Lawmakers back legislation to legalize hemp, regulate CBD products in Louisiana

Original article by Sam Karlin at TheAdvocate.com

 

Louisiana lawmakers have agreed to legalize the growth of hemp and allow the sale of some CBD products, sending two pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk that would lay out a highly-regulated program in line with the federal farm bill.

State Rep. Clay Schexnayder’s House Bill 491, which was heavily rewritten in the Senate, won final approval from the House Monday. The bill lays out a tightly-regulated program for growing hemp, with oversight from the state Agriculture Department.

Another bill by Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, would exempt hemp grown in line with federal regulations from the legal definition of marijuana and defines the drug. House Bill 138 is headed to the governor’s desk.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has voiced support for allowing and regulating the growth of hemp.

Hemp comes from the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa, as marijuana. Unlike marijuana, however, hemp does not have enough THC to get users high. Instead, it is used in a wide range of industrial products, textiles, fuels and other products. Producers also extract Cannabidiol, or CBD, from hemp, infusing the chemical with oils, tinctures, lotions, food products and others.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain would have broad regulatory powers over the hemp program, creating rules, handling permits and destroying crops that don’t meet THC thresholds. Strain has said the program will be tightly-regulated and in line with federal rules.

Supporters have touted the legislation as a potential boon to Louisiana farmers.

“When our farmers are having a down year, they’ll be able to grow a crop that will be successful,” Schexnayder said in a recent hearing on the bill.

The sale of CBD products has spread in Louisiana in recent years, but in a legal gray area. State agencies have disagreed on whether CBD products, which don’t get users high, are legally distinguishable from marijuana. Supporters have said CBD has health benefits, and while the products have become increasingly available to consumers, some state agencies have cracked down on their sale.

Sales of CBD products have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months, culminating in the high-profile arrest of a CBD seller in Lafayette last month.

Connick’s bill distinguishes CBD and marijuana, and Schexnayder’s bill lays out a list of regulations for selling CBD products. The products would be regulated by the Louisiana Department of Health and Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control under the bill.

Schexnayder’s bill was rewritten multiple times in the Senate.

The 2018 federal farm bill laid out a process for states to grow hemp, and Louisiana is expected to submit a plan to the USDA by November if the governor signs off on the proposal.

The legislation bans selling CBD in beverages unless the Food and Drug Administration approves of it as a food additive, and also prohibits CBD products marketed as dietary supplements. CBD products would have to come from hemp grown under a state program outlined by either the 2014 or 2018 farm bill and meet certain labeling requirements.

Penalties for processing or selling CBD products that don’t meet the requirements in the rule would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Currently, CBD products are sold throughout Louisiana despite some state officials, including Strain, dubbing them illegal.

Read the full article at: https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_8a8ea0e8-8646-11e9-a7e8-2343d72c48f5.html


Louisiana’s medical marijuana program the core issue in Agriculture Commissioner race

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s agriculture and forestry commissioner has drawn his first announced challenger for the fall election, an opponent slamming his management of medical marijuana.   Charlie Greer ran unsuccessfully four years ago against Republican Commissioner Mike Strain and announced Monday he’ll again oppose Strain on the Oct. 12 ballot.

Greer is a Democrat from Natchitoches (NAK’-a-dish) Parish and a farmer who worked in the Department of Agriculture and Forestry for 20 years before retiring in 2013.
In his announcement, Greer criticizes Strain for his regulation of Louisiana’s medical marijuana program. Though lawmakers approved a dispensing framework for cannabis nearly four years ago, medical marijuana still hasn’t reached patients.

Greer says the commissioner created unnecessary roadblocks and he’d work to lessen bureaucracy.
Strain has defended his approach, saying the regulations ensure public safety.

read the original story at: https://www.klfy.com/news/your-local-election-hq/louisiana-s-medical-marijuana-program-the-core-issue-in-agriculture-commissioner-race/1908720072


AUSTIN — Physicians and patients came out in full force Tuesday to support a proposed medical cannabis bill that will be considered in the Texas Legislature next year.

Senate Bill 269, which was filed Tuesday morning, would allow patients with debilitating or chronic conditions to receive medical cannabis under their doctor’s recommendation. The bill would expand on a 2015 Texas law that allows patients to receive certain forms of cannabis if they have intractable epilepsy.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the proposed bill, said the law is helpful but excludes many Texans who have other conditions that could benefit from cannabis treatment.

Twenty-eight states have legalized medical cannabis, but Menéndez said Texans should not have to leave the state to get care.

“Why are we forcing Texans to become medical refugees?” Menéndez asked. “If that’s what they’ve come to find that works for them, they should be able to live in their state and be able to have access to the medicine that their doctor feels is best for them.”

Debbie Tolany, a mother to a child with autism and intractable epilepsy, said her son has tried multiple different medications that have not worked for him.

“I can assure you that when you witness these things in your child and you know that it is because of the medication that you have given him, you wrestle with many emotions,” Tolany said. “These are harmful band aids and do nothing to address the physiological sources of my son’s pain and suffering.”

 Menéndez co-authored the bill that allowed for limited cannabis use for people with epilepsy, and also filed another bill in 2015 that would have extended medical cannabis use to more health condition

2016 Is “Biggest Year Ever” for Marijuana Reform, Advocates Say

Sunday, 30 October 2016 00:00By Michael Corcoran, Truthout | Report
Marijuana grows at a legal collective in the hills near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., July 11, 2014. Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. (Photo: Jason Henry / The New York Times)

Marijuana grows at a legal collective in the hills near Clearlake Oaks, California, July 11, 2014. Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. (Photo: Jason Henry / The New York Times)

If the unthinkable occurs and Donald Trump is elected president on November 8, residents of a handful of states may soon be able to legally smoke weed to cope.

Legalization of recreational use of marijuana is on the ballot in five states, and medical marijuana laws are up in another four. In legalization states, it may be a clean sweep: recent polls in Arizona, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada all show significant public support for legalization, and there is a wide margin of support in some of these states. Support for medical marijuana is strong in Arkansas,Florida and North Dakota, although a ballot question seeking to improve already existing medical marijuana laws in Montana lags in the polls.

This year’s “marijuana election,” as Newsweek described it, comes just four years after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize and regulate cannabis and reflects the US’s growing acceptance of marijuana. These developments have advocates optimistic that, as Mike Ludwig reported in 2014, “the end of America’s marijuana prohibition is finally in sight.”

“The 2016 election may be a tipping point for marijuana reform,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in an interview with Truthout. “This is by far the biggest year we have ever seen on this issue.”

Polling on legalizing marijuana has shown strong support for legalization in Arizona (poll done by Arizona Republic/Morrison/Conkite), Alaska (Ivan Moore), Maine (Portland Press Herald), Massachusetts (WBUR) and Nevada (Suffolk University). *A poll released on the same day (Dittman Research) found conflicting information in Alaska (43 support, 53 oppose, 7 undecided). (Credit: Michael Corcoran / Truthout)

Polling on legalizing marijuana has shown strong support for legalization in Arizona (poll done by Arizona Republic/Morrison/Conkite), Alaska (Ivan Moore), Maine (Portland Press Herald), Massachusetts (WBUR) and Nevada (Suffolk University). *A poll released on the same day (Dittman Research) found conflicting information in Alaska (43 support, 53 oppose, 7 undecided). (Credit: Michael Corcoran / Truthout)

California to Colorado: 20 Years of Progress

Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. The first major victory was in 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for medical use for the first time. Since then 24 more states and Washington, DC, have passed similar laws.

Medical marijuana was a stepping stone to other reforms. And in time 20 states decriminalized non-medical cannabis, making possession of small amounts punishable only as a civil offense — like a parking ticket. These changes proved to be very effective, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ).

“As a result [of decriminalization], many fewer young people in the former states are suffering the damages and costs of criminal arrest, prosecution, incarceration, fines, loss of federal aid, and other punishments,” concluded CJCJ’s 2015 study on five states that decriminalized cannabis. “Meanwhile, no harmful consequences appear to be materializing.”

The report, however, concluded that “staggering racial disparities” did not improve even after decriminalization. While decriminalization greatly reduced arrests for marijuana, it did not abolish them; arrests still occur depending on the weight possessed and how the marijuana is packaged, among several other factors. “One particularly striking finding is that post-reform marijuana arrest rates for African Americans across these [decriminalization] states remain considerably higher (251.9) than pre-reform rates for people of all other races (167.7),” the reportconcluded.

The report, in light of these lingering issues, suggested the states “move toward full legalization.” And, as the 2012 election showed, legalization is where the movement is headed.

“The Sky Hasn’t Fallen”: Two Case Studies in Legalization

The legalization of marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington was obviously a watershed moment for the movement to end prohibition. But more than that, these first states also functioned as valuable case studies showing the potential impacts of legalization. The results have debunked the doomsday scenarios predicted by the opposition.

“I would say that the rollout was extremely smooth: the sky hasn’t fallen like some had predicted, and we’re moving forward and trying to fine-tune this regulatory model,” said Ron Kammerzell, the director of enforcement at the Colorado Department of Revenue, in an interview with Vox. This quote is proudly shared byadvocates of yes votes in states where legalization is on the 2016 ballot.

As the Marijuana Policy Project reported in a July 2016 study, marijuana cases in Colorado plummeted 77 percent, eliminating a lot of wasted time and money. Meanwhile, the industry created almost 30,000 jobs, especially since retail saleslocations opened in 2014 and tourism boomed. In 2015 Forbes named Denver as the best city in America for “business and careers.”

Furthermore, while many opponents of legalization have argued that it would increase drug use among children, trends suggest otherwise. A 2016 study from theWashington School of Medicine has concluded that “rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.”

What is arguably most inviting to voters is the tax revenue that has been collected. The Tax Foundation reported in 2016 that “Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates.” Colorado collected over $135 million in fees and taxes from marijuana businesses, including $35 million that was earmarked for school construction. Washington State, likewise, is expected to collect$270 million annually in revenue from taxes on marijuana. Given that these laws were passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession when states suffered from depleted tax bases and huge budget shortfalls, this added revenue is especially important.

Marijuana and the Political Establishment

While marijuana advocates are thrilled about recent developments, it is worth noting that these citizens are winning despite a political and media establishment that is “way behind the public on this issue,” as Fox told Truthout. “Many politicians are still afraid of being considered ‘soft on drugs,'” he said.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the most powerful politicians in both major parties oppose the referendum, including the governor and the mayor of Boston. In Florida, which must meet a 60 percent threshold to pass the medical marijuana ballot initiative, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) just filed a lawsuit against a county election supervisor for allegedly leaving the medical marijuana question off the ballots in Broward country.

On the federal level marijuana is still illegal, with the White House’s website devoting a sizable section to express opposition to legalization. It is worth noting, however, that the presidential candidates are more open to reforming marijuana laws than many politicians on the state level. The Marijuana Policy Project grades each candidate for president, and gave Hillary Clinton a B+ for saying that reforms in the states for both medical marijuana and recreational use “need to be supported.” Trump has given conflicting statements and received a C+. Both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have As.

The Return of “Reefer Madness”?

The 80th anniversary of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the first law to prohibit marijuana in the United States, will come in October 2017. The law was passed after Henry J. Anslinger’s absurd and openly racist campaign, “Reefer Madness,” which alleged marijuana was a “burning weed with roots in hell,” that could cause one tokill their own family members.

The campaign was so bizarre — and unintentionally hilarious — that the Reefer Madness film has a cult following. Yet, in 2016 one can still watch prime-time cable news and hear almost identical ruminations. In 2014 Nancy Grace famously said“people on pot” “shoot,” “kill” and “strangle” each other, and even “kill whole families.” This kind of language is almost identical to the absurdities expressed in the Anslinger days.

Of course, Grace does represent the extremes. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, for example,reversed his past opposition to medical marijuana in 2013 and now calls for a “medical marijuana revolution.” Still, even “serious” commentators, like The New York Times’ David Brooks, argue that states that legalize marijuana are “nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.” And Brooks, like so many other opponents of legalizing marijuana, does so without even trying to reconcile opposition to a drug that is non-fatal and relatively benign, with his acceptance of legal alcohol, which is potentially fatal and far more dangerous.

Despite Marijuana Reform, Drug War Rages On

Whatever the trajectory of marijuana laws, it cannot be forgotten that it is just one sliver of a much larger injustice: the country’s failed “War on Drugs.” This war rages on — with complicity from the Obama White House — at a steep price to our country, and especially to people of color, who face institutionalized racism at every level of the criminal justice system. Every year well over a million Americans are arrested for drug offenses, often resulting in life-long consequences, including, in many states,losing the right to vote.

“Any changes in the war on drugs will require continued organizing and agitation, because history has shown that one step forward has also resulted in two steps back [for] communities of color,” David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” told In These Times in 2013. “Changing the laws in two states, while a step forward, does not cut off the legs of this broader system.”

But since then, Oregon and Washington, DC have legalized marijuana. The 2016 election offers the chance for voters to take the biggest step toward ending marijuana prohibition in the nation’s history. It is possible that by 2017, eight states (plus DC) could be added to the list. And the momentum seems likely to continue into the future. Efforts for more ballot questions in 2018 are already under way.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission


Alaska opens up!

Alaska made history and opened it’s very first legal Cannabis shop today!

Alaska’s first marijuana retailer opens to throngs of customers

By Yvette C. Hammett

VALDEZ, Alaska, Oct. 30 (UPI) — They weren’t giving away marijuana, but that didn’t stop dozens from lining up hours in advance for the opening of Alaska’s first pot shop on Saturday.

Residents of Valdez are calling their community “the highest little town at sea level,” KTVA reported.

People in Alaska see the opening of Herbal Outfitters as a historic event in their state.

Mike Holcombe was chosen to be the first inside the shop, and called the moment “monumental.”

“I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime that it would be legalized,” Holcombe said of his opportunity to purchase marijuana legally. “I’ve been waiting 46 years for pot to be legal.”

It was worth the wait, said those who braved the chill and drizzling rain to encircle the store’s entrance.

“We wanted to be part of the crowd that bought the first legal weed in Alaska,” Christopher Front told The Alaska Journal. He traveled from Anchorage with his wife Hannah and dog, Daisy.

“She wanted to be the first dog,” he added.

Herbal Outfitter manager Derek Morris said he was as surprised as anyone to learn the first shop would open in Valdez instead of in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

“We never anticipated that we’d be the first legal sale,” Morris said. “That’s still a little bit of a shock to us.”

Valdez’s previous claim to fame was as the site of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. That spill funneled federal disaster relief funding into Alaska when it was undergoing an oil-driven economic recession, similar to the one Alaska has now, only worse.

Now, it is part of an industry raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

 

 

Source: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/10/30/Alaskas-first-marijuana-retailer-opens-to-throngs-of-customers/2301477854270/


These 5 industries are the reason why marijuana is still illegal

We’ve seen some big, public pushes for marijuana policy reform from certain legislators and pro-marijuana organizations in recent years. But we hear less from the other side —  the groups fighting to keep marijuana illegal. That’s probably because these anti-marijuana lobby groups are interested in preserving the War on Drugs for their own financial interests.

Here are the top 5 anti-marijuana lobby groups:

1. Pharmaceutical corporations

Pharmaceutical companies stand to lose a lot of market share if marijuana is legalized because cannabis would offer a cheap, safe alternative to their products, according to Republic Report.

Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”

Drug manufacturers gave nearly $21.8 million to various federal candidates and committees as well as the parties in the 2012 elections. And in 2013 alone PhRMA spent nearly $18 million on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.

2. Police unions

Police unions donate heavily to anti-legalization efforts, probably because ending the War on Drugs would translate to decreased police funding.

Ending marijuana prohibition would not only disrupt federal awards to police departments ($2.4 billion in 2014), it would also cut into marijuana-related asset forfeitures, as reported by The Nation’s Lee Fang.

But this is how Jim Pasco, the executive director of The National Fraternal Order of Police, defends the pushback against marijuana legalization efforts, as reported byPolitico:

“The sentiment within the law enforcement community, which has to deal with the effects of addictive drugs, is that we’re not going to sit on our hands and watch these people misrepresent.”

“The country is going to hell in a handbasket. … People are worried about their Social Security and health care, and these people are worried about getting high.”

3. Private prison corporations

Private prisons are another industry that would obviously be disrupted by legalizing marijuana.

Fewer people being sentenced for marijuana crimes translates directly into fewer bodies private prison corporations can reap incarceration profits from.

OpenSecrets reports that the two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO, have been lobbying heavily against policies that would reduce incarceration. Corrections Corporation of America has spent at least $970,000 a year on lobbying since 2008, and GEO has spent anywhere from $250,000 to $660,000 a year on lobbying.

According to The Intercept, private prison companies aren’t just funding conservative politicians’ campaigns, they’re also contributing to campaigns for perceived progressive politicians, like 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

4. Prison guard unions

States that legalize marijuana are more likely to see declines in prison populations, which will reduce the need for the government to utilize private prison companies and correctional officers, according to OpenSecrets.

For example, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gave $1 million to the campaign that successfully defeated Proposition 5 in 2008, which would have reduced parole sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders as well as emphasizing drug treatment and rehabilitation programs as an alternative to incarceration.

Another politically active labor union representing many prison guards and donating to the campaign against drug reform is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

More from OpenSecrets:

In the 2012 campaign cycle AFSCME gave more than $13 million to candidates, parties and committees at the federal level. In 2013, AFSCME spent almost $2.7 million on lobbying efforts.

5. Alcohol and beer companies

Alcohol interests are lobbying to keep marijuana illegal because they just don’t want the competition for Americans’ leisure spending, according to Republic Report.

For example, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed $10,000 in campaign contributions to a committee working to prevent Proposition 19, which would have legalized and taxed marijuana, from passing back in 2010, as reported by LA Weekly. Needless to say, Proposition 19 failed to pass.

 

Source:  Extract


Congress Turning a New Leaf on Marijuana

Burgeoning business in states with legal sales sparks momentum for reform

Just two years ago, pot lobbyist Michael Collins was a pariah on Capitol Hill.

Marijuana reform was too much of a risk.

Lawmakers wouldn’t meet with him.

Not anymore.

“I’ve got offices reaching out to me,” said Collins, the deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports the legalization of marijuana. “It’s definitely a big change.”

Marijuana-related legislation was on a fast track to nowhere until 2014. That was the year Republicans and Democrats alike approved a measure that kept federal authorities from interfering in states that allowed marijuana use for medical purposes.

Since then, both houses of Congress have seen a flood of similar proposals.

Lobbyists, policy experts and lawmakers who spoke to Roll Call said the trajectory is clear: Congress is leaning toward decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level — and it’s going to happen soon.

That could happen as early as the next Congress, to some time within the next 10 years.

To be sure, there are still many skeptics and stalwart opponents to the idea.

Kevin Sabet, a drug policy adviser in three presidential administrations, including Obama’s, said reform advocates have worked for decades to create the sense that legalization is inevitable.

“They have said it so many times that some of them probably believe it,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s the case at all.”

Sabet is the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an organization that compiles arguments against legalization. He said several high-profile Democrats also have reservations about legalization, including Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But members of Congress today face a different political reality. More states are likely to legalize marijuana soon. That will make it harder for other states to keep it out.

Much like the gay marriage movement, the momentum to legalize marijuana is driven by pressure at the state level. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana by a popular vote, and an additional 25 allow medical marijuana or have decriminalized possession, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax policy research organization.

That puts the number of states without some form of legalization in the minority.

This fall, nine states are voting on marijuana-related ballot measures, more than ever before. Five of those nine measures, including one in the political bellwether of California, would legalize full recreational use.

The new state laws are a direct challenge to the federal stance on the drug.

Federal law bans the medical use of marijuana and most research. The sale, possession and cultivation of marijuana is a federal crime.

“This is the year that the issue crests,” said Oregon Democratic Rep Earl Blumenauer, a longtime advocate for legalization. “When several or more of these pass, the floodgates will open.”

Pushing pot

Already, legal marijuana has created a burgeoning industry with its accompanying lobbyists and millions of dollars in tax revenue, in spite of confusing and often contradictory state and federal regulations.

For now, marijuana growing and distribution is mostly a mom-and-pop operation. But larger businesses with political clout are ever more likely to get in on the action.

The Takoma Wellness Center, a tightly regulated medical dispensary, is one of a handful of marijuana-related businesses operating in Washington, D.C. It’s among thousands of similar businesses across the nation that are resolutely pushing pot into the American mainstream.

This distinctly herbal-smelling office suite is a few blocks from a soon-to-open Starbucks coffee shop. Clients who have been referred by a doctor and approved by the District’s department of health can browse dozens of strains of locally grown buds with names like Merry N’Berry, a pun on the name of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who, as a councilmember, led the decriminalization movement in the District.

Owners Stephanie and Jeffrey Kahn run the business with their son and daughter-in-law. Stephanie is a nurse and former hospital administrator. Jeffrey is a rabbi.

They pointedly follow federal regulations that apply to patient rights, even though the product they sell is technically against federal law.

Banks shy away from businesses like theirs. Unable to get a bank account or accept credit cards, transactions are cash-only. That, Jeffrey Kahn said, makes them feel like “drug traffickers.”

Voters have approved recreational use in the District, but Congress has used appropriations bills to effectively ban general sales. So some competitors have tried providing it as a gift with an unrelated purchase, or in exchange for a “donation.”

“I’m sure it’s the total antithesis of what Congress wanted to do,” Stephanie Kahn said.

Five to six times a day, the Kahns must turn away people from other states.

“They call us and often write tear-provoking emails about their stories and all we can say is we are not permitted by law to serve anyone other than D.C. residents with department of health-issued medical marijuana calls — and that breaks my heart,” Stephanie Kahn said.

A legal disconnect

The disconnect between local and federal regulations is also felt keenly by their clients.

Meredith Bower, 39, was an occasional recreational user until a car accident 10 years ago that almost killed her. Her recovery left her with titanium throughout her body, an amputated lower leg and the chronic sensation that her missing foot is being crushed.

Marijuana helps more than narcotics and has allowed her to cut her opioid use in half, she said. But it is not covered by insurance and costs exponentially more.

Without medical research to guide her, she has relied on trial and error to determine what dosages and strains keep her pain at bay but still allow her to function.

“This is really like the Wild, Wild West right now, and we’re all fumbling through it,” she said.

Businesses like the Kahns’ have provided a raft of anecdotes for lawmakers and reform advocates.

Americans spent $5.7 billion on legal medical and recreational marijuana in 2015, up from $4.6 billion the previous year, according to Arcview Market Research. The group projected sales to top $22 billion by 2020.

Tax revenues in states with legal adult use have exceeded estimates. In Colorado, for example, revenues have grown every year since retail sales began in 2014. They are on track to exceed $140 million in 2016 — more than double original estimates of $70 million, according to the Tax Foundation.

Studies have found that painkiller use and abuse has fallen in states with legalized pot.

And polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support legalization: 58 percent said so in a 2015 Gallup poll, up from 36 percent in 2005.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican House member from California and a legalization advocate, said such statistics are bound to increase the number of conservatives in Congress voting for reform measures.

Others have been convinced by arguments that Congress should not interfere with democratically approved measures in the states, he and other observers said.

“More Republicans are beginning to understand that, at least on medical marijuana, they are totally out of sync with their constituents,” Rohrabacher said.

Rep. Andy Harris is often described in the media as one of Congress’s biggest foes of legalized pot. But this summer, the Maryland Republican co-sponsored a bill, with Rohrabacher and California Democrat Sam Farr, to facilitate medical research on the drug.

Harris said that he remains a staunch opponent of legalization but believes that conducting more research is “a common-sense approach.”

He said he believes opposition in Congress and the states will increase if research shows that marijuana is not the most effective treatment for most medical conditions.

“We need to take a hard look at whether it’s a good idea to legalize marijuana,” he said. “I’ve taken a look at it, and I’ve realized it’s not worth the risk.”

Sabet, the Obama administration drug policy consultant, said proponents like to focus on the medical argument because that’s an easier sell. In reality, he said, businesses — and the well-financed lobbyists that represent them — are looking for a bigger market that includes recreational users.

“This isn’t about medical marijuana,” he said.  “It’s about money.”

A sea change

Lawmakers in favor of marijuana reform have been proposing bills to that effect since 1995, but never with the expectation that they would accomplish anything beyond forcing their colleagues to put their stance on the controversial issue on the record, Rohrabacher and other members said. Most never made it out of committee.

