Efforts to legalize marijuana in America appeared to strengthen last week, with advocates and lawmakers across the country fighting to pass laws for statewide medical marijuana programs as well as initiatives aimed at putting the issue of recreational marijuana on the ballot in the upcoming November election.
Read all about these efforts and more in this week’s legislative roundup:
New York: Medical Marijuana Vote Coming Soon?
Reports indicate that changes have been made to the Compassionate Care Act, and those amendments are being reviewed this week. These changes will affect the state’s qualified conditions and usage, which could point to good things considering that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Monday that he plans to sign the medical marijuana legislation as long as it “makes sense.”
However, by Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee John DeFrancisco emerged to say that he would do whatever it takes to keep the Senate from taking a vote on the Compassionate Care Act.
“The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee,” he said. “You don’t have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways.”
There is speculation the bill will be passed within the next couple of weeks, but Governor Cuomo has said that he does not expect the Legislature to approve any major initiatives.
UPDATE: Governor Andrew Cuomo said late last week that there was still a chance for the medical marijuana legislation to pass. Despite the fact there are only a few days left in the legislative session, the governor said Friday that the bill is not dead.
Texas: Republican Party Shuns Medical Marijuana
The Republican Party of Texas has decided not to side with the issue of medical marijuana, and has since eliminated the topic from its platform. The debate was ended shortly after it was introduced last week at a convention in Fort Worth, over concerns that legalizing medical marijuana will lead to the state legalizing the leaf recreational use.
Massachusetts: Marijuana Legalized in 2016?
Earlier last week, the Marijuana Policy Project said it plans to get the issue of legalized marijuana on the ballot in 2016. To do this, the organization has established a committed called “Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts,” which will raise the funds for this effort.
“We’re going to be spending the next year working to build a coalition,” said MMP’s Mason Tvert. “We really want to replicate the Colorado process, and not just the winning part. We spent six months drafting the best possible initiative, and the most effective system we felt was possible. That’s our goal in Massachusetts: to get a large group of stakeholders, and write the best possible law. If the legislature wants to participate in drafting the law, they’ll have the opportunity. And if not, and if we believe it’s something the voters want, we have no choice but to take it to the ballot.”
Arizona: Judge Orders PTSD to Medical Marijuana Program
Judge Thomas Shedden recently ruled that PTSD should be added to the state’s medical marijuana program list of qualified conditions. “A preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD,” said the verdict.
In addition, the Arizona Department of Health Services is looking to give senior citizens discounts on medical marijuana -- up to 50 percent off. The department has accrued about $9 million in cardholder’s fees, which can only be spent in a very specific manner. So, the agency is proposing to cut those fees for seniors who may be living on fixed incomes.
California: San Jose Passes Zoning Ordinance
The San Jose City Council passed new zoning regulations last week for the city’s more than 80 medical marijuana dispensaries. In a vote of 7-3, all medical marijuana dispensaries have been cast out to do business in industrial areas.
”Under San Jose’s new rules, the stores must be more than 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and other areas children gather; 1,000 feet from certain major business parks; 150 feet from homes; and 500 feet from substance abuse centers. That leaves about 600 parcels, mostly in North San Jose and the central part of the city just east of Highway 87,” according to the San Jose Mercury.
In addition, all dispensaries will be required to grow in Santa Clara County, operate under restricted hours of operation, and allow no person under the age of 18 to be an employee.
Arkansas: Petition to Legalize Marijuana In Circulation
Two weeks ago, the Arkansas Attorney General finally approved an initiative to establish a tax and regulatory system for marijuana. Those petitions are now being circulated all across the state in an attempt to collect the required 78,000 valid signatures needed to get the issue of legal weed on the November ballot. Marijuana advocates have just 18 days to collect those signatures.
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Decriminalization Advances
Last week, the Philadelphia City Council approved a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The proposal would make possession of less than 30 grams a civil infraction punishable with a $25 fine. The author of the bill, Councilman Jim Kenney, said this measure would allow officers to issue tickets for a violation that would be paid in the same manner as a traffic violation. What’s more is it would help keep young people from racking up arrest records.
“I think the problem is carrying an arrest record around for probably most of your life when you make a mistake as a 25-year-old,” said Kenney. “That is more obnoxious than anything else we’re concerned about here.”
If the measure is passed, officers would have the ability to issue tickets to those caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than make an arrest. However, police would still be allowed to make arrests if they so chose.
Montana: Anti-Marijuana Initiative Could Do Something
A Billings businessman is working to gather signatures to ban the use and possession of marijuana across the entire states. The initiative to ban pot in Montana is about a week into collecting signatures, which is reportedly gaining some support.
"This is the first time anything's been done like this on a petition gathering deal," said Steve Zabawa, the sponsor of the bill. "Normally you go door to door, you wait one at a time. Here what we're saying is we're going to use the people in favor of it to go out and get us 20, so with one signature, you're getting 21, so it goes a lot faster quicker as far as getting to the 24,175 signatures we need."
However, the initiative is challenged with obtaining the requited signatures before June 20.
Washington DC: Medical Marijuana Conditions to Be Added?
The DC City Council is moving forward with legislation to add a number of qualifying conditions to the medical marijuana program. The latest amendment would give physicians the right to determine whether a patient could benefit from marijuana, which has the potential to greatly broaden the program. As it stands, the program only recognized four conditions. The proposal has the support of all 13 council members.
Maine: Advocates Pushing for Lewiston Vote
Marijuana advocates are working to get the issue of marijuana decriminalization in Lewiston on the ballot during this November’s election. Citizens for a Safer Maine are now collecting signatures to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
“It is illogical,” said MPP’s David Boyer. “We have bigger fish to fry. There are violent crimes going on, there are property crimes, and that is where our police resources should be spent.”
“We feel like this is the right message to send to kids that, look, marijuana is for adults 21 and up,” he added. “Right now, they are not hearing that message, and, when you turn 21, you can use marijuana, you can use alcohol; if you choose, both can be used responsibly.”
Supporters of this imitative will also attempt to get a statewide ballot measure introduced that could possibly be voted on in 2016.