This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
It's been 20 years since California punched through pot prohibition and became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now, 23 states have medical marijuana laws, and more than a dozen more have taken the half-step of legalizing the medicinal use of cannabidiol (CBD) only—not raw marijuana.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]While some of the early medical marijuana states have now moved on to full legalization—and more are set to this year—states in the South and the Plains are just beginning to embrace the therapeutic use of the herb. This year could see medical marijuana finally assert itself in Dixie and on the Northern Plains.
Medical marijuana is amazingly popular nationwide. A June Quinnipiac poll had support at a whopping 89%. That same month, a Prevention Magazine poll had support at 75%, not nearly as stratospheric, but still very impressive. Support won't be as strong in states where it is on the ballot this year, but should still be strong enough to get voter initiatives over the top.
There are four states where medical marijuana initiatives are approved for the ballot this year, but before we get to those, there are still a handful of loose ends to mention. In Missouri, an initiative campaign is challenging a signature count that had it fail to qualify for the ballot; in Arkansas, a second medical marijuana initiative, this one a constitutional amendment, is still trying to gather signatures (Update: that measure has now qualified for the ballot); in Oklahoma, an initiative has just passed a signature-gathering hurdle but has yet to qualify, and in Montana, an anti-medical marijuana initiative is challenging a signature count that found it coming up short. These are all long-shots at this point, but the efforts aren't definitively dead.
In the meantime, the four states definitely voting on medical marijuana in November are:
Arkansas—The 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. A similar initiative was narrowly defeated in 2012, and Arkansans for Compassionate Care hopes to get over the hump this year. The initiative would allow patients suffering from a long list of qualifying diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces and could grow five plants and 12 seedlings if they live more than 20 miles from a "care center." They could also have a designated caregiver grow for them, with a limit of five patients per caregiver. There would be at least 39 non-profit care centers across the state.
[image:2 align:left]It's going to be a low-budget campaign. ACC says it has raised $15,000 and has a goal of $80,000. There is no significant organized opposition.
The polling is looking favorable. An Arkansas Poll from last November had support for medical marijuana at 68%, with only 26% opposed, while a June Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll had support at 58%, with 34% opposed.
Florida—Amendment 2. Medical marijuana backers organized as United for Care were narrowly defeated in 2014 although they won 58% of the vote. That's because their initiative was a constitutional amendment requiring a 60% majority, and so is this one. It would allow patients suffering from a specified list of qualifying diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. They amount they could possess will be determined by the Department of Health. Patients could not grow their own, but would be able to purchase it at state-regulated "Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers."
This is going to be a big bucks campaign in a high-population state, just as it was last time. In 2014, Las Vegas casino billionaire and hard right Daddy Warbucks Sheldon Adelson kicked in more than $5 million to the "no" campaign. This year, he's been quiet so far, but Florida arch-drug warrior Mel Sembler has kicked in $500,000 for the opposition Drug Free Florida, and Publix supermarket heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett gave $800,000 more. United for Care has largely been bankrolled by Florida attorney and Democratic strategist Roger Morgan. It took in more than $3 million last year, spending most of it on signature gathering, and has only raised $555,000 so far this year, although Morgan's deep pockets could come through again in the home stretch.
Even with the needed 60% majority, the polling looks good. In eight polls since January 2015, the lowest support level recorded was 61% and the highest was 80%. But the opposition is going to use that fat campaign war chest to chip away at public support.
Montana—Initiative 182. Voters in Big Sky County approved medical marijuana in 2004, but when the scene grew too bustling, the state's conservative legislature struck back with a vengeance. In 2011, Republicans in Helena essentially gutted the medical marijuana system, shutting down dispensaries and limiting caregivers and doctors. The Montana Medical Marijuana Act repeals the limit of three patients for each licensed provider, and allows providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport medical marijuana. It also repeals the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners, and it removes the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, instead requiring annual inspections by the state. Patients could continue to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and four plants and 12 seedlings. The initiative also adds PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.
[image:3 align:right]There doesn't appear to be any recent polling on the initiative's prospects. Montana voters have approved medical marijuana in the past, but the earlier phase of medical marijuana expansion sparked a harsh reaction, and the state remains divided over the issue. After a lengthy court fight, some of the restrictions approved in 2011 will go into effect at the end of this month, and cries of lost patient access may bend public opinion.
There doesn't appear to be any significant fundraising or spending by either side in this campaign.
