Bills Introduced in Michigan, South Carolina, Massachusetts

Medical Marijuana at the U.S. Federal level.

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Bills Introduced in Michigan, South Carolina, Massachusetts

Postby palmspringsbum » Fri Jan 19, 2007 3:27 pm

The Drug War Chronicel wrote:<span class=postbold>Drug War Chronicle - world’s leading drug policy newsletter</span>

Medical Marijuana: Bills Introduced in Michigan, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont and Soon in New Mexico

from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #469, 1/19/07

With state legislatures getting down to business around the country this month, the medical marijuana issue is showing up at the statehouse. So far, bills to okay the medicinal use of the herb have been introduced in Michigan and South Carolina, with one planned in New Mexico. Meanwhile, in Vermont, which approved medical marijuana in 2004, a bill has been introduced that would expand the range of conditions for which it could be used.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 11 states, beginning with a California initiative in 1996. Since then, seven more states (Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Maine and Washington) have approved medical marijuana through the initiative process, while in three states (Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont), it was approved by the legislature.

Arizona voters also approved medical marijuana at the polls, but the law there is effectively dead because it requires a doctor to prescribe it, which the DEA will not allow. Other states learned from Arizona's experience and require only a doctor's recommendation, thus getting around the DEA roadblock. In Maryland, the medicinal use of marijuana can be offered as an affirmative offense in the event a patient is arrested.

Whether this year will see additions to the list of medical marijuana states remains to be seen, of course, but some legislators have been quick off the mark. In Michigan, where medical marijuana obtained its first legislative hearing ever in November, Rep. Lamar Lemmons Jr. is set to introduce HB 4038, which is essentially the same bill as last year's. According to the Michigan legislature's web site, it will be formally introduced on Monday.

In South Carolina, state Sen. William Mescher (R-Pinopolis) last week introduced a bill, S 220, which would allow patients suffering from any open-ended list of medical ailments and their caregivers to possess up to six plants and one ounce of marijuana. Patients would have to register with the state, which would issue identification cards.

Mescher told the Florence Morning News his wife had died of lung cancer 24 years ago, and doctors at the time told him marijuana might alleviate some of her symptoms, but that she could become dependent. "There were concerns that she would become addicted," he said. "Here this woman had maybe two or three months to live -- and in extreme pain. It didn't make any difference if she became addicted."

A friend in similar circumstances now compelled him to act, he said. "To me, it's no different than morphine or any other painkiller that a doctor can prescribe. Some doctors say it doesn't help. But if the person thinks it's helping them, then it's helping them."

Mescher has a reputation as a determined crusader in South Carolina. He fought for a decade to legalize tattooing in the state so it could be regulated. "It took me 10 years to get tattooing regulated in South Carolina," Mescher said. "I've got a bulldog tenacity."

In New Mexico, the Drug Policy Alliance Network announced this week that it is again pushing the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (last year's version here). For the past two years, the measure has passed every legislative hurdle, but not received a House floor vote for reasons primarily unrelated to the issue.

The law requires a patient to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana from his or her medical provider, after which the patient must submit an application to the New Mexico Department of Health for approval. The department will then issue an ID card that permits the patient and a primary caregiver to possess medical marijuana. A licensed facility approved by the Department of Health will be responsible for producing, distributing, and dispensing medical cannabis to patients.

In Massachusetts, the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts reports that Rep. Frank Smizik has reintroduced a medical marijuana bill, with this year's version numbered H 2507. (Last year's version is here.) Modeled on the law adopted next door in Rhode Island, the bill would provide protection for patients with a written recommendation from their doctors.

Meanwhile in Vermont, which passed a medical marijuana bill in 2004, Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has introduced a bill would expand the law to include additional diseases and conditions and allow patients to grow more marijuana for their own use. Under the current law, only cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis patients qualified, but under Sears' proposed S 007 that list would expand to include any "life threatening, progressive, and debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms such as: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; or seizures."

The bill increases the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow from one mature plant to six and from two immature plants to 18. The amount of usable marijuana they can possess would be increased from one ounce to four.

The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing January 11. Max Schlueter, head of the Vermont Crime Information Center, told the committee there were 29 people registered for the program. Patients like Steve Perry and Mark Tucci helped explain why the law needs to be changed.

Perry suffers from degenerative bone disease and would like to use marijuana to ease its symptoms, but it is not currently on the list of approved diseases. "Because the law doesn't allow me to legally use or obtain marijuana, I have to put myself at risk of being arrested and going to jail every time I need to ease the pain," Perry said.

Mark Tucci has multiple sclerosis, one of the currently approved trio of ailments, but he said the current law doesn't allow him to produce enough to supply his needs and forces him into the black market. "I'm getting sick of going out to try to find the stuff," said Tucci.

The legislative season in the states is young, but medical marijuana is off to a fast start in a handful of them.

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