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.


New Mexico court OKs marijuana ballot questions

SANTA FE, N.M. — The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that two of New Mexico’s most populous counties can poll their voters in the November general election about lowering penalties for marijuana possession.

The court ordered Secretary of State Dianna Duran to place the advisory questions on ballots in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.

The counties will survey their voters on whether they support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Bernalillo County also will ask voters about a possible tax levy to pay for mental health services.

The counties, however, won’t be obligated to follow whatever direction voters give on the issues.

Bernalillo County Commission chairwoman Debbie O’Malley called the court’s ruling a “victory for voters and democracy really.”

“The voters have a right to weigh in on these issues,” she said outside the courthouse.

Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico said his group is mounting a campaign in support of the marijuana proposals.

“The time for playing politics with our ballot is over, now we can start having a conversation about the issue and move forward,” Davis said in a statement.

Duran, a Republican, warned that the court’s ruling will allow nonbinding ballot questions to proliferate in future elections, causing paper ballots to be lengthy and printed in small, hard-to-read type. “It had been my prayer that the court would follow the law and not yield to partisan pressure,” Duran said in a statement. “Good luck putting the public opinion poll genie back in the bottle.”

There’s a strong political undercurrent to the ballot dispute.

Republicans view the marijuana proposals as an effort by Democrats to encourage younger and liberal-leaning voters to cast ballots and potentially boost Democratic candidates.

The counties went to the court after Duran refused to place the measures on the ballot.

A lawyer for the counties, Maureen Sanders, told the court that the secretary of state can’t override a county’s decision on what to present to local voters. She said Duran only can determine the form of the ballot and what statewide questions, such as a constitutional amendment, will look like on the ballot.

Duran’s lawyer, Rob Doughty, contended that the state constitution and statutes don’t specifically authorize nonbinding ballot measures, which will lack the force of law and only seek to gauge public opinion.

He said there has never been an advisory ballot question in a statewide election in New Mexico. They are permitted in some other states, including Pennsylvania.

There has been a nonbinding question in a city election. Albuquerque voters in 2011 were asked whether the city should continue a program using cameras at street intersections to photograph vehicles for red-light traffic violations. Voters said no, and the city ended the program.

Bernalillo County is the state’s most populous county and includes the city of Albuquerque. Santa Fe County has the third-largest population. The counties account for about two-fifths of the state’s registered voters.

The state court faced a tight deadline for deciding the case because local elections officials must send absentee ballots to overseas and military voters by Saturday under federal law. Friday’s ruling will allow counties to meet that deadline, the court was told.

A panel of two Supreme Court justices — Barbara Vigil and Petra Jimenez Maes — and Court of Appeals Judge Michael Bustamante orally announced their ruling after deliberating for about 30 minutes after hearing from lawyers. There’s no requirement for the court to issue a detailed written opinion explaining the legal reasoning for their decision.

Marijuana decriminalization proposal moves forward in New Mexico

By Patrick Hayes

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Marijuana penalties in parts of New Mexico could become more lenient. The city clerk in Santa Fe says a petition that would reduce the penalties for low-level drug offenders has enough valid signatures to move forward.

In New Mexico, an ounce of marijuana can get you 15 days in jail and a $100 fine. The proposal, if adopted, will eliminate jail time for marijuana-related crimes committed in Santa Fe and reduce the fine to just $25.

State Rep. Bill McCamley represents Las Cruces and thinks it should be taken a step further. He said he thinks the plant should be legalized.

“People continue to buy marijuana,” said McCamley. “We’re basically funding drug cartels in Mexico and Central America, so it would be a smart public policy decision for those of us in government to look at new ways of doing drug reform.”
If the Santa Fe City Council doesn’t adopt the proposal, it will go to voters in the November general election.

That will be the first time in New Mexico history that residents will get to vote on marijuana reform.

In 2013, the Las Cruces Police Department and Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office issued about 1,000 marijuana-related citations.

