US Medical Marijuana Bills Coming In 1997
??? Following the victory of the medical
marijuana proposition in California and the more comprehensive “medicalization”
of Arizona’s drug policy, marijuana-law reform is a hot topic on the minds of many US
state legislators this year.
By Paul Armentano
NORML Publications Director
What follows is a summary of marijuana bills that are being
considered by state legislators this spring. The majority of these measures attempt to
bring about positive changes and deserve support. However, there are also some repressive
marijuana bills that should be opposed.
alt=”alteredmap.gif (21205 bytes)”>
|States with pending
marijuana law reform legislation.
| src=”icon2.GIF” width=”25″
height=”25″ alt=”icon2.GIF (142 bytes)”>
|New Hampshire, maine, New
York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Wisconsin, California, Wyoming, Hawaii.
|States with pending
marijuana repression legislation
| src=”icon1.gif” width=”25″
height=”23″ alt=”icon1.gif (130 bytes)”>
|Virginia, Ohio, Georgia,
District of Columbia, Arizona, Maryland, Oklahoma
|States currently allwoing
the Controlled Substances Therapeutic (CST) research programs.
| src=”icon3.gif” width=”24″
height=”34″ alt=”icon3.gif (166 bytes)”>
|Alabama, Georgia, Illinois,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, new Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carloina,
Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
|States that had the CST
research programs but have cancelled them
| src=”icon4.gif” width=”25″
height=”23″ alt=”icon4.gif (130 bytes)”>
|States with legalized
medicinal marijuana through referendums
| src=”icon5.gif” width=”25″
height=”25″ alt=”icon5.gif (109 bytes)”>
|States that have passed
non-binding resolutions urging the feds to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana
| src=”icon6.gif” width=”25″
height=”22″ alt=”icon6.gif (147 bytes)”>
|States that currently
consider marijuana to be Schedule II when used for medicinal purposes.
| src=”icon7.gif” width=”25″
height=”23″ alt=”icon7.gif (119 bytes)”>
|Iowa, New Mexico, Tennessee|
|States currently allowing
doctors to prescribe marijuana for specific medical illnesses.
| src=”icon8.gif” width=”25″
height=”24″ alt=”icon8.gif (131 bytes)”>
Illinois, Lousiana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin.
New Hampshire – reduction in penalties for possession
The most positive and forward looking marijuana-law reform bill to be introduced at the
state level in 1997 is House Bill 118-FN in New Hampshire. This legislation seeks to
lessen the penalty for possession of less than one and one-half ounces of marijuana from a
class A misdemeanor (punishable by a one-year jail sentence and/or $1,000 fine) to a
violation (punishable by a ticket and payment of a small fine). The measure was introduced
by Rep Tim Robertson (D/R-Cheshire) and four co-sponsors.
NORML Legal Committee Co-chair Michael Cutler of Boston, Massachusetts, has been working
with Rep Robertson in support of this legislation. On January 29, Cutler testified before
a subcommittee of the House Committee on Justice and Public Safety. Cutler focused on the
failure of prohibition to deter adult and adolescent use and access and submitted numerous
state research studies demonstrating that decriminalization has had virtually no effect on
marijuana use, or on related attitudes about marijuana use, among American youth in states
that enacted such measures more than 20 years ago.
Medical Marijuana Legislation
Maine – affirmative defense with physician’s
??? Following the passage of Proposition 215 in California, several
state legislators have expressed interest in bringing similar legislation to their state.
??? Maine State Senator. Ann Rand (D-Portland) is drafting legislation that
will create an affirmative defense to a charge of possession or cultivation of marijuana,
provided a licensed physician has recommended use of the drug.
??? “If there’s something that can really relieve people of suffering,
then it should be used,” Rand told the Portland Press Herald. “It should be used
properly and judiciously, but it should be used.” Representative Kathleen Stevens
(D-Orono) plans to introduce similar legislation in the House.
New York – possible medical marijuana bill
??? In New York, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) has
expressed interest in introducing a medical marijuana legalization bill. “Thousands
of New Yorkers have serious or life-threatening medical conditions that can be improved by
medically-approved use of marijuana,” Gottfried stated in a January 3 press release.
“The law should not prevent these people from enabling themselves to tolerate
necessary medical treatment or extending their lives.”
??? NORML has supplied the legislator with several studies detailing
marijuana’s medical utility, including a summary report of the New York state cannabis
therapeutic research program which provided marijuana to seriously ill patients between
1982 and 1986. Gottfried is chairman of the State Assembly’s Health Committee.
