Upgrades, Newbies and Watch-Outs: Medical Cannabis Reform in the 2016 Legislative Session


There’s a fair amount of motion among the states with regard to medical cannabis this legislative session.  Here’s a spectrum of the most notable from the Upgrades (going from “CBD-only” to medical cannabis legislation) to the Notorious Nine. Only those states with bills in both chambers are considered – Nebraska being the only state that does not have a bicameral legislature.

In West Virginia, there are multiple bills under consideration:

·       Senate Bill 640: The Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis, by Senators Kessler, Carmichael, Stollings, Prezioso and Plymale.

·       House Bill 4680: Creating a medical exemption to criminal laws against marijuana use and possession for patients as well as protections for doctors, by Delegates Flanigan, McGeehan, Folk, Wagner, Sponaugle, Eldridge, Skinner, Hornbuckle, Storch, Ihle and Pushkin.

·       House Bill 4712: Provides for decriminalization, sets up a taxation system and penalties for enforcement and removes cannabis from the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, by Delegate Pushkin.

Together, they form the basis of a NEW regulatory program that would provide medical cannabis to registered and qualified patients through “compassion centers,” with your doctor’s approval, for conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, opiate addiction and chronic pain.  There’s even a provision in the bill to add other treatable conditions as medical research uncovers yet more ways to use medical cannabis to treat disease. 

Of the remaining Notorious Nine, only five states have had bills introduced this legislative year.

Newbie States!

Pennsylvania: Possession of less than 30 grams is a misdemeanor with 30 days in jail, while over 30 grams gets you a year. Cultivating even one cannabis plant is a felony with 1 to 5 years in prison.




Kansas: Surprisingly, up to almost a pound of marijuana is just a misdemeanor with a year incarceration, but only for the first offense. For a second offense, any amount of marijuana is a felony with 10 months to 3.5 years in prison.




Indiana: Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor worth six months in jail, and a single cannabis plant is worth a year.




Nebraska: Nebraska has more lenient laws relative to these others with a limited degree of decriminalization.


These states are not even trying … and HERE is where it will get you.

Watch-Out States!

North Dakota: Not only is possession of any amount of marijuana worth 30 days in jail, but merely ingesting hash or concentrates is worth a year in jail. Possessing any hash/concentrate or more than an ounce of marijuana is a felony with 5 years in prison.

Louisiana: Possessing up to a half-ounce gets you 15 days on your first offense. Get caught a second time, and you’re looking at six months in jail. Any cultivation of cannabis earns you a mandatory minimum 5 years in prison for a first offense.

Arkansas: Possession of any amount of marijuana can land you in prison or parole for up to a year.

Idaho: Not only is possession of less than 3 ounces a misdemeanor worth 1 year in jail and a cannabis plant a felony with a 1 year mandatory minimum in prison, but Idaho will lock you up for 3 months for merely being somewhere that somebody stores marijuana. Idaho will also lock you up for 6 months for merely being under the influence of marijuana in public.

South Dakota: Probably the most dangerous place for a medical marijuana patient in America. While possession of less than 2 ounces is a misdemeanor with a 1 year sentence, authorities need only find marijuana metabolites in your urine to get that conviction, as South Dakota has the nation’s only “internal possession” statute. Like Idaho, you can get time for being in a place where marijuana is stored, but it’s a full year in a South Dakota jail rather than Idaho’s three months. Plus, possession of any amount of concentrate is a felony that will get you a decade behind bars.

In Pennsylvania, it almost seems certain their legislation will pass, after ignoring it for weeks. Might it be related to the Governor's cancer? The suite of bills in front of the West Virginia legislature doesn't look hopeful, and the Senate in Indiana will vote in March. The Kansas senate passed a decriminalization bill, but the medical cannabis bill status is still winding through. In Nebraska, the Attorney General stands in opposition to medical cannabis.

Things could change again in the fall with voter referendums ... stay tuned.