The Virginia General Assembly convened last week, and marijuana law reform is on the docket! After a disappointing conclusion to last year’s session, the General Assembly appears ready to tackle decriminalization of marijuana.
Late last year, the Virginia State Crime Commission looked at the benefits of marijuana decriminalization in Virginia, and the majority leader of the Senate, Sen. Tommy Norment (R), expressed his intent to introduce a bill to decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sen. Norment’s bill has not yet been introduced, but he has indicated it will make the first offense a misdemeanor rather than making it a civil offense; we don’t expect the penalty for subsequent offenses to be reduced.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), on the other hand, has introduced SB 111, which would reduce the penalty for simple possession to a civil penalty: $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second violation, and $250 for the third and subsequent violations. This bill is a huge step forward for Virginia, and Sen. Norment should stick to his promise of real decriminalization and support SB 111.
Considering Gov. Ralph Northam’s pro-decriminalization position during his campaign and the new makeup of the House of Delegates, 2018 could be the year the commonwealth stops arresting Virginians for simple possession.
If you are a Virginia resident, please contact your Senators today and tell them to support decriminalizing marijuana.
SB 928 would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and to grow up to six plants, and would set up regulated businesses that would cultivate, process, and sell cannabis, including a “craft cultivator” category for small businesses. SB 927 sets a $30 per ounce excise tax and 9% sales tax (the same as alcohol). Half of the proceeds would go to high-poverty schools.
Much of the cannabis discussion in the General Assembly is about Maryland’s continuing failure to properly implement its medical program. The Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition strongly supports making medical cannabis available as soon as possible, but this bill would not impact the medical program — it would set up a parallel system for adults. Every year as the General Assembly waits to pass these reforms, thousands more people are searched, fined, and often arrested for using a substance safer than alcohol.
If you are a Maryland resident, please let your lawmakers know the time has come to allow adults to use cannabis.
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Managing a medical marijuana operation could potentially cost each grower more than $125,000 a year in fees, a sum so exorbitant some officials believe it may affect small and newly developing marijuana businesses.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Maryland’s medical marijuana commission has proposed for such a fee to be imposed on each of the 15 potential growers envisaged for the state’s new program. The commission has also proposed a yearly $40,000 charge for dispensaries. These steep license fees, on top of the estimated $6,000 in application fees, would finance the state’s incipient medical marijuana program.
“The volume of these fees, for probably many of us, takes our breath away,” commissioner Eric E. Sterling said at a meeting in Annapolis Tuesday. “It is simply a reflection that the General Assembly has put the operation of this on the growers and the dispensaries, and ultimately upon the patients,” he said. “There is no taxpayer money, according to the General Assembly, that is going to finance this.”
The commission plans to meet again October 16, when it is anticipated to take its final vote on the proposed regulations. The decision will be passed on to state health secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein for review and then later go to a panel of state lawmakers for final approval.
Following Tuesday’s meeting to push the fees among draft proposals, citizens expressed concern.
“The number of licenses they’re issuing seems to be incongruent with their perceived demand,” stated Attorney John A. Pica, who represents a coalition that wants to open a growing and dispensing operation in Baltimore. “With high overhead costs and low demand, growers might be forced to increase medical marijuana prices to make ends meet, which would drive patients to the black market. You have to be careful that the price isn’t too high, or you invite the same scenario you had in prohibition,” he said.
The cost to operate a cultivating or dispensing business in Maryland is one of the last major issues the medical marijuana commission must decide on, following the state’s 2013 law that made medical marijuana legal. The Marijuana Policy Project plans to host a “Maryland Canna-Business Seminar” in Bethesda October 8 for entrepreneurs to learn about how to launch a marijuana business. In addition to educating would-be marijuana entrepreneurs, MPP will be urging the commission to reduce fees and otherwise improve draft regulations.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on the General Assembly to replace criminal penalties with civil penalties for the possession of marijuana statewide at a state legislative hearing today.
