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.

Ohio Update!

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans over 21 could buy marijuana from a legal, licensed store as early as summer of 2016 if an effort to legalize the drug is successful this year.

The group calling itself ResponsibleOhio announced new details of a proposal to legalize the production, sale and medical and personal use of marijuana in Ohio. The group is aiming to legalize the industry through a constitutional amendment before voters in November 2015.

Northeast Ohio Media Group and others previously reported ResponsibleOhio would limit growing of cannabis to 10 regulated sites to be identified in the amendment and five separate sites would test all cannabis for its safety and potency.

Vermont Update

MONTPELIER – Vermont could find millions of dollars in revenue by becoming the first state in the Northeast to legalize marijuana, but many questions remain unanswered.
In a study released Friday, the Rand Corp. found that if Vermont chooses to lead the region on marijuana, state officials must step into a “fog of uncertainties” about public safety, taxes and tourism.

“There is no recipe for marijuana legalization, nor are there working models of established fully legal marijuana markets,” the report states.
Not to mention that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The 218-page report , commissioned by Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislators last May, makes no recommendation about whether Vermont should legalize marijuana. Instead, it provides a wealth of information about the opportunities and risks of legalization.

Vermonters use marijuana at a higher rate than the rest of New England or the nation as a whole, according to the report. However, far more marijuana customers live outside Vermont than within its borders.

This sets up a challenge for the state: Should the state prepare for an onslaught of marijuana tourists?
“That enormous demand can be seen as a great opportunity for generating a tax windfall or as a threat to Vermont’s current brand and economic niche, or both,” the report stated.

Marijuana taxes could, in theory, generate between $20 million and $75 million a year, according to the study. The larger figure could be reached through what the report calls “marijuana tourism and illicit exports.”
The high revenues could evaporate if the federal government intervenes, or if another northeastern state becomes a competitor.

“Indeed, because legal marijuana can flow across borders in either direction, Vermont’s prospects of deriving considerable tax revenue even from its own residents would become much less promising if one of its immediate neighbors were to legalize with low taxes,” the report states. “It is not clear that Vermont has any long-run comparative advantage in hosting the industry.”

Shumlin, who leans in favor of legalization, told the Burlington Free Press on Friday that he plans to spend the weekend reading the full report but characterized it as “great.”
“It does what exactly what I hoped for, which it tells us both the challenges and the opportunities of legalization,” the governor said.

The Burlington Free Press asked Shumlin whether he’s concerned about the effects of legalized marijuana on highway safety.

“We should look at Colorado and Washington state’s experience in this regard and find out whether these are real fears, or whether they are part of our long tradition of resisting change on this subject,” the governor said.
Studies coming out of those states are inconclusive on many questions, according to the Rand researchers.
During a discussion in Montpelier about whether black market marijuana sales would convert to legal sales, Jonathan Caulkins of Rand Corp. emphasized the uncertainty.

“We think we have the world’s best data on how much that happens, and we know those data sort of stink,” Caulkins said. “Basically nobody’s ever done this before. Colorado and Washington did, and they’re still very early.”

The Vermont Police Chiefs Association is among many groups opposing marijuana legalization for public safety reasons.

“I don’t understand why we’re even considering this, other than the lure of money,” said George Merkel, the Vergennes police chief and head of the state chiefs association.

Arizona high court weighs medical marijuana access to some

PHOENIX — The Arizona State Supreme Court is deciding a case that could affect the state’s medical marijuana laws.

The case, Keenan Reed-Kaliher v. State of Arizona, was brought before the panel of five judges on Tuesday and hinges on whether those on parole or probation should be allowed access to medical marijuana under Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act.

At the forefront of the case lie arguments over the power of the courts and parole officers to set the conditions of probation or parole, the validity of Arizona’s medical marijuana policy and whether the state’s medical marijuana law should except some, particularly convicted criminals, from access to medicinal marijuana use.

The case stems from 2011, when Cochise County resident Keenan Reed-Kaliher was released from prison as part of a plea deal he accepted in relation to drug charges, for which he spent a year and a half incarcerated.

After being released, Reed-Kaliher obtained a medical marijuana registry identification card from the Arizona Department of Health Services in response to a previous injury, according to his attorney, Tom Holz.

“(Reed-Kaliher) had chronic pain from a fractured hip, he still has pins in his hip and so he got a medical marijuana card while he was on probation,” Holz said.

