Pubdate: Wed, 19 Jun 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Jack Nicas


Medical Pot Laws Get Tougher New Bills Ban Marijuana Growing by Users,
Restrict Prescriptions for Pain Relief

Backers of medical-marijuana bills are proposing tighter restrictions
on the drug to allay opponents' fears of widespread use, a shift that
is helping such legislation advance in additional states.

Illinois and New Hampshire are poised to pass some of the strictest
medical-marijuana laws in the nation. They would join New Jersey,
Connecticut and Delaware in banning patients from growing their own
pot, increasing oversight on commercial growers and distributors, and
restricting doctors from prescribing the drug for general pain.

The new restrictions are a far cry from the laws passed in the late
1990s, including in California, Colorado and Oregon, which were more
ambiguous and, in some cases, made acquiring medical-marijuana
prescriptions relatively simple.

In Colorado, for example, of the roughly 107,000 residents approved to
use medical marijuana, pain is the qualifying condition for more than
100,000 of them. And in California, medical-marijuana prescriptions
have become relatively common, as doctors can prescribe the drug for
any illness "for which marijuana provides relief."

"It's clear that if I had proposed a California-type law, I would've
had no chance of passing it," said Illinois Rep. Lou Lang, the
Democratic sponsor of the medical-marijuana bill now on the desk of
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who says he is "very open-minded"
about the bill.

Even in Canada, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2001,
officials are pulling back. On Wednesday, the country is scheduled to
publish rules that will soon ban patients from growing the drug at

The tighter state regulations appease some conservative lawmakers and
governors hesitant to appear soft on crime, experts said, while still
satisfying most medical-marijuana advocates, including patients and

>From 1996 to 2008, the first 13 states to legalize medical marijuana
allowed patients to grow the plant themselves and doctors to prescribe
the drug for general pain, according to the Marijuana Policy Project,
which tracks and advocates for medical-marijuana laws.

If Illinois and New Hampshire pass their laws as expected-becoming the
19th and 20th states to do so-five of the seven most recent
medical-marijuana states would ban home cultivation and exclude or
limit pain as a qualifying condition.

"There is suspicion about medical marijuana that it's a foot in the
door to full legalization," said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the
University of Denver. The new laws enable politicians to tell
skeptical voters that "what we really want is sincere, well-regulated
medical marijuana."

Yet that suspicion isn't without merit. In Colorado and Washington,
two of the first states to allow medical marijuana, voters legalized
recreational pot use in November. The states are setting up rules so
retailers can begin selling the drug to anyone 21 and older next year.

Supporters of the Illinois bill say it would be the toughest such law
in the nation-a claim used by proponents of similar bills elsewhere.
The law would exclude minors, ban patients from growing their own pot
and authorize doctors to prescribe the drug only for 33 serious
medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS.

The Illinois bill would also give law-enforcement the authority to
access to 24-hour surveillance video of the state's licensed growers
and revoke the driver's license of any marijuana patient who refuses
to undergo a sobriety test during a traffic stop.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police said that though the bill
could be worse, it opposes it. "It's a lesser of two evils, maybe, but
something we're still fighting against," said John Kennedy, the
association's director.

In New Hampshire, a conference committee reconciled the House and
Senate versions of a medical-marijuana bill on Tuesday, bowing to
demands from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, including that patients
cannot grow their own pot. The governor said she would sign it.

In New York, the legislature's lower house recently passed a
medical-marijuana bill. Aiming to get it through the more conservative
Senate, this year's bill is significantly more restrictive than past

"We're aiming for a very tightly regulated piece of legislation, which
really will be the toughest in the nation," said a sponsor of the
bill, Democratic Sen. Diane Savino.

Some laws are so restrictive that getting the drug to those who need
it has been difficult, advocates say. In New Jersey, only one
dispensary has opened since its law passed in 2009, in part due to
tight restrictions, including that the first six shops be nonprofit.
So far, just 126 of the nearly 1,000 approved patients are obtaining
marijuana legally, the state said.

Mike Miceli, a 32-year-old auto technician in Jackson, N.J., said
marijuana is the only drug that puts his painful Crohn's disease into
remission. After being put on a waiting list for months, he drove in
March to Maine, where pot dispensaries accept prescriptions from other
states. Then, last month, Mr. Miceli was arrested during a traffic
stop for possession of marijuana, despite his medical-marijuana card,
and faces up to two years in jail.

Mr. Miceli said his attorney is optimistic the court will accept his
medical-marijuana prescription as a legal defense, but he still will
owe thousands of dollars in legal fees.
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