During the 90 minutes of testimony before the House-Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee in Chicago, the mayor urged lawmakers to challenge the “assumptions that are embedded in the criminal justice system” and argued that reducing the penalties for minor drug possession would allow the city of Chicago and state of Illinois to focus their efforts on more violent crime.
“It’s time, in my view, to free up our criminal justice system to address our real public safety challenges and build on the progress that has been made,” Emanuel stated. The proposed changes, the mayor said, would “change, not just the criminal system, and the fact that we’ll save time and money, but it also will change people’s lives. Some who are walking around with a felony, their employment prospects, their job prospects, their lives are on a different trajectory than if they had a misdemeanor associated with them.”
Reducing sentencing for less violent crimes would help the estimated 7,000 people who are arrested, and subsequently affected, for the possession of one gram or less of a drug each year.
On Monday, the House of Delegates passed Del. Cheryl Glenn and Del. Dan Morhaim’s medical marijuana bill in a 127-9 vote. This year, Maryland may finally become the 21st state with an effective medical marijuana law!
The General Assembly already approved of a limited medical marijuana law last year. However, that program relied on the participation of research hospitals, and realistically would not have provided any patients with access to medicine.
This year’s medical marijuana bill, HB 881, does not rely on hospitals to implement the program, but instead allows certain physicians to recommend medical marijuana directly to their patients. It would also allow up to 10 cultivators to receive licenses to legally grow and distribute medical marijuana. Medical marijuana could be recommended to qualifying patients suffering from debilitating illnesses that produce severe pain, nausea, or seizures.
The Senate has traditionally been the more supportive of the two chambers, but we should not take their votes for granted.
Pennsylvania recently joined the growing list of states considering taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol this year, when Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17) introduced SB 528. The proposal was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee on April 3.
Sen. Leach’s bill, the Regulate Marijuana Act, would allow adults 21 and over to possess, grow, process, or transport up to six marijuana plants (three or fewer being mature) and possess the marijuana produced by those plants where they were grown, provided that the growing takes place in a secure location. In addition, adults would be allowed to give away up to one ounce of marijuana to other adults who are 21 or older.
SB 528 would task the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board with licensing marijuana-related facilities and regulating the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over. In terms of taxation, the bill calls on the General Assembly to enact an excise tax on marijuana sold or transferred.
If you are a Pennsylvania resident, please contact your legislators now, and ask them to support taxing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
This evening, Governor Lincoln Chafee issued a press release stating that he will not be moving forward on issuing certificates of operation to the three entities chosen by the state Department of Health to bring safe, affordable and reliable medical marijuana to Rhode Island’s most sick and suffering patients. Gov. Chafee has asked the General Assembly to work with him to create a model that does not draw the attention of the federal government.
This whole thing started over two years ago when the General Assembly passed legislation creating compassion centers in Rhode Island. Since then Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Arizona, and New Jersey have all enacted laws allowing for regulated dispensing of medical marijuana. As you may recall, after passage of these laws – or during debate of them – the DOJ through several United States Attorneys fired off scary sounding letters to state officials claiming that they’ll bust up people acting in compliance with these compassionate and popular state laws. A funny thing happened though, all of these states, with the exception of Rhode Island, have moved forward with giving patients the humane option of safe access despite the fact that the laws irk officials in DC.
And now we have the actions of one Gov. Lincoln Chafee. A man who claims to understand that patients need safe access yet steadfastly refuses to allow them that access. A man who refused to hand a confessed killer over to the feds to face the death penalty because it was against Rhode Island’s public policy while at the same time ignoring another public policy decision of the state to allow safe access to medical marijuana because the feds asked him to!
At this point, I’m not sure what to make of all this and what it means for patients in Rhode Island. I do know that it’s outrageous, disappointing and downright mean-spirited. I also know that this is sure to be the beginning of a discussion, not the end.