Delaware House panel approves marijuana legalization bill

DOVER, Del. – (AP) – A bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Delaware has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The legislation, which was released Wednesday by a House committee and now goes to the full House for a vote, regulates and taxes marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

The bill doesn’t allow people to grow their own marijuana but allows adults over age 21 to legally possess less than an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The legislation would create a commission to regulate, license and tax the marijuana industry, allowing licenses for up to 40 retail stores.

Consumers would pay an excise tax of $50 an ounce, while businesses would pay an application fee of $5,000 and a $10,000 licensing fee every two years.

Palm Beach County update 

Getting caught with a little marijuana in Palm Beach County could result in a $100 ticket instead of a trip to jail, under a new law initially approved Tuesday.
The proposal would allow law enforcement officers to issue civil citations — similar to traffic tickets — instead of arresting adults found with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Twenty grams is about 3/4 of an ounce. Supporters say the change would lessen public costs at the jail and avoid saddling people with criminal records that can make it harder to get jobs, housing and help paying for college.
“There are a lot of domino effects,” County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said about marijuana arrests. “We can’t just lock up everyone for these small crimes.” The proposed marijuana rule change goes back before the County Commission for a final vote on Oct. 20.
Miami-Dade County and the city of West Palm Beach have already passed similar measures creating alternatives to jail for marijuana possession. Broward County is also considering creating a civil citation alternative. Commissioner Hal Valache cast the only vote against the local measure, saying he was concerned that the county was “effectively decriminalizing marijuana.” The proposed easing of marijuana laws creates an alternative, not a requirement, for law enforcement officers to issue civil citations. That would leave the use of civil citations up to the officer’s discretion.
The civil citations would not be allowed if marijuana was found in conjunction with more serious offenses, such as driving under the influence or domestic violence. Palm Beach County’s proposed use of civil citations instead of arrests applies to areas outside city limits, where nearly half of local residents live. Cities could also choose to follow the new measure. Under the county’s proposal, the $100 fine that comes with a civil citation for marijuana possession can grow to $500 if the fine is unpaid. People could go to court to challenge the citation, but would face a penalty of up to $500 plus court costs if a judge finds they broke the law.
Also, the county’s final version of the law is expected to include limits on how many citations a person can receive before facing arrest.
From 2010 to 2014, Palm Beach County had 7,571 cases of marijuana possession of 20 grams or less. About 90 percent of the time that resulted in an arrest, according to the county. Currently, someone caught with small amounts of marijuana is taken to jail or given a notice to appear in court. First-time or low-level offenders often receive probation or are allowed to enter a diversion programs such as drug treatment as an alternative to spending more time in jail.
Palm Beach County’s proposal seeks to avoid arrests and involving the courts.
Supporters say jailing people for a nonviolent, low-level drug offenses such as marijuana possession bog down the court system and also create legal problems for people that can last a lifetime. Miss a court date or fail to pay a fine and the punishment for a minor offense grows much worse.
“If there is a legal way to give [people] a life without a criminal record, then we should do it,” County Mayor Shelley Vana said.

LANSING – MICHIGAN 

Lansing — The House Judiciary Committee touched off a new effort to legalize dispensaries and edible forms of cannabis for medical marijuana patients Tuesday, sending three new bills to the House floor for consideration. 

The bills, containing tighter rules than in failed 2014 proposals and an 8-percent excise tax on gross retail income of provisioning centers, is a compromise plan designed to overcome law enforcement opposition.

A voter-approved medical marijuana law that took effect in 2008 doesn’t specifically mention dispensaries or edible marijuana products, whose legality has been clouded by Michigan Supreme Court and appeals court rulings in recent years. Lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that clarifies the law. Rep. Mike Callton, who negotiated the compromises, called his main legislation “a bill we all can live with.” Callton, R-Nashville, told the committee the 8 percent tax and a mandatory system for tracking all forms of pot — from production to consumption — are key new provisions. Those proposals drew objections from advocates for less-onerous regulations as well as from Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, a committee member who tried unsuccessfully to have them removed from the bills.

Irwin argued making medical marijuana purchases too burdensome or costly would increase the chances some would be diverted illegally to non-medical users.

“It will drive people to the black market,” added Frank James, who runs a Gaylord nutrition supplement and natural health store that also offers marijuana flowers. “People who come into our dispensary need a place to go other than the streets,” James told the committee.

Ken and Alice Szymoniak, of the tiny Presque Isle County town of Millersburg, told the committee that technically illegal cannabis oil has given Alice back a normal life. Ken Syzmoniak, a car dealer, said they tried marijuana after years of desperation.

Alice, who contracted fibromyalgia while recovering from a severe 1998 vehicle crash they were in, had such intense pain that for years they were lucky to be able to even spend an hour having a meal at a restaurant, Ken Szymoniak said.

She’s now pain-free, off prescription opiates and can engage in normal activities, including jet skiing with their grandchildren, the couple said.

“It was our only way of surviving,” Ken Szymoniak said. “It absolutely changed our life. We’re starting to travel again.” He said he became a state-licensed caregiver for four medical marijuana patients to offset the cost of growing the plants he needs for his wife. “I don’t understand everything that’s in the bills,” he said, “but I support making (cannabis) oils legal.”

The proposed 8 percent excise tax would be in addition to Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax, also collected on cannabis items. Its revenues would offset regulatory and law enforcement costs involved with dispensaries and new medical marijuana products.

Provisions of the bill package also call for a state Medical Marijuana Licensing Board to oversee the new rules. There would be five kinds of state licensees — grower, processor, provisioning center, secure transporter and safety compliance facility.

Chances the bills will pass are uncertain, but more promising than a year ago.

“Too soon to say at this point, as not everyone has had a chance to review them yet,” said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. “But I think most people realize there are problems with the recent law that need to be fixed.”

Amber McCann, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said the GOP majority will decide its fate in caucus discussions. “At this point there is not a push within the caucus for this issue,” she added.

Callton said the bills would need a simple majority vote to pass in each chamber because they aren’t amending the 2008 medical marijuana act.

Meanwhile, two groups are circulating petitions to initiate a new state law that would legalize marijuana for nonmedical, personal use. The measures would go on the November 2016 ballot if enough signatures are gathered and the Legislature doesn’t act on the proposals.

Rauner uses veto to call for changes to marijuana decriminalization bill (Illinois)

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday used his veto powers to rewrite a bill aimed at decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying the measure that lawmakers sent him would let people carry too much pot and sets fines too low. Sponsors of the bill pushed back, saying the changes are “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system and contending the governor is working against his own goal of reducing the number of prison inmates. Under the proposal, people caught with up to 15 grams of marijuana — about the equivalent of 25 cigarette-sized joints — would not go to court but instead receive fines ranging from $55 to $125. 
Rauner said those standards were too lax and the threshold should be lowered to 10 grams and fines should range from $100 to $200. The governor also took issue with a provision that would loosen the state’s zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of cannabis. Currently, a driver can be charged if any trace of marijuana is detected, even if it was ingested days or weeks before and a driver showed no signs of impairment

The bill that lawmakers sent Rauner would have set new limits of 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Rauner again argued that standard went too far in the opposite direction, suggesting the limit instead should be 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
Sponsoring Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, acknowledged science on that front is evolving and said she knew when the bill passed that lawmakers likely would have to revisit what levels of THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana — were acceptable when someone was behind the wheel.
Cassidy called Rauner’s partial veto “frustrating,” saying she made numerous changes during the negotiation process at the behest of Republican leaders who act as the governor’s liaisons

Secretary of State certifies marijuana amendment on ballot

COLUMBUS – Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today certified that petitioners seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot have collected 44,185 additional, supplemental signatures. This number joins the 276,082 valid signatures the group submitted on June 30, 2015 for a total of 320,267 valid signatures. 

