While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) disappointed marijuana legalization advocates this week, Democratic Senator and 2020 Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris (D-California) brought hope to the cause. On Thursday, Harris announced she would co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, Senator Cory Booker’s (D-New Jersey) cannabis legalization bill. A two-fold proposal, Booker’s bill not only seeks to legalize marijuana but to force the federal courts to clear the records of anyone with a marijuana conviction on their record. Booker, another 2020 contender, is on the record as labeling marijuana reform a matter of social justice.
Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do and it’s the right thing to do. Today, I’m announcing my support for @CoryBooker’s Marijuana Justice Act. pic.twitter.com/cOh3SjMaOW
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) May 10, 2018
In a video announcing her decision on NowThis, Harris stated that she hopes the bill will stop the Justice Department from continuing to enforce draconian marijuana laws.“African-Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rate as whites but are approximately four times more likely to be arrested for possession,” Harris said, as reported on The Hill. “The fact is marijuana laws are not applied and enforced the same way for all people.”
Harris is the third Senator, as well as the third rumored presidential candidate to throw their support behind the bill. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) announced her support for the bill in February, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has also thrown his support behind the proposed legislation. “It’s the right thing to do. And I know this as a former prosecutor. I know it as a senator,” Harris said. “I just look at what we want as a country and where we need to be instead of where we’ve been.”
Meanwhile, as legalization is debated at the federal level, individual states continue to push forward with their legislation. Here are five states debating various forms of marijuana legalization currently:
Utah’s Medical Marijuana Bill
Utah’s “Right to Try” medical marijuana bill has officially been launched. According to High Times, the measure adds cannabis to 2015’s Right to Try Act, allowing terminally ill patients to determine if it can help improve their quality of life. Concurrently, House Bill 197 (HB197), which authorizes the establishment of a medicinal cannabis cultivation program in the state, went into effect.
Representative Brad Daw, who sponsored both HB195 and HB197, said, “This bill becomes the way to supply a genuine cannabis medicine for both those programs. We need to pass this bill if we want to have patients the ability [sic] to try both under Right to Try and under research.”
Both bills, according to High Times, may soon be superseded by an initiative to legalize medical marijuana called The Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which seems likely to appear on the ballot in November. However, High Times notes that “the measure has not officially qualified for the ballot just yet. And an anti-pot group is hoping to keep it that way,” by convincing people to remove their name from the petition.
Georgia Medical Marijuana Conditions List
In Georgia, House Bill 865, which adds intractable pain and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, was signed into law. According to High Times, again, Georgia has been relaxing its cannabis laws for some time. Atlanta, passed a referendum this past fall to decriminalized marijuana. And lawmakers have also introduced legislation to decriminalize cannabis statewide.
Georgia legalized medical marijuana in 2015. In 2017 lawmakers doubled the list of qualifying conditions which now includes HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, autism, autoimmune disease, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy, according to High Times. Approximately 4,000 Georgians have medical marijuana cards.
Unfortunately, patients in Georgia still have no legal access to medical marijuana because the cultivation and sale of marijuana will still be illegal under the new laws. Lawmakers failed to pass a bill in 2018 to allow cultivation, however, according to High Times, some are optimistic that recreational marijuana is coming.
Michigan’s Qualifying Conditions
According to a report by the Associated Press, Michigan regulators are tossing around the idea of adding autism and other ailments to a list of allowable medical conditions for the use of marijuana. The move is the result of an advisory board recommendation to include ten additional conditions to the approved list. The conditions being considered include obsessive-compulsive disorder, arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.
The State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has until July 10 to decide on nine of the recommendations and August 6 on another. A previous director had rejected a recommendation to allow marijuana use for autism in 2015.
Missouri Considers Medical Marijuana
In Missouri, signatures for two ballot initiatives were turned in by advocates of medical cannabis for those suffering from cancer, HIV, epilepsy, and a variety of other conditions. Assuming enough signatures are approved by authorities both initiatives would let voters decide the issue.
According to a report by the Associated Press, two organizations, New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure, submitted signatures last Friday. A third group, Missourians for Patient Care, has until Sunday to submit its signatures.
Arkansas Supreme Court Debates Medical Marijuana
The Arkansas Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments in an appeal of a Pulaski County Circuit Judge’s decision to halt the licensing process for medical marijuana cultivation facilities. The judge in the case ruled in favor of an unsuccessful applicant who had challenged the commission’s decision to issue permits to five businesses. It was found that the process violated the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana.
According to a report on Leafly, Arkansas regulators have stopped reviewing license applications as a result of the ruling. Justices will hear arguments on June 7.
New Hampshire Bill to Legalize Home-Grown Cannabis
In New Hampshire, House Bill 1476, which is intended to legalize home-grows, has been stalled by the Senate. It’s now unlikely that the bill will make it to the floor again this legislative session, according to High Times.
“One step away from outright killing the bill,” notes the article, “state lawmakers approved a motion to at least continue studying the issue. Debates on the Senate floor Monday, however, illustrate the confusion and divisiveness surrounding the question of whether to allow medical marijuana patients in New Hampshire to grow their own medicine.”
Patients are currently required to purchase medical cannabis at licensed dispensaries which remain out of reach for many patients, according to Drury. Cost is another hurdle for low-income patients. Sen Martha Hennessey, one of the bill’s proponents, said “We have increased the number of dispensaries, but we need more. And those with disabilities often cannot get to the dispensaries we do have. Once they do get there … they can’t afford it because it’s costing approximately $300-$400 dollars an ounce.”
Sen. Bob Giuda (R–Warren) echoed Senator Hennessey’s concerns saying, “I’ve always supported the use of it [medical marijuana], I will likely do the same here because again we’re dealing with people who are in difficult circumstance, remote and paying just exorbitant prices.”
In opposition, Senators Sharon Carons (R-Londonderry) and Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) raised concerns about potential problems that home grows would create for law enforcement agencies as well as the quality of home-grown medicine. HB 1476 was already rejected by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee back in April which recommended the bill go back to “interim study.”