We passed the tipping point over a year ago. One after another state proceeded to legalize medical marijuana. And launch patient programs to provide compassionate care. For some states, the journey to legalize marijuana in 2021 has gone on too long. So long, that it has become an issue of disparity and threat to health equity for many Americans.
Until the federal government makes a decision about the legalization of marijuana, some people are stuck in the middle of federal and state laws. You may be a patient with one or more qualifying health conditions. You might be eligible to get your medical card. But if you live in a state where medical marijuana is not legalized or is heavily restricted (low-THC only), it can be frustrating. It’s a legal option others have that you don’t.
The contradiction in cannabis acceptance and legalization is something that patients live with every day. They may have family and friends that live where recreational cannabis is legalized. And they don’t understand why creating a statewide doctor-supervised program is a problem. Imagine the frustration of having to live with debilitating health symptoms every day, when if you lived in a nearby state, you’d have legal access.
Some states are in the process of drafting new constitutional amendments. Others are stuck in a situation where the House of Representatives and Senate support the measure, but they are blocked or even repealed by the Governor (with the support of medical or law enforcement groups).
While some states may as well not have a medical program (strict and prohibitive), there are fourteen (14) states that have no cannabis program at all. Let’s take a look at the progress and roadblocks in each ‘holdout’ state.
Jackee Winters is a patient advocate who was severely injured in a car accident in 1990. The Idaho resident lost her two-year-old daughter Autumn in the collision. Jackee is working with an organization called “KIND Idaho” to sponsor legalized medical marijuana and gather signatures. They need to collect 75,000 signatures by April 30, 2022.
Winters took her second daughter (who was in treatment for brain cancer) to Oregon to try legal cannabis. It helped. She stated that she thought about moving to Oregon because of the availability of therapeutic cannabis. Something many patients in non-legalized states consider.
The Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis has drafted the question for the Idaho state ballot. It was filed on July 9, 2021, but required revision. The ICCC is working on the proposed laws for decriminalization.
Idaho Governor Brad Little signed a bill that made placing medical marijuana on the state ballot a lot harder. Since April 2021, advocates must get 6% of all eligible voters in the state to sign. And, those signatures must be from all 35 districts across the state.
The signature drive is on! If enough signatures are gathered, and the language of the proposed legislation is changed, people in Idaho will be able to vote on it, in November 2022.
Almost one dozen medical marijuana bills were expected to go through the legislation and Senate in Indiana for 2020-2021. When the ‘smoke cleared,’ only one was left standing. And the other proposed legal changes? They were toast. Because only one made it to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.
Senate Bill 201 was sponsored by Sen. Michael Young (R). The bill allows law enforcement to prosecute anyone who operates a motor vehicle with cannabis or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood. But the individual can defend against the charge if they were not intoxicated by cannabis (or passed a sobriety test). And if the driver did not cause a collision.
This allows for some legal room for people with a medical card to test positive for THC but not face DWI charges if the amount is low. And does not cause impairment.
What are some of the other proposed marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills that didn’t make it?
a) HB 1208, which would have made possession of thirty (30) grams or less of marijuana or five (5) grams or less of hash oil a Class D infraction. Instead of a misdemeanor or felony offense. It would have also decriminalized the possession of paraphernalia. It died in the Senate.
b) HB 1117 was a bipartisan effort by Republican Representatives Health Vannatter, Rep. Jake Teshka, and Rep. Zach Payne. Representative Ryan Hatfield (D) also authored the bill that would have decriminalized possession of two ounces or less of cannabis.
c) Senate Bill 104 would have created reciprocity for patients with a medical card from another state to visit Indiana and have legal access to medical cannabis.
d) Senate Bill 87 was authored by Democratic Senator Karen Tallian. This bill would have established the Cannabis Compliance commission to regulate both adult-use and medical marijuana in the state of Indiana. It would also extend to the regulation of industrial hemp and hemp cannabidiol extracts. The bill did not receive a hearing.
e) Senate Bill 321 was sponsored and authored by Senator David Niezgodski (D). The bill would have created a five-year pilot program that the Department of Health would have administered. It would reduce first cannabis-related offenses to a Class C infraction and second offenses to a Class A misdemeanor. One of the most important parts of Senate Bill 321 was that it would protect people on probation from having their probation revoked for testing positive for marijuana. This would have supported post-incarceration medical cannabis use for addiction therapy and more.
f) HB 1154 was authored and sponsored by Indiana Rep. Vanessa Summers (D). It would have made possession of marijuana by anyone under the age of 21 (and consumption in public) a Class B misdemeanor. And it would have also provided a first step to reduce penalties for personal use possession, allowing citizens with offenses before July 1, 2021, to apply for ‘modification’ of their sentence.
That is a significant strikeout for patients in the state of Indiana. A hard ‘no’ by the Indiana Senate on so many different measures that would have progressed the state into legalization. Want to get involved as an Indiana pro-cannabis activist and supporter? Consider volunteering with the Indiana chapter of NORML. You can also sign your name to support cannabis legalization on the NORML website.
The Kansas House of Representatives voted to approve medical marijuana, but the Senate wouldn’t budge. On May 6, 2021, the Kansas House voted in favor of House Substitute (H.Sub.) for SB 158. That was the legislation that would have created the Kansas Medical Marijuana Regulation Act and the Program. It would have also added enforcement powers and created a newly named Division of Alcohol and Cannabis Control.
The President of the Kansas Senate (Ty Masterson) announced early that he didn’t feel the legislation would be addressed during the 2020-2021 session. Both SB 158 and SB 315 (to create the Kansas Medical Marijuana Regulation Act) were delayed. It was referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Bleeding Kansas Advocates has been a leading voice of support for cannabis legalization. Learn more about volunteering or lending your signature to put the legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas back on the desks of lawmakers.
