State of the Leaf: Illinois Extends MMJ Through 2020, Maine Battle Catches Fire
New this week in cannabis reform: California finds a rising racial disparity in arrests, and Oakland is hoping to make amends. Delaware will be holding an open forum on cannabis, Maine’s legalization opposition just got a new leader of the pack, North Carolina is trying to expand their medical law and Illinois and Ohio MMJ measures are awaiting signatures from their respective governors (but both will become law even if they don’t sign).
On the international scene, Barbados sees an uptick in cannabis decriminalization support, Bulgaria strikes out for medical cannabis, and Israel’s Justice Minister considers decriminalizing soft drugs. Are you in the know?
U.S. News Updates
- Despite the relaxing of cannabis laws in California in recent years, new data compiled by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California found a disturbing trend in racially motivated arrests, with black citizens four times as likely to be arrested for a marijuana-related offense than white citizens. The racial disparity is actually growing worse. In 2010, blacks were just 2.2 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.
- The Oakland City Council took measures to ensure that minority-owned businesses are a top priority in the cannabis industry, voting to allot half of all medical marijuana permits to applicants who have either been arrested for cannabis and/or lived two years or more in an area of East Oakland with high marijuana arrest rates. http://blog.sfgate.com/smellthetruth/2016/06/01/california-marijuana-enforcement-4-times-more-severe-for-black-people-study-finds/
- The Coalition to Regulate Cannabis in Delaware will be joining forces with the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware for a town hall forum on June 7th at 7pm to discuss changing the state’s cannabis laws. MPP will hold an open discussion for all members from the community to explore topics related to legalization, such as taxation and regulation for a legal retail marijuana market, the benefits of ending prohibition, infrastructural models from other legal states and how to pass legislation in Delaware. The event will be held at the New Ark United Church of Christ on June 7th at 7pm. If you’re interested, please find more details here.
- After much consideration, Illinois lawmakers voted to extend the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which was set to expire in 2017. The program will now run through July 2020 and will include two new qualifying conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal illness. The extension makes a number of significant changes to the law. It will allow authorization cards for patients and caregivers to last three years, rather than just one, and will also excuse repeated fingerprinting for criminal background checks. The bill will speed up the authorization approval process for patients with terminal illnesses, approving within 14 days, rather than the current six to seven weeks. Governor Rauner initially protested that the program needed to sufficient evaluation before being considered for an extension, but his approval on this measure marks an about-face from the usually cannabis-shy politician.
- A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana passed through the House of Representatives and is now on the desk of Gov. Rauner. Senate Bill 2228 would reduce the penalty for the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from an arrestable offense to a ticket with a fine between $100 and $200 per offense. Many advocates have been wondering if the bill will obtain the elusive signature of Gov. Rauner, who has remained lukewarm, at best, on the topic of cannabis in the Land of Lincoln, although he has made statements that he would “probably be comfortable” passing a decriminalization bill. Gov. Rauner has 60 days to sign the bill or veto it before it becomes state law.
- The Iowa Court of Appeals just made a major ruling on the classification of cannabis in Iowa. Carl Olsen, a cannabis activist and would-be medical patient, requested in 2013 that the Iowa Board of Pharmacy reclassify cannabis as a controlled substance known to have medicinal benefits. The Appeals Court ruled in favor of the Pharmacy Board, saying that they had the proper authority to deny his request for reclassification. The Iowa Legislature also rejected an earlier attempt to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis oil laws. The failed proposal would have allowed patients to procure medicine from other states.
- An opposition group has formed a new coalition to defeat Maine’s legalization initiative. Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities is led by Scott Gagnon, chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine. Gagnon declined to name any members of the group and said the leadership is still forming. “This initiative to legalize marijuana poses significant threats to our youth and communities,” said Gagnon, citing the “highly addictive and dangerous products” that come with legalization.
- Meanwhile, David Boyer, manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Alcohol, wasn’t surprised by Gagnon’s claims. “It’s unfortunate that they’re already bringing out scare tactics and wild exaggerations,” Boyer said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re using Reefer Madness 2.0 to stretch the truth.”
- North Carolina may be getting a chance to expand their limited CBD medical cannabis program. House Bill 983 is cosponsored by Representative Greg Murphy (R-Pitt), a medical doctor who believes that medical cannabis could be used as a tool for physicians to ease the suffering of patients with chronic pain or other diseases and conditions. If the bill passes, it would legalize and tax medical marijuana at $8 per ounce.
- The Ohio legislature just approved House Bill 523, which would legalize limited forms of medical cannabis for patients who suffer from one of 20 qualifying conditions. The group Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has been against the bill since it was announced, calling it a “moderately good piece of legislation,” but criticizing it for not containing strong patient protections. Ohioans for Medical Marijuana had collected more than 100,000 signatures for their own campaign, which would have placed a new initiative on the November ballot, but the group has suspended their efforts in lieu of the expected passage of HB 523. The bill is awaiting the signature of Governor John Kasich, but will become law within 10 days with or without his approval.
International News Updates
- A new study from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services found more support for the decriminalization of cannabis than the last public opinion poll taken in 2008, but a majority remains opposed to legalizing cannabis. The poll, conducted on behalf of the Attorney General, found that 30 percent of Barbadians support partial legalization for medicinal and religious purposes, 15 percent support full legalization, and 37 percent think cannabis should remain illegal. This is a significant jump from the 2008 survey, in which 73 percent of Barbadians believed marijuana should remain illegal, with just 9 percent in support of legalization.
- Bulgarian lawmakers considered legalizing medical marijuana last week, but the proposal was rejected in an overwhelming show of opposition. Only three members out of 240 supported the proposal, which would have allowed the use of oral spray infused with cannabis oil. The bill was proposed by Velizar Enchev, a former intelligence officer and member of the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition. He cited a number of studies and research that shows the medicinal benefits of cannabis as treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis and to mitigate chemotherapy side effects. About 70 lawmakers voted against the proposal, while 22 abstained from voting entirely.
- Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced today that the Justice Ministry will be exploring the possibility of decriminalizing soft drugs such as cannabis. Under the potential changes, those caught using soft substances would be subject to a fine, but would not face criminal charges. Shaked has been considering a change in drug policy since she was elected into office last year, and has already made extensive progress on the issue. The new proposed legislation would decriminalize the possession up to 15 grams of cannabis for anyone over the age of 21, with a charge of NIS 300 ($77 USD) for private possession and a charge of NIS 1,500 ($389 USD) for public possession.