The medical marijuana legislation first proposed in 2007 by Rohrabacher and former New York Democratic Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey was no different.

That first year, it failed by a vote of 165-262. It failed again the next five years, but every year the number of lawmakers who voted yes inched up.

By 2014, Farr had signed on as a co-sponsor. He was sitting on the House floor, watching the vote tally, when he realized that the medical marijuana amendment to the appropriations bill would pass, he said.

“At first I thought it was all a mistake,” he said. “Did people realize what they were voting on? Was it some other bill?”

The amendment passed 219-189. It remained in the omnibus bill that passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama.

The Drug Enforcement Administration ignored the amendment and continued to prosecute patients and providers in California until a federal court ordered it to stop.

The amendment, which must be renewed annually, has passed with increasing support from both Houses every year since then.

It has also been joined by dozens of bills and resolutions addressing other aspects of federal prohibition. Twenty-seven pieces of legislation reference the drug so far this term. That’s the highest number by far for any Congress, going back at least to 1997.

“I think Congress is ready to take more steps,” Farr said. “I think it could break in the next session.”

In the Senate, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York proposed the first marijuana reform bill in 2015. The bill, called the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act, now has a bipartisan group of 19 co-sponsors.

That bill would increase federal protections for medical marijuana users in states where it is legal, remove many of the restrictions on medical research on the drug, allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana to patients in states where it is legal, and reform federal banking laws to allow banks to do business with pot providers.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who has likened marijuana to heroin, has not allowed the bill to have a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

Both houses of Congress this spring approved amendments to a spending bill that would have allowed Veterans Health Administration doctors to authorize medical marijuana use for patients. The amendment was stripped from the bill in conference.

“We’re now at a stage where there are almost too many pieces of legislation out there,” said Collins, the lobbyist from the Drug Policy Alliance.

John Hudak, who studies marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution, cautioned that recent Congresses have struggled to pass even routine legislation. But he noted that support for legislative changes has grown dramatically, particularly for changes in tax and banking restrictions that have hampered businesses in states where it is legal.

“If you talk to lobbyists, members of Congress, they’ll tell you those issues are the easy sells,” he said. “If legal businesses are going to continue, they have to be able to function properly. Those are two issues we’ll see the first real movement on in the coming years.”

Source: Roll Call

 


SMPL authors comprehensive therapeutic Cannabis bill: HB 1112

Drug law reform organizations SMPL and the Marijuana Policy Project partnered to draft HB 1112 which was introduced today by Representative Ted James.  This is the first comprehensive “medical marijuana” or therapeutic Cannabis bill since retired Representative Dalton Honore and Senator Fred Mills introduced their bills (HB 720 and SB 541 respectively) in the 2014 legislative session.   There was no therapeutic Cannabis bill before the La. legislature in 2013 and prior to that, you’d have to look back 22 years to the 1991 effort.  By comprehensive, we mean that this bill provides Cannabis in various forms as medicine delivered through protected care givers or dispensaries to patients who’s doctors have said that their conditions including: cancer, glaucoma, spasticity, quadriplegia, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the need to promote weight gain in HIV/AIDS wasting syndromes, seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or MS, ulcerative colitis and intractable pain might respond well to treatment with Cannabis.  The summary of the bill is in the “Digest” on the final two pages of the bill which you can read here:

There is certainly a long road ahead of us on this bill and it’s always an uphill battle convincing legislators that this not only makes good sense from a social and fiscal standpoint, but also that the overwhelming majority of voters want it and in a functioning democracy, should get what they want from their public officials.  This is why we need your help.  We really need your support and if some of you offer some of it, we are very likely to prevail.  This is the part where you join our organization and you begin calling your representatives and senators to help persuade them.  The easiest way to start is by thanking Representative James.  Here’s the text of the bill: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=991577

And this is where the bill is likely to be considered first…so it’s imperative to contact these legislators and tell them that you expect (finally after 38 years – La. was one of first four states nationwide in 1978) a fully functioning therapeutic Cannabis system that finally delivers medicine to citizens in need: http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Cmtes/HealthAndWelfare.aspx

Join us.  Tune in.  Act up.  Make it happen!  Nobody else is going to do it for you…

HB 1112


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