Minnesota Names Michelle Larson as Marijuana Director

Minnesota has named Michelle Larson as their first marijuana director with less than a year before their medical marijuana law takes effect, the Star Tribune reports. Larson is an environmental health expert who has been instrumental in implementing Illinois’ Health Department policies. She now has until July 15, 2015 to design the state’s medical marijuana infrastructure, when Minnesota’s medical marijuana law is due to take effect. Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger expressed confidence in the choice: “Michelle brings a strong background in public policy and administration, as well as a history of working with the public health community, law enforcement and security, pharmacists, health care providers and community members. She has the ability to work with people to get things done right.”

Minnesota’s medical marijuana law was passed earlier this year and is regarded as one of the most restrictive in the nation. Two manufacturers in the state will produce all of the medical marijuana supply for Minnesota and it will be available at only eight locations. Michelle Larson and her ten-person team are now tasked with delegating who will be licensed as manufacturers and distributors. The department hopes to have the manufacturers chosen by December so there will be plenty of time before patients start registering in May. Larson will begin her job in her new position on August 13.

Oregon Petition Qualifies for the November Ballot

New Approach Oregon’s petition to make marijuana legal for adults has qualified for the ballot this coming November, Huffington Post reports. More than 87,000 valid signatures were collected for the petition, which allows adults age 21 and older in Oregon to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana privately and one ounce in public and would have the marijuana market regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Any sales taxes collected would be distributed to schools, law enforcement, and drug prevention programs.

It is very likely that this initiative will pass in November, with a recent poll stating that 57% of Oregon’s likely voters support recreational marijuana use. A similar measure was nearly approved in 2012. In addition, the governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, has stated that he would uphold the will of the people if the bill makes it to his desk. In January, he commented on Colorado and Washington, “I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado.” He said, “I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system. The legislature would be the right place to craft that.”

Illinois Seizure Bill Becomes Law

Pat quinn
Gov. Pat Quinn

On Sunday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that will add seizure conditions to Illinois’ medical cannabis program for both adults and minors. The new law also allows parents to seek permission for minors to access medical marijuana for other qualifying conditions. Special thanks are owed to bill sponsors Sen. Iris Martinez and Rep. Lou Lang, and the many parents and advocates who tirelessly worked to make the bill a reality for seriously ill patients.

In other news, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules gave its final approval last week for regulations the three state agencies will use to oversee the program. A preliminary version of these rules can be found here, with the official version to be published soon. This important step finally allows the program to move forward. News outlets are currently reporting that patients may be able to sign up as early as September, although it is not yet clear when dispensaries and cultivation centers will be operational.

The rules are far from perfect. The Illinois program is by far the most expensive in the nation for cultivators, with a non-refundable application fee of $25,000, and a first-year license of $200,000. That means the Department of Agriculture will receive a windfall of $4.4 million for issuing just 22 cultivation center licenses during the first year of the program, not including application fees. Unfortunately, the enormous tab will surely be passed along to patients.

 

U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to make New Federal Drug Guidelines Retroactive

The U.S. Sentencing Commission decided unanimously to make new sentencing guidelines fully retroactive for federal drug offenders, a government press release said today. There are now no limitations on sentence reductions for drug offenses. Now, 46,000 federal drug offenders will be able to file a motion in court to have their sentence reduced by an average of 2 years. This will only apply for those sentenced before November 1, 2014. Congress has until that date to disapprove the amendment.

Should Congress allow the guideline reductions to stand, the courts would be able to start hearing the appeals. Important to note is that, while the appeals will begin in November of 2014, releases will not begin until November 1st of 2015. Judge Patti B. Saris, the chair of the Commission, said, “The delay will help to protect public safety by enabling appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges, ensuring effective supervision of offenders upon release, and allowing for effective reentry plans.” This amendment marks a victory for MPP and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, both longtime supporters of sentencing reform.

Rand Corporation to Consult on Marijuana Study in Vermont

Governor Peter Shumlin
Governor Peter Shumlin

Beginning this week, the Rand Corporation will send representatives to Vermont to work with the state’s Secretary of Administration on a study of the effects of taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol, the Manchester Journal reports.This research was mandated by an amendment to a bill that made several improvements to Vermont’s medical marijuana law. Vermont will be funding the initial part of the study, paying Rand $20,000, with up to $100,000 in private donations coming from the non-profit organization GiveWell. Rand Corporation is a non-partisan organization with no official position on marijuana legalization.

Governor Peter Shumlin, Commissioner Keith Flynn of the Department of Safety, and other top officials have expressed interest in learning more about how marijuana regulation would impact Vermont. State Senator David Zuckerman, who sponsored a marijuana regulation bill this year, said he was enthusiastic about the study process: “I think the study will help with legislators and the public who inherently think it’s a good idea but want evidence they can hold up to show people.” Matt Simon, MPP’s New England political director, said, “The narrative from Colorado has been ‘so far, so good.’ The sky clearly hasn’t fallen.” The report is due to be completed by January and lawmakers hope that it will lead to an informed debate on marijuana policy in the coming legislative session.

Marijuana Policy Project