A lot has changed since we last published an overview of cannabis law reform in the U.S., as activists all across the country continue to push the conversation, and policies forward.
As we continue onward in a year which has been historic for cannabis reform, here’s an examination of reform occurring across the United States; take note of the fact that the Obama Administration announced today that they won’t overturn cannabis legalization in states that decide to take that approach, such as Colorado and Washington.
Ron Crumpton, Executive Director of the Alabama Safe Access Project (ASAP), tells us that State Representative Patricia Todd – in collaboration with ASAP - will be filing multiple cannabis reform measures in the upcoming legislative session, including a measure to decriminalize cannabis, a proposal to legalize it entirely, and two proposals to bring protection for medical cannabis patients; one would legalize medical cannabis entirely, and one would provide an affirmative defense for qualified patients
In June the State of Alaska officially certified an initiative to legalize cannabis, passing it through its initial hurdle towards becoming law. Advocates will now need to collect 30,169 valid signatures by next summer to place the proposal – which would legalize cannabis possession, and retail outlets – on next November’s general election ballot.
In May, a Behavior Research Center poll - which shocked the political world in Arizona – found that 56% in the state support the legalization of recreational cannabis (4% above the national average). The next month, an initiative was filed which would do just that; legalize cannabis for those 18 and older, including state-licensed retail outlets.
Advocates of the initiative – which, like Colorado’s Amendment 64, is a constitutional amendment – will need to gather roughly 260,000 signatures to put the proposal to a vote of the people in 2014, though they have until Jul 3rd to do so.
In July, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that police must return cannabis seized from an authorized patient from California, setting legal precedent across the state which forces police to abide by the portion of Arizona’s medical cannabis law which recognizes valid patients from other medical cannabis states.
Earlier this month the state’s attorney general gave approval to a medical cannabis legalization initiative which was filed by Arkansas for Responsible Medicine, giving them the go-ahead to begin collecting signatures to put their proposal to a vote in 2014. Another group has filed a separate initiative, a constitutional amendment which would legalize cannabis possession, cultivation and distribution centers; the proposal awaits approval by the state.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the proponents of last year’sIssue 5 which would have legalized medical cannabis in Arkansas, but failed narrowly in the election, have also filed a new medical cannabis initiative after being rejected by the attorney general several times in recent weeks, based on “ambiguities” in the language.
Last month California’s Democratic Party – the largest state Democratic Party in the country –approved two cannabis related resolutions, one calling for President Obama to respect state marijuana laws, and one urging state lawmakers to pass legislation protecting medical cannabis safe access. Both are now official platforms of the party.
On October 1st activists will begin gathering signatures for the California Cannabis Hemp Act of 2014 (also known as the Jack Herer Initiative), aiming to put it to a vote in 2014; the proposal would fully legalize cannabis possession (12 pounds), private cultivation (99 plants), industrial hemp and cannabis retail outlets.
In May, the state’s governor signed multiple cannabis proposals which made the state the first in history to approve regulations for recreational cannabis. A couple days later, the governorsigned a proposal explicitly legalizing hemp in the state.
Last week a poll was released which found that 54% of those in Colorado support the legalization of cannabis, showing that support has remained steady since the passage of Amendment 64 in November.
Recreational retail outlets are expected to begin opening early next year.
Earlier this month Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced that he would be moving forward with the state’s 2011-approved medical cannabis law (though in scaled-back form, with 1 dispensary rather than 4), which he halted over fears of the federal government prosecuting state employees. This will lead to the state’s first medical cannabis dispensary opening, likely by next year.
- District of Columbia (U.S. Capital)
Last month a proposal was filed in the city’s council which would decriminalize cannabis possession in the district. The proposal – which will be formally voted on next month – is sponsored by a majority of the council, indicating that it will be up to the mayor to decide whether or not the measure passes into law.
A few weeks ago Washington D.C.’s first medical cannabis dispensary opened its doors, located just blocks from the White House, with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Earlier this month the group United for Care submitted over 100,000 signatures (after only a month of collecting) on their initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state; the group needed to submit 70,000 to have it reviewed by the state’s supreme court. Once given approval, the group will need to collect roughly 685,000 signatures to put the proposal to a vote in 2014.
The leader of the group, attorney and former Obama fundraiser John Morgan, has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to get the initiative passed into law, and plans to spend over $20 million to do so.
