State of the Leaf: Costa Rica Gets Closer to Legalizing Medical Marijuana
International progress abounds from beyond the borders! Costa Rica already decriminalized cannabis, but now it's considering a major medical marijuana program, New Zealand’s Labour Party is trying to solve a problem like medical cannabis access, and the United Kingdom found that the number of cannabis arrests have been cut nearly in half in the last five years.
Stateside, Alaska’s retail licenses are being held up by the Legislature, Arizona’s recreational campaign calls out the hypocrisy of a critic, New Hampshire could decriminalize cannabis possession (again), and Vermont is a hop, skip and one House vote away from legalizing recreational cannabis. This year will be historical for cannabis – are you paying attention?
U.S. Cannabis News Updates
Alaska is gearing up to issue licenses to retail cannabis businesses, but the process could be delayed or in jeopardy due to a bill on the docket that the Legislature must pass. The Alaska Marijuana Control Board cannot issue licenses until a bill is passed to allow national criminal background checks, among other provisions. The State Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board is unable to conduct national criminal background checks until the Legislature passes the bill, and the background check is a requirement for any applicants hoping for a retail cannabis license.
Director Cynthia Franklin spoke against the inaction of the Legislature:
“I truly cannot believe that the Alaska Legislature would hold this tool hostage and prevent marijuana licensing from occurring, by enacting a statutory requirement and then not giving us the statutory language to meet that requirement.”
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona is holding a press conference today to call upon Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Montgomery has made public statements on cannabis, calling it dangerous and comparing cannabis advocates to drug cartels. As part of the conference, the campaign will issue a jumbo-sized check in the amount of $8,050 or the amount that Montgomery’s office made from his campaign committee to “alcohol industry contributors.”
CRMLA chairman J.P. Holyoak spoke on the hypocrisy of Montgomery’s actions, saying, “We are tired of seeing Mr. Montgomery demonize marijuana, so we are simply challenging him to prove that it is more harmful than alcohol…We are not attacking alcohol, alcohol consumers, or even alcohol distributors. We are attacking Mr. Montgomery’s hypocrisy for accepting alcohol-related campaign contributions while advocating for the continued punishment of adults who prefer to use a less harmful substance.”
Legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of cannabis will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee today. House Bill 1631 was approved by the House of Representatives in March and would replace jail time with a simple civil fine. This is the seventh time that the state has attempted to decriminalize cannabis, with each respective bill dying in the New Hampshire Senate since 2008. The latest poll released last month found that 62 percent of respondents support legalizing cannabis for recreational use in the Granite State.
Vermont readies for legalization and prepares to make history. If S.241 is approved by the House of Representatives (as it is predicted to), Governor Peter Shumlin has promised to sign the bill into law, saying in an interview with Time that the heroin epidemic in Vermont is a “full-blown crisis” and that the War on Drugs has “failed us miserably.”
The support for legalization is so overwhelming that the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana will begin airing a new television spot in support of the bill titled “Vermont is Ready.” The ad, which is available in 30- and 60-second spots, features former Attorney General Kimberly Cheney, along with cannabis supporters and physicians who all reiterate that “It’s time to end prohibition and regulate marijuana in Vermont.”
On the heels of a victorious protest for cannabis legalization in front of the White House, the D.C. Council chose to take the side of opposition, with seven members voting to ban cannabis social clubs in the district. Council members Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Jack Evans, David Grosso, Vincent Orange and Elissa Silverman all voted to postpone the vote until September 20th, awaiting a recommendation from the task force assigned to study the issue.
Although local officials are not taking action, the Drug Enforcement Administration just released a letter in response to a request from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), saying that it will consider whether or not to reclassify cannabis on a federal level by mid-2016.
International Cannabis News Updates
Representative Marvin Delgado Atencio presented a medical marijuana bill before the Legislative Assembly in 2014, but after years of debate, the bill has now gained the necessary support to pass plenary by May 1st. It has the approval of lawmakers from nearly all caucuses and even has the support of the ‘La Caja,’ Costa Rica’s public health and social security administration.
The bill would create a research institute within the Ministry of Health, which would be charged with conducting studies, granting licenses and permits, as well as regulatory oversight. Costa Rica’s Law on Narcotics, Law 8204, technically decriminalized the personal use of controlled substances, but does not allow for sale or distribution. This bill would legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal treatments, as well as offering prescription cards for qualifying patients.
Labour Party leader Andrew Little admitted that the Labour caucus has been having discussions on which position to take on the possible expansion of access to medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. Although no decisions have been made on the topic or whether the Labour Party will support medicinal cannabis or decriminalization, Little did hint that the Party leaned towards transferring responsibility for the approval of a medical cannabis patient from the minister in charge to a medical professional. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne approved the use of Sativex, the only cannabis-derived drug available in New Zealand, for use by a patient suffering from Tourette syndrome, which instigated the discussion.
The number of arrests for cannabis possession was cut nearly in half between 2010 and 2015. Arrests for cannabis possession in England and Wales fell from 35,367 in 2010 to 19,115 in 2015, indicating a 46 percent decrease overall. Additionally, data from a crime survey found that cautions for cannabis possession dropped from 9,633 to 5,036 over the same period, a 48 percent decrease. Those charged with possession also showed a significant decrease of 33 percent, from 15,366 to 10,220 total charges.