Iowa – Medical marijuana at the forefront of legislative sessions

MASON CITY, Iowa – The discussion of medical marijuana was at the forefront of legislative sessions last year in Iowa. Within the state they have approved the usage of medical marijuana, but not a way to obtain the medicine.

On Saturday, State Rep. Sharon Steckman, (D) Mason City, and State Sen. Amanda Ragan (D) Mason City, hosted a legislative forum at the Mason City Public Library. One of the main topics covered during the morning was the discussion of making amendments to the medical marijuana bill that passed in 2014.

Three north Iowa women used the forum as a platform to educate the public about the need to amend and recreate a cannabis oil law in the Hawkeye state. “The laws we have now aren’t sufficient,” says Mason City resident Amber Lenius.

Amber tells us she suffers from a condition that causes her chronic and excruciating pain throughout her body. Claudia Tillman of Forest City was also present at the forum talking about her daughter who deals with symptoms and side effects from Ulcerative Colitis on a daily basis. Finally, Mason City resident Cassie Helland spoke about her young son who suffers from regular seizures because of his epilepsy.

“The law that passed last year said that we could legally have it,” explains Helland, “but there’s no way that we could legally get it.” She says this is just one of the many roadblocks for the bill, and that another issue is not including other types of conditions that could benefit from the plant.

Sen. Ragan says that because the legislation was so new for the state, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aired on the side of caution and wrote the law in a very conservative manner. “When you make a first step you have to do it with a lot of restrictions on and you need to make sure that you’re not making bad choices,” she explains, “but, we heard from a lot of folks today that [the law] really didn’t make much of a difference to them, and they gave us some suggestions and encouraged us to more research.”

However, more research means more time that the bill won’t be ironed out in a way these women would like to see. Now, they’re left to think outside of the box, and even the state. “At this point, I mean, if something doesn’t happen, we may have to move,” says Helland.

“It would mean uprooting myself, my husband, and my six-year-old daughter, and my two-year-old daughter, from our entire family, to a place that we don’t know, just so that I could have a chance to try something that might help my quality-of-life,” explains Lenius.

Session reconvenes on Monday in Des Moines and as of right now, no changes have been made to the law.

Illinois – Senate Bill 284

Among topics such as boosting minimum wage and education change, the legalization of medical marijuana could be a topic during Indiana’s 2015 legislative session.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said she would author Senate Bill 284 which would legalize medical marijuana. SB 284 would allow patients to obtain marijuana with a medical marijuana card and a doctor’s recommendation.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he would support SB 284 because of his experience of losing his father to cancer.

This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised in the state legislature. Tallian has tried five different bills to decriminalize marijuana, none of which have passed committee, according to Indiana Business Journal. SB 284 has not yet been assigned to a committee.

In Illinois the penalty for possession of roughly one ounce of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by 180 days in jail, unless the person has a prior drug conviction.

Senate Bill 284 would create a system where people with illnesses would get a card that authorizes them to possess marijuana if a medical professional recommends it. That’s similar to systems in other states.

SB 284 would also allow universities and hospitals to do research on medical marijuana, as well as create a new agency to recommend how the system would be developed.

Mass. approves first medical marijuana dispensary, cultivator

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday selected the first company allowed to grow marijuana for medical use, a milestone in the troubled effort to carry out the state’s 2012 medical marijuana law.

Alternative Therapies Group Inc. received permission to operate a dispensary at 50 Grove St., Salem, and a cultivation site at 10 Industrial Way, Amesbury.

But the sale of medical marijuana is still months away. The seeds need at least three months to grow. Then, ATG will face further review, including tests of the plants and inspections of the company’s transportation plans.

“This is an exciting first step,” said Nichole Snow, deputy director of Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which supports access to medical marijuana. “I am overwhelmed with joy. . . . It means that myself as a patient and other patients will have safe access to their much-needed medication.”

Snow, who lives in Salem, said she needed marijuana to treat muscle spasms and pain resulting from injuries she suffered in multiple car accidents.

The dispensary licensing process has been delayed after questions arose about the work of companies hired to review the 100 applicants.

