West Virginia Becomes the 29th Medical Marijuana State


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Today, West Virginia officially became the 29th state to pass medical marijuana legislation!

Gov. Jim Justice signed the law today after the bipartisan bill passed both the Senate and House earlier this month.

While the law isn’t perfect, it’s a great start toward providing safe and legal access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients. A summary is available here.

This achievement didn’t happen overnight. In fact, MPP, along with many other advocates, has been working tirelessly to get a medical marijuana bill passed for years.

MPP released the following in a press release:

“This legislation is going to benefit countless West Virginia patients and families for years to come,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “Medical marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. It is a proven pain reliever, and it is far less toxic and less addictive than a lot of prescription drugs. Providing patients with a safer alternative to opioids could turn out to be a godsend for this state.”

Six states have adopted comprehensive medical marijuana laws in the past 12 months. Three of those laws, including West Virginia’s, passed through Republican-controlled legislatures. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Ohio approved them last April and June, respectively. The other three were approved by voters in November in states won by Donald Trump — Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota.

“Intensifying public support and a growing body of evidence are driving the rapid growth in the number of states adopting medical marijuana laws,” Simon said. “Lawmakers are also learning about marijuana’s medical benefits from friends, family members, and constituents who have experienced them firsthand in other states. More than nine out of 10 American voters think marijuana should be legal for medical purposes. In light of this near universal support, it is shocking that some legislatures still have not adopted effective medical marijuana laws.”

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Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Texas


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On Dec. 6, Texas Senator Menéndez (D-San Antonio) pre-filed SB 269, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. If passed, this legislation will bring safe and legal access to Texas patients with debilitating medical conditions like cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, and Crohn’s disease, among others.txas-map-flag
Last year, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which was intended to allow access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. Sen. Menéndez’s bill will make several improvements, including fixing a fatal flaw in the bill, allowing cannabis with any amount of THC, and expanding the law to include other qualifying conditions. As Senator Menéndez says, “Compassion should not be exclusive. Twenty-eight states have recognized the medical benefit of cannabis, including conservative states like Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota … It is time Texas steps up to the plate on behalf of our sickest patients.”
Legislators need to hear from you. If you are a Texas residentplease take a moment to send an email to the lawmakers who represent you. If you have a personal story to share or medical experience that has led you to support medical cannabis, please personalize your letter. Your representative and senator cannot properly represent you if they don’t know you.
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Medical Marijuana Initiatives Sweep Election Night


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All four of the medical marijuana initiatives being considered by states on Election Night were approved by voters, adding to the considerable momentum of marijuana policy reform sweeping the country. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota approved initiatives for new medical marijuana programs, and Montana voted to significantly expand access and improve its existing program.

medicalAs of now, there are effective medical marijuana laws on the books in 28 states and the District of Columbia, covering 198 million Americans (or roughly 62% of the population). Patients in states without legal, safe, and reliable access to medical marijuana should continue to put pressure on their elected representatives to pass sensible reforms at the state and federal level. Together, we can make sure the seriously ill aren’t treated like criminals for much longer.

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Election Day Voter Guides


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Today is the day! This is the biggest election in marijuana policy reform history, but even if you can’t vote on a legalization or medical marijuana ballot initiative today, you could play an important part to make future progress possible in your state.logo-mpp-286-mpp-and-we-change-laws

Before you vote, please check out MPP’s voter guides if you live in the following places:

Delaware

District of Columbia

Illinois

Nebraska

New Hampshire

Pennsylvania

South Carolina

Vermont

And don’t forget to tell your friends in Arizona, Arkansas, California, FloridaMaine, Massachusetts, MontanaNevada, and North Dakota to vote YES on their respective marijuana initiatives!

