This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
While the appropriations bill must still be approved by the Senate as a whole, both houses of Congress are now on record as telling the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states. The passage of identical amendments in both houses is a good indicator that they will be included in the spending bill when it gets to President Obama's desk.
While the House has passed similar amendments for the last two years, this is the first time it was offered in the Senate. It mirrors the provisions of the CARERS Act (HR 1538/S.683), introduced earlier this year, but because a ban in an appropriations bill expires at the end of the fiscal year, advocates are still calling for the CARERS Act to move.
The vote was an impressive 21-9, with the only Democrat voting against it being Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Republicans split right down the middle, with eight opposing and eight supporting.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]Drug reform advocates were pleased.
"This is another resounding victory for medical marijuana patients, their families, and their care providers. Congress is making it clear that the Department of Justice and the DEA have no business interfering in state medical marijuana laws," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.
"The goal of this amendment is to provide deference to the states, making it strikingly similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act. Unfortunately, that bipartisan bill has languished for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Chairman Chuck Grassley has refused to hold hearings on it. The Senate spoke loudly and clearly today. Hopefully Sen. Grassley was listening," Riffle continued.
"With so many votes going our way these days, each new one gets less and less exciting. But that's a good problem to have," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "We're entering an era where marijuana reform is accepted as mainstream and not seen as controversial, and that's exactly where we want to be. With this vote, it's now clear that a growing bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers are ready to get the federal government out of the way of the effective implementation of state marijuana laws. These temporary funding restrictions certainly help us to demonstrate political momentum, but the next step should be passing legislation to permanently change federal law."
[image:1 align:right caption:true]BREAKING: The Senate Appropriations Committee just voted to extend the ban on DOJ spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
This is the second installment in a Drug War Chronicle "Did You Know" series of important facts from ProCon.org. Follow the Chronicle the next several weeks to read them, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read our first installment in the series here.
ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Today state officials in New York will close the application process to open a dispensary.
According to numbers from the New York Post, the state has already brought in $3 million from the selection process by charging 300 perspective dispensary owners $10,000 a pop to file their bid to attain one of the five permits being distributed in the state.
These permits would allow their holder to open four dispensaries, and 20 dispensaries in total would be allowed to open in a state with a population of 19.75 million. The idea of one dispensary per 1 million residents does not really float with any goals for there to be ease of access, but with how limited the conditions list is, it shouldn't be much of an issue as dispensing kicks off in 2016. However, patients upstate are worried about the travel times that would be required to access their medicine.
Lightly processed flowers, as in trimmed, dried, and cured, will not be available to New York patients. This is due to the ban on smoking medical cannabis -- only oils, edibles, and vapable products will be for sale.
Not everyone in New York is happy with how the state's regulations turned out. State Assembly Leader Richard Gottfried told a Drug Policy Alliance event, "Last June, we were about to pass in both houses and the Governor calls me and Diane Savino down to his office and says 'This is how we've got to change it.' Maybe we should have told him to stuff it and passed it how it was and had him veto it, but we decided to bargain with him. We got a lot of really bad changes into the legislation and when they came out with the regulations they were even worse."
Hopefully after the kinks are worked out in the distribution process, New York's medical cannabis program will redevelop into something a bit more inclusive. Right now, lots of folks will be left out of the loop when it comes to using cannabis as effective medicine.
It's getting a bit quieter on the medical marijuana front as state legislative sessions wind down, but there is still some action.
Last weekend, the AMA called for protections for medical marijuana doctors. Meeting at its annual convention in Chicago, the American Medical Association has passed a resolution called "Immunity from Federal Prosecution for Cannabis Prescribing." The resolution is "consistent with AMA policy to protect patient-physician communications about treatment options, supporting a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement focus, for individuals possessing cannabis for personal use and opposing government interference with the practice of medicine," the nation's largest doctors' group said.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana legislation died. The legislative session ended last Thursday, and medical marijuana legislation died without action. Again.
Last Thursday, the Santa Barbara planning commission approved a dispensary. The commission approved a location at Ontare Plaza by a 6-1 vote. It still must be approved by the city council.
Last Thursday, the House approved a medical marijuana bill. The House approved Senate Bill 143, which would allow for the use of non-smoked marijuana for medical reasons and which would set up a system of 10 dispensaries statewide. The bill has already passed the Senate, but now returns there for a final vote after the house amended the bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has said he will sign the bill.
