A bipartisan bill has been introduced by freshman House Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.), that would remove marijuana completely from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing cannabis under federal law. Garrett, who replaced cannabis prohibitionist US Rep. Robert Hurt in Virginia’s fifth congressional district, campaigned on a promise to make cannabis reform a priority. House Resolution 1227, or the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017,” which Garrett introduced on Monday, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and treat it—under federal law, at least—similar to alcohol and tobacco. The bill is nearly identical to a measure of the same name introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2015. The bill currently has two co-sponsors, including US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) as lead co-sponsor. The bill is the latest in a series of efforts by federal lawmakers—mostly members of the newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus—to loosen federal restrictions on cannabis and protect state-legal cannabis programs.
The final draft rules from the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission were published last week in state and local newspapers. For next month the commission will be accepting public comments as required by state law, and there will be a public hearing on the proposed rules on March 31. The draft rules are available on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission website. Three other government agencies are also drafting rules to deal with medical marijuana, including the Department of Finance and Administration, the Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the Arkansas Department of Health.
A new bill has been introduced in an effort to protect California cannabis from a federal crackdown Assembly Bill 1578, introduced just days before White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested the federal government could start enforcing federal cannabis laws, would prevent state and local authorities from aiding federal prosecution of businesses acting in compliance with California state law. The law was authored exclusively by Northern California Democrats, although Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) introduced the measure. It’s expected to be considered by an Assembly panel later this month.
A key House panel approved Georgia House Bill 65 this week, moving the medical marijuana expansion bill a step closer to a vote on the full House floor. The bill, which would add qualifying conditions and establish other rules for the state’s medical cannabis system, cleared the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on a 7-3 vote. That vote, however, also made alterations to the legislation. The committee removed PTSD from the list of new qualifying conditions and added a stipulation requiring doctors to provide annual reports on their medical marijuana patients. The bill must pass through the House this week in order meet a legislative deadline and continue forward.
An Iowa Senate panel passed a bill that would lower the penalties for possessing of small amounts of cannabis. The same bill was introduced two years ago and passed through the Senate with bipartisan support, but it failed to win approval in the House. This is the first time Senate File 280 has been considered by the Republican-controlled Senate, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) is hoping to see it embraced by Republican members of the House, as well. Zaun says he wants to make sure the bill is seen for what it is: a decriminalization measure, not a full legalization bill. “I don’t want to send the wrong signal that that we’re going down the road of legalizing recreational marijuana,” Zaun told Iowa Public Radio. “This just allows your first time you made a mistake not to ruin your life in regards to going down the road for employment.”
Maine began taking public comments on the topic of cannabis legalization this week at two major events. The Legislature’s Marijuana Implementation Committee took public comments during a town hall meeting in Augusta on Tuesday, focusing on how to tax and regulate cannabis. Another event that day, organized by the Maine Municipal Association, was titled “Lifting the Haze: Marijuana and Legal Considerations.” Some of the topics on the agenda included whether there should be a cap on the number of licenses for cannabis businesses and what requirements should be placed on licensees. Both events reportedly were booked to capacity.
A Goucher College poll released this week found that 58 percent of Marylanders support legalizing cannabis for adult use. That number has seen steady growth over the past three years, rising from 54 percent last year and 52 percent in 2015. Maryland already boasts major support for medical marijuana, but the state has lagged in implementing a working infrastructure for the state’s medical program. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission issued preliminary approval to 102 dispensary applicants last December, but the program has struggled to maintain ethnic diversity among the license recipients as required by the state’s cannabis law.
State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) made said in a radio interview that a legislative committee dedicated to regulating the state’s new adult-use cannabis law will be considering tax issues carefully in the coming months. Cusack told WBUR-FM that the goal is to find a “sweet spot” of taxation that will do more than bring revenue to the state, Cusack said. “We also want to make sure we are not overtaxing and sending people back to the black market.” As the law stands, there is a 3.75 percent excise tax on retail cannabis sales, on top of a 6.25 percent sales tax. Cities and towns would have the option to add another 2 percent tax on top of state taxes.
A measure to legalize cannabis in New Mexico died in committee this week. The House Business and Industry Committee voted 9-1 to block House Bill 89, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act, which would have legalized and regulated adult-use cannabis. However there is still another measure, House Bill 102, the Marijuana Tax Act, that would tax and regulate the sales, possession, and use of cannabis by adults 21 and over. That bill is set for debatee in the House Business and Industry Committee. If the remaining bill makes it out of committee and through the House and Senate, however, it faces yet another challenge: Gov. Susana Martinez has repeatedly vowed to veto any legislation to legalize cannabis.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill into law this week to delay the implementation of the state’s new medical marijuana law until the end of July. Supporters say the change will give lawmakers more time to draft rules and regulations for the program. Next up, the House will consider Senate Bill 2344, a hefty measure to make significant alterations to the voter-approved law. Among them, SB 2344 would lower allowed possession limits for patients, eliminate home cultivation, and cap the number of state-licensed dispensaries and growers.
Oregon will hold a hearing to discuss Senate Bill 1511, a measure that would allow adult-use licensees to also produce cannabis for medical use. The measure, passed as part of the 2016 session at the request of Joint Interim Committee on Marijuana Legalization, was initially intended to allow registered medical marijuana dispensaries to sell cannabis to adults as the state expanded its cannabis program to include nonmedical sales, but its implementation also involves rules for cultivators. The public hearing will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, March 20, at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in Portland. Comments may be emailed to Presiding Officer Bryant Haley
Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) introduced legislation to repeal and nullify any local laws that are inconsistent with state statues on drug control. The measure appears to be aimed squarely at a decriminalization policies passed last year in Nashville and Memphis. The ordinances allow local law enforcement the option of a issuing offenders a lower, civil fine as opposed to charging them with a Class A misdemeanor as specified by state law. House Bill 173 would repeal the local ordinances, although it’s expected to face opposition from supporters such as state Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville). The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee has already approved the measure, which is now headed to the full House Criminal Justice Committee.
International News Updates
British Virgin Islands
Junior Minister of Trade Marlon Penn is urging the British Virgin Islands Parliament to decriminalize the use of cannabis. Penn says that while he doesn’t currently support legalization, he’s concerned the number of young people who, after being saddled with cannabis-related convictions, are unable to find employment. “We need to seriously, as legislators, look at the decriminalization of marijuana,” Penn said. “Too many of our young men are getting criminal records; they are getting lost in the system. It’s like a revolving door. We see a vicious cycle. … They get caught up with weed or something, they end up in the prison.” The current law British Virgin Islands law imposes stiff penalties for possessing even small amounts of cannabis, such as a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for locals or deportation for tourists.
An Analyse Denmark survey found that more than 80 percent of Danes are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. The poll, which surveyed 1,040 respondents, not only found a large majority of Danes in favor of medical cannabis, but also discovered that only five percent oppose medical legalization; the remaining participants had no opinion. The finding of broad support comes as the country prepares a four-year pilot program, expected to launch in January 2018, to allow certain patients to be treated with cannabis. Patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, spinal cord injuries, and chemotherapy-induced nausea would qualify under the program. If all goes well, the Danish Medicine Authority (Lægemiddelstyrelsen) could extend the program beyond the four-year trial.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne recently released a list of medical cannabis products that have been approved for use by qualified patients. Labour MP Damien O’Connor, however, wants to see the government to go a step further. O’Connor wants to see medicinal cannabis produced domestically rather than have the country rely on imported cannabis products from overseas. “The opportunity to diversify our economy and the opportunity to grow high-quality products for health is something that should be considered,” he said, arguing that cannabis cultivation would create jobs and boost the local economy.