Colorado employers can legally fire marijuana users from their jobs, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 decision. Although the case was brought by a medical marijuana user, the ruling will have any even broader impact given that the state has now legalized marijuana for all adults.
[image:1 align:right]The case was Coats v. Dish Network LLC, in which Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic telephone operator for Dish Network and registered medical marijuana patient, was fired by Dish Network after testing positive for marijuana during a drug test. Paralyzed by a car crash as a teen, Coats had been a registered patient since 2009. Dish Network cited no other reason for firing Coats other than his positive drug test result.
Coats challenged his firing, citing Colorado's Lawful Activities statute, which prohibits employers from firing workers for "engaging in any legal activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours." But both the trial court and now the appeals court rejected his challenge, holding that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Lawful Activities statute does not apply.
"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.
Judge John Webb dissented, saying he could not find a case addressing whether Colorado judges must consider federal law in determining the meaning of the Colorado statute.
Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, said in a statement that the ruling will have a broad impact in the state.
"This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law," Evans said.
And with adult marijuana legalization now in place in the state, it is not just medical marijuana users who stand to be affected.
The ruling is expected to be appealed.
Similar rulings allowing employers to fire medical marijuana users have been upheld by courts in other states, including California, Michigan, and Montana.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its 2013 National Drug Control Strategy Wednesday. The strategy is being billed as a "21st Century Approach" to drug use and trafficking, but despite some rhetorical softening maintains the US hard-line approach to the issue.
[image:1 align:left]"The president has outlined his vision of an America built to last -- where an educated, skilled workforce has the knowledge, energy and expertise to compete in the global marketplace. Yet -- for far too many Americans -- that vision is limited by drug use, which not only diminishes the potential of the individual, but jeopardizes families, communities and neighborhoods," ONDCP wrote on a blog post announcing the strategy's release and touting reductions in cocaine and prescription drug abuse as progress made.
"Today we are releasing a science-driven plan for drug policy reform in America to build upon this progress," ONDCP continued. "This 21st century drug policy outlines a series of evidence-based reforms that treat our nation's drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue. This policy underscores what we all know to be true: we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem."
The strategy emphasizes treatment and prevention, but despite the rhetoric, the Fiscal Year 2014 federal drug budget it accompanies continues to be imbalanced, with 58% of federal anti-drug spending directed at law enforcement and interdiction efforts. That figure does mark a decline from previous years, but only a marginal one.
And even its emphasis on treatment also includes punitive criminal justice elements, such as its embrace of the drug court system, where drug-addicted people are subjected to legal sanctions for such addiction-related behaviors as failing a drug test or missing an appointment. That has some drug reformers calling foul.
"The administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better."
While much of the strategy is little more than the same old same old, the strategy does call for expanded access to naloxone, a low-cost antidote that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. That is in response to the rapid growth in prescription drug overdose deaths in recent years.
"Director Kerlikowske should be applauded for taking steps to reduce drug overdose fatalities, but he's not doing much to reduce drug arrests or the many other problems associated with treating drug use through the criminal justice system," said Piper.
But while the drug strategy shows flexibility in its efforts to deal with fatal drug overdoses, it maintains a staunch opposition to marijuana reform and includes attacking outdoor and indoor marijuana cultivation as one of its key goals.
"The administration's continued opposition to marijuana law reform shows they're not serious about reforming US drug policy," said Piper. "At the very least they should stop getting in the way of states that are trying to improve public health and safety by regulating marijuana like alcohol."
The first dispensary in Phoenix has opened, dispensaries in Washington, DC, are ready to go, and there has been more federal enforcement activity in California. Let's get to it:
On Saturday, the first licensed dispensary in Phoenix opened its doors, but it couldn't serve any customers because an Arizona Department of Health Services computer server was shut down, affecting all the state's dispensaries. The Bloom Sky Train dispensary rescheduled its official grand opening to Wednesday. It will serve some of the state's 35,000 medical marijuana card holders.
Last Thursday, federal prosecutors moved against 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana. Prosecutors filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties where seven dispensaries are operating and raided two of the stores involved. Also, prosecutors send threat letters to people associated with 56 other dispensaries. That is every known dispensary in the city. The Santa Ana Police and Santa Ana City Attorney's Office cooperated with the feds.
Also last Thursday, San Diego Mayor Filner published his proposed dispensary ordinance.The proposal is based on the recommendations of the medical marijuana taskforce, organized by City Council President Todd Gloria in 2010. It allows medical cannabis dispensaries to exist in designated commercial and industrial areas of the city with large buffers from sensitive areas, including a 600 foot buffer from schools and parks and a 1,000 foot buffer between dispensaries. The proposal also contains additional strict operating requirements including security systems, restriction on hours of operations and signage.
