State of the Leaf: Setback in Michigan, Progress in Vermont, and a Three-Way Race in Montana
Summer is heating up, and it’s do-or-die time for legislation! The governors of Colorado, Michigan, and Vermont all signed last-minute bills into law, new surveys out of Minnesota and Israel found that medical marijuana patients are largely happy with their treatment, and Montana’s dueling campaigns are running up against a whole lot of friction to get in under the signature-gathering deadline.
U.S. News Updates
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law this week that requires Colorado school districts to adopt a policy allowing medical marijuana. The law only applies to students who qualify for medical marijuana, and only allows for non-smokable forms of cannabis. School districts may opt out of the policy if they can prove they’ve lost federal funding because of the policy, or if they place an easy-to-find explanation on their website as to why they are opting out. The new law states that any lost federal funding will be reimbursed to the district by the state.
Michigan’s adult-use legalization campaign suffered a major setback when Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law that requires all petitions vying for a spot on the ballot to submit signatures obtained within a 180-day period. Senate Bill 776 put a hard-set line on the 180-day collection period, with no exceptions. The law appears to have been set in motion when MI Legalize asked the Board of State Canvassers to update the signature submission format from paper to digital in order to ease the process. Earlier this week, the State Bureau of Elections announced that MI Legalize would be about 106,000 signatures short due to the new law. The group is threatening legal action to challenge the state agency’s decision to reject nearly 137,000 signatures that were gathered outside the 180-day period.
A new survey from the Minnesota Department of Health found that 90 percent of the medical marijuana patients in Minnesota’s program say the drug has been beneficial, while only 10 percent reported that they saw “little to no change” upon using cannabis as treatment. Of the responses, 24 percent reported seeing “mild to moderate benefits” and a full 66 percent of the respondents said they experienced “significant” improvement with the addition of cannabis as treatment. Among those who experienced the most relief were patients suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer. Side effects were generally minor.
It’s a race to the finish line for Montana’s three campaigns for and against cannabis, with just days left to gather the 24,175 signatures needed to earn a spot on the ballot. The June 17 deadline is coming up fast, and all three campaigns have been pouring time, energy, and cold hard cash toward the efforts.
Initiative 176 would repeal Montana’s medical marijuana program on the grounds it’s federally illegal. The campaign is run by Steve Zabawa, a Billings businessman and founder of Safe Montana, who has dumped $70,896 into the campaign.
Initiative 182 would remove the recent restrictions imposed on dispensaries that limit them to three patients apiece. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association has gathered $94,500 in support of the measure.
Initiative 178 is a legalization long shot from the folks behind Cycling for Sensible Drug Policy. It has gathered only $6,700 in donations and is falling short on the number of signatures needed.
Vermont’s chance for legalization went up in smoke, but that doesn’t mean cannabis progress is completely stalled. This week Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana law. The bill, S.14, expands qualifying conditions to include chronic pain and glaucoma; it also allows MMJ use for those in hospice care. Medical marijuana was previously allowed only for severe pain. Now those with chronic, less-severe pain will be able to obtain a medical recommendation. Shumlin addressed that concern in his signing speech, noting America’s opioid epidemic, which is a particular problem in Vermont. By signing the bill, he said he hoped that medical marijuana can help treat pain and lower opioid addiction and overdose rates.
West Virginia Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Charleston) made waves in the West Virginia Legislature by introducing House Bill 114, which would decriminalize the possession, growth, and use of limited amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults. The bill currently has four co-sponsors, but House Speaker Tim Armistead (R-Elkview) has refused to consider even minor, limited reforms to the state’s draconian drug policies.
International News Updates
Israel’s first study conducted with the permission of the Health Ministry observed new patients over the course of two years and covered a gamut of characteristics, including diseases, socioeconomic status, dosages, previous treatments, side effects. The result? The study found that 99.6 percent of those who applied for medical marijuana did so after conventional medicines were ineffective, with 56 percent trying to avoid unwanted side effects. More than 90 percent of the patients surveyed reported significant improvement in pain and nausea with the use of medical cannabis. The study’s results were presented at the sixth International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy.