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.

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.


Maryland – MMJ update

By Timothy B. Wheeler
The Baltimore Sun

Below is an excerpt, full article is available here.

‘ With Maryland’s proposed licensing fees for growing and selling medical marijuana among the highest in the nation, some advocates warn that the steep costs could drive off applicants, crippling the nascent program and limiting access to treatment for tens of thousands of state residents.

Prospective medical marijuana growers would have to pay $125,000 a year for a two-year license, while dispensaries would have to pay $40,000 a year, according to the recommendations of a state commission. Only one state — Illinois — is charging a higher upfront cost for growers.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a lead sponsor of Maryland’s medical marijuana law, called the proposed fees “outrageous.” The 15-member medical marijuana commission is named for Natalie M. LaPrade, Glenn’s mother, who died in 2011 of kidney cancer.

The Baltimore Democrat fears the steep costs could shut out small businesses and increase retail prices so much that marijuana would be unaffordable for some patients. “We have the haves and have-nots all over again,” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Others say the steep fees might scare off small operators but are unlikely to chase away many entrepreneurs looking to get in on the ground floor of what appears to be a rapidly growing industry.

Maryland officials defend the proposed fees while noting that the medical marijuana regulations are still being drafted and could change before being published. They say the rates are needed to finance the new program, which was designed by lawmakers to be self-supporting. And they note that there is great variability in how such programs have been set up and financed in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The General Assembly first approved legalizing medical uses of marijuana in 2013, but limited it to academic medical centers, which showed no interest. Lawmakers revamped the program this year, authorizing licensed physicians to recommend medical marijuana, with 15 growers and as many as 94 dispensaries to supply it.

State health officials estimate that 45,000 patients would be eligible to obtain medical marijuana to help alleviate debilitating illnesses and conditions that cause severe pain, nausea or seizures. Health insurance will not pay for medical marijuana.

Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, said Maryland’s fees are “prohibitively high.” She noted that in addition to annual licensing fees, prospective growers must pay $6,000 to apply, while those seeking to open a dispensary must put up $5,000.

Maryland’s fees, she said, “are almost certainly going to be passed on to the patients, and these are already people who have expensive medical bills and are dealing with debilitating medical conditions. It’s unfair they would have to pay the costs of the program.”

But the steep fees on tap did not dissuade more than 100 people from attending a daylong “Canna-Business” seminar in Bethesda last week. Cultivators and dispensary operators from Connecticut, Colorado and the District of Columbia advised applicants that they would need deep pockets. But they suggested that that’s the price of starting out in a new but expanding business, as more states approve medical marijuana.

“There’s a green rush,” said Chris Reilly, spokesman for one of three state-licensed “compassion centers” in Rhode Island, which he said cost nearly $3 million to set up. “People are clamoring to get into this industry.”

In Maryland, state officials say the fees under consideration are needed to cover the projected $3.5 million annual budget for the program.

“This is what we feel it’s going to take to run a rigorous program,” said Sharon H. Bloom, the commission’s acting executive director.

Paula C. Hollinger, a former state senator who oversees the state’s health professions boards and commissions, defended Bloom’s decision not to release the panel’s projected budget. “It’s not out of line with what other states have had to spend,” she said.

Hollinger said the commission hopes to vote on draft regulations at its next meeting, Oct. 28. The regulations would then be sent to Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein and the attorney general’s office for review before being formally proposed. ‘

Maryland marijuana punishment law changes Oct. 1


A new law takes effect this week in Maryland that changes the punishment for the possession of a small amount of marijuana.


The new law that starts Wednesday reclassifies the use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

“(It) used to be enough to get you locked up and have a criminal record. Now that’s not the case for just possessing less than 10 grams. That’s a huge change,” County police Lt. T.J. Smith said.

Police aren’t going to be carrying scales with them to weigh the drug, so in essence, they need to eyeball it. If you possess less than 10 grams, you are subject to a civil penalty that replaces the criminal penalty of $500 and/or 90 days in jail.

