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New Mexico Lawmakers Debate Marijuana Legalization Bills, With Vote Planned On Monday

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New Mexico lawmakers on Saturday considered a pair of competing bills to legalize marijuana but failed to hold a vote after the hearing ran long. The committee will return to issue on Monday, when members are also expected to take up possible amendments to the proposals.

Lawmakers have introduced a bevy of legalization legislation so far in the state’s 2021 legislative session, which is approaching its midpoint and is scheduled to end on March 20. In addition to the two House measures weighed at Saturday’s three-hour-long Health and Human Services Committee hearing, three others have been filed in the Senate.

All five bills would legalize use and commercial sales of marijuana and set tax rates between 16 and 20 percent.

Of the two House proposals, the most comprehensive is HB 12, which stretches nearly 200 pages.

“We know that the war on drugs has been an utter failure,” Rep. Javier Martinez (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, said. “We know that this country and its perceptions to drug use is shifting, particularly with regard to cannabis.”

His bill would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, allow home cultivation of marijuana, regulate and tax the commercial industry and expunge past convictions for cannabis possession. Tax revenue would fund equity programs for Black and brown communities and support low-income medical marijuana patients.

It’s the preferred bill of advocates at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and other organizations because of the emphasis it places on social equity efforts to help communities that have been harmed by the war on drugs.

Emily Kaltenbach, DPA’s senior director of resident states and New Mexico, told Marijuana Moment that Saturday’s hearing was a good sign for legalization in general. “It shows that legalization will move forward in New Mexico,” she said afterward.

“The other thing that’s positive that came out of the committee today was that social equity and justice were front and center,” Kaltenbach added. “Both from legislators and the public reiterated how important it is for those provisions to be included in whatever bill moves forward.”

The second legalization proposal the panel considered was HB 17, a narrower bill supported by the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (NMCCC) and other industry members. It would legalize commercial cannabis and set a flat 20 percent sales tax, which would fund state and local governments. Sponsor Rep. Tara Lujan (D) described the bill as “the most direct route to to a responsible way of legalizing cannabis for people over 21.”

The bill lacks the expungement and social equity measures that HB 12 has and only decriminalizes homegrow—growing up to three plants would carry a $500 fine, while growing more would remain a felony. Commercial production licenses would be limited, whereas HB 12 would forbid the state from capping production.

Ben Lewinger, executive director of NMCCC, warned lawmakers against trying to accomplish too much in a single bill.

“That’s what drove the approach of trying to include what is absolutely essential into a bill, with the very simple purpose of legalizing adult-use cannabis, protecting patients in the medical program and creating something that had the absolute best chance of making it to the governor’s desk,” Lewinger said, adding: “The industry as it exists now in New Mexico are the experts in the state on the business of cannabis.”

Kaltenbach at DPA, meanwhile, said HB 12 is the better bill.

“What was clear today is that House Bill 12 is the most robust bill that is widely supported,” she told Marijuana Moment. “It’ll come down to a few provisions here and there, but it’s pretty clear that House Bill 12 should be the vehicle in which this should move.”

During the question-and-answer portion of Saturday’s hearing, the industry representative also argued against allowing people to grow their own marijuana at home, saying that law enforcement would have difficulty ensuring people weren’t cultivating too many plants or selling their products into the illegal market.

Both House bills would eliminate taxes for patients in the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

A fiscal impact report estimates that Martinez’s proposal would generate nearly $16 million in revenue for the state every year, in addition to more than $7 million for local governments. Meanwhile, the Lujan bill is projected to bring in over $48 million for the state and more than $25 million for localities.

Before hearing public testimony, committee chair Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D), a cosponsor of HB 12, took informal polls of members of the public tuned in to Saturday’s hearing on Zoom, asking participants to indicate whether they support or oppose the two bills.

A majority said they supported both bills, but HB 12 was more popular. Of 87 votes, 81 percent supported HB 12. Seventy-one percent said they supported HB 17.

The panel adopted a substitute version of HB 12 that updates a number of the measure’s provisions. Among the more notable differences is the removal a requirement that consumers be able to prove that marijuana in their possession was purchased legally. It also deletes language limiting paraphernalia sales to legal cannabis stores.