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Chronicle AM: Two OH Legalization Inits Falter, One Going Strong; NC Harm Reduction Bill Passes, More (6/10/15)
Only one Ohio marijuana legalization initiative is still trying to make the ballot this year -- and looks like it will -- South Dakota could try for the third time to approve medical marijuana, a harm reduction measure passes in North Carolina, and more.
[image:1 align:left]Marijuana Policy
Ohio Legalization Initiative Backers Say They Have Enough Signatures to Qualify. Proponents of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would divvy up commercial grows to only 10 investors, say they have collected enough signatures to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. The group's executive director, Ian James, said the group has collected more than 550,000 voter signatures. It needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and it still has three more weeks of petitioning to go. The group said it also conducted a robust voter registration campaign along with its signature drive.
Two Ohio Legalization Initiatives Give Up on 2015. The Better for Ohio and Ohio Rights Group legalization initiatives are dead for this year after organizers for both groups conceded they will not have the required number of valid voter signatures by July 1 to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. Both groups will continue to gather signatures for 2016.
South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. A state activist has filed the explanation for a medical marijuana initiative with the state attorney general's office. Once it is reviewed and approved, proponents will then have 180 days to come up with 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives have twice been defeated in the state. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
New York Legislature Approves Bill to Encourage Medication-Assisted Treatment for Drug Court Participants. The state Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 4239-B, which bars drug courts from removing drug court participants for using drugs like methadone and buprenorphine as part of a drug treatment program. The measure has already passed the Assembly. Advocates are now pressing Gov. Cuomo (D) to sign the bill into law.
North Carolina Legislature Passes Bill Strengthening 911 Good Samaritan Law. The state legislature has approved Senate Bill 154, which strengthens the state's 911 Good Samaritan law by extending protections from arrest to include not revoking someone's probation or parole, not charging underage victims of alcohol overdoses with a crime, and by clarifying that pharmacists are permitted to dispense naloxone with a physician's standing order.
Another GOP presidential contender weighs in on marijuana policy, the nation's harshest pot laws are about to get a little better, the AMA sticks up for medical marijuana, er, cannabis, doctors, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Carly Fiorina Says Marijuana Legalization a States' Right Issue. Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said Tuesday that while she personally opposed marijuana legalization, it should be up to the states. "I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth," she said. "But I think Colorado voters made a choice, I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."
Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reforms Pass; Governor Expected to Sign. The state legislature Monday gave final approval to House Bill 149, which will make the state's draconian possession penalties somewhat less so. Gov. Bobby Jindal has signaled that he will sign the bill. For first offenders, the maximum penalty shrinks from six months to 15 days in jail; for second offenders, the penalty shrinks from a five-year felony to a six-month misdemeanor; for third-strikers, the penalty shrinks from a 20-year felony to a two-year felony. The bill also allows people charged with first-time possession to have their records expunged if they don't get busted again for pot within two years.
Oregon Legislators Have Tentative Pot Deal. Legislative negotiators have reached initial agreement on a way to move forward with implementing legalization. The deal foresees a possible 20% retail sales tax, with municipalities collecting up to 3%. The key question of whether municipalities can prohibit pot shops is being deferred to the courts or a work group charged with making recommendations for 2016. See this series of amendments for more details.
AMA Calls for Protections for Medical Marijuana Doctors. Meeting at its annual convention in Chicago, the American Medical Association has passed a resolution called "Immunity from Federal Prosecution for Cannabis Prescribing." The resolution is "consistent with AMA policy to protect patient-physician communications about treatment options, supporting a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement focus, for individuals possessing cannabis for personal use and opposing government interference with the practice of medicine," the nation's largest doctors' group said.
Nevada Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Bryan Sandoval last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 305, which will allow colleges, universities, and the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes in a pilot program. But it doesn't allow commercial hemp production.
California School District Pays Out for Using Student as Drug Sting Bait. The Temecula Valley Unified School District will pay $200,000 to a family whose 14-year-old learning disabled son was recruited by an assistant principal to serve as bait in a drug sting. The sting took place even after the boy's mother objected. The boy's mother said the school's actions endangered her son, leading to him being labeled a snitch and to threats of physical violence against him. The sting was an effort to catch another student with marijuana.
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