Good news to report out of Iowa, where District Judge Henry Latham has sentenced terminal cancer patient Benton Mackenzie and his caregiver wife to just probation. Benton was arrested one year ago in Iowa for growing the marijuana plants he uses to treat angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the blood vessels. He faced at least three years and as much as fifteen years in prison – a virtual death sentence – when jurors convicted him of the Class C felony of marijuana manufacture. Jurors were not allowed to hear evidence of Mackenzie’s medical use at trial this summer. Mackenzie has become a medical marijuana patient in Oregon, where in-state residency is not required, and is seeking permission to return to Oregon for cannabis oil treatments under the terms of his probation. Iowa is one of the states that permits use of CBD oil for intractable epilepsy, but Benton neither has epilepsy nor benefits from cannabis oil lacking THC.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has relented and agreed to sign a marijuana decriminalization passed by the city council with a veto-proof majority. Currently, marijuana possession in the City of Brotherly Love is a misdemeanor with a $200 fine for marijuana possession, required attendance at drug abuse courses and an arrest record. The new law makes possession a mere $25 infraction with no arrest or record. At the Mayor’s insistence, the author of the bill, City Councilman Jim Kenney, will amend the law to include a $100 infraction fine for public smoking of marijuana. Said Kenney, “We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm. There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record. Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this. People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.”
Meanwhile, in the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, sponsors of a whole-plant medical marijuana are preparing to do battle with a governor who only supports CBD legislation. The bill, called the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, passed the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee unanimously on June 27. On September 15, the new session begins with a vote in the Appropriations Committee, after which it could be voted on by the full Senate. But even though a recent Quinnipiac Poll showed 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters support some form of medical marijuana, Gov. Tom Corbett has promised to veto any medical marijuana bill that isn’t his favored CBD-only legislation just for kids with epilepsy. Advocates are pushing for super-majorities to pass the bill and override the governor’s veto.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is targeting welfare recipients who use marijuana, but this time it’s not about drug testing them. Sen. Sessions called upon the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to explain whether electronic benefits cards – the EBT cards used like debit cards – can be used to purchase marijuana in the newly-legal pot shops in Colorado and Washington. While federal law passed in 2011 does prohibit the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, strip clubs, and casinos, the law does not address marijuana shops. Colorado is already crafting legislation to ban EBT use at pot shops, as HHS Secretary Burwell informed Sen. Sessions, “In fact states have the flexibility to prevent TANF assistance from being used in any type of establishment they deem inappropriate.” Sen. Sessions, however, wants the prevention done at the federal level, explaining that federal welfare money “is administered by a vast, sprawling bureaucracy with little oversight and no moral vision.”
Meanwhile, in Kansas, another stalwart Republican conservative is describing marijuana legalization as “a state issue”. Senator Pat Roberts fought off a Tea Party challenger in his primary. Following the unexpected withdrawal of the Democrat in the race, Senator Roberts is in a neck-and-neck race with an independent candidate named Greg Orman. In a recent debate, Senator Roberts explained that marijuana legalization is “not a federal issue. That’s a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally.” His challenger Orman responded, “We’ve had a federal policy in this country since the Nixon administration that doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve spent over a trillion dollars on it. With that said, like the Senator mentioned, we do have states that have started to work with different policies as it relates to legalization, and I think it would be prudent for us to take a step back, watch what happens in these states before we determine how we want to change federal policy.” Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.