Reform Momentum Continuing in 2013
2013 isn’t even a month old, and already we’re seeing numerous senators and representatives across the country ride the wave of reformation that was generated in November 2012. Since Washington and Colorado put the question of marijuana regulation on the ballot, more and more state leaders have come to the realization that prohibition is not what the people want, and it’s definitely not what the country needs.
Prior to the end of 2012, Indiana Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced plans to introduce a proposal in the 2013 session that would alter the legal repercussions associated with marijuana possession. Rather than facing jail time, individuals in Indiana caught with 10 grams of marijuana or less would be served a fine.
Iowa Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) has pushed for medical marijuana and declared his intention to introduce HF 2270 in the Iowa General Assembly. If passed, Iowans with qualifying conditions would be allowed to possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana. HF 2270 also includes terms for the creation of a licensing system for eligible patients and for the creation of nonprofit suppliers to sell marijuana to those licensed to buy.
In Illinois, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) introduced HB 1 to protect medical cannabis patients. Mississippi Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-Pass Christian) is seeking to add the Magnolia State, which has already decriminalized personal use marijuana possession, to the ever-growing list of states that have legalized medical marijuana. Other states actively seeking to adopt compassionate medical marijuana legislation include New York, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.
On January 17, Hawaii Speaker of the House Joseph Souki (D-8th District) took – or photocopied – a page from Amendment 64, and introduced HB150, which essentially mirrors the latest article in Colorado’s constitution. If passed, adults 21 and over would be permitted to possess and purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at a time, as well as paraphernalia. (Under current state law, paraphernalia possession is a felony and carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.)
Many of the calls for marijuana policy reforms have come out of states with the harshest marijuana laws on record. In Oklahoma, Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) successfully introduced SB 710 and SB 914. Respectively, the bills call for (1) the establishment of a medical marijuana program, and (2) the reduction of penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Both are scheduled to receive first readings on February 4.
In Alabama, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) and Rep. K.L. Brown (R) pre-filed House Bill 2, which would authorize the use of medical marijuana. HB 2 will be introduced to the legislature on February 5. And, a history of rejection didn’t dissuade Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) from introducing SB 9 in the Kansas Senate. It turns out third time’s a charm: for the first time in three years, an introduced medical marijuana bill will be heard at the committee level in Kansas.
Even Texas jumped – or at the very least, hesitantly crawled – on the reform bandwagon. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has proposed decriminalizing possession of one ounce or less, instead fining users $500. Rep. Dutton’s fellow representative Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) reintroduced a bill that would give patients with serious illnesses an “affirmative defense” against charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Refusing to become complacent is one of, if not the most, important elements in the fight to end prohibition. Marijuana reform will not happen overnight, and individuals like Sen. Haley and Rep. Todd have shown us that determination does indeed yield results. Even small measures like substituting fines for jail time are a step in the right direction.
If these early weeks of 2013 can assure us of anything, it’s that this year has the potential to be one of the most significant and memorable years in reform history. With public opinion for marijuana regulation on the rise, we expect multiple states to follow suit and offer up similar legislative proposals in the months to come.