“It’s similar to getting a speeding ticket or some type of ticket. It’s a civil issue,” Smith said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the law last April, and 19 states have decriminalized a small amount of marijuana. But Maryland, with 10 grams, has the lowest threshold. The Marijuana Policy Project said that most other states allow, on average, three times more.

Also, in Maryland, the criminal penalties for paraphernalia remain unchanged.

“While it’s a civil offense to have marijuana, it’s a criminal offense to put it in a pipe. We need to make a move afoot to make these laws more sensible,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.

The bottom line the police want people to know is that marijuana is still illegal, but the punishment is about to change.

“This has been rather confusing. People think it has been decriminalized and you can’t get in trouble for it. Theoretically, you can still get in trouble,” Smith said.

For the first offense, the citation includes a $100 fine, and the fines go up for subsequent offenses and then include mandatory drug education.

If you think you are just getting a ticket, you’re going to lose the marijuana, too. Police will seize it because it is illegal.

Baltimore – Proposed medical marijuana rules under fire

By Erin Cox
Critics took aim Tuesday at proposed regulations to create a medical marijuana industry in Maryland as a state commission tasked with writing the rules rushed toward a deadline it might not meet.

Physicians, patients, advocates and potential growers said the commission did not collect enough public input before drafting the rules — which they said appear to forbid a medical marijuana dispensary anywhere within Baltimore city limits.

Final regulations are due in less than three weeks, but the public hearing in Annapolis Tuesday was the commission’s first.

Witnesses told the panel that the proposed rules are too burdensome and too vague for the program to work, and advocates for medical marijuana said they could cause months of setbacks to a program that has already has been delayed.

Baltimore Democrat Del. Cheryl D. Glenn told members of the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission — named in honor of her late mother — that requirements and restrictions would disqualify patients a doctor would otherwise recommend for marijuana treatment.

Patients must sign complicated waivers, and the rules disqualify any patient with a history of substance abuse, even if the problem had been under control for decades. Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor in the previous five years would also be disqualified, which would restrict access for medical marijuana users charged with possession of paraphernalia before the law took effect.

Harry “Buddy” Robshaw III, vice chairman of the commission, said the panel had decided to change the rules about which patients could qualify to use medical marijuana, but that he could not yet discuss the changes publicly.

That drew a reaction from Del. Dan K. Morhaim.

“I can’t read your mind and know what you changed behind the scenes,” the Baltimore County Democrat said.

Morhaim also criticized a proposed requirement that growers keep at least two employees on site at all hours — a rule that doesn’t apply to gun stores, pharmacies or other businesses with regulated inventory that shut down overnight.

The commission has not said how much it would cost to apply to grow marijuana in the state, and has not created rules for selling edible marijuana products or oils, which irked more than a half-dozen investors and potential growers who testified before the commission.

Gene Ransom, CEO of the medical society MedChi, said the draft rules may not give doctors enough protection from federal prosecution, which he said would make it unlikely they would participate.

“If we don’t get this right, it will be a major deterrent for anyone using this,” he said.

And John A. Pica, a former state lawmaker who represents a group of investors interested in medical marijuana, said a provision that forbids a dispensary or growing operation within 500 feet of a school, day care center, church or playground effectively rules out any site in Baltimore.

Robshaw, who is the chief of police in Cheverly, said the commission has been meeting for eight hours every Thursday since June to hash out the regulations. It has begun revisions he said he hoped to release before the Sept. 15 deadline.

“It’s not going to be a whole dress uniform,” Robshaw said in an interview. “Some of the pieces will be missing.”

But “the skeleton” of the program, he said, will be ready within three weeks.

“I think when the new version comes out, many people’s complaints will be taken care of,” he said. “We feel like we’re under the gun, but that it’s doable.”

If the commission approved final regulations, they would go to state Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein. If he signed off, they would be subjected to another round of public review.

Maryland lawmakers approved a medical marijuana program in 2013 that relied on academic centers to volunteer to distribute the drug. None did, and in 2014, advocates pushed through new legislation they hoped would lead to a workable program.