North Dakota—Question 5. Also known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act and sponsored by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care, the initiative would allow people suffering from a list of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The initiative envisions a system of non-profit "compassion centers," which could grow and sell medical marijuana. Patients living more than 40 miles from a compassion center could grow up to 8 plants, but they must notify local law enforcement in writing. The initiative also includes a creepy provision allowing the Health Department to "perform on-site interviews of a qualified patient or primary caregiver to determine eligibility for the program" and to "enter the premises of a qualified patient or primary caregiver during business hours for purposes of interviewing a program applicant," with 24 hours notice. Patients could purchase up to three ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
The polling data is as scarce as the trees on the North Dakota prairie, but a 2014 poll had support for medical marijuana at 47%, with 41% opposed.
There doesn't appear to be any significant fundraising or spending by either side in this campaign, either.
Will medical marijuana go four for four this year? It seems likely, but we're going to have to wait for November 8 to know for sure.
An effort to knock the Arizona legalization initiative off the ballot gets slapped down, a new Nevada poll shows a very tight contest for the legalization initiative there, a new study finds that marijuana use is not implicated in organ transplant problems, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Arizona Judge Rejects Lawsuit Trying to Knock Legalization Initiative Off the Ballot. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry has dismissed a lawsuit brought by opponents of the Prop 205 legalization initiative. The lawsuit had challenged the 100-word initiative summary that will appear on ballots, but Gentry ruled that the summary "substantially complies with the law." The foes, led by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, said they will appeal.
Nevada Poll Has Legalization Initiative Under 50%, But Still Leading. A new Nevada poll from Suffolk University shows a tight race ahead. The poll had support for the Question 2 legalization initiative at 48%, with 43% opposed, and 9% undecided.
Study Finds Marijuana Use Not Associated With Bad Organ Transplant Outcomes. A peer-reviewed study from the journal Clinical Transplantation finds that marijuana use is not contraindicated in kidney transplants. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should not be considered a contraindication to kidney transplantation," the authors concluded. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should be systematically evaluated in a larger setting before a decision is made on what, if any, degree of use or abuse should be considered a relative or absolute contraindication, or whether use or abuse should be considered a contraindication." Even in jurisdictions that allow for medical marijuana use, hospitals routinely disqualify patients with a marijuana history from eligibility for organ transplants.
Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana System Moving Forward. The state Health Department has released a draft of the rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. The more than 90 pages of draft regulations create a roadmap for aspiring medical marijuana growers and processors who are competing for 25 lucrative permits.
Despite what's been called "de facto legalization," California has arrested a half million for pot in the last decade; Tennessee's Music City moves toward decriminalization, a Montana anti-medical marijuana initiatiive has come up short, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
California Saw Half a Million Marijuana Arrests in the Last Decade. And you thought pot was virtually legal there already. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that far from "de facto legalization," tens of thousands of Californians are still getting arrested for marijuana offenses each year. Even though the state decriminalized pot possession in 2011, thousands are still arrested for marijuana misdemeanors each year, and the burden of arrests falls disproportionately on blacks, Latinos, and youth.
Report Finds West Virginia Could Make Millions By Legalizing Marijuana. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released a report Thursday saying that if the state legalized marijuana and taxed it at 25% of its wholesale price, the state could collect an estimated $45 million a year. And if just 10% of marijuana users living within 200 miles of the state came to buy legal weed there, the state could make $194 million a year. It would also save most of the $17 million a year it currently spends enforcing pot prohibition.
Nashville Moves Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. Tennessee's second largest city (less than a thousand people fewer than Memphis) is headed for decrim. The city council Tuesday gave its initial approval to a measure that would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine. It's not a done deal yet, though, and the police are grumbling. Stay tuned.
Possible Arizona Pot Legalization Spurs Rush for Medical Marijuana Licenses. More than 750 people or groups have submitted applications for 31 medical marijuana dispensary licenses to be awarded in October. Medical marijuana license holders will get first crack at new adult use licenses if the Prop 205 legalization initiative passes.
Montana Anti-Medical Marijuana Initiative Fails To Qualify for Ballot, But Challenges Signature Shortfall. An initiative seeking to repeal the state's medical marijuana law has failed to qualify for the November ballot after coming up short on valid signatures. The Safe Montana campaign claims the state improperly rejected or lost signatures and has filed suit to challenge the state's decision. Meanwhile, the I-182 initiative, which would rebuild the state's largely gutted medical marijuana program, has already qualified for the ballot.
Philippines President Duterte Slams "Stupid" UN Criticism of Drug War Killings.President Duterte, who has presided over hundreds of drug war killings since assuming office just weeks ago, has pushed back against criticism of his policies by the United Nations. ""Here comes the UN, easily swayed, and coming with a very stupid proposition,"Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday at an event for police officers also attended by foreign diplomats. "Why would the United Nations be so easily swayed into interfering in the affairs of this republic?" Duterte has ordered police not to hesitate to kill and even urged ordinary citizens and communist rebels to join in the war against drugs. Drug users are "not viable human beings," he said.