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This Week in Weed

By Tony O'Neill 02/28/13

It's been a frantic few days for marijuana reformers and their opponents across several states.

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The march toward marijuana reform has continued at a breakneck pace this week. On Sunday Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach unveiled the full text of his marijuana legalization bill—the “Regulate Marijuana Act”—to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. If Senate Bill 528 passes it will mean big changes in the Keystone State: Anyone over the age 21 would be able to possess, grow, process or transport up to six marijuana plants or possess the pot produced by those plants. The act stipulates that the growing of the marijuana plants should not be “conducted openly or publicly” nor the product be “made available for sale.” However, up to an ounce of marijuana could transferred (but not sold) to anyone over 21. The bill also would stop companies from terminating or punishing employees who test positive for weed in random drug tests. Daylin acknowledges the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. One outspoken critic is Republican Gov. Tom Corbett (who is as firmly against marijuana legalization as he is against civil rights for gay couples).

Meanwhile, other forward-looking legislators are racing to make their state is the next to change: On Tuesday, Hawaii’s Senate Bill 472—a decriminalization bill that would reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to a $100 fine—was passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. This was a huge boost for Hawaii’s continued legalization efforts after a House Bill 150—which would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana—died earlier in the session.

The same day in New Mexico, the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would take away jail sentences for adults possessing small amounts of marijuana. The vote was split down party lines, with Republicans voting against and the Democrat majority voting in favor. House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, is now heading to House Judiciary Committee. The Bill’s biggest opponent could be Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor who has been vocal in her opposition to relaxing laws on marijuana (funnily enough, she, too, opposes civil rights for gay couples). But she faces an uphill battle: A recent poll shows that 57% of New Mexico's voters favor only civil penalties for marijuana possession—and 52% percent support full legalization.

Meanwhile Fix contributor Kevin Sabet’s efforts to push back against pot have continued. Speaking on behalf of Project SAM yesterday, he slammed medical marijuana activists, accusing them of “pretending to have compassion for the sick and dying.” He also claimed that only “5%” of those using medical marijuana have "severe medical problems." However, evidence presented by state medical marijuana programs in places like Oregon and Colorado indicates that over one-third of patients are using legal marijuana for medical problems like MS, seizures, HIV/AIDS and cancer.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.

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