Although nothing new has come forward in terms of specific legislation, the nonprofit, pro-legalization group Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (Georgia C.A.R.E. Project) continues to educate the public in Georgia on the necessity of reforming their state’s failed cannabis policies
Although the state’s Senate unanimously approved marijuana decriminalization this year, the proposal eventually stalled in the House. However, lawmakers and advocates behind the bill plan to continue to fight for its passage in 2014, and are optimistic about its chances.
The organization Compassionate Idaho - which is now officially a subchapter of Americans for Safe Access – in continuing to work on an initiative aimed at legalizing medical cannabis.
On the first day of this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a proposal into law which legalized medical cannabis, including up to 60 state-licensed dispensaries. Although the passage of this law is a giant step forward, advocates continue to fight for further reform, as the restrictive law is only a 4-year starter program.
Senate Bill 0580 – which would have decriminalized the possession of 2 ounces of cannabis – was filed earlier this year by Senator Karen Tallian, though unfortunately no significant progress was made on it in the Senate. However, Senator Tallian plans to refile the proposal next session, and advocates will continue to push for its passage.
H.F. 22, introduced this session, would have legalized the possession and state-licensed sale of medical marijuana to qualified patients, though it was eventually voted down in committee. Regardless of the vote, the bill started a conversation in the state which was much-needed.
Earlier this month a bill to legalize medical cannabis was filed in the Kansas Senate, titled theCannabis Compassion and Care Act. The measure has been referred to the Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Last month State Senator Perry Clark introduced a medical cannabis legalization proposal, which had a public hearing on August 21st. This legislation, according to polling released this month, is supported by an overwhelming 78% of Kentucky residents.
A measure designed to drastically reduce the penalties – and remove mandatory minimums – for cannabis charges was approved in May by the state’s full House, but unfortunately ended up being narrowly rejected by the full Senate the following month. The fight, however, is far from over, as those behind the proposal plan to continue working towards its passage in the upcoming legislative session.
In June, legislation to add post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying medical cannabis conditions officially became law in Maine.
Last month, an initiative to legalize cannabis was officially sent to the November ballot in Portland, Maine, giving voters the opportunity to reform their city’s marijuana laws
In May the state’s governor signed legislation to allow medical cannabis distribution to occur at certain authorized academic medical centers that become licensed with the state. The passage of the proposal drew mixed reactions, with some calling it a step forward, and others calling it a farce.
The State of Massachusetts is moving forward with implementation of its 2012-approved medical cannabis law, and has recently begun accepting applications from those interested in receiving a license to open a medical cannabis dispensary.
In May, the Michigan Supreme Court made an important ruling which protects medical cannabis patients from the state’s zero-tolerance THC driving policy.
In June, the nonprofit medical cannabis organization Michigan Compassion became the first cannabis-related organization to receive a Google Grant; the group will be awarded $240,000 in free advertising. Also in June, activists in the cities of Ferndale and Jackson submitted the required number of signatures to put their cannabis decriminalization proposals to a vote this November.
In August, a medical cannabis review panel gave preliminary approval to the addition of PTSD as a qualifying medical cannabis condition; a public hearing will be held before a final vote occurs.
Earlier this week an initiative to legalize cannabis possession was officially verified for this November’s ballot in Lansing, Michigan’s capital.
In may legislation was introduced in Minnesota to legalize medical cannabis. The proposal is sponsored by over 40 lawmakers, and although it was filed too late to be approved in 2013, proponents are preparing for a huge push in 2014.
In St. Louis a proposal decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis officially became law on June 1st.
In July, a state lawmaker announced that he will be filing two cannabis-related bills in the 2014 session; one to decriminalize up to 35 grams, and one to legalize cannabis similar to Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Nebraska NORML ran an initiative earlier this year to legalize cannabis, though unfortunately fell short of the signatures required to place the proposal on the ballot. However, the group is continuing to push for legalization; those interested in getting involved should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In June Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a proposal into law which legalizes medical cannabis dispensaries throughout the state, fixing a huge hole in the law; up until the passage of this proposal, dispensaries were entirely illegal, despite medical cannabis being a constitutional right since 2000, leading most patients to rely on the black-market to obtain their medicine.
- New Hampshire
Last Month New Hampshire officially became the 20th state to legalize medical cannabis, after the governor signed legislation into law.
- New Mexico
Earlier this year the state’s House of Representatives approved a measure which would decriminalize up to a quarter pound of cannabis, making it a simple $100 ticket. Although the measure has stalled in the Senate, it has been an inspiration to activists, and lawmakers will continue to discuss the issue in the next session.