The substitute bill also allows cannabis advertising on billboards. And it stipulates that all advertisements—on billboards or elsewhere—identify the parties responsible for their content and refrain from targeting minors.

Among other changes, the substitute bill would also ensure that tribal governments could participate in the new industry, and it would allow small businesses who obtain so-called microbusiness licenses to begin operating ahead of larger businesses in order to give them a head start.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two House bills is HB 12’s earmarks for social and racial equity spending. Supporters say that point is non-negotiable.

“I cannot stress this enough,” Martinez said Saturday. “Racial equity cannot be by the wayside.”

Members of the public spoke both for and against the bills, although most speakers favored legalization in general. Many emphasized the importance of racial equity in HB 12, while others argued the money should flow instead back to state and local governments, as in HB 17. Some also expressed concern at the lack of cultivation license caps in HB 12, worrying legal marijuana would flood the market. Others worried that the bill’s allowance of home cultivation would fuel illicit sales and put children at risk.

It appeared possible the committee could vote on the bills on Saturday, but lawmakers ran out of time after questioning from Rep. Stefani Lord (R), who quizzed colleagues and industry witnesses on all sorts of issues, including gun rights, youth access, water rights and equity access to licenses. Many of the issues had come up in past legislative discussions around legalization.

Following Lord’s questions, which ran nearly 30 minutes, Armstrong, the committee chair, said, “I think it’s obvious we won’t get to all the questions or a vote today.”

Lord apologized for taking so much of the committee’s time. “I just thought my questions were really important so that the public knows what the bill’s about,” she said.

On the Senate side, three separate legalization bills—SB 363, SB 13 and SB 288—are currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee.

SB 363 is similar to HB 12, while SB 13 is the companion bill to the more limited House bill, HB 17. SB 288, meanwhile, is a separate proposal from Republican Sen. Cliff R. Pirtle. It would prevent cannabis retailers from being within a mile of one another and would keep homegrow illegal.

Each of the five bills shares the same title, the Cannabis Regulation Act.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 600 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

It’s not yet clear when the Senate measures will be heard—or, if multiple bills with different provisions pass, how lawmakers would resolve those differences.

In an interview with the Santa Fe Reporter, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), said Senate lawmakers would be watching Saturday’s House hearing to see how that chamber proceeds. Afterward, he said, “we’re going to have a conversation amongst all the sponsors to see if we can align everything and figure out what the structure is in a coordinated way.”

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D), meanwhile, told the podcast Growing Forward that he plans to coordinate on the Senate side in order to craft a single proposal.

At Saturday’s hearing, lawmakers stressed that the majority of the bills’ proposals are the same, noting that conversations will continue about specifics.

“I believe in the sausage-making that these bills will merge into a hybrid at one point,” said Rep. Roger Montoya (D), noting that he likes provisions in various bills.

Montoya also said he’d like to see an amendment to remove fines and fees for juveniles caught with marijuana. Montoya is the sponsor of HB 183, a separate measure to eliminate fines and fees for some juvenile crimes, and he said both House marijuana bills would be in conflict with that measure.

Sponsors of the bills said they would be open to working with Montoya to ensure the bills weren’t contradictory, but they weren’t able to discuss the details of amendments before the hearing ended and are aiming to sort the issue out by Monday’s meeting.

For her part, HB 17 sponsor Lujan said that “what it’s going to take to get this right for our state” is a collaborative approach “to bring all things together.”

Legalization has the support of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who included it as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and has repeatedly praised its potential to boost New Mexico’s economy, especially in light of the pandemic.

“A crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold,” the governor said in her State of the State address last month. “That kind of thinking includes, of course, recreational cannabis and the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue it will bring to our state.”

Rep. Andrea Romero (D) echoed that sentiment at Saturday’s hearing. “Why [legalization is] so critical this year,” she said, “and why it matters so much to New Mexico moving forward, is that we are in an economic tailspin as far as what’s happened post-COVID.”

Lujan Grisham supported a bill last year to legalize cannabis for adult use, which passed one New Mexico Senate committee only to be rejected in another. In 2019, after the House approved marijuana legislation to create a state-run cannabis sales system that ultimately died in the Senate, the governor created a working group to study legalization and issue recommendations.

The chances for legalization this year are boosted by the fact that several anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate president pro tem and the Finance Committee chair, were ousted by progressive primary challengers last year.

New Mexico is increasingly surrounded by legal cannabis markets. It shares a border with Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize commercial marijuana sales, and also borders Arizona, where retail sales kicked off last month.

“We know that legalization of adult-use cannabis is coming,” Martinez said at Saturday’s hearing. “It’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. And I’m not just talking about here in New Mexico, I’m talking across the country.”

Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border, in Mexico, where national lawmakers are facing a Supreme Court mandate to end marijuana prohibition by April.

Polling indicates that New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets First Hearing Next Week

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization

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“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

By Margaret Menge, The Center Square

Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.

There is some support from Republicans.

“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.

He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.

It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.

Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.

“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”

The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.

The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.

He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.

Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.

“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”

Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.

In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.

“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”

Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

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DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.

The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.

DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”

“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”

In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.

Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.

Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.

“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”

“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.

In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.

When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.

Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.

“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”

“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”

ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.

For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.

NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.

A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

White House Pressed To Mediate Marijuana Finger-Pointing Between DEA And HHS

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers on Thursday filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state. The move comes as activists are nearing completion of the first phase of their signature drive for a cannabis legalization initiative.

Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure. Now they’re moving ahead with formal introduction of the “Ohio Adult Use Act.”

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. They could also grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use.

Gifting up to 25 grams of marijuana between adult consumers without remuneration would also be permitted.

Adult-use cannabis products would be taxed at 10 percent. After covering administrative costs, tax revenue would be distributed as follows: 50 percent to the state general fund, 25 percent to combat illicit drug trafficking and 25 percent for substance misuse treatment programs.

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for regulating the new adult-use marijuana and existing medical cannabis program and issuing business licenses through a new Division of Marijuana Control.

Regulators would be limited to approving one retail cannabis dispensary license per 60,000 residents in the state up until January 1, 2027. After that point, the department would would be required to review the program on “at least a biennial basis” to see if more licensees are needed.

The legislation does not contain specific provisions to promote social equity by expunging prior cannabis convictions or prioritizing licensing for communities most impacted under prohibition. That’s despite Callender saying in October that there would be a pathway for expungements “for folks that have prior convictions that would be not illegal after the passage of this bill.”

A spokesperson in the lawmaker’s office told Marijuana Moment that while those components weren’t included in this introduced version, “it is still the plan to add any needed language on the subject once we get it to committee.”

“Conversations on modifications are continuing but with Thanksgiving here and the end of the year approaching, we wanted to get the ball rolling with introduction,” he said.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

There is at least one equity-related provision to require regulators to conduct a study prior to issuing adult-use licenses “to determine whether there has been prior discrimination in the issuance of marijuana-related licenses in this state, including whether the effects of marijuana prohibition have contributed to a lack of participation by racial or ethnic minorities in the medical marijuana industry in this state.”

If the study does find evidence of discrimination, the department “shall take necessary and appropriate actions to address and remedy any identified discrimination when issuing licenses.”

Under the bill, employers would still be able to enforce anti-drug policies without accommodating workers who use cannabis in compliance with the state law.

The measure would also expand the amount of acreage that licensed cultivators could use to grow cannabis from what is allowed now under the medical marijuana program.

Further, the legislation includes a section that would have the state formally endorse a congressional bill to deschedule marijuana that’s sponsored by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH).

A separate state legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature earlier this year would similarly legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D), and it does include expungement provisions.

A recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.

But leadership in the legislature, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine (R), will likely present obstacles for any recreational legalization bill that advances.

House Speaker Robert Cupp (R) laughed when he was asked about Callender’s legislation after its initial announcement, though he added, “Let’s just see where it goes. I haven’t read it yet.”

Callender said that although Republican legislative leaders and the governor are not yet on board, “there is more bipartisan support than most people would think.”

Meanwhile, Ohio activists recently said that they would have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana by the end of November. And Weinstein said he feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.

While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson Tom Haren said that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.” There’s yet to be an announcement as to whether they succeeded in that timeline.

The measure that legislators would then be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.

Further demonstrating the appetite for reform in Ohio, voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last month’s election.

Ohio marijuana activists have also successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.

Separately, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in party by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Joint Resolution To Put Marijuana Legalization On Ballot As Activists Launch Separate Campaign

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