April 20 (4/20) is nearly (eight days!) upon us and that means it’s time for the cannabis community to celebrate its national high holiday.
From smokey concerts to peaceful park smoke-outs, there’s never a shortage of 4/20 celebrations in the air. But this year brings a new, special kind of celebration coming from the East Coast in the form of a “Unity Torch.”
This symbolic, Olympic-sized torch, shaped like a marijuana joint, will make its way from the top of the East Coast (Portland, Maine) to the bottom of the East Coast (Miami, Florida) starting this Wednesday, April 14. Presented by the East Coast Cannabis Coalition, the 2016 Unity Cypher will be passing through all 15 East Coast states before finishing its journey in Florida on May 1.
You can view all the states and the schedule right here.
The goal of the Unity Cypher is far bigger than just getting high for 4/20. In fact, actual cannabis plants seem to be an afterthought. The Cypher’s true goal is to spread even awareness for the plant on the East Coast, where marijuana remains stifled, and to promote the de-scheduling or at the very least rescheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.
Both of those issues may be nearing resolutions, as Rhode Island and Vermont appear poised to legalize this year while the DEA claims it will consider rescheduling cannabis by mid 2016. Still, a torch passing through states and creating more press for the plant’s freedom should only help these initiatives gain more steam.
photo credit: Kottonmouthkings
On Wednesday, the latest effort to legalize marijuana in Maine, known as An Act To Legalize Marijuana, failed due to the invalidation of 17,000 signatures based on the handwriting discrepancy of one notary.
Signatures can often be invalidated during the petitioning process, but this particular case is highly subjective. Maine law requires that signature collectors swear an oath to a notary that they have witnessed all of the signatures being made. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the signature of a notary differed enough from other signatures made previously by the same notary.
“The staff felt like the signatures on the petition forms they decided to invalidate were obvious enough, they were markedly different from the bulk of the notary’s other signatures, as well as the signature on file.”
said Kristen Schulz Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the Main Secretary of State’s Office.
Had the notary’s signature been deemed valid, the petition would have reached the required 61,123 needed to make marijuana legalization appear on the November ballot. Muszynski stated that their office “did not directly follow up with the notary,” although Secretary of State Matt Dunlap mentioned to Maine Public Radio that, “it became apparent to us that we could not get good answers to our questions about the relationship between the notary and the circulator.”
“This is subjective, this is relative, and if we’re going to narrow a First Amendment right it needs to be spelled out. Leaving it up to someone’s opinion is not enough.”
said David Boyer, Maine Political Director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination, and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality.”
As of Friday morning, Muszynski told U.S. News that Dunlop had misspoken, having assumed his office made the obvious step of contact the notary, which they had not. These conflicting accounts call into question the motives of the Office of the Secretary of State.
“We’re very concerned about the apparent lack of consistency in statements from the secretary of state,” said Boyer.
“When you are about to disenfranchise 17,000 registered voters based on a technicality, it is only logical to take a few simple steps to determine whether the notary signed the petitions or not.”
If the campaign plans to fight the decision, it has ten days from Wednesday to file a challenge with Maine Superior Court.
Patients who register with their state’s medical cannabis program typically become, literally, card carrying members. What many do not realize is that some states recognize the registrations of those from outside areas, something that is called reciprocity. While most states do not recognize out-of-state medical cannabis exemptions or qualifications, a few do. Of these, there are important differences of which millions of traveling patients should be aware.
The medical cannabis laws of most states do not allow reciprocity for one simple reason: It invites scrutiny by federal authorities, specifically those in the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. The Justice Department is home to the DEA and exercises oversight for interstate commerce. It therefore has a vested concern to ensure that diversion (legal cannabis being delivered to illegal recipients) and other fraudulent activity is not involved. The issue becomes only more complex based on the fact that medical, and even recreational, cannabis is legal in some states, but all forms of cannabis are illegal at the federal level.
The federal government categorizes cannabis as Schedule I, meaning it is officially as “dangerous and addictive” as heroin and bath salts. In fact, both cocaine and methamphetamines, two truly addictive drugs that nearly any medical professional will testify are more dangerous than cannabis, both reside in less-restrictive Schedule II; they can even be prescribed by a physician.
Possession vs. Purchase
Four states with medical cannabis laws on the books allow visitors to legally possess and consume cannabis (within limits), but do not provide safe access via dispensaries to the medicine or related products (like concentrates, edibles, tinctures, and topicals).
States allowing registered patients from out-of-state to possess cannabis include:
- New Hampshire: Visiting patients are permitted to possess and consume cannabis, but cannot purchase or grow the herb.
- Arizona: Card-carrying patients from other states are permitted to possess and use cannabis, but not purchase it.
- Michigan: Visiting patients may possess and use. If driving with cannabis, the herb must be stored in a case in a locked trunk of the vehicle.
- Rhode Island: Like similar states, visiting qualifying patients may use and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, but cannot purchase from dispensaries in the state.