After becoming a medical marijuana cardholder, Reed-Kaliher was notified by his probation officer in 2013 that he was not allowed to possess or use marijuana for any reason as part of his probation condition. Later that year, Reed-Kaliher filed a motion in court to modify the conditions of his probation to allow his medical marijuana use, Holz said.

Lower courts rejected Reed-Kaliher’s motion while the state’s appeals court ruled in his favor. The case is now before the state’s Supreme Court for review.

In Tuesday’s statements before the Supreme Court, the state argued Reed-Kaliher had accepted a plea agreement and, in that, agreed not to violate any laws — a condition that can become murky when considering the differences between federal and state laws on medical marijuana.

“Probationers are required to obey the law including all federal laws and so there is this tension because clearly under federal law, medical marijuana is not recognized; this is something that’s recognized under state law,” said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office is arguing the case. “It’s creating a lot of conflict.”

The state argued parolees and probationers are breaking federal law when possessing or consuming medicinal marijuana, and the courts and parole officers who would allow a parolee or probationer to do so would not be fulfilling their oaths in upholding the law.

One portion of the state’s defense was challenged by Chief Justice Scott Bales, who questioned whether Reed-Kaliher’s plea agreement and, therefore, the accepted condition that he not use marijuana, could be accepted, considering Arizona’s medical marijuana law had not yet been adopted by voters until after he made the deal.

Brnovich said cases such as Keenan Reed-Kaliher v. State of Arizona expose the problems associated with medical marijuana laws.

“When you treat something like marijuana as a medicine, not only does it send a mixed message to our children but it makes it hard for the courts to impose terms and conditions of probation,” he said.

Holz, however, said Arizona’s medical marijuana law creates no conflict for state courts or probation officers in enforcing Arizona laws, and the federal government could still arrest his client or any other medical marijuana user in Arizona.

“There’s absolutely no authority for the idea that federal law preempts this,” he said. “We’re not stopping the federal government from enforcing their laws, but they can’t force us to enforce their laws.”

Holz said state courts and probation officers should first follow Arizona’s law, of which the medical marijuana law makes no separation or exception for people on parole or probation.

“(The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) says a cardholder is not subject to penalty in any manner, so you can’t have your probation revoked (and) you can’t have your parole revoked,” he said.

The court did have some concerns over the arguments raised by Holz during his 20-minute address.

Justice John Pelander raised questions over the juxtaposition of courts and parole officers in Arizona being able to curtail the constitutional rights of convicted criminals — particularly some Fourth Amendment privacy and First Amendment speech rights — but would somehow still not have the authority to curtail rights granted by states, such as access to medical marijuana.

Pelander also questioned whether the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which does not include exceptions for parolees and probationers, would supersede an earlier state law that bars marijuana use by these groups.

Holz said the court’s decision on the matter could have a broader effect on the state’s medical marijuana law.

“This is a policy experiment you could think of it as, if it turns out that the bad results outweigh the good results then the county attorneys, the anti-marijuana state officials, they’re going to have to take this back to the people and say, ‘This isn’t working, let’s change this, let’s exclude … people on parole and people on probation,'” he said.

“But I think it’s going to work. I think the benefits will outweigh any possible harm that might come from this.”

When asked about his optimism on whether the court would rule in the state’s favor, Brnovich said he no longer makes guesses.

“I think there is some tension, I recognize that, but I also learned a long time ago not to predict what courts are going to do,” he said. “I do think that it’s very fair and reasonable that if someone accepts terms and conditions of probation (that) they abide by the terms and conditions, and furthermore if someone agrees to obey all federal laws (that) they obey federal laws even if it meant that some way they may conflict with some state laws.”

BY MARK REMILLARD, | January 14, 2015 @ 6:34 am

Texas lawmakers to consider lower marijuana possession penalties

EL PASO, Texas — State Representative Joe Moody of Texas spends too much money punishing low level drug offenders and wants to decriminalize marijuana.

Moody is proposing a bill that, if approved, would reduce the penalties associated with possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already passed laws that remove jail time for low-level drug offenses. The Texas legislature is expected to weigh in on the issue during the 2015 legislative session which started Tuesday.

“It is difficult to pass any bill in the Texas legislature,” said Moody. “There are 7,000 that are filed every session. Only a handful of those make it to the finish line.”

Moody said Texas spends $740 million a year to arrest and prosecute low-level drug offenders.
He said, “I think it makes a lot of fiscal sense. I think it makes a lot of sense for law enforcement.”

