Legalization, Medical Program Improvements and Sessions Scare
By Joshua Lee
Well, cheese and rice. It's three weeks in, and I still can't remember to put the right date. It's going to be a wild year, folks.
Legalization Might Be On the Way (For Real This Time)
Two proposals offering different cannabis legalization methods are being introduced by state officials during the 60-day legislative session. The first—proposed by Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park) and Rep. Javier Martinez (D-
The exciting proposal is the second one, a constitutional amendment brought up by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, which wouldn't require the governor's approval. It also would legalize the possession of cannabis for adults 21 and older. To pass, the amendment needs 22 votes in the Senate and 36 in the House. If that happens, it will be up to voters in 2018. The amendment has never made it out of the Senate, but we have a Democratic majority this year, and Ortiz y Pino is feeling more confident this time around.
Bill to Improve Medical Cannabis Program Introduced
Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) is introducing Senate Bill 8, which proposes a number of improvements to the state's medical cannabis program. The new bill would increase the number of plants a producer could grow to 1,000 during a 3-month period—the current maximum is 450 plants. The price of the plants would be capped off at $90,000 for 1,000 (as opposed to the current price: $90,000 for 450), making medicine that much more affordable. It would also increase the amount of cannabis a patient can purchase to 5 ounces in a 30-day period—up from the current limit of 8 ounces in a 90-day period. It would require that the State Health Department issue ID cards to patients within 30 days, and would lengthen the term of a card from one year to three years for patients with chronic conditions. The limit on THC concentrations would also be removed under the new law—an issue that has been grinding my gears for a while. The bill would have to be approved by Gov. Martinez to go into effect.
Sessions Gives the Community a Scare
And guess what? The point might just be moot, anyway. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) just rolled through his attorney general confirmation hearing last week. The question of how Sessions would deal with cannabis came up on the very first day of the hearings. His response wasn't exactly the definitive answer we were all hoping to hear. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked, “Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws even though it might violate federal law?”
Sessions answered, “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Sen. Leahy, but absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government. The Department of Justice under [Loretta] Lynch and [Eric] Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion marijuana, some parts of marijuana.”
When pushed for further comment, Sessions said, “I think one obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act. So if that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively where we’re able.”
This side-step is similar to the one Eric Holder, Obama's attorney general, dropped at his confirmation hearing in 2009, and isn't necessarily a frightening sound bite to hear. And in fact, the previous comment implies that business will continue as usual. I've been crossing my fingers that the Republican hot-button concern over states' rights and “Federalism” would lead to a laissez-faire approach, and it would seem my fears have been assuaged.
But not everyone is being so optimistic, and cannabis proponents can't avoid pointing out the more slanderous comments made by Sessions in the past regarding cannabis, like when he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” or the now-infamous joke that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was okay until I found out they smoked pot.” And just because you say one thing at a hearing doesn't mean it will absolutely become practice. Neverthless, I'm crossing my fingers and toes and holding my breath on this one.
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