States Across the Nation Consider Legalizing Marijuana
Numerous states are considering bills to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, building on the momentum of historic legalization measures approved by voters in Colorado and Washington.
Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma all have medical marijuana legalization bills pending in the current legislative session. Though some of the efforts have stalled early — Kansas’ bill likely won’t get a hearing due to lack of support on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee — other legislators may consider medical marijuana less politically risky due to laws recently passed elsewhere. New Hampshire became the only New England state that prohibits medical marijuana after Massachusetts voters approved a measure last year, and advocates are confident that a bill will pass in 2013.
New Hampshire lawmakers are simultaneously pushing a much more ambitious bill that would legalize the recreational use, home cultivation and commercial sale of marijuana, similarly to Colorado’s new law. Recreational legalization bills have also been filed in Hawaii, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Change is even brewing at the federal level. As we reported on Lawyers.com, bills recently filed in the House of Representatives would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Schedule and establish a federal excise tax on commercial sales.
The White House may soon take a more active role in the public debate; U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told Maclean’s this week that “the administration has not done a particularly good job of, one, talking about marijuana as a public health issue, and number two, talking about what can be done and where we should be headed on our drug policy.”
Marijuana Opponents Strike Back
Medical marijuana may be on the march, but it remains a battleground issue in some states that have approved it. In New Jersey, tough regulations championed by Gov. Chris Christie were added to the medical marijuana law passed more than three years ago under the previous administration. As a result, only one dispensary has opened, creating weeks-long waiting lists for patients.
“As stringent as the statute is, it’s eminently workable,” said Edward R. Hannaman, an attorney on the board of the New Jersey Coalition for Medical Marijuana. “But the executive regulations have so hampered implementation as to make it unworkable. The executive is supposed to implement the laws, not rewrite them as to what suits them.”
Among the regulatory provisions that go beyond what the original law stipulated: Physicians must register with the state before recommending medical pot to patients, dispensaries must cope with burdensome requirements such as providing a live video feed to the police department, and only three strains of pot can be sold from among the dozens available.
Arizona’s medical marijuana program is also on shaky ground, with a bill to repeal the law pending in the Arizona House of Representatives. A separate bill that would allow police to destroy any marijuana confiscated from dispensaries just passed through the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee.
Courts Clarifying Pot Policies
While the jumble of marijuana bills trickles through the state legislatures, other policy questions are being answered by the courts. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a legal challenge to marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I controlled substance. In its 2-1 decision, the court found that “substantial evidence” supports the Drug Enforcement Agency’s claim that there are no “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy” of medical marijuana.
The California Supreme Court is also considering a case that will decide whether cities and counties in California can establish blanket bans on dispensaries. The high court’s decision will finally settle an issue that has become impossibly complex due to conflicting decisions by multiple trial and appeals courts. If it decides that local governments can enact such bans, hundreds of established medical marijuana dispensaries may be forced to close.
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