By Lisa Rough
The legislative train is never-ending and this week is no exception. Iowans speak up in support of medical cannabis, while Alabama, Florida, New Jersey and South Carolina are all considering bills to expand limited medical programs. Maryland’s legislature is trying to take a step back on decriminalization, while Hawaii makes waves by considering legislation that could decriminalize all drugs in an unprecedented move. Leafly’s on the legalization beat and we’ve got our eye on the prize of progress.
U.S. Cannabis News
Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) is pushing to decriminalize the possession of cannabis oil in an effort to provide legal protection to the families hoping to access cannabidiol under Carly’s Law, which was passed in 2014 and allowed a research study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The new law, known as “Leni’s Law,” the new law should be based on the UAB study, according to Attorney General Luther Strange, but advocated the formation of a task force rather than immediate action. The measure was scheduled to receive a vote last week, but was postponed by the House Judiciary Committee.
It may come as no surprise, but Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has officially signed on in support of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, arguably the foremost cannabis legalization initiative in California. Newsom disclosed his support in an op-ed piece where he outlined the many failures of the War on Drugs and the need for a smarter approach. He convened the Blue Ribbon Commission in 2013 to examine the best practices of legalization and make recommendations on the transition for the state to legalize cannabis recreationally. The endorsement bodes well for the AUMA, which has gathered more than 91,470 signatures in support. Petitioners will need to gather 365,880 valid signatures by July 5, 2016 to earn a spot on the ballot for November.
Connecticut’s Public Health Committee voted to move forward with a proposal that would allow minors who suffer from certain medical conditions to have access to medicinal cannabis. Raised House Bill 5450 would allow minors who suffer from one of the six qualifying medical marijuana conditions to access medical cannabis, as long as they have permission from a parent or legal guardian, primary care provider and a physician that specializes in the condition. The proposal also specifies that the forms of cannabis that minors have access to must not be smoked, vaporized or inhaled, limiting forms to edibles and oil concentrates.
House Bill 307 to expand Florida’s medical marijuana program was approved by the Legislature last week and is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Rick Scott, but advocates are concerned that the bill is simply a stopgap. The bill would allow the use of another form of low-THC medical marijuana, but is only available for patients suffering from terminal illnesses, and points to the repeated efforts of the Legislature to prevent the expansion of any medical cannabis program in Florida. Although the low-THC, Charlotte’s Web law was passed in 2014, patients have yet to access medicine.
In the meantime, the City of Tampa passed an ordinance to lessen penalties for the possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis to a civil fine of $75 for the first offense, $150 for the second offense and $300 for any additional offenses.
Hawaii’s House Judiciary Committee is considering a House Resolution, HCR 127, that would make Hawaii the first state ever to decriminalize all drugs, from cannabis to heroin, in an unprecedented move for United States legislature. The measure would require the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau to conduct an extensive study on the possibility and “advisability” of decriminalizing the possession of illegal drugs for personal use, reducing offenses to an administrative or civil violation. The study would also examine the model set forth by Portugal, whose full decriminalization of drugs and record of treating drug abuse as a health issue rather than a criminal one has been widely hailed as a success.
Iowa’s chances to pass legislation to expand the state’s limited medical marijuana access grow slimmer with each passing day. A rally was held this week in the Capitol by the group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis in support for the medical marijuana legislation, who urged that time is running out for legislators to consider the bill before the session ends. Iowa’s Democratic-controlled Senate approved the medical marijuana expansion bill in 2015, but when the bill reached the Republican-controlled Iowa House, the Legislature did not act on it. Representative Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) re-introduced similar legislation in this year’s session, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Representative Tom Sands (R-Wapello) said that no decision has been made yet on whether to advance the bill.
In other Iowa news, support for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has reached an all-time high. The Des Moines Register has polled readers for several years running and the support for the use of medicinal marijuana has steadily grown from 59 percent in 2014 to 70 percent in 2015. This year, the Iowa Poll found that 78 percent of Iowan adults support the use of medical marijuana. Perhaps it’s time for members of the Iowa House to start reading the Des Moines Register.
The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would instate harsh penalties for the public consumption of cannabis, essentially reversing the decision to decriminalize the use of cannabis signed by Martin O’Malley in 2014 by making it a misdemeanor and a $500 fine to consume cannabis in a public place. The legislation was sponsored by Delegate Brett Wilson, although multiple delegates spoke up against the measure, arguing that this law would have a disproportionate effect on young black people in Maryland, particularly because public consumption is already illegal under the current decriminalization law. The General Assembly approved the bill, which will now be sent to the other chamber for consideration.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett appointed a panel of experts to determine whether or not to add post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and other conditions to the state’s qualifying conditions. The medical marijuana rules adopted in 2011 allow patients the right to petition the panel to consider adding more conditions; however, the state Health Department never appointed a panel, leaving patients in the dark and unable to take action. Prospective patients who submitted requests to expand the conditions had them rejected on the basis that there was no panel to consider them.
Additionally, Governor Chris Christie is vehemently opposed to any expansion of the medical marijuana program, and the current panel of experts lack expertise in the field of medical cannabis. Only one of the five doctors on the panel, Cheryl Kennedy, is registered to recommend cannabis to patients. The eight person panel consists of:
- Cheryl Kennedy, psychiatrist at University Hospital in Newark
- Stewart Berkowitz, President of the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners
- Jessica Scerbo, pediatric hematology/oncology physician at Monmouth Medical Center
- Alex Bekker, professor of anesthesiology at Rutgers NJ Medical School
- Petros Levounis, Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Rutgers NJ Medical School
The Medical Affairs Committee of the South Carolina Senate is considering a bill that would create options for the medicinal use of cannabis, although the first hearing scheduled for the committee to consider the bill has already been canceled, an ominous sign for cannabis advocates in the Palmetto State. Although the state passed the Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Treatment Research Act in 2014, known as “Julian’s Law,” the law is vastly unregulated and does not allow production or access within the state.
Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board revised the draft rules for implementing cannabis legislation after taking comments from the public into consideration during seven town hall hearings starting last fall. Some of the more impactful highlights from the revisions include:
- Removal of the required “Mr. Yuk” stickers on all cannabis-infused edibles products
- Allowing cannabis retailers to accept opened marijuana product returns with original packaging
- Any products that are exposed to detectable levels of unauthorized pesticides, fertilizers and growth regulators are subject to seizure and destruction
- All cannabusiness operators are required to possess a WSLCB-issued license or their businesses will be discontinued
- Failure to address monetary penalties for two or more violations in a three-year period will result in a license cancelation
International Cannabis News
A new report from the International Narcotics Control Board found that Morocco is and continues to be one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis and the leading supplier of cannabis resin in Europe. The report found that there were 46,196 hectares (116,623 acres) devoted to the production and harvesting of cannabis within Morocco’s borders in 2013, and the board, which is affiliated with the United Nations, said that it expects to achieve its goal of reducing that number to 34,000 hectares (84,015 acres) by the year 2020. Curiously, however, even as the acreage of land used for cannabis cultivation has decreased, the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is on the rise in cannabis from Morocco.
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