The petitioners, known as ResponsibleOhio, needed to gather 305,591 signatures in order to secure a place on the ballot, a number equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2014. As part of the total number of signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, petitioners are also required to have submitted signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and within each of those counties, collected enough signatures equal to five percent of the total vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2014. Petitioners met this requirement in their first signature submission, having collected enough signatures to meet the five percent threshold in 73 counties.Having met the constitutional and legal requirements to place the matter before Ohio voters, the issue will appear on the ballot during the General Election held on November 3, 2015. The next step in the process is for the Ballot Board to convene to approve the ballot language that voters will consider this fall. It is the constitutional and statutory duty of the Secretary of State to verify and certify signatures submitted for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, initiated statutes and legislative referenda. 

Update * Bills aimed at regulating California’s marijuana industry 

Two bills aimed at regulating California’s marijuana industry cleared key hurdles in the state Legislature on Wednesday after one North Coast lawmaker hauled a live plant into the Capitol to illustrate the value of the lucrative crop. State Sen. Mike McGuire’s Medical Marijuana Public Safety and Environmental Protection Act, SB 643, advanced from the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on Tuesday and heads to the Health Committee next week. The bill would establish a broad regulatory structure for California’s medical marijuana industry, which has been plagued by ineffective and confusing rules despite being legal at the state level since 1996. With this bill, the Healdsburg Democrat set out to create a framework for governing the medical cannabis industry, from establishing tax structures and quality controls to licensing dispensaries and cultivation sites. A Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation established within the existing Department of Consumer Affairs would oversee the industry.

The bill passed on the Senate floor in June.

The Assembly Health Committee is chaired by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who co-authored a competing bill taking a different approach to regulating medical marijuana in the state.

AB 266 would spread the responsibility for licensing different aspects of medical marijuana across several state agencies, including the Board of Equalization and the departments of Public Health and Food and Agriculture. Local governments would oversee growing and selling marijuana. The Senate Health Committee is considering the bill.

McGuire’s bill complements proposed legislation from another North Coast lawmaker, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, that is focused on regulating the impact of marijuana cultivation on water resources. His measure, AB 243, the Marijuana Watershed Protection Act, would bring pot under the regulatory control of water agencies. Wood noted that a single marijuana plant is worth between $2,500 and $4,000.

He brought a live marijuana plant with him to the hearing in Sacramento, saying it would help other lawmakers “understand the size and value of medical marijuana farms.” The bill passed the Senate Governance and Finance committee 5-0. It heads to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee next week.  If passed, the bill would place a $50 fee on each legal plant. Proceeds from the fee would go to environmental mitigation and restoration efforts, as well as enhanced law enforcement efforts to ensure legitimate cultivation. 

NJ Marijuana-oil bill for schools passed by legislature

A bill that would allow children with certain debilitating conditions to take marijuana oil while attending school has been passed by the New Jersey legislature and is headed to the desk of Gov. Christie. Only children who had been issued marijuana identification cards by the state Health Department would be eligible for the treatment. The Senate granted final approval Monday after the Assembly voted in favor of an identical bill. “We’re talking about some of the state’s most severely disabled students, some of whom suffer life-threatening seizures, and medical marijuana is the only thing that has helped ease their condition,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden), who sponsored the bill with Pamela Lampitt (D., Camden). In recent months, parents of students who suffer from seizure disorders have appealed school policies that prohibit the use of marijuana on school grounds even by children with marijuana IDs, according to a statement released by the bill sponsors. In one case, a Maple Shade student is now attending school part-time so that she can get the midday dose of cannabis that her parents say control her seizures. 

Roger and Lora Barbour sued their town’s school district and the Larc School for the developmentally disabled in Bellmawr, saying Genny, 16, was being deprived of her medical needs, according to a NJ Advance Media report. An administrative law judge found in favor of the schools, citing the federal prohibition against marijuana, but the parents are appealing.
“Eliminating ambiguities in our current law will help ease the concerns of school districts who might fear liability,” Lampitt said in a statement. “This simple change in the law will help parents ensure that their children do not suffer throughout the day when relief is so near at hand.” The bill would authorize parents, guardians, or primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana on school grounds, on a school bus, and at a school-sponsored activity, in a location the school designates. The drug must be in a non-smokable form. The bill also calls for the chief administrator of a private facility that provides services to students with developmental disabilities to create a similar policy to accommodate children who need cannabis treatment.

– Jan Hefler