Cannabis Legislation Roundup: Marijuana Measures Advance in Illinois, Nevada, NY & Other States

Just Released! Get realistic market forecasts, state-by-state insights and benchmarks with the new 2024 MJBiz Factbook member program, now with quarterly updates. Make informed decisions.

Marijuana is dominating headlines across the nation, with an increasing number of states introducing legislation or making headway on cannabis-related measures and federal lawmakers getting behind the cause as well.

Just today, in fact, the Illinois House approved a medical marijuana bill, giving it a real shot at becoming the next state to pass MMJ legislation. But it’s not all good news, as medical marijuana efforts in at least one state hit a road block this week.

Here’s an overview of some of the latest legislative developments across the country:

Alaska: Sponsors of a proposal to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in Alaska filed a petition application, the first step in getting a measure on the 2014 ballot. The state will now conduct a 60-day review of the measure, and if it’s approved supporters can then begin gathering the roughly 30,200 valid signatures needed to officially put the proposal in front of voters. Under the measure, the state would set up a system to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. Adults 21 and over would be able to grow their own marijuana or buy it from state-licensed retail stores.

Alabama: Earlier this month, State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) introduced the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act of 2013. The measure – House Bill 550 – would allow the personal and medical use of cannabis as well as legalize and regulate the production of industrial hemp. Adults could possess and grow marijuana, and a separate program would be created for medical cannabis patients. The measure also would allow state-regulated retail stores to sell cannabis, and such sales would be taxed. The Alabama House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will now take up the bill.

Arkansas: Supporters of a medical marijuana proposal in Arkansas suffered a setback when the state attorney general once again rejected the wording of a proposal to legalize medical marijuana. It marks the second time Arkansas AG Dustin McDaniel has rejected the measure for perceived ambiguities in the proposal. The group behind the bill – Arkansas for Compassionate Care – must receive McDaniel’s approval to begin gathering signatures to get the bill on the 2014 ballot. A similar measure to legalize MMJ in Arkansas failed narrowly in the 2012 elections.

Illinois: Efforts to legalize medical marijuana under a four-year pilot program are gaining steam. The Illinois House of Representatives approved an MMJ measure today by a 61-57 vote – marking the first time the legislative body has approved such a proposal. House Bill 1 would allow up to 66 dispensaries to open during the pilot program. The measure now heads to the Senate, which approved a less-restrictive measure several years ago. Chances are high that the bill will now pass, though the state’s governor has not said whether he will sign it.

Maryland: Last week, the state Senate voted in favor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana under the strictest regulatory structure in the nation, following approval in the House of Delegates in March. Maryland is now poised to become the 19th state in the nation with MMJ laws, as Gov. Martin O’Malley has indicated he will likely approve the measure. Under the bill, hospitals that provide research for the government and also have physician residency programs will provide the drug rather than individual dispensaries – meaning there will be limited business opportunities.

Nevada: A state Senate committee pushed through a bill last week that would let medical cannabis dispensaries open up across the state. Nevada already has an MMJ law on the books but does not technically allow dispensaries to operate. Under Senate Bill 374, one dispensary could open in each county, though up to 10 dispensaries could operate in Clark County (which includes Las Vegas) and three in Washoe County (which includes Reno). Another Senate committee will now take up the bill and then, if approved, send it on to the full Senate and Assembly, where a two-thirds vote is required for passage, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

New York: A recently introduced bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana sailed through an Assembly committee this week. The Assembly has passed such legislation several times in the past, so the 21-4 vote in favor of the measure this time around is not surprising. But the fact that three Republican lawmakers supported the bill is fueling hopes that the measure will gain enough support in the GOP-controlled Senate, which has batted down marijuana-related proposals in the past. Sen. Diane Savino said she has more than enough support – 38 lawmakers and counting – in the Senate to push the bill through. But two major challenges remain: Convincing the Senate’s co-leader to put the measure up for a vote, and getting the final stamp of approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor reiterated his opposition to medical marijuana this week but said he continues to look at the issue.

Pennsylvania: Lawmakers introduced a measure in the state House on Monday to legalize medical cannabis, coming on the heels of a companion bill recently unveiled in the Senate. House Bill 1181 would allow patients with certain medical conditions – including cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS – to grow and use cannabis. It would also pave the way for state-regulated nonprofit dispensaries, or “compassion centers,” to distribute the drug. The bill sets a limit of no more than one dispensary for every 250,000 residents. Another bill (SB 528) to legalize, tax and regulate the adult use of marijuana was introduced earlier in April.

National: Several national lawmakers, including three Republicans and three Democrats, are co-sponsoring a federal bill introduced last week calling for the government to back off of states that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis. The measure – HR 1523, also known as the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 – would essentially bar the federal government from going after individuals and businesses that are complying with state cannabis regulations.