East Coast Marijuana Reform Bills Staying Active

8/12/2011 – Politics are staying green this summer as state legislators keep momentum on bills to legalize medical cannabis or decriminalize pot possession for adults. Extended debates continue for some legislation, but there is significant momentum behind new campaigns.

Here is a short rundown of what’s already on the books.

Massachusetts: It looks like there will be two chances in 2011/2012 for medical marijuana to become law. HB625/SB1611 had an important hearing in June before the Joint Committee on Public Health. Patients and advocates are preparing for an active fall session. At the same time, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance has submitted language for a statewide ballot initiative on medical cannabis. Voters could have a say in the matter during the important 2012 election. Finally, the Bay State is also considering a bill to Tax and Regulate recreational marijuana for adults. HB1371 is supported by MASSCANN/NORML and is seeking a hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in 2011.

The 22nd Annual Boston Freedom Rally takes place on September 17, 2011. The largest marijuana reform event on the East Coast draws a crowd of 50,000 to the Boston Common. MASSCANN/NORML and other local groups helped to pass a statewide ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana in 2008.

New York: Two important bills remain active in the Empire State. Advocates have kept up the medical marijuana fight for thirteen years, now there are more co-sponsors than ever for HB2774. Unfortunately the language has evolved to be very limited, following New Jersey’s model of prohibiting home cultivation. The restricted scope may be more palatable to politicians. Legislators also took a strong step in June to bring New York City in line with the existing marijuana decriminalization policy.  A new bill, SB5187/AB7620, would stop more than 50,000 racially disparate pot arrests each year in the Big Apple.

Rhode Island: Advocates are continuing to pressure Gov. Lincoln Chafee to lift his suspension of medical marijuana dispensaries. Three compassion centers have been approved but have not been allowed to open.  A bill to Tax and Regulate marijuana remains on the legislative schedule. HB 5571 would set up at least one cannabis retail store per county.

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie announced that he would expedite the startup of medical marijuana Alternative Treatment Centers. Six have been approved and the Garden State government is working though final regulations for implementation. Concurrent resolutions are active in the Senate and Assembly that would revise the proposed rules. ACR188/SCR151 would remove some of the worst restrictions like the 10 percent cap on all THC potency.

New Jersey also got its first decriminalization bill this year. A4252 was introduced in June with the first reading and a committee assignment expected in the fall. The legislation would remove criminal penalties for adults caught with 15 grams or less. The effort has notably strong support right out of the gate with 18 bi-partisan co-sponsors.

Pennsylvania: The Keystone State will go into its third year of considering medical marijuana. SB1003/HB1653 were re-introduced and assigned to the Health committee in both houses. Favorable public hearings were held in 2009 and 2010.  Philadelphia has been making news about the Small Amount of Marijuana program. The new court diversion for minor pot possession cases has saved the city millions and measurably reduced the jail population.

Maryland: As mandated by the legislature this year, the state will continue a study phase for medical cannabis. A law allowing seriously ill residents to offer a positive medical necessity defense was passed as an interim measure to a full program.

East coast advocates are hopeful for some further reform activity in the fall such as marijuana bills in North Carolina, Connecticut, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Florida.

Check back for more updates on cannabis politics here at Freedomisgreen.

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Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  [email protected]

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