“As a person that comes from a community fairly consistent in being opposed to marijuana legalization in Colorado, I’m willing to put my hand up and say I was wrong about cannabis-based medicine,” the bill’s GOP sponsor said.
When the school board refused to let their daughter, Marley, receive her cannabis-derived medicine from willing teachers, Sarah and Mark Porter made the difficult decision to pull Marley out of a Douglas County public school in October 2019.
“The last time she got out of the hospital, she never went back to school,” Mark Porter told Newsline.
In the 18 months since, Marley has been able to take her prescribed medicine regularly while learning at home—keeping her Crohn’s disease more manageable than it’s ever been, her parents testified to Colorado legislators during a February 24 hearing of the Senate Education Committee.
But Marley, now 15, is missing out on one-on-one interactions with teachers and the social aspects of school, like drama club.
“School is so much more than just learning and just education,” her father said. “No friends, no after-school activities. Nothing.”
A Colorado bill under consideration by the state Legislature aims to make life easier for kids like Marley and their families. It would require schools and school districts to have a policy allowing their employees — like the high school teacher who was willing to walk down to Marley’s middle school, had the school board permitted it — to store and administer medical cannabis recommended for a student by a doctor.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County, said Senate Bill 21-56 is more important to him than any other legislation he’s sponsoring this session. The seven lawmakers on the Education Committee approved the bill unanimously on February 24, sending it to the Appropriations Committee for review on a yet-to-be-determined date.
“As a person that comes from a community fairly consistent in being opposed to marijuana legalization in Colorado, I’m willing to put my hand up and say I was wrong about cannabis-based medicine,” said Holbert, of Douglas County, who is partnering with Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, on SB-56. “I’m perfectly willing to have conversations with constituents, doubters, to say, ‘You’re wrong. You need to meet these people.’”
Holbert’s change of heart occurred after he met constituents Amber and Brad Wann, who found a way to treat their son Ben’s life-threatening epileptic seizures: a bottle of Charlotte’s Web cannabidiol, or CBD.
The science around CBD is emerging, and it has been touted for many benefits for which research has yet to provide verification. But some recent studies support claims that it can be effective, particularly in treating certain epilepsy syndromes. “Recently, CBD has gained traction in the scientific community for its ability to treat multiple conditions,” reported Insider in November.
But when a school nurse asked Amber Wann why Ben had stopped having seizures in 2014, and learned about the cannabis-derived medicine, she reported the Wanns for potential child endangerment, Holbert said.
“The sheriff and the [district attorney] and the school district and child protection services did what they had to do, and at the end of it, they determined no, no… Giving their son Ben CBD oil was not endangering him, and bringing his seizures to an end certainly wasn’t endangering him,” Holbert told the Education Committee.
After the investigation was complete, the school’s principal allowed the Wanns to keep a cannabis-based nasal spray on campus to treat Ben’s seizures. But when the Douglas County School District Board of Education found out, they required that it be removed from the school.
“It pisses me off that my school board would somehow…decide which kid in our school district lives and which dies,” Holbert said.
SB-56 builds on other laws that were intended to help families like the Wanns.
Through a 2016 state law—known as “Jack’s Law” after Jack Splitt, the child who inspired it—school districts were required to let parents or guardians administer medical cannabis to their children on campus to treat symptoms such as seizures and severe pain. No Colorado law has ever allowed children to smoke marijuana on campus; rather, medicines containing CBD, THC or both often come in the form of oils, nasal sprays or capsules. And students aren’t legally allowed to keep the medicine on their person, even if they have a prescription.
“I hated cannabis,” Jack’s mother, Stacey Linn, testified to the committee on February 24. “But when your child almost dies, multiple times a month, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times a week, it’s surprising what you might do.” She referred to Jack’s seizures.
“Being able to access cannabis, for Jack, saved his life and allowed him to go to school,” Linn said.
Jack, a 15-year-old who suffered from cerebral palsy, died in August 2016. But his legacy lives on.
Jack’s Law made it possible for students like Ben Wann to receive his medicine on school grounds.
However, it didn’t require school nurses and staff to administer the medicine to students as they would pharmaceutical drugs. With many children requiring multiple doses per day to keep their symptoms under control, it was a tough ask for working moms and dads to travel to schools and give their kids medicine.
“Imagine you had to leave work every day at the same time for an hour or more to get to school so that your child got their medicine,” Sarah Porter said during the hearing.
In 2018, House Bill 18-1286 became law in Colorado. Nicknamed “Quintin’s Amendment” after then-9-year-old Quintin Lovato, the bill allowed school nurses to administer medical cannabis at school for qualifying medical conditions and with a doctor’s approval. But the law left an “opt-out” clause for districts that didn’t want their employees giving kids the medicine.
After the law passed, Quintin’s school district in Eagle County allowed him to receive his medicine at school, giving him control over his seizures and tics.
So Quintin and his mother, Hannah Lovato, reappeared at the Capitol three years after HB-1286’s passage to testify in support of SB-56. Quintin updated the lawmakers on his academic and athletic accomplishments.
“Please help push this new bill through so that other kids like me have the opportunity to live their best lives, too,” Quintin told the committee members on February 24.
The bill wouldn’t force any school personnel to administer the medicine, if they don’t feel comfortable, but it does require school districts to have a policy for the storage of cannabis-based medicine on campus. The policy must allow willing school nurses, teachers or staff to administer the medicine to a student who provides a doctor’s recommendation and dosing instructions.
In addition, SB-56 protects school personnel from discipline if they choose to administer a student’s cannabis. They can’t have their state-issued licenses or certificates taken away.
“It’s in large part based on a Good Samaritan kind of perspective,” Holbert said in an interview. “If they help, they’re protected, and if they don’t want to help, they’re protected.”
The bill would increase state expenditures by around $15,000, according to its fiscal note. That money would be allocated to the Colorado Department of Education to pay for rulemaking and enforcement.
School districts could pay up to $4,200 per school for storage, staff training and staff time, but the actual costs will “depend on districts’ current policies, related resources, and the number of students with recommendations for medical marijuana, among other factors,” the bill’s fiscal note stated.
The bill contains an exception for school districts that can prove they are at risk of losing federal funding if they administer cannabis to a student. In those cases, they could refuse to store cannabis on campus.
But under the past two presidential administrations, that’s never happened in Colorado, Holbert said, and it’s not likely to happen under current President Joe Biden, even though cannabis is classified as a Schedule I narcotic under federal law.
“Anyone who is concerned about this, unfamiliar with it, take time to try to connect with people in your community who rely on cannabis-based medicine—especially kids,” Holbert said. “And what you’ll find is there are next to miraculous things happening, and completely effective medicine can be made from cannabis plants.”
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.