Legislative Roundup: November 9

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hightimes-legislativeroundup-august2015_1It was huge week in the fight to legalize marijuana across the United States. Some of the biggest news to surface comes from the District of Columbia, where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has officially introduced a bill seeking to end pot prohibition nationwide. Other highlights include the submission of a major initiative gunning to legalize a recreational cannabis industry in California next year and news that a medical marijuana ballot measure in Florida will face its Supreme Court hearing uncontested.

Federal: Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to End Federal Prohibition
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill last week in the U.S. Senate aimed at eliminating marijuana prohibition across the United States. It is called the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015,” a proposal that seeks to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Similar to previous measures submitted in the House, Sanders’ proposal would give states the freedom to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. However, instead of transferring the responsibilities of the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, this measure would put all of the controls in the hands of individual states.

It is conceivable that Sanders will attract somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 co-sponsors for his measure, but will fail miserably at generating enough Republican interest to foster any level of real momentum. So far, Sanders has refused to say whether his proposal to drag America out of the stench of prohibitionary times has any support at all, but considering his well-respected campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, there will undoubtedly be some considerable backing by his fellow party members.

However, the Republican roadblock in the Senate will inevitably keep this bill buried in “referred to subcommittee” status for a while.

California: Sean Parker Marijuana Initiative Submitted
Another initiative seeking to legalize a recreational cannabis industry next year in California was submitted to the Secretary of State last week for review. The “Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” an effort spearheaded by Napster co-founder Sean Parker will know shortly whether it can launch its signature collecting campaign to fight for a position on the ballot in 2016. The initiative, which seeks to make weed legal for adults 21 or older, has already received an endorsement from Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and has managed to pull in big money supporters that almost guarantee that this will be the push that ends prohibition in the Golden state. However, there are around 10 other proposals, all with varying agendas, working towards the same objective. But only Parker’s seems to have the financial backing to actually get it done.

Illinois: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Set to Open
Medical Marijuana patients in Illinois will soon be able to reap the benefits of the state’s pilot program. A recent report in the Chicago Tribune indicates that some dispensaries are scheduled to open this week. So far, only 3,200 patients have been approved for the program. Those people should be receiving ID cards soon. However, there are still 24,000 potential patients currently waiting to get through the registration process.

The state’s medical marijuana pilot program will be under some close scrutiny for the next couple of years, as lawmakers will have to decide whether it is worth passing a more permanent measure oncethis one expires in 2018.

Florida: Charlotte’s Web Law Still Not Functional
Florida lawmakers have, once again, missed the latest deadline to make a non-intoxicating strain of cannabis oil available to local patients. It has been around a year and a half since Governor Rick Scott signed the Charlotte’s Web proposal into law, but the state just can’t seem to pull it together long enough to actually launch the program. At the moment, the hold up lies in the hands of the Florida Department of Health, which is still trying to determine the five growers that will supply the state with weed.

Patients are fortunate that a ballot measure aimed at bringing a full-scale medical marijuana program to the Sunshine state is on track for getting on the ballot in the 2016 election.

Florida: Medical Marijuana Initiative Not Contested in Supreme Court
United for Care, the group working to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, announced last week that none of their opponents from last year have contested their initiative in the Florida Supreme Court.

“Our opponents have decided NOT to contest United for Care’s 2016 petition at the Florida Supreme Court,” the organization said in a statement. “As you may recall, United for Care won approval of the 2014 petition despite strong opposition by Attorney General Bondi’s office, as well as the Florida Medical Association, Chamber of Commerce, Florida Sheriffs Association and others. NONE of these groups filed opposition this time!”

The group is schedule to go before the Supreme Court next month to have their ballot measure approved. United for Care believes their petition will satisfy the court.

Ohio: Marijuana Initiative Rejected by Voters
Voters rejected an initiative aimed at legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana in Ohio last Tuesday. ResponsibleOhio’s Issue 3, which would have ended prohibition statewide, found itself shut down by the majority of the voting population because their proposal came attached with questionable business practices. Essentially, in exchange for legalizing weed, the group wanted exclusive rights to produce and distribute marijuana throughout the state. And while the polls leading up to the election showed majority support for legalization, in the end, the data just didn’t translate to actual votes.

Ohio: Lawmakers Working on Medical Marijuana
Ohio lawmakers are reportedly working on a plan to legalize medical marijuana through the State Legislature. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger told reporters last week that Republicans were working towards creating a “measured and methodical approach” to legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.Lawmakers from both parties are expected to look at the available research to concoct a bill that they hope to get serious about in 2016. [link: ]

North Dakota: Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved
North Dakota activists working to get an initiative to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot in the 2016 election are about to begin their signature collecting campaign. Secretary of State, Al Jaeger, approved a measure submitted by the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana last week, giving them the green light to begin securing the necessary 13,452 signatures needed to earn a spot on the ballot. The group has until July 2016 to work their magic.

New York: Emergency Medical Marijuana Access Lands on Governor’s Desk
Despite the fact that there are only a couple months left before New York’s medical marijuana program gets underway, a bill aimed at providing critically ill patients with emergency access to the herb has been sent to the Governor’s office for a signature or veto. If it is signed into law, patients with life threatening conditions would technically have the ability to get their hands on medical marijuana before the rest of NY’s patients, but the timeline on this effort is so close to the actual launch date of the program to even be considered worthwhile. Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo has 10 days to make a decision.

Colorado: Voters Allow State to Keep Pot Taxes
The state of Colorado gets to keep the tax revenue generated in 2014 from the sale of marijuana. Last Tuesday, 69 percent of the state’s voting population cast a ballot in favor of the state keeping the $66 million collected in taxes from the cannabis trade. This means the state does not have to issue refunds to the taxpayers and schools and educational programs will reap the benefits.

Michigan: Portage Decriminalizes Marijuana
Voters in Portage, Michigan made the decision last week to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. The Committee for a Safer Portage spearheaded the initiative, which eliminates the criminal penalties for anyone caught with less than an ounce of weed. The city is now one of around 15 other municipalities across the state that has done away with criminal penalties for minor possession.

Kentucky: New Governor Supports Legalization of Medical Marijuana
Voters elected Republican Matt Bevin as the new governor of Kentucky last Tuesday. This is only worth mentioning because Bevin recently announced at a debate at Eastern Kentucky University that he supports the legalization of medical marijuana. Bevin said that there is enough “unequivocal medical evidence” that cannabis has therapeutic benefit to support the development of a comprehensive medical marijuana program across the state and begin allowing the herb to “be prescribed like any other prescription drug.”

It will be interesting to see how the question of legal marijuana is handled next year in the Kentucky Legislature.

Vermont: Plans to Legalize Recreational Marijuana
Vermont lawmakers are not asking “if” they should legalize a recreational cannabis industry, but more like “how.” Several Senators got together last week to begin drafting the language of a cannabis bill to bring up in the State Legislature once the session resumes next year. So far, the proposal does not allow marijuana edibles outside of medical use, but the rest of the details are still sketchy. Yet, because lawmakers from both sides are working together on this measure, Vermont could become the first state in the nation to legalize a cannabis industry through the state legislature.