Massachusetts – therapeutic research program for
??? In Massachusetts, the state legislature is examining ways to
implement the statewide marijuana therapeutic research program that was approved by the
governor in 1996. On January 22, The Massachusetts Department of Health issued regulations
to create an affirmative medical defense for patients who use marijuana for a legitimate
medical need. The regulations were mandated by the passage of a law last summer (H 2170)
that reinvigorates the state marijuana therapeutic research program and provides a prima
facie defense for individuals who are certified by the state to use marijuana to treat
glaucoma, asthma, or the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
??? According to State Public Health Commissioner David Mulligan, state
physicians will not be allowed to prescribe marijuana to their patients under the new law.
Instead, a three doctor panel appointed by the state will screen individual patients’
applications for certification. Certified patients will be shielded from criminal
penalties, even if they obtain marijuana through illicit channels.
??? “We’re trying to get certificates into the hands of people who
meet the medical criteria,” said Mulligan. “Who is going to prosecute someone
who has a certificate saying they have a medical condition that requires marijuana?”
The new law also mandates the Department of Health to develop a blueprint for a state-run
medical marijuana research project, which would be submitted to the US Food and Drug
Administration for approval. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least six states
implemented research programs allowing seriously ill patients to obtain marijuana as a
medicine from the state board of health.
??? “The feds keep telling us verbally ?they have never put it in
writing ? that they would supply [marijuana]for a well-designed clinical trial,”
said Nancy Ridley, assistant health commissioner. “We’re going to be sending another
batch of letters to the federal government to try to get them to be more specific about
what it would take to access their supply. It would be absolutely wrong not to try.”
??? NORML’s Michael Cutler, who helped to draft the original legislation,
sees the proposals as a step in the right direction. However, he criticized the state’s
failure to include a “catch-all” provision for terminal illness, as well as
language granting “sufficient confidentiality” for patients and doctors. He also
expressed concern that patients would need to be certified by a state-panel of physicians
rather than by their own personal doctor.
New Jersey – marijuana research program
??? A similar debate is under way in New Jersey by State Senator Louis
Bassano (R-Union) who is advocating the legislature implement its own marijuana research
program. Since 1981, New Jersey ? like many other states ? has had legislation that
allows the state to set up and run a research program to make marijuana and other drugs
legally available for medical use. Bassano told Associated Press that thousands of
patients could potentially benefit from such a program.
New Mexico – authorized production and possession for
medical use and research.
??? Preliminary drafts of medical marijuana legislation are also being
considered in New Mexico and Wisconsin.
The text of the New Mexico legislation would reaffirm the state’s inactive cannabis
therapeutic research program by authorizing the production, possession, and use of
marijuana for legitimate medical, research and scientific needs. Activists from the Hemp
Coalition at the University of New Mexico are currently seeking a legislator to sponsor
Wisconsin – reschedule
from I to III
??? A draft of Wisconsin’s legislation provided by the state Legislative
Reference Bureau indicates that the act would effectively reschedule marijuana from
Schedule I to Schedule III and would provide for a medical necessity defense provision.
The bill’s language is currently being reviewed. It has been reported that Rep Tammy
Baldwin (D-Madison) may introduce the legislation.
California – authorize
and fund research,
clarify proposition 215
??? Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) recently released language
on February 5 seeking to codify Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative passed
by California voters in November. The measure, known as the “Proposition 215
Implementation Act of 1997,” will authorize major clinical research regarding medical
marijuana as well as address distribution options and make minor clarifying amendments to
??? The bill requires the University of California to establish a Medical
Marijuana Research Center and appropriates $2 million US per year for three years to fund
its operations. The bill also creates a task force to study options for distribution of
medical marijuana and report back to the Legislature with recommendations.
??? “If the federal government is unwilling to conduct real research
to benefit sick and dying people, then California will,” Vasconcellos said.
??? The measure also makes three simple clarifications of Proposition 215:
- Specifies that the physician who recommends the use of medical marijuana be licensed by
the state of California;
- Provides standard protective procedures for the application of Proposition 215 to
- Ensures defendants are allowed to claim the medical marijuana defense in a pre-trial
hearing as well as in any subsequent hearing.
??? “This language carries forward the will of the voters and
deserves bi-partisan support,” said Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights.
“California can take the lead in beginning new Phase III human studies of marijuana
to speed the drug approval process.”
Wyoming – reschedule
for medical use
??? Two states in which medical marijuana legislation has already been
introduced before the legislature this year are Wyoming and Hawaii.
??? In Wyoming, a bill introduced by the Senate Appropriations Committee to
reschedule marijuana on the state level to allow for its medical use (SF 132) was approved
by the Senate Committee on Labor, House and Social Services on February 4.
While the proposal will not permit physicians to legally prescribe medical marijuana, it
is a recognition by the state that marijuana has medical utility. This recognition is
crucial for patients who are often forced to defend their medical marijuana use before a
state court in a criminal proceeding.
??? Furthermore, such legislation prepares for the day federal law
recognizes marijuana’s medical value. Once states are free of the federal laws prohibiting
the prescription of marijuana, they can legally implement different systems for growing
and distributing medical marijuana to patients on a state-by-state basis. This would also
remove the threat of prosecution physicians currently face for recommending marijuana.
Hawaii – affirmative
??? In Hawaii, Rep David Tarnas (D-Oahu) has introduced legislation to
allow physicians to “dispense, prescribe, or distribute marijuana for medical
purposes,” and provide for an affirmative medical defense for patients (HB 604).
Tarnas is a longtime supporter of marijuana-law reform.
Marijuana Bills That Should Be Opposed
??? An unfortunate backlash to the passage of Proposition 215 in
California and Proposition 200 in Arizona is the response of some legislators to introduce
new, “get-tough” anti-marijuana legislation.
Virginia – repeal
??? On January 8, Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Manassas)
introduced legislation repealing an 18-year old state law allowing physicians to prescribe
marijuana to seriously ill patients. On January 30, the bill passed in the House by an
??? Testimony against the bill was given in the Senate before the Courts of
Justice Committee on February 5 by Dr Jerome Kassirer of the New England Journal of
Medicine, marijuana researcher Dr William Regelson of the Medical College of Virginia,
activist Lennice Werth, and a cancer patient. The bill was then referred to the Education
and Health Committee, chaired by Senator Warren Barry (R-Fairfax). After taking further
testimony from medical marijuana activists and doctors ? including statements from NORML
Board Member Dr John Morgan of City University of New York Medical School ? the health
committee voted 9-6 to kill the Marshall legislation.
??? This vote signals a major victory for medical marijuana proponents and
is a significant loss for the Clinton administration, who were backing the Marshall bill.
Currently, Marshall is trying to reintroduce the legislation by attaching it as a floor
amendment to a Senate bill.
??? Although Virginia’s law does not provide for legal access to the drug
because it is in “positive conflict” with federal marijuana prohibition, the
state’s recognition of marijuana’s therapeutic value does help patients defend against
marijuana possession charges.
Ohio – repeal affirmative
??? Ohio Governor George Voinovich, Attorney General Betty Montgomery,
and State Senator Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) are hoping to pull the plug on a six-month
old law granting medical marijuana users an “affirmative defense” against
marijuana possession charges On January 15, Senator Blessing ? who is Chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee ? introduced a bill to repeal the provision. Senator Blessing
told Northcoast NORML President John Hartman that the Clinton administration supports his
??? The controversial law, which has never been used by a medical marijuana
patient, was passed by the state legislature in 1995 as part of an overall crime reform
package (SB 2).
??? NORML Board Member, Dr Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School,
testified before the state legislature on behalf of the current law on February 5, along
with more than 10 other activists and patients. Unfortunately, their testimony failed to
prevent the Senate from approving the bill by a 30-3 vote. The measure now heads to the
House where Hartman contends the current law has some support.
??? In addition, AMR’s Dave Fratello specified that the organization may
consider launching a ballot initiative in the state. “If Ohio’s medical marijuana
provision is repealed, there is every reason to believe that the voters will get a chance
to put the law back on the books in 1998 through an initiative,” said Fratello.
“Our group will work with local patients’ rights advocates and medical groups to
examine the options if repeal happens.”
Georgia – repealing medical marijuana research
??? Georgia Representative Earl O’neil (D-Conyers) has introduced
legislation to repeal Georgia’s dormant cannabis therapeutic research program. Under this
law, which was passed in 1980 and supported by the Georgia Medical Association, research
oncologists from Emory University in Atlanta and Grady Memorial Hospital, as well as many
private physicians and cancer patients, over 100 seriously ill patients received smoked
marijuana from the Georgia state Board of Health during the early 1980s.
