A bi-partisan group of US representatives led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Friday introduced legislation that would end the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have either legalized it or adopted medical marijuana laws. That would bring 18 medical marijuana states and two legalization states -- Colorado and Washington -- out from under the shadow of the Controlled Substances Act when it comes to marijuana law reform.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The bill is House Bill 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. It was not yet available online as of press time.
"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rohrabacher. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."
Joining Rohrabacher as cosponsors of the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK).
That brings to at least five the number of marijuana reform bills introduced in the 113th Congress, six if you count an industrial hemp bill. Three of those bills deal with medical marijuana, one with the ability of states to tax marijuana commerce, and one would end federal marijuana prohibition.
Reps. Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, and others also introduced that latter bill, House Bill 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, H.R. 499, which would set up a federal regulatory process -- similar to the one for alcohol -- for states that decide to legalize. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will hold hearings to examine Colorado and Washington’s new marijuana laws and explore potential federal reforms.
Marijuana law reform efforts in the Congress are being propelled not only by the continuing spread of medical marijuana laws and the impressive victories in Colorado and Washington -- each state saw 55% of voters approve legalization -- but also by ever-mounting evidence that public opinion nationwide is swinging in favor of legalization, and against federal interference in states undertaking marijuana law reforms.
A Pew poll released earlier this month had support for marijuana legalization at 52%, the highest ever for a Pew poll and the first time a Pew poll showed majority support for legalization. Five other recent opinion polls have shown support for legalization hovering at the tipping point, with two of them just under 50%, one at 50%, one at 54%, and one at 57%.
That same Pew poll also found considerable skepticism about enforcing the marijuana laws, with 72% agreeing that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth" and 60% saying that the federal government should not try to enforce marijuana laws in states where it is legal.
"The people have spoken and members of Congress are taking action," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer."
"This bill is a win for federalism and a win for public safety," said Neill Franklin, a former Maryland narcotics detective and now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "In a time of bitter partisanship, it is quite telling that both Republicans and Democrats are calling for respect for the reform of marijuana laws. Polls show this is a winning issue for politicians, and change is inevitable. We applaud those legislators who, rather than trying to impede this progress, stand with the vast majority of Americans who believe these laws should be respected."
"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law. If a state chooses to take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses, it should be able to do so without federal interference."
"We've reached a tipping point," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "and it is time Congress acknowledge what voters, law enforcement, and state officials have been telling us for years: the feds should stop wasting money interfering when the states are more than capable of regulating marijuana effectively."
Even though this and the other federal marijuana reform bills have been introduced with bipartisan support, their future in the Republican-dominated House this session is murky at best. Some key committee chairs, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), head of the House Judiciary Committee, are very hostile to any reform efforts. But the pressure is mounting.
Rhode Island is set to see its first dispensary open next, Mendocino County faces down the feds, and more news from around the country. Let's get to it:
On Tuesday, the city of Concord banned outdoor grows. The "outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana" is banned by ordinance in order to properly "maintain and protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Concord." The ban came despite appeals from a number of residents to delay or defeat the ordinance. The vote was unanimous.
Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County officials announced they had reached agreement with federal prosecutors on limiting the feds' fishing expedition into the county's legal medical marijuana growers' program. No personal identifying information from the county's program will be released to US Attorney Melinda Haag. In October, Haag had demanded just about anything to do with the program -- names and locations of pot gardeners, county bank records, "any and all" legal correspondence, etc. The county fought back, hiring a San Francisco attorney to fight the federal subpoena. Now, the feds have backed down.
Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors okayed a Myrtletown dispensary. The Humboldt Collective had operated there, but had its permit revoked after a former director was arrested last year in Pennsylvania on marijuana trafficking charges. The new directors have made minor changes sought by the county, and now they have received permission to remain in business.
On Wednesday, activists were meeting with a key state senator in a bid to keep a medical marijuana bill alive. Senator Aaron Bean, chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, has the bill, Senate Bill 1250, locked up in committee. No word yet on whether he has been moved to allow the bill to progress. The bill is also known as the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, after a medical marijuana patient who was arrested along with her husband for growing her medicine. Charges against the couple were dropped last week.
On Friday and Saturday, dispensary workers rallied to protest working conditions. The workers' target was Wellness Connection of Maine, which operates four dispensaries in the state. Workers said it was ignoring their concerns about working conditions and refusing to recognize their union. Demonstrations took place in Hallowell Friday and Portland Saturday. Wellness Connection said it was committed to caring for its workers and doesn't object if they want to join a union.
On Wednesday, state regulators were debating proposed state medical marijuana rules. One proposed rule would require dispensaries to test their products for contaminants. Americans for Safe Access is calling for state-licensed, independent labs that would not be at risk of federal sanctions because they would not test narcotics and other federally regulated drugs. The proposed rules also include state inspections of dispensaries "at any time without prior notice."
Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court said it would review the legality of a city ban on medical marijuana-related activities. The city of Wyoming had passed a zoning ordinance barring the use, manufacture, or cultivation of medical marijuana, and the court said it wants to review whether the ordinance is superseded by the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Significantly, the court also plans to consider if the state law is preempted by a federal law that makes marijuana use illegal.
Last Friday, a drugged driving bill that could affect patients was signed into law. The bill creates a 5 nanogram per milliliter per se drugged driving level for THC. In addition to the penalties for drugged driving, if convicted under the law, patients would face revocation of their state registry identification card.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie proposed $1.6 million for the state's medical marijuana program in his state budget. That's more than twice the current spending level. The budget assumes that more dispensaries will open next year. So far, only one out of the six authorized by the state is actually in operation. But patient advocates said a greater budget wouldn't help patients until onerous regulations imposed by the Christie administration are revised.
On Tuesday, a bill allowing medical marijuana for PTSD passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 281 now moves to the Senate floor. Currently, medical marijuana is currently allowed for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease, HIV and AIDS. The bill would add PTSD to the list.
Last Thursday, what will be the state's first dispensary got its license. The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center is now set to open April 19.
And then there were ten. That is, as marijuana legalization bills have been formally introduced this month in Alabama and Pennsylvania, the number of states to see such bills this year is up to ten. The others are Hawaii (already killed), Maine, Maryland (already dead), Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
[image:1 align:left]In Alabama, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) introduced House Bill 550, the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act. It would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in a secured space. Adults could share, but not sell, marijuana to other adults.
The bill is headed for the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17) introduced Senate Bill 528, the Regulate Marijuana Act. It would allow adults 21 and over to grow up to six plants and possess the resulting harvest. It would also allow adults to transfer up to an ounce to other adults. And it would direct the state to come up with a system to regulate and tax marijuana commerce.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee.