The Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance Network, NORML and hundreds of US activists are achieving remarkable success in getting Democrats and Republicans in the statehouses to put forth legislation that undoes some the terrible wrongs of the Drug War. Legislation from Congress in Washington has been uniformly prohibitionist for two decades, and consequently the prisons have exploded with hundreds of thousands of drug-war victims. Great hopes for repeal and reform are placed in the new 110th Congress with so many of our drug-law reform allies now in key positions of influence (see “Congress 2007: The Agenda Ahead” on page 64).
A quiet revolution has been taking place in the states, where legislators – frustrated by the explosion of prisons, the perniciousness of the drug-war, and its impact on state budgets – are taking matters into their hands. Unwilling to wait for restoration of justice from the federal government, Democrats and Republicans are bringing bi-partisan bills up in statehouses all over the US to reform drug laws, legalize medicinal marijuana at the state level and – in a few brave cases – legalize pot altogether. Of course, these politicians at the state level are doing this because you, the voters, are demanding they do so. Bravo!
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 11 states, and began with a California initiative in 1996. (California’s state Supreme Court will rule in the spring of 2007 as to the extent caregivers and designated growers are protected under the 1996 Compassionate Use Act.) Since then, seven more states – Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Maine and Washington – have approved medical marijuana through the initiative process, while in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont laws were initiated by the legislature. In Maryland, the medicinal use of marijuana can be offered as an affirmative defense in the event a patient is arrested. Arizona voters approved medical marijuana at the polls in 2002, but the law there is effectively dead because it requires a doctor to prescribe it, which the DEA will not allow. Other states learned from Arizona’s experience and require only a doctor’s recommendation, thus getting around the DEA roadblock. A bill to make Mississippi the 12th state with a legislated medical marijuana program (HB 421) died in the statehouse in Jackson on January 30th, 2007 due to lack of visible public support from Mississippi activists! Don’t let that happen again!
An Alabama group is championing the passage of Bill 663, currently moving in committee in the statehouse in Montgomery, which would allow possession of cannabis for a very wide range of illnesses. The language in this bill is very good, and virtually the same as that in the Mississippi bill. 2006 Gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall (read more about Loretta on page 44) is involved with helping this bill through the statehouse in Montgomery. To get involved in Alabama, visit www.compassionate-care.org.
The Drug Policy Alliance has been the big supporter of medical marijuana legislation here. House Bill 6715, sponsored by Republican Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (Somers) will, if passed, allow doctors to provide certificates to qualifying patients who they believe would benefit from the medical use of marijuana. The patient or designated caregiver would then be allowed to grow up to five plants in a secured place in their own home. The patient would have to register with the Connecticut Department of Public Health after their doctor recommends marijuana for use. To get involved in Connecticut, visit the local coalition’s website online at www.thealliancect.org or email Gabriel Sayegh, [email protected]
Bill 4038 was introduced at the beginning of the current session of the legislature in Lansing in January. It provides a medical marijuana exemption of modest proportions. Introduced in previous years by Detroit Democrat Rep. Lamar Lemmons III, it was defeated by a Republican controlled statehouse in 2006. New hope is breathed into this bill as Democrats control the statehouse in 2007. To get involved in Michigan, contact Tim Beck at (313) 964-0249 (day) or (313) 881-8995 (evening) or send e-mail to [email protected] To read the text of 4038 visit Michigan NORML at www.minorml.org.
State Sen. Steve Murphy and other Minnesota lawmakers are making another run at passing a medical marijuana bill. Lawmakers have introduced similar bills several times in recent years, though none have ever come close to final approval. “We’re talking about quality-of-life issues,” said Murphy, a DFL (Democrat-Farm-Labor) Rep. from Red Wing and chief author of the bill. “This isn’t for everybody. This is another tool in the doctor’s toolbox, if (the patient) feels it’s appropriate and they’re willing to give it a try.” Murphy said he warmed up to the proposal two years ago when his father died of cancer after nine months of intense pain. “If that would have been an option for him and he would have chosen it, I would have understood,” he said. “I watched him waste away, and he was in incredible pain.” Under the legislation, anyone who suffers from a chronic or debilitating disease would qualify to receive a registration card allowing them to legally grow up to 12 plants and possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana. To get involved in Minnesota, contact the state representatives online at www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder.asp.
