A new year brings hope to many Americans still living under the iron fist of cannabis prohibition, as legislative sessions begin to get underway around the country. Lawmakers in several states have already pre-filed marijuana-related legislation or announced intentions to do so. The next month will bring a flurry of bills from coast to coast, north to south, decriminalization to legalization.
Here is a look ahead at some of the key measures to watch as the 2015 legislative session gets underway. We will update this list as more information becomes available.
Home to some of the most notorious marijuana laws in the country, residents of the Lone Star State are long overdue for change. Republicans and Democrats alike are teaming up to introduce several bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and to legalize medical marijuana.
The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has recently launched operations in Texas, joining forces with some long-standing chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), including DFW NORML in Dallas/Fort Worth, one of the largest and most active NORML chapters in the country.
In December, Texas State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) introduced House Bill 507, which if passed would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has drafted a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Texas. To date, the bill has not yet been filed or assigned a bill number. The proposed bill would allow patients with specific quallifying conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana, which would be available at medical marijuana dispensaries statewide. In addition, patients or their designated caregivers would be able to cultivate up to six plants. This bill represents a shift from recent proposals drafted by MPP in other states, which restrict home cultivation to patients in hardship situations only. The proposal also includes a reciprocity clause, meaning registered medical marijuana patients from other states would be able to legally purchase and possess marijuana while visiting Texas.
The proposed qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Texas are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, and conditions causing wasting, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe muscle spasms. The state could approve additional conditions in the future.
More than half of Texas voters — 58 percent — support allowing medical marijuana, and grassroots activists have been working with lawmakers to garner support of passing a comprehensive medical marijuana bill in 2015. Advocates are confident that this proposal will receive fair consideration by lawmakers this year, and there is a strong likelihood that Texas could become a bona fide medical marijuana state by year’s end.
Texas lawmakers will also consider a bill in 2015 to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults. MPP’s proposed “Free Market Bill”” bill would set up a regulated system of marijuana producers, product manufacturers, retailers, and marijuana testing labs. Adults 21 years of age and older would be allowed to grow and possess a modest amount of marijuana. If lawmakers pass this — or a similar — proposal in 2015, it would certainly send shock waves across the nation. Expect lawmakers to focus more attention on medical marijuana this year, but don’t be surprised to see this bill receive at least some consideration — and national media attention. However, adult use legalization in Texas is more likely to receive serious consideration in 2017, while working to reduce penalties for possession in the interim.
Texas’s legislative session begins on January 13, and all bills must be introduced within the first 60 days of the session. The 2015 session ends on June 1.
Multiple marijuana-related bills are expected to be introduced this year in Maine, which could become the first state to legalize marijuana via the state legislature. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to place a legalization measure before voters in 2016.
State Representative Diane Russell (D-Portland) will once again introduce a bill to tax and regulate marijuana use by adults. This will be Russell’s fourth attempt to push through marijuana legalization. If the legislature fails to pass Russell’s bill this year, two different legalization bills are expected to be considered by voters in 2016. Russell says that if both measures pass, lawmakers in 2017 will be left with “a real mess” as they try to decipher the will of voters and create a workable law.
Maine lawmakers have progressively improved the state’s medical marijuana program, which was enacted in 1999. This year, Rep. Russell hopes lawmakers will pass her bill to remove the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the state, leaving it up to physicians to determine if cannabis therapy is beneficial to their patients.
“This would allow the provider to make the best decision about what medical marijuana should be used for,” says Russell. “I don’t think politicians are qualified to decide.”
Maine has a two-year legislative session that begins on January 7
While Arizona remains one of the top states likely to see voters consider a marijuana legalization referendum in 2016, one lawmaker has introduced two measures to be considered by lawmakers this year.
House Bill 2007, which was pre-filed by State Representative Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix), would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults. The bill would also allow retail sales of marijuana at state-licensed retail stores, with a proposed $50 per ounce sales tax. The personal cultivation of up to five cannabis plants would also be allowed, and would not be subject to the retail tax.
The bill is expected to be assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert), a staunch opponent to legalization. Rep. Farnsworth would be responsible for scheduling the bill for a hearing in order for the proposal to receive any consideration.
Also expected to be assigned to Rep. Farnsworth’s House Judiciary Committee is House Bill 2006, which would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Current criminal penalties would be replaced by a civil violation and up to a $100 fine.
Rep. Farnsworth is more likely to consider calling HB 2006 to a hearing, saying that he is “willing to look at that,” but adding that any decision on whether to even grant the bill a hearing would depend on how police and prosecutors believe decriminalization would impair anti-drug efforts.
Arizona’s legislative session begins on January 12.
Nevada lawmakers will consider approving a measure to legalize marijuana for adults in 2015, and if they fail to pass the bill, it will automatically be placed before voters in 2016. That’s because a petition to place the measure on the 2016 has met its signature requirements, and is approved to appear on the November 2016 ballot.
The initiative, backed by the Washington, DC – based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), is modeled after a similar measure passed by Colorado voters in 2012. Adults 21 or older would be allowed to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which could be purchased from state regulated retail stores, and would be allowed to cultivate up to twelve cannabis plants in their homes.
If lawmakers fail to approve the proposal within the first 40 days of the 2015 legislative session, it will be placed on the November 2016 ballot for voters to decide. If lawmakers amend the measure, both the original version and the amended version would be placed on the ballot. If both initiatives passe with more than 50 percent of the vote, the one with the larger number of “yes” votes become law.
Because the measure would propose taxing marijuana, the both chambers of the legislature would need to pass the bill with two-thirds approval. The bill, if passed by the legislature, would also need the signature of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to become law. But if the legislature votes the bill down, or if the bill is vetoed by the governor, the measure automatically would be placed on the November ballot the following year, which is the most likely scenario.
Last year, Kentucky passed a limited CBD-only medical marijuana bill that has yet to be implemented. This year, two competing comprehensive medical marijuana bills are expected to be considered by Kentucky lawmakers in 2015, one in the House and the other in the Senate. The most notable difference between them is that one allows medical marijuana dispensaries, while the other does not.
Senator Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has already pre-filed Senate Bill 40, which would create a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. SB 40 is nearly identical to bills Sen. Clark has introduced in each of the last three years. Clark’s proposal would allow for physicians to recommend medical marijuana to qualifying patients, as well as remove legal prosecution against qualifying patients caught in possession of marijuana. This bill allows for home cultivation by patients or their caregivers, but does not establish a system for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg) has announced intentions to file a medical bill in the House after being inspired to do so by stories patients and constituents have shared with him about their medical marijuana use. Stumbo’s bill is similar to Clark’s, but is expected to also establish the framework for a regulated medical marijuana dispensary system in the state.
As Speaker of the House, Stumbo has the sway needed to call consideration to the bill, and could bring the measure to a floor vote. Last year, a similar bill was approved by a key House committee but never advanced to a floor vote.
If both chambers both bills are passed in their respective chambers, lawmakers would likely meet to form a compromise legislation combining the two bills, which would then be sent back to each chamber for final approval. Both bills, however, are expected to receive opposition from Republican lawmakers.
Kentucky’s legislative session begins on Tuesday, January 6 and ends in early March.
Lawmakers in Georgia will consider at least three marijuana reform bills in 2015. In the Senate, one bill would create a comprehensive medical marijuana system in the state, while the other would allow voters to decide on legalizing marijuana for adults in 2016. Meanwhile, House lawmakers will consider a restrictive low-THC medical marijuana bill.
Senator Curt Thompson (D-District 5) has prefiled legislation for the 2015 legislative session to protect qualified patients who use marijuana under a physician’s written authorization.
Senate Bill 7 would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana of up to two ounces for specific debilitating medical conditions, including:cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis-C, ALS, Chrone’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and chronic or debilitating condition that cause Cachexia (wasting syndrome), severe and chronic pain, severe nausea and seizures/muscle spasms from epilepsy or MS.
SB 7 also includes a number of “common sense limitations” for dispensing and regulating medical marijuana in the state.
Sen. Thompson has also pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which aims to place the issue of legalizing marijuana for adults in front of voters in the form of a constitutional amendment in an upcoming election. This constitutional amendment, if approved by voters, would legalize, regulate and tax the sale of retail marijuana through licensed establishments. The tax collections would be constitutionally earmarked for education and transportation infrastructure.
Low-THC Medical Marijuana
Meanwhile, in the House, lawmakers will consider a more restrictive “low THC” medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, that was pre-filedby state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). The bill is similar to last year’s House Bill 885, which received approval in a landslide vote of 171-4 in the Georgia House of Representatives and unanimous support in the Senate. But the bill, also known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” failed at the last hour due to a political standoff between the two chambers. This year’s version of the bill adds in protection for families of patients who legally obtain CBD-based medicine from other states and bring it back to Georgia.
Georgia’s short legislative session begins on January 12 and ends on March 9.
The sponsor of last year’s successful CBD-only medical marijuana bill, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), plans on introducing two additional medical marijuana related bills when the legislative session begins on January 13. Davis also plans on introducing a hemp bill.Virginia
One of the medical marijuana bills would improve upon the CBD-only bill passed last year by allowing the cultivation of high-CBD/low-THC marijuana in the state. The bill passed last year allows CBD-based medications, but did not provide a system for patients to access medication. A Medical Marijuana Study Committee is currently working on recommendations for access to CBD-based medications under last year’s law to present to the legislator later this month. Meanwhile, it is believed that many patients are currently obtaining CBD-based medications out of state.
Davis is also working on a more comprehensive medical marijuana bill that would allow strains of medical marijuana containing higher amounts of THC for patients who would benefit from it. The bill includes provisions for setting up a framework for growing and distributed medical marijuana in the state.
Davis’s third bill would fix language in the state’s existing hemp law in the hopes that industrial hemp cultivation can begin in the state.
When the Virginia Legislature convenes on January 14, a bill to stop criminalizing those who possess marijuana will be awaiting consideration. If passed, Senate Bill 686, filed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D – Alexandria), would reduce the penalty for possession to a $100 civil violation instead of an arrestable crime. The revenue generated from the citations would be earmarked for the state’s Literary Fund.
Currently, possession of up to half an ounce can result in 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense. Subsequent offenses escalate the penalty to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Possession of over half an ounce is currently considered a felony, and carries a mandatory minimum one year in jail, up to a potential ten year sentence.
Sen. Ebbin’s bill would also reduce the criminal penalties for cannabis distribution and intent to distribute; create a rebuttable presumption that anyone cultivating up to six plants is doing so for personal use and not for distribution; and change the state’s paraphernalia distribution laws so that they only apply to an adult who distributes to a minor at least three years his junior.
The measure has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where it must pass before it can be voted on by the entire State Senate during the General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session.
Virginia has a very short legislative session that begins on January 14 and runs only until February 13.
State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) has announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Indiana. While details of the proposal have not yet been released, expect the bill to be on the more conservative side. Indiana’s legislature is controlled by Republicans, and Sen. Tallian has seen several proposals to decriminalize marijuana possession fail in previous sessions. This will be Tallian’s time introducing first medical marijuana bill.
Indiana’s legislative session starts on January 6 and runs through April.
January 05, 2015
Scott Gacek | The Daily Chronic
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Marijuana Reform in the 2015 Legislative Session