Back in 2014, Maryland lawmakers decriminalized the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions, people in possession of less than that amount are still being criminalized. Increasingly, some prosecutors are charging individuals with “possession with intent to distribute” — a felony — based on very limited evidence, like having their marijuana in more than one baggie (which could easily be because they purchased it that way or had a few different strains, rather than because they were selling it).
In order to address this overcharging, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, introduced SB 128, which MPP supported. The bill just passed the Senate 45-1. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
SB 128 would simply create a legal presumption that people who have less than 10 grams should not be charged with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors could still make the case if there’s evidence of an intent to sell.
Even being arrested for a felony can have serious collateral consequences. For example, some jobs will suspend or fire employees immediately due to a felony arrest. Lawmakers intended to reduce the number of people caught up in the criminal justice system for having small amounts of marijuana — ask them to help fulfill that goal by passing this bill.
The first bill, now called SB 147, would permit patients with seizures to access low-THC cannabis, called medical hemp preparations in the bill. While it is not a full medical marijuana law and would leave many patients behind, the bill proposes a workable system to provide immediate relief to some seriously ill Kansans. In addition, by passing the House, it has advanced much further than any medical marijuana bill ever has in Kansas.
The second bill, which is currently designated as the Senate Sub. for HB 2049, would reduce the penalty for first, second, and third-time marijuana possession. A first offense would be punishable by a maximum of six months, instead of one year, in jail, and a second offense would no longer be a felony, removing many of the associated collateral consequences. The Senate combined the marijuana-related provisions with another bill that increases penalties for burglary, on which MPP does not take a position.
If you are a Kansas resident, please urge your senators to support common sense reform.
On Monday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law two bills that make sensible changes to Oregon’s marijuana laws. These new laws, which took effect immediately, reduce the severity of the punishment for certain marijuana crimes.
SB 40 reduces penalties for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. SB 40 reduces the criminal penalty for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana from a class B felony, which carries up to 10 years in prison, to a class C felony, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison. It reclassifies possession of one to four ounces of marijuana from a class B felony to a class B misdemeanor — reducing the maximum sentence from 10 years to six months. It also reduces the penalty for unlawful manufacture of marijuana from a class A felony to a class B felony — reducing the maximum prison term from 20 years to 10.
SB 82 eliminates a penalty for possession of under an ounce of marijuana, which is already a civil violation. The bill eliminates a section of law that forced courts to suspend the driving privileges of people found in possession of under an ounce of marijuana unless there were compelling circumstances not to. Please note that absent compelling circumstances, courts must still revoke the driving privileges of an individual found in possession of an ounce or more of marijuana.
What’s older than Florida’s senior population? The Florida Legislature’s mindset when it comes to marijuana.
Last Friday, the state Senate voted 31-2 in favor of a bill that would ban the sale of assorted pipes, bongs, and hookahs. House Bill 49 passed in the House days earlier by a vote of 112-3.
Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), one of the few dissenting voices in the Senate, argued that marijuana is far safer than other drugs and should be allowed under strict regulation.
The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. If signed, vendors will be criminalized, the sale of various pipes will become a first-degree misdemeanor, and any subsequent violation will jump to a third-degree felony.
Out-of-touch lawmakers don’t seem to realize that House Bill 49 will do nothing to curb marijuana use. In their quest to harass responsible marijuana users, the Florida Legislature has only harmed legitimate business people.
[caption id="attachment_6112" align="alignright" width="180"] Rep. Cory Williams[/caption]Oklahoma has some of the harshest penalties for marijuana possession in the nation. A second offense for possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years imprisonment and a maximum of 10.
Fortunately, legislation awaiting action on the House floor would introduce a dose of sanity. H.B. 1835, sponsored by Rep. Cory Williams (D-34), would make first and second offense possession of marijuana a misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would remain a felony, but the possible jail time would be reduced to a maximum of five years.
Although this change is modest, it is still a significant improvement over the status quo. It’s a change that makes both common sense and fiscal sense. It would mean fewer adults would be jailed simply for choosing to use a substance less harmful than alcohol. It would also free up prison space for people who commit serious and violent crimes.
After a long delay in New Jersey, many medical marijuana patients are still waiting for their medicine. Then-Gov. John Corzine first signed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in January 2010, but since then, implementation of the measure has been slow. Although the state originally planned to have the necessary alternative treatment centers open in July 2011, the state’s first licensee, Greenleaf Compassion Center, is not scheduled to open until September of this year. A total of only five other planned facilities have been approved, four of which still have no approved location. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has even called for a hearing into the cause of the delays, protesting that there is “no adequate explanation” for the current situation. Difficulties with organization, vetting the necessary officials, and objections by local authorities have all been cited by the Star-Ledger as causes.
Dr. Walter Husar, a neurologist from Rockaway, complains that along with disorganized lists of participating physicians, strict regulations are another barrier to safe access to the drug. Under the current system, patients must have an existing “bona fide” relationship with one of the limited number of participating physicians, as defined here. The physicians must then submit an official statement recommending the patient. The doctor must then transfer a unique reference code to the patient, who can then use it to register him- or herself. The registration of a patient is only valid for 90 days, after which the doctor and the patient must repeat the process. According to Chris Goldstein with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, this is the only state where only the doctors on an official list can prescribe marijuana. Sixteen other states, plus the District of Columbia, have medicinal marijuana programs. Access to marijuana in New Jersey is also limited to patients with one of a set list of serious medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, with use for some conditions only permitted when other treatments have failed or particular complications are present.
Husar and other doctors report themselves flooded with calls from potential patients. However, in a stark demonstration of the difficulty of joining the program, more physicians than patients have been registered. Approximately 50 patients have been recognized as eligible for medical marijuana, while only around 150 physicians are participating, out of over 30,000 in the state.
Husar agrees that marijuana can be helpful for multiple sclerosis sufferers in particular, citing his 25 years of experience with such patients, some of whom obtained the drug illegally. He is, however, concerned that since there is still no legal source of medical marijuana, even the patients who are already registered with the program may be subject to legal penalties if they are caught with their medicine. Under New Jersey’s current laws, this is a serious risk. Possession of even the smallest amount is punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, while those caught growing even a single plant could be subject to a felony conviction, a fine of up to $25,000, and a prison sentence of up to five years.
If you were worried about going to prison for getting caught with marijuana in Arkansas, you can breathe a little easier today.
Back in March, the Arkansas Legislature, backed by Gov. Mike Beebe, passed a law to reduce the penalties for possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Starting today, a judge may place a person under probation for a year without formal charge, instead of the regular sentence of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. This option is at the discretion of the judge, so be nice in court, and don’t count on this offer if you have prior convictions.
Still, it represents a huge leap forward. Until now, possession of anything over an ounce got you four to 10 in jail and a $25,000 fine. I’ll take a year of probation and no criminal record over that any day!
And while not being decriminalization, the probation option is pretty close, and the possession limit of four ounces is one of the highest of any decriminalized state in the country.
The law also makes intent to deliver small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor instead of a felony and lessens the penalties and status of subsequent possession violations.
The fact that this is happening in Arkansas of all places is clear evidence that this country as a whole is moving in the right direction. Marijuana reformers in every state should take note and keep working hard with their local and state lawmakers to maintain this momentum. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.