There are three states that practice full reciprocity and will legally allow, under certain circumstances, out-of-state patients to make purchases at licensed dispensaries. This is a way for those suffering a debilitating disease or condition, especially those who must medicate daily, to obtain medicine when they are traveling. It is not recommended that patients attempt to carry cannabis through an airport or on a flight. While many are successful, the legal ramifications in some states — or from federal authorities — simply are not worth the risk for the average patient.
It is legal for any patient possessing a valid medical cannabis card, from any state, to purchase, possess, and consume cannabis products at Nevada dispensaries. In fact, because reciprocity is practiced by so few states in the U.S., Nevada may become a destination for patients in other states who wish to vacation or meet business clients, but don’t desire to — or simply can’t — go without their medicine for the duration of their travel.
In Nevada, reciprocity is fairly straightforward. At their first dispensary visit, patients from out-of-state are asked to sign an affidavit testifying that they are currently a valid patient in another state. In addition, traveling patients are restricted to that initial dispensary for one month. Because most travelers, especially those vacationing in Las Vegas, will be staying a considerably shorter period of time than a month (a two to seven day span is more common), they are limited to a single dispensary for that particular trip. Las Vegas is significant, especially considering that 40 million people travel there each year (that’s the entire population of California, the most populous state in the nation).
Thus, patients visiting Las Vegas or Reno should be careful when selecting their initial dispensary. If their next trip to the Silver State is more than 30 days in the future, they will then be able to shop at the dispensary of their choice. Some have pondered if Nevada will pass recreational legalization via a ballot initiative in November 2016. If it does, Las Vegas could become the Amsterdam of the United States, being America’s legal adult playground for more than merely gambling and big-dollar magic acts.
The fact that Nevada is risking federal scrutiny to do what is best for patients is both relatively novel among states that have enacted medical cannabis laws, but also within the theme of Nevada’s tourism. If there are three states that understand the economic and cultural benefits of a robust tourism industry, it is Nevada, Colorado, and California. This spirit is finally being expressed within state laws affecting medical cannabis patients.
In Hawaii, patients from the mainland must simply register with the state. None of the details of this program are available, however, due to the fact that it will not go into effect until January 1, 2018. Patients traveling to this classic vacation destination of perfect temperatures and gorgeous beaches must remain patient for their opportunity to spend a few days in paradise while also remaining medicated to reduce or eliminate pain and nausea or deliver relief from inflammation-based diseases such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and even cancer.
Maine requires that the recommending physician of visiting patients submit a form that testifies to the patient’s condition and eligibility in their home state. Visiting patients may designate a caregiver or dispensary in Maine, but not both. Surprisingly — in what seems to be an effort to accommodate those who relocate to Maine, not just visitors or vacationers — patients can have their doctor petition for their right to cultivate up to six mature plants.
Thus, patients who qualify for their home state’s medical cannabis program may visit or move to Maine and immediately request, via their recommending doctor, legal permission to consume and even cultivate cannabis.
Federal legality would eliminate the need for states to practice reciprocity in their recognition of registered medical cannabis patients from fellow states. However, this isn’t something that is on the political horizon in Washington, D.C. and a popular topic in Congress. Until true progress is made on Capitol Hill, patients will have to rely upon the handful of states that officially recognize the programs of those outside their own borders.
Public schools in Maine are beginning to shape policies around the use of medical marijuana by students during the school day.
The law, passed this previous spring, dictates that schools may assist in the administration of medical marijuana for those students who are registered patients. The policy will take into consideration the license requirements of school nurses, as their certifications could be at risk should they personally administer medical marijuana.
RSU 25 superintendent Jim Boothby reports that schools “have to be careful” regarding medical marijuana policy as it has previously been “undefined.” Boothby’s district will allow medical marijuana to be administered on school property, but with extra precautions by requiring it to be completed by a parent or guardian. An area will be designated for its administration, and it will be prohibited to store medical marijuana on school grounds.
Maine School Management Association will provide an example draft of the new rules for its districts, according to Dan Higgins, superintendent of Ellsworth. They will be reviewed by legal counsel to ensure their compliance with state law and medical policies.
These new policies will go into effect in January 2016.
Augusta, Maine | Senator Eric Brakey is introducing a bill in the state of Maine that would allow medical marijuana patients to use their prescription medication on hospital grounds. The bill, LD 35, takes aim at a federal licensing law that prohibits hospital patients from using medical marijuana on hospital premises.
According to a statement by Senator Brakey’s office, the law became the center of his focus when a local family who’s child suffers from epilepsy encountered problems administering medicine on hospital premises. Brakey’s proposed legislation would ensure that hospitals and other medical facilities allow smokeless forms of medical marijuana for their patients.
In a statement from Senator’s office, Brakey said, “This legislation is about protecting patients. The hospitals are not the bad guys here. They are caught between a rock and a hard place in complying with federal law and allowing patients to use a legally prescribed drug.”
“Sick people, including children, need access to their treatments,” Brakey said. “Since the federal government has not taken the steps to address this licensing issue, we must.”