Recent bills introduced in Texas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, others prove the entire nation is legalization-oriented
by Rick Thompson
2013 has already seen a flood of cannabis-friendly legislation introduced in the legislatures of numerous states. At least seventeen states have introduced pro-marijuana bills or have stated their intent to do so. Legalization, medical marijuana, decriminalization-even industrial hemp- have all been introduced despite the Obama administration’s lack of a clear response to 2012’s full legalization votes in Washington and Colorado.Hawaii Speaker of the House Joseph Souki introduced HB 150 on January 17. The Bill allows for individual cultivation and licensing of dispensaries, commercial grows, cannabis manufacturing facilities and testing companies. The Marijuana Policy Project is devoting resources toward passage of this Bill; spokesperson Mason Tvert said HB 150 “will generate significant revenue for Hawaii.”A poll, released earlier this January, showed support for a tax and regulate legalization system at 57%. The poll also revealed incredible support for the current medical marijuana law, passed in 2000 (81% support); for dispensaries (78% support); and for decriminalization (58%). The Drug Policy Action Group sponsored the poll, which was revealed in a press conference with the ACLU of Hawaii. An economic impact study conducted by an economist at the University of Hawaii revealed more than $20 million in potential new revenues and cost savings annually; the report noted that since 2004, marijuana possession arrests are up almost 50% and distribution arrests have nearly doubled.
Texan legislators introduced two bills offering protections for marijuana users. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less from a current $2,000/180 days misdemeanor to a $500/0 jail time misdemeanor. Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) introduces an Affirmative Defense for medical users of marijuana, allowing a physician’s recommendation to use cannabis to become the basis for a dismissal of charges in court. Some protections for those physicians are also included in the bill.
Texas is notorious as the toughest state on drug crime in the nation. Over 80,000 people are arrested in Texas every year for marijuana crimes- estimates published by NORML indicate 97% of those arrests are for simple possession of cannabis. These new bills are the latest in a ten-year effort to pass laws favorable to cannabis users in Texas. Although MPP supports the Texas efforts, calling them “a significant improvement over current Texas law,” spokesperson Dan Riffle said the bills are “far from perfect.”
A pair of bills has been filed in Oklahoma to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession for all adults. Senate Bill 914 would change the penalty for possession of 1.5 ounces or less of marijuana from a current $1000/1 year in jail misdemeanor to a $200/10 days in jail misdemeanor. Senate Bill 902 would create a medical marijuana program that embraces “licensing, production, distribution and consumption” of cannabis for medical purposes, as directed by a physician.
In Iowa, H.F. 22 was introduced January 16 by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) to create a medical marijuana program that would allow possession, use and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for medical marijuana patients. Current law penalizes possession of cannabis with a $1000/6 months in jail misdemeanor. Currently, home cultivation of even a single plant could bring a 5 year jail sentence. In 2010, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy unanimously recognized marijuana’s medicinal properties, and a poll from that year revealed 64% support for a medical marijuana bill.
Indiana joined the ranks of states willing to decriminalize cannabis via a bill introduced by Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage). Currently, possession of approx. one ounce of marijuana is punishable with a $5000/1 year in jail misdemeanor on a first offense. Tallian’s bill would replace these penalties with a civil citation and a small fine. Indiana’s proposed bill would also license the production of industrial hemp to bolster the state’s agriculture industry. In December 2012, a survey found 53% of Hoosiers were in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession.
Medical marijuana and dispensaries are being considered in Kansas. Sen. David Haley introduced SB 9 on January 15, which would allow authorized patients to possess up to 6 ounces of cannabis and cultivate 12 plants in their own homes. Dispensaries would be licensed by the Department of Public Health and limited in number by region. Current Kansas law penalizes possession with a $2500/1 year in jail misdemeanor and home cultivation could bring a maximum of 17 years in prison. This is the third year in a row that a medical marijuana bill has been introduced in Kansas; they have been denied hearings at a Committee level in past sessions.
Senate Bill 11 is Kentucky’s latest effort to legalize medical marijuana. Pre-filed in 2012, Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) included state-regulated dispensaries in his bill, which authorizes cannabis use for conditions like HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis. It would allow patients to grow 12 mature and 12 immature plants in their home and possess up to six ounces at a time. Although Clark has championed various cannabis causes in the past, including industrial hemp, this bill is all medical marijuana. The Bill was introduced January 8.
Illinois nearly became the first state to adopt medical marijuana laws in 2013. A bill to enact a new cannabis use program failed to be voted on before the 2012 session expired. Advocates, including MPP’s Dan Riffle, were optimistic about passing the bill in the current session. “Illinois Democrats do tend to support medical marijuana more than their Republican counterparts.” In 2013, Democrats will hold supermajority status in both the state House and Senate. The bill, by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) would create a three-year trial program. That bill, now called House Bill #1, was introduced on January 9.
In early January, a poll from the state of New Hampshire showed 68% support for a medical marijuana law. Several pro-marijuana bills are predicted, including a decrim bill. The poll also found 70% of voters find marijuana to be safer than Oxycontin, 62% support decriminalization of marijuana possession to include no jail time, and 53% support a tax and regulate scheme similar to alcohol distribution.
New York seems poised to adopt a medical marijuana program similar to the ones their neighbors Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island have. A medical bill was introduced on January 9 by Senator Velmanette Montgomery as SB 1682. It would allow for the possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana and authorizes home cultivation and dispensaries. Gov. Cuomo has previously stated he believes the research is not sufficient to advance cannabis to a medical substance. Cuomo tried to reduce penalties for possession of marijuana during 2012.
Alabama Rep. Patricia Todd has pre-filed a bill, referred to as House Bill 2, which would create the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patient’s Rights Act. That bill will be introduced to the legislature on February 5. Other states claiming interest in adopting more lenient cannabis laws include Minnesota, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.