??? Despite favourable results, the Georgia research program dissolved in
the mid-eighties because of overwhelming bureaucratic red-tape, lack of funds, the
approval of synthetic THC, and a growing lack of cooperation from the United States
federal government, the only legal supplier of medical marijuana.
??? Although Georgia’s current law is inactive, such legislation remains
important to have on the books. Similar programs in Washington state and Massachusetts
have been rejuvenated by activists and pro-medical marijuana legislators this past year
and their success may encourage other states to do likewise.
District of Columbia
(Washington, DC) – increasing penalties
??? US Attorney Eric Holder urged District Council Member Charlene
Jarvis (D) to introduce legislation increasing marijuana penalties within the District.
Jarvis complied, and under the provisions of the Jarvis bill, the possession of more than
one and one-half ounces of marijuana will become a felony, punishable with up to a
five-year sentence. Currently, marijuana offenses are a misdemeanor in the District,
regardless of the amount.
??? In response to the proposed legislation, members of the AIDS advocacy
group ACT-UP Washington, DC filed papers with the Board of Elections and Ethics for a
ballot initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
Arizona – repeal tax stamp
??? For the second year in a row, legislators in Arizona are attempting
to repeal the state’s tax stamp legislation. Arizona’s seldom-used law rose to prominence
in 1995 when a judge dismissed marijuana possession charges against Arizona NORML
President Peter Wilson, because he had previously attained a drug tax stamp from the
state. Basing his decision on Constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy, the
judge ruled that Wilson could not be prosecuted criminally because of punitive taxes he
had previously paid to the Arizona Department of Revenue to sell and possess marijuana.
??? In 1996, Representative Scott Bungaard (R-Glendale) unsuccessfully
introduced a measure to strike down the drug tax provision. This year’s legislation is
attached to an omnibus crime bill (HB 2076) introduced by Representative Mark Anderson
(R-29th District). “We plan to battle this bill all the way,” said Arizona NORML
Secretary Bill Green. “We are encouraging all activists, patients, friends and
relatives to write their Arizona representatives and let them know we do not want to lose
the only legal source of medical marijuana in Arizona.”
Maryland – increasing penalties
??? A pair of Maryland bills drastically stiffening marijuana penalties
(SB 71 and SB 72) have recently found support in the state senate. Introduced by Senator
Larry Haines (R-Carrol County), SB 71 makes it a felony to bring over 10 pounds of
marijuana into the state. Under the new law, this offense would be punishable by up to a
$50,000 fine and 25 years imprisonment. The measure was passed soundly by the senate on
January 24 and now awaits action in the House.
??? SB 72 targets first-time marijuana offenders. If passed, the bill will
increase the maximum fine for first time marijuana possession from $1,000 to $10,000. The
measure raises the penalty for subsequent offenses to four years in prison and up to
$25,000 in fines. Although the bill had seemed doomed after it failed to pass a third
reading in the Senate, the bill was revised by a special order and passed by a 24-20 vote
on January 31. The bill now moves to the House where it is expected to meet sound
Oklahoma – aerial spraying
??? Representative Danny Hilliard (D-Sulfur) of Oklahoma has introduced
a bill to allow law enforcement to spray the herbicide glyphosate (brand name Round-Up)
from helicopters in marijuana eradication operations (HB 2116).
NORML has written on the potential dangers glyphosate poses to humans and the environment.
For example, a February 1993 article in Global Pesticide Campaigner stated the following:
“Reports from other countries where aerial spraying [of glyphosate]has been used in
anti-drug programs are not encouraging. International health workers in Guatemala report
acute poisonings in peasants living in areas near eradication spraying, while farmers in
these zones have sustained serious damage to their…crops.”
??? In addition, a 1995 Journal of Pesticide Reform report said that
glyphosate exposure was the most commonly reported pesticide illness among landscape
maintenance workers in California and the third highest for agricultural workers. In
Hawaii ? one of the few states that currently allow for aerial glyphosate spraying – many
residents have complained of flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and fatigue
after spraying missions.
??? Despite evidence demonstrating the potential environmental hazards
posed by HB 2116, the bill was approved by the House by a 97-1 vote. The bill is expected
to face opposition in the Senate.
For More Info…
– For more information or updates on US state medical marijuana laws, contact either US
NORML or the Marijuana Policy Project.
- US NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws)
1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1010, Washington DC 20036
tel (202) 483-5500; fax (202) 483-0057
- Marijuana Policy Project
PO Box 77492, Capitol Hill, Washington DC 20013;
tel (202) 462-5747; fax (202) 232-0442