January 19th, 2011 By: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — activists’ one-stop guide to pending marijuana law reform legislation around the country.
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see.
Connecticut: Lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills to reform state marijuana laws. House Bill 5139 amends state law to “authorize an individual to use marijuana for medical purposes as directed by a physician.” Lawmakers passed similar legislation in 2007 only to have the measure vetoed by then-Gov. Jodi Rell. Newly elected Gov. Dan Malloy has been a past supporter of medical marijuana law reform and indicates that he is inclined to sign HB 5139 into law. A separate bill, Senate Bill 163, amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction, punishable by a nominal fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. This measure would similarly reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Both measures have been referred to the Joint Judiciary Committee. If you reside in Connecticut, you can take action in support of both bills here.
Illinois: Illinois state legislators are considering a pair of bills to reform the state’s marijuana laws. Lawmakers this week reintroduced House Bill 30, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which allows qualified patients to possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes. The bill already has strong support among lawmakers, as a previous version of the measure was approved by the Senate and only narrowly defeated by the House. Separate legislation, House Bill 100, amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine) to a “petty offense” punishable by a fine only. Both measures have been referred to the House Rules Committee. If you reside in Illinois, you can take action in favor of both measures by clicking here and by becoming involved with Illinois NORML.
Rhode Island: House Bill 5031 amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. The measure has legislative support. In 2010, members of a special Senate committee advocated for the decriminalization of adult marijuana possession offenses, finding that over 91 percent of the state’s marijuana arrests are for possession only, and that of those first-time offenders are sentenced to incarceration, defendants on average were sentenced to 3.5 months in jail. House Bill 5031 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which may be contacted here. If you reside in Rhode Island, you can take action in support of HB 5031 at NORML’s ‘Take Action’ Center here.
Virginia: There is disappointing news to report from Virginia. On Monday, January 17, lawmakers on the House Courts of Justice, Criminal Subcommittee decided on a voice vote to “pass by indefinitely” legislation, HB 1443, which sought to reduce criminal marijuana penalties for first-time offenders. Virginia NORML, which backed HB 1443, co-organized a Lobby Day to coincide with Monday’s hearing and vote. An estimated 75 citizens participated in the day-long event, about a dozen of whom testified in favor of HB 1443. (You can read NORML’s testimony in favor of the measure here.) Unlike in past years, no one, including representatives of law enforcement or the state prosecutors office, testified publicly against the measure. Del. Morgan, the sponsor of HB 1443, has already vowed to reintroduce a similar measure next year. You can read a full report on Monday’s Lobby Day and hearing, as well as what you can still do to help, by clicking here.
Washington: Senate Bill 5073, which seeks to expand Washington’s twelve-year-old medical marijuana law and creates greater legal protections for authorized patients, providers, and caregivers. has been assigned to the Committee on Health & Long-Term Care and has been scheduled for a hearing on Thursday, January 20 at 1:30pm in Senate Hearing Room 4 of the Cherberg Building. For more information on this measure and tomorrow’s hearing, please visit here.
To be in contact with your state officials regarding these and other pending legislation, please visit NORML’s Take Action Center here.