 

 

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Arkansas Supreme Court Disqualifies Medical Marijuana Initiative


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Today, in a 5-2 ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a petition disqualifying Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, from the ballot. Meanwhile, early voting began on Monday in the state. Thus, the ruling robs the over 140,000 voters who have already cast their ballot of the opportunity to make a complete and informed decision. Despite the court’s ruling, Issue 7 will still physically appear on the ballot for the Tuesday, November 8 election. The campaign for Issue 7 urges Arkansans to vote yes on both Issues 6 and 7.ARCompassion logo

Issue 6 offers a more limited medical cannabis program, with fewer qualifying conditions and no grow-your-own provision for patients living far from a dispensary. However, the program offers seriously ill patients the only chance at relief if votes for Issue 7 do not count. Please locate your polling place here, and vote yes on both Issues 6 and 7. Before you head to the polls, be sure to check out MPP’s presidential voter guide as well.

MPP sends condolences to the many activists who spent long hours collecting signatures campaigning for Issue 7. We are disappointed with the court’s decision, and should the initiative seek further legal remedy, we wish the campaign the best. Right now it is critical that everyone urge their friends and family in Arkansas to vote yes on both medical marijuana initiatives.

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Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot


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On July 7, the Arkansas Secretary of State announced that Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s (ACC’s) medical marijuana initiative qualified for this November’s ballot. The measure, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, would allow seriously ill patients who have a certification from their doctor to obtain medical cannabis from nonprofit compassion centers. In addition, patients – or their licensed caregivers – could cultivate up to 10 cannabis plants at home provided they take steps to ensure it is secure. For a complete summary, please click here.ARCompassion logo

However, the measure is facing competition from a second initiative, and polling suggests that if both initiatives make the ballot, it’s almost certain that both will fail. Therefore, ACC is urging the competing campaign to end their signature drive and unite behind the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.

If you wish to volunteer to help work towards reform, you can visit ACC’s webpage to sign up and get involved in this important effort. With your support, 2016 may be the year that voters approve medical marijuana in the Natural State.

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Arkansas Governor Pardons High-Profile Marijuana Offender


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Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe recently announced he intends to pardon a young man convicted of a marijuana-related felony. The governor emphasized the importance of having a chance to get one’s life back on track following such a conviction, especially for young people. Local press covering the pardon emphasized another aspect to this story: The young man is the governor’s son, Kyle Beebe. Kyle was convicted of “possession with intent to deliver marijuana” in 2003.

In 2012, over 5,700 people were either arrested or cited for marijuana possession. Another 555 people just like Kyle were charged with felonies related to marijuana. Only a fraction will have an opportunity like the one Kyle has. Instead, most will face a lifetime of discrimination: A criminal record that can hurt job prospects, housing, and educational opportunities – long after the court sentence is over.

Arkansas needs a better approach. Like 19 other states, it can remove possible jail time for simple possession, bringing relief to thousands. If you are an Arkansas resident, click here to ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine — not a criminal conviction — for simple possession.

Even better, Arkansas should implement a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adults who choose a substance that is safer than alcohol — just like Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Why continue the reefer madness when there is now a better way?

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2012: Marijuana on the Ballot


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On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, and our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition was put to rest. Americans grew tired of the ever-worsening violence associated with the rise of the criminal alcohol market that developed in the absence of a legally recognized and properly regulated industry. As a society, we came to realize that the dangerous and unavoidable collateral markets created by prohibition were in fact more detrimental to society than alcohol itself. On November 6, 2012, some 79 years later, many Americans will have the opportunity to strike the very important first blows against another failed prohibition: marijuana’s.

The upcoming General Election will allow millions of Americans to bypass the legislative process and decide for themselves whether prohibitive marijuana policies should stand. Three states – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – will be voting on measures to end the state prohibition on adult marijuana possession and use. Two states – Arkansas and Massachusetts – will be voting on whether exemptions should be carved out of their state criminal codes to allow possession and use for the seriously ill. One state – Montana – will vote on a referendum to repeal a law that gutted their previously enacted medical marijuana law. Finally, a host of cities and towns across the country will be voting on measures that either reform city codes or send symbolic messages that greater reform is needed.

State measures to end marijuana prohibition

Three states will be voting on measures to tax and regulate marijuana, and odds are at least one will pass. There has been steady majority or plurality support for both Colorado’s and Washington’s initiatives, and Oregon’s question has seen a recent uptick in the polls as well. If any of the three do pass, it would represent a sea change in American marijuana policy.