One contractor acknowledged that it was pressed for time while scrutinizing some applications. Another, hired to perform background checks, failed to discover that a couple in line to run several proposed dispensaries had lost their marijuana license in Colorado because of violations.

TEXAS Decriminalization update !!!! 🙅🙅🙅🙅🙅

The cost of policing, prosecuting and punishing violators of Texas’ still stringent marijuana laws is enormous — in dollars, the toll on individuals and the burden on the overall criminal justice system.

About 70,000 arrests (or 6.5 percent of all arrests) in Texas each year are for marijuana possession, and carry an annual price tag of about $734 million, according to state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who notes that the vast majority of those violators are accused of simple possession.

If a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans gets its way, the Texas Legislature will further decriminalize marijuana possession next session.

Moody introduced a bill this week to make possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana a civil action that carries a $100 fine rather than a crime punishable by jail time.

In addition to abolishing jail time for such an infraction, proponents of the law say, it removes the threat of arrests and a criminal record for those accused.

Current Texas law provides for punishment of up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for anyone convicted of possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana.

Joining forces with Moody in announcing the proposed change were Texas District Judge John Delaney and other members of the coalition representing organizations such as Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, the ACLU of Texas, Marijuana Policy Project and Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

The coalition cited a 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling that showed that more than 60 percent of Texans favored limiting punishment to a fine of $100 for possession of up to an ounce of the drug.

While decriminalization is likely to be a tough sell in the next Legislature (and with Gov.-elect Greg Abbott opposing it), it is the proper path to take.

The ACLU’s Matthew Simpson states it clearly:

“The war on marijuana is a failure and has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, at tremendous human and financial cost. It’s time to implement reforms that are fairer, more compassionate and smarter at reducing drug dependency and improving our health and safety.”

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


Minnesota – UPDATE – State to name 2 medical marijuana producers

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Two crucial pieces of the state’s new medical marijuana program are nearly in place.

Minnesota officials were expected on Monday morning to name the two organizations that will grow and cultivate for the state, ending a weeks-long selection process.

The question of who would grow marijuana for the state — and how many companies would apply — was a large concern for the legislators who crafted the new law last session. Lawmakers included an option to delay the registration deadline by six months in case the state had difficulty attracting applicants.

That wasn’t necessary. Twelve organizations applied, each paying a $20,000 nonrefundable fee.

Monday’s announcement will kick off a race for the manufacturer’s to set up their operations in time to start providing patients medicine in July 2015.

Medical marijuana debated in Kentucky for PTSD


FRANKFORT, Ky. – Decades after the war, Vietnam veteran Danny Belcher tells of still waking at night with visions of dead friends and bodies hanging in trees. That’s when he reaches for his marijuana pipe.

“I realize it’s just a nightmare,” he said. “I will light that pipe up. I’ll be a criminal. I’ll go back to sleep.”
Advocates of medical marijuana, like Belcher, returned to Frankfort on Thursday, urging state lawmakers to lift legal restrictions on the drug for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

The testimony to the Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection was the latest in a series of legislative hearings this year on allowing cannabis for health conditions such as pain and cancer symptoms.

Belcher told lawmakers that he became a “down in the gutter drunk” after returning from the war and later was prescribed a myriad of powerful drugs for PTSD that did more harm than good.

He said marijuana eventually helped him break free of alcoholism and get off the prescriptions.

“If it gives us a quality of life back, why not do it instead of drugging these veterans up and destroying their liver, their lifestyle,” he said. “Let them have a quality of life where they can be productive citizens again.”

Still, clinical and psychiatric experts from the Louisville Veterans Affairs Medical Center are cautioning lawmakers over a lack of controlled drug trials and clinical evidence for treating PTSD patients with marijuana.
They testified Thursday that there are no statistics showing whether veterans who have been treated with the drug in other states are doing better than those receiving conventional medicine.

“A lot of veterans anecdotally will say that it does help with calming them down and with sleep … but research just isn’t there yet,” said Mary Sweeney, a staff psychologist and specialist in PTSD and substance use disorder for the Louisville VA.

