After Stopping The Much-Ridiculed Walsh Bills, Senate Democrats Roll Over In Late-Night Play To Pass Anti-Marijuana Laws In Michigan
By Rick Thompson
On December 13th the Michigan Senate Democrats blocked the passage of the anti-patient Walsh Bills, an effort to curtail medical marijuana activities, by holding firm and denying the ¾ majority needed to pass the contentious legislation.
On December 14th, in the wee hours of the morning, the Dems submitted to Republican pressure and allowed the Bills to pass. The House approved the amended versions of bills they had passed earlier in the year, and the modifications to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) will become law.
Exactly how this happened is somewhat of a mystery. The original Senate vote is logged on the Michigan.gov pages, properly listing the failure of HB 4834 by a 26-12 vote and HB 4851 by a 28-10 vote. The official government website lists that they were reconsidered and concurred to for ¾ passage, apparently stating the Democrat's reversal of objection and allowing passage without a vote.
Passage also required suspension of the rules of the Legislature, which require a one day waiting period between votes. The Senate waived that restriction through a simple majority vote, allowing the bills to be ushered through the process with unusual- and questionable- expedience.
Contradictions exist in the bills: The description accompanying HB 4834 states it is a bill to add photographs on medical marijuana cards but that portion has been stricken from the language several months ago. That bill also requires the formation of a panel within six months to consider adding ailments to the list of qualifying medical conditions for the use of medicinal cannabis; that too is out of date as the panel is already convening today, December 14th, rendering a significant portion of the bill useless.
Although Senate Democrats may have concurred with the bills, none of the medical marijuana organizations in Michigan support the passage of the Walsh Bills. Protests, personal appeals and media articles have all decried the intrusive portions of the set of four bills, two of which passed earlier on December 13th. New rules include a requirement for patients to carry marijuana in a moving vehicle with the same rules as used with a handgun, to alter the nature of the doctor-patient relationship, to add restrictions on indoor and outdoor growing and revoke the caregiver status of certain MMA registrants who have had felony convictions.
After the vote Republican Senator Rick Jones commented in the media that the Democrats "finally came around" to supporting the bills. The medical marijuana community is shocked at their stunning reversal of fortune.
Posting online, Cheboygan activist Brad Forrester said, "I have never seen such a more spineless bunch of legislators in my life... I hope whatever you got from your deal with Jones was worth it because you have lost my support and respect!" Those sentiments were rampant on email listservs and social media outlets as the state's 150,000 registered MMA participants awoke to discover last night's celebration was short-lived.
Representative Mike Callton, R-Nashville, who was a sponsor of HB 4856, voted against HB 4851 when the bills were returned from the Senate. "This is going to have a chilling effect on the state's registry program," said Steve Greene, co-host of The Medical Marijuana Radio Show, broadcasting in Detroit on Clear Channel Communications station WDTW. "These legislators should be ashamed of themselves... leaving an indelible mark on their credibility."
The passage of restrictions on Michigan's marijuana patients seems to contradict the wishes of the state's citizens. Five cities voted to relax or eliminate local marijuana laws on November 6th; each measure passed easily and no pro-marijuana proposal was defeated. The most significant ordinance passed may have been in ultra-conservative Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city, where the current and former Mayors, most of the City Council and school board supported decriminalization of marijuana possession for all adults 21 and over.
The reversal has caught many in the news media off-guard: NBC news in Mid-Michigan is reporting the bills failed, as are newspapers across the state that went to print before the wrangling and concessions of early-morning negotiations were confirmed. Earlier in the day Senate Democratic spokesman Robert McCann was quoted as saying, "Republicans are trying to go around the will of the people as we've seen them do far too often."
Rick Thompson is on 2 radio shows and writes for several MM publications in Michigan