While the minutia of all three measures differ – and I highly encourage voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to read their measures – they are born of common goals. The idea is to devise a system where marijuana sales are brought out of the criminal market and instead subjected to careful regulation and taxation. With tight controls, marijuana would be legally grown and sold by law-abiding, tax-paying businesses, as opposed to the criminal enterprises that currently hold a monopoly over the lucrative marijuana market. Creating a legal and regulated market ensures safety and transparency with regard to potency by allowing cultivators to legally test their product. Strict age limits on sales will create barriers to underage consumption by imposing penalties on businesses that sell to minors (when was the last time a drug dealer asked for ID?). A taxed and regulated market also means that states will see added revenue that can help with funding education projects, medical research, etc. The current system ensures that states capture no revue on marijuana sales.

So what will the effect of passage be and what will the feds do? The first question is pretty easy: if one, two, or all three of these pass, millions of Americans 21 and older will no longer be subject to arrest for the possession or private use of a plant proven safer than alcohol. It is clear that states can, and do, create their own criminal laws. In addition, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made under state law. So if states remove their criminal penalties against marijuana possession and private use, we can expect to see a significant drop in marijuana-related arrests.

The second question – how the feds will react – is difficult to predict. The feds can choose to allow the states to proceed with implementation of the regulatory structure without interference. This would be what I like to call the ‘laboratory of democracy’ approach. We already know the results of the marijuana prohibition experiment: control in the hands of criminals, laced product, exposure to all kinds of other illicit drugs, violence, and no decrease in use or abuse. It’s high time a state tests a different approach. Although taxation and regulation may not lead to a decrease in use or abuse, it will certainly eliminate or greatly reduce the negative collateral consequences that are inherent in marijuana prohibition.

The feds could also sue to enjoin the implementation of the new regulatory schemes. At first blush, this may seem scary, but as Dominic Holden recently stated, this too represents a major opportunity for change. A suit against Colorado, Washington, or Oregon would force us to have a national dialogue about our current marijuana policies. With 50% of the population – not to mention an ever-growing list of opinion makers – arguing for the end of marijuana prohibition, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Look at the increase in support for gay marriage after the first lawsuit was filed challenging California’s Prop 8. If we can have an open and honest conversation, we can expedite policy reform.

Either way, we’re not going to know until a state votes to change their marijuana policies. If you live in Colorado, please vote “yes” on Amendment 64. If you’re in Washington, you’re voting “yes” on I-502. For those of you in Oregon, please vote “yes” on Measure 80. To all of you, I’m envious of your ballot.

State medical marijuana questions

In addition to the three states voting on measures to regulate and tax the adult sales of marijuana, two states have initiatives on the ballot that will create medical marijuana programs. Arkansas and Massachusetts, if passed, will become the 18th and 19th medical marijuana states. They will join the District of Columbia and 17 other states that currently recognize the legitimate medical use of marijuana.

The number of medical marijuana states continues to grow despite obstruction and interference from the federal level, and for the most part, the previously enacted laws continue to thrive. Passage of one or two more laws come November 6 will not only protect citizens of Arkansas and Massachusetts from arrest and prosecution for using a medicine recommended by their physicians, but it will further the momentum and send a loud message to federal policy makers: reform your punitive and unscientific marijuana laws.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s attempt to undermine state medical marijuana laws worked in at least one state, Montana. This past legislative session, Montana lawmakers debated a series of bills that proposed severe restrictions and even outright repeal of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. The amendments the legislature settled on are onerous enough that many took to calling it “repeal in disguise.” After passage, enough signatures were gathered to put the new restrictive law to the voters as an up or down referendum. By rejecting the ‘repeal in disguise’ law, voters in Montana can once again affirm their desire to see sensible marijuana policies.

Reform on the local ballots

Reform comes not just from the state level, but from the local level as well. Municipalities across the country will have marijuana policy related questions – some binding, others not – on their ballots.

Five municipalities in Michigan will be voting on marijuana policy measures. Kalamazoo will be voting on whether to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits. Residents of Detroit and Flint will decide if their city codes should be amended to remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property. Grand Rapids will ask its residents if the code should be amended to replace the possibility of arrest for marijuana possession with a nominal civil fine. Finally, Ypsilanti voters will decide on a measure to make the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 years or older the lowest priority for law enforcement personnel.