On Monday, the San Diego city council rejected Mayor Filner's proposed ordinance. Instead, the council voted to reintroduce a more restrictive zoning proposal overturned by a voter signature drive in 2011. The decision came after the council heard hours of testimony, with most speakers favoring the mayor's proposal. But Councilmember Marti Emeral put forth a motion to disregard the mayor’s proposal without any discussion of its provisions and to instead resurrect the proposal put forth by the council, and repealed through voter referendum, in 2011. That measure passed the council.
On Tuesday, the DEA and a local drug task force raided the last dispensary in San Diego and nine associated grow sites. Raided was the One on One Patients Association, whose director, Ken Cole, had testified the previous night at the city council's hearing on the mayor's proposed dispensary ordinance. No arrests were made, but marijuana and other items were seized. Cole is also the director of the area dispensary industry group, the United Patients Alliance.
Also on Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill was approved by a legislative committee. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 473 would create a medical marijuana regulation division in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to "regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing, transportation, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana" on a statewide basis. The measure passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Ammiano.
Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors extended their ban on new dispensaries or the expansion of existing for another two years. An existing ban was set to expire next week, and officials said the ban was needed because of constantly changing laws, regulations, court rulings and lawsuits. The county said the changing legal landscape for medical marijuana makes it difficult to license new facilities. The ordinance only bans new facilities or the expansion of those already in existence. Those currently operating will not be forced to close.
On Wednesday, the DEA raided two San Diego area hydroponics stores. Local activists reported that the targets were Miramar Hydroponics in San Diego and Santee Hydroponics in Santee. No word yet of what was seized or whether anyone was arrested.
On Monday, a hearing on proposed medical marijuana regulations drew a standing room only crowd at the Department of Consumer Protection. Crowd members voiced concerns about the regulations' potential effect on lawful marijuana producers and distributors. The two most frequent concerns among the business community came in response to proposed requirements for escrow accounts and brand naming. The regulations stipulate that marijuana producers establish a $2 million escrow account or line of credit which the state could seize if the producer failed to maintain a timely and successful operation. Drug abuse activists on hand at the public hearing expressed their own concerns about the regulation, mostly related to the possible diversion of medical marijuana for recreational use and advertisements targeting youth. The Department of Consumer Protection is expected to submit the final regulations to the General Assembly by July.
District of Columbia
On Tuesday, the Capital City Care dispensary announced it had received its business license. Dispensary operators said they would begin serving patients "as soon as possible," but they have to wait for the DC Department of Health to begin its patient registration process. Two other DC dispensaries, Takoma Wellness Center and the Metropolitan Wellness Center, are also waiting to accept patients. It's only been 15 years since DC voters approved medical marijuana in a 1998 initiative.
Last Friday, the state's first dispensary opened. The Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center opened in Providence. At least two more are slated to open in coming months.
Puerto Rico has become the latest US state or dependency to see a marijuana legalization bill filed this year. Sen. Miguel Pereira earlier this month filed Senate Bill 517 (link is in Spanish) earlier this month.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Ten states have seen marijuana legalization legislation so far this year. They are Alabama, Hawaii (already dead), Maine, Maryland (already dead), Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
The bill introduced by Periera, a former police chief and federal prosecutor, would amend the island's drug statute so that it "will not be applicable to the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over." It does not address marijuana cultivation or commerce.
While the bill's prospects are cloudy, space is emerging in the island dependency for a discussion of marijuana policy. Last week, Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla suggested he was open to such a discussion.
"I don't have a problem with an open debate about the possibilities, benefits or drawbacks of such a measure," Garcia Padilla said during a press conference.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Security, and Veterans Affairs.
Access to medical marijuana continues to expand as more and more states embrace the healing power of the herb. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of veterans of America's decade of wars are returning home burdened with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition as old as war itself, but that in years past went either unrecognized or was seen as a soldier's personal failure, his "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." Could medical marijuana help?
Scott Murphy Iraq deployment photo Scott Murphy of Newton, Massachusetts, is an Iraq combat veteran who uses medical marijuana for chronic pain. "I use medical cannabis for chronic pain from a motorcycle accident that was aggravated by my military service," Murphy said. "I had a severe accident when I was 18, I have a rod in my femur and four plates in my hip. The pain is to the point where it is affecting my walk."
But Murphy also wants to ensure that his state's new medical marijuana law provides for access to the plant for PTSD. A man Murphy described as his "best friend," a fellow veteran, committed suicide at age 22 after being kicked out of the Army for misconduct related to his mental issues rather than being given a medical discharge as promised.
"He had been showing signs of PTSD," Murphy recalled. "He was a good soldier, but when he got back from his second deployment he was having problems. When they kicked him out of the Army, he went home and killed himself."
Amid increasing evidence that medical marijuana can have a beneficial impact in helping people cope with PTSD, the push is on to expand access to the healing herb. Murphy spent Monday morning testifying at a public hearing on draft regulations for the Massachusetts medical marijuana program. Although voters voted for the initiative that listed specific qualifying conditions -- not including PTSD -- as well as "and other" conditions, state regulators are considering changing that to "and other debilitating" conditions, a change that Murphy and others fear could limit access to medical marijuana for PTSD patients.
