A bipartisan group of South Carolina state representatives led by House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford
has introduced compassionate legislation that would establish a workable medical marijuana program in South Carolina. Under the Put Patients First Act, seriously ill patients would be able to possess and cultivate a limited amount of marijuana. It also creates a system of registered medical marijuana providers to ensure patients have safe and reliable access.
According to a July 2014 poll by ABC News 4/Post and Courier, most South Carolina voters support allowing qualifying seriously ill patients to access medical marijuana legally, instead of being treated as criminals. Support was found across party lines, age, race, sex, ideology, and geography. It’s clear now more than ever: South Carolina should enact a workable medical marijuana program.
South Carolina lawmakers are proving that sensible and humane marijuana policy isn’t a partisan issue. State Representative Mike Pitts — a Republican — has not only cosponsored House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford’s medical marijuana bill, he’s also introduced his own common-sense proposal. H. 3117 would replace South Carolina’s criminal penalty for marijuana possession with a simple civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.
Missouri State Rep. Brandon Ellington’s HJR 15 would give voters a chance to put an end to the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition, and would replace it with legalization, taxation, and regulation for adults 21 and over.
A companion bill also sponsored by Rep. Ellington, HB 166, would expunge some marijuana-related convictions if voters approve the constitutional amendment.
The Missouri-based Show-Me Cannabis is also in the process of preparing for a similar voter initiative in 2016. If approved, that measure would not only allow and regulate retail sales for adult use, it would also provide unique protections for medical marijuana patients. In addition, the measure would allow individuals to remove harmful marijuana-related convictions from their records.
In the coming years, there will be several opportunities for Missouri to join the four states that have moved away from failed and wasteful marijuana prohibition policies.
Two and half years ago, the Montana legislature gutted the 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law and replaced it with a law that got as close to repeal as possible. Since then, the state has been fighting in the courts to defend its ill-considered law. Victory was finally handed to Montana patients this month when the presiding judge ruled that caregivers can continue to operate under the state’s marginally functional system. This means they can continue serving an unlimited number of patients — not just the three that the 2011 law allowed, in addition to other important provisions.
While the ruling allows patients at least some access to their medicine, it falls short of the sensible medical marijuana dispensary system that patients deserve, and that almost every other medical marijuana state now has.
Earlier today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that local and state law enforcement would no longer be able to use federal asset forfeiture laws to seize and keep property without evidence of a crime.
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
The old policy allowed law enforcement to take and keep people’s cash and property on the pretense of things like the scent of marijuana, even if none is found in their possession. Since the proceeds go directly to local police budgets, some argue that this was one of the primary reasons for law enforcement’s continued opposition to marijuana policy reform.
State Senator Karen Tallian has long been a champion for improving marijuana-related laws in Indiana, and she has already introduced a new, compassionate bill that would establish a medical marijuana program in Indiana. If passed, SB 284 would allow patients to use and safely access medical cannabis, as is the case in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
Medical marijuana can effectively alleviate a wide range of debilitating symptoms and medical conditions, and seriously ill Hoosiers should not be subject to arrest and criminal penalties for using medical marijuana. Nearly half the U.S. population lives in a state that has a medical marijuana program, including Illinois and Michigan. Seriously ill patients in Indiana should not be left behind.