December 15, 2019
Cannabis News

Michiganders Want Weed to Be Legal, New York DA Wants Offenders to be Made Whole, but Congress Wants Veterans to Go Without Medical Marijuana

Marijuana policy typically makes progress and suffers setbacks in any given week. While some weeks are loaded with only encouraging news, for the week ending Sept. 15, 2018, was a mixed bag.

The newest poll out of Michigan looks good for marijuana legalization, and Manhattan’s district attorney announces he’s dismissed more than 3,000 marijuana cases, but congressional leadership has yet again failed America’s veterans.

As voters and policymakers in Michigan and Manhattan seek to reform their marijuana laws for 2019, some elected officials are curious about how congressional leaders could leave veterans without access to medical marijuana.

Michigan Poll Shows Majority Supports Marijuana Legalization

Michigan voters appear to be prepared to pass a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in November, according to a Sept. 11, 2018, poll commissioned by NBC affiliate WDIV-TV and the Detroit News.

If passed Nov. 6, 2018, Michigan’s Proposal 1 would legalize recreational-use cannabis and allow Michigan residents 21 and older to possess up to 2 ½  ounces, or about 70.9 grams, of marijuana; store up to 10 ounces, or about 283.5 grams, at home; and cultivate up to 12 plants.

The poll found support for recreational marijuana legalization in the Wolverine State at 56.2 percent, and opposition at 38 percent — an 18.2 percentage-point advantage for proponents heading into the November 2018 vote.

The political action committee Keep Pot out of Neighborhoods and Schools recognized the results from recent polls would make continuing prohibition and defeating the November 2018 ballot initiative would be highly unlikely.

So, Keep Pot out of Neighborhoods and Schools asked the Michigan legislature to pass its own restrictive recreational marijuana bill for fear of young voters turning out at the polls to pass the ballot initiative. As the Sept. 11, 2018, poll indicates, 79 percent of voters between the age of 18 and 29 support the ballot proposal. That attempt failed once Republicans realized they had little support from Democrats and lacked the necessary votes, according to a June 5, 2018, Detroit News report.

As the passage of Michigan’s Proposal 1 seems inevitable — remember, nothing is certain in today’s polling culture — it’s important to understand what is the difference between marijuana being legalized through the state legislature versus a ballot initiative?

The way recreational marijuana is passed will dictate how marijuana would be regulated. Had Republicans been successful in passing their effort to legalize recreational marijuana through the Legislature, that bill would be subject to future partisan modifications and would not require the governor’s signature to become law. But if the marijuana initiative is passed by voters in November 2018, and the governor signs it into law, any future changes would require a three-fourths vote in both chambers of the legislature.

Manhattan District Attorney Dismisses 3,042 Marijuana Cases

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has purged more than 3,000 nonviolent marijuana convictions, according to a Sept. 12, 2018, press release from the D.A.’s Office. The expungement process specifically looked for low-level possession and public smoking cases dating back to 1978.

By vacating these case, Vance is averting future interactions between recreational consumers and the criminal justice system over small, personal amounts of marijuana. “And in so doing, we’re taking one small step toward addressing the decades of racial disparities behind the enforcement of marijuana in New York City,” the District Attorney said in Manhattan criminal court.

Vance appeared before Judge Kevin McGrath and informed the judge that 79 percent of the expunged cases involved people of color, and 46 percent of the defendants were 25 years old or younger at the time of their arrest. Typically, these minor offenses have had a detrimental impact on the lives of those arrested, but with these proactive expungements, how will this change benefit those with past misdemeanor convictions going forward?

By expunging these records, the district attorney is giving these New Yorkers greater to access to better job opportunities, subsidized housing, and financial aid. These opportunities allow a modicum of restorative justice to finally begin.

Vance told McGrath “it is not only the right thing to do – it’s common sense.” According to Vance’s press release, the office of the Manhattan District Attorney will no longer prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases.

Veterans Equal Access Amendment is Missing In Action

Legislation meant to authorize the use of medicinal cannabis by America’s veterans in states where it’s legal was omitted from the Department of Veterans Affairs funding bill, according to a Sept. 10, 2018, Marijuana Moment report.

In late June 2018, the Senate passed the Veterans Equal Access Amendment by an 86-5 vote to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, and included an amendment to prohibit the VA from retaliating against its physicians for recommending medicinal cannabis to veterans. But when the House passed its own bill to fund the VA, representatives neglected to include a similar amendment in the Fiscal 2019 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

When Congress released the final version of the bill on Wednesday, the amendment permitting physicians to recommend medicinal cannabis was missing in action. Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon called the oversight “shameful.”

In a statement to Marijuana Moment, Blumenauer concluded, “This should have been a no-brainer. Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans.”

All right, so the Veterans Equal Access Amendment of 2018 was killed in action by the House Appropriations Committee . Why is this so problematic? Because opioids and benzodiazepines kill.

According to a 2011 study conducted by the VA and the University of Michigan medical school, veterans are nearly twice as likely as the general U.S. population to fatally overdose from accidental poisoning.

Although the exclusion of this amendment is sick, sad, and wrong, there is a hopeful side note: On September 5, 2018, Democratic U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Brian Schatz of Hawaii introduced legislation that would “allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana, and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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