In some medical marijuana states, adding PTSD requires going through a medical marijuana regulatory commission; in others, it is being pushed through the legislature. In Oregon, for example, Senate Bill 281, which would add PTSD to the list of treatable conditions, was approved by the state Senate last Thursday, and now moves to the House. In Michigan, by contrast, hearings on PTSD and medical marijuana were held recently by Michigan's Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM).
State legislatures are proving to be an easier path than unelected medical marijuana overseers, said activists. "There have been a number of states that have tried to petition to get it added to the list that have so far failed," said Kris Hermes, media liaison for Americans for Safe Access.
Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VCMA) and a plaintiff in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Agency, a case which seeks to see marijuana moved out of the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule I, agreed. "That Oregon effort is moving in the legislature because the state oversight panel was so intractable," said Krawitz, who was deeply involved in the effort there. "Any time we've had to go through the process provided by the state to address expanding access to medical marijuana, we've had trouble. Michigan is another example. There, there was a petition to add PTSD, but there was no actual process to do so. They were essentially keeping the process from moving forward until [vaunted Michigan marijuana attorney] Matt Abel sued them. Now, we have hearings before the advisory committee."
The need to do something for veterans is a major impetus behind the push, but PTSD effects lots of people who aren't veterans as well. "It isn't just veterans who suffer from PTSD," Krawitz said. "At that hearing, there were many veterans, but also other people who had suffered trauma -- child abuse survivors, rape survivors, emergency response workers."
[image:2 align:right caption:true]Still, veterans mustering out after more than a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD in record numbers. A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 18% of returning Iraq combat veterans had PTSD. And a 2008 RAND Corporation report estimated that up to 225,000 veterans will return from the wars with PTSD.
The trauma of war is reflected not only in the number of vets suffering from PTSD, but even more ominously, in sky-high suicide rates. US military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up 20% from just five years ago. And according to a Veterans Administration study released in February, that number almost certainly undercounts the number of veteran suicides because of data limitations.
The military and public health workers are keenly aware of the problem, and are attempting to address it through means both conventional and unconventional. The military and the Veterans Administration have been open to therapeutic interventions including yoga, meditation, and the use of companion dogs; they have also armed themselves with the arsenal of psychotherapeutic drugs -- anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers -- available in the standard pharmacopeia. But those drugs can have some nasty side effects, and their utility in treating PTSD is questionable; noting reports of negative consequences, the Army has warned against over reliance on them.
In the search for succor, more and more vets and other victims of PTSD are turning to medical marijuana. But there is a problem. Not only do a majority of states not recognize medical marijuana, even in those states that do, many of them do not allow its use for PTSD. Despite mounting evidence that medical marijuana can help with PTSD, only a handful of medical marijuana states have approved its used. According to Americans for Safe Access, only California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico and Massachusetts would allow for its use for PTSD, and as we have seen above, it's still up in the air in the Bay State.
"As we find more and more people, especially veterans, benefiting from its use, we see the unfortunate absence of availability for patients across the country," said ASA's Hermes, "It's only approved in five states; that means well below half the medical marijuana states recognize the need for patients to use it for PTSD."
Americans for Safe Access supports expanded access to medical marijuana for PTSD, according to Hermes. "We wholeheartedly support the efforts to petition where patients can do so to get PTSD added to the list of conditions, and we're also pushing for recognition inside the Veterans Administration, but that's an uphill slog," he said.
And it isn't only PTSD treatment that's at stake for veterans. "I'm not only pushing for chronic pain and PTSD, but other stress-related combat issues, and that language is one of the things I asked [the Massachusetts Department of Public Health] to clarify today," Murphy said in an interview following the hearing. "Does their definition of 'debilitating' include PTSD? If they're going to use a broad definition of 'debilitating' so that it covers the full spectrum of vets' injuries, that would be one thing. But it's unclear if PTSD or other mental conditions will be covered. I think we should leave the wording with "and other" -- that's what the voters voted on. I don't think we should have to wait until someone's PTSD is so bad it's life-limiting to be able to get access."
Massachusetts regulators were supposed to have their draft regulations ready by May 5, but in the wake of the Boston bombings, that is now up in the air.
Part of the problem with winning acceptance of using medical marijuana for treatment of PTSD is the relative paucity of clinical studies on its safety and efficacy. When the state of Arizona considered adding PTSD to its list of qualifying conditions, researchers hired by the Department of Human Services found very little of use in their review of the literature.
But studies do exist. Krawitz and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access compiled an impressive set of studies suggesting marijuana is safe and effective in treating PTSD and anxiety for Michigan regulators. (They are downloadable as submitted at the following links: Packet 1, part 1 of 3, Packet 1, part 2 of 3, Packet 1, part 3 of 3, Packet 2, Packet 3). That same packet also went out to New Mexico, where an effort to remove PTSD from the list of treatable ailments was foiled, and to Oregon, where the PTSD bill moved forward this week.
