2015 was a significant year for cannabis supporters as states either adopted or expanded cannabidiol (CBD) or medical marijuana programs, and notable legislative progress was made on legalizing recreational use in various states. The legislative developments clearly reflect the changing attitudes of Americans, as an October 2015 study by Gallup found that 58 percent of citizens support the legalization of marijuana.
This past year, legislators considered marijuana legalization bills in 21 states, marijuana decriminalization bills in 17 states, and medical marijuana bills in 19 states, according to Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director Rob Kampia. While not all action resulted in legislative victories in 2015, they have set the stage for a highly successful 2016.
Medical marijuana experienced notable expansion throughout the U.S. and its territories in 2015. In Puerto Rico, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana. In November, Illinois dispensaries finally began serving medical marijuana to patients after legislation passed in 2013.
Multiple states, and Washington DC, expanded their list of approved medical conditions. In Delaware, for example, patients with autism and those prone to aggressive or self-injurious tendencies can now apply for participation in the medical marijuana program. Minnesota added intractable pain to their small list of qualifying conditions while Washington DC decided to allow medical marijuana to be prescribed for the treatment for any condition as dictated by a physician.
Hawaii’s approved conditions remained the same, but state Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill approved by members of the Hawaii Legislature that established a statewide system of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Medical marijuana legislative progress occurred in Pennsylvania, where the Senate passed a bill that still needs to be edited to appease the House before Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signs. Nebraska also passed a medical marijuana bill that is currently undergoing edits before it’s sent to the governor’s office. In North Carolina, Rep. Kelley Alexander introduced medical marijuana legislation that is designed to protect patients from prosecution and set up a system of cultivation, production, and distribution throughout the state.
Cannabidiol (CBD) Laws
A couple of states that have not yet adopted medical marijuana legislation did pass CBD laws in 2015 for patients with specific conditions.
In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill that legalized the limited use of cannabis oils high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for severe forms of epilepsy. For patients to take advantage of the law, however, they must receive approval from two doctors.
Similar legislation passed in Georgia after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a bill that legalized possession of up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil containing no more than 5 percent THC for the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell anemia.
Industrial Hemp Laws
Regarding industrial hemp, there was both federal and state legislative progress made in 2015. In January, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 was introduced in the U.S. Senate. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the bill, which allows American farmers to produce and cultivate industrial hemp. If passed, hemp containing no more than 0.3 percent of THC would be removed from the controlled substances list.
Nevada authorized the farming of industrial cannabis by passing Bill 305, but state regulators are still working to establish regulations to govern the program. After authorizing industrial hemp research in 2014, Minnesota established legislation that defined hemp as an agricultural crop and provided the framework for their hemp pilot program for academic, public and private growers. With Bill 313, the cultivation of industrial hemp for state-sponsored research will be further encouraged in North Carolina. In a similar vein, Virginia legalized industrial hemp cultivation for university-managed research after passing Bill 955.
Other states, like Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Washington, introduced legislation that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes.
While no additional states legalized recreational marijuana in 2015, the year was extremely important for putting a number of legislation initiatives on the ballot for 2016. According to Rob Kampia of The Marijuana Policy Project, 2015 grassroots efforts will potentially bring about marijuana legalization changes in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada in 2016. These states could join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which have already legalized recreational marijuana.
In February 2015, voters in Washington DC made it legal to cultivate, possess, and transfer recreational marijuana, but retail sales are being held back until later in 2016.
Various other states and local governments decriminalized recreational marijuana in 2015. In fact, Delaware became the 19th state in the nation to adopt decriminalization, passing legislation that took effect on Friday, December 18. In Florida, seven counties passed laws to cite, rather than arrest, those in possession of marijuana. Further, three local governments in Michigan – East Lansing, Portage, and Keego Harbor – also decriminalized marijuana possession.
In Illinois, a bill removing arrest and jail penalties for marijuana possession was passed, but Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) returned the bill with requests for minor changes before he’s expected to sign in early 2016. New Mexico’s Senate and New Hampshire’s House passed decriminalization bills, but the states’ other legislative bodies have yet to address them.
Delaware Marijuana Decriminalization Law Takes Effect Friday. (2015, December 17). Marijuana Policy Project. Retrieved from https://www.mpp.org/news/press/delaware-marijuana-decriminalization-law-takes-effect-friday/.
Georgia Gov. Deal signs medical marijuana bill into law. (2015, April 16). MSNBC. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/georgia-gov-deal-signs-medical-marijuana-bill-law.
Gov. Tom Wolf vows to support state Senate’s medical marijuana bill. (2015, January 27). The Morning Call. Retrieved from http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-medical-marijuana-tom-wolf-20150127-story.html.
Hemp. (2016). NORML. Retrieved from http://norml.org/legal/hemp-2.
Law 20-189, Medical Marijuana Expansion Amendment Act of 2014. (2015, April 3). D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register. Retrieved from http://www.dcregs.dc.gov/Gateway/NoticeHome.aspx?NoticeID=5399328.
Legislation. (2015). Vote Hemp. Retrieved from http://votehemp.com/legislation.html.
Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch. (2015, January 8). Brookings. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2015/01/08-marijuana-policy-2015-things-to-watch-hudak.
Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bill Passes Hawaii Legislature. (2015, May 7). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/medical-marijuana-hawaii_n_7237578.html.
Medical marijuana moves past first hurdle. (2015, May 12). Journal Star. Retrieved from http://journalstar.com/legislature/medical-marijuana-moves-past-first-hurdle/article_0757fe5c-2d1b-5adb-a0a5-77daa4af093c.html.
Minnesota to expand medical marijuana eligibility conditions to include intractable pain. (2015, December 2). Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-expands-medical-marijuana-to-chronic-pain-patients/360035811/.
Palm Beach County’s new pot law: $100 fine for holding about ¾-ounce. (2015, December 16). My Palm Beach Post. Retrieved from http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/palm-beach-countys-new-pot-law-100-fine-for-holdin/npkSC/.
Puerto Rico Governor Signs Order To Legalize Medical Marijuana. (2015, May 4). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/04/puerto-rico-medical-marijuana_n_7203916.html.
Texas Legalizes Medical Marijuana Oils For Epilepsy. (2015, June 1). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/texas-legalizes-marijuana_n_7486232.html.
The Top 10 Marijuana Policy Victories of 2015. (2015, December 23). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-kampia/the-top-10-marijuana-policy-victories-of-2015_b_8857428.html.
Image Credit: Flickr / Joe Gratz’s page / cropped, resized