Cannabis Legislative Roundup: Marijuana Momentum Building in Several States

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March has been a particularly good month for the marijuana movement, with cannabis legislation making sizable gains across the country. It now appears that several states have a realistic shot at joining the medical marijuana club this year, while a handful could follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Here are some of the latest legislative developments across the country:

Florida: Efforts to legalize medical cannabis received a huge boost last week when the highly influential attorney – and top Democratic fundraiser – John Morgan announced he would help get an MMJ initiative in front of voters next year. “I’m prepared to keep raising money and writing checks until I get the signatures to put it on the ballot,” Morgan told Reuters. Another big-name Democratic fundraiser, Ben Pollara, is also throwing his weight behind the cause.

Illinois: Rep. Lou Lang, a Democratic lawmaker who has been lobbying for medical marijuana laws in recent years, said this week he is close to securing the votes needed to pass an MMJ measure in the House. A vote could come in the next few weeks. The bill would create a four-year pilot program that would allow up to 66 dispensaries to serve patients in the state. If the bill clears the House, its overall chances of becoming law are high, as the Senate approved a similar measure in the last legislative session. (Lang decided not to bring the previous bill to a vote in the House for undisclosed reasons.)

Maine: Lawmakers have come out in force to support a bill calling for the legalization of cannabis for adult use. The measure – which would regulate marijuana like alcohol – now has 35 co-sponsors, including 28 Democrats, three Republicans and four representatives of the state’s tribal nations. You can view the full list of co-sponsors here. If lawmakers approve the measure, it would then be put to voters in a statewide referendum. While the bill has some solid momentum, it faces opposition from a surprising source: Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine. The organization representing the interests of caregivers told the Bangor Daily News that the measure “does not protect the grower or individual producer.” The bill now heads to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which has not yet set a date for a hearing.

Maryland: Marijuana is making significant gains in Maryland, where an MMJ measure cleared the House of Delegates this week. It now moves onto the Senate, where support is running strong. Last week, the Senate voted in favor of an initiative to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The medical marijuana bill – like MMJ measures in many others states – is being touted as the strictest in the nation. This measure actually might actually earn that designation, as only doctors and nurses at academic medical research centers would be allowed to distribute the drug to patients. Supporters say it would likely take two or three years for the program to get up and running. A separate bill to legalize marijuana for adult use has been introduced as well, but it has not yet been put to a vote in committee.

Minnesota: Lawmakers are gearing up to introduce legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota, but don’t expect any movement on this issue until next year. Cannabis backers recently said resistance from the governor and law enforcement will sink the legislation this time around. They plan to spend the remainder of the year building support and meeting with opponents to incorporate their feedback and mitigate their concerns. An MMJ bill passed through the Legislature four years ago but died at the desk of the governor at the time. Current Gov. Mark Dayton also has said he is opposed to MMJ legalization, despite polls showing strong support from the public.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire won’t become the next state to legalize marijuana for adult use, though it could very well become the next one to allow cannabis for medical reasons. Earlier this month, the House killed a bill calling for the general legalization of marijuana. But last week it did the next best thing, overwhelmingly approving a measure to legalize medical cannabis. The bill will now move onto the Senate, where the chances of passage are extremely high. Lawmakers have approved MMJ measures in the past – including last year – only to see them die at the hands of former Gov. John Lynch. The state’s new governor is more supportive of medical marijuana and has indicated she would sign the bill if it ends up at her desk.

New York: Earlier this week, Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried  introduced joint legislation that would legalize medical cannabis under a tightly regulated system. The industry would be subject to numerous rules and regulations on everything from inventory control to security. Under the measures – Assembly Bill 6357 and Senate Bill 4406 – both for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations could potentially set up dispensaries and grow operations, provided they receive the necessary permits and licenses required to do so. Patients and caregivers, however, would be barred from growing the drug, which is particularly controversial in the MMJ community. Still, Savino recently told MMJ Business Daily that support for the bill is growing every day among lawmakers. The Assembly has passed marijuana-friendly measures before, but the Senate has has proved much more resistant.

West Virginia: The House Health and Human Resources committee will hold a 4 pm ET hearing today on HB 2961, which would legalize medical marijuana and allow up to five dispensaries to set up shop across the state. The measure has nine co-sponsors, including both Democrats and Republicans. A recent poll found that 53% of voters support medical marijuana legalization vs. 40% who oppose it and 7% who are undecided.

In addition to these developments, lawmakers have introduced bills in Nevada and Oregon to legalize MMJ dispensaries. Both states already have medical marijuana laws on the books but do not technically allow dispensaries, though an estimated 175-200 exist in Oregon.