"While we don't have a lot of studies titled 'PTSD Response to Cannabis Therapy,' we do have a preponderance of evidence that shows cannabis works in various ways, including for symptoms of PTSD," said Krawitz.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]One important reason the hard science officials would like to see on the efficacy and safety of marijuana for PTSD is federal government obstructionism. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), for instance, has been attempting for years to win approval for its study of PTSD and medical marijuana. But it's still waiting and still patiently trying to satisfy the endless niggling of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Health and Human Services. The DEA and the courts haven't helped either -- the agency in 2011 denied a request by UMass scientist Dr. Lyle Craker to grow marijuana for research purposes, disregarding its own administrative law judge's recommendation to approve it, and a court last week sided with DEA.
Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence on marijuana treatment for PTSD is helping to move the issue forward. The site ProCon.org, which features a major section devoted to medical marijuana, has posted several readers' comments on the subject:"I had severe reservations about 'smoking pot.' It is illegal and I am a health care professional," one anonymous commenter wrote. "Still, I wanted to feel better, to be myself again, and to be the person I was before the PTSD. I smoked the pot. Immediately I felt relaxed and calm. I smiled and laughed. I finally felt at peace for the first time in two years. I slept my first night in three years without the sleep medication. The next day I felt refreshed and renewed. I had hope again. My son told me that he was so happy to see the old me again."
"I was shot thru the right sub and supra orbital sections of the right side of my head exiting over my right ear. They rebuilt 1/4 of my skull," wrote another commenter. "Epilepsy, PTSD, and other issues such as severe anxiety, constant pain and depression... I am still alive because I smoke [marijuana] every day. Empirical evidence has proven to me that failure to utilize generally causes a seizure and at minimum I get really aggressive... I will not live on narcotics. Ibuprofen or aspirin all have side effects worse than any temporary pain. Replacement liver from the damage of man-made drugs? No thanks."
In the meanwhile, veterans and others continue to suffer from PTSD and continue to use marijuana for relief. In states that do not have medical marijuana laws, that makes them criminals. In states that do have medical marijuana laws, but don't allow it to be used for PTSD, they are criminals, too -- unless they hide what they're actually using it for.
"These state medical marijuana control boards are willing to allow vets to have it for pain, but not PTSD, so in states like Arizona, vets suffering from PTSD are using a pain diagnosis to be legal under state law, and that's problematic. We're trying to get people suffering from PTSD to actually come in and get help, and it's difficult because there's a lot of stigma around it. What are we telling our soldiers when we tell them 'tell the doc you have pain, don't say you have PTSD'"? Krawitz asked. "What are we saying about the validity of their condition?"
That leads to other problems, too Krawitz said.
"When we can't recommend medical marijuana for PTSD, we're pushing people to use chronic pain as a qualifying condition, and that leads to police and prosecutors seeing all those pain recommendations and saying there must be fraud in the system," he said. "There are a lot of patients who would otherwise have had recommendations for PTSD."
PTSD sufferers are not waiting for peer-reviewed, clinically-controlled studies to tell them what works. PTSD is a real and growing problem, and medical marijuana appears to do some good. The scientific studies that would satisfy legislators and state review boards need to be done, and that is happening, albeit too slowly, but in the meanwhile, people are suffering because the government they served at risk to life and limb is now obstructing the research that would legitimize their treatment.
A 26-year-old Jamaican who has resided in the US since he was three should not automatically be deported for being caught with a small amount of marijuana, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The case was Moncrieffe v. Holder.
[image:1 align:right]In that case, Adrien Moncrieffe was caught with 1.3 grams of marijuana when police in Georgia pulled him over for a traffic stop. He pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute in a plea bargain in which the state of Georgia agreed to expunge the charges after he served five years' probation.
But a federal immigration judge ruled that the plea bargain made Moncrieffe deportable as an "aggravated felon." While federal law considers possession of small amounts of weed a misdemeanor, federal officials argued that his plea was to an offense analogous to a federal felony and thus calling for automatic deportation under federal immigration law. With the lesser offense, Moncrieffe might potentially face deportation, but the government would not have to seek it and Moncrieffe could make his case before a judge if it did.
The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the immigration judge's ruling, but the Supreme Court accepted the case for review last year. On Tuesday, seven justices agreed that Moncrieffe's conviction did not rise to the level of a drug trafficking offense that triggered the aggravated felony classification for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
"Moncrieffe's conviction could correspond to either the CSA [Controlled Substances Act] felony or the CSA misdemeanor," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority. "Ambiguity on this point means that the conviction did not 'necessarily' involve facts that correspond to an offense punishable as a felony under the CSA. Under the categorical approach, then, Moncrieffe was not convicted of an aggravated felony."
Although federal prosecutors had argued that any marijuana distribution conviction (even intending to distribute one gram) is "presumptively" a felony, Sotomayor and the other six justices weren't buying that.
"That is simply incorrect, and the government's argument collapses as a result," Sotomayor wrote. "Marijuana distribution is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor until we know whether the conditions in paragraph (4) attach."
That paragraph lists exceptions to the offense of marijuana distribution that allow defendants to be considered misdemeanor "simple drug possessors."
To follow prosecutors' logic, Sotomayor argued, "would render even an undisputed misdemeanor an aggravated felony. Recognizing that its approach leads to consequences Congress could not have intended, the government hedges its argument by proposing a remedy: Non-citizens should be given an opportunity during immigration proceedings to demonstrate that their predicate marijuana distribution convictions involved only a small amount of marijuana and no remuneration, just as a federal criminal defendant could do at sentencing," she wrote.
But that approach was "entirely inconsistent with both the INA's text and the categorical approach," Sotomayor stressed. "The government cites no statutory authority for such case-specific fact finding in immigration court, and none is apparent in the INA. Indeed, the government's main categorical argument would seem to preclude this inquiry: If the government were correct that 'the fact of a marijuana-distribution conviction alone constitutes a CSA felony,' then all marijuana distribution convictions would categorically be convictions of the drug trafficking aggravated felony, mandatory deportation would follow under the statute, and there would be no room for the government's follow-on fact finding procedure. The government cannot have it both ways."
And the government's approach would lead to a litany of "absurd consequences that would flow from" immigration investigations into such offenses. "That the only cure is worse than the disease suggests the government is simply wrong," she wrote.
Only Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, with Thomas arguing that since Georgia punished Moncrieffe's offense as a felony, he should be deportable under the CSA, and Alito warning that the majority had just given a free ride to "drug traffickers in about half the states."
"In those states," Alito wrote in his dissent, "even if an alien is convicted of possessing tons of marijuana with the intent to distribute, the alien is eligible to remain in this country. Large-scale marijuana distribution is a major source of income for some of the world's most dangerous drug cartels, but the court now holds that an alien convicted of participating in such activity may petition to remain in this country."
Of course, Moncrieffe was not convicted of "large-scale marijuana trafficking" and was not a member of one of "the world's most dangerous drug cartels;" he was a guy busted with a couple of joints worth of weed. And the government may still be able to deport people in Moncrieffe's situation, but now they will have to make the case for deportation before a judge.
A bill that would establish a National Commission on Marijuana Policy was introduced in the US Congress last week. Filed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), House Bill 1635 seeks a commission that would undertake a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits of current federal marijuana prohibition, as well as examining how federal policy should interact with state laws that have either approved medical marijuana or legalized marijuana outright.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Cohen's proposal is inspired by the 1971 Shafer Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which was commissioned by President Richard Nixon but then shelved when it recommended decriminalizing marijuana. The commission report resulted in decriminalization in a handful of states in the 1970s, before marijuana reform went into the deep freeze during the Reagan era.
"Regardless of your views on marijuana, it's important that we understand the impact of current federal policy and address the conflict with those state laws that allow for medicinal or personal use of marijuana," said Congressman Cohen. "This conflict is only going to continue to grow over the next few years and we must provide certainty to the millions of individuals and businesses that remain caught in a web of incompatible laws. A national commission would provide us with the information we need to create sensible policy going forward."
Joining Cohen in backing the bill are cosponsors Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), and Jared Polis (D-CO).
"The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that a national conversation is needed when it comes to our country’s marijuana policies, but so far that conversation has been largely one sided," said Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML, which worked with Cohen on drafting the bill. "It is time for federal lawmakers to listen to the voice of the majority of Americans who want to see change to our nation’s marijuana laws and for them to take part in that dialogue."
"We have clearly reached a point where the American people want marijuana prohibition to end," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The states have been taking the lead, but the federal government must catch up. It is no longer a question of whether the federal government should allow states to enact their own marijuana policies. Of course, it should. The question now is how to reconcile state and federal laws. This commission bill proposes a study and a discussion that is long overdue."
The proposed commission would consist of 13 members: five appointed by the president; two appointed by the Speaker of the House; two appointed by the House minority leader; two appointed by the Senate majority leader; and two appointed by the Senate minority leader.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington State approved measures making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and directing state regulatory bodies to create regulations for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Activists planning possible Washington, DC, marijuana reform efforts got some good news this week. A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found that three-quarters of DC voters support decriminalizing marijuana possession, two-thirds (67%) think law enforcement resources focused on marijuana should be used elsewhere, and nearly two-thirds (63%) said they would support ballot measures similar to those in Colorado and Washington state, where voters legalized marijuana last November.
DC voters weren't just interested in lessening marijuana law enforcement. A solid majority (54%) said drug use should be treated as a public health issue and people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.
DC-based activists have been meeting about plans to push pot law reforms. The first stop is the city council, but it the council balks, there are also contingency plans for a possible ballot initiative. In interviews earlier this year, activists said they were waiting for polling results before deciding on a course of action. Now they have them.
