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.”

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 Jersey MMJ Program *update* (NJ.Com)

After predictions that New Jersey’s medical marijuana program could serve tens of thousands of patients with severe and painful illnesses, only 2,342 have signed up — a participation rate so small some worry the very future of the program could be at stake.

Lawmakers, some dispensary operators and patients blame the sluggish enrollment on the program’s rigid rules, exorbitant costs for patients and growers, and Gov. Chris Christie’s contention that he does not need to do anything more to enhance participation.

And they say one major roadblock is that so few New Jersey doctors are willing to recommend patients for medical marijuana.

“We have a dysfunctional program, and I think it’s going to take some sort of ‘pot summit’ bringing together patients, doctors and legislators to really make this a success,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the lead sponsors of the law.

“We are hearing more and more anecdotal evidence that dispensaries are not sustaining themselves, the quality (of the marijuana) is not always there, and it’s difficult for doctors and patients to get into the program,” Gusciora said.

The lawmaker said while he has “every faith” in state Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, “there is so much reticence on the administration’s part, I don’t know how you break that logjam. All they have to do is open their eyes.”

Enrollment in the program has more than doubled in the last year as two of the state’s three medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors. But it’s nowhere near the 5,000 to 30,000 medical marijuana patients advocates anticipated when the law was passed. Dispensary owners looked at disease statistics in New Jersey and expected at least 50,000 patients. The state’s first dispensary opened in December 2012.

“We thought we would have 10,000 patients by now,” said Yale Galanter, attorney and spokesman for Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge, which has served 1,700 since opening six months ago.

The Compassionate Care Foundation center in Egg Harbor Township, which opened with great fanfare in October after securing a state-backed loan, says it needs 2,000 patients to break even and has served 600. The owners report bagfuls of cannabis are going to waste, and expansion plans are on hold.

Chief operating officer Bill Thomas quit last week, saying he could no longer work without getting paid.

Doctors are ‘key’
“We know the key to this program being viable is getting doctors involved,” he said.

Patients must be referred by a doctor in order to participate. Just 296 of New Jersey’s 21,000 licensed physicians have signed up.

Many doctors don’t want their name on the state’s website, according to Gusciora, and dispensary officials from Woodbridge and Egg Harbor Township. They said doctors who are in the program report that they get calls from people diagnosed with illnesses they don’t treat, as well as others who don’t qualify for the program. As that word spreads, other doctors are wary about joining the program, the officials say.

And given the stigma surrounding marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law, some doctors fear they will lose patients or alienate their practice partners.

“They are not saying (their names) should be a secret,” said David Knowlton, a founder and board member of Compassionate Care Foundation. “But having it on the website implies to patients they can walk in and be seen.”

‘Convenient excuse’
Larry Downs, executive director for the Medical Society of New Jersey, said he found the lack of doctor involvement a “convenient excuse” for the program’s struggles.

“If dispensary owners have overestimated the market, then that is not the concern of the medical field,” Downs said.

“If doctors believe it is a legitimate therapy, being published on a website is not going to stop them,” he added. “A lot of doctors do not believe it is a good therapy and that it does not meet standards of efficacy and safety.”

The slow enrollment rate and struggling dispensaries have had a ripple effect on some patients.

Betty Rand, an 89-year-old homebound stroke patient from Millburn, says medical marijuana eases her pain and muscle spasms, but it would be far easier if she could get it in the form of a lozenge. Smoking makes her cough and adds to her suffering from the host of other illnesses she’s battling.

Dispensaries, however, don’t offer lozenges or any edible product yet. The health department is reviewing manufacturing plans from the Woodbridge dispensary. With lagging enrollment, Egg Harbor officials have said they can’t afford the expense of developing a new product.

Rand describes the program as “a job they’ve half-done and are not finishing right, They are not making an effort, and as long as Christie is there, he is not going to do it.”

Knowlton, a former deputy health commissioner, says he’s far from giving up on the program. He is talking with O’Dowd and program director John O’Brien about changes that could make it more accessible, such as allowing hospice centers and nursing homes to act as couriers for registered patients in their care. People who cannot obtain their own marijuana may identify a caregiver to retrieve it for them, but a caregiver can only serve one patient.

“I recognize that with a program that has this much scrutiny, the state has to move slowly,” Knowlton said. “I think the department is trying to be helpful but cautious. They have to think ‘How could this go bad?’ I am confident this is going to work out. This is just a trying time.”

Full article at NJ.Com 👍

Oregon – Clackamas County Ban

By Mary Harbarger

The Clackamas County commissioners unanimously adopted a one-year ban Thursday on medical marijuana facilities.

The moratorium will likely put several existing dispensaries out of business. The commissioners never wavered in voting for the moratorium, but did invite advocates and dispensary staff to work with the county to craft time, place and manner restrictions to be enforced once the moratorium is lifted.

The moratorium option comes through a law signed in March by Gov. John Kitzhaber that allows local governments to restrict medical marijuana facilities on the grounds of time, place and manner of operation.

Local governments can buy a year to craft the restrictions by imposing a moratorium before May 1. More than a dozen counties, including Washington County, have taken advantage of the law. Most cities in Clackamas County also passed temporary bans.

The Clackamas County commissioners blasted the Oregon Legislature for leaving it up to cities and counties to enact moratoriums.

“I think the Legislature were a bunch of wimps,” Commissioner Jim Bernard said. “They didn’t decide this on their own when they had the opportunity to do that.”

Bernard and most of his fellow commissioners conceded that medical marijuana does seem to benefit some patients, and Oregon is likely to legalize recreational marijuana in the next few years.

But, they also insisted that the moratorium was important to help assuage the fears of county residents who oppose marijuana use in any form.

“There’s a fear that people have that we need to figure out a way to resolve it,” Bernard said.

About 40 people showed up to Thursday morning’s business meeting to testify. Most were patients or dispensary owners who opposed the ordinance.

“I am not asking for no moratorium. I am asking for businesses that are licensed and following the rules to continue operating,” said Desirea Duvall, a manager at Maritime Cafe, a dispensary that’s been operating near Gladstone for about 2.5 years.

For more click here

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

Medical marijuana in Oregon: Bill that would allow local regulation of dispensaries is introduced

Lawmakers in February will take up a proposed bill that would give local governments the ability to regulate and restrict medical marijuana facilities.

Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and state Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, would allow cities and counties to “regulate or restrict operation of medical marijuana facility, prohibit registration of medical marijuana facility, or regulate, restrict or prohibit storing or dispensing of marijuana by facility legally authorized to store or dispense marijuana.”

The legislation was filed at the request of the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The proposal says the changes would be effective March 1, two days before the state begins registering medical marijuana facilities.

The issue of local control has been a contentious one since Oregon lawmakers passed a law last year creating a registry of medical marijuana dispensaries, already a thriving but unchecked industry in the state.

The Medford City Council last fall responded by changing the city’s business license ordinance, which now stipulates that establishments must be in compliance with local, state and federal laws. Marijuana is outlawed under federal law.

Full article by Nicole Crombie here

Oregon – Medical Cannabis Conditions Update – PTSD

By Christina Chronnoisseur

SALEM, Ore. — Some Oregon lawmakers were weary that allowing medical marijuana cardholders to use cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder would lead to widespread abuse, but the initial amount of patients who signed up, is actually quite small.

The law went into effect Jan.1 and from that point patients had 90 days to apply and since, less than 100 have. “We can’t provide an exact number because it’s low enough to where we risk identifying people,” said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority. “Applications are slow,” he said. “There hasn’t been a rush.”

PTSD is the 10th qualifying condition for the use of medical marijuana in Oregon. The condition affects about 7.7 million Americans and is often associated with military veterans, rape survivors, and anyone who has lived through a traumatic event. Only a few of states that allow medical marijuana, allow PTSD as a debilitating condition for use.

“The federal VA has been struggling for years with its depression and mental health procedures … They have, or had, simply placed veterans on a variety of drugs as it was a cheap answer,” Republican Sen. Brian Boquist, of Dallas, said. “As they move away from this type of policy to a treatment policy, the number of veterans requiring drugs will decrease, hopefully.”

Although the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance (which means it doesn’t recognize any medical uses) the Department of Veterans Affairs allows patients to use medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.