In addition to voting on medical marijuana, voters in certain districts in Massachusetts will also vote on non-binding public policy questions that direct elected officials to support taxing and regulating marijuana. While they do not have the effect of law, passage of the questions would send a strong message to the representatives of those districts that their constituents support taxing and regulating marijuana. Further north, voters in Burlington, Vermont will be asked if the city should “support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”

Finally, many cities and localities across California will be voting on measures to allow or ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in their municipality. Unlike most laws with regulated distribution, California’s medical marijuana law allows localities to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as opposed to the state.

High-level political support for marijuana policy reform

It is worth pointing out that marijuana policy reform is not just relegated to a ballot issue. There are many top-level politicians who are starting to either speak up, or speak louder, on the need to reform our marijuana policies. For instance, Gov. Pete Shumlin in Vermont has long supported decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. The Democratic Attorney General and candidate for Governor in Montana, Steve Bullock, opposes the recent assault on patients rights’ and will vote against IR-124. More impressive is the fact that the entire political delegation representing Seattle, Washington, including Mayor Mike McGinn, supports taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

The beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition

We very well may remember Wednesday, November 7 as the morning we woke up to discover marijuana’s been legalized. If not, then we most certainly will have seen the most support for a regulation and taxation measure to date. Regardless of the outcomes of the various questions, we will have advanced the conversation in a major way. Marijuana policy reform is not about letting a bunch of people get high. It’s about adequately addressing the harms that are associated with marijuana use while stamping out the atrocities that were born from marijuana prohibition. The ballot measures in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon would do just that, while the medical questions being asked of the citizens in Montana, Massachusetts, and Arkansas and the various municipal questions would impact the marijuana policy conversation as well. As a nation, we are moving ever closer to acceptance of a taxed and regulated marijuana marketplace; it’s now just a matter of time.

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Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Cleared for Ballot in November!


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The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a medical marijuana voter initiative can remain on the state’s ballot for the upcoming elections. The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values had brought suit against the initiative, claiming that its proposed description on the ballot was misleading, in that it did not sufficiently emphasize the illegality of marijuana under federal law. The proposed language has already been revised more than once in response to similar comments from the state’s attorney general. The court characterized the ballot summary for Arkansans for Compassionate Care’s initiative as “an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring,” dismissing the conservative coalition’s complaint.

If the initiative, known as Issue 5, is successful, medical marijuana patients approved by the state’s Department of Health would be authorized to possess marijuana, as well as to cultivate a limited number of plants for their own use. They would also be permitted to purchase the drug from any of a maximum of 30 non-profit dispensaries. The approved summary of the initiative mentions specific diseases for which marijuana could be authorized as a treatment, including AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, ALS, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease, as well as any “chronic or debilitating” disease which produces particular symptoms including severe nausea, chronic pain, wasting, persistent muscle spasms, or seizures. The measure has a slight lead in the polls.

Arguments from opponents of the issue were based on speculation or distraction rather than medicine. Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee, a member of the coalition which filed suit against the measure, claimed that the “real agenda” of the initiative was to completely legalize marijuana. He based this on the fact that many supporters of medical marijuana also support farther-reaching marijuana law reform. Larry Page, the director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, another member of the coalition, made a similar red-herring argument, calling it “the first incremental step to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.”

But the question on the ballot, of course, deals with the medical use of marijuana for serious illnesses, which the scientific evidence supports. Cox further claimed in complete seriousness that since smoking tobacco is harmful for your health, medical marijuana must be useless and even harmful. He added the claims that marijuana is addictive and that marijuana use would increase if medical use were allowed. Studies show, however, that relaxing criminal penalties has no effect on usage rates, while the Institute of Medicine states that if marijuana dependence exists, it is mild and rare compared to most other drugs. Voters will hopefully see through the coalition’s claims to the contrary, making Arkansas the 18th state in the U.S., and the first in the South, to recognize the medical value of marijuana.

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Arkansas Reduced Marijuana Penalties Go Into Effect Today


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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.

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