[image:2 align:left caption:true]"As a 20-year DC resident, I know scores of people who have been humiliated with an arrest and have even spent time in jail for possessing small quantities of marijuana," said longtime District activist and spokesman for Dr. Bronner's Natural Soaps Adam Eidinger. "This new poll confirms that there is little support for laws that criminalize marijuana consumers in the District and they are due for repeal. We hope it inspires the Council to craft meaningful marijuana policy reform legislation, but in either case a change in the law appears to be inevitable."
"District voters, like most Americans, think it is time for a new, more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Steve Fox of the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "People should not be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Harsh criminal penalties should be reserved for serious criminals, and our law enforcement resources should be reserved for addressing serious crimes."
"DC voters clearly want to end the failed war on drugs," said Bill Piper, DC-based national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Decriminalizing marijuana is a no-brainer, but the Council should do more. There is an opportunity to make a clean break from the past and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. More access to treatment and health services. No more putting people in jail."
The ball is in the DC City Council's court, but if elected representatives fail to act, the threat of direct democracy via the initiative process looms.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]I attended a forum on marijuana legalization at The Brookings Insti
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Word just came out that the Illinois House has passed medical marijuana legislation, after several tries. Now it has to go to the Senate.
More DEA raids in Los Angeles, federal prison bureaucrats ignore a Michigan medical marijuana prisoner's medical needs, federal drug bureaucrats prevail in a medical marijuana research case, and there is lots of action in state legislatures, including a Wednesday afternoon victory in the Illinois House. Let's get to it:
On Monday, a federal appeals court rejected Prof. Lyle Craker's appeal to overturn a DEA decision to not allow him to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.The appeals court sided with the DEA, finding its decision to maintain the federal marijuana cultivation monopoly was reasonable and in line with the Controlled Substances Act. Craker first sought approval in 2001.
On Monday, a hearing on a Lake County lawsuit challenging the county's cultivation ordinance was postponed when the judge hearing the case recused himself. Judge Richard Martin recused himself because his son is running for sheriff against Sheriff Frank Rivero, who is a defendant in the case. As a result, the lawsuit against the county and its sheriff will be sent to Lake County Superior Court Presiding Judge Stephen Hedstrom for reassignment. Lake County resident Donald Merill is suing over the Board of Supervisors' decision last summer to approve an ordinance limiting the number of pot plants allowed in outdoor cultivation, banning commercial cultivation of medical marijuana and prohibiting growing on vacant lands in the unincorporated areas of the county. Now, a case management conference set for next week has been pushed back until late August, too late for this year's outdoor growing season.
On Tuesday, supporters of a Los Angeles dispensary initiative kicked off their campaign with a city hall press conference. Proposition D is one of three dispensary initiatives going before city voters on May 21. The measure would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, as would Proposition E, whose backers have switched to supporting Prop D. A third initiative, Proposition F, has no caps on dispensaries, but imposes other restrictions. Both Props D and F would impose a gross tax receipts of 2% on medical marijuana dispensary revenues.
Also on Tuesday, DEA and local law enforcement raided four Los Angeles area dispensaries. Hit were the Zen and Alternative Herbal Health Services dispensaries on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, La Brea Compassionate Caregivers in Los Angeles, and Marina Caregivers in Marina del Rey. Law enforcement also executed search warrants at seven other locations and arrested three people. Those arrested are accused of selling marijuana outside of California and various other offenses.
On Tuesday, nearly 250 doctors signed on to support medical marijuana legislation pending at the state house. Several of them, along with patients, spoke at a Chicago press conference one day before a vote on House Bill 1 was expected in the House. The bill would create a pilot medical marijuana program, including a dispensary system.
On Wednesday, the bill passed the House on a 61-57 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Late last week, the federal Bureau of Prisons refused to house an ailing medical marijuana patient at one of its medical facilities even though he is a kidney-pancreas transplant candidate, suffers coronary artery disease, and requires a strict medication regime. Jerry Duval, 53, must report to federal prison on June 11 and must serve his sentences at a federal correctional facility in Ohio. His sentencing judge had recommended that he be "placed in a Federal Medical Center or other facility deemed to be appropriate in consideration of the Defendant's medical needs." Last August, Montana medical marijuana prisoner Richard Flor, 68, died in federal prison after his medical conditions were given short shrift.
Last Thursday, a medical marijuana dispensary bill won a Senate committee vote. Senate Bill 374 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Because the bill includes fees, it must win two-thirds approval to pass the Senate.
On Saturday, the state's first medical marijuana school opened. The Cannabis Career Institute launched its Budtender School with a workshop for about 40 students on Saturday in Henderson. The school will teach all aspects of the medical marijuana business, including how to grow marijuana legally and bake it into brownies, cookies and cakes. The institute has held similar workshops in other cities across the US, and more than 1,500 people hold certificates from it.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana legislation got a hearing in a key Senate committee. The bill, House Bill 573, was heard in the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee. Opponents suggested that a clinical study be done, but supporters retorted that such suggestions were merely a way to delay the bill. A similar measure has already passed the House. While Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has said she would support a tightly regulated program, she has expressed concern about a home-grow option.
