marijuana for treatment would have to apply for identification cards from county health departments, costing at least $100, though the fee could be reduced if the applicant participates in an education program. No ID card could be given without an evaluation from a physician declaring the patient has a serious medical condition where the use of marijuana for treatment would be "appropriate."
The legislation would also authorize the creation of nonprofit cooperatives for the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Cooperatives would be required to pay for licensing. A 2.5 percent sales tax would be imposed on all medical marijuana sales.
"I'm not trying to be a new Colorado," Singleton said. "New money could made off this, but that's not my goal."
Ron Crumpton, a medical marijuana advocate who attended the hearing, said medical marijuana could be used to help veterans treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He also said the use of marijuana could help those with chronic ailments better cope with their symptoms.
"It helps you move on with it and live your life," he said.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a medical marijuana bill in 2010. The committee's action came very late in the session, and the bill never came to a vote in the full chamber.
That's the take from this piece on Philly.com, regarding changes in a pending medical marijuana bill: Philly420: Pennsylvania going backward on marijuana. Some highlights:
SB3 is being presented as a "medical marijuana" bill that would bring swift relief to suffering patients, especially children with seizure disorders. But the truth is that patients would never actually get any dried plant material into their hands. Instead, like 11 other states, Pennsylvania would only allow processed cannabis oils and tinctures.
Smoking, vaporizing and even prepared edibles would still be illegal. This flies in the face of all the peer-reviewed scientific data and thousands of years of common practice. Somehow heated inhalation, with its quick uptake and instant relief, has been demonized and left by the wayside. It will also take years to regulate, if it passes.
Florida, Illinois and Iowa passed similarly limited laws. A year later none of those states - or any of the others with oil-only laws - are even close to actually serving products to any patients.
Rep. Daha Rohrabacher and ten of his colleagues have reintroduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana legalization laws. The bill is a response to the Obama Administration's position that its operatives are not, in fact, bound by language passed in last year's appropriations bill and signed by the President, which prohibits use of federal funds to pursue those who are in compliance with state marijuana regulations. From Matt Ferner at HuffPo:
“The American people, through the 35 states that have liberalized laws banning either medical marijuana, marijuana in general, or cannabinoid oils, have made it clear that federal enforcers should stay out of their personal lives," Rohrabacher said in a statement Wednesday. "It’s time for restraint of the federal government’s over-aggressive weed warriors.”
. . .
And while a federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama in December prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs, the DOJ has said that it doesn't believe the congressional measure prohibits them from prosecuting individuals or businesses in violation of federal law.
The House bill introduced by Rohrabacher would go further than those previous measures by amending the Controlled Substances Act so it would make an exception to federal law for states that have developed their own marijuana policies.
Under the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and several U.S. attorneys have raided hundreds of marijuana dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with state laws. According to a 2013 report from advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the Obama administration has spent nearly $80 million each year targeting medical marijuana.
The federal government has ignored the congressional action, also introduced by Rohrabacher, in ongoing federal asset forfeiture actions against multiple dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area. The congressman sent a letter to Holder slamming the DOJ's interpretation of his amendment, calling the department's interpretation "emphatically wrong."
Co-sponsoring the bill, H.R. 1940, are Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D. Wisc.), and Don Young (R-Alaska).
The bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary (where Rep. Cohen the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice), and the Committee on Energy and Commerce (where Ms. Schakowsky is ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade).
What's also interesting is the diversity of the sponsors. Mr. Rohrabacher is a former Reagan speechwriter and a strong free-market proponent, while Mr. Amash is the head of the House Liberty Caucus and is usually regarded as a Tea Party favorite. On the other hand, Ms. Schakowsky, Mr. Cohen, and Mr. Pocan are all active in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and are among the House's most liberal members.
That diversity, and the fact that a majority of Congress supported the restrictions that the Administration is now ignoring, means that the bill might have a much better chance now than it did when last introduced in 2013.
It will be interesting to see if President Obama, in light of his recent remarks, will make any effort to put Administration's support behind the bill.