There’s a battle brewing in Mississippi. After citizens voted in favor of a medical marijuana program in Mississippi, it was full steam ahead! Then Mississippi lawmakers decided to ignore the will of the voters and democratic process and roll it back. Essentially, the Mississippi Supreme Court decided that the state was not going to legalize medical cannabis. No matter what patients and voters wanted.
There is a little more to the story, though. It is unusual for a Supreme Court to step in and invalidate a voter-approved initiative. While patients and cannabis advocates are disappointed and frustrated, the Supreme Court saw some significant problems with the legislation proposed in Initiative 65. Now that Initiative 65 has been invalidated, the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (Ken Newburger) will look at improving the measures.
That means it is back to the drawing board. But that also means that if the issues are resolved, medical marijuana stands a good chance of passing the Mississippi Senate in the 2022 session. And with valuable feedback from the Supreme Court, it’s very likely they “get it right” this time.
5. North Carolina
Unlike other states where cannabis legalization seems to be stuck in administrative red tape, in North Carolina, it is progressing. Slowly, but still progressing. It is supported by Representative Kelly M. Alexander Jr., who is a funeral director. Alexander has experience supporting families through terminal illnesses and believed that medical marijuana can help “ease the pain of death” for some patients.
At the time of writing, two Senate Committees still had to approve North Carolina SB 711; the health care committee and the Rules. However, the bill’s sponsor Senator Michael Lee is on that health care committee. The main sponsor, Republican Senator Bill Rabon, is the Chairman of the rules committee.
Preliminary reports about the proposed North Carolina medical marijuana program show that it is going to be restrictive. So, if you are a resident and expecting a marijuana program modeled after Colorado, Oklahoma, or Florida, prepare to be surprised. If legalization goes through, it will give North Carolina one of the toughest and most restrictive medical marijuana programs. But we’re sure patients would be happy to have that and petition for further reform than no MMJ program in North Carolina at all.
In September 2020, a big fight erupted over medical marijuana in Nebraska. There were over 180,000 signatures collected from patients and advocates. That was more than enough to put the question of legalizing medical marijuana in Nebraska on the November 2020 ballot. And many felt that voters would have voted in favor of it, with a sweeping majority vote.
However, at the last minute, the language of the ballot question was called into question. In order to be included on a state ballot, it has to be short and concise. And on the ‘state question,’ voters can only address legal or constitutional amendment issues. Bill 657 was removed from the ballot after a ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
If you would like to get involved, signatures will be collected again to present medical marijuana to voters on a state ballot. Nebraska’s Medical Marijuana has already started the 2022 drive for the new Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative.
7. South Carolina
Did you know that Senator Tom Davis has been working on the bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina since 2015? Some thought it might be passed in the 2021 legislative session, but the tightly regulated program still needed some revision to appease lawmakers.
So far, the qualifying health conditions outlined in the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act include:
Neurological diseases and disorders
There are currently hundreds of farms and businesses authorized to grow cannabis, but only hemp plants that contain 0.30% THC. Licenses for higher THC content medical cannabis cultivation are likely to go to growers who are already established in the state. And while many lawmakers are in favor of a restrictive medical cannabis program, recreational or adult-use legalization is unlikely unless the federal government moves first with legalization.
There were a lot of high expectations for cannabis legalization in Kentucky in 2020. The bills that would have legalized medical marijuana were expected to fly through the Senate in 2021. Instead, in Kentucky, instead of one big step for patients, it was a giant leap backward.
HB 136 died in Committee, taking the hope of medical cannabis legalization with it for 2021. However, House Bill 136 has bipartisan support with twenty-nine (29) sponsors of the legislation. It is expected to pick up momentum again in the fall of 2022.
The KHIP report released in 2020 found that the number of Kentucky adults that supported legalizing marijuana “under any circumstances” increased from 38% in 2012 to 59% in 2019. And 9 out of 10 Kentuckians support legalized medical marijuana for qualified patients.
Medical marijuana legalization didn’t get through the legislation in Wyoming in 2021. But two measures were already filed to ensure that the state question about legalizing medical marijuana will appear on the 2022 ballot. Voters will decide whether to move ahead or not.
The preliminary qualifying health conditions in Wyoming (per the drafted legislation) include:
Unless the proposed legislation is changed, patients with a medical card will possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower and 20 grams of “derived products” every thirty days.
The bad news for patients in Wyoming is the timeline of implementation and rollout. The Wyoming Department of Revenue Liquor Division will be issuing business licenses for marijuana operators. But the rules to govern awarding business licenses are not due until July 1, 2023.
That means that patients who do receive a medical card may not be able to purchase products from cannabis dispensaries until July 2024. After licensing and third-party testing of cannabis grown by cultivators for quality assurance. The bill to introduce legalized recreational cannabis was also struck down in March 2021.
Governor Bill Lee has made it clear that he doesn’t want to see cannabis legalized in Tennessee until it is federally legalized. In May 2021, Gov. Lee did sign an ‘expansion’ of potency. Patients can use CBD oil that now contains up to 0.9% THC. And it is capped at that potency.
However, patients with moderate to severe conditions like chronic pain are not happy with the restrictive low dose cap. Even if it is temporary while the state determines a path to legalization. Current proposed qualifying health conditions when Tennessee legalizes medical marijuana include:
Sickle Cell Disease
There will be three questions on the electoral ballot in 2022 regarding medical cannabis. If the ballot measure remains, voters in Tennessee will have the final say about legalizing marijuana in 2021.