Montana Senate agrees to fix medical marijuana law, two months after judge re-opened dispensaries

By The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Senate has endorsed a watered-down rebuke of the state’s court system for allegedly overstepping its powers.

The bill fixes a mistake in a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative to make it effective immediately. The original bill accused a Helena judge of violating the state constitution when he did the same thing by court order late last year.

The bill did not name District Judge James Reynolds, but House of Representatives changed the language to eliminate any reference to him. The measure now says the constitution’s separation of powers provisions “were disregarded.”

Republican Sen. Fred Thomas of Stevensville says the amended measure says the same thing “in a kinder, gentler way.”

The Senate approved the changes 30-20 Tuesday and the bill is up for a final vote on Wednesday.


Medical marijuana bill moves ahead in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana is advancing in the South Carolina House.

A House panel voted 3-0 on Tuesday to after listening to dozens of patients and their family members tell how marijuana can relieve their suffering from chronic pain, severe epilepsy, PTSD and other ailments.

Supporters argue the government shouldn’t prevent people from getting relief from a plant, while the synthetic opioids they’re otherwise prescribed are killing people.

The bill’s opponents include law enforcement agencies.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel says the proposal essentially asks the state to endorse a street drug to treat nearly everything. He asked legislators not to “be swayed by those who play upon your sympathies.”

The bi-partisan bill heads to the full Medical Military and Municipal Affairs Committee.


Washington ready to fight if necessary to keep its legal pot

Washington state is ready to fight if necessary to keep its legal marijuana, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday after White House spokesman Sean Spicer hinted at a federal crackdown.

“We will resist any efforts to thwart the will of the voters in Washington,” Ferguson said.

Spicer offered no details about what any renewed federal efforts in legal-pot states might entail, but said he expected “greater enforcement” and drew a distinction between marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes.

Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and they’ve since been joined by six others and Washington, D.C. Sales at licensed pot shops in Washington now average nearly $4.4 million per day — with little evidence of any negative societal effects.

That’s close to $1 billion in sales so far for the fiscal year that began last July, some $184 million of which is state tax revenue.

Ferguson said he was disappointed in Spicer’s comments. He noted that he and Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, previously prepared to defend the state’s scheme against any efforts by the administration of President Barack Obama to shut it down, though Obama ultimately agreed to tolerate tightly regulated marijuana markets in states that chose to adopt them.

“The message hasn’t changed, but the audience is a little bit different,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson and Inslee sent a letter last week to new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, laying out the state’s arguments for keeping its regulated market in place and asking Sessions to discuss the topic with them before doing anything drastic.

“Our state’s efforts to regulate the sale of marijuana are succeeding,” the letter said, according to a copy released Thursday. “A few years ago, the illegal trafficking of marijuana lined the pockets of criminals everywhere. Now, in our state, illegal trafficking activity is being displaced by a closely regulated marijuana industry that pays hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. This frees up significant law enforcement resources to protect our communities in other, more pressing ways.”

Among the actions the federal government could take are suing legal-pot states to shut down their markets, on the argument that their laws contradict the federal Controlled Substances Act; arresting and prosecuting pot-shop operators or customers; or warning the industry that their assets could be forfeited to the government as illegal drug proceeds.

“I can’t imagine the federal government using limited resources to try to bring down a new, regulated system that has worked so well,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “Prohibition was an unmitigated failure. The war on drugs is already winding down, and this administration will try to ramp it up again at its own peril.”

Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the Washington CannaBusiness Association, said his organization was committed to complying with the state’s laws, which ensure “safe communities and a successful marketplace.”

“We recognize that not everyone is convinced that cannabis should be legal,” he said in an email. “We look forward to continuing our state’s leadership as an example of how licensed, regulated cannabis businesses are responsible members of Washington’s business community that bring value to state and local economies.”


White House: Feds will step up marijuana law enforcement

Washington (CNN)The White House said Thursday it expects law enforcement agents to enforce federal marijuana laws when they come into conflict with states where recreational use of the drug is permitted.

“I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said regarding federal drug laws, which still list marijuana as an illegal substance.
That’s a reversal from the Obama administration’s stance, which laid out in an official memo that the federal government wouldn’t interfere in states where nonmedical use of marijuana is allowed.

That guidance was issued after two states — Colorado and Washington — voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Obama said in the immediate aftermath of those votes that the federal government had “bigger fish to fry” than cracking down on marijuana use in states where it’s considered legal.

Most drug enforcement operations are carried out by state and local authorities, with little involvement by the federal government. Enforcing marijuana laws has been considered a lower priority for federal drug agents, who have remained focused on curbing narcotics trafficking and combating a nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse.

Spicer on Thursday, however, linked marijuana use with the widespread abuse of painkillers, suggesting that allowing recreational use of marijuana could be interpreted as condoning drug use more widely.

“When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and drugs of that nature.”

Trump took varying positions on marijuana during his campaign for president. He said during remarks in June 2015 that legal recreational use was “bad,” adding he felt “strongly about it.”
But later that year he suggested the issue should be decided by individual states and not by the federal government.

“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said in Nevada in October 2015.

He’s remained staunchly supportive of medical marijuana, telling Fox News host Bill O’Reilly he was “in favor of medical marijuana 100%.”

“I know people that have serious problems and they did that they really — it really does help them,” he said.


Senate committee approves funding for medical marijuana

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Five out of every 1,000 North Dakotans are expected to use medical marijuana when it’s available in the state, a threshold needed to fund planned oversight of the program, the state Health Department told lawmakers Tuesday.

Deputy State Health Officer Arvy Smith told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the state does not expect any revenue from medical marijuana this year while the program is being established. The agency expects the program to be funded by user fees after that, she said.

The Senate committee, which helps to craft North Dakota’s state budget, voted to approve a little more than $1 million to oversee the medical marijuana program over the next two years. The program is expected to raise $1.3 million during the 2017-19 budget cycle that begins on July 1.

The program is estimated to cost $2.9 million in the following two-year budget cycle, and would be self-supported through fees to patients, approved growers and dispensaries, Smith said.

Twelve to 15 new positions in the state will be needed to oversee the program, she said.
The so-called North Dakota Compassionate Care Act won 65 percent voter approval in November. It allows the use of marijuana as medicine for people who suffer from one of several debilitating illnesses.

An emergency measure supported by both Republican and Democratic leaders was passed last month to delay the law until the end of July. An 81-page bill also backed by lawmakers on both sides removed provisions that would have allowed growing pot as medicine and only allows patients to smoke it provided a physician finds that no other form of marijuana, such as oils or pills, “would be effective in providing the patient therapeutic or palliative benefits.”

Smith said scrubbing the provision that would allow people to grow their own medical marijuana cut the potential number of users in half, resulting in fewer overall regulations costs for law enforcement.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday. If approved, it will go to the House for consideration. Both chambers must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote, something legislative leaders believe will happen.

Smith said health officials reviewed the laws in more than two dozen other states that allow some form of medical marijuana. North Dakota’s proposed law is similar to that of Delaware, she said.

Source: AP /