One resident mentioned “I think the penalties could be a little bit more lenient since we’re realizing most of the other states in the country are moving towards legalization.

Under Moody’s bill, possessing one ounce of marijuana would result in a $100 fine. Currently, possessing up to two ounces of marijuana could land an offender six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Moody said his bill would consider the violation a civil matter. That way, the offender wouldn’t have a criminal record. Lawmakers will also consider legalizing medical marijuana and the use of recreational marijuana.

Moody said he’s already heard from other lawmakers who support his bill.

“In fact, just sitting on the House floor for the first day, I had three or four Republican members snag me and just say ‘hey, I’ve been getting a lot of emails about your bill.’ ”

Arizona lawmaker proposes legalizing marijuana

PHOENIX — Recreational marijuana use could be legal in Arizona by this summer if the Legislature and new Gov. Doug Ducey approve a plan introduced by a Phoenix lawmaker.

The legislation will be a long shot under the conservative-led Legislature. But state Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, said he has some strong arguments. Among them is the possibility of nearly $50 million in potential tax revenue that could offset a looming $1 billion budget shortfall.

Proponents of legalizing marijuana are expected to try to get a measure on the 2016 Arizona ballot, following similar successful efforts in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Cardenas said polling in Arizona shows such a ballot measure would probably pass, as medical-marijuana legalization did in 2010.

For a variety of reasons, Cardenas said, it would be better if the Legislature passed its own version of the law first.

“We’ve seen issues with our medical-marijuana system … but it’s nearly impossible to come back at the Legislature and adjust it because we need 75% of the Legislature (to approve any changes to a voter-approved measure),” he said. “This would give us more leeway. If there were unforeseen consequences, we could easily come back and adjust it the next year.”

House Bill 2007 would legalize the purchase, possession and consumption of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. It would expand the current medical-marijuana system under the Arizona Department of Health Services, and create a process for dispensaries to serve the general public. It also would allow adults age 21 and older to grow up to five plants for personal consumption.

“We have a rough framework to work off of, which would be Colorado,” Cardenas said. “We would like to start with a discussion and work towards creating the same system here. They’ve gained a lot of revenue from that.”

HB 2007 would levy a new tax against marijuana, at $50 an ounce. Thirty percent of the revenue would go to education; 10% to treatment programs for alcohol, tobacco and marijuana abuse; 10% for public-education campaigns educating youth and adults about the risks of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana; and the rest would go into the general fund.

The proposed tax rate is lower than that in Colorado, but higher than in Oregon. Oregon taxes marijuana at $35 an ounce. Colorado has a 15% excise tax, plus a 10% sales tax on marijuana, plus regular state and local sales taxes.

HB 2007 will need several legislative committee hearings and votes before it could become law. Even getting a first committee hearing could prove challenging.

A similar bill introduced last session by former Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, now a U.S. congressman, was never assigned to a committee. Without that assignment, it got no hearings or votes.

Cardenas introduced a bill last year that would have lowered the penalties for marijuana possession. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but it was never scheduled for a hearing.

“The possibility of it passing is not good, but we need to start looking at new and exciting ways to fill our budget gap if the governor is taking a ‘no new taxes’ stance.”

AUSTRALIA * NSW: Green Light For Cannabis For Terminally Ill

By Geoff Winestock

The terminally ill will be protected from prosecution for using medicinal cannabis under landmark NSW drug laws but they will have to grow their own.

In what is being hailed as the start of a nationwide trend, NSW Premier Mike Baird late last month announced a more compassionate approach to medicinal cannabis, including a register of terminally ill patients who police will not charge for using cannabis as their medicine. But the measure has been criticized because supplying cannabis is still criminal and the terminally ill will have to grow their own.

A certificate from a doctor will be logged with the Department of Justice and will in theory protect terminally ill patients and up to three of their caregivers from prosecution.

Catherine Cusack, a Liberal state MP who has co-ordinated the policy changes, said the register of terminally ill would bring relief to people immediately and would probably have greater practical effect than three clinical trials of medicinal cannabis also announced last week which have attracted more media attention. “The terminally ill no longer have to be afraid of going to jail,” Ms Cusack said.

Other states

Other states could soon follow NSW’s lead in allowing medicinal cannabis which is widely used to relieve chronic pain and nausea and potentially treat other conditions. New Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced he will make medicinal use of cannabis legal by the end of 2015 and a group of federal senators has proposed a bill for a national medicinal cannabis regulator. Medicinal cannabis use has been legalised in 23 US states and a growing and processing industry has boomed to meet demand.