The new law has no deadlines for creating access, but gave the medical marijuana commission less than three months to complete the initial round of drafting regulations.

Robshaw said the tight deadline has contributed to public frustration. He said he was unsure whether the commission’s weekly sessions would allow enough time to work out all the kinks by Sept. 15.

“I’m sympathetic that we need to get marijuana out there to the patients, but not in a way that … we’ll forget the safeguards that need to be built into it,” Robshaw said. “One day I think we are [on track], the next Thursday I don’t think we can do it.”

CBS report- MD delegates passes decriminalization law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — For supporters, it’s a legislative high. Maryland’s House of Delegates has passed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It’s not a law yet, but it’s right on the edge. If the governor goes along, getting busted for pot won’t mean jail, provided those joints don’t contain to too much marijuana.
Right now in Maryland, if you’re caught with enough marijuana to roll one joint or enough to fill a greenhouse, it’s a criminal offense. But in a Saturday night session, the House of Delegates took up a Senate bill that would change that law.

“They key is there will be civil penalties instead of criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana,” said Del. Kieffer Mitchell Jr., (D) Baltimore.

Small means 10 grams or less, which would result in a citation and possibly a fine, but no arrest and no criminal record. Seventeen other states have similar laws.

And for the next several hours, delegates were speaking their minds for:

“This keeps it illegal, but says the punishment is going to be under a civil citation,” one delegate said.

And against:
“House of Delegates, you can do better. Our people deserve better. Our kids deserve a better message, and this is not it,” said Del. Mcihael McDermott, (R) Somerset County.

And despite a flurry of last minute amendments by Republicans, the green lights of those in favor passed the bill.

“We’re very excited this happened. We did not think we would be able to pull it out in the last couple of days of the session. We just didn’t give up,” said Rachelle Yeung, Marijuana Policy Project.
For Delegate Heather Mizeur, who is backing liberal marijuana laws in her run for governor, the question is will the current governor go along.

“We’ve done this tonight in the House. The Senate has already acted. We’ll send this bill to the governor and we really expect and hope that he will sign it,” Mizeur said.

Something Governor O’Malley has been cool to in the past, although his office says he will keep an open mind when the bill crosses his desk.

The Marijuana Policy Coalition released this statement, saying:
“Support for comprehensive marijuana policy reform is growing stronger in Maryland. Legislative leaders and activists are not giving up, and we will continue to work together to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us.

“The bill approved by the House will prevent tens of thousands of Marylanders from receiving criminal records simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

“This is a step forward, but the General Assembly still needs to catch up with those who elected them. Most Maryland voters do not think adults should be punished simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. It’s time to eliminate the underground market for marijuana and replace it with a system in which it is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”


Maryland update

Several Maryland lawmakers are following in Colorado’s footsteps by planning to launch a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The proposed bill, which was announced Thursday morning at a press conference in Annapolis, would allow anyone over age 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in the state and to grow up to six plants in an enclosed, secure area at home (as long as no more than three of those plants are flowering at a time). In addition, adults in Maryland could also possess the harvest of their six plants. It would still be illegal to blaze in public.

The bill directs Maryland to develop regulation and licensing for retailers, cultivation facilities and testing labs for the purposes of legally and safely selling cannabis in the state. It also calls for a minimum of two recreational weed dispensaries in every county but limits the number of dispensaries to one for every 20,000 residents. Local municipalities would be given the autonomy to restrict the number of weed shops in their areas if they choose, but they cannot outright ban them.

Other important aspects of the proposed law include the way marijuana would be packaged. The drug, which would not be sold or grown within 1,000 feet of schools, would come with a “safety insert” containing information about the dangers and problems of getting high, as well as labels noting THC amounts.

The bill would tax marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce at wholesale levels, and the first $5 million in revenue generated would go to drug and alcohol treatment programs, as well as education. Some might be happy to hear the bill would also require law enforcement agencies to expunge criminal records for marijuana arrests.

Full article here