Marijuana Reforms Continue to Sweep the Nation at a Blistering Pace
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This article first appeared at High Times magazine.
The 2013 state legislative session was unquestionably the most active on record in regard to the passage of marijuana law reform. Over the past months, lawmakers in over 30 states debated more than 50 separate pieces of legislation designed to liberalize state cannabis laws. In eleven states, lawmakers addressed legalizing the substance outright, while legislators in dozens of others considered more incremental changes. Below is a summary of the record number of marijuana law reform bills enacted by state lawmakers in 2013.
Months after Colorado voters approved a November 2012 initiative legalizing the personal possession, commercial production, and retail distribution of marijuana to those age 21 and older, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation – House Bills 1317 and 1318 – into law enacting regulations to oversee this new market. The first-in-the-nation regulations – Washington’s legalization rules have yet to be finalized – establish a framework for state-licensed retail cannabis businesses, which are anticipated to begin operating in early to mid-2014, and propose tax rates for commercial marijuana production and sales. (Voters this fall must first approve legislators’ proposed tax rates before they can become law.) In June, Governor Hickenlooper also signed off on separate legislation, Senate Bill 241, creating a new program within the Colorado Department of Agriculture to regulate the commercial production of industrial hemp. The law requires the Department to adopt regulations governing new program by March 1, 2014.
In 2000, Hawaii lawmakers became the first in the nation to authorize the cultivation and consumption of medical cannabis. (All prior state medical marijuana laws had passed as voter initiatives.) Thirteen years later, Hawaii legislators finally made it a priority to revisit the state’s law and amend it in ways that will make it more functional for patients. In June, Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law two separate pieces of legislation – House Bill 668 and Senate Bill 642 – revising the statewide program. The House measure transfers oversight of the state’s medicinal cannabis program from the Department of Public Safety, which has historically been hostile to the notion of medicinal cannabis, to the Department of Public Health. Of more significance to Hawaii patients, the Senate measure increases the quantity of medical cannabis that one may possess from three ounces to four ounces. Senate Bill 642 also increases the total number of mature plants that may be legally grown by qualified patients at any one time from three to seven – amounts that are arguably far more in accordance with patients’ needs. Unfortunately, Hawaii’s patient community will need to remain patient; neither law takes effect until January 2015.
After years of near-misses, Illinois patients suffering from cancer, hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease have finally received some legislative relief. On August 1, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn publicly signed legislation, House Bill 01, into law establishing a statewide, four-year pilot program regulating the production, distribution, and possession of medical cannabis. The program creates up to 22 state-licensed cannabis cultivation centers and up to 60 state-licensed dispensaries. Qualified patients participating in the program must have a preexisting relationship with their physician prior to receiving a recommendation for cannabis therapy. Patients diagnosed with one of approximately 40 qualifying conditions will be permitted to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period. Under the law, patients must obtain cannabis only from a state-licensed facility. But don’t expect such facilities to be up and running any time soon. The new law doesn’t officially take effect until January 1, 2014. State regulators will then have 120 days to draft rules and regulations governing the program – a timeline that pushes back the possibility of patients having the opportunity to access state-sponsored dispensaries until, most likely, 2015.