On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 21-4 vote. The bill, Assembly Bill 6357, would allow patients suffering from severe debilitating or life-threatening conditions to use medical marijuana. A practitioner who is licensed to prescribe controlled substances would certify that a patient has a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition that should be treated with the medical use of marijuana. Certifying and dispensing medical marijuana would be included in the I-STOP prescription monitoring system for controlled substances enacted in 2012.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he still opposes medical marijuana. "I do not support medical marijuana. I understand the pros and cons. I understand the argument," Cuomo said. "We are looking at it, but at this point, I don't support medical marijuana. I understand the benefits, the risks. How do you construct a system that really is that tightly controlled that you don’t have dissemination beyond the directed population?"
Last Friday, Rep. Kelly Alexander introduced a medical marijuana study bill. The bill, House Bill 941, would require a legislative research commission to study medical marijuana-related issues. Earlier this session, Alexander had introduced a medical marijuana bill, but that was killed by legislators who complained they were getting too much feedback from constituents.
Last Friday, it was learned that the federal government had forced the state to release medical marijuana patient records. The Oregon Public Health Division, which keeps tabs on medical marijuana card holders, has handed over an undisclosed number of patient records as the result of a federal search warrant. The DEA executed the warrant and seized Oregon Medical Marijuana Program records in an investigation into illegal drug activity. The name and number of patients information pulled is still unknown because the investigation is ongoing and more records could be subpoenaed. Patients and activists are not pleased.
Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters protested proposed restrictions on caregivers at a rally at the state house. More than two dozen people showed up to oppose amendments to the state's law that would reduce the number of plants that a caregiver could grow from 24 to 12 and allow a patient to grow a maximum of 6 plants. Patients can currently grow twice that number. The caregivers and patients also criticized amendments that would require the growers to notify city or town zoning officials about their plans to grow marijuana.
The US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston Monday sided with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in rejecting University of Massachusetts-Amherst scientist Dr. Lyle Craker's appeal of the agency's decision to deny him a license to grow medical marijuana for research purposes.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Craker sought to break the federal government's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes. Because of hostility to research on the possible benefits of marijuana in the federal drug control and research bureaucracies, the federal monopoly on marijuana for research purposes created a bottleneck, blocking potential valuable research efforts.
The decision in Craker v. DEA caps a 12-year odyssey through federal regulatory purgatory for Craker and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which had backed the UMass-Amherst scientist's bid to develop a source of marijuana independent of that produced under the auspices of NIDA.
"After such a long struggle, I'm disappointed that the Court failed to recognize the need for an independent source of plant material for use in research on the medical uses of marijuana," said Prof. Craker. "In doing so, they have failed the American people, especially those for whom marijuana as a medicine could help."
Craker first applied for a license from the DEA in 2001; it took the agency three years to initially deny his request. In 2007, the DEA's own administrative law judge recommended that the agency grant his application, but two years later, then DEA Deputy Administrator (and current Adminstrator) Michele Leonhart rejected that recommendation. Craker sought a formal reconsideration, which Leonhart denied in 2011.
Craker then appealed to the First Circuit, with oral arguments taking place in May 2012. In its decision Monday, the First Circuit upheld Leonhart's denial. In so doing, it dismissed Craker's claims that the DEA had changed the rules in the middle of the game and that the supply of marijuana from the NIDA facility was inadequate and uncompetitive. Leonhart's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act was permissible and her findings were "reasonable and supported by the evidence," the court held.
"This ruling will result in sick people continuing to be denied the medicine they desperately need, and which 18 states and the District of Columbia recognize as legitimate," said Allen Hopper, criminal justice and drug policy director for the ACLU of California and one of the lawyers representing Prof. Craker. "The Obama administration must stop blocking the research necessary to take marijuana through the FDA approval process."
The Vermont House of Representatives Friday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill passed on a vote of 98-44.
[image:1 align:left]The bill now moves to the Senate. It is supported by state Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, both of whom testified for it in the House. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has also expressed support for decriminalization.
Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) with a tri-partisan group of 38 cosponsors, House Bill 200 would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, making it only a ticketable offense, like a traffic citation. Minors under 21 would additionally have to undergo substance abuse screening.
Under current Vermont law, possession of up to two ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, and up to two years in jail if it's not a first offense.
"Vermont is another step closer to adopting a more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The support demonstrated by members of the House reflects that of the state's top law enforcement officials and the voters."
Marijuana is decriminalized in 17 states, including Vermont's neighbors, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.
At the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento Saturday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom called for marijuana legalization and described the war on drugs as "an abject failure." (Watch the speech here.)
[image:1 align:right caption:true]The famously well-coiffed former San Francisco mayor is one of the key contenders for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination in 2014 -- if Gov. Jerry Brown (D) decides not to run again. The other leading contender is state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who did not broach the topic in her convention address.