Supporters of medicinal cannabis have welcomed the NSW register of ­terminally ill but they warn it is a short-term and half measure. Laurence Mather, emeritus professor of anaesthetics at the University of Sydney, said doctors were conservative and scared of prosecution and would be reluctant to sign a certificate for the terminally ill because it would effectively prescribe cannabis to patients. He said that unless there was a major education campaign for doctors, many people would be denied access to the scheme.

He said another concern was that it would still be illegal to take cannabis and the new system just guides police in their discretion in deciding to charge people. “It should be up to doctors, not police, to decide whether to prescribe cannabis. They should just change the law and make it legal,” Professor Mather said.

Administering the scheme

Ms Cusack said that the government had asked the Department of Justice to administer the scheme to reduce the need for cannabis users to deal with police.

Troy Langman, chief executive of AusCann Group, one of several firms which is trying to secure a licence to supply medicinal cannabis legally, said the new scheme would cause problems because it would still be an offence to grow the drug. “The terminally ill need the convenience of buying cannabis with guaranteed quality.”

The NSW law will also allow for clinical trials of cannabis for epilepsy, and for chronic pain and nausea for the terminally ill and chemotherapy patients. But the trials will have to use cannabis imported from overseas. Mr Langman said there was a growing shortage of certified cannabis in places like Canada, and Australia should develop its own medicinal cannabis supply industry under federal regulation.

“Australia is perfectly placed to develop a local industry,” he said.

Ms Cusack said that the government was adamant that recreational use of cannabis would remain illegal.

Cleveland, Ohio- News update for 2015!

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A campaign to legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana in Ohio is quietly taking shape and includes plans to place an amendment to the Ohio Constitution before voters in November 2015, the Northeast Ohio Media Group has learned. The campaign plans to push an amendment, that if approved by voters, would guarantee a ten or so property owners the right to grow marijuana, according to sources who spoke on the condition they not be named.

By embedding in the constitution where marijuana can be produced – and essentially who can profit from its production – organizers are using an approach similar to the one gambling interests used in their 2009 successful campaign to allow casino-style gaming. That amendment, known on the ballot as Issue 3, limited gaming to just four locations in Ohio.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form, including nearby Michigan.

Supporters of an earlier constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana failed in July when they failed to collect enough signatures of registered Ohio voters to get the issue on last month’s ballot. The Ohio Rights Group, which organized the effort, collected more than 100,000 signatures for the Ohio Cannabis Rights Act. That fell far short of the more than 385,000 signatures need.

John Pardee, president of Ohio Rights Group, said his organization is planning to pursue a medical marijuana amendment. Asked about the new campaign, he said, “I’m against creating a constitutional monopoly.”

About 90 minutes after the Northeast Ohio Media Group broke this story on, a group calling itself ResponsibleOhio released a statement announcing a campaign to legalize marijuana. The group said it plans to place a ballot initiative before voters in 2015. Here is part of that statement. The group is not answering questions at this time.

“Marijuana for medical and personal use should be a choice made by adults 21 and older in this state,” said Lydia Bolander, a spokesperson for the campaign. “We are going to end this failed prohibition.”

Bolander, who works for the political consultant, Precision New Media, also said, “Legalizing marijuana for medical and personal use means increased safety because we will regulate, tax and treat marijuana like alcohol. We will smother the black market and use the taxes generated to help local communities provide vital public services.”

Maine Readying Marijuana Legalization

There are a number of bills and initiatives in Maine dealing with marijuana. The marijuana OUI bill is being proposed by the Department of Public Safety, which wants to set a limit that will allow police officers to determine when a driver is too stoned behind the wheel.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said she will introduce her fourth bill to tax and regulate the use of recreational marijuana. She said this bill will be the Legislature’s last chance to get out in front of two competing citizen initiatives that are likely to end up on the 2016 ballot.

Two groups – the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine – plan to launch petition drives to collect signatures for 2016 referendums to legalize recreational drug use, as the states of Colorado and Washington have both done. The two proposals differ in approach and details, such as whether marijuana use should be limited to private homes or allowed in social clubs.

“If those both pass in 2016, the Legislature will have to decide the intent of voters and that will be a real mess for 2017,” Russell said. “The best thing to do is get ahead of the issue, set the policy and send it to referendum to let the people decide.”

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