- New York
In June New York’s Assembly approved a measure legalizing medical cannabis; the approval now sits in the Senate, where, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, it has enough support to pass.
Earlier this month a federal judge ruled that New York City’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy is “unconstitutional”.
- North Carolina
House Bill 637, which would make the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis a simple ticket rather than a criminal misdemeanor, passed its first reading in the house, though stalled in subcommittee. Advocates in the state should contact their lawmakers, urging them to support this common-sense proposal to free-up police resources to focus on serious offenses.
In May the Ohio Ballot Board unanimously approved an initiative to legalize cannabis and hemp, sending it through the initial hurdle towards putting it to a vote; advocates will now need to collect roughly 385,000 valid signatures to place the initiative on the 2014 ballot.
- North Dakota
Although there’s not much new to report on, Oklahoma State Senator Constance Johnson continues to consider running an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Although there’s not much new to report on, Oklahoma State Senator Constance Johnson continues to consider running an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
In July, Oregon’s governor signed a measure drastically reducing the penalties for most cannabis-related charges, including making the possession of up to an ounce a ticket, rather than a misdemeanor.
Just a couple weeks ago the governor signed a proposal legalizing medical cannabis dispensaries, a move which remedies a problem which found medical cannabis legal for qualified patients, despite access points being entirely illegal. Under the regulations set forth in the initiative, over 200 dispensaries are expected to open.
Last week advocates of last year’s Measure 80 to legalize cannabis announced that, starting next month, they’ll begin to collect signatures on two new initiatives aiming for the 2014 ballot; one a state-law change, one a constitutional amendment.
In June the NCAAP officially endorsed a proposal in the state’s Senate which would legalize the possession, private home cultivation and state-licensed retail sale of cannabis for adults.
Polling released in May found that over 80% in the state support medical cannabis legalization.
- Rhode Island
On April 1st the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis became decriminalized in Rhode Island. In just 4 months – from April 1st to August 1st - nearly 1,000 misdemeanors were avoided because of this new law.
- South Carolina
Members of Columbia NORML are actively lobbying lawmakers in the state in an attempt to bring forth the legalization of cannabis.
- South Dakota
Earlier this year a piece of legislation was introduced and discussed in South Carolina which would have added legal protections to those using cannabis for medical purposes. The bill didn’t advance out of committee, but will be filed again in 2014.
Tennessee State Senator Frank Nicely is considering drafting legislation to legalize hemp in the state.
A few months back Texas lawmakers held a public hearing on House Bill 594, which would have added an “affirmative defense” for patients who possess and use marijuana. The law never advanced beyond that, but began a conversation which is vital to the eventual passage of such measures. Advocates in the state should be constantly communicating with their lawmakers, urging them towards cannabis law reform.
A poll released this week found that a large majority in Utah support medical cannabis legalization; 61% to 28%.
On June 6th Vermont’s governor signed a proposal decriminalizing cannabis possession – the law took effect on July 1st. Also in July, the state’s first medical cannabis dispensaryopened its doors for qualifying patients.
The state’s Liquor Control Board continues to finalize regulations for the newly-legal recreational cannabis industry, with retail outlets to be licensedby the end of the year. In the meantime, the nonprofit organization Sensible Washington is working on legislation that they plan to have filed in the upcoming legislative session which would defelonize the possession of all drugs (when not intended for distribution), making the charges misdemeanors rather than felonies (in Washington State the possession of any amount of a controlled substance, or over 40 grams of cannabis a felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years in prisons). So far the effort has at least 4 legislative cosponsors.
- West Virginia
House Bill 2961, sponsored by 10 state legislators, would allow qualifying patients in the state (as well as their caregiver) to purchase, grow and possess cannabis. The measure would allow patients to grow up to 12 plants, and would also legalize dispensaries. Although the proposal stalled in committee, advocates plan to continue building support for the proposal.
Several lawmakers in Wisconsin are in the process of drafting legislation to legalize medical cannabis, which they plan to introduce in the upcoming session.
Earlier this month the newly-formed Wyoming NORML announced an initiative campaign to put a cannabis legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. The group will need to collect roughly 37,000 signatures to do so.
As one can easily see, support for cannabis law reform is building at a tremendous, unprecedented pace, and change is occurring everywhere; an end to cannabis prohibition has never seemed more inevitable.
We look forward to updating you again in a few months. Expect more of the same; progress.