"It's time to decriminalize, tax, and regulate marijuana," Newsom said to raucous cheers and applause. "In 2011 alone in this country, three quarters of a million people in the United States were arrested for marijuana law violations, 87% of them for simple possession. And listen to me closely on this -- African-American children are ten times more likely to get arrested for drug crimes than their white counterparts even though white children are more likely to abuse drugs."
"You can't make this up," Newsom said. "We send a higher percentage of African American males to prison and jail in this country than we send to colleges and universities in California. After 42 years of failure, I think it's time we concede that if we continue to do what we've done, we'll continue to get what we've got. I think you and we deserve better. It's about standing up on principle, having the courage of our convictions, about saying publicly all too often what we say privately."
The lieutenant governor's speech wasn't all high seriousness. Jokingly referring to his role as acting governor while Brown is on an overseas trip, he said, "I'm thrilled to be here… on the sixth day of the Newsom administration," he said. "This is the right time and the appropriate time to reflect on our cornucopia of landmark accomplishments over these magical six days." Among those was the creation of hundreds of new jobs, "notably in the now-booming hair gel industry," he said, patting his hair.
"All of these wonderful achievements will one day be studied by scholars at the Newsom Acting Governor Library, currently being constructed in the back of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Haight-Ashbury," he said to laughter and applause. "I'm looking forward to it as well," Newsom said, smiling.
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.
The Maryland Senate Monday passed a bill that would allow seriously ill residents to obtain medical marijuana through state-regulated research programs run by academic medical centers. The House of Delegates approved the bill last month; Gov. Patrick O'Malley is expected to sign it shortly.
[image:1 align:right]The bill, House Bill 1101, creates a commission that would allow academic medical research centers to apply to operate programs under state regulation that would provide marijuana grown by the federal government or by state-licensed growers. The bill doesn't allow patients to grow their own medicine.
Drug reform advocates had mixed views on what passage of the legislation accomplishes.
"This marks a major step forward for Maryland medical marijuana patients and their families," said Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which helped shepherd the bill through the legislature. "The Assembly's overwhelming support for this important legislation reflects that of the people of Maryland and the nation as a whole. The time has come to allow seriously ill people to obtain and use medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help them."
But some expressed skepticism about whether the bill will actually result in patients getting access to medical marijuana. The federal government has long refused to provide marijuana, even for Food and Drug Administration-approved studies, and it is unclear just when and where state-licensed growers might appear.
"Maryland has taken a small step in the right direction, but more steps are necessary for patients to actually obtain the medicine they need to alleviate their suffering," said Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Maryland has many workable and successful models to draw from: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have successfully legalized marijuana for medical purposes despite the ongoing federal ban. Medical marijuana is used in those jurisdictions by hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other serious and debilitating illnesses."
Still, it is time for academic medical research centers to step up, said Riffle.
"We hope the state's academic medical centers will take action and apply for the program so they can begin meeting the needs of Maryland residents suffering from debilitating medical conditions," he said. "Individuals suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses should not be forced to obtain their medicine in the underground market."
[image:1 align:left]An Oregon bill that would legalize marijuana was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a 6-3 vote after hearing testimony that same day. That marks the first time any Oregon marijuana legalization measure has won a committee vote. The bill now heads to the House Revenue Committee.
The bill, House Bill 3371, would legalize marijuana possession for adults 21 and over, provide for the cultivation of a small number of plants without regulation, and set up a system of taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. It was sponsored by the Revenue Committee.
"Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later," said Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, a group supporting legalization. "It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place."
The only opposition to the bill at the Wednesday hearing came from the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, which said it was concerned about drugged driving, underage use, and drug dependency.
"This act will not make the problems of marijuana abuse go away," said Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, speaking on behalf of the association.
Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. Last, the Measure 80 marijuana legalization initiative, poorly funded and hobbled by the mixed reputation of its proponent, Paul Stanford, managed to pull in nearly 47% of the popular vote. Activists have been discussing whether to go forward with another initiative in 2014, but if HB 3371 keeps moving, they may not have to wait that long.
A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana has died in the House. Legislators earlier killed a marijuana legalization bill.
[image:1 align:right]The decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 472, passed out of the Senate a month ago and saw fervent debate in House committee hearings, but House leaders said there was not enough support for the bill to move forward.
Rep. Karl Rhoads (D-District 29), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee told the Associated Press Wednesday that there weren't enough votes to push the bill through. And although the state's two-year legislative session would allow the bill to be taken up again next year without having to pass the Senate again, Rhoads said he doubted that would happen.
"It was a moderate measure," Rhoads told the AP. "If this couldn't pass, I think it's very unlikely that anything is going to pass next year."
Marijuana reform supporters, including the ACLU of Hawaii and two new coalitions aimed at changing the state's marijuana laws, Fresh Approach Hawaii and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii, had been optimistic about the bill's prospects after it passed the Senate, but it ran into stiff opposition from law enforcement and community groups. Police testified that reforming the marijuana laws would make their job more difficult and increase crime.