Current Montana law from 2004 legislation allows med-pot patients to have one ounce of marijuana at a time, “but that should be increased to 12 ounces”, believes Rep. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula. Erickson’s proposed House Bill 311 includes expanding the law to allow a sick person to designate a “transporter” to legally pick up marijuana for them, and allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medical marijuana. HB 311 was put on hold by the Republican dominated committee on January 31st, 2007, the day it was introduced. Montana activists need to contact their state Reps and urge them to get moving on 311. To get involved in Montana, visit the website www.montanacares.org.
The Granite State has three overlapping campaigns. A group called “Live Free” is sponsoring the New Hampshire Marijuana Policy Initiative, a proposed medical pot law introduced early in 2007. Additionally, the Marijuana Policy Project is sponsoring a campaign (Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana) to press all the presidential candidates for their drug-law reform positions when each comes to New Hampshire, which holds the first Presidential primary on February 5th, 2008. (At press time, MPP was looking to hire a full time coordinator to guide this project.) This “live-free-or-die” state of 1,023,066 eligible voters (and only 410,000 voted in 2006) will see frequent visits from contenders for the Oval Office over the next year. On a third front, Chuck Weed (D-Cheshire), a professor of political science and NH state legislator, along with Republican legislators Paul Ingbretson (Grafton) and Steve Vaillancourt (Hillsborough), introduced House Bill 92 in late-January 2007, to decriminalize all marijuana use in New Hampshire. The bill has been turned over to a subcommittee of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. In previous committee hearings, legislators and law enforcement claimed such decriminalization would lower worker productivity, cause fatal accidents and lead to hard drugs. Chuck Weed said he believes all those accusations can be challenged. “[There hasn’t been] one marijuana death in the last 10 years as far as I can tell,” said Weed, “and I’m not sure you can say those things about alcohol or cigarettes.” In terms of marijuana as a gateway drug, Weed said that in the Netherlands marijuana can be bought and smoked in coffee shops and there is much lower hard drug use in the country. Though Weed was cynical about the ability of his bill to get passed, he said legislation for the decriminalization of marijuana on the state level is the way to change federal drug policy. “I just want people to be able to do it [smoke marijuana]without fear and without conviction because I think convictions destroy people’s lives,” said Weed. To get involved in New Hampshire phone Stuart Cooper at (603) 703-1411 or go visit the website www.livefreeonline.org.
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New Jersey has launched the Compassionate Use Campaign to advocate for legislation that would allow seriously ill patients in New Jersey to have access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The Compassionate Use Campaign supports Senate Bill No. 88 and Assembly Bill No. 933 which would allow seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana. DPA commissioned a poll on New Jersey voters’ attitudes on medical marijuana and found 86 percent supported allowing seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. If you live in New Jersey, please support these bills and ease suffering in the Garden State. Contact Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, 119 South Warren Street, 1st Floor, Trenton NJ, 08608, phone (609) 396-8613, or email [email protected]
The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which came close to passage in New Mexico last year and the Drug Policy Alliance Network is introducing again in 2007, allows qualified patients suffering from certain serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy to possess and use medical marijuana for relief of their symptoms. The law requires a patient to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana from his or her medical provider. After receiving a recommendation, the patient must submit an application to the New Mexico Department of Health for approval. Upon approval, the patient is issued an ID card permitting the holder and their primary caregiver to possess medical marijuana. A licensed facility approved by the Department of Health will be responsible for producing, distributing, and dispensing medical cannabis to patients. This bill ensures legal access to medical marijuana for the seriously ill and dying in New Mexico. On February 2nd, 2007, a medical marijuana bill passed the Senate committee, creating hope for those who want New Mexico to become the 12th state to allow herb for the relief of pain and nausea for patients under doctor supervision. For the past two years, a nearly identical bill found favor in the Senate then stalled in the House. In 2006, the initiative even won Governor Bill Richardson’s public backing, but ultimately died in the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. On February 9th, 2007 Governor Richardson said he would sign the current medical marijuana bill if it has “appropriate” safeguards. Richardson is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President, and is clearly not afraid of any backlash for his support of medical marijuana. The bill cannot shield patients, doctors, growers or others involved in the process from the risk of federal prosecution. It would only protect them from prosecution under state laws. If a doctor recommended marijuana for a patient, an application would be filed with the state Health Department that would determine the proper dosage. The patient would carry a special card. Licensed producers selected by the Health Department would grow and distribute the marijuana. To get involved in New Mexico, please visit the website www.drugpolicy.org/about/stateoffices/newmexico.
Since the implementation of the Medical Marijuana Act in spring 2006, Rhonda O’Donnell, a 44-year-old former registered nurse with multiple sclerosis, has used marijuana to alleviate her pain without fear of breaking the law. O’Donnell, the first person in Rhode Island to apply for the Medical Marijuana Program, praised the therapeutic effects of marijuana. “It’s instantaneous cooling of the burning pain,” she said. “I don’t need it that often but, when I do, it works for me.” O’Donnell is one of nearly 200 individuals who currently qualify to use medical marijuana in Rhode Island. The Medical Marijuana Act, which allows individuals suffering from chronic or debilitating conditions to use marijuana with their physicians’ certification, will be evaluated in spring 2007 as legislators decide whether to renew the act. The act, which passed January 2006, includes a sunset provision mandating its repeal on June 30th, 2007. Jesse Stout of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, a network of state groups supporting medical marijuana, said the proposed 2007 renewal should include a clause regarding the availability of marijuana. The new medical marijuana act will go to the floor of the General Assembly in the spring, according to Stout. “We’re building a grassroots network of people, including patients, doctors and nurses, who are interested in supporting the bill.” To get involved in Rhode Island, visit the website www.ripatients.org.
In South Carolina, Republican state Senator William Mescher (Pinopolis) introduced bill S 220 in February 2007, which would allow patients suffering from an open-ended list of medical ailments, and their caregivers, to possess up to six plants and one ounce of marijuana. Patients would have to register with the state, which would issue identification cards. Mescher told the Florence Morning News his wife had died of lung cancer 24 years ago, and doctors at the time told him marijuana might alleviate some of her symptoms but that she could become dependent. “There were concerns that she would become addicted,” he said. “This woman had maybe two or three months to live, and in extreme pain. It didn’t make any difference if she became addicted.” Mescher has a reputation as a determined crusader in South Carolina. He fought for a decade to legalize tattooing in the state. “It took me 10 years to get tattooing regulated in South Carolina,” Mescher said. “I’ve got a bulldog’s tenacity.” To contact your state legislator in South Carolina, go to www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/.
A bill that would significantly expand Vermont’s two-year-old medical marijuana program passed its first legislative hurdle in early February as members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to advance it. The bill, S 7, has now been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Under Vermont’s current law, legal access to medical marijuana is limited to people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. The new bill would expand that list to include any “life threatening, progressive, and debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms such as: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; or seizures.” Currently, patients or caregivers can grow one mature plant, two immature plants and possess up to one ounce of dry cannabis. In this bill, patients would be allowed up to four mature plants and 10 immature ones. The amount of usable marijuana they could possess is two ounces. The bill will also allow patients to use recommendations from doctors outside the state, as current law restricts patients to in-state doctors. Finally, the bill would cut registration fees in half, from $100 to $50. To contact your Representative in Vermont, go to www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/.