WASHINGTON, DC — Bills to legalize the possession and adult use of marijuana have been introduced in several states since voters in Washington and Colorado approved similar initiatives in the November elections.
Other states are in contention to become the 20th jurisdiction in the United States to allow medical marijuana, many states have introduced legislation to decriminalize or reduce criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and a few have taken steps in the opposition direction, attempting to increase penalties for small time marijuana offenses.
But as the 2013 legislative session continues, where do those bills stand, what are their chances of passing, and which ones have already been tabled, killed, or left forgotten? Lets take a look, state by state, at the progression (and regression) of marijuana laws at the State House.
Alabama -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Late last year, wanting to get a head start on the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) introduced what would become House Bill 2, a bill to authorize the medical use of marijuana.
Rep. Todd has had success with medical marijuana legislation before, leading 2010′s H.B. 642, “The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act of Alabama,” out of the House Judiciary Committee, marking the first time that medical marijuana legislation ever passed committee in Alabama. The bill went to the House floor, but unfortunately, the legislature adjourned on April 22, 2010, without the bill receiving a vote.
This year’s House Bill 2 was not so fortunate. Following a hearing on Todd’s bill, the Alabama House Committee on Health voted 12-2 on February 6, 2013 to oppose the measure, which would have allowed people with certain illnesses, such as cancer and AIDS, to obtain small amounts of marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
Despite this overwhelming vote against the bill, Rep. Todd received some helpful feedback from committee members, and now she is trying again. She introduced a new bill, House Bill 315, on February 21, 2013. The new proposal would protect patients from arrest if their doctors recommend medical marijuana.
The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Health, the same committee that voted against House Bill 2, where it awaits further action.
PENALTY REDUCTION: Alabama has some of the harshest marijuana penalties in the country. Possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to a year of incarceration. No legislation has yet been introduced to change that.
Alaska -- Alaska’s marijuana laws, while more liberal than many other states, remain somewhat in limbo, although no legislation has been introduced so far in 2013.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that possession of under four ounces of marijuana in the home was protected from criminal sanction by the state constitution’s right to privacy, effectively removing any penalties – criminal or otherwise -for possession of marijuana in the confines of a person’s private residence.
However, in 2006, the legislature passed a bill, later signed by the governor, attempting to re-criminalize marijuana legislatively. A lawsuit challenging the new law was thrown out on procedural grounds leaving the state of the law somewhat in flux.
Notwithstanding the legal murkiness regarding possession in one’s home, possession of one to four ounces of marijuana outside the home is a misdemeanor subject to 90 days incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000. Alaska has been a medical marijuana state since March 4, 2009.
No marijuana legislation is pending in 2013.
Arizona -- Arizona continues to be a hotbed of activity at the State House, with several marijuana related bills — good and bad — introduced this year.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA REPEAL: Just over 50 percent of voters (50.13 percent) approved Proposition 203 on November 2, 2010, legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Many legislators, however, still refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of this sensible, compassionate law. Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has filed a resolution, HCR 2003, that would refer the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act back to the ballot in November 2014.
If approved by the legislature, this would put this much-needed medical marijuana program at risk of being repealed. Recent polls have found that 59% of Arizona voters support the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, so Rep. Kavanagh is probably just wasting everybody’s time. The resolution awaits action by the House Health and Human Services Committee, where it has been dormant since its introduction, and doesn’t appear to be headed anywhere.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA RESEARCH: A bill that would allow Arizona colleges and universities to conduct medical marijuana research, Senate Bill 1443, has passed in the Senate by a vote of 28-1, and is currently advancing through various House committees. The bill would exempt approved medical research projects from a 2012 law that bans the use or possession of marijuana, including by medical marijuana card holders, on any college or university campus.
A physician from the University of Arizona, Sue Sisley, a specialist in internal medicine and psychiatry, sought the change to the law to continue research into the effectiveness of treating symptoms of post traumatic stress. Sisley gained approval nearly two years ago from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct a study to determine whether marijuana, in various dosages and methods of administration, can help combat veterans suffering from PTSD, but University of Arizona officials have prevented Dr. Sisley from conducting the research study under the existing state law.
The bill is currently being considered by the House Rules Committee, and has already been approved by the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. The bill is expected to pass in both chambers, but it remains to be seen if Gov. Jan Brewer, who has attempted to block nearly every aspect of medical marijuana implementation in Arizona, will sign the bill into law.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA PACKAGING, LABELING & ADVERTISING: A bill that would revoke the license of any medical marijuana dispensary who advertises, packages, or sells cannabis for any use purpose than the medical use of marijuana has passed in the Senate and is advancing in the House. Senate Bill 1440 also requires that all medical marijuana is packaged in white, opaque packaging, and all labeling must be in black text on a white background.
Senate Bill 1440 has been referred to the House Rules Committee, is likely to pass in both chambers, and Gov. Brewer is expected to sign the bill into law. This bill only affects licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and distribution centers.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA SEIZURE & DISPOSITION: A bill that would allow any medical marijuana sized by law enforcement as part of a criminal investigation to be destroyed following the conclusion of court proceedings — regardless of defendant’s guilt or acquittal – has passed the Senate and is advancing through the House. The bill, Senate Bill 1441, is a legislative response to a January court ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals, which ordered the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office to return marijuana confiscated from a California medical marijuana patient in 2011. The bill has passed the Senate 25-3 on February 26, and has been cleared by the House Judiciary Committee. It currently awaits action by the House Rules Committee. If the bill makes it to the floor of the House, as expected, it would need 75% approval to advance to the Governor’s desk.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA ZONING: A bill that makes a minor change to zoning for the agricultural and medical marijuana industries is close to approval. Specifically, Senate Bill 1098 changes wording to Arizona’s zoning regulations to state that zoning for “General Agricultural Purpose” does not include the cultivation of cannabis. The bill has passed in both chambers, and has been sent back to the Senate for final approval before being sent to Gov. Brewer.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MARIJUANA: The Arizona Supreme Court has been asked to review a lower court’s ruling that marijuana users don’t need to be actually impaired to be successfully prosecuted for driving under the influence. The common sense-defying ruling came in February in the case of a man who tested positive for an inactive marijuana metabolite that remains in the body for weeks after the high from smoking marijuana had worn off. Because the law was drafted to protect public safety, the appeals court said, it should be interpreted broadly to include inactive as well as active compounds. The case remains pending before the Supreme Court, but has not been scheduled for a hearing.
Arkansas -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Arkansas narrowly missed a chance to become the first medical marijuana state in the South, when Issue 5 was narrowly defeated by just a few thousand votes in November, 2012. Arkansas voters cast ballots in favor of the medical marijuana measure than they did for President Barack Obama, with more than 500,000 voters in favor of the marijuana issue and about 390,000 votes cast for Obama.
An attempt by Arkansans for Compassionate Care to place a similar measure on the 2014 ballot was set back in February, when Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected the wording of the proposal, complaining of ambiguities in the measure. McDaniel must certify the wording of the measure before signature-gathering to qualify for the 2014 ballot can begin.
California -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA REGULATION: Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 473, that would impose state control over California’s medical marijuana industry, which has been largely unregulated since Proposition 215 passed in 1996. AB 473 would create a new agency within the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate the growth, supply and sale of medical cannabis, replacing standards that now vary wildly from one city and county to another.
Under the proposed bill, the Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement (DMCRE) would be empowered to establish statewide standards for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and medical marijuana products, as well as a statewide licensing fee structure. The bill also requires the DMCRE to develop uniform policies statewide for the taxation of the medical marijuana industry, establish a licence structure and uniform identification card program.
Rep. Ammiano introduced a similar bill last year, Assembly Bill 2312, but it called for establishing an entirely new agency that critics said would have created a cluster of legal, fiscal and jurisdictional troubles. The bill barely passed in the House, but stalled in the state Senate. That bill, like the current proposal, had support from medical marijuana patients, dispensaries, and advocates.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where it awaits action.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MARIJUANA: Legislation is pending in the California Senate, Senate Bill 289, that seeks to “make it unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his or her blood contains any detectable amount of a drug classified in Schedules I, II, III, or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act,” including marijuana.
Under the proposal introduced by State Senator Lou Correa, prosecutors could charge individuals, including state-qualified medical marijuana patients, with driving under the influence of cannabis solely based on the presence of trace levels of THC in their blood, regardless of whether further evidence of behavioral impairment is present. mHC, Marijuana’s best known component, can be detected in some users’ blood for days after the use, and its metabolites can sometimes be detected weeks after last use rendering their presence useless to determine if an individual was driving while impaired.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, THC blood levels are poor indicators of cannabis-induced impairment. NHTSA states: “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
California NORML successfully lobbied against the passage of a similar bill last year. Senate Bill 289 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Public Safety and will be heard on April 23.
INDUSTRIAL HEMP: California lawmakers are also considering a bill that would remove industrial hemp from the definition of controlled substances in the state, separating it from marijuana. While the bill does not specifically allow the cultivation of industrial hemp, the passage of Assembly Bill 1137 would bring California farmers one step closer to growing the crop if federal restrictions are ever lifted. The bill awaits action by the Committees on Public Safety and Agriculture.
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