The Las Cruces Police Department groups marijuana-related drug busts with cocaine, heroin and other drug-related charges, but an LCPD spokesperson told us that a majority of the 429 citations were marijuana-related.

New Mexico – Hearing set for proposed medical marijuana changes

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposed revision of the state’s medical marijuana program is drawing opposition from advocates who say new fees and other changes would make it harder for New Mexicans to obtain the marijuana they need for conditions ranging from cancer to chronic pain.

The Health Department has scheduled a hearing Monday for public comments on changes it’s considering.

The Drug Policy Alliance objects to a proposal that individuals in the program pay a yearly $50 fee or $25 if they are eligible for Medicaid.

The state proposes to reduce the number of plants that individuals can have for growing marijuana, but triple the plants allowed for nonprofit producers that supply most of the 11,000 New Mexicans in the program.

The department has no deadline for a final decision on proposed changes.

Missouri lawmakers working to legalize cannabis extract

JEFFERSON CITY — Although Missouri lawmakers are not clamoring to legalize marijuana, key Republican lawmakers appear ready to follow a few states in allowing use of a cannabis extract for people whose epilepsy isn’t relieved by other treatments.

Legislation is advancing in the Missouri House, where a committee could hold a public hearing and vote this week. Recently filed legislation is backed by the Republican House speaker, majority leader and Democratic leaders. It also is supported by a Republican senator whose son has epilepsy. Sponsoring Rep. Caleb Jones said lawmakers are moving quickly.

“People realize that people’s lives are at stake,” said Jones, R-Columbia.

About a dozen states have considered legislation seeking to allow use of cannabidiol oil for patients who have seizures. Cannabidiol, also called CBD, is a compound in cannabis but doesn’t cause users to feel high. During the past week, the South Carolina House approved a bill and Wisconsin lawmakers sent a measure to Gov. Scott Walker. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed legislation allowing the University of Alabama at Birmingham to study the marijuana extract while giving participants legal protection from state criminal charges.

There has been particular attention on oil from the marijuana strain Charlotte’s Web bred for an epileptic patient in Colorado. It is high in CBD and has little or no psychoactive effects. There is a waiting list, and patients must live in Colorado where marijuana is legal.

The Marijuana Policy Project said CBD oil is relatively new. The Washington-based advocacy group doesn’t oppose the state efforts but says there are other health problems for which cannabis also can help.

“It’s an easy sort of rallying point, but the problem is that it leaves behind the vast majority of patients who would otherwise benefit from medical marijuana,” said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the group.

Missouri’s legislation would allow use of “hemp extract” with no more than 0.3 percen tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and at least 5 percent CBD. Patients or their parents would need a registration card, and it only could be used for epilepsy that a neurologist has determined isn’t responding to at least three treatment options. The state Agriculture Department could grow plants, and universities could be certified to cultivate them for research.

“This is one to me that is kind of a no-brainer,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County. “You can’t get high on it. It can help some families.”

Schmitt’s 9-year-old son, Stephen, has intractable epilepsy and daily seizures. Infantile spasms started when Stephen was about 9 months old and his first big seizure came when he was a little older than 1. Medications have helped but not stopped them.

Schmitt said he is uncertain whether CBD oil is an option but that families should have access if it can provide relief to people going through dozens or hundreds of seizures daily.

One Missouri family looking for relief for a sick child is heading to Colorado to find it.

June Jessee turns 2 years old later this month. Her parents, Matt and Genny Jessee, said they have tried everything they can legally to stop seizures that they estimate occur at least 20 times daily. June has taken 10 seizure medications, adopted a special diet, tried alternative therapies like chiropractic care and seen a homeopathic doctor. She also has other health problems, but it is unknown how they are connected.

Doctors suggested retrying medicine that already failed to stop the seizures, and the family instead is moving. Matt Jessee is a lobbyist at Bryan Cave in St. Louis.

Genny Jessee said CBD oil isn’t guaranteed to work but likened it to trying other medications or treatments. She said it doesn’t make sense families go through so many hoops for something that could prove lifesaving.

Missouri’s bill sponsor got to know Matt Jessee when they both worked on President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign and stood next to him at Matt’s wedding.

Even if Missouri lawmakers legalize CBD oil quickly, it will not stop the Jessee family from going to Colorado. But they hope it could allow them to return to Missouri.

Read more here

New Mexico – PTSD

The state of New Mexico has made it unnecessarily difficult for post-traumatic stress disorder patients to gain access to medical marijuana, according to a new lawsuit filed by a neuropsychiatry specialist based out of Santa Fe.

Dr. Carola Kieve has filed suit against the New Mexico Department of Health as well as the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board in Santa Fe County Court, seeking to rectify what she claims are unfair conditions that make it a needlessly arduous process to acquire medical grade cannabis. Kieve’s complaint asserts that the defendants have imposed requirements that are neither required by nor authorized by state law.

“Furthermore, the defendants have employed as a director of the [New Mexico Medical Cannabis] Program a physician who is irreparably conflicted in the performance of his duties and whose employment and official decision and actions are in violation of the New Mexico Governmental Conduct Act because of his conflict of interest,” the lawsuit reads.

Dr. Kieve’s claim is a reference to Dr. Steven Rosenberg who, while not named as a defendant in the case, has been accused of withholding medical cannabis from PTSD patients unless their doctor provides documented proof that other treatments have failed.

PTSD is a serious anxiety disorder that often develops when a person endures a disturbing experience such as sexual abuse, military combat, or any number of instances which result in near-death or serious injury. Regulated cannabis has proven to alleviate some of the most common symptoms, such as anxiety, traumatic memories, and insomnia.

The Freedom to Choose, a campaign of drug researchers, veterans, and lawmakers, has set out to remove the stigma surrounding medical marijuana and increase awareness about its effects. The activists have been especially vocal in New Mexico, one of the few states in the US where medical marijuana is legally prescribed to those living with PTSD.

Anetra Stanley told AlterNet that her husband Augustine, an Iraq War veteran, was fired from a correctional facility in Albuquerque for his medical marijuana use. Mrs. Stanley maintained that instead of worsening her husband’s mental health, his dismissal only toughened their resolve.

“When he came back from the war, I did see a difference in him…and when it got bad, it was awful,” she said last year. That changed when a doctor prescribed marijuana for his symptoms.

“I saw that man that I knew forever, and I don’t want him to ever go back,” Stanley continued. “I want him to stay on this, and even though it has cost him his job, I would rather search for work and for money than for him to go back to the way he was.”

Dr. Kieve says it is people like the Stanleys that the lawsuit is attempting to help. It states that her patients have been denied access to medical cannabis without sufficient cause and that future prescriptions she hands out will be subject to the same consideration.

“In Dr. Kieve’s medical opinion there was no commercial pharmaceuticals that would have been appropriate for the patient and therefore none had been attempted,” the suit claims. “Dr. Kieve further stated that it was inappropriate for Dr. Rosenberg to demand such information in a PTSD case because such information was not demanded by him or the defendants to support application for the treatment of other debilitating diseases.”

Even further, Dr. Kieve and her legal team claim that relationships Dr. Rosenberg fostered in his private practice are tainting his government employment.

“Dr. Rosenberg is routinely placed in a position of approving or denying applications by his economic competitors, namely other physicians whose patients did not choose Dr. Rosenberg for certification,” the suit goes on, as quoted by Courthouse News. “The [Governmental Conduct Act] states that a state employee ‘shall be disqualified from engaging in any official act directly affecting the public officer’s of employee’s financial interest.”

A small handful of states allow the prescription of medical marijuana to patients with PTSD, with officials elsewhere admitting reluctance because they fear many people will lie about having the anxiety disorder to gain easy access to the medicine.

Yet Anetra Stanley has insisted that, even with changing laws, many patients still face an uphill battle because many “don’t recognize the quality of life this medication gives back to the veterans. We fight for other people to have quality of life, and we should be afforded that opportunity when we get back.”