The news on cannabis developments is coming fast and furious these days. Frankly, we can't keep up with everything, so we offer a weekly roundup of issues and events that should be on your radar, with links to stories that cover the issues in greater depth.
1. Weed riders in the federal budget
On Dec. 15, Republicans and Democrats avoided a government shutdown over the holidays by agreeing to a new budget bill, which contains two cannabis riders. The first continues an earlier provision that blocked the Department of Justice (and, by extension, the Drug Enforcement Agency) from spending any money on interfering with state medical marijuana programs. However, freezing their budget hasn't been entirely successful in halting DEA interference.
The second prevents the DEA from interfering with states that want to import hemp for research.
That's good news for cannabis researchers and medicinal marijuana patients, caregivers and suppliers. But the budget could have done much more. Provisions that didn't get added would have made medicinal cannabis more accessible for veterans, and prevented the federal government from punishing banks that did business with the cannabis industry.
But in a press release, Robert Capecchi - director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project - hailed the budget as a sign that "members of Congress are ready to end the federal government's war on medical marijuana. There's a growing sentiment that the Justice Department should not be using taxpayer dollars to arrest and prosecute people who are following their states' medical marijuana laws."
2. Medical marijuana makes a breakthrough in Florida
Last week, Regulate Florida pulled the plug on their effort to make legalization a 2016 ballot question in Florida. But it looks like the Sunshine State will still get a chance to vote on cannabis next year. United for Care has gathered 900,000 signatures in support of putting medical marijuana to a vote.
That's over 200,00 more than the 683,149 signees needed to get a question on the ballot. But United for Care isn't stopping there: they want to get pushing for a million autographs to make sure they have enough valid ones to get on the ballot.
3. Delaware decriminalizes
On Dec. 18, Delaware officially became the 19th state to decriminalize as the cannabis reform passed by the state legislature on June 18, 2015, comes into effect.
"Delaware's marijuana policy is about to become a lot more reasonable," said Karen O'Keefe - director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project - said in a press release. "Most people agree adults should not face jail time or the life-altering consequences of a criminal record just for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Taxpayers certainly don't want to foot the bill for it, and fortunately, they will not have to any longer."
Under the new law, people 21 or over who are caught with one ounce will receive a $100 fine. Previously, they would've received a three-month jail sentence, a criminal record, and a $575 fine. Adults 18-21 will receive a $100 fine and a misdemeanor charge that can be expunged from their records once they turn 21. Possession remains a misdemeanor for minors.
Activists are hoping this is the first step toward legalization. "Delaware is moving in the right direction," O'Keefe wrote. "But there's still plenty of room for progress. Most voters think the state should treat marijuana similarly to alcohol, and we hope their lawmakers will explore that option."
According to a poll conducted by the University of Delaware in September 2014, 56 percent of respondents were in favor of legalization.
4. Last legal challenge for Michigan city
Cannabis will remain decriminalized in the Michigan city of Grand Rapids despite state and federal prohibition laws. On Dec. 12, the State Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, whose office would handle cannabis offenses if they were being reported. Forsyth tried to overturn the city's law because it interfered with the police's ability to enforce prohibition.
But the court's decision wasn't unanimous. Of the 7 justices, 2 wanted to hear the case. In his dissent, Justice David Viviano wrote that he wanted to resolve the jurisdictional conflict between cities and the state:
"I would have granted the application because I believe this case presents an important constitutional question concerning whether a home rule city may, through its charter, encroach upon a county prosecutor's broad power to enforce state law. I believe this case presents a conflict between the authority of a local municipality to govern its affairs and a county prosecutor's broad constitutional discretion as 'the chief law enforcement officer of the county' to decide whether to prosecute or what charges to file."
Grand Rapids is one of 20 Michigan communities that have either decriminalized or legalized cannabis.
5. Sean Parker's initiative gains steam
California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is better known as "the Sean Parker initiative" after its biggest backer, is gaining momentum. The initiative has already received support from the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and famous activist Richard Lee.
This week, Tim Blake - the organizer of legendary Emerald Cup competition - added his voice to the cause.
"You know what, I'm going to endorse this thing," Blake said at a legalization debate held during the Cup competition. The announcement received a mixed response from the crowd. Many activists oppose AUMA over fears that the billionaire behind the measure has a hidden agenda, or that the regulations are too restrictive. (For a full overview, read the comments section of this post.)
"I'm not thrilled with some of the aspects," Blake conceded, adding that he respects the activists behind the other proposals. But he thinks the Parker initiative has a chance of passing. "So then it comes down to, 'those [other groups] don't have a chance.' I like them, [but] … they don't have a chance in the next ten years to get it done."
"We're very excited about the generosity he's shown," said Mason Tvert, Communications Director of MPP. "This is someone who wants to see marijuana prohibition end and helped bring a lot of folks together, and now he's putting his money where his mouth is."