Two bills to permit medical marijuana in Kentucky died in committee during the 2014 General Assembly session. But lawmakers enacted another measure that allows trial use of cannabis oil to treat seizures in children.

Advocates hope it’s a sign that medical marijuana will fare better in the legislature next year. But opponents have raised concerns over a lack of studies on the drug and argue that medical arguments are a veil for recreational use.

Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that diagnosis of PTSD among veterans has been climbing for a decade due largely to combat trauma, grief and military sexual abuse.

More than 350,000 veterans are believed to suffer from the disorder nationwide, including about 18,500 in the network that serves most of Kentucky and Tennessee along with portions of other states.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who chairs the Senate veterans committee, said he maintains an open mind on the issue and called the hearing a fact-finding effort.

He also predicted that medical marijuana will eventually become legal in Kentucky even though it faces an “uphill battle” in the legislature.
But “the devil is in the details,” he said. “And I don’t know what the details are.”

Gov. Cuomo Rejects Revamped Medical Marijuana Bill

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rejected a medical marijuana bill newly amended by lawmakers to address some concerns he has raised in negotiations, which continued Tuesday.

Cuomo said the changes to the so-called Compassionate Care Act don’t include a ban on smoking the drug and requiring the program to be evaluated in five years.

Lawmakers revised the measure late Monday, just beating a deadline and setting up a possible vote by the end of the week. The regular session is scheduled to end Thursday.

“We’ve made progress in the discussion, but we’re not there yet,” the Democrat told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom” on Tuesday.

The bill would legalize medical marijuana for severely ill patients. Among the changes made Monday were allowing only doctors to prescribe the drug, dropping three conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed – diabetes, lupus and post-concussion syndrome – and doing away with an advisory panel that would oversee the program.

The amended bill, introduced shortly before midnight Monday, needs to be on lawmakers’ desks for three days before it can be voted on, though Cuomo could waive the aging period.

Advocates are pressing Cuomo to allow the drug to be smoked, saying that is the fastest way of ingesting the drug, which helps with nausea associated with chemotherapy treatment.

A spokesman for bill co-sponsor Sen. Diane Savino said negotiations with Cuomo’s office are continuing and that amending the bill didn’t signify that a final deal had been reached. He said negotiators are still waiting for bill language from Cuomo.

When pressed on why his office hasn’t provided language for the medical marijuana bill, Cuomo said, “I don’t want to get into the negotiations with the Senate leadership and the Assembly leadership.”

New York – Amendments May Help Bring Medical Marijuana Bill to Vote

By Danny Spewak

ALBANY – New amendments to the Compassionate Care Act in the State Senate could help sway opponents of medical marijuana legalization to finally bring the matter to a vote for the first time in history, according to a New York City-based non-profit.

Gabriel Sayegh, the state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the Senate is “closer than it’s ever been” to passing a legalization bill. Although the Assembly has passed the bill four times, the Senate has never discussed it in a committee hearing. In 17 years, Senate leadership has never allowed the bill to the reach the floor for a vote, even though Sayegh said he believes there’s more than enough bi-partisan support to pass it along to the governor’s desk.

But several new amendments in the Senate may change that. Specifically, the bill has been changed to the number of medical conditions eligible for medical marijuana treatment.

“For additional conditions to be added, patients would have to go to a committee that would be put together by the Department of Health,” Sayegh said. “That’s one of the biggest changes here.”

Sayegh, whose organization supports legalization of medical marijuana, also said the new bill would restrict people 21 years and younger from smoking the marijuana, instead forcing them to use alternative forms. Another amendment would change the way the medical marijuana dispensary system would work.

“The hope is that these changes expedite this process, that the senate leadership finally agrees to bring this bill to the floor for a vote,” Sayegh said. “We know there’s enough votes to pass it. It has strong bi-partisan support.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo still has not expressed support for the bill, though he has softened his stance recently and said last week he’d keep an “open mind.”

“It’s long past time,” Sayegh said, “that we